Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson Remembered

I have the Thriller album on cassette. It is song for song one of the greatest albums ever recorded. I never rebought it on CD because I refused to contribute to his pedophile defense fund. Somehow I found putting money in his pocket more reprehensible than contributing to the bank accounts of the other drug addicts and criminals and similar denizens of the music industry.

He had no childhood but grew up to be a man without responsibilities or knowledge of the consequences of his actions. He traded his youth for a world without accountability. His money bought him license not available to others.

I don't know where his demons came from but they were real and he left a wake of ruin in his path. Whether the happiness he brought millions is worth the pain he inflicted on himself and those he preyed on can never be quite calculated.

We as a society create and then sacrifice our pop culture heroes. As a college student in the 80s, my roommates and I would sit around and argue one of the most complicated issues of the past thirty years: Just What Is The Story On Michael Jackson?

At the time the rumor was that he beat the Billie Jean paternity case by copping to being gay. If only his life were that mundanely kinky. Always be careful what you wish for. We ended up knowing way too much about Michael and at the same time not nearly enough.

Pop often icons come in pairs. The darker side of the Beatles were the Rolling Stones. At one time Michael Jackson and Prince vied for the top of the charts with Jackson being the 'good' one. Prince was a dark purple libido unleashed while Michael Jackson could sing-song "The Girl Is Mine" with Paul McCartney. He was safe and cute and cuddly and non-threatening. And then things changed. Who knew Prince was the relatively normal one?

The rumors about his personal life got darker and more twisted. There were lawsuits and settlements and testimony too creepy to dismiss. Jackson's arrested adolescence turned into a fixation with adolescents that got him arrested. He played with his image, perhaps to distract us from his real life with magician-like redirection. The difference between reality and persona became too hard to separate. In the Rashomon cult of celebrity we will never know the truth. Not all of it.

There is just too much Michael Jackson to soak it all in at once. His celebrity eclipsed those of even his 80s rivals like Madonna. He is too woven into the threads of our culture. We have iconic moments that can never be forgotten:
  • Moonwalking on the Motown 25 special.
  • Multi-channel event debuts of his videos.
  • Red jackets and single gloves.
  • The Thriller zombie dance rivaling YMCA as the least likely kids party gimmick.
  • The MTV kiss with Lisa Marie Presley.
  • The ever more outlandish publicity stunts as record sales plummeted.
  • A sad reclusive life where he became an object of ridicule and bewilderment.
Years ago in trying to honor another tragic life, the country had to decide to between Young Elvis and Fat Elvis. Now we have a plethora of Michael Jacksons to remember. To name just a few, we have:
  • Jackson 5 Michael
  • Thriller Michael
  • Tabloid Michael
  • Neverland Michael
  • Wacko Jacko
A brutal childhood in pursuit of fame, a creative rebirth into superstardom, and a descent into secrecy and depravity. A life too short and yet too full. So it goes.

South Carolina Story

Just one more showtune musical parody for the Sanford drama unfolding. This time the South Carolina governor is a street hood with a girlfriend nobody approves of.

Maria . . .

The Argentine lady I just screwed:
Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria . . .
My entire career is now a joke so lewd and crude…
Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria . . .

I just got back from seeing Maria
And there’s all this press
Asking about the mess
I’m in.


I’m having an affair with Maria
Out chasing some tail
And hiking on a trail
Of sin!


The divorcée that I’ve been banging
Left my political career hanging


I’ll never stop seeing Maria

Worth throwing my job out the door.


Don't Fly Me To Argentina

In order to beat the land rush on way-too-obvious song parodies about South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, here is my entry in the future Andrew Lloyd Weber musical about this farce:

It won't be easy, you'll think it strange
When I try to explain how I feel
That I still need your vote after all that I’ve done
You won't re-elect me
All you will see is a governor who
Rejected bailout money
BUT to South America I flew

I had to go see her, I had to leave
Told my staff I was out hiking
Walking along the Appalachian Trail
But I flew southbound
Running around, trying to save my marriage
But my wife left me anyways

I kind of expected her to

Don’t fly me to Argentina
The truth is I have a mistress
All my right wing talk
My family values
We’re just a crock
To keep you clueless

And as for presidential ambition
I never got nominated
Though it seems that I was on McCain’s short list
I was already cheating
And I resigned from the Governors Association
Because I like riding my backhoe
And describing your tan line

Don’t fly me to Argentina
The truth is I still love her
All through my e-mails
My bad love poems
I broke my promise
Now I can’t go home

Have I shared too much?
There’s nothing more shameful I can do
But all you have to do is look at me
To know that my career is through

Don’t fly me to Argentina

(Thrust arms up in Richard Nixon peace sign)

D Is For Dumb Like A Fox

What do these three politicians have in common?

(courtesy Media Matters)

(from bjkeefe's blog)

(from Brad's Blog)

a) Involved in a Scandal
b) Identified as a Democrat (D) by Fox News
c) Really a Republican
d) All of the Above

The answer is of course (d). It takes three examples to support a trend and the eagle-eyed editors and commenters at Wonkette have been keeping track of this peculiarly distinctive Fox faux pas.

So what causes America's premier right-leaning network to continually make this kind of mistake?

a) When there is a scandal, the way to bet is Democratic. Just take Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards and the king mack-daddy of tearful confessions Bill Clinton. So they get a few wrong.
b) Just another page from The Goebbels Guide To The Big Lie taken to a subliminal level.
c) Never ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence.
d) Any or all of the above.

We mock, you decide.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hella Father's Day

We have two Father's Day traditions. I pick some place to go out to eat and my son and I go on a father-son bike ride. Usually the dinner place is a burger joint or barbecue. Definitely not anything upscale or fancy. This started several years ago when I wanted to do some biking on the Mount Vernon Trail and had heard of some obscure burger place in Alexandria called Five Guys. They only served burgers and hot dogs and fries. Now Five Guys are everywhere. The other day Barack Obama went to the Five Guys in south DC and made the news.

But a few weeks before that he went to another burger joint called Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington. He caused quite a kerfuffle among those willing to hate him for any reason whatsoever by asking for 'spicy mustard' aka Dijon. Right wingers took this as further evidence of Obama's inherent foreign-ness.

Hell Burger is not owned by Ray. There is no Ray. It is owned by Michael Landrum, a DC restaurateur known for his persnickity rules. His original steak place is called Ray's The Steaks, a bad pun it took even me a while to figure out (make better steaks, raise the stakes, get it?). Then he opened Ray's The Classics in Silver Springs which is about the best steaks in all of DC.

So when Obama went to Hell Burger, I knew I had no other choice since it intersected my two food eating obsessions, good burgers and eating where Obama eats (those places are for another day). The lines at Ray's restaurants are legendary and I knew it would take some planning to go there. I called the restaurant and got the voicemail machine which said they opened at noon Tuesday thru Sunday. We got there at 12:03 and we glided right into the small strip mall parking lot and miraculously found a space right out front but found the placed packed. It seems that according to the sign out front he really opens at 11:30.

There are actually two Hell Burgers. The one Obama went to is at 1713 Wilson Blvd and is a take-out line. The other is four doors down at 1725 where you can get a table and have your burger brought to you. This one seems to be the original Rays The Steaks and looks way too small to have ever been the toughest seat in DC.

I mentioned persnickity rules. The big one at Hell Burger is no claiming a table until you have placed your order. We saw this honored more in the breach as vultures stalked people leaving. It's one thing to have rules, it's another to enforce them. We placed our order and still got a great table out front.

And the burgers. Truly one of the greatest burgers ever. Ten ounces of prime beef cooked to order with dozens of toppings. Yeah, you can go crazy and get the $17.50 one with bone marrow and truffle oil, but you don't need to. Burgers start at $6.95 and most toppings are free. Fancier items like cheese range from a buck to four dollars for the Amish cave-aged cheddar. I went with the Vermont white cheddar it was the best cheese I have ever had on a burger. My wife had applewood bacon and it was what bacon was meant to be. And right on the table was ketchup, yellow mustard, and brown spicy mustard. This is America, you top your burger with what you want.

And these burgers were big. Two hands to hold and don't drip all over your ten dollar Chinese counterfeit Tommy Bahama shirt like I did. Good food is worth hunting down. And Hell Burger lives up to its name. It's one helluva burger.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Father's Day Video

One of my latest obsessions is the vlogbrothers (who also run the Nerdfighters blog community), a pair of brothers who send random messages to each other via YouTube and write the occasional cute song. So above cute and clever song can be used a Father's Day greeting for whoever might want one.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Total Eclipse Of The Charts

This video has been circulating for a week or two, so if you haven't seen it before you are missing out. And if you have, it's worth watching again.

The whole Literal Version thing which started with the literal version of a-ha's "Take On Me" has become a full-fledged meme. And judging my the many bad ones it's harder to do right than it looks.

But then boodler and sometimes blogger bc turned me onto Hurra Torpedo, some Norwegian rockers that perform the song on household appliances.

And in one of those weird cases of synchronicity where things come in threes, I was listening to the Stuck In The Eighties podcast and they were counting down the worst songs of 1983. At number four they put Air Supply's "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All".

But what does that have to do with Bonnie Tyler?

According to Steve Spears (and I have confirmed it with my Billboard Top 40 Hits reference), that sappy Australian band was kept from the number one position by "Total Eclipse of the Heart" which held the top slot for four weeks. And both songs were written by the master of the over-orchestrated screamer, Jim Steinman. Meat Loaf's record company had passed on both of those songs and one went to the wimp-rock kings and the other to that raspy voiced diva of the 80s, Bonnie Tyler.

Now you know the rest of the story.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Weingarten The Twitter Shitter

The blog title is in credit to Demetrious-X who made me aware of this classic Penny Arcade.

Gene Weingarten thinks I’m stalking him. He ‘tweeted’ this on Twitter on Saturday:
Some po guy named yellojkt writes incessantly online about how all my writing is stupid, worthless drivel. He is now following me here.
He knew that I was following him since Twitter sends an e-mail any time some one ‘follows’ you. Clearly he recognized my nom de internet and was bemused enough to take a break from his day trying to find a rhyme for ‘poetry’ (I would suggest ‘toiletry' but that doesn't have the exact three syllable feminine rhyme a perfectionist like him would insist upon) and notify the world that his number one critic was now following his every tweet about the color of his bowel movements.

And yes, that is his real avatar. My Facebook friends think he created it himself, but I doubt he is that good a photographer. His poop fetish seems to be pretty deep seated, as it were. After all, his Washington Post online weekly discussion is called Chatological Humor. I really had no idea how large his unresolved Freudian potty training issues were, but it’s beginning to worry me.

But first a little backstory. About two weeks ago, I reacted perhaps a little too strongly to his weekly column where he told some mildly amusing tales about his dying dad’s descent into senility and then capped it off with a shout-out to his daughter graduating from vet school. I thought it was maudlin and sappy and well below his writing skills. I do have to take back comparing it to Mitch Albom. That was a little unfair. It's much closer to Chicken Soup For The Soul caliber.

I also called it a little pre-prepared, which he copped to in his chat. I just didn’t like it since it was such a departure from his usual take-no-prisoners approach. Judging from the reaction of my fellow Boodlers, who found it heart-warming and touching, I was in the clear minority here. Que sara, sara. To each their own.

Later in the week, I noticed a surge in hits on my blog from an obscure WaPo url. It seems the Style Invitational Empress on her discussion group had linked to my post and had this to say:
What I don't get is how the person is obviously acquainted with Gene's entire oeuvre ... yet claims to hate everything he writes. Why does he/she persist in reading his stuff?
The Empress (who is widely rumored to be Pat “the Perfect” Myers, a very fine copy-editor until WaPo decided (unwisely in my mind) they no longer needed that role) succeeded Weingarten, aka The Czar, at the Style Invitational so there is some professional and personal merit in her being miffed at my perceived attack, which I still insist can be seen as whatever the opposite of a left-handed compliment is. How she found out about my blogpost I have no idea, but hey, a link is a link.

One of the Losers, as Style Invitational devotees call themselves (Honestly, they do. In the words of Dave Barry, I’m not making this up), had an even harsher assessment:
I think the proper pronoun for that creature is neither "he", nor "she", but rather "it". Perhaps "it" is a masochist. In any case, anyone who posts bile like that is in desperate need of a large dose of lithium.
I good naturedly replied:
Thanks for the medical advice. Gene is a very talented writer who frustrates me when he is being infantile, patronizing or condescending, which is much of the time. I started reading Weingarten back when both he and Joel Achenbach had columns in the Sunday Magazine. In my opinion, WaPoMag dropped the wrong humorist. But then Joel has his solid reportorial skills to fall back on and I don't know what Weingarten could do for a living if he couldn't crank call people for column ideas or write sub-Ogden Nash poetry.
{blatant link-whoring snipped}
All in good fun. Gene needs some critics to keep him humble.
Which seemed to tick off a different Loser, who had this to say to me:
Please post several of your double dactyls with perfect meter and humor and let us judge who can and who cannot write poetry.
Well, I never claimed to be equal to the Great Pulitzer Prize Winning Master of Obscure Invented Humorous Poetry Forms. Heck, one of Weingarten’s double dactyls is so good that it’s in the Wikipedia article on them. Besides, my two favorite poets are Allen Ginsburg and Richard Brautigan. I doubt either of them could master the double dactyl either, which must make Gene better than either of them because he can rhyme and shit.

But this Loser didn’t stop there. He replied to his own rebuke and added this:
And you obviously have not read any of his the one that won the Pulitizer (sic).
Au contraire! Not only have I read it, I blogged about it before the Pulitzer Prize Committee recognized its awesomeness (to abuse just one of Weingarten’s grammatical peeves). I suggested that if Joshua Bell wanted to increase his busking tips, he could take a few pointers in showmanship from The Naked Cowboy. I’m sure I am missing the point of this Pulitzer Prize winning article. Perhaps deliberately so.

That post is dated April 7, 2007. Which brings up the issue of the word “incessantly”. Between then and the post two weeks ago, I blogged about Weingarten in detail one other time, about a year ago. Now I admit that subtitling the post “Why Gene Weingarten Is An Asshat” could be considered inflammatory, but Weingarten was speaking ex cathedra about comics and was very, very wrong.

In the four years of this blog, Weingarten is mentioned even parenthetically in only ten posts out of over 750. A few of these used ideas of his (like this one or this one, both of which have far more to do with Sally Forth, my one true obsession, than Weingarten) as inspiration. And I wrote an especially sappy one modeled after his column celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary. So I hardly think I am the deranged stalker he and his minions are making me out to be.

So why did I ‘follow’ him? It may seem odd for me to confess now, but I like a great deal of his writing. His story about the daily lives of the Eskimos is masterful. Last week he wrote a hilarious column deconstructing and mocking Twitter. To do so, he joined the social networking site and deliberately tweeted the most banal non-sequitur drivel he could come up with that fit within 140 characters. They were awful, and I don’t mean that in the awesome sense. These were really bad. It’s a real hidden talent of his. I particularly like the ones where he writes a poem but the last line gets cut off because it exceeds 140 characters. Frickin' genius. I laughed really hard at the article, but it didn’t move me to follow him on Twitter.

In his chat that week, he lamented about how few followers he had before the article hit front lawns all over DC and how he vainly tried to pull some stunts to get more. I was still not motivated to follow him. Then over the weekend jambro, who is a long time reader of this blog, added me to her Twitter feed and out of courtesy I returned the favor. The top tweet of hers was:
@geneweingarten I'm done w you on Twitter. You come across like such an asshole. I want to keep enjoying your chats, which I love. So...bye.
That seemed pretty harsh, so I had to go and add him to my feed just so I could follow the train wreck that upset her so much. Which brings up an interesting point. The Washington Post Magazine has a press lead time of three weeks, so it had been over a month since Weingarten submitted his column about Twitter, but he was still inanely tweeting away and now had over 400 followers and is begging for celebrity ones.
(Note the chrono-synclastic infundibulum that puts Gene's post about me upstream of the
post that drew me to follow him. Typical Twitter FAIL on the server synchronization.)

Like a reporter that tries heroin just to see what it's like, he had taken a hit of Twitter and now can't stop. Sure, he's mocking the form in a very aggressively meta-way, but he is still tweeting up a storm nonetheless. At some point you become part of the phenomenon you think you are satirizing. Just sayin'.

Defenders of Gene (and they are legion) like to point out that his persona online and in print is clearly a schtick. Dave Barry (a protégé of Weingarten’s) can’t possibly be as obsessed with boogers and Good Names For a Rock Band in real life as his print avatar is. Gene’s fans say that nobody could really be as big a self-centered bloviating prick as that in real life. And I concur. Weingarten has a lovely wife, two successful grown children, and something I will never, ever have, a Pulitzer Prize. He can’t possibly be the jerk he plays on the internet.

But I have to take jambro’s side here. If it walks like an asshole, quacks like an asshole, and tweets like an asshole, it might be an asshole. In Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut warns "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

I think that is advice Weingarten might want to heed the next time he is looking in the toilet bowl and is inspired to twitter about it.

Update (6/10/09):
This was about the only Weingarten comment in his chat despite me submitting several pointed questions (from my pointy head):
Yoma, Ma: Nothing more needs to be said about Twitter.

Gene Weingarten: Yep, this is perfect. And the guy is perfect.
No new tweets from Gene since Sunday. Let's hope he's given up.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Creepiest Luann Contest

The annual comics competition is over and Margo from Apartment 3G can be safely crowned as the Kinkiest Komics Karacter. However, as I was doing my 'research' for the MILF division, I had to read a lot of Luann and I kept getting that icky feeling that makes a middle-aged guys like me squirm. The characters in Luann are on that molasses slow growth trend where they grow older, but never quite up. Luann is now arguably either sixteen or seventeen and her older brother Brad is a professional firefighter living next door to his parents, which is at least a step up from their basement. But they keep getting into jokes that just don't seem right either for high school or the comics page.

In trying to be hip and with-it, the strip often just ends up creepy and disturbing. Just since October there has been a parade of storylines and situations that put a pit in my stomach. Let's have a look.

Gunther Gropes Luann

Ever since Aaron Hill disappeared to his Asian honey in Hawaii, the main rival for Luann's heart has been uber-geek Gunther. It seems that in addition to being a plaid shirted dork, he has madd cosplay skilz. He volunteers to fit Luann for a sexy costume and gets to cop a feel in payment. And in bonus creepiness, Luann finds that shaking her goods should get her more goodies from the dads doing door duty on Halloween.

Brad's Blue Balls

Big brother Brad has been lusting after firefighting tramp Toni Daytona for years but he is still too nervous to seal the deal. But his insecurity doesn't prevent him from mistaking the location of her eyes during the shooting of the sexy firemen (and one woman) calendar. Finally he gets up the courage to ask her over, but usually when a guy has a girl over for breakfast, he nudges her awake instead of answering the doorbell. Then he injures himself rescueing her from a fall, for which she is VERY grateful. One would think some injury recovery would include some mouth-to-mouth. Instead she scalds him with soup.

Elwood the Big Pimpin' Gnome

In order to come up with a plausible romantic rival for Gunther, the strip has introduced Elwood Druitt - drop-out millionaire. Between his short stature, pimply face, and Elvis pompadour he should be an automatic gross-out if it weren't for the big bucks he can throw around. He literally pays for a date with Luann. He has also taken to stalking Luann at her storybook reading gig and openly wonders about her fertility.

Tiffany T&A

Whenever some fan service is called for, the comic features Mean Girl Tiffany who always has some sub-sitcom scheme that involves her being scantily clad. Presumably the same age as Luann, the Tiffster looks and dresses more like a pornstar. Her bling even has its own soundtrack.

Are You Trying To Seduce Me, Mrs. DeGroot?

That is quite a cougar growl Luann's mom has. Featured playa T.J. has been promoted from annoying sidekick to roommate and his omnipresence has not escaped the MILFy Nancy DeGroot. She starts by leaving the door unlocked while taking a bubble bath. Then she paints suggestive come-ons on the wall. She also starts asking lots of personal questions about his past, presumably to get a grip on his medical history. The soundtrack to this storyline isn't porno music as much as it's Simon and Garfunkel.

Delta Lewinski

The biggest storyline of the last year has been about the school trip to Washington, D.C. and the travails of token magical negro Delta to be allowed to come along. This mcguffin has led to the Elwood story since he ended up donating the bucks to help it happen in hopes of Luann's 'gratitude'. It also set-up the aforementioned dunk tank incident. Delta does finally make it to DC and the pay-off for the whole year-long arc is that Delta gets to ask Barack Obama directions to the bathroom. Does anyone remember any tales of presidents and a young woman in the executive washroom?

This is where I need your help. Which of these is the creepiest storyline? Feel free to factor in underage inappropriateness, clumsy innuendo, head-banging-against-wall idiocy, sheer tone deafness, and overall ickyness.

My real fear is that since all of these strips are since October that we have enough upcoming awkwardness to make this an annual event.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

BooksFirst - May 2009

Books Bought
Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman
Spanking Watson by Kinky Friedman
Heyday by Kurt Andersen
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Books Heard
An Utterly Impartial History of Britain by John O'Farrell (abridged and read by the author)

Books Read
Odalisque by Neal Stephenson

The first two books on the "bought" list were actually carryovers from April I had forgotten about. My wife and I had taken a spur of the moment weekend getaway (you can do that when you are empty nesters) to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. There we found From My Shelf Books in the basement of another store right on the main street of Wellsboro. They were doing pretty brisk business. It's good to see small bookstores in business. It must help to be way in remote northern Pennsyltucky with no BigBoxOfBooks around.

The other two books were bought at Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe in Greenwich Village. It seems to be affiliated with some sort of non-profit organization but it is cleaner, better organized and better stocked than many commercial bookstores around.

On the flight back from Italy, my wife was listening to the audiobook of An Utterly Impartial History of Britain by John O'Farrell. Because of technical difficulties, it kept repeating the same thing over and over again. When we got home she went on the interwebs and ordered both the audiobook and paperback from the British version of BigWebPageOfBooks.

We took to listening to the audiobook while roadtripping. It's abridged, but read by the author is his rather droll British accent, so it makes it even funnier. The subtitle is "Or 20,000 Years of Upper Class Idiots In Charge" which is a big clue as to both the humor content and the general thesis. It starts at Stonehenge and goes through to the end of World War II when presumably the idiots running Britain were no longer upper class.

The problem with British history is that there is so much of it. When we were in Britain we got earfuls of history. Many of England's royal families had quite colorful and entertaining pasts. This books hits a lot of those anecdotes as well and they are beginning to sink in slowly. I still don't remember which king was assassinated by a red hot poker shoved into him from below while in the privy, but it is an amusing tale, unless you are the butt of that joke, as it were.

The only problem with the abridgement is that it really zooms along and it is hard to keep up with who is fighting who and shy sometimes. We do have the full version in print so I might have to read the full version.

In a good bit of serendipity, the few bits of British history I did manage to retain came in handy as I finally read Odalisque, the third part of the first book of The System Of The World series by Neal Stephenson. If you followed the math there, that means that I am now one third of the way through this epic history of the founding of the modern financial system.

The title refers to a virgin harem slave, which is what Eliza was when Jack Shaftoe rescued her in the second book. I hope it is not a spoiler to reveal that Eliza does not stay that way through the whole book, particularly given how the book ends. This portion of the novel alternates between Eliza and Daniel Waterhouse navigate the realms of the nobility as they keep up with all the machinations of those around them.

Where the British history became valuable was that the time period of the Glorious Revolution is a major part of the plot of this segment. It helps to know who William of Orange is and why the Stuarts were not very popular. Even then, the names of all the old duchys and territories is tough to keep up with. I kept referrring to the cast of characters in the back which wasn't always helpful.

A good part of the books is epistolary as Eliza corresponds with Leibniz and others. I think Stephenson does this so he can write in the stilted faux-seventeenth century patois that he likes. It wears thin pretty quickly and makes following the storyline even more difficult.

I'm proud that I finally made it through the first volume of this trilogy. At the end of this particular paperback there was and excerpt from The Confusion with the return of Jack Shaftoe who was completely absent from this section. It kind of whets my appetite. I have all three books in hardback, but I like these subdivided paperbacks better since the average person can actually hold them.