Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of 2007, Part 2

Best of 2007, Part 1 was posted back in June. This post covers July through December.

As I look over my posts since mid-year, I noticed that I have a couple of formulas I follow and several topics I tend to return to over and over again. Here’s my breakdown:

Politics. As the Dubya Administration winds down and the 2008 election gets in gear, I find myself doing more and more political bits. I had a long running feud with Alberto Gonzales beginning with the Torqueberto Top Ten. I also mocked other torture advocates, closeted congressmen, bug-eyed candidates,

Sex, Sex, and More Sex. I found newsworthy blog pegs to talk about sex by college kids, teenagers, senior citizens and porn stars.

Stalking Celebrities. I managed to hunt down William Gibson and Jennifer Garner.

Pop Culture. I handicapped the promising shows of the new season, only one of which stayed on the DVR to the end of the year, but I added Big Bang Theory because it gets the geek right. I also tried to predict the next geek icon to come out of the closet.

Comics. I find myself doing fewer and fewer comics related posts. With the Foobiverse grinding to a halt, my only major snark on it was about the Foobocalypse going out with a whimper. But I have immortalized my hero Ted Forth with his own Wikpedia entry.

Tweener TV. Every time I do a post that references obscure Nickelodeon shows I get a few concerned comments. What can I say? My obsession with the 10-14 demographic started when I discovered Clarissa Explains It All while watching my infant son when my wife was at night school classes. These shows are proving grounds for stars (and scandals) of the future. In my defense, even I was creeped out by the dozens of aspiring underage starlets that mistook one of my posts for an open casting call. Undeterred by this, I did a Sally Forth satire for the New Delhi Monkey Gang. And Jamie Lynn Presley’s condition made me ponder some Very Special Episodes.

Side Projects. I also started two more blogs in the past few months. My intermittently updated China Sights blog was an outgrowth of posts about my trip to China this summer, where among other things, I climbed the Great Wall. I have also made my obsession with Maureen Dowd into a continuing preoccupation with the Dowd Report.

Family Milestones. My son is a senior in high school and marched his last season. I try not to brag too much about him but sometimes I can’t hide my pride when things happen like getting accepted to my alma mater. November was rough on me. I had to say goodbye to my dog just after Thanksgiving and then just a little over a week later my grandmother passed away. That double punch hit me hard, but I’ve shaken off the funk and look forward to a better brighter 2008.

Stay with me. I’ve got plenty of ideas for the upcoming year and hope to even up my game a little.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Let me know what your best post of the year was.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

NaJuReMoNoMo 2008

Two years ago I invented a semi-parody of National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo that I called National Just Read More Novels Month or, for not-so-short, the unpronounceable NaJuReMoNoMo. It’s only a semi-parody because I am completely serious about wanting people to read more novels. January is the perfect month for this sort of internet meme. It’s the middle of winter and doesn’t conflict with any major holidays. January is 31 days long, giving people plenty of time to read a book. Folks are flush with cash and gift cards from holiday giving, And they are burnt out from the endless November challenges that require too much work.

Best of all, NaJuReMoNoMo is astoundingly easy. All you have to do is read any novel from start to finish within the month of January. You can read memoirs or non-fiction in January, they just don’t count towards your NaJuReMoNoMo total.

Since this is the third annual NaJuReMoNoMo, I had expected it to be an internet-wide sensation by now, but participants seem to be limited to my regular readers. I thought long and hard and realized that the impediment to its breakthrough was the lame logo. The old logo was something I slapped together and it looked it. This year I ran it through Photoshop Elements and enhanced it. The logo now has a transparent background so it doesn’t clash with people’s templates. The dark letters are embossed with white outlines so they will look fine on dark backgrounds as well. Take a look at the improvement:

Old Lame Logo

New Super
Cool Logo
Updated: You can find all the official NajuReMoNo winner badges here.

I also need to up the blatant meme plugging. I apologize in advance, but I am going to be relentless on book blogs and literary sites. If you found this site from a spammish link I have left somewhere, remember that it is never too late to start NaJuReMoNoMo. All you have to do is finish reading a novel by the end of the month.

And if you have a blog that does book reviews or know someone with one, either drop a hint or pass it on to me and I will make a nuisance of myself. Get the word out this year and next year will be even bigger than ever. We’ll get mainstream media attention and in-store promotion from BigBoxOfBooks and OtherBigBoxOfBooks. Maybe even prizes, but don't hold your breath.

Once you have read the novel, you are entitled to post this spiffy badge on your page. Either cut and paste the image or insert the code.

style="cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" width="100"
src="" border="0"
alt="NaJuReMoNoMo" /></a>

And since my mad graphix skilz are woefully inadequate, anyone with real talent (I’m looking at you, Dave) is welcome to improve on it. Just leave comments or links or e-mail and we can talk. If I were anywhere decent at it, I would have all sorts of buttons and badges and blinking doo-dads. But I’d rather spend my January reading novels.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Holiday Hook Up

Major plot developments in Liz Patterson's love life tend to occur around the holidays. For quite awhile Liz would run into Anthony at holiday parties and his life kept getting more complicated. He married Evil Theresé and had a kid and still kept making muppet moon eyes at his childhood almost-fling.

Two Christmases ago, Flyboy Warren took Liz up to Mtickitacki to see Paul and she says of the rivalry between the two that Paul had won. This triumph was short lived since Paul moved on once Liz fled back home.

This year Anthony gets taken to Christmas dinner at Mike and Deanna’s new digs (which is a result of the fire last Christmas Eve, my how time flies). Rather than dropping Liz off at her apartment, Anthony drives her home. Take that anyway you want.

It’s hard to believe that thirty years after Joanie Caucus and Rick Redfern did the dirty in Doonesbury, comic strip characters still play coy. At least the long running debate over the state of little Lizzie’s chastity will finally end. Or will it?

Lord, just hook these two up, run the wedding special, and be done with it already. It’s not like we don’t know they haven’t done it already. Little Francie must know by now where all that headboard knocking is coming from once she's put to bed.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Is this latest development the other shoe dropping or just more reason to bang the head on the table?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Last Christmas Tree

It hit me in early December that this was to be the last full Christmas season that my son would have with us. After he starts college, he will be coming home on breaks, but it won’t be the same. For one thing, we don’t want to put up a huge tree display anymore. So this year, we spent an unusually amount of deference to his wishes for Christmas. Many years we put up an artificial tree that we’ve had for a long time. Years where we were away for most of the season, we have done without a tree at all. This year he wanted a real tree, but didn’t want to go to the trouble of stalking a tree out in the woods like some bloggers I know.

We went to BigBoxOfLumber and looked over their rapidly diminishing stock and found a tree that wasn’t too tall, but was still full enough to avoid references to Charlie Brown. My son in a fit of bravado single-handedly carried it through the door and into the loving room, just to make like of my complaints about its weight. Once set up I did the annual checking of the lights and patiently replaced any burned out bulbs. For all the trouble that is, I think buying all new lights every year is the way to go.

We also used this opportunity to do a triage pass through the ornaments. Twenty years of marriage and twelve years with a teacher as a spouse can collect some truly hideous examples. Anything made of pipe cleaners or with magic marker labeling went. Ornaments with a connection to my son went in a separate box to serve as a starter set for if and when he has his own tree.

(click on image for a barely readable version)

The ornaments that made the cut for tree hanging were the ones that either commemorated an event or a place or a special memory. The hardest one to hang was the English Cocker Spaniel that my wife had hand colored to match the markings of our dog. He is watching us from Doggie Heaven this year. An a brighter note, at my son’s insistence, The Defiant made its return to the tree after several years of being vetoed by my wife as too geeky. The concept of a Star Trek ornament itself is nerdy enough, but this one has blinking running lights that plug into the tree lights.

Last night my son, who has been threatening to bake Santa some chocolate chip cookies since he knows those are my least favorite, instead left out egg nog and slices of raw sugar cookie dough. I went down to inspect that the snacks had been placed where Santa could find them. My son yelled down to check on me and I could only reply with a muffled “Mmmmph.” Needless to say, Santa enjoyed his snack. A kid is only a kid once, but Christmas will always bring out the kid in anyone.

Merry Christmas To Family and Friends,
Real and Virtual

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Holiday Gong

The other morning I picked up on my front steps a large four page glossy flier for something called the Holiday Wonders Show presented by New Tang Dynasty Television and featuring the Divine Performing Arts Group. Intrigued by the colorful brochure and a professional looking website, my wife ordered tickets for the whole family.

Even before we went to China last summer, our family has enjoyed seeing touring groups of Chinese dancers and acrobats. This looked very similar to ones we had seen before and for the most part it was. The dance troupe featured a couple of dozen young talented Chinese American performers that presented a wide variety of ethnic dances, some in styles that we had never seen before. The dance where all the women have a stack of three ordinary Chinese soup bowls stack on their head for the entire number is particularly impressive.

The audience (which barely half-filled the Lyric Opera House) was at least 60% Chinese and each act was introduced by a bilingual pair of MCs. The only Christmasy or holiday-ish feature of the show was the stage patter of this couple. At one point the guy came out in a Santa suit and towards the end of the show they mentioned that the holiday season stretches until Chinese New Year in February.

Ticket prices were fairly high, well into Rockettes Holiday Spectacular or Broadway touring company prices, so I was expecting some spectacle. The costumes were stunning. Each traditional number featured bright colorful highly detailed traditional dress. These compared favorably with a very extravagant dinner show we had seen in Xian, China at a Tang Dynasty theme park. Rather than sets, they used stunning impressionistic projection screens of Chinese scenery and landmarks. The projections had some animation within them and reminded me of the similar concept used in the Broadway production of The Woman In White.

While the overall production met my expectations for a touring show, what I didn’t expect was the frequent and occasionally rather blatant promotion of Falun Gong. The only reference in the promotional material to this persecuted Buddhist sect was a Falun Dala banner in the lobby. Within the show, at least three of the production numbers referenced directly or indirectly Falun Gong beliefs. In one scene, a pair of mohawked punks find a decrepit temple and the statues come to life. One of the beautifully dressed temple idols gives the boys a religious book that they read with fascination while the Buddhist statues dance around them.

The other two modern-dance influenced bits were less discrete. Black-clad jack-booted thugs with red sickles on their backs harassed and beat the conservatively dressed common people until they drove the villains off in a show of choreographed non-violent solidarity. The music and dance style for these acts was far more influenced by West Side Story than Peking Opera.

Between the dance pieces there were also several soloists that sang beautiful songs in Chinese that, as the translated lyrics shown on the backdrop said, warned oppressors that they would get their due in heaven. Since the show is produced by overseas Chinese that support Falun Gong, it was clear just which oppressors were being called out.

My overall impression of the show was very mixed. I appreciated the high production values but was a little dismayed to have spent so much money to be subjected to obvious proselytization and propoganda. This show is currently being staged in New York and is also on tour to other cities such as St. Petersburg, Minneapolis, and Boston. After Christmas, the name of the show changes to Chinese New Year Spectacular, but I suspect most of the show remains the same. According to their website, the show is also slated for Japan, Europe, Australia and Canada. If you like this sort of ethnic showcase, enjoy the production, but be aware that the group supporting the show has a hidden message and agenda.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Very Special Episodes

How fast they grow up. It seems just a little while ago that Jamie Lynn Spears was in the running to be Teenage Girl President and now she is Teenage Girl Pregnant. Taking the career ending move that Vanessa Hudgens pioneered one step further, she announced that she will be having a kid on or about her seventeenth birthday.

Back in the day, family shows like Facts of Life, Blossom, and ALF used to have Very Special Episodes where kids learned important facts about serious issues. Modern tweener shows on Nickelodeon and Disney steer away from controversial topics and focus more on “problems” like lying to your parents and not getting your homework done on time.

In order to provide a more realistic set of issues I propose some Very Special Episodes for some current shows popular with the tweener set:

Zoey 101 – Zoey’s new boyfriend (guest star Zac Efron) talks Zoey into one night of sex to prove he isn’t gay, but she ends up pregnant. The rest of the season is spent with her hilariously hiding her condition from her friends until in the series finale double episode her water breaks on prom night. There may be some copyright issues to iron out.

Suite Life of Zack and Cody – The school wrestling coach singles out Zack for extra practices because he claims that Zack has a good shot at the state championship. Cody is bringing by a homework assignment when he accidentally sees what moves the coach is really teaching. Meanwhile, Maddie and London have been using empty hotel rooms to film amateur porn with Mr. Moseby.

Life With Derek – The whole family is excited when Derek shows a sudden interest in Chemistry class. Casey finds a grocery store receipt with psuedophedrine and batteries on it and realize what sort of experiments he is really doing in the basement. Meanwhile, Lizzie accidentally does a Google Search for “Jordan Todosey naked” and ends up here .

Hannah Montana - Hannah goes on tour with the Nickelodeon rivals Josh and Drake. When she returns, she starts acting strange and drinking heavily. Thinking that she is hiding something, Lilly and Oliver search Miley’s purse only to find a bottle of Valtrex. They both get real nervous. Hilarity ensues.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Pitch your own ideas for an episode.

Update (4/30/2008): For more tweener Very Special Episodes, see the Miley Cyrus inspired sequels.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Al Franken Decade

Al Franken was the subject of a long piece in today's Washington Post about how he is having to cut back on the political satire in order to be taken seriously as a politician. He has had a long career in comedy including a archetypally bad SNL-based movie featuring his Stuart Smalley character. He has also written several books taking pointed jabs at blowhard right-wing radio and television pundits before becoming a laconic left-wing Air America pontificator himself. But I first remember him in December of 1979 in a segment on Weekend Update with Jane Curtin:
Well, the "me" decade is almost over, and good riddance, and far as I'm concerned. The 70's were simply 10 years of people thinking of nothing but themselves. No wonder we were unable to get together and solve any of the many serious problems facing our nation. Oh sure, some people did do some positive things in the 70's - like jogging - but always for the wrong reasons, for their own selfish, personal benefit. Well, I believe the 80's are gonna have to be different. I think that people are going to stop thinking about themselves, and start thinking about me, Al Franken.

That's right. I believe we're entering what I like to call the Al Franken Decade. Oh, for me, Al Franken, the 80's will be pretty much the same as the 70's. I'll still be thinking of me, Al Franken. But for you, you'll be thinking more about how things affect me, Al Franken. When you see a news report, you'll be thinking, "I wonder what Al Franken thinks about this thing?", "I wonder how this inflation thing is hurting Al Franken?" And you women will be thinking, "What can I wear that will please Al Franken?", or "What can I not wear?" You know, I know a lot of you out there are thinking, "Why Al Franken?" Well, because I thought of it, and I'm on TV, so I've already gotten the jump on you.

So, I say let's leave behind the fragmented, selfish 70's, and go into the 80's with a unity and purpose. That's what I think. I'm Al Franken.
Two girls I knew in high school took him literally and decided that they would do their part for the Al Franken Decade. Back in the early 80s, before the internet, stalking becoming a fan of a minor celebrity was much harder. They wrote some fan letters and then took to harassing calling the NBC switchboard until they put them through to Al Franken's office. After a few calls, they earned his trust enough that he appointed them co-presidents of his fan club. The calls became a weekly event and the girls would invite friends over to say "hi" to Al. I once mumbled something incoherent enough to stun him into silence, but that was my only direct contact with him. It was these two sophomore girls that did all the heavy lifting.

As the fan club officers, their duties included sending out the replies to the other fan letters he had gotten. He sent them a huge envelope with the mail and a bunch of signed black and white headshot glossies of himself. For most of the fans, he just signed generic messages. For the fan club girls he personalized them with witty messages. One read:
Let's have
sex again
real soon.
Al Franken
This is when they realized that they had never quite gotten around to telling Al that they were sixteen-year-old high school students. And they realized they would never be able to display that picture anywhere their parents would be able to see it.

Now that Al has moved on from being a coke-snorting writer of a late night sketch comedy to candidate for national political office (not really that much of a direction change) some enterprising muckraker could hunt down these youthful fans that are now in middle-age like me and dig up some dirt. But I don't think anything from over 25 years ago can count as a scandal since the 80s were a time of open indulgence. And Al Franken. Afterall, it was his decade.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What fan group have you ever been involved with?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Waitresses

Two of my favorite blogs, Midvale School For The Gifted Alumni Association (I have a MVSFTG tee shirt, and now that my wife is no longer a G&T teacher, I can wear it more often) and A Little Night Music (or is it Dance As Though No One Is Watching, I get confused), are linking to Christmas tunes all through December. I love listening to them while I am blogging or paying bills. So thanks to HRH Courtney, Queen of Everything and The Mistress of the Dark for brightening my holiday season. In the spirit of giving back, this is my favorite Christmas song which is by the archetypal 80s one-and-a-half hit wonder band The Waitresses:

Get this widget | Track details | eSnips Social DNA

Christmas time is about the only time to ever hear The Waitresses on the radio, so that makes the season doubly special. They also did the theme song to the Square Pegs, the too-cool-to-last 80s high school show that showcased Sarah Jessica Parker long before she started having sex in the city. And that show STILL is not out on DVD yet. Maybe next Christmas.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What is your favorite obscure holiday song and/or forgotten 80s band?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Quick Hits

To break my blogger-block, here are some quick hits to refresh the feed:

Led Zeppelin is reuniting with 87.5% of the genetic material of the original line-up. If a friend had seats either on the floor or in the first 10 rows of the lower bowl, how much would you pay to see them play?
"Torqueberto" Gonzales has been named Lawyer Of The Year by the American Bar Association. In other news, Michael Vick has been named Pet Owner Of The Year and Lindsay Lohan is Motor Trend's Driver Of The Year.
The definition of chutzpah: Drew Peterson, the former cop whose fourth wife disappeared after she wouldn’t eat her toadstools, has set up a website for donations so that his kids can have presents this Christmas.
Jessica Alba is now added to the list of celebrity MILFs-to-be that failed to include me in their plans to start a family. I feel like revoking her Hottest Movie Stripper award.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What scary street corner preacher does Robert Plant resemble in that photo?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

BooksFirst - November 2007

Books Bought
Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

Books Heard
I Am America (And So Can You) written and read by Stephen Colbert

Books Read
Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

This edition of BooksFirst is late because of the loss in my family and because I didn’t really finish reading any books in November. I completed both books listed here last night, but I’m counting them towards November anyways.

Normally I eschew abridged audiobooks. If I’m going to listen to a book, I want to hear every word. For the I Am America book I made an exception because one of the conceits of the book is that Stephen Colbert didn’t actually write the book, since he hates book. Instead he claims to have dictated it and sent it to the publisher to turn into a book. It shows.

Part of the advantage of the audiobook is that you get that smarmy Colbert delivery. And at over three hours, a little Colbert goes a long way. He has guest readers as well, but it's hard to identify who is doing what bit. Each chapter is a single red meat topic that he attacks with his “modest proposal” deadpan satire. This approach works more effectively on some topics than others. The chapter on Hollywood is side-splittingly funny. The chapter on/against illegal immigration is too close to actual Republican talking points to be inherently funny. Maybe that says more about the xenophobic state of affairs than the humor potential of the topic.

I read the Harry Potter books out of order just to drive Potterheads nuts. If you remember my review of Deathly Hallows, I took a lot of grief in the comments for skipping the middle five books. My son’s favorite book in the series is the fourth, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so I decided to tackle that one next. I intended to just breeze through it like I had the first and seventh, but it just dragged out. I found it hard to read more than a chapter or two a night. Towards the end as the action picked up, I got more engrossed and knocked off the last quarter in just a few sittings.

I’m figuring out that the books follow a formula of several hundred pages of clever detail about the events going on around Hogwarts. Some of this is integral to the plot, some is just funny episodes scattered about for window dressing. Then there is a hundred pages of real action involving the latest threat to Harry followed up with about fifty pages of wrap up that explains the clues, macguffins, and red herrings that had been sprinkled about the first part of the book.

J. K. Rowling is a genius with character names and jargon and also writes clever dialog in a variety of voices (I really wish Goblet of Fire had more scenes with those sexily voiced Beauxbatons). The plots are deceptively intricate in that all the odd filler sounding parts do tie-in in some way. I still think you could trim these books by at least a third and not lose any of the magic.

Incidentally, the version of Goblet that I read was a British trade paperback my son bought at Waterstones in London several years ago. It is nowhere near the weight of the doorstop hardback American edition. The only Britishism I kept stumbling on was the odd spelling of "pyjamas".

Speaking of both magic and audiobooks, my previous exposure to Terry Pratchett was as audiobooks. I had listened to both The Thief of Time and Small Gods and enjoyed them immensely. Earlier this year I had read Good Omens, his collaboration with Neil Gaiman, and felt that it was more Pratchett than Gaiman, but still very good. One of the problems with Pratchett is that his vast body of work is a daunting barrier to entry. Recently I stumbled onto his official site which had a good guide to the entire series and all the minor subthreads that run through the oeuvre. I went out and bought a couple recently so I could get a representative sample. I included the first Discworld book just so that I could compare the later books with the first entry.

The Color of Magic is a good introduction to Pratchett’s satirical world because it is a episodic picaresque tour of the world literally to its very edge. It also features recurring character Rincewind, the universe’s most incompetent wizard. Each of the four chapters is a stand-alone adventure that satirizes a different fantasy sub-genre. I clearly identified the references to Friz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series, the Stormbringer series, and the Perniverse. I had to go to Wikipedia to catch that there were also digs at Lovecraft. Wikipedia also tipped off me to the fact that The Light Fantastic is the continuation of the story. I may have to go back and get that one since the ending of this volume does not end in a neat tidy manner even by Pratchett standards. The book is not nearly as funny as the more directly satiric later books, but it shows that all the elements were in place.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Remembering Grandma


Grandmothers are the gold standard of relatives. Their love is unconditional. Their generosity boundless. Their affection undying.

My grandmother was all these. As a kid I always looked forward to the week or two with my grandmother. While my grandfather gave me yard chores, my grandmother took me to the science center. She taught me cribbage. She was always up to Scrabble® even though she never seemed to win. And the baking. While Jewish grandmothers have the “eat, eat, eat” reputation, my grandmother could give any bubbie a run for her money.

During my college years she became logistically and emotionally my closest relative while my father was stationed in Italy. For Thanksgiving she became the default destination. When some medical tests made me too ill to attend class, she dropped everything and drove from Huntsville to Atlanta to care for me for a week. She was a nurse by training, but her care came coated in comfort. She cooked for me and became housemother for both me and my roommate.

Inspired by her hospitality, I embarked on a career of mooching Thanksgiving dinners from indulgent relatives. For many years I trekked annually on the busiest travel weekend of the year from Baltimore to Boston just to be with her and my New England relatives. These were more than holiday meal, they were a weekend of activities and traditions including candlepins and concerts and chili. When she became too ill to travel, I transferred my attentions to equally generous but much more geographically desirable relatives, but I still fondly recall the Boston Bacchanals as the ultimate family feasts.

It was just a week after Thanksgiving that my father called to warn me that she had taken a turn for the worse. The next morning he called to tell me that she had passed away in her sleep after 94 years of event-filled living. She was born while automobiles and airplanes were still in their infancy. In his tear-filled eulogy my father related that her family was the first in their town with an indoor flush toilet. As a newlywed she sent her husband off to fight World War II while she raised a family. My grandfather’s career both in and out of the military took them Florida to Alaska, from California to Massachusetts, and even to Japan. She had four children that are scattered up and down the eastern seaboard, but are knitted together with a bond stronger than love.

My grandmother was tireless and seemingly timeless. I never saw her age or grow tired. When I last saw her in July she had somehow become weak, frail, and forgetful. She was a shell of the vibrant woman that had watched me grow up, marry, and start a family of my own. Even in her infirmity she was cheerful and glad for the company.

Now that she is gone, her legacy is the love of her four children, six grandchildren, and eight great-grandkids. She lives on in each and everyone of us.