Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Some end-of-the-year thoughts

As of Wed. afternoon, I'll be on vacation. Posting might be more sporadic than usual; however, I'm not going anywhere (like most Americans, I'm strapped right now - the depression hit our household in July sometime), so maybe I'll be inspired. Stay tuned, as they say.

Was talking to someone the other day who I've come to know as practical and gifted with the not-so-common trait of common sense. We weren't even near the topic of politics when somehow the topic suddenly loomed, and this guy repeats a few of the common BS wingnut tropes that Obama is gonna take away our guns, that he won't say the pledge of allegience, and he has no respect for the flag, which he demonstrated by having it removed from his campaign jet - all much to my disappointment and surprise. (Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes to mind.)


This is someone I can't just haul off and say, "Dude, you gotta stop watching Fox Pretend News. It's mostly bullshit. And what isn't bullshit is horseshit."

I've said it before that we should've kept those WWII rules on the books about foreign ownership of media outlets. I think that the second biggest threat to America is the existence of the huge propaganda machine that is Fox Pretend News and its bastard cousins, like the Moonie owned Washington Times and UPI (the first being the demolishment of a large part of the Constitution and the two depressions brought about by Bush's policies).

Oh, and this same guy said that "they" would probably blame this depression on Bush, too. Well, who the hell else IS there to blame but the guys who oversaw the dismantling of oversight and regulation on the finance industry, and the suppression of enforcing those laws that remain?

I think the mainstream news agencies need to set up fact-checking departments that constantly report all the lies and stretches of the truth these propaganda outlets excrete. Something like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do, but seriously. We can't legally force them out of business, but we could kill them with the facts.

Btw, here are the facts on Obama's stance on guns (one and two) and various efforts to corrupt the truth. (I usta like the NRA, too.) Here're the facts about the pledge of allegiance stuff and the flag on his plane.

We needs ourselves some reality patrol.

Roissy had a post about the future of robot sex and, from what I can tell, he wasn't kidding.

I was gonna write a whole take-down post, but then thought the better of it. (Partially because it would be just mean, but mostly because I couldn't make it very funny.)

Here's the gist of the take-down part: we already have life-size sex dolls that are just what he's talking about, they just don't move (which may be realistic for some guys, and let's just leave it at that). (Ok, let's not. Here's a hilarious song that contains a reference to moving around - here's the MP3 if you wanna add it to the iPod.) Besides, there's the uncanny valley (ha ha, sometimes they write themselves), and I think most people would be too creeped-out by a sex robot. To further state the obvious, sex is about way more than genital friction. If all the so-called betas of the world were gonna stay away from those scary real live girls and recede to the comforts of plastic, they'd have done it by now.

(I debated on putting this link up at all, but decided to leave the choice to go there to you. NSFW, natch. The sex dolls Roissy believes will conquer the betas are found at http://www.realdoll.com/.)

The reason I brought this up at all is to (again) pimp for the great Asimov robot series The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn.

In The Naked Sun, Asimov explores Roissy's scenario, where the whole human population is completely surrounded by robots, so they imprint (if you will) on them sexually - so much so that the government had to pass a law that forces everyone to have a human "spouse" whom they have to mate with to keep up the race. Essentially the scenario that Roissy lays out, but more thought through.

Then, in The Robots of Dawn, sexual mores are such that people screw as readily as we shake hands, and refusing sex is considered a very serious rebuff. One of the subplots involves a scientist who is estranged from his daughter because he wouldn't have sex with her when she asked (which is considered normal in that society) because he considers it wrong. So here we here we have the main, er, thrust of Roissy's preoccupation, getting laid as much as possible. Again, thought through a bit deeper.

Even if you don't like sci-fi, you'll like these.

We've been having a lot of talks around the house about time machines because my daughter's class read the classic by H.G. Wells. It's been fun because time travel has always been on of my favorite sci-fi topics.

TLD: The greatest of the best in time travel fiction are:
- Primer (Here's a graphic representation of the plot - a huge SPOILER natch. The wikipedia link also has a simpler graphic of the plot, so ignore it and see the flick first if you intend to.)
- The Man Who Folded Himself
- I also have warm feelings for the whole Back to the Future series, especially how they handle Marty's mom coming on to him. But, the time travel is really just a plot device and not a hardcore geeky examination of it, like the two above; the same goes for the great Terminator series.

Alas, real time travel is simply not possible according to Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in the fun A Briefer History of Time. It has something to do with the fact that our universe isn't spinning.

So, when we were discussing time machines with MPC1, besides sharing the fact that it probably can't happen, we alerted her to the two smart-ass "there really is time travel" memes out there:
- We do travel in time: we are constantly moving forward through time.
- Our minds are time machines.

Sorry, but I can't go back in time and take out Hitler and Marx with my mind. Argument over.

That said, I had a very visceral memory evoked while I was writing the first section in this post, which gave birth to this section. The song "Riders on the Storm" by the Doors circled up in my playlist and suddenly I was sitting in the window of my dorm room, which was on the 14th floor, had no screen, and faced out across the campus; I was listening to that song echo and phase through the dorm buildings, an amazingly haunting sound I've never heard reproduced otherwise. The town had one FM station that all the college students tuned in to, and for some reason every time that song came on - the station always played it when it rained - everyone opened up their dorm windows and turned it way up, so it would echo across the campus. It was always a great moment.

Since we have a three-year-old, we have dealings with the big guy in the red, fur-trimmed suit. (I keep waiting for PETA to take on Santa, since they've done so many other brain-dead and ugly things.)

Or at least we try to have said dealings.

Our youngest is slightly braver than our eldest was at this age, but she just will NOT get near Santa. Just won't have it.

Yes, we have the requisite shot of both chilluns in full wail on Santa's lap, but this year MPC2 just said "no."

My suspicion as to why kids utterly freak out is: it's probably a lot like meeting God. Here's this huge guy who can magically get into your house and bring you toys, and he's supposed to be super nice and everything, but holy cow here he is IN THE FLESH!

Right now I'm reading the controversial "event" book, The Shack (and I don't remember which group doesn't like it, the fundies or the mainliners), where supposedly the hero talks with God. It'll be interesting to see how the fear angle is played, if at all. I've yet to read a (fictional) book about someone meeting God where they even deal with the topic of how truly terrifying it would be. In the Bible, the first thing the angel or messenger from God says to the poor soul is something like "fear not" or "don't freak out!", so it is clearly something that makes you loose your shit.

Hmmm, maybe I'll write a short story about Tom Cruise meeting Zenu!

This has been a very contemplative year for me as:
- Leaders I've loathed have been replaced (or soon will be) by leaders I like very much, both on the national scale and at work.
- My wife and I are facing the fact that our three-year-old is the last child we'll have. And she's already pretty much a kid, as she's completely potty trained, can speak in full sentences better than the current occupant, can count pretty high, and already recognizes many letters. We love kids and so this is bittersweet for us. We like that we're getting our adult lives back to some extent, but having a baby in the house sure is sweet.
- I'm truly, irrevocably middle-aged and am experiencing some standard things that come with that, such as I now typically prefer non-fiction to fiction (the fiction's got to be better than usual or I can't stay with it); I like pretty, melodic music more than I do bleeding edge stuff, though am thrilled that rock seems to be gaining ground again; and am completely invisible to anyone under 30. (Let me assure you that last one is not self-pity, but a fact. I'm more bemused by it than anything.)

So my mind drifts to hopes for the New Year.

I hope:
- My family is healthy, happy and safe.
- The depression will be short.
- The injuries and casualties to our troops will be as minimal as possible, and they'll be brought home.
- There are at least three music albums, a couple movies, and more than a few fictional novels that are amazing awaiting us out there in 2009.
- I finally drop some of this extra weight.
- All my friends who are getting divorced find solace and peace, and find someone new, if that is their wish. (This is the second wave of divorces I've experienced in my circle of friends).
- I still have a job throughout the year. (There doesn't appear to be any danger there, but I've been surprised before.)
- That I can manage to entertain you, dear reader, as much or more than I have in the past.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

European Commercials

Probably needless to say: NSFW!

Topless German (or Dutch?) Skydivers:

Link: Fleg Master Tlpizza

Source: Attu, also NSFW (though he tried not to be for a while).

After seeing this, I was chatting with my lovely wife and I opined, "if only we weren't so uptight about nudity in America, we'd have commercials like this, too." And the second that left my lips, the obvious probable result occurred to me: for at least three years, all we'd have were naked people in the commercials, given American advertising's predisposition to do whatever it takes to grab your attention.

Y'know, it's difficult enough to get through the dinner hour (when we watch the news) wading through every gross pharmaceutical*, feminine hygiene, and erectile dysfunction commercial, and then enduring ooey, gooey pizza commercials at 9 P.M., just when you're getting hungry again. Throwing nekkid boobage and pudenda - bald and pelted - into that mix would be a bit much. Hell, they'd probably demonstrate how to use tampons and condoms. The mind blanches.

*Though I have to admit, every time they have the "restless leg syndrome" drug commercials on, and they announce "impulse control disorders/compulsive behaviors may occur, such as gambling," I get a chuckle. I actually have this, and when my doctor suggested a prescription, I asked, "is that the drug where I'll end up in Vegas with a hooker on each arm?" He said if I did, I should inform him, preferably before I go so he can come, too. I actually loathe gambling, so I've not noticed any of those sort of side effects.

Anyway, back to the nekkid skydivers; something about their breasts dangling as prettily as they were jogged a memory. I remembered seeing this once (here's a second source in case the first link evaporates), and realized it was all special effects. You can't have concave breasts in your commercial for heaven's sake. Unless it's one for breast enhancement, of course.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Best Vocalists, according to moi

Rolling Stone polled a portion of music royalty to compile a list of "The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time". The issue was late in arriving, so decided I put together a list of who I thought should appear beforehand, just to see how much convergence there would be. Well, heavens to Murgatroid, here are the very few we agreed upon (in a very rough most fave to less fave order):

- Kurt Cobain
- Rod Stewart
- Elvis Presley
- Karen Carpenter
- Don Henley
- James Taylor
- Paul Rodgers
- Sam Cooke
- Stevie Wonder

Nine out of a hundred.

I choose to take that as a double-edged commentary on my musical tastes. I've always warned friends, lovers, and roommates (and my wife, who's all three) that I will eventually force them to ask to stop playing something, because I love it all 'cept gangster rap and opera. And I'll even listen to the bigger hits in those genres, too.

So, here's what remains of my list. This also ended up in rough order of faves near the top, which surprised me that it organically flowed into three categories, 1) the stellar voices who defy genre, 2) the rockers, 3) the crooners, with one little leftover.

The miracles:
- Nat King Cole: A voice for the ages. There's not enough hyperbole to fawn about this guy.

- Stephen Stills: I think this guy doesn't get the accolades he deserves (for his guitar chops, either) because, according to what I've read, he's a real arrogant prick who knows how talented he is. Sad that it would diminish that. I'm happy I've never met him so I can enjoy his amazing purr of a voice (and that guitar!).

- Maria McKee: I'll listen to this babe sing even a barely average song. My complete collection of her work thus far proves that in spades. She has some great songs there, but too many aren't worthy of her pipes. I'd love to see her do two albums: 1) a covers disc, 2) a disc of new songs written by big deal songsmiths, like "Show Me Heaven" that she did for that stupid race car movie.

- John Denver: I saw him on his last Denver show; man his voice had continued to grow. Overexposure and a weird public backlash expecting him to somehow be better than a mere human really seems to have eclipsed his music. But, damn it's good stuff. Like he sings about sunshine, his songs can make me cry.

- Dwight Yoakam: Trying to pick one performance that showcases how wonderful his voice is is nearly an exercise in futility .. just pick one! Any one! But if you have to pick just one, try that note he holds on the word "eternally" in "Johnson's Love." If you don't get goosebumps, call your doctor soon.

- Elvis Costello: Elvis can do it all. Try "Brilliant Mistake" on for size to hear for yourself.

- Rickie Lee Jones: To me, this woman is the style and phrasing master of the universe. Hope they have her complete works on the shelves in Heaven. (Presuming, of course.)

- David Gilmore: The nice voice of Pink Floyd. C'mon, you know you love him, too.

- Billy Joel: This is the one of the two guys where it amazes me he's not on the Rolling Stone list. Haven't these folks heard "Until the Night"? Sheesh.

- Alana Davis: She may be too young and fresh - and not widely popular enough - to be on this list. But her voice haunts me. Gawd it's wonderful.

- Gerry Rafferty: If you haven't really listened to how good this guy is, it's probably because the sheer vibrancy of his songs overshadows him. Try "Whatever's Written in Your Heart".

- Linda Ronstadt: This is the other guy who should be on this list. People sure have short memories. But, then again, these are mostly rock stars who did the list.

- Don Fagen: Mr. Steely Dan hisownself. I played "Deacon Blues" when I saw this omission. Was "I want a name when I lose" a self-fulfilling prophecy here?

- Dean Martin: If you've heard him, this probably needs no explanation. If you haven't, then you're just young. I bet he was in the rat pack so Sinatra could keep an eye on him. Or maybe it was that mafia "keep your enemies closer" thing. Best of that generation. My only quibble is the arrangements in his songs are sometimes corny and not as timeless as Sinatra's. That said, I still prefer his voice over Sinatra's.

- Bing Crosby: Like Dean, you know if you know.

The Rockers:
- Bob Seger: Who doesn't love themselves some Seger? He's such a part of the fabric of rock as a whole, maybe it didn't occur to anyone to include him anymore than people think of air when they breathe. Then again, it could be jealousy.

- Chrissie Hynde - Her performance on "Show Me" still moves me to goosebumps and sometimes still mists me up. Probably not a better song about how you feel when you have a baby.

- David Hidalgo (of Los Lobos): Smooth. Laid back. Sells the song. Most of the guys in Los Lobos are good at the mic, but I think Mr. Hidalgo is their gem.

- Terry Reid: The biggest "shoulda been a contender" of all time. Go listen to samples and wonder why.

- Micheal McDonald: So unique, you can pick him out of Steely Dan background vocals. If you know how Steely Dan does things, that's a statement unto itself.

- Tom Johnston (of the Doobie Brothers): "China Grove"? "Listen to the Music"? Beuller? Bueller? Who doesn't know and love this guy's distinctive howl?

- Dave Peverett ("Lonesome Dave") (of Foghat): Quintessential rock voice. Slow ride, baby.

- Burton Cummings (of the Guess Who): Like Seger and Stills, one of those great butter-on-sandpaper rock vocalists.

- Sting: Not as versatile as most here on the list, but still a unique, unmistakable sound that fits rock, jazz and stalker songs.

The Crooners:
- Lyle Lovett: His velvety lonesome croak rides across some of the best songs ever written, backed by one of the best bands around today. He is an event unto himself.

- Cee-Lo Green (Thomas Callaway) (of Gnarls Barkely) - Might be too young and unestablished to earn a "best ever" seat right now, but he will if he keeps it up.

- Chris O'Connor (of Primitive Radio Gods): This one might be more of a personal preference than a universal contender for best among the best. Love the voice, tho.

- Charlie Rich: Another old-timer who has probably been forgotten by the music biz and remembered only by fans. If you want a sample of his powers, listen to "Nothing In The World (To Do With Me)" from his biggest album The Most Beautiful Girl.

- Darius Rucker (formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish): I think the blowfish owe their success to this guy's voice. Now he's a big country hit.

- BJ Thomas: Mr. "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head". He had a few hits, but with voice he shouldn't dominated the charts for most of his career. Rumor has it that ego and booze got in the way.

- Larry Gatlin: Amazing voice, but cocaine kept him from being bigger than he was. If talent were all it was about, he'd still be on the radio.

- Barbara Streisand: Now, how could a list of great singers not include da Babs? I wasn't surprise that it wasn't there - she's made a lot of enemies - but at least she should've been included in the selection committee. I don't think I need to praise or defend her singing; we've all heard it. And you know when it's her. There you have it.

The one non-singer (or as Mick Jagger refers to himself, a "vocalist" as compared to singer):
- Robert Smith (of The Cure): Smith doesn't sing, he ... well who really knows what he does other than him. His songs are endlessly fascinating, particularly given his vocal limitations, and I find myself actually listening to how he phrases things and what notes (if you can call them that) he hits - unlike, say, Neil Young or even Mick Jagger where I might enjoy the performance, but am not all that taken with the delivery thereof. I really should have him up in the "miracle" list, but then he deserves his own category.

And there you have it.

I do have some quibbles with some folks who did make the Rolling Stone list.

I have never liked Frank Sinatra all that much, though I understand what an influence he was. Personally, I just an not all that impressed with the basics of his voice. I think his phrasing and other stylistic quirks are original and can enjoy those. But his pipes are rather average if you ask me.

I also think Aretha is overrated. I do love some of her songs. The most famous collection of her songs (and inexplicably unavailable new) is Aretha's Gold, which - even though it's a hit's package - like Elton John's first hits set, is an entity unto itself. Still, her voice just doesn't strike me like the voices listed above do. Perhaps here's where my plebeian side shows.

My final question is how in the HELL did either Lou Reed or Neil Young get on that list?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Q: What's Worse than Creationism?

A: When (real) scientists claim they've gotten to the bottom of something when they haven't even gotten to second base.

Full Disclosure: Rant ahead.

The offense of both is neither has anything to do with actual science, or more specifically, any real proof that support their claims.

Case in point - a paper that was published recently about the phenomenon of widows and widowers seeing their recently deceased spouse and sometimes even having conversations with them. (Btw, I won't bother ranting about the abomination that is Creationism as it kneecaps itself. Christ on a dinosaur.)

Here's the abstract:
Ratings of grief reactions, post-bereavement hallucinations and illusions and quality of life were made during the first year after the death of a spouse among 14 men and 36 women in their early seventies. In both sexes, the reactions were generally moderate or mild and characterized by loneliness, low mood, fatigue, anxiety and cognitive dysfunctioning. Feeling lonely was the most persistent problem during the year. Post-bereavement hallucinations or illusions were very frequent and considered helpful. Half of the subjects felt the presence of the deceased (illusions); about one third reported seeing, hearing and talking to the deceased (hallucinations). Former marital harmony was found to make a person more prone to loneliness, crying and hallucinations or illusions. The quality of life was significantly lower among the bereaved than among married people and those who never married, but equalled that found among divorcees.

Here's the Slashdot.org post about it. It contains the link to the site that has the paper, but apparently you have to pay to download the paper itself.

My rub is the ASSUMPTION that these are hallucinations these folks are experiencing.

Now, yes, science typically operates under the unstated assumption that there are no supernatural causes or explanations for anything. That's fine. However, I don't feel that you can entirely dismiss events that cannot be entirely explained in cases like this - especially when it's a common occurrence that results from a specific event. That alone to me suggests that we need to leave the door open to what might be the actual cause and not write them off as mere hallucinations.

Listen, both my grandma and a great aunt of mine had this happen. These two ladies were WWII tough cookies who had been hard partiers back in the day (another one of those "greatest generation" things), so they knew a hallucination when they saw one. My grandma didn't tell anyone for years, because she was concerned someone would think she was nuts. When it happened to my aunt, she called my grandma because she knew about her seeing her hubby, too. She asked if she were going nuts because it certainly wasn't a hallucination. Grandma assured her she wasn't. Thank God neither of them asked a scientist.

If you're curious:
1)My grandma's "event": Her deceased husband just came walking down the hall into the dining room, stopped in front of the basement door, announced he was there to get his tools, opened the door, and went to the basement.
2)My aunt's "event": She heard something downstairs in the middle of the night, something like a chair scraping. As she was the only person home - "home" being a remote farmhouse - she figured she'd better check it out. Sitting in his favorite chair at the kitchen table was her deceased husband. When she arrived, he stood, announced that he needed to do some gardening (it was winter), and he went out the front door. The chair remained slid out from the table, so she knew it wasn't a dream or hallucination.

So, here are two level-headed ladies seeing something they shouldn't. Both dead husbands didn't say anything all that grand or enlightening. If it were a hallucination brought about by loneliness and grief, you'd think there'd be a bit more wish-fulfillment and comfort, not these odd statements about toolboxes and gardening. And, one left a door open and the other moved a chair. 'Slain that.

In other science (or more accurately, corporate) news, babies are dying because a company has a patent on the DNA sequence related to the disease, and charges thousands of dollars to test for it. There's a special place in hell, I'm tellin' ya....

Tell you what, people's babies dying because they can't afford an available test is going to create one hell of a monster. You are going to see executives gunned down as they leave work, angry mobs with torches, etc. Mark my words, baby.

And wouldn't it be rich if the superbug the scientists have been predicting for years came from mars?
Weird Art

Funny and inexplicable, but tells a whole story. I examined the picture closely looking for the Pope's hat since an infamous call and response is "Does a bear shit in the woods?" followed by the rejoinder "Does the Pope wear a funny hat?", but there isn't one that I can see. Alert me if you spot it.

The artist's site.

Friday, December 12, 2008

My Gold Digger

Apparently there's an article/blog causing a small kurfuffle in the how-will-this-look obsessive feminist circles about a chick from Pennsylvania who was raised wealthy, but couldn't get a job that allowed her to live the lifestyle she was accustomed to (as a young person, straight out of college - image that), so she became some guy's concubine, with the posh apartment and the clothes in exchange for a few mattress rides.

"Holy pearl necklace, Batman!" they wonder, "Isn't this the same thing as prostitution?!?!"

Of course, Robin. But... well, let's come back to that.

I once knew a girl who's stated goal in life was to find a sugar-daddy. Last I heard, she had.

She informed me of this goal before I really got to know her (and I do NOT mean in the Biblical sense, more on that in a bit), and I was kind of shocked - partially because I'd always been somewhat provincial and naive when it comes to the complexity and variety of sexual mores out there. Eventually I have come to realize that there are a lot of folks out there who will fuck at the drop of a hat. To them, it's a just a function, or an activity on par with playing a round of Wii with someone. I never quite located the sexual boundaries of the lady in question - let's call her "Lolita" for convenience and because she wore the iconic heart-shaped sunglasses - because they were either not there or out so far on the horizon as to be invisible.

Lolita was engaged to a frat boy when she announced her sugar-daddy procurement life goal. She had even moved in with him as he attended college and was working in a lowly video store with me, biding time until her wedding day. (I was there because Ronnie Raygun's slashing of education funds had put graduate school out of reach for me; I had to drop out. I was cooling my heels, planning my next move since more edumakation wasn't going to be it.) (Oh, and here's a story about her when she went to help some poor unsuspecting onanist find a porno - scroll down to "TLD: Quick side story.")

I naturally assumed the fiancée was going to be that sugar-daddy; after all, he was the president of his frat, was majoring in business, and appeared to already have access to lots of cash.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that she was regularly screwing one of the store managers after closing time on the risers in the showroom where we had our TVs (which were by several large windows), before she'd head home to her betrothed. Said manager told me this one day when I was defending her honor because some of the other employees were talking smack about her. Btw, the manager had steady girl, too, so he was a cheating SOB as well.

Then she started talking about being abused by her fiancée. Once he reportedly he punched her so hard that her head bounced off the passenger car window.

Well, hussy or not, no one should put up with abuse, so I agreed to help her move out when he was supposed to be out of the apartment one day. Sure enough, mid-move he arrives and starts the male silverback gorilla displays. Eventually he was gonna blow and start swinging at us, so I told Lolita to cut bait and pick the stuff she had to have, and leave for another day anything expendable. Luckily, we had managed to get everything and were on the last load, so off we went. He stood at the door, shirtless (and amazingly hirsute), arms raised and yelling at us, punching the door jam for emphasis. We had gotten out just in time.

She had a passing resemblance to Jessica Lange (as I mention in my side-story in that other post I linked to above), though a little more girl-next-door plain Jane, and somewhat of a doughy body, which she liked to show off. Over all, though, she was still a looker. It was obvious that most guys thought "I'd hit that" when they saw her (though that particular phrase did not exist back then).

She was a charmer, too. She once talked a security guard into letting us onto a private beach that only neighborhood residents were allowed to use. We were the only two people on the beach who were under 50, under 200 lbs., and not sporting a George Hamilton leathery tan. One guy was so brown the he probably got a funny look at the DMV when he claimed he was a white guy.

I mention that because this she is the ONLY woman whom I found attractive where I had no desire whatsoever to "hit that." She just didn't do it for me on that level for some reason. To this day I still can't explain it. For the most part, what Billy Crystal's character says in When Harry Met Sally is true: "no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her." Lolita was the one exception in my life so far.

And it was to this extreme: one day we were at the park sun-worshiping together, laying face to face, and her boob popped out. We've all heard of the "flight or fight" response; well, young men have a third just-as-automatic biological imperative that kicks into motion when they see a real live nekkid women, or any pink part thereof. To my surprise, mine merely glanced and went back to whatever it does on its own time. I said, "Your boob popped out." She said, "Oh, sorry," and put it back. And that's all there was to it.

Let me give you some perspective on how that usually goes. Once, I was buying a record, and when the salesgirl bent over to get a bag, her sweatshirt fell open enough that I got a full view of the grand tetons. My ears began to ring, I blushed so violently that I could even see my own nose turn red, and I started to shake. As I was leaving the store, I walked into the door and bounced off as I hadn't even attempted to open it. I found I had utterly lost the ability to speak. Outside, I nearly walked into a parking meter, and I walked off in the opposite direction from where I had parked. Now THAT'S a proper "spotting a breast in wild" response.

TLD: Btw, the end of our day in the park was inauspicious. Being Midwesterners, we sill hadn't grasped most of the racial politics of the south (the south east, to be specific). The park we were in was patronized by only whites in the day (and we'd noticed it was rather lily white when we arrived but naively chalked it up to black people not needing to suntan), but as dusk approached, a quiet, swift changeover took place. I don't know if we had our heads down dozing or what, but we both looked up at the same time and noticed we were the only white people there - and we noticed everyone else really noticing us. We got up and packed with faux casualness and made our egress. As we approached our car, someone yelled out, "It's about damn time!" A couple people even smacked our car as we pulled away. That, as they say, was a close one.

Anyway, after we had some adventures together, and her affair with the store manager (and others, reportedly) had petered out, she went back to her home town. One of the women at the store who stayed in touch with her said she'd gotten a call from Lolita about three months later where she ecstatically announced she'd found her sugar-daddy; that he was decent-looking and somewhat old, so he'd probably die within just a few years, leaving his money to her. She was so happy!!!!

Godspeed, sweetheart.

Anyway, back to the initial concern, is this essentially prostitution? Yeah, kinda.

But so what - in a current-cultural-trends sense. Here we are, in an age where gay people are trying to change the law to recognize their relationships as legal entities so it's more expensive when they break up, the same as secular marriage between a man and a woman. And, where liberal editorialists, when they write about relationships, almost always genuflect to queer theory that everyone is really gay inside if only they'd face it (scroll down to "And as for girl-on-girl diversions").

So if a gal decides that a posh apartment is a fair trade for essentially being a sex slave, and this person is a consenting adult - why is it ours to judge her when we are supposedly moving towards acceptance of other sexual lifestyles that have been considered taboo, too?

(Do I think this is morally squishy myself? Yes. But that's about how I choose to live my own life, not about what I would impose on others. As long as those others are consenting adults.)

Just imagine what it's going to be like when the Mormon splinter groups foment for polygamy. That's gonna be big fun. Can't hardly wait.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Found Life

A while ago, this note dropped out of one of my library books:

What an odd combo of things to list, eh? Bible chapters, a reminder to put away the clothes, a reminder to respond to personal emails...

I'd have assumed it was someone with early Alzheimer's, except it's on the back of a completed NYT crossword puzzle. Or that might be evidence FOR that guess, since people with memory problems are urged to do puzzles like that for mental exercise.

But, then again, we're all different; I just would never leave reminders for stuff that is right there in front of you - like laundry and emails - so I can't imagine anyone else doing it. I mean, if you have to be reminded to do stuff like that, how do you get through a relatively complex day? Where would you leave yourself a reminder to stop at stop signs?

I personally don't memorize things I can look up because I've always been terrible at rote memorization, which some folks find odd. (Einstein did that, too.) But there are folks out there who can memorize stuff after a couple passes, and that's how they operate.

So, I'm taking quite the leap by assuming the author's a bit simple because she needed to write down a reminder to take a stack of laundry and put it in the drawer, for crying out loud...

Also, at first, I assumed the author was a guy. Gender feminists would say I did it out of sexism - leaping to a conclusion, but actually I assumed maleness due to the vapidity of the note in relation to chores, even though it does mention a facial, and the bad handwriting. Most women I know don't need to make lists for anyone other than their poor husbands, and when they do, the penmanship is usually close to calligraphy. And apparently it's common enough for guys to get facials these days that Brad Paisley put it in a song (that sample doesn't include the verse, here):

These days there's dudes gettin' facials,
manicured, waxed and botoxed.
With deep spray-on tans
and creamy lotiony hands
you can't grip a tackle box.

My wife is pretty sure it's a woman, though, and I'm now convinced it is, too.

Anyway, I got a whole half hour of amusement out of this. Frinstance, why are some items marked with a star and others aren't? Completion? Importance? Your guess is as good as mine. Is "stuff" a category, an acronym, or an item unto itself? Aren't all the things on the list "stuff"?

If you dig this kind of ... stuff, like moi, there's a whole site dedicated to it: http://www.foundmagazine.com/


Monday, December 01, 2008

Some Decent Mashups
Read: "Free Music"

Attu Sees All is doing his gol-darndest best to be SFW, but alas, is still kinda PG-13, imho. BUT, he is the best source for mashups this side of the Daytona 500.

Two I've really liked recently are:
- Mashed in Plastic: Source Page - Attu's Post -- this one is a remix of all the music and themes from David Lynch films.
- Flying White Dots: Source Page - Attu's Post

Btw, for those of you in the cheap seats (and by that I've always meant the last ones to hear it - nothing pejorative meant), a mashup is where someone with the patience and the software has mixed together existing source songs. It's still unclear if these are illegal or not.

I found this on Attu, too. Star Trek vs. Star Wars. Cute. I do wonder, though, about the guys (and you know it's guys) who spend all the time it takes to construct something like this.

Suffice to say, if'n yer not offended by the occasional rash of lust and/or nudity, Attu is really a fine and fun site.

Yes, I'll have to talk to Jesus about this one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Two Funnies

I wonder if this is the actual astronaut who dropped the bag.

Super Stupor
I would love to see this premise explored in a comic book series - secret powers they're ashamed of.
Recent Viewings, 11/26/2008

A/K/A Tommy Chong
From the Amazon.com description:
a/k/a Tommy Chong chronicles the entrapment and incarceration of comedy icon Tommy Chong of the legendary comedy duo, Cheech and Chong. Josh Gilbert takes on the event in his documentary, and offers a sometimes frightening, often hilarious account of Operation Pipe Dreams, a nationwide drug paraphernalia sting spearheaded by a federal prosecutor named Mary Beth Buchanan, appointed by George Bush three short days after the attacks of 9/11. After fully armed SWAT teams raided the comedian's home and his business, Chong Glass, Chong was sentenced to 9 months in federal prison for "conspiracy to manufacture and distribute drug paraphernalia through his family business, specializing in handmade glass water pipes, or "bongs".

And that says it all; everything you find out in the movie. Except for: the 9/11 plane that went down in Pennsylvania went down in Buchanan's county, and so her appointment was partially for show, as usual. The wiki article has a lot of other wonderful shenanigans of hers. I am so not gonna miss these ass-clowns.

There, now you don't have to spend any time watching that rather tepid documentary.

This is a "classic" Japanese horror film that landed on Bravo's "Scariest Movie Moments". It was one of the few I hadn't seen (that I hadn't already decided NOT to see, such as The Hills Have Eyes), so the library found a copy for me.

This movie belongs to the sub-genre of horror that does not frighten me in the least: cuttin' folks up. I think you have to have some root fear that is exploitable (something you can empathize with) for something to be frightening to you. I've never had surgery or been stabbed, so I really don't have any frame of reference to viscerally fear being hacked to pieces. I know intellectually that it would be unpleasant, but I don't fear it. Now, you talk demonic possession, I'm your fraidy cat. I still can't bring myself to watch The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

I suspect Audition is the movie that started the modern trend of torture porn, as it came out in 1999, and Saw came out in 2004. True, The Last House on the Left from 1972 predates them all - even The Texas Chain Saw Massacre from 1974. But those older hack 'n' slashers had a different tone. The best way I can think to put it is the earlier flicks had more of an Ed Gein vibe and modern torture porn has more of a Lorena Bobbitt skank to it.

So, if you dig that sorta thing, you should hunt this one down. If you don't, again, I've saved you nearly two hours of your life.

MPC1 is a fan of musicals. She gets that from her mom. Save for a couple specific versions of a couple specific shows, most musicals - especially the Rogers and Hammerstein kind - are excruciating to me.

However, I've always been a film buff and geeked out on the various technologies. When I saw that the Todd-AO version of the flick was included in the set, I steeled myself and sat down to watch.

I couldn't get through the whole thing, even though one of the great MILFs of all time - Momma Partridge, aka Shirley Jones - is the female lead.

I could be imagining things, but I thought I could see a difference in the visual; it seemed more fluid. I still have yet to determine if the Todd-AO version was playing at 30fps, but this review seems to say it was.

I liked the effect, and it's too bad that Todd-AO didn't catch on as a format. All of our movies would look that much better.

And, finally, one of the two shows I watch anymore, "Pushing Daisies", has been canceled. Here's a lament or two. (The other one I watch is "Chuck".)

Catch "Daisies" while you can. Or, wait for the DVDs, which I'm sure will be loaded with fun stuff.

Have YOU seen anything good, lately?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

How to be Ugly

I was checking out at the grocery store the other day and the kid who rang me up said, "Got any fun plans today?" (I think he'll go far.)

This was the last stop on had been quite a few that day - we'd been out for about four hours - and I said, "Yes, I'm planning to go home and sit down. That's my kind of fun right now."

The 50-ish woman behind me grinned, so I said to her, "Right?"

She cocked one eyebrow and said with not just a little venom, "If you want to live longer you'd better do something other than go home and sit."

I'm visibly overweight, but still, da fok?

Of course, all the snappy retorts that I wouldn't have said had they occured to me buzzed around my head like flies all the way back to the car.

Like a lot of folks, I've wished on occasion that I were good-looking. But then, a lot of people I know who are don't necessarily think that of themselves, so I don't know if many people actually get the supposed benefit of self-esteem that way.

However, it sure seems you pay the price if you don't live up to someone else's beauty standards.

This brings me to two events of serendipity I've experienced recently (though those of faith like me like to believe there's Something Larger behind it.

Pretty much the day after being dissed at the supermarket, I decided it'd been a while since I'd visited Roger Ebert's blog (which is amazing, btw), and there waiting was this article on what is was like to be ugly and/or fat. What a wunnerful read.

The other serendipitous event I'll cover in a later post.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The self-appointed expert on everything

Serendipitously, Alias Clio posted a great summation of something I have had to live in spades:

Of course, no one can be an expert in every field, but the trouble is that many highly intelligent people lack humility and think they can be. And thus is born a powerful mixture of brains, ignorance, and folly, leading to much greater stupidities than those of the merely dull-witted. - Alias Clio

In my profession, I just naturally encounter a LOT of these. This past couple years have been the worst in that regard.

TLD: My favorite episode involved a piece of code that was supposed to move information from one system to another. It was released and it never once worked. We spent 4 months saying that very thing in the status meetings. Finally, when it was generally accepted that it didn't work, someone actually asked me why we hadn't told anyone that it didn't work. To this day, the lead on the project maintains that it really did work, but then adds that it extracted the information from the source system perfectly, but the target system was a moving target - which is an admission that it didn't work, but laying the blame on the target system. For the record, the target system wasn't really an issue either. This lead is the poster child for Clio's coinage.

One particularly tragic aspect of this personality type is they think they understand people. They feel they've got every one sussed out. In my experience, they are the most clueless about human nature, but think their brilliance in one area (and I will allow that they do have one area in which they are gifted) extends to their people skills.

Almost to a person, these folks almost completely mitigate their contribution - the one related to their actual talent - with the nearly constant demonstration of how much of an asshole they are.

There's even a book about these creeps and how to deal with them. (Short version: don't. Fire their asses.)

I've discovered (this year) there's another personality type I abhor, but it's probably more just something that bugs me and not so much a universally hated type.

For lack of a better coinage, it's the "utterly lacking in cultural references clod" (or - to be more precise - the inability to "get" cultural references).

This is the person (say over 30 for this example) who would be puzzled if you asked them "Mary Ann or Ginger?" They'd have to go look it up on wikipedia.

I just wanna smack these people.

What's odd, is I haven't encountered many of them until the last couple years.

Yeah, like everyone, I had a few of those kids I graduated with whose parents didn't let them watch TV, or if they did it was only news or PBS. But, I'm not talking about those poor souls.

For example, this year for Halloween, I went as "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski. As the holiday approached, folks who'd seen the flick would comment on my hair and beard saying I looked like The Dude. But not ONE person who saw me that night (either handing out candy or out trick-or-treating with the kids) was able to guess who I was. Eventually it dawned on me that many adults were just assuming I was a very lazy dad who didn't shave and wore a bathrobe rather than a costume, so I ditched the robe. But before I did, I would tell folks who I was - especially if they looked at me in that worried manner that implied they were bugged that I was near their little sweethearts - and even then, all I got was, "Oh. Is that a movie?" or "I've never seen that." Maybe the election year brought these goons out. Who knows.

I also work with an inordinately large number of people who fit this profile. They would cause Dennis Miller to dive down a stairwell with their blank looks in response to, say, a Poseidon Adventure reference.

Gad, has anyone else run across this lately?

If so, we might have the premise for M. Night Shyamalan's next movie.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

They're Playing Our Song

Here's a fun post on songs that were plagiarized (accidentally or not) and the results thereof. The full version of each song is included so you can compare them for yourself. Note there's a page two; I almost missed it.

I think it's pretty obvious that Cobain lifted the notes from the chorus of the Pixies tune.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Never grow old

I was tooling around the other day with the top down, wind whipping and the stereo blasting away, when one of my indelible songs came on. The endorphins were rockin' along and suddenly I found myself listing (I still think of Whisky's "I'm Listing!" category when I find myself mentally composing a listing post).

My indelible songs are the ones that when they cycle up in a playlist or on the radio, I never turn them off. Even if I'm not in the mood, they get me in the mood - and the sad ones like "Most of the Time" don't bring me down. This list skews to older songs because only after time do you find out if a song "wears out" or is mood dependent.

What about my beloved U2 (which only got one song on the list), or Yoshimi, or Dwight Yoakam? And, gosh, there's not one Paul Simon song on here, even though the whole of Hearts and Bones is one of my all-time faves. Those are usually ones I have to be in the mood to listen to. Or, I still think they're great, and will even listen to them on occasion, but I may not play them for well over a year or more.

In compiling this, I decided to go with full versions of the song when I could (and was able to, for most of them), so I went with videos where I could. My bias was to always go with the better audio, no matter how goofy the video is (a lot of them are home-made), except where I point out a better audio version. I also went for the exact mix or version that I like, and have indicated when my favored version wasn't available. I didn't embed them because you'd have to scroll for minutes to get to the bottom of the post, and I thought that'd be outrageous. I have made them so they'll pop in a new tab/window, though, so you don't have to keep surfing back to hear the next one.

Finally, just a reminder that if you like some of these, and need a copy before you can buy one, this old post explains how to do that.

In alphabetical order:
Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Quantum of Solace

Saw "Zack and Miri" when it came out, because I loves myself some Kevin Smith. And, I didn't think he'd be able to pull this one off without a huge "ick" factor. Especially if the lead characters did in fact have sex on camera.

Well, they do have sex on camera, and it allllllllllmost works. As a matter of fact, it's so close, we'll go with horseshoe rules and just say it does work.

But I can quantify exactly how it doesn't work. Did you ever have the experience as a kid where you already had some legos, and one of the grandparents bought you some more, but bought an off-brand that didn't fit actual legos? So, there you were, with two sets of construction blocks that worked amongst themselves, but you couldn't make one big thing out of them. In "Zack and Miri," Smith has hot-glued those two sets together so if you don't take a close look, you've got one big lego thang.

The fact of the matter is, this is a concept that would only work in the movie world, because in the real world, people like Zack and Miri wouldn't get past the drunk epiphany stage. They wouldn't be caught dead actually filming sex in order to sell it to people they know.

So, now that we have THAT out of the way, I must say that I enjoyed the hell out of this flick. I liked the jokes. I liked the language - Smith is one of those who can take profanity to a near high art form. And since the movie is completely impervious to editing for broadcast TV, why not have the characters carpet f-bomb the place?

Even with the provisos and quid-pro-quos above, the actual sex scene between Zack and Miri is honestly touching. Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen - particularly Banks - completely sell the scene, and give perhaps one of the best demonstrations ever on how acting can totally make a moment in a flick. It's one of my favorite love scenes of all time, and I'm surprised I actually mean that.

TLD: Apologies for the adverb abuse in this post, btw. I'm bad about using them in the first place, but here I have so many words that end in "ly" I'm totally feeling like a Valley Girl, for sure.

It's been a while since I crushed on an actress, but Elizabeth Banks just had me all moony. My God, she's a babe here. Never has an actress looked so radiant since Grace Kelley illuminated Hitchcock's Rear Window, or Meg Ryan sparkled in When Harry Met Sally.

Brandon Routh (he of Superman Returns fame) as Justin Long's (he of "the mac" in the PC vs. mac commercials) gay lover is a snort. Playing off of Superman's hyper-macho image and looking mortified as Long has yet another nellie snit fit is great squirmy fun.

Kevin Smith has always said he's not good at directing, but since Jersey Girl he's steadily improved, and since he's mentioned it himself, I tend to have my radar up during his movies for that very thing. And I'll tell you what, I went "wow" a couple times. Mr. Smith has graduated. One of the more enjoyable subtexts of "Zack and Miri" is a lot of the show is commentary on guerrilla film making and stuff I bet Kevin Smith went through making Clerks.

Jeff Anderson, who plays the guy who knows how to use a camera, played the infamous Randal in Clerks. Every time I've seen him I've been amazed at how good an actor he is, and wonder why other directors don't use him more. He's that perfect everyman. Kinda the niche that Jeff Daniels has managed to mine quite a bit. Casting directors, take note.

Finally, it's eerie to me how much my music tastes align with Smith's. I thrilled every time another song came up thinking that's the exact song I would've picked, too. Though, I wouldn't have had the balls to use Climax Blues Band's "I Love You" as the penultimate song. It's perfect, but boy it's gooey. And it works.

Quantum of Solace

This is sorta giving it away, but the plot is essentially Chinatown without the incest angle.

The action is filmed in the same style the The Bourne Ultimatum was - all swiveling cameras and two-second long cuts. It's hard to follow and it gets you kinda sea sick.

The only thing that stood out was the clarity of the picture. I don't know if I was sitting the perfect distance from the screen, or if they've gotten a new method of filming movies, but when Bond was out in a desert, I could pick out individual rocks across the entire screen. It almost looked 3-D. But, as with big-deal CGFX, it needs to serve the story and not be a thing unto itself.

It was a fun two hours, but I can't really recommend it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Saturday, November 15, 2008

How to Save Lots of Money

Donald Blowhard has a post up soliciting money-saving advice. I intended to put this in the comments, but it ballooned so much I thought I'd save them the space. (They pay for their service, I don't.)

For the record, I have done all of these, so I know they work.

We had to tighten our belts during the first Bush depression, so here's what we did, and it saved hundreds a month:

- Go down to basic cable. If you live where you can get TV over the air, get one of those new digital antennas. TV can be free or close to it. If you like those HBO or Showtime series, see the next bullet.
- Use the library as your source of movies, music, and books. You have to have a little patience, but you eventually get to read, see and hear what you'd like. A lot of libraries now have a netflix-like list where you can put holds on things you want. Only buy the "I will listen/read/watch this over 4 times" items. And even then, buy them used or on sale. (And for aspiring writers who are worried about income, libraries buy books.)
- Check your phone bill. There's a lot of fat on there.
- If you have kids, introduce them to the classics. Most libraries have Star Trek, Bewitched, M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, and even Gilligan's Island on DVD. You, yourself, will be surprised at how good they still are. Your kids will now have a new cultural touchstone (besides all things Disney) and will get the jokes of their older co-workers when they go to work.
- Oh, and a lot of networks are now streaming whole TV shows online.
- Share. Movies, books, music, videotapes, etc. Most folks have gotten out of this habit because we've all encountered the twit who returned our Barry Manilow Live CD scratched beyond repair. Just note the abusers and don't share with them. Most folks are conscientious.
- On that same note, start up a book/DVD/whatever swap at work (for things you can give away). The rule is take a book, leave a book. Or DVD. Or tape. Etc.
- If you are having anything delivered, stop it. Even if it was a deal at first, do the math and compare to the grocery store.
- If you get a newspaper delivered, call them and ask for a better deal. They always have them ready for folks like you.
- Call your credit card and ask for a better rate. Half the time, you'll get one. (Of course, don't use credit cards at all if you can. But these days, that's like saying "don't drive.")
- Use the dry cleaner for dry clean things only. Don't buy dry clean things in the first place. (We always have done this, but some of our friends didn't. They were shocked at the savings. Btw, half our culdesac lost their jobs in the first Bush bust.)
- Generics/store brands. You prolly know this, but most store brands are made by the exact same folks who make the branded stuff on the shelf right next to them. Frinstance, at my store, there's the store brand of canned dinner rolls for 59 cents right next to the Pillsbury version which is $1.49. (When you consider flour, yeast, and effort, 59 cents is cheaper than you can make them from scratch.) Our generic soda pop is made by RC cola, for another example. The one generic thing I've discovered that's never quite right is - of all things - corn chips. Buy the brand you like for those.
- Potatoes and rice are great meal fillers. Try Basmati rice; it's awesome. Potatoes are so malleable, you literally could not make every potato dish there is inside of a year if you tried. And, it worked for the Irish.
- A crock pot can save or upgrade nearly any piece of meat.
- There's another wonder pot out there, too. Check out Ebert's complete guide. If you've never had rice prepared in a vessel that's designed to cook it, prepare to be amazed. Btw, this pot cooks everything, not just rice.
- Got veggies in the crisper that are near their stale date, or some meat that's still OK, but won't be in a couple days? It's time to make soup! When we bake a chicken, we save all the pan drippings as stock. If you haven't done that, two bullion cubes, or one can of store-bought stock will do. (But don't skip the stock, it makes or breaks soup.) You take two carrots, two stalks of celery, half a cabbage (or a whole small one), onion (to taste) and sauté them in virgin olive oil (or butter, or mixture of the two), and throw them in the stock. Add 2 tbls. salt (or less, if you're one of those - but at least 1 tbls.), a pinch of thyme, a bay leaf, and from there add whatever else you like: chicken, pork, corn, tomatoes, etc. Be cautious with beef, though. Sometimes you've got to do a beef stock instead, particularly if the beef was cooked for another meal. 1 heaping teaspoon of beef "Better than Bullion" will do the trick (instead of chicken stock). Also, avoid putting in rice unless you know how; it can just blitzkrieg a soup. Bring to a boil for a good 20 minutes, then reduce to simmer, and simmer 2 to 4 hours. Freeze leftovers in lunch-sized containers.
- Other way cheap meals you've forgotten about: tuna casserole, meatloaf, and spaghetti with meatballs (hamburger, basil, oregano, a couple crackers, roll into balls and fry; then drop into sauce).
- Accelerate gently, leadfoot. (I still fail at this one, but am working on it.)
- And never buy a new car. Ever. That's the ONE place where trickle-down works. Let the wealthy status hogs lower the price of a car for you.
- If you're gonna do fast food, go with the dollar menu. Hint, anything you add outside of condiments, they're gonna charge you for, so only subtract (no pickles!), don't add cheese and such. We were able to literally halve our outlay on fast food. (And be honest, who doesn't get it at least once a week?)
- If any meat is 1/2 off or BOGO, binge and freeze. (But, freeze it correctly. The extra pennies on freezer storage stuff will pay itself back.)
- Compare "organic" to the other produce. Sometimes one is cheaper than the other, and unless you've got some sort of chemical sensitivity, there really isn't much difference in taste and quality, save for the tomatoes.
- Rethink what you typically order at restaurants, or for home delivery. Look over the menu for the ala carte stuff and the appetizers. Often, when you get a "meal" you're only getting a scoop of rice or a limp veggie for the bump. If you ala carte it, or get an appetizer and share, you can cut a few bucks. (And, of course, the caveat is don't go out to eat so much.)
- If you do go out to eat, avoid the chains like Chilis, Applebees, Fridays, Black-eyed Pea, etc. Really have a look at what they're charging you $12 a plate for. Usually local mom and pop eateries are better deals. With better food.
- Split entrees. Those $12 plates are usually more than you should eat, anyway. Who cares if the waiter/waitress sneers at you? They're only thinking of their tip, and they'll have a different job in a year or so anyway. You're merely helping them along on their journey.
- If you have kids, go to consignment/second-hand stores. That's another amount you'll half. (Wash them well, first, of course.)
- Also, if you have kids, unless you're afraid of being called a commie or socialist, if you have friends and neighbors with kids, arrange trades with them when junior outgrows a set of clothes. You may not always like their taste, but more often than not you'll get stuff that's fine. Make sure you give back what you don't use. Don't bother with any reasons "why" when you give them back, just say (sincerely), "Thanks." Any "reasons", like "They don't fit", will immediately smell like BS. Even if they ask things like, "Oh, are they OK?" (or anything that indicates they're prepping to be insulted), just pipe, "Of course not! And thanks again!"
- Buy clothes off-season. When winter hits, go check the leftover shorts and swimsuits. (Or fall wear, depending on the store's lag time.) That's why you have drawers and closets.
- Though it's the only way they make money, don't buy popcorn, candy or a drink at the movie theatre. Sneak it in if you have to have something. During winter, you can get 4 beers in your jacket sleeves. (Cans, folks. If you shred your forearms and leak beer, glass and blood all over the theatre floor, you'll just be part of someone's Christmas stories.)
- Turn lights off. 3/4 of the houses around us look like they're signaling the mother ship every night. Conversely, we've had neighbors wonder if we're ever home at night, because we only have on one or two lights at any given time, and always in the room we're in.
- Hunt for household energy vampires and pull the plug (or flip the switch if they truly turn off). Yes, those few seconds of warm-up time are lost forever, but it may mean $10 to $20 more a month.
- DON'T live with a house temperature you don't like. Life is too short. If you like the house at 70 degrees, please, do so. The money you save for living at 68 degrees doesn't not begin to equate with the discomfort you'll have every day.
- However, if everyone is gone during the day, have one of those programmable thermostats installed. ($100 - $200 last I checked.) Dropping the house to 65 degrees from 9 to 4 can really save a dime or two. (And even midnight to 4 am, if you don't mind a cold house whilst you're asleep.)
- Shower/bathe every other day. Yes, like most, you'll still have to wash your hair, but that's a lot less water and heat than a whole cleanse. You won't be stinky, I promise. And it's better for your skin. Keep in mind that back during WWII, it was typical for folks to bathe once a week. (Colorado sells most of its water to California, so Coloradoans pay for water like it was bottled water. Our monthly water bill is never less than $100. This trick alone saved a Benjamin.)
- If you have an indulgence you don't want to live without, just budget for it. You find room to pay for a phone and such. You'll find room for your morning latte. The trick is to give up something else that's not all that much to you anymore. Say the bran muffin. Oatmeal is better for you anyway.
- When you encounter a deal on something (nonperishable) you WILL use, but have enough for the moment, buy anyway. I'm always burning CDs of music, so when I find a stack of 100 for $12, I snag it.
- Don't pay for software. Once you have the box, you can now literally get ALL the software you might need for free. If you don't want to venture into Linux (and I don't recommend it for the easily frustrated, and those who don't have a buddy to help), most boxes come with the OS anyway. So, search for what you need. Open Office really is as good as MS Office anymore. The only software that you might have to pop for is CD/DVD burning software (Nero is the best), but only if it didn't come with the PC in the first place. Most freeware burners make too many Christmas ornaments (failed burns) to make them worth it.

Any other caveats and thoughts are welcome.

Update: The Opinionated Homeschooler has offered some more great tips (and some adjustments to mine). The only one that wouldn't work for me is "not driving." Our city is NOT laid out for cyclists even a little bit. Someone from LA must've designed our city, methinks.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why the Mormons had a woody for prop 8.

(Apparently Lucy has some 'splainin to do.)

Everyone's wondering what the Mormon church was up to when it got members to pony up huge wads of holy cash to get prop. 8 approved in CA, which bans gay marriage.

I think it's pretty obvious, myself. It's about polygamy.

The mainstream Mormon church does not allow polygamy, but most of the splinter Mormon sects do. Mormons want more than anything to be perceived as just another Christian denomination, even though their actual theology has more in common with Scientology and Islam than it does with historical, mainline Christianity (as does their origin).

The splinter Mormons who do practice polygamy (illegally) have been waiting for gay marriage to become widely legal so they could then begin the drive to make polygamy legal. The mainline Mormons know this, and fear that if the splinters made polygamy legal, then everyone would assume that all Mormons would practice polygamy, therefore endangering their desired perception of being just another Christian denomination.

Now, they also consider homosexuality to be a sin, but it's not enough of an issue to them where it would've resulted in all the monies and effort that went into getting prop. 8 passed. (They think anyone not Mormon is going to hell anyway, particularly gays.) It's just not that important.

But, public perception is. So they didn't care if they took a national hit on being "bigoted" since it aligns with their view of homosexuality anyway. However, they don't want to look odd and be "those folks who have a bunch of teen-age brides lined up." That would cause a direct hit on their missionary work, possibly their jobs and their pocket books if they were viewed to be as loony or dangerous like Scientologists or Islamic Extremists (who also practice polygamy outside of the US). (And of course we must genuflect here to the atheist fundies who consider ANYONE religious to be loony and dangerous. Yes. We know. Leave the comments alone. Go hang with your buddies on Digg.)

Btw, the Mormons may have broken the law related to the tax exempt status of churches where they are not supposed to use the pulpit as a political soapbox, but I don't know if they crossed that line or not.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And now ... a cat playing a Theremin

Monday, November 10, 2008

And, dammit, the man just looks cool...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day Funnies

Finally, here we are.

Whatever happens, we can at last escape from those cursed political commercials with the worried-voice narrators. Is it me, or does it seem there are approximately only 3 voice-over talents used for all political commercials. Those three folks must make enough money during election years to coast for the remaining three.

Anyway, this made me laugh. Hard. (I'm still chuckling as I type this.)

In retrospect, the one element of the election that really left me wondering about my fellow man is how many folks bought the whole "socialism" charge of the McCain campaign.

Do that many people really not know what socialism actually is? Do any of the dolts who bought the McCain newspeak definition of "socialist" (or its phrase-cousin "redistribution of wealth") realize that it also applies to the way our entire police force and military are funded? And do any of these folks have any idea that their beloved "trickle-down" economics (assuming, here) fits the bill, too?

That little oddity left me awash with the same kind of weltschmerz that reading any comment thread on a Digg post that deals with religion or atheism does.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Goodnight Moon

... and Opus. And hopefully, Bush (no third term!).

But, first, about Goodnight Moon.

Back when I worked at a bookstore, after I had adapted as much as I could to working in a mall and existing under a daily blazing bath of fluorescent lights, I started paying attention to what people bought outside of the current bestsellers. Then, during down time, I would peruse them.

TLD:One of the great finds I made this way was the best cookbook EVER. I noticed who bought the most cookbooks, and then asked those ladies (it was always just women) which was the best all-around cookbook I could own (particularly as a young bachelor). Every single one marched over to the same rack without hesitation and plopped this one in my mitts: The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. Here's the version I have, which you can get for cents and shipping (wow, because back in the day it was $35 with my employee discount) and the new one. If you need to know how to cook anything from a basic hamburger all the way up to an umpteen course meal, including lobster, this book shows you how. My wife considers me an accomplished cook (and she was raised by gourmands), and everything I know about cooking comes from this book, or some tip from Alton Brown (though I would never go to the screwing-while-standing-up-in-a-hammock gyrations he goes through to make just one dish).

The vast majority of high volume sales kid's lit is deservedly so. The author and illustrator have hit the elusive sweet spot/magic formula that makes a children's book amazing, which is the equivalent in terms of talent or luck of making a good movie comedy (as actors often say that acting is a drama is easy, and comedy is the hardest thing to do). For example, nearly anything by Robert Munsch is awesome. If you don't have kids and you need to buy a gift for a little one, you can't go wrong with Munsch. (If you have kids and haven't heard of Munsch, come back into the light and forsake the underside of the rock for a while.)

One of the most popular children's books was/is Goodnight Moon, and since I'm not a snob, and since children's books are perfect for reading during the lag at work, I read all those I wasn't familiar with, including "moon."

Goodnight Moon was just horrible (to me)! Insipid. Weird, even.

The manager of the store had kids, so I asked her about it. She raved. It truly was one of the best, according to her.

And here, dear readers, is one of the demarcations between those with children and those without. Some things you just don't get until you have one of the little dears. It's just impenetrable. I've always been queasy with this analogy, but it's like trying to imagine what actual sex is like before you've had it. Even further, it's like being prepubescent and not having a realization that sex even exists.

So, when my first arrived, sure enough, one of the gifts was Goodnight Moon.

I sayeth to mine wife, "Verily, this book doth suck." She respondeth, "Hast though readst it?" "Alas, I have," I replyeth. "Hast though read it to yonder child?" she doth inquire. "Non," sayeth I. "Well, give it a try. You'll see," she said, abandoning warmed-over King James verbiage.

Still not convinced, I read a "better" book first, hoping that would be consolation enough when we attempted the dreaded "moon." Then we dove in.

Here it is: the secret of Goodnight Moon is reading the book out loud to a tot.

The revelation was what I'd imagine the revelation would be like for someone who'd seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show cold, at home on DVD, thinking it was a serious film classic, then seeing it with an audience, with the toilet paper, squirt guns, cards, etc. It's all about context.

The rhythms and cadence of the book is nothing short of perfect when read out loud. It also has a unique view into/understanding of the mind of a child who's old enough to start following stories. Most bizarre of all, it's hypnotic and acts as a powerful sedative. You can feel your child relax, and by the time you read "goodnight noises everywhere" (which you should whisper, and I've noticed most parents do), it's all over but the goodnight kiss.

I'm tempted to make the claim that it's high poetry, with the qualification that it's high poetry for that age group, given it's so powerful and yet simple.

It looms large in your life as a parent. So much so that when you (or at least I) read the ending to the Opus comic, part one here, part two here, I actually welled up.

Update: Nearly forgot to mention that though Berkeley Breathed is retiring Opus (again, but he says for the last time), he is going to keep writing children's books. All the ones he's written so far are wonderful, including his latest, Pete & Pickles.

Then, of course, there's the new parody of Bush baby, whom we fire tomorrow (my glee is barely containable). The laughs are larger when you see how perfectly it follows all the detail (of which there is an amazing amount, you realize after a few readings) of the original Goodnight Moon.

Tellingly, the author, Margaret Wise Brown, never really came up with another wonder like Goodnight Moon. She even produced a book so bad, my family still mocks it: The Important Book. Here's an excerpt: "The important thing about snow is that it is white. It is cold, and light, it falls softly out of the sky, it is bright, [blah blah]. But the important thing about snow is that it is white." Reading this book out loud doesn't save it. It's as clunky as rubber galoshes on a hot sandy beach. To this day, when we encounter something irrelevant about something, we say, "The important thing about shopping carts is that they have wheels. They're germy, they rattle [blah blah]. But the important thing..." and so on.

To be fair, Ms. Brown is not a one hit wonder, because The Runaway Bunny, isn't bad. It's not a gem, like Goodnight Moon, though.

And goodnight to the old lady whispering "hush".