Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More Very Special Episodes

On of my inexplicably popular blog posts is Very Special Episodes where I came up with modern day After School Special type plotlines for some shows currently popular with the tweener set.

That original post was inspired by Jamie Lynn Spears getting herself knocked up despite being a sixteen year old role model for millions of girls. Now another Disney starlet has caused a kerfuffle by posing in a revealing way for Vanity Fair. While it’s nowhere near as bad as going all Juno, it is causing plenty of consternation.

So to exploit a hot topic and give me an excuse to do more clip art trolling through the Disney and Nickelodeon photo archives, I bring you the episodes that might happen if some squeaky clean shows decided to film some Law and Order-style ripped-from-the-headlines sexed-up storylines.


Carly and Sam notice that their website traffic has tripled overnight. Then they realize that it has been vandalized and redirects to a Russian Lolita site where somebody has photoshopped their heads onto naked pictures of underage girls. About the same time, they notice Freddie flashing a lot of money around. They don disguises and follow him but find out that it was his bar mitzvah money (nobody, including the writers, knew he was Jewish). They return home laughing off the misunderstanding only to catch Spencer installing a webcam behind the mirror in the bathroom. In the next episode, Tina Yothers joins the cast as Carly's Child Protective Services case worker.

High School Musical 3

Sharpay’s dad loses his entire fortune in the Bear Stearns financial meltdown and the family is impoverished. To keep up her standard of living she begins a call-girl ring with her equally destitute friends. In a musical cat fight sequence set in the girls locker room, Gabrielle and Sharpay accidentally get their phones switched. When Troy finds the escort service website he calls the number and gets Gabrielle by mistake. She thinks he’s asking her on a date and he keeps trying to negotiate price without saying anything incriminating. Meanwhile, Ryan gets up the nerve to call Gabrielle for a date only to make an appointment with his sister instead. They all meet at a high class hotel and farcical misunderstandings ensue when it turns out that Chad and Taylor have also checked in under assumed names. Somehow Gabrielle ends up getting talked into taking nude pictures of herself that leak onto the net. The movie ends with a huge song and dance number set at the senior prom where all the guys' dates demand their money in advance.

Cory In The House

President Richard Martinez naïvely gets tricked into “tapping toes” with a guy in an airport bathroom right as a phony undercover cop walks in. Cory finds out from Sophie that her dad is being blackmailed and that if the president resigns Victor Baxter will lose his job. Corey and Newt develop a plan to catch the blackmailer, so they go undercover in full S&M gear to a DC leather bar. They find the sleazebag (guest star Alan Ruck) and trick him into admitting it was all a set-up. They bust into the Oval Office to give President Martinez the evidence exonerating him only to discover Meena giving him oral sex underneath the desk.

Hannah Montana

Hannah gets offered a photo shoot for a fashion magazine by noted artsy photographer Connie Lingus. Hannah gets all into it and reveals a little more than she should. Connie promises to not use the pictures but Rico finds them on a laptop and sells them to Oliver and all the other boys in the school. They pin the picture up in their lockers and start a bunch of trash talk about how Hannah is a cheap over-exposed tramp. Miley gets mad at how she is being made into a sex object and makes a big speech in the cafeteria about how it is wrong to objectify underage girls. Her dad takes her aside and shows her the royalty rates on her DVD sales and she slinks away chastised.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: I'm not even going to go into it. The Cyrus family seems to be doing plenty of whoring on their own.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Stalking MoDo

The Newseum in Washington, DC is a newly reopened museum located right on Pennsylvania Avenue. The old location, which closed a few years ago, was across the river in Arlington where it got poor foot traffic being way off the beaten path. The new digs are in a huge new building it shares with a Wolfgang Puck restaurant and high-end condos. The museum itself has all sorts of high-tech gizmos and exhibits. It has two working television studios and one is now used every Sunday for the taping of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”, ABC’s Sunday morning political talk show.

I’ve been a regular watcher of “This Week” since its salad days with David Brinkley and the “classic” roundtable of George Will, Cokie Roberts, and Sam Donaldson. I got an e-mail alert that Maureen Dowd would be on the roundtable and I made plans to see if I could cross paths with her. Some may call it stalking; I call it celebrity fan worship.

The museum opens at 9 a.m. and I was part of a small scrum demanding entrance right at nine. “This Week” airs at 10 a.m. in the Washington area, but the actual taping takes place at nine. By the time I bought a membership, figured out where the studio was, and made my way up there, the first segment was already in progress.

IMG_9420The studio that “This Week” uses is the smaller one in the front of the museum on the third floor with the Capitol building in the backdrop. The Newseum broadcasts the feed on the enormous high definition screen in the lobby, but the sound was turned off. A couple of minutes before the end of the segment, out walked the full Roundtable Panel which included George Will, Donna Brazile, Maureen Dowd, and Matthew Dowd (no relation as far as I know).

IMG_9326Maureen was wearing a charcoal gray skirt with a red top that was flirting with coral or salmon. Her beige high heeled shoes were very simple without veering off into FMP territory. While I expected her to be short, she seemed just a little more full-figured than I expected, not that she was anywhere close to Donna Brazile territory. In the post-show webcast she did admit to eating more cheesesteaks than Obama. For a woman that splits the age difference between me and my mother, she came off professional but not matronly.

IMG_9330They all made small talk with each other on the atrium walkway until it was time to do their teaser. Dowd chatted with George Will and briefly leaned over the railing to admire the news helicopter hanging from the ceiling. For a brief instant the cameras went on and everybody smiled. Then they went into the studio.

IMG_9340There is only one small window into the studio that isn’t blacked out. I later learned that the fourth level of the museum has on overlook into the studio, but the view doesn’t seem to be much better. For the most part, I just watched the feed on the big screen waiting for brief glimpses of Dowd, who seemed a little nervous and didn't get as much screen time as the other guests.

IMG_9397After the segment was over, everybody unclipped their microphones and walked from the studio to the green room back in the staff-only part of the floor. Donna Brazile was still animatedly discussing Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy. The two Dowds hung back and were talking to each other. Maureen gave me a quick look briefer than a glance and continued on.

My behavior for a smitten stalker was admirable. I stayed in the public spaces. I didn’t approach the guests (except for the senators, who were glad to have their picture taken), and I avoided any disruption of the show’s production. The only request they had was that I not use my flash, so most of my pictures were done with available light. You can see other pictures from my visit in the Flickr set, not all of which feature Maureen.

BlatantCommentWhoring®: On a scale from Mel on The Flight Of The Conchords to Rupert Pupkin, how big of a stalker am I?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Bitter Taste

Yello's Hard LemonadeFruit flavored bottled alcoholic drinks were in the news in Maryland this week. At the last minute, Governor Martin “Rockstar” O’Malley declined to sign a bill that would have treated flavored malt-beverage drinks such as Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade like beer instead of distilled spirits. This law was pushed by the liquor industry to allow these sweet drinks to be sold wherever beer can be sold and to avoid the much stiffer taxes on hard liquor. It’s all rather arcane, but the Baltimore Sun summed it up pretty well:
If the bill is vetoed, he said, the drinks will be taxed at $1.50 a gallon, the same rate as spirits, instead of the 9 cents a gallon of beer.
Flavored malt beverages, or “alcopops” as opponents call them, are usually less than 5% alcohol, much like beer. Most liquor, like my favorite, Jack Daniels, is around 80 proof, or 40% alcohol. That means that the effective rate for booze is 3¢ an ounce of actual alcohol while a 3.5 beer is 2¢ per liquid ounce of alcohol. Sounds fair enough.

Since the Maryland Attorney General ruled that alcopops are distilled liquor, they should be taxed higher. The effective rate would then become 23¢ an ounce of actual alcohol. This amounts to a tax of about 14¢ a bottle for a sweet drink versus less than a penny for a beer.

That’s enough to get a hard lemonade drinker like me up into a Boston Twisted Tea Party level frenzy. It’s bad enough these drinks cost more than a six pack of beer for just four bottles, now the state wants to nick me for an extra dime on every bottle. I’m outraged.

Opponents of these drinks call them gateway drinks because no teenager has ever drunk a beer despite its bad taste. A rather alarmist editorial in the Washington Post ranted this way:
The drinks, known as "alcopops," "malternatives" and "flavored alcoholic beverages," are popular with young and underage drinkers. Dressed up to taste like lemonade, iced tea and various berry-flavored juices, they are designed to appeal to people who haven't yet developed a palate for booze itself. Wrapped in splashy, multicolored packaging and promoted by images of fresh-faced drinkers who in some instances look college-age, "alcopops" are a hit with entry-level drinkers, especially women (emphasis mine). They are, as Mr. O'Malley put it, "a gateway type of thing."

Now I’m being insulted. I’m a man (last time I checked) that has been drinking for the last 28 years of my life (don’t do the math, Dad) and have never really acquired the taste of beer. Sure, I’ll drink it if there isn’t anything else, but at picnics and other gatherings I like a nice sweet mild intoxicant.

They way to keep alcohol out of the hands of kids is not to make it harder, more annoying, and more expensive for legal adults to enjoy the drink of their preference. In the past twenty-five years, there has been a serious ratcheting down by what I call the No Fun Allowed Crowd. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have put into place serious restrictions that have arguably saved lives. On the other hand, I have an outraged teen-age son that has to register with Selective Service next month but can’t legally enjoy a refreshing fruity alcoholic malt beverage with his dad for three more years.

And that sucks. Like bitter, sour hard lemonade.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Are so called alcopops any different from beer?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Card Carrying Geek

I brag and/or lament about my geekitude often on this blog, but until now you have had to take my word on it. However, now my status and is official and permanent. I have a DCI card. DCI does not stand for Drum Corps International (that would represent a entirely different plane of geekdom), but for, well, I’m not quite sure. It does mean I am a certified tournament player of Magic: The Gathering® (check out this post if you have no idea what that is).

Last weekend, my son and a friend wanted to go to the pre-release tournament for the Shadowmoor set of Magic cards down at College Park. I offered to drive and rather than make the whole trip down just to turn around, I decided to stick around and see what the big deal was.

Wizards Of The Coast publishes new Magic cards three or four times a year and they make a big production out of it with sneak previews on their web page and hints about all the new rules. Part of the point of Magic is to make the rules as cumbersome, arcane, and confusing as possible. Then about two weeks before the cards go on sale to the public, they have a pre-release tournament with the new cards.

The tournaments require that you be a DCI member (which is free) so I filled out my form and now I have a permanent record. I could go on the pro-tour (and there is one) if I were good enough, which I'm not. The tournament is divided into several categories. I entered a sealed deck tournament that cost $20 to enter but came with about $15 worth of cards.

We got there quite early so we could be near the front of the line. Plenty of other people had the same idea. Some were in such a hurry that morning that they hadn’t bothered to shower. The guy standing in line next to me was a student from a private school in Baltimore with a particularly tragic case of acne and a rather distinct odor. Not a way to impress the ladies.

But then that point was fairly moot. Of the couple of hundred participants, at most a dozen were women. In the second round of my tournament, I happened to draw one of the more attractive female players. She had a vaguely Eastern European accent and seemed a little shy and unsure of herself. In hindsight I’m certain that at one point the both of us badly misinterpreted one of the rules. She may have only been an average player, but she had great accessories. While not the biggest I have seen, her icosahedron was one of the prettiest I had ever laid my eyes on.

I ended up losing my first two matches two games to one, which put me out of prize bracket, so I forfeited my other two matches and ended up 29th out of 32 in that draw. My son fared little better, placing second in a draft tournament earning him three booster packs, but he didn't make the prize pool in any of his other entries.

Back at home I showed him the cards that I got from the tournament and he was impressed with my Oona, Queen Of The Fae (who is a mighty sweet legendary creature). He explained which of my cards were better than others and what I would have to do to build a better deck. Most of that went over my head.

Next weekend is the official release and my son wants to go to another tournament. I think I will pass. I have had all the nerd-bonding I can handle for now, but that doesn't change my status as a world class geek. After all, I’m official now. And I've got the card to prove it.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What are your geek credentials?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day Rant

Hank Stuever (no stranger to this blog) today claims Yoga Beri-like that Earth Day is passe because it's too popular. I have news for him. Like the whiny kid on Mothers Day that wonders when Children's Day is, every day is Earth Day. It's great to get together and hold hands and hug trees, but every day people all over the earth make a choice between damaging the earth and feeding their families.

Here is a dirty secret: Clean air and water are luxury goods. And like all luxuries and all necessities, there is a price for it. We Americans as a society started paying that cost in the 1970s when we passed the Clean Air Act and traded in Smokey The Bear (“Only you can prevent forest fires.”) for Woodsy The Owl (“Give a hoot. Don’t pollute.”) Delve just a little into economics (like the book Naked Economics reviewed here) and you learn about direct and shared costs and benefits.

Anytime tougher regulations are suggested, the resource extraction and waste producing industries band together to minimize their direct costs at the benefit of our shared benefits. Dick Cheney speaks for the oil industry, but who speaks for the trees? Senator Lorax?

IMG_3939IMG_3947Behind the general lack of civil rights and the suppression of internal minority groups, the environmental damage China is inflicting on itself and its neighbors is a major issue people are interlinking with the upcoming Olympics. I share their concern. Air pollution in Beijing is atrocious. From the top of the hill in Jingshan Park, you can’t see the front gate of the Forbidden City. The Chinese have been paying lip service to respecting the environment for some time, but the demands of economic growth have kept the coal-fired power plants chugging.

And when I mention China’s “neighbors” I mean the whole world. Smog from Asia works its way across the Pacific to acid rain on Oregon. A few years back when we went to Halong Bay in Vietnam, one of the most beautiful and serene natural places on earth (check out the pictures if you don't believe me), we passed a steady stream of large earth-moving trucks transporting coal from the nearby mountains that will end up in power plants in southern China. Vietnam is trying to balance mining with ecotourism, but selling off your backyard pays well. Just ask West Virginia.

Here in our own country we are leveling mountains and filling in stream beds to feed the coal plants that power the enormous internet engines of northern Virginia. A single building of internet servers can draw the energy needed for a small city. And coal is a dirty, dirty fuel. Back in the 80s when the threat of underpowered whiny electric cars was first being being bandied about, the hot rod magazines liked to point out that there is a smokestack at the end of every plug.

EnglandA266In London, they have spent nearly a decade peeling two centuries worth of grime and soot off of St. Paul’s Cathedral. You can see the restored white walls right next to the still blackened surfaces. Victorian London probably made modern Beijing look like a clear country meadow

The developing world sees our cars and highways and hears us preaching environmentalism and rightly asks “What about our turn?” It seems wasteful for me to drag 2,000 pounds of metal and plastic around with me everywhere I go just because I might have to put a dresser in the back of my SUV every now and then. Or even more ironically, to take my bicycle down the road for a drive.

One of the great advantages of a compressed industrialization cycle is that other countries can bypass our mistakes. In China and Vietnam cell phones are ubiquitous because it’s easier to raise a few cell towers than run miles of wire. The newly refurbished streets of Beijing are a mix of highways with access roads that have wide physically divided bike lanes. Their spanking new subway system has massive bicycle “park and ride” racks. It would be great if we could just skip the whole air-you-cut-with-a-knife phase and move onto clean energy sources.

Worldwide food resources are beginning to tighten and some doomsayers are already predicting that Malthusian chickens are coming home to roost. I doubt that, but our wildly optimistic hope that biofuels will let us extend our energy hogging ways another generation or two is looking pretty naïve. Burning food to power cars doesn’t make any more sense than burning dead dinosaurs.

The eventual solution will be a combination of big and little. I forsee a future where solar cells are as ubiquitous as semiconductor chips are now. But you can’t power a Google server farm without raising the albedo of an entire county. Nuclear power in some safe sustainable way will have to become a contributor, if only to make us less dependent on peoples that hate us because we have a six-hundred year head start on the philosophical cycle that runs from fundamentalism to enlightenment.

We as humans are lazy indifferent animals that tend not to be prodded into action until disaster is imminent, and then not always. Just ask Pompeii. We tend to do Just Enough and we tend to do it in The Nick Of Time. I just hope we aren’t Too Late.

BlatantCommentWhoring™:Will life be better or worse in fifty years?

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Master Schedule

When I signed on to post a blog post every day for a year, I knew it would be tough going. One reader even predicted I would become bored with the gimmick. Well, it’s nearly a third of the way through and I have for the most part succeeded. Rather than force a lot of drama and anxiety into my blogging, it has given me some pace and structure.

The rules of Blog365 state that any blogpost anywhere counts and even allows for things like Flickr uploads to count. While I haven’t resorted to Flickr tricks, I have used some gimmicks. I really write three separate blogs: Foma* (I like it when people include the asterisk), my flagship blog: Dowd Report, “written” by my Maureen Dowd obsessed alter ego, Mo MoDo; and China Sights, a photo blog of my visit to China last year.

The key is that China Sights is the safety valve. I have a nearly unlimited reserve of pictures to blog about that make for a quick and easy post when the time crunch gets too great. I’m so guilt-ridden about using this shortcut, that I will often post three or four related posts in rapid succession which can be a bit dizzying depending on what order you read them.

The structure comes from the publishing schedule of Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column which comes out Sunday and Wednesday. I like to post about these as soon as possible while they are fresh. So a typical week of blogging works like this:

Sunday: Dowd Report. I usually have all morning to read the column and research the silly pop culture references that are my focus. I try not to get to worked up about the politics itself because plenty of other people do that already.

Monday: Foma*. If I have a lot of free time on Sunday, I can leisurely work on an entry to be posted later. I often also spend Sunday uploading pictures to Flickr or doing other nuts and bolts maintenance.

Tuesday: Foma*. Since it is one post per day and the Monday entry is usually up in the morning, I have a day and a half to come up with the next one. This is usually posted late in the evening.

Wednesday: Dowd Report. This is the most difficult post of the week. I try to get it written and posted before I go to work. I’ve learned to hack the url of the NYT columnists pages, so sometimes I get a sneak peak at the column Tuesday night so I can collect my ideas.

Thursday: Foma*. If I can get a Foma* post written by Thursday morning, that keeps with the general every day-and-a-half pace I like to keep.

Friday: Dealers Choice. I sometimes write posts about what other bloggers have written about the latest Dowd column as a Dowd Report Blogwatch item or I’ll have something time sensitive I want to get into Foma*.

Saturday: Any Of The Above. Depending on what I posted to on Friday, I will do one of the other two blogs on Saturday. I like to make sure that either the Friday or Saturday post is to Foma* so that I don’t go too long between posts.

So in any given week I will have posted at least four times to Foma*, twice to Dowd Report and once more to whatever strikes my fancy. This may sound very rigid, but it’s really quite flexible and has taken some of my procrastinating tendencies out of the picture.

Now if only I could get the rest of my life into this level of order, I’d be doing fine. But I can only control what I am in charge of.

BlatantCommentWhoring®: Do you blog on a routine or whenever it strikes your fancy?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cables And Wires And Dongles Galore

Faithful readers will recall that I made the plunge into the world of high definition television recently. One of the first things that got hooked up to it was my son’s Wii (which is only 480p for those of you that follow these things).

We had the Magic League (remember them?) and one of the players was wearing an obscure tee shirt with an funny logo. He said it was based on a web cartoon called Making Fiends check them out). Curious, we wanted to watch some sample episodes so we fired up the Wii that has a built in web browser and started watching the deranged but funny cartoons. Unfortunately, the quality was fairly poor and the navigation really clunky. Wiimotes are great for playing games but lousy for typing in url’s.

A couple of weeks later, we were planning our summer vacation with two other families. We’re planning on sharing a vacation rental and we wanted to reach some consensus on which property to get. We used a video to S-video adaptor to send the signal from my wife’s four-year old MacBook to the TV. The image was also grainy, but serviceable. It was also awkward barking commands at my son who was sitting at the laptop running the mouse and keyboard.

I remembered that the TV has a VGA input suitable for a computer. I knew I had a spare VGA cable around but it turned out to be female to male and I needed male to male. Even more than that, the laptop has a non-standard outlet that Apple calls mini-VGA so I needed a mini-VGA to VGA converter and a VGA cable. I daisy-chained that all together and adjusted the resolution on the laptop. Voila! I was surfing the web in crystal clear full color.

My wife gave my the url of a YouTube video she wanted to watch. Youtube videos look awful on a bigscreen no matter what, but the tinny sound out of the laptop was something I could do something about. I had two choices. I could use a 1/8” stereo wire and run it straight from the laptop into the television or I could use a 1/8” jack to RCA cable splitter and use the auxiliary input to the home theater system. I settled on the latter even though YouTube video through anything is just as bad. What did sound good was the AOL.com full CD listening party stream of the new Hillary McRae album while I was surfing blogs with my feet up on the couch.

While I was at MallStoreOfWires I noticed that they had a very small USB cordless mouse. That would go a long way to freeing me from having to keep the laptop within arms distance. That took a certain amount of experimentation to learn that while the arm of the sofa made a terrible mouse pad, the seat cushion next to me worked fine. Coupled with a Bluetooth keyboard, I can be anywhere in the room as long as my eyesight is keen enough to read the text.

My wife also has a newer PowerBook from work that is, of course, incompatible with with all the adaptors for the MacBook. It’s video connection is mini-DVI which converts to standard DVI which then connects to the TV with a DVI to HDMI cable. The DVI cable resulted in some weird stuff. Program windows (like Firefox) that appeared on the laptop screen wouldn't show up on the television. But then the Mac program Dock only worked on the TV. It was like the set-up was haunted. I gave up and switched back to a VGA cable and fiddled with both the Mac and TV settings until I got a really great full screen image at 1280 x 768 (the internal video card will support higher resolutions, but the TV won't). Still, it's a great image.

So here is the full list of items sitting in the backet o’cables next to the TV:

Mini-VGA to S-video convertor
Mini-VGA to VGA convertor
Mini-DVI to S-video convertor
Mini-DVI to DVI convertor
6 foot DVI to HDMI cable
6 foot male to male VGA cable
6 foot male to female VGA cable
6 foot 1/8” stereo cable
6 foot 1/8” to RCA cable
6 foot S-video cable
USB mouse
Bluetooth keyboard

And that doesn’t include the various sundry Wii peripherals.

The point wasn't to brag or show more pictures of my BigAssTV, but to take some baby steps towards convergence and see what I could lash together using my existing consumer electronics inventory and some cables. Now that I've completed the proof of concept phase, I can move on to exploring online video options and go from there.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Is a 48" monitor too much or not enough?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tale Of Two Cameras

Just before I went to England I bought a new camera body. The Canon Kiss Digital N (the equivalent of the Rebel XT in the US) that I had bought in Japan three years ago had been in the shop three times for various things and parts were as slow as molasses coming in. So I sucked it up and bought a Rebel XTi which is essentially the same camera but with 10 megapixels instead of 8. The advantage here was that I could continue to use the lenses and accessories I already owned.

My wife had a very old Sony digital point and shoot that just went south on her. For a replacement, we wanted something not dependent on proprietary Sony MemoryStickDuoProPlus whatevers, so we went with the Panasonic DMC-TZ1 which is 6 megapixels and has a 10x optical zoom and uses standard SD cards.

We both took tons of pictures, me more than her, and we had over a thousand shots between us when we returned. As I was very slowly sorting them and uploading them to Flickr, I noticed something odd. For the most part when we took pictures of the same thing we usually had a different composition or emphasis. But these two pictures of the National Gallery were nearly identical.


The top one is mine and the lower one is hers. Click on either picture to be taken to the Flickr page or see the full image (warning: very large files) by clicking on either this link for mine or this one for hers. The Canon seems to have a slightly brighter exposure and a very different white balance, not that I understand what that terms mean. So I cropped a very small portion of each to see what I’m getting with my camera with nearly twice the megapixels and easily ten times the weight.

As you can tell, not much. I love my digital SLR because of its power and potential, but I’m still learning all the features of it. It seems that when you just need to capture some quick memories those little pocket cameras do just fine.

You can see more of my rather cloudy London pictures here. And be forewarned that I will be trickling out more in the weeks to come.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What do you take pictures with?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Smuttiest Strip In Print

For a long time the comic strip Arlo and Janis has held the undisputed title of Smuttiest Strip In Print®. While 95% of this strip is typical domestic slice of life stuff, every now and then one slips past the censors. Like this one from last week:
Click on images for official site.

Someone please come up with the explanation that you can use to a comics editor that explains that this is not a reference to a little light bondage play that went wrong and eventually required that aid of paramedics, a locksmith, and/or a hacksaw.

But now a new strip has jumped into the breach. While Doonesbury is on yet another hiatus, the Washington Post has been running a test strip so new the ink is still wet. Daddy’s Home is about a work at home dad and the trials of tribulations of being in a non-traditional domestic relationship.

In many respects it resembles the similarly themed Adam@Home, but like Arlo and Janis, it occasionally goes to a dark space. Take this one from yesterday:
Nameless Dad is getting all excited (literally) about the possibility of an unexpected Special Occasion Sex Act only to have his hopes dashed by his smirking wife that just wants to catch a little late night television to help her fall asleep.

This would be a slightly risqué one-off it weren’t for a previous strip where Mom and Dad find some time for a little kitchen countertop afternoon delight that plays out like this:
Yikes. Nothing deflates a work at home dad like a negative reference to his staying power. No wonder he spends his days lusting after cooking show hotties.Yummo. I'm sure the lotion bottle and box of tissues are just off-panel.

And being home all day he could be chasing after the other daytime denizens of his illustrated Wisteria Lane if it weren’t for his cock-blocking kid.
So in a three week trial we have learned that Daddy is a sexually frustrated couch potato who is regularly ridiculed by his sassy wife. It’s as if Ted Forth never got a new job. And speaking of My Hero, there is nothing like a business trip with the wife to put a little lead in your strategic sourcing pencil. This is the smirk of a very lucky lady, or at least one that is about to get lucky.

In the meantime, Arlo needs to watch his back. Daddy’s Home. And he’s gonna give you a run for your money.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What other comics work blue?

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Prettiest Cherry Tree

I’ve lived in the DC/Baltimore area for over a dozen years now and
Spring gets to me every year. Florida had two seasons, Drought and Lawnmowing. Maryland gets the full four and nothing signals rebirth like the cherry blossoms.


Anytime there is a clear day during peak blooming I load up the car, fight the tourists, and head down to the Tidal Basin. Two weeks ago was such a day. I bribed my wife with the promise of a dinner out and we headed down to the District. Our favorite monument in Washington is the relatively new FDR Memorial along the east side of the basin where the cherry trees are the thickest.


The Park Police have been playing with the traffic patterns to try to avoid gridlock, but I found a space right near the water. I got my pictures, but before heading out I decided to take one lap of Hains Point which has as many cherry trees as the Tidal Basin if not more so. By now it was late in the afternoon and things were starting to wind down. There was a little bit of traffic but parking was plentiful.


As I drove around, there was one tree in particular stood out. By the time I pulled over and got out my camera I was in line behind two other groups posing in front of the low hanging trees. There was something about this tree in particular that entranced people. Everyone that passed by it stopped to pose. I decided that it must be The Prettiest Cherry Tree On Hains Point.


The cherry blossoms have to be one of the most photographed annual events in DC and I have done my part. On my Flickr account, I have whittled the over 200 hundred pictures I took down to the very best 64. It’s no coincidence that several feature my wife but only one features my goofy mug. The most meta-picture is this one of a guy taking a picture of a girl taking a picture of her friend. I bet someone was taking a picture of me.


This annual Rite of Spring never gets old and beauty never gets tiresome to look at.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What do you like about Spring?

Friday, April 11, 2008

BooksFirst - March 2008

Books Bought
The Making of Pride and Prejudice
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
Rock On by Dan Kennedy

Books Read
Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett
King Of The Vagabonds by Neal Stephenson
A Salty Piece Of Land by Jimmy Buffett


I’m still trying to decide whether I like Terry Pratchett or not. Each of his Discworld novels skewers some satire worthy topic. The target of Moving Pictures is, unsurprisingly, motion pictures. A hole to another dimension allows enterprising hustlers to create a fantasy version of the silent films. Hilarity does not ensue. Most of the humor is milked from how movies would be made in a technology free world. Demons paint the pictures and candles project the pictures onto enormous sheets. I think the Flintstones had then down cold ten million years ago. In this book, movies are made on a back lot and they bear a suspicious similarity to our cinema classics. The centerpiece is a war epoch involving winds that have gone.

The only interesting character is a talking (and smart-talking) dog decidedly not in the Rin Tin Tin vein (although there is one of those as well). Another subplot is about trolls that start taking romantic movie conventions to heart. With so much material to use, the story just ignores its promise and becomes a chaotic confusing action sequence. Maybe it’s truer to the movies than I realized.

As you can tell by the Books Bought list, I haven't given up on Pratchett, but I have realized that his scattershot approach to satire can sometimes miss.

Neal Stephenson is one of my favorite authors. Snow Crash is a genre shifting classic and The Diamond Age is far too under-rated. I've blogged about seeing him at a book signing for Cryptonomicon. I even have autographed hardbacks of all three volumes of The Baroque Cycle, but I just can’t get through the first book Quicksilver. I’ve started it about three times and each times I got a little deeper into it, but never quite caught a head of steam. I had heard that if I could make it through the first third, it got much better.

Then I found that in addition to the hardback and the trade paperback, the publisher has issued each volume in a multi-part mass-market paperbacks. Since I had made it through most of the first section, I finished it off and move onto part two which is published as King Of The Vagabonds. This section introduces Jack Shaftoe, a literally half-cocked ne-er-do-well that runs across the preternaturally clever and improbably virginal Eliza. And the virgin part is mostly a technicality. As the middle section of a book would be expected to, the section ends in a cliff hanger that sets up future action.

Counting the paperback version sounds like a little of a cheat, but it lets me break this massive tome into bite-size chunks that will help me appreciate what is reputed as contemporary tour-de-force classic.

Like most people, I have a pile of books on the nightstand. Sometimes they approach archeological strata in height. For quite a while the base layer has been Jimmy Buffet’s novel A Sandy Piece of Land. A better title would have been Lucky Bastards because every character in it is the result of credulity stretching good fortune. People inherit, win and stumble into awesome careers and situations. Everyone is the best or greatest at whatever they attempt. Nobody lacks for excitement and the lack of true suspense or drama makes this book more of a fantasy than anything Terry Pratchett has written.

The ostensible plot revolves around a Montana cowboy on the lam in the Caribbean who gets dragged into a hunt for a Fresnel lens for an abandoned lighthouse. Along the way he runs across a menagerie of misfits and kooky characters that inexplicably always come to his aid. Buffett has invested a lot of energy in giving each of these people really elaborate back stories that he then regurgitates in clunky expository passages. Tons of arcane research into lighthouses, seaplanes, fishing and anything else shiny that has ever caught Jimmy's eye are just thudded into the story. No tall tale or shaggy dog story is too well-known to not be reworked into a plot point. He spends five pages rehashing the plot of The Man Who Would Be King. There is even a suspiciously familiar pop-star that travels around the world in a seaplane just to save the day.

While I love Jimmy’s island tinged music, it doesn’t stretch well to novel length.

Monday, April 07, 2008

NCCCCC: Catch That Cliche

After counting the votes, we have the finalists in the National Corniest Cliche Comic Character Countdown and they are a motley bunch of stereotypes. Many people were frustrated with the No Patterson Rule. For Better or For Worse is a tough strip to pigeon-hole in these categories because it is part humor strip, part soap opera, and all lame. And know that it is in the zombie strip limbo of the living dead, the strip is beginning to compete with itself in any topic where spleens can be vented.

We had plenty of write-ins, most of them very well-reasoned. There were over a thousand votes cast, so I feel I got a real slice of the comics-loving community. And they love to hate the losers. Lets go through the finalists and then we can decide who is the Best (or Worst) of Show

Alarming Alcoholic – Leroy Lockhorn
Despite having an early lead, Andy Capp got edged out by Leroy Lockhorn. Now both of these characters have a glass in their hand as part of their defining character traits, but Leroy is bitterer and far more likely to be in an out of control stupor. I really wish Andy had won because he is a more iconic figure with far better clip art available online, but the readers have spoken.

Dopiest Dad – Dagwood
Dagwood would give anyone a run for the money in dopiest anything category. There is not anything he does that he doesn’t do lazily or incompetently. Except perhaps make oversized sandwiches. Happily married but dim-witted fathers are one of the last safe objects of derision in America and Dagwood has been blazing that trail for over severty-five years. Other dopey dads owe him a debt of gratitude for making them look good in comparison.

Perplexing Pet – Marmaduke
As I mentioned in the comments, this was Marmaduke’s category to lose and he won by the largest margin of any category. Even the much maligned Garfield got out-voted two-to-one. How this hyperactive Great Dane has managed to milk one joke for decades is the real mystery. And nothing I can say about the sexual subtext of the strip can match this.

Kid to Kick In The Ass – Dolly
I just could not fit everyone’s favorite loathsome brat into this category. I could have doubled the field and still not pleased everybody. Danae from Non Sequitor was favorite write-in. Still, Dolly is a worthy winner in the toughest division.

Judge’s Choice – Flagstone Family
At least one reader caught on that the candidates seemed to include an awful lot of folk from Hi and Lois and this was no accident. While no character finished higher than fourth in their respective category (Thirsty at least beat out all the other Walker/Browne lushes (a disturbingly common character type among that clan)), the entire Hi and Lois cast epitomizes lazy caricature driven characterization. For over a half century, this white-bread family has been a collection of “types” that went obsolete somewhere around the British Invasion. Even as they have tried to adapt and stay relevant, they remain constantly at least one decade behind the times.

So make a choice and check some boxes and we’ll see what you think.

In the meantime I’m going to start compiling a list of divisions for next year’s tourney. Some ideas I have kicking around are: Most Unforgivable Patterson, Swishiest Soap Star, Least Fulfilled Female, Most Dysfunctional Family. Go ahead and give me some other ideas. Until then, read my regular stuff and be sure to come back next year.

Friday, April 04, 2008

NCCCCC: Kid You'd Like To Kick In The Ass

Comics are for kids. At least that is the common perception. That is why they are full of kids that so smart-assed that normal parents would have taken a strap to their little butts long ago. There is a mile wide chasm between the genius of Calvin and Hobbes and the puerility of most comic kids. Let’s look at the most egregious.

Dennis The Menace

Back in the day, Dennis was a candidate to become a jumpsuit wearing juvie in a youth boot camp. Nowadays his behavior wouldn’t get a Ritalin prescription from the most pill happy Dr. Feelgood. Still, if I were Mr. Wilson, I would have given Dennis a real close look at the wood chipper a long time ago.

Dolly (The Family Circus)
Being the most annoying kid in the Family Circus is like being named Top Dictator of The Twentieth Century, the competition is keen, but it’s not much to brag about. If you imagine that the whole family gets their well water from a dioxin poisoned brownfield and each kid is representing his own particular symptoms of brain damage, the strip begins to make sense. Dolly’s repertoire of spoonerisms, mangled syntax and eye-rollingly demented observations are enough to get the very front seat on the short bus.

Marvin is at best Garfield in human form. At worst, he is the most idiotic toddler ever to have an internal monologue. When he was a baby, he just sat around in fully loaded diapers philosophizing. He is now a preschool toddler, but the quality of the wit hasn’t improved any. He may have graduated from diapers, but the stink on the comics page is still there.

Dot and Ditto (Hi and Lois)

You may not see anything particularly noxious in the Flagstone twins at first, but if you pay attention you will see that they encompass all the annoying habits of all comic kids. They disrespect their elders, they abuse and torment siblings and they fight with each other in a disturbingly incestuous way. And they’re named after punctuation, for heaven’s sake.

Edison Lee (The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee)

The oddly dichotic Edison Lee and his titular brilliant mind is a reader nominee. The strip may not be syndicated widely, but those that have read it despise it with the intensity of a thousand suns. Its raison d'être seems to disguise Mallard Fillmore's hateful politics in a family friendly wrapper. This boy idiot/genius is a particularly unfunny walking talking point that belongs in the Limbaugh Letter rather than on a comics page where people want to be entertained, not lectured to.

The One Big Happy star is here based on the hatred of loyal reader Demetrious X who is saving a special circle in Hell for this malapropism prone misfit. Ruthie bundles tons of annoying features in one little bundle of spite. In addition to her sub-Dolly puns, she is mean, bitter, and vindictive. I’m not sure this comic doesn’t violate the “currently in print” rule since all the strips at the official website are reruns, but we are leaving it in to give it the benefit of the doubt. After all, the fact that I can’t tell the difference is telling enough.

This category is perhaps the most competitive to date. Be sure to give each character full consideration (if you can stomach it) before casting the most annoying one down the well.

Voting in all categories will end sometime Saturday evening, so make sure you have picked someone in each of the other categories.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

NCCCCC: Perplexing Pet Playoff

The Perplexing Pet category has been the hardest bracket of the National Corniest Cliché Comic Character Countdown to seed. Many strips have pets, but they rarely have major roles except for getting sick at inopportune times and ruining planned Paris vacations. Most of the time if they aren’t the star, they are just visual background.

Some of the pet-oriented strips are among the best in print. Snoopy in his day, for better or for worse, became THE breakout Peanuts character and made Charles Schultz a very wealthy if rather troubled man. And speaking of For Better Or For Worse, the death of Farley affected a generation more than Ol’ Yeller. Last year Bucky Katt mopped the floor of the National Coolest Comics Character finals with the other contestants.

On the other hand, there are strips with pets that are among the most reviled characters on the funny pages. And others that just make you scratch your head in confusion. Let’s have a look at some of those.

One of the most hated yet inexplicably popular “talking” animal characters ever. The very young and the feeble-minded find him hilarious and Jim Davis has been trying to breathe some new life into the franchise, but the damage has been done. Garfield is arguably not even a cat. I’m not aware of too many Monday-hating, lasagna-loving, “bachelor-baby”ing real life cats out there. But he is a character in all senses of the word and a merchandising juggernaut.

Perhaps the best way to describe Heathcliff is as a mute, less funny Garfield. Seemingly slightly more cat-like than Garfield, Heathcliff is more of a delinquent alley cat with airs. The pantomime style doesn’t give him much personality to work with and he makes the least of it.

Earl and Mooch (Mutts)
Mutts is a comic strip loved by those pretentious snobs that lament the lost artistic glory days of the funny pages. The strip is beautifully drawn in a gorgeous retro style with lots of in-jokes that date back to The Yellow Kid. But have this cat and dog duo (without looking, tell me which is Earl and which is Mooch) ever done anything funny? Unless you count talking with a lisp as appropriate 21st century comedy material. They are loved as a concept but the strip lacks sound execution.

Dawg (Hi and Lois)
Even the name is completely generic (and highly offensive to those of us who despise the University of Georgia athletic program). Dawg is the Flagstone family pet that mostly interacts with pre-verbal Trixie, which makes him about as important as the sunbeam.

Marmaduke is a Really Big Dog.

Pick which pet belongs in the pound for crimes against comics. This category is tough to give firm direction on, so leave your thought process in the comments.

And if you haven’t voted yet in the Alarming Alcoholic or Dopey Dad category yet, make sure to visit those.