Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Joys of Misperception

Here's something that annoys me. My mom has the worst, dumbest taste in movies. And every Saturday, she always calls to tell me that she went to see some stupid movie, knowing that it's going to annoy me, but she just has to tell me she saw something and she liked it. And this week, it was Norbit. And when I groan in derision, she always has the same answer: "Sometimes you just want to see something stupid and funny."

Why? I don't know why people want to see something stupid and funny. And I don't understand why people wear that as some sort of badge of normalcy that they defend to the death. The explanation I got this morning is this: "Everything doesn't always have to be serious and stone-faced. Sometimes people need to laugh."

And that's where I always get pissed off. It's not like she's taking time out from her busy schedule of watching the films of Godard while simultaneously reading all of Remembrance of Things Past and playing chess with Deep Blue. She's tearing herself away from Seinfeld reruns and Anne Rice novels to relax herself with Eddie Murphy's umpteenth feature-length fat joke. Am I supposed to be pleased?

And the other thing that pisses me off about it is this: Why do people assume that, just because you're not watching The King of Queens and reading the new Stephen King novel, you want everything to be serious? Why do they assume you don't like to laugh just because you don't feel the need to, every once in a while, physically take your brain out of your head, fart on it, and giggle as a means to relax.

Look, I'm the first guy to say that what people find funny is purely subjective. But what I find funny is what engages my brain or strikes a chord or is just plainly bizarre. It doesn't have to be intellectual, it just has to engage me enough to make me laugh. Christ, I'm a Disney fan, I love the Three Stooges, I could recite entire bits from Monty Python and The Simpsons, I think Eurotrip is a funny movie--I'm not sitting here watching Schindler's List on a loop and taking myself seriously. I just try not to rush headlong into obvious crap and then justify it with something as ridiculous as "Not everything has to be serious." I guess I'm just not desperate enough to hide from reality that I go to those lengths and come up with self-serving explanations about my penchant for liking crap.

Everyone likes crap. Who fucking cares?

I just get offended by the idea that I don't know how to take a joke because I think something you like is incredibly retarded. Why don't you try to justify your appreciation instead of attacking my lack of it?

The Bible Summarized by a Smartass, Part Nineteen: Esther

News dispatches from Susa, the capitol of the Persian Empire:

Chapter One
Terrible news today: women realize they have autonomy as Queen Vashti refuses King Ahasuerus’s simple request to show herself off to the crowd. . .Social fabric could rip at any second. . .Queen to be done away with as an example. . .King: “Every man must be master of his own house”. . .

Chapter Two
Success at last: King ends his years-long search for a new bride. . .Esther to be the new Queen of Persia. . .King personally test-rode every virgin in the kingdom to find which one was the best. . .Banquet celebration was disrupted by two would-be assassins, who were foiled by the Jew Mordecai. . .Assassins to be hanged tomorrow. . .

Chapter Three
Haman named Royal Prime Minister. . .Moredcai refused to bow to Haman, creating a public scene. . .In other news, King Ahasuerus today signed a bill authored by PM Haman to create a systematic program of ethnic cleansing to wipe out the Jew from all 127 provinces of the Empire. . .

Chapter Four
Mysterious confrontation today between Mordecai and Queen Esther. . .Mordecai at the head of a large group of Jewish mourners in the streets. . .

Chapter Five
Queen Esther to throw a banquet. . .PM Haman to attend by royal invitation. . .King Ahasuerus sure thinks the queen is purdy. . .In other news, Persia is slaughtering away at its Jews. . .

Chapter Six
King Ahasuerus to finally honor Mordecai the Jew for saving him from assassination. . .PM Haman to put together something special. . .attendance at parade will be required. . .Haman seen leaving the palace in tears. . .PM’s wife Zeresh says PM is unavailable for comment. . .

Chapter Seven
Queen Esther’s banquet was marred by tragedy today. . .Esther reveals hidden identity as a Jew. . .Scandal: Mordecai is the queen’s cousin and adoptive father. . .King promises justice. . .PM Haman slain by the king’s men for attacking the queen. . .

Chapter Eight
King Ahasuerus ends ethnic cleansing program at wife’s request. . .Queen Esther inherits all of Haman’s estate; gives it to Mordecai. . .Mordecai is authorized to call for sectarian violence against “enemies of Israel”. . .provinces terrified of Jewish retaliation. . .many people pretending to be Jews in a bid to be spared. . .Mordecai’s plot endorsed by the king himself. . .

Chapter Nine
Slaughter in every province today as Mordecai carries out his revenge. . .75,000 killed in bloody reprisals. . .Haman’s entire family among the dead. . .Mass murders to be remembered and celebrated as Jewish feast of Purim. . .

Chapter Ten
Peace reigns. . .And fear. . .Peace and fear. . .

Next week: The Book of Job (or, I Want to Tell You: The O.J. Simpson Story)

Because We All Love to Talk About Ourselves

Otherwise, we wouldn't have blogs.

1) Do you have a crush on somebody? I think my love for Charisma Carpenter is pretty well-documented by this point.
2) Do you hate more than 3 people? Oh my, yes.
3) How many houses have you lived in? If military housing counts (and it shouldn't), I've lived in two. Then one condo and two apartments.
4) Favorite candy bar? Watchamacallit.
(I have no idea why question five is missing here.)
6) Have you ever tripped someone? Of course. I had a sister growing up, what the hell else was I going to do with her?
7) Least favorite school subject? I sucked at anything scientifical.
8) How many pairs of shoes do you own? Three. My regular shoes, boots, and a pair of dress shoes. I don't need anymore, right, ladies?
9)Do you own a Britney Spears CD? Only all of them. Even the Chaotic EP. And the remix album.
10) Have you ever thrown up in public? I once threw up in Sunday School. All of the Sunday School classes, from first grade to high school, would all sit together for a prayer before breaking off into our separate classes. I was sick that morning, and I sat there and tried not to do anything, and then I just spewed all over. Seriously, it was like a projectile just shout out, spattered onto the floor, and then ran all down my shirt. And that wasn't even the worst part; I didn't have time to feel humiliated, because I had to rush into the bathroom so I could unleash even more vomit. And then I felt my bowels rumbling. Ah, fourth grade; the year I was on my hands and knees in the church bathroom, puking my guts out while filling my pants with enough shit to power a lamp for three days. I had to get replacement clothes from the lost and found. Hooray for me!
11) Name one thing that is always on your mind: Pussy. Sorry, but it's true.
12) Favorite genre of music? Any. Seriously, any. I think I love Romantic-era Classical music best, though.
13) What's your sign? Open for Business, Ladies Get In Free But Men Have to Talk Me Into It. Oh, I mean, Cancer. (For the record, it doesn't take much to talk me into it.)
14) What time were you born? 6:55 on a Saturday evening.
15) Do you like beer? Not especially. I like a stout or an ale.
16) Have you ever made a prank phone call? Please, how immature. I haven't prank called anyone since I was, like, 20.
18) Are you sarcastic? No, I'm not sarcastic. This is just a speech impediment. I want to be your friend.
19) What are your favorite colors? Purple, then green.
20) How many watches do you own? Two. And they're both analog, because I prefer to look at them. And yes, one is a Mickey Mouse watch.
21) Summer or winter? Summer. I hate the snow and root for its eventual destruction. Or for me moving to the tropics.
22) Is anyone in love with you? I should say so.
23) Favorite color to wear? I don't care, but I notice I do wear a lot of charcoals and olives.
24) Pepsi or Sprite? Pepsi is superior to all other colas.
25) What color is your cell phone? Yo no nintendo "cell phone."
26) Where is your second home? Oh, it's in Australia in the hills. I can't go there right now because they're moving in the Greek sculptures and it's a lot of noise, but Elle Macpherson looks in on things for me. I wish!
27) Have you ever slapped someone? Yes, indeed.
28) Have you ever had a cavity? No. Almost, but they covered it with a little bit of sealer. That was a long time ago. I haven't been to the dentist in about eight years, though, so who knows?
29) How many lamps are in your bedroom? One, but it has two actual lights in it.
30) How many video games do you own? I don't know, I'm not the gamer here. The only game I'm crazy about is Civilization II on my PC.
31) What was your first pet? I'm not sure. Hamster, maybe? Or fish.
32) Ever had braces? Yes, for two or three sucky years.
33) Do looks matter? Sadly, yes. Not that I don't have obvious fun objectifying women on my blog, so...
34) Do you use chapstick? No.
35) Name 3 teachers from high school: Mr. Crandus (best teacher in my high school years), Mrs. David (who I totally wanted to sleep with), and Mr. Mango (the chauvinist gym teacher my mom hated who became one of my regular Hollywood Video customers almost a decade later.
36) American Eagle or Abercrombie? Honestly, I barely even know what that question means.
37) Are you too forgiving? Depends. Did you earn it?
38) How many children do you want? Seven or so, besides all of the illegitimate bastards running around now.
39) Do you own something from Hot Topic? Yes, actually. A tee shirt.
40) Favorite breakfast meal: Eggs, bacon, toast, orange juice, fruit. Preferably at my beloved diner, the Junction.
41) Do you own a gun? No.
42) Ever thought you were in love? Yes.
43) When was the last time you cried? It was recently, but I can't remember when or why.
44) What did you do 3 nights ago? Watched TV. Just like every night.
45) Olive Garden? Ew. Why don't I just eat feet with garlic bread?
46) Have you ever called your teacher mommy? I did in second grade.
47) Have you ever been in a castle? No, but that would be pretty cool. Unless you count White Castle. Which I don't see why you would.
48) Nicknames? None that were meant with any affection. Does SamuraiFrog count?
49) Do you know anyone named Bertha? No.
50) Ever been to Kentucky? Yes. My youth group went to a gathering in Atlanta right before the '94 Olympics, and we stopped in Kentucky. The nicest waitress I ever met in my life stood there and talked to me and Carl and John for a long time about some movie she'd seen on TV the night before about a retarded kid. I think the hospitality was lost on my fellows, but I like nice people who want to talk. That was my only experience in Kentucky, but it was a nice one.
51) Do you own something from Banana Republic? Do they even still exist? Seriously, I have no idea.
52) Are you thinking about somebody right now? Yes, a few somebodies.
53) Ever called somebody Boo? No, and I think that's fucking lame. I want to strangle people when I hear them call each other that, especially if they're white.
54) Do you smoke? Yes, for a while. Not anymore.
55) Do you own a diamond ring? No, there are no African children on my conscience.
56) Are you happy with your life right now? Christ, no. Unemployed, broke, fat, tired, lazy, depressed, and frustrated is not exactly how I hoped I would be at 30.
57) Do you dye your hair? I never have.
58) Does anyone have a crush on you? Yes, a few of you.
59) Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts? I can't decide which one I hate more.
60) What were you doing in May of 1994? Graduating from high school. I got set up with two girls, one of whom (Inez) I had been watching for years, and the other (name not even remembered) who had been watching me. Neither worked out.
62) McDonald's or Wendy's? When I want to poison myself, I like both of them. Though not at once, obviously.
63) Do you like yourself? Not very much, honestly.
64) Are you closer to your mother or father? Mother. She's overemotional where my dad is emotionally detached.
65) Favorite physical feature of the preferred sex? This: Not the breasts, but just above, that great area from the collarbone to the sternum. I don't know why, but it drive me absolutely wild.
66) Are you afraid of the dark? Sometimes, I still am. Bad dreams.
67) Have you ever eaten paste? I don't think so... Although, when you lick an envelope, isn't that the same thing?
68) Do you own a webcam? No. Who wants to see that?
69) Have you ever stripped? No. Who wants to see that? I don't even like to see me nude. I wear a wetsuit in the shower. No, I'm kidding; I don't take showers.
70) Ever broke a bone? My ankle, although the break wasn't complete. Very nearly was. It was a stupid thing, too; it happened in high school gym class, while I was playing basketball. I spun around and, for some reason, my foot stayed where it was but I heard a crunch in my bone. Thank the gods for adrenaline; I didn't even feel it.
71) Are you religious? No, I'm a grown-up. Fairy tales don't govern my life.
72) Do you chat on AIM often? I'm on Yahoo chatting sometimes.
73) Pringles or Lays? Pringles, if I have to pick one, but I'm not really into chips.
74) Have you ever broken someone's heart? Yes.
75) Rugrats or Doug? Ouch, dude.
76) Full House or The Brady Bunch? If I have to watch one, it's The Brady Bunch. I used to have all these masturbatory fantasies about Jan, where I was her neighbor/dad's friend from work, and I set up this camera and invite her over and... nothing...
77) Do you like your high school guidance counselor? No.
78) Has anyone ever called you fat? Gee, do you think so?
79) Do you have a birth mark? Those are three nines on my forehead.
80) Do you own a car? Flynn, my poor 96 Ford Escort who is on her last legs. She's been good to me for a long time. Longer than Falcon was, at any rate.
81) Can you cook? A fair bit. But no one likes my experiments; is chocolate powder in scrambled eggs really so wrong? Seriously, is it? I'm afraid to try and find out for sure.
84) Money or love? Why can't I love money? Or get money for my love?
85) Do you have any scars? I have a significant dent in my skull from an accident that happened when I was a kid. In the days before excessive childproofing, when I was three or so, I slid on a catalog and cut my head open on the sharp edge of an end table.
86) What do you want more than anything right now? Seriously? A banana split. Maybe on Jessica Pare's body.Come on, you knew I was gonna get tits in here somewhere.
87) Do you enjoy scary movies? If they're good.
88) Relationships or one night stands? Both.
90) Do you enjoy greasy food? Who doesn't? Seriously, who? We have to find them and weed them out.
91) Have you seen all the Rocky movies? Not the new one, but the other five, definitely. And I want to see the new one.
92) Do you own a box of crayons? No.
93) Who was the last person that said they loved you? My mom.
94) Who was the last person that made you cry? I'm not sure.
95) Who was the last person that made you laugh? I'm not sure.
97) Who was the last person that called you? My mom.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Norbert Milken Loves Billy Idol

In one of my many searches on YouTube for stuff to put on my blog, I found myself wishing I could see something I've wanted to see again for years. Something that Becca and I still quote. So I typed in the following magic words: "Norbert Milken."

And I found this:


Thank you, Jebus. That's exactly what I was looking for. And now I am sated.

I saw this sketch for the first time in 1999, during a marathon viewing session of Video from the Id. My friend Carl used to work at a public access TV station with Joe Kreml, one of the guys who worked on the show. They made and aired the show there, and it was one of the funniest fucking things I've ever seen. I know, I know. A comedy sketch series on public access...is it really any good? It's great. Kids in the Hall great (KOTH being the only sketch comedy show I've never gotten tired of watching, so that's a high compliment from me). This show was brilliant.

Carl turned me on to the show, and let me watch all of the episodes. Oh, how I loved those things. I sorely miss them now; I want to see them again badly. I want them on DVD. Jeff Madden, mastermind behind the series, hear my prayers: put them on a DVD so I can buy them from you. Put them on your new website so I can order them and buy two copies. I love the show, and I desperately want to see the "Ten Commandments of Sweeping" sketch again.

Anyway. Seriously, I am in unrequited love with this show. I met one of the actors on the show and was practically celebrity-struck. And I even got to work with some of the guys once, acting in a sketch as--wait for it--a fat guy. But who cares, I got to work with some of the guys.

Am I gushing enough?

Hey, how about another clip?


And for the hell of it, some more music-related clips.




There's so much more to this group than what I've got here. So, I recommend you hie thee to the website, Monsters from the Id, and watch some more stuff.

Now, how do I get my copy of Norbert Milken Loves Supertramp?

Jeff Madden, command me!

Mindlessness of Mencia

Carlos Mencia's real name is Ned Holness. He is half-Honduran and half-German, but pretends to be a Mexican named Carlos Mencia, putting on a Cheech accent and telling jokes that a fourth-grader would find hilarious. Mob drew my attention to this video in which Joe Rogan, of all people, goes after "Carlos" for being a joke thief. And, funnily enough, backs it up with video evidence. I can't believe Joe Rogan is the voice of reason here, but he seems to be. There's more at his MySpace page, in which he explains that calling Carlos out on stage has got him banned from the Comedy Store and dropped by his agent. Carlos Mencia is also running trying to get any copies of the linked video removed from online, so see it while you can. He's already taken it off of YouTube. (What? YouTube caved in on something? Never!)

The sordid world of comedy. Dane Cook steals from the much funnier Louis CK, and the audience sides with the incredibly unfunny Cook. Now they're siding with the incredibly unfunny Mencia, who steals from a lot of people. And what's this I hear about Denis Leary stealing from Bill Hicks? I've not heard enough Hicks to know the score there.

Baby Got Links

I'm not going to do a Throwdown this week. All of the news is about Anna Nicole Smith, and I'm really not interested in rubbernecking that; it's not really interesting, and who cares? The other news is about Britney Spears dressing slutty and, again, I don't care.
I should've linked this before Valentine's Day; according to Women's Health, women who get laid regularly save money.

More Valentines: Coming Soon has some Meet the Robinsons ads with a Valentine theme, and The Gilded Moose has found a perfect e-card for Paris Hilton.

The Film Experience has a roundtable discussion of the 20 most anticipated films of the year. Links to all 20 entries are in this post. It's great stuff, you should read it. Can I just say though: P.T. Anderson? Really? Still?

Zaius Nation talks about asinine Republican attempts to stick it to Nancy Pelosi over her apparently unreasonable insistence that politicians should do, um, their jobs.

The Rude Pundit discusses this week's Bush press conference.

Heather Graham and Bridget Moynahan kissing. I see why everyone linked to this; it's fucking hot!

New Carl Sagan book! Yes!

Postmodern Barney ponders the thoughts of Tobey Maguire and his ever-expressive face.

Becca continues her tour of our apartment at No Smoking in the Skull Cave. This week: the library.

Man vs. Clown! goes off on Neal Pollack's parenting boook. Hey, he deserves it.

I had braces once. Didn't take. Good Tidings on a Bad Day has a horrifying story about how getting fitted almost killed her.

Are you excited that Lost is back? Yeah, me neither. Slowly Going Bald has some interesting thoughts on the return and the problems facing the show.

Ebaum's World has pictures of the nerdiest car ever... oh, man, I want one! All things Star Wars are still in vogue. Exquisitely Bored in Nacogdoches pulls the best parts of the saga out for us, while College Humor tells us all we really need to know about the first movie, and Popholic gives us a new take on the movie. One more? Okay. Cinematical carries this "revelation" about George Lucas. I love to tell fans about this one; been doing it for years. It always put the prequels in perspective for them.

RetroCRUSH has some good stuff this week: Pop culture's best pigs (for Chinese New Year) and an interview with one of the men I want to be when I grow up, Joe Bob Briggs.

You know I'm not going to let a bunch of comics links go by, right? The Absorbascon talks about the rise (and in some cases, ridiculousness) of the DC supporting cast throughout the eras. In other DC Comics commentary, Living Between Wednesdays has some things to say about Lois Lane here, here, and especially here. One Diverse Comic Book Nation talks about superhero couples.

I see I've made the right choice in leaving the comic book world behind a bit. Because according to Tom the Dog, I Against Comics, and many others, everyone at Marvel Comics has finally lost their minds.

The Last Visible Blog ponders things such as continuity, canon, and fandom here and here.

An old favorite of mine: Jay Pinkerton's new version of Lost in Translation.

Here Comes Johnny Yen Again with a post about one of the great comedies, which seems under-appreciated these days, and how neat it is that he watched it with his son. Pass on the great ones.

I've never seen a single episode of Gray's Anatomy, but even I found this writing guide hilarious.

X-Entertainment salutes sodas that no longer exist.

Stuff has the best speeches in movies.

TrailerSpy lists the 15 best trailer remixes.

Happy Fifth Anniversary, As Little As Possible! Click the link to read some of his best posts.

This is actually a cool little experiment at Entertainment Weekly. Two producers come up with an idea for each others' TV shows. Not only does one of the Family Guy staff get to show off the creative bakruptcy that's been a hallmark of Family Guy for a long, long time, but the other guy neatly rips apart Family Guy and, the cherry on top, its audience of loyal retards.

There are Blogger Wars going on right now, aren't there? First, everyone danced on Perez Hilton's well-deserved grave, and now The Gilded Moose finally fires a much-needed shot at Pink Is the New Blog.

Ever watched porn? Then you know what to expect from sex.

O-Meon salutes the late Peter Ellenshaw, Disney's legendary matte artist.

Woody Woodpecker cartoons are finally coming to DVD! Classic Cartoons runs you through the first one.

Sclerotic Rings finds the point of it all.


(More here.)

She Shall Become...a Bat!

Last night's episode of The Office reminded me of this story.

In the fall, we get some good, terrifying thunderstorms in DeKalb. Since this is mostly farmland and still somewhat of a rural area (suburban at best), when those storms whip up they get downright violent. We don't have near enough tall buildings to slow it down at all, so we get the works: strong wind, torrential rain, and so much thunder and lightning you'd believe the Four Horsemen were finally making their big entrance.

A couple of years ago, such a storm woke me up. They always do, and I always have to check the Weather Channel to make sure tornadoes aren't coming through. After my TV check, I went back to bed; the storm was sudden, and it was over just as suddenly. Whenever it precipitates heavily, I sleep hard. But this early, early morning was different. I heard a noise in the bathroom, as though someone were messing with the blinds, trying to peek through them. My eyes shot open and I looked at the bathroom (I can see it from the bed), but nothing was there. Hmm, okay. Weird. Back to sleep.

I woke up an hour or so later. Becca was still sleeping next to me, so when I got up to go out in the living room and watch TV, I closed the door behind me. 20 minutes later, I heard Becca give a yelp and rush into the living room.

"There's a bird in the house!" she yelled.

It took a few seconds for me to process this. A bird? Again? One had come in through the open door by accident a few weeks earlier, but how this time?

Then something flew out of the bedroom and right over her head. She squealed and ducked, and the bird flew right at my head. Except, of course, that it wasn't a bird. "That's a bat," I pointed out, watching it buzz my head. I ducked, too, and watched it fly around the room. I think bats are neat, but all I could think about is that they can carry rabies.

Becca was still standing, not sure what to do. And it was kind of funny, because she sleeps naked. Everything was frozen and this poor, terrified bat was flying around the room, flapping its wings like hell, trying to figure out how to get out. "Well, open the door," I told her. There was a tone in my voice that implied, retard. This was too hilarious.

Becca ran to the door, ducking as the bat flew near again, freaking out and naked. She opened the door to the building hallway, then actually screamed and ran into the kitchen while the bat flew past her and into the hallway.

"Quick, close it!" I yelled.

And she ran into the living room and shut the door. Then she took a breath and looked at me.

I shrugged. "It's someone else's problem now."

She went back to bed.

Apparently, the bat had been flying around the room, and she opened her eyes and saw it. I don't know how long it was in the apartment, but obviously that's what I heard in the bathroom; the poor thing was trying to get out. We never heard anything else about it. I'm pretty sure the suddenness of the storm led the bat to try and seek immediate shelter; it must've gotten in through the air exchange on the roof, folded its little body down, and come in through the piping where the furnace is. How he got out of this building, I have no idea.

Last night, as Dwight was trying to catch the bat on The Office, Becca and I laughed about the bat that briefly visited us in the early morning. "Oh, and thanks for telling everyone we know that story," she said. Which, of course, is always a clear signal to me to blog about it.

A few days after that incident, Becca met up with a bat again, this time at work. She works at Borders, and one morning when only she and the cleaning lady were in, they found a bat sleeping in their receiving room.

"What are the bats following me for?" she came home and asked. "What are they trying to tell me?"

"Well," I answered, "obviously that you should become Batman."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Something's Different About Paris

A FEW MONTHS AGO...NOW...I just can't put my finger on them... er, on it.

Men Who Step Up

This has been a week on reality television that actually confirmed my faith in humanity a little bit. Can you imagine that? On, of all things, reality television? And it happened twice this week.

The first time happened on Surreal Life Fame Games. I know, right? This week, the two teams (A consisting of Vanilla Ice, Sandy "Pepa" Denton, Ron Jeremy, C.C. DeVille, and my little lovely Andrea Lowell; B consisting of Verne Troyer, Joanie "Chynadoll" Laurer, Emmanuel Lewis, and my chocolate stiffener Traci Bingham) had to work up a Vegas act with the help of professionals, and whichever team had the best act would be safe from having a member eliminated. The A team worked with a prop comic and came up with a pretty loose, crappy show. The B team worked with a magician and came up with a fun, professional show. The B team won; they deserved to.

The problem with the A team was that Vanilla Ice put himself in charge and didn't take input from anyone else. Ron Jeremy has the sense of humor of an 8 year-old, and apparently so does Ice, because his brilliant idea was to have Ron open with comedy. Well, turns out even a Vegas audience isn't that hard up for laughs, because Ron didn't get any. Pepa and Andrea had zero input and almost zero to do except act as emcees, and they ended up giving C.C. this really lame act that he tripped during. The trip becomes important in a minute.

The B team, meanwhile, put on a fun and lively show featuring magic, comedy, and a fake orgasm contest with audience participation. They felt really proud of themselves after and deserved to. They won because they put together a good show. But when the A team lost, Ice decided to be a dick about it and say that it was because the B team had the help of props and showgirls and everything in the magician's act, and that's why they won. He was an asshole, and he took the accomplishment away from everyone on the B team. At least Andrea and Pepa knew why they'd lost; because no one but Ice had any input on the show.

Now, here's where I got really pissed off. The A team has to pick three players to go into an elimination game. As seen on The Surreal Life 5, C.C. DeVille is just a good guy. He's class all the way, and even though he sometimes lacks confidence, he's compassionate as hell; I think he'd take a bullet for just about anyone. And that's what he did here. He seemed to genuinely feel that what ruined the show was his tripping onstage, and he decided to take the bullet and put himself up for elimination. Ron, who at least knew that everyone was getting tired of his shitty jokes and constant name-dropping, volunteered. I'll give him that; he was an asshole about it, but he stepped up to the plate. But Vanilla Ice... if he was a real man, a real stand-up guy, he'd realize that the failure of the A team was largely his fault. He masterminded the whole thing, the audience didn't like it. But does he step up and take the blame? Of course not. He decides it would be "fair" for him, Pepa, and Andrea to draw cards. And Pepa lost. Fuck you, Vanilla Ice. You washed your hands and didn't accept responsibility for yourself. Aren't you all born again now? Some compassion.

So, Ron, Pepa, and C.C. have to play Go Fish. And whomever gets the least amount of quads goes home. Pepa kept asking for jacks, but no one ever had them, and she was lagging desperately behind. Ron, meanwhile, was mowing through them, getting quad after quad. And that's when C.C. stepped up again. He didn't want Pepa to lose because Ice was a dick. And he asked Ron Jeremy, "Do you have any jacks?" And that was his clear signal to Pepa that he had what she needed; when it was her turn, she went right for them, and he gladly gave them to her, smiling at her like he was proud that she wouldn't be going home. Pepa quickly finished the game, and it came down to Ron and C.C.

And C.C. lost.

I was so into the game that I actually teared up a little. C.C. DeVille, who never hurt anyone, took the bullet and got killed. He saved Pepa at the cost of being eliminated. Let me tell you: that's a man. That's behavior that is becoming more and more rare today. He stepped up to the plate and took one for the team. And that's the kind of nobility that Vanilla Ice will never, ever know. Because he has no idea why C.C. is a decent man, and he's just the prick who shouts the loudest.

The other event happened last night on Beauty and the Geek. Of the two couples remaining, it was genuinely a tough call as to who should win. Scooter and Megan were always nice, but in a way they were non-entities. There wasn't a lot of personality there from the beginning. In fact, Megan seemed purposefully set on not being interesting enough to get noticed. On the other side, Nate and Ceci. And Nate really, really was a great guy. The kind of guy you'd like to have as a friend. But Ceci... She's just a horrible, awful, disgusting human being. She's that kind of ugly ignorant where she sits around and says mean things and then throws up her hands, as if she's telling the truth and you can't argue with her for that. This shit we have in this country about always respecting the beliefs and opinions of others has led to people like Ceci. The kind of people who can spout ignorance and not expect to be challenged for saying stupid things because, you know, she doesn't know any better.

They pulled out a nice twist; the former contestants would be voting on who had changed the most and deserved to win. And from that moment on, Ceci was on edge. She spent the whole episode assuming that everyone loved her and wanted her to win, and saying that people didn't like her because she was the prettiest one (which is actually the opposite of the truth, really, especially when her terrible personality is taken into account). I think it's safe to say that everyone wanted Nate to win--of the guys, he really had changed the most--but only one person thought Ceci deserved it (and that guy, it has to be said, only liked her because she was nice to him in what was clearly a manipulative and condescending way; dude, just because a chick plays dress-up with you doesn't mean that she likes you as a person, it means she needed something to play with and she couldn't bring her puppy into the house). Ceci spent a lot of time last night whining about how she shouldn't have to kiss everyone's ass and pretend to like them.

Her worst moment came when she was talking to Nate and said that she thought anyone who said that an experience like this could change their lives was "as stupid as they look." And that's when Nate finally couldn't stand it anymore. He had been growing more and more disgusted with her throughout the run of the show, and finally had had enough. He knew what he had to do.

And he stepped up.

He went around the house and talked to everyone else. He told them very specifically that the experience meant more to him than winning the money. He explained that his team didn't deserve to win because Ceci hadn't changed at all; that winning would only validate her belief that all she has to do in life is be pretty and she'll get everything she wants. And everyone listened. They listened to him explain why voting for he and Ceci to win would be wrong. And in the end, only two people sided with them. Scooter and Megan came out on top.

That's another act of a noble human being. To recognize people for what they are, and to give up $250,000 so that the wrong person won't be rewarded. That's a real man. And at the end of the day, he had the satisfaction of doing the right thing, even if it meant giving something up. Even if it meant not winning. He was honest with himself and others, and he deserves to be proud right now.

And in the end, all Ceci could say was that anyone who said they learned something from some nerd was an idiot. She doesn't get it, and she never will.

Thank God some people still do.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

Here are some random facts and observations about Valentine's day, marriage, love, and women.

Where did Valentine’s Day come from? In Ancient Rome (4th century BC), young men had a rite of passage called Lupercalia. This festival to the god Lupercus was marked by a lottery; the names of willing young women were placed in a box, and young men drew them at random and were subsequently assigned a companion for the year. In AD 496, Pope Gelasius sought to remove this pagan celebration, and did so by the usual Church means: he simply stole the holiday and gave it to a saint. Lupercalia was a “lovers’ holiday,” so Gelasius found a saint with a similar purpose: St. Valentine. A Christian martyr, Valentine was supposedly put to death in AD 270 by Emperor Claudius; the Emperor had banned marriage as a way to keep soldiers’ minds on duty, but Bishop Valentine of Interamna continued to conduct secret marriage ceremonies for Christians. When he refused to give up his Christianity (and had the audacity to suggest Claudius take it up), he was clubbed, stoned, and beheaded on 14 February. Gelasius outlawed Lupercalia and declared St. Valentine’s Day, but kept the lottery; men and women now drew the names of saints they were to emulate for the year. Can you imagine the disappointment? Eventually, men started the tradition of sending notes or cards to the women they loved on the holy day—make no mistake, it’s yet another Catholic tradition stuffed down our throats in America (although the Church itself removed St. Valentine’s Day from the Catholic calendar in 1969 as part of an effort to minimize the number of saint’s days based on purely fictitious saints). This is a remnant of the Lupercalian lottery, one of two Roman symbols that survive in our modern, commercial version of St. Valentine’s Day. The other is the use of Cupid (or Eros) as a symbol of love.

Herodotus considered it the wisest of Babylonian customs. In Ancient Babylon, women were auctioned off as brides every year; the money paid on the bids went to dowries for the less attractive women that no one bid on.

No flowers or diamonds? Cards were the tradition until modern times. Some time in the fifties, typical greedy Americans turned it into a day for giving elaborate and expensive gifts. In the 1980s, the diamond industry turned Valentine’s Day into a deadly free-for-all by promoting it as a day to give jewelry.

Get the swords ready, a-courtin’ we will go. The Goths used to abduct brides from neighboring villages; for the important task of helping the groom steal the bride from her home, only the Best Man would do. The groom would literally sweep his bride off her feet, which actually gave rise to the tradition of carrying a bride across the threshold. The best man stood at the couple’s side to help defend them in case the bride’s family showed up to take her back by force. He also stood sentry outside their door for a period of time. The threat of retaliation was so real that weapons were stored under church altars. The bride stands to the left of the groom to free his sword hand in case of sudden use.

Make the dress white, but not the gloves. Roman women wore yellow on their wedding day. In the Middle Ages, color was not as prized as rich fabrics. In the sixteenth century, white became the color in England and France for women who were virgins; the Church did not like seeing a woman’s virginity advertised to anyone who looked.

An X is still a kiss. X is a symbol for the Calvary cross, and the first letter of Xristos, the Greek word we get Christ from (X, or Chi, is pronounced kai). In days when many were illiterate, the signature cross (X) was a legal substitute for a signature. To show one’s sincerity, they kissed the cross. Eventually, XXX became a shorthand symbol for kisses.

Announce it in writing first. Charlemagne created the marriage announcement in the 9th century. Infidelity led to unclear parentage in the Holy Roman Empire, and too often half-brothers and half-sisters would unknowingly (or knowingly) marry one another; Charlemagne, alarmed by the high rate of sibling marriage and wishing to stop the production of genetically deficient offspring, required a proposed marriage to be announced so that anyone with information revealing that the bride and groom were related could come forward. It proved extremely successful.

Why February? To the Romans, February was sacred to Juno Februata, the aspect of the goddess Juno who created the “fever” (febris) of love.

And they lived happily ever after. Griselda (“patient Griselda”) married a high-ranked man who abused and neglected her, flaunted his infidelities, took away her babies to kill them, and ordered her not to shed a single tear, lest her grieving anger him. She endured it all very humbly, and in the end her husband declared that she had passed all of his tests and rewarded her with his true love. This legend was held up as a model for Christian wifely behavior.

The Rule of Thumb. A husband can beat his wife with a whip or rod no thicker than his thumb “in order to enforce the salutary restraints of domestic discipline.” The man who invented this, Sir William Blackstone, wrote a book that was the basis of British and American law. Martin Luther is only one of many famous wife-beaters throughout history.

Aw, royal weddings are like fairy tales. Ivan the Terrible was married eight times; the first three died within weeks of the wedding, the third one dying as a result of his “excessively enthusiastic foreplay.” His fourth wife almost died of fright at the mere prospect of meeting him, and after a proxy marriage went to a convent for the rest of her life. He drowned his seventh wife the day after they were married when he discovered she had lied about her virginity.

Frederick the Great was horrified by the idea of getting married, and threatened to kill himself rather than go through with it. His father told him that was fine; he was going to kill his son if he didn’t marry, anyway. After the wedding night, Frederick never looked at his wife again.

Peter the Great was so incensed that one of his wives took a lover, he had the man executed and preserved his head in a jar of alcohol. He forced his wife to keep the head in her bedroom.

Peter III married the legendarily sexual Catherine the Great but had no use for her; he kept his war toys in bed and played with them instead of her. Then he raised spaniels in his room and shared the bed with them. Catherine later led a palace revolution and murdered her husband.

Emperor Joseph II could not stand to touch his wife, who was apparently covered with boils. The marriage was never consummated.

King George IV hated his wife so much that he had to get drunk to take her the only time they slept together; they never bothered to hide their loathing for one another. In 1821, a messenger brought the king news of Napoleon’s death by saying “Your Majesty, your greatest enemy is dead.” George asked back, “Is she, by God?”

Emperor Ferdinand I was a victim of centuries of Hapsburg inbreeding; he was severely handicapped both mentally and physically, and his only recorded coherent thought was “I am the Emperor, and I want dumplings.” He never had children; he had five epileptic attacks on his wedding night.

Queen Isabel II of Spain was pressured into marrying her cousin, a homosexual. She had to get blind drunk to make it through the ceremony, and later claimed her husband wore more lace than she did.

King Leopold II married a teenage duchess who said the day after her wedding night: “If God hears my prayers, I shall not go on living much longer.”

That was either the worst Valentine’s Day ever, or, given Catholic character, very fitting. St. Valentine’s Day 1349 saw 2000 Jews burned to death in Strasbourg. It was misguided revenge for supposedly poisoning the city’s wells and starting the bubonic plague. Much more of a massacre than some gangsters getting popped.

The cynical origin of the honeymoon. The honey comes from mead, the honeyed wine that newlyweds traditionally drank, one cup a day, for the first month of marriage. The moon signifies the first month; the words put together, honeymoon (original Norse hjunottsmanathar), imply that no month of married life is as sweet as the first.

Missionary position only, please. Muslim saying: “Accursed be the man who maketh woman heaven and himself earth.” Catholics said that any other position, especially with a woman on top, was a sin. Notice how it’s the woman-fearing patriarchal religions that say that…

The problem was, they didn’t have an Amendment back then. St. Ambrose said that marriage was a crime against God because it changed the virginity that was man’s natural state. Tertullian said marriage was immoral. St. Augustine said it was a sin; he was unwilling to even look at a woman. In Christian Syria, only celibate men could attend church or even be considered Christian. Saturninus said men were naturally good and women were naturally evil. St. Paul, Origen, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Athanasius all spoke against marriage. Pope Leo, the sainted one, supposedly cut off his hand because a woman had kissed it. Marriage was especially considered evil because it was a pagan tradition that invoked Aphrodite, and the demonization of it was justified by the “fact” that women had brought death into the world and used sex to reinforce it. Marriage did not become a sacrament until the 16th century, and then the ceremony was just lifted from pagan law. Who says the Church has always been sick about sex?

They died virgins. The following men remained celibate their entire lives: Hans Christian Andersen, J.M. Barrie, Lewis Carroll, Edgar Degas, George Freiderich Handel, Soren Kierkegaard, Sir Isaac Newton, and Nikola Tesla. Also celibate was the poet Edward Lear, who thought his epilepsy was the result of excessive masturbation.

Eat your cornflakes, or you’ll go blind. John Harvey Kellogg invented the cornflake as a substitute for sex; he believed that bland food and not eating meat helped cure deviant sexual urges. He spent his honeymoon writing Plain Facts for Old and Young, a 644-page treatise on the evils of sex and masturbation. It included a 97-page essay with 39 telltale signs that someone was masturbating.

So much for cute traditions. In Ancient Rome, the wedding cake was thrown at the bride as one of many symbols of fertility. Wheat was originally thrown at the bride, and women would scramble to gather them up the same way they do the bouquet today. Roman bakers baked the wheat into cakes meant to be eaten; but people threw them because they didn’t want to abandon the tradition of throwing the wheat. As a compromise, the wheat cakes were crumbled over the bride’s head, and she and the groom were expected to eat a portion together. A mixture of nuts, dried fruits, and honeyed almonds called confetto were then thrown at the bride and groom. It symbolized abundance and fecundity. But in the Middle Ages, when food was scarcer, the cakes became simple biscuits and scones contributed by the guests and piled together on a table. A French chef who attended a ceremony was so disgusted (many Frenchmen held all things British in high contempt), that he returned to France and invented the multi-tiered, opulent wedding cake in the 1660s. In Australia, it’s tradition to smear a bit of wedding cake on your new spouse’s face. In 1993, a German woman ignorant of this custom responded by smashing a bottle over her new husband’s head. It killed him.

Clinton was nothing new. George Washington had adulterous affairs with at least nine prominent men’s wives; he died of a chill that many believe seeped in when he jumped out of a window without his pants into the snow after an afternoon tryst with an employee’s wife. Thomas Jefferson had affairs with several married women, including the wife of General John Walker while he was off fighting in the Indian Wars. James Garfield had an affair with an 18 year-old woman who was a reporter for the New York Times and visited brothels during his presidential campaign. Grover Cleveland had an illegitimate son that was revealed to him when he was running for president; he owned up to what he had done and won; when he ran a second time, his opponents circulated a pamphlet accusing him of bestiality, wife-beating, and whoring—he won the majority vote. Warren G. Harding had a fifteen year affair with the wife of a friend, another affair with a seventeen year-old he claimed in public was his niece, and may have died either of a sexually transmitted disease or from being poisoned by his vengeful wife. Franklin D. Roosevelt had an affair with his wife’s 22 year-old secretary, then an open affair with his own; he might actually have died of a heart attack while receiving oral sex. John F. Kennedy…do I even need to go there? He used to have sex with a prostitute before every debate because it relaxed him (it helped him defeat Nixon, at any rate). Lyndon B. Johnson had “more women by accident than [Kennedy] had on purpose,” and even felt up Imelda Marcos while dancing with her once.

Come on, who was going to challenge her taste? Brides traditionally walk down the aisle to the “Bridal Chorus” from Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, and the newlyweds exit to the “Wedding March” from Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This “tradition” was merely fashion at the time; Queen Victoria’s daughter, Victoria, chose them for her wedding ceremony to Prince Frederick William of Prussia in 1858; she loved German composers, especially Wagner. The people of Britain simply loved to emulate the royals whenever they could.

Wait, the authors or the books? John Bowdler made his mark on history by “bowdlerizing” great texts; that is, by taking risqué words and sentiments out of Shakespeare, the Bible, and other important works. He said that he couldn’t take the chance of women learning about things that offended “male delicacy.” In Victorian times, the fear of sex was so great that books by male and female authors were kept on separate shelves, unless they happened to be married.

And they all became homosexuals. Aristotle said that a husband should be more than twice the age of his bride in order to dominate her. Ancient matrilineal custom dictated the importance of marriage, but men hated their wives so much that they concentrated on fighting and philosophy and took other men as lovers. It was, however, thought that a woman’s life began on the day she was married, and her age was counted from that day.

Just keep it in your pants. These famous men all had or were thought to have syphilis: Pope Alexander VI, St. Thomas Aquinas, Johann Sebastian Bach, Charles Baudelaire, Al Capone, Emperor Commodus, Captain James Cook, Hernan Cortez, Albrecht Durer, Erasmus, Frederick the Great, Paul Gauguin, King George I, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Francisco Goya, King Henry VIII, Adolf Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, Julius Caesar, John Keats, Pope Leo X, Ferdinand Magellan, Guy de Maupassant, John Milton, Edouard Monet, Benito Mussolini, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jonathan Swift, Emperor Tiberius, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Voltaire, and Oscar Wilde.

Even popes do it. Pope John XII was murdered by an irate husband who found His Holiness in bed with his wife. The husband beat him to death with a hammer.

It seems too pat to be true. Apparently, birds and fowl choose their mates on 14 February. Chaucer’s poem Parlement of Foules (1382) is the earliest literary reference to Valentine’s Day: For this was on seynt Volantynys day / Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese [chose] his make [mate]. Ophelia also mentions it in Hamlet.

It just keeps getting sadder. Some people are now celebrating 14 February as Singles Awareness Day, or SAD. The greeting is “Happy SAD!” That just about sums up how self-important Americans really are, I think.

But once a year we give them candy and flowers and pat them on their heads and say we love them, so it’s okay. There are over 148 million women in America, making up 52% of the population. They still make significantly less money than men (76 cents on the dollar), and in fact the amount of money they make is dropping (on average, women make about $30,000 a year). That should change, since women are doing better in schools than men, earning more bachelor’s degrees than men, and in fact just finishing high school more often than men.

The meaning of life, in a nutshell. Bertrand Russell, one of our greatest modern philosophers and writers, had several high profile affairs while in his seventies. When he was eighty, he married his fourth wife. On a lecture tour, the dean of a prominent girls’ college asked him: “Why did you give up philosophy?” Russell’s answer: “Because I discovered fucking.”

Aw, I Got a Valentine from Miley

Happy Valentine's Day, Miley. Call me.

Hey, give me a break, the Disney Channel should have known not to put "pie" in the pool of available words. It's the only fun I've had on their website since they put up the Lizzie McGuire page, and I could use the story game with voice clips to make Hilary Duff say "I can't get enough monster dog gunk. I'm not kidding, I love it." Yes, I am apparently 12 years old.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

DATE MOVIE (2006)
What actually pisses me off about this movie is that some of the less sophisticated critics went to town on it, and it really doesn’t deserve it. It doesn’t suck; for it to suck, the filmmakers would’ve had to have tried. There’s no effort in here, and it’s not worth dissecting. Mediocre at best. * star. I laughed one time.

A GOOD WOMAN (2004)
Will they never get Oscar Wilde right? This update of Lady Windermere’s Fan suffers from the same problem most Wilde movies do; they assume from the get-go that everything is cute, witty, and whimsical, without building to it. It’s not justified. Plus, Helen Hunt is in it. Scarlett Johansson, what are you doing in this movie? * star.

P.S. (2004)
A mature but ultimately predictable take on the older woman/younger man formula, with Laura Linney (perfect, as always) romancing a grad student applicant (Topher Grace) who looks like a dead former lover. The reasoning behind the affair is a little silly, but it makes the movie and the characters interesting. Like the thoughtful version of Prime. ***1/2 stars.

SARAH SILVERMAN: JESUS IS MAGIC (2005)
Disappointing. Sarah Silverman’s cute and all, but she’s not funny enough to justify repeating the same joke over and over again, both in tone and in content. Her whole shtick is to say something really offensive in her innocent little cute Jewish girl voice. Okay, but what’s the point? Vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity gets boring after a while, and without anything fresh, the movie feels too long even at 75 minutes. And playing up that she’s in love with herself wouldn’t be so grating if it weren’t so obviously true. ** stars. I noticed she’s still repeating jokes she told a decade ago on The Larry Sanders Show.

HAMLET (1948)
I still don’t like Laurence Olivier overmuch, but I did love this movie. I always watch versions of Hamlet closely, and this one was riveting and energetic. Olivier as director comes up with some clever shots, and I liked his use of thought dialogue for some of the scenes. It ended up being very intense, and the final duel is the best part; there’s nothing civil about it, Hamlet and Laertes really want to kill each other. My only disagreement is on a matter of interpretation; I don’t buy the whole Oedipal thing. But Olivier sells it a lot better than others have. **** stars.

LOVEWRECKED (2005)
I am physically incapable of not liking something starring Amanda Bynes, so I’m not sure if my word has much meaning here. *** stars. She’s just so damn cute and funny.

THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE (1968)
A strange but undeniably fascinating movie about a woman (sexy Marianne Faithfull) who travels on her motorcycle to see her lover. Interesting meditation on fidelity, happiness, sexuality, and feminism, sort of a companion to Easy Rider, although this film came first (Easy Rider seems to borrow the last shot). It doesn’t reconcile the dichotomy of the film’s techniques; it uses the ideals of free love, but ends up condemning those ideals. But at least it thought about them; impossible to forget. **** stars.

SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)
Hitchcock thought this was his best movie. Joseph Cotten stars as a man who comes to visit his sister’s family to get away for awhile, but his niece, Teresa Wright, suspects he’s a murderer on the run from the cops. I can’t go into more detail without giving it away. Suffice it to say this is a tense, well-shot movie, and if not my favorite Hitchcock, definitely among his best. Great finale. **** stars.

JARHEAD (2005)
A lot of people thought this was anticlimactic, but that was the whole point. Jake Gyllenhaal stars (in a performance good enough for me to completely reverse my opinion of him) as a Marine who endures basic training and is then deployed to Operation Desert Shield. He’s trained as a sniper and, when it becomes Operation Desert Storm, hopes to get in a kill. The whole movie is a portrait of Marine life and the mental and emotional state of the men who serve, and it’s actually quite moving. What you have to understand is that many soldiers who were in the Persian Gulf in 1990 didn’t fight the war the way earlier wars were fought; a lot of them just drifted through weirdness, contradictory orders, and tense feelings. It’s an excellent achievement. **** stars. Jaime Foxx is great in this movie, too.

VALIANT (2005)
A cute CGI movie about carrier pigeons in World War II. It’s pleasant, with a nice cast that includes Ewan MacGregor, Ricky Gervais, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese, and Jim Broadbent. Pleasant, but not really, like, a great movie. For little kids, though, good stuff, I guess. Cute. **1/2 stars,

KINKY KONG (2006)
Poor Darian Caine. She was supposed to be the star of Seduction Cinema’s straight-to-cable porn parodies, like The Erotic Witch Project, Mistress Frankenstein, and Gladiator Eroticus. Then she got sidelined in favor of Misty Mundae, whom she ended up playing sidekick to more than once. Now, she gets top billing in this movie, only to be in a supporting role in a movie meant to introduce the new starlet, Rebecca Faire. I love Darian, she’s so tuff and awesome. In this movie, she turns to Rebecca Faire, pissed off, and yells: “Bend over! Bend over or I’ll skull-fuck you!” How can you not love a girl who says that? I want her to be my fucking girlfriend. *** stars, this one is very funny. The humor’s stupid, but it’s fucking funny.

BODY OF EVIDENCE (1993)
No. Just…no. No stars.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Health Report: Week 9

I'm still as depressed as I was last week. In fact, it keeps coming and going, which is actually worse; I could get used to a state of depression that was constant. Instead, I think I'm doing okay, and something just comes along and destroys it. And the worst part is, I don't know if I care.

Here's what I know, warts and all:
1. The weight is starting to come back.
2. The sickness is starting to come back.
3. The phlegm in my throat from before is coming back.
4. The depression is almost out of control.
5. There's junk in my system that's making it harder to control my temper, which means my blood pressure is starting to go back up.
6. My stomach hurts a lot.
7. Sometimes, I find myself really wanting to cry; sometimes, I have to, and it's uncontrollable.
8. At least once a day, I think about killing myself. At least once.
9. I feel like my life's never going to get any better.
10. I feel like I don't deserve to be thin and healthy, so why bother eating right anymore?
11. I was doing good on this thing, too. Before I got so upset.

So, there's all of that. I don't know what the fuck is wrong with me right now, or when/if it will ever stop. But I am just tailspinning into a depression worse than anything I've felt in a long, long time. I'm tempted to just give up and call it yet another of life's failures.

My mom bought me a recumbent bike. This one here:It's a nice one, very easy to use. It was $80 on clearance. We've only had it since Sunday, and I put it together and I've been using it. It's much easier on my back than the step machine was, and I can use it for longer. Maybe that'll give me some focus.

Besides, maybe it'll get me closer to this. Someone sent me a link to The Love Calculator, which is a fun thing to play around with. Anyway, I haven't chosen my new celebrity girlfriend yet (Biel was a fling, it turns out), but I do notice Charisma Carpenter and I have a 93% chance of working out. I know she's already married, but it'll still hold up in court, right?
Provided I get happy and employed and stop being a fuck up. Because the stress actually gave me a panic attack last week. Yay me.

The End Result of American Idol Is Beside the Point

As we've seen in the last few years, being on or even winning American Idol is no guarantee of success. How many careers have actually been launched because of that show? I'd argue three: Kelly Clarkson, who managed to pull away from the lowest common denominator blandness of the show's output; Jennifer Hudson (who didn't win), the Oscar nominee; and Clay Aiken (who also didn't win), basically just because certain women in their forties don't demand quality from their music as much as they demand a false sincerity. I don't count Carrie Underwood, because country music fans seem to have the same problem.

After Jennifer Hudson, I thought the person with the best voice ever on AI was Katharine McPhee, and I found myself foolishly looking forward to her debut album. And, well, here it is... And I don't think I'd say it sucks, but that's because making something sucky takes a real effort. And this album sounds tossed off, put together out of throwaways and filler material. Nowhere is the cynicism of the music industry more apparent than in the American Idol end product. There's no attempt to grow the artist, to find music that is right for him/her; it's just a cash grab aimed at people who love the show and will buy its ancillary cash-ins.

You know they're marketing her wrong from the misguided cover, but just for the hell of it, here's another track-by-track.

LOVE STORY
Right away, we get the foul stench of Kara DioGuardi. In fact, she's all over this album, which is all the proof I need that this is going to be a bad album. It certainly isn't going to be cohesive, everything is going to sound like everything else, and it's not going to be fun to listen to. This song tries hard to sound like Joss Stone's Motown soul pastiche album. It's not a strong opener, though Kat's certainly got the voice for it.

OVER IT
Aargh! Not another one of these songs with a girl attesting she's "so over" a guy who made her feel bad! Fuck, stop doing these! There is never any point to these damn things! I don't care how these fucking girls are so fucking defiant--sing about something outside of yourself! Have a genuine emotion! Stop writing this same song. The only saving grace is that Kat sings it well, almost effortlessly. She's got a beautiful voice that's just being wasted here.

OPEN TOES
...sigh... This is just embarrassing. Seriously, embarrassing. Remember that Fantasia song "Babymama"? It's that embarrassing. I hope her label has the good sense not to make this piece of shit a single. She's not built an audience yet, and this isn't going to do it for her.

HOME
Oh, Christ, Kara DioGuardi and Satan himself, John Shanks. It's generic but, sadly, so far it's the best song on the album. Kat sings it so well and reads it so dramatically. It's too hit-ready, too conscious of being radio-friendly to sound genuine, but Kat gets to show off her wonderful voice. It's produced like someone pretending to be Tori Amos, though.

NOT UR GIRL
DioGuardi again. What's an "ur" girl? Is Kat saying she's not the original girl from history, the "ur-girl"? Maybe the kids just like misspelling and think it's all "rebellious." Except that they were misspelling in my day; I think now people just can't spell anymore. Anyway, these are the things that come into my mind because the song is totally unnoticeable.

EACH OTHER
DioGuardi again. Pretty typical; same drum machine beat as a thousand other songs. It sounds like a slight rewrite of the previous songs. Seriously, do 19 Entertainment and RCA Records just not give a shit about creating a singer anymore, or what? If this is all the effort they're going to put into it, they deserve a failed record. Maybe then Kat can take her beautiful voice and go to a record label that will actually give a shit about tailoring the record to her abilities instead of trying to force her into a niche she doesn't belong in. I mean, are they writing these things out of a kit now, or are they feeding random stuff into a computer program?

DANGEROUS
It's...okay. It's not utterly silly, but it plays like filler.

ORDINARY WORLD
Requisite piano ballad. Actually, though, it's well-produced, sincere, and she sings it so damn well. It blows the rest of the album absolutely away. Is this the song she sang on American Idol? It sounds perfectly tailored to her. The rest of the album should sound this good. Kat really makes it her own.

DO WHAT YOU DO
Just awful. Seriously, figure out what you have; she's Katharine McPhee, not Brooke fucking Hogan, alright?

BETTER OFF ALONE
The production tries for a more bluesy mien that Kat just sounds so at home in. It's not a great song, but it's a good showcase for her. Thanks to the general shittiness of the album, it ends up being the second-best song here; if they had made the album her voice deserves, this would have been the least of it. They just didn't put the effort in. Kara DioGuardi (who did not work on this track) is the kind of person you call when you have absolutely no ideas. It pastiches Aretha a little, but Kat can fucking sing.

NEGLECTED
Kara DioGuardi comes back and ruins the soft effect of the previous song. Forgettable, but infuriating.

EVERYWHERE I GO
Produced well (by Babyface, no less), good vocals, not a bad exit. Seriously, Kat should be doing music like this--more grounded, unashamed to be pop, playful, not so self-important.

Yet another missed opportunity for the music world to make a real artist. The funny thing is, on Idol they make such a big deal about choosing the right songs for your voice and finding your musical personality. Here, they couldn't care less about it; seriously, Katharine McPhee has a gorgeous voice that they've completely abused by forcing her to make this shitty, awful album. It's like asking Etta James to record the type of music Britney Spears makes. You know, that's fine for Britney, but Kat has a chance to really become a great singer. She should do an album of soul and jazz music with Emanuel Kiriakov, the producer who recorded "Ordinary World" and "Better Off Alone." That would be something worth listening to.

It's Fucking Cold!

I'm sure everyone's seen this in an email already, but just looking at Versoix, Switzerland, makes me feel better about being in a blizzard in Chicago right now. Anyway, these pictures are prettier to look at.








Monday, February 12, 2007

The History of the Middle East

I'm going to start culling these things together now, even though it isn't finished yet. People are having trouble finding them all on the crappy Blogger search, so here's the whole list.

Part 1: Pre-History; Sumer; The Akkadian Empire
Part 2: The Amorite Empire; Anarchy; The Assyrian Empire
Part 3: Iron; Arameans and Israelites; The Second Assyrian Empire
Part 4: The Third Assyrian Empire; The Sargonid Dynasty
Part 5: The Neo-Babylonian Empire (or Chaldean Empire)
Part 6: Cyrus the Great; The Persian Empire; The Ten Thousand Greeks
Part 7: Alexander the Great
Part 8: The Generals of Alexander; The Seleucid Empire
Part 9: The Parthian Empire; Armenia; Crassus
Part 10: Rome in the Middle East
Part 11: The Sassanid Empire (or Neo-Persian Empire); Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism; Zoroastrianism and Christianity
Part 12: Bahram Gor; Heresy; The Endless Peace
Part 13: Chosroes II; Islam
Part 14: Islam Factioned; The Abbasids; Harun al-Rashid; The Turks
Part 15: The Seljuk Turks; The Assassins
Part 16: The Mongols; Tamerlane; Islam Renewed
Part 17: The Ottoman Empire; Abbas the Great; Ottoman and Persian Declines; Afghanistan
Part 18: European Tensions in the Middle East; Babism and Baha’ism; The Tensions Increase; World War I
Part 19: Iraq; Oil and Zionism
Part 20: World War II; The Cold War Begins; Israel; The 1953 Iranian Coup; The Baghdad Pact
Part 21: The Suez Canal Crisis

No, This Is Not How This Gets to Go Down

Via the Internet Movie Database:

TV host Rosie O'Donnell raised fears about Anna Nicole Smith's health live on air Thursday, just hours before the former Playboy Playmate collapsed and died in a Florida hotel room. Speaking on TV show The View, O'Donnell alleged that Smith was dabbling in drugs and was clearly struggling with the heartbreak of losing her son Daniel last year. She said, "If I have to see Anna Nicole Smith on television one more time... She can hardly speak now. It's a tragedy all around. Her son died. She has this little baby. Obviously some kind of medication or substance involved."
Are you serious? Rosie O'Donnell, obviously mocking Anna Nicole and bitching about seeing her on TV, was not "raising fears" about Anna Nicole's health--she was making fun of her! She was complaining about having to see her all the time in the news. Rosie O'Donnell does absolutely nothing on The View but bitch and moan and start inane celebrity feuds with people who aren't worth the trouble. She was being her usual bitchy, worthless self. That's all. And for her to paint it as concern now instead of just owning up to it makes her even more worthless than we already knew she was.

2008 Election: The Early Democratic Contenders

Hillary Clinton
Platform: She's still being a little vague about it. She has a pro-abortion record and seems to just be running on her promise to end the war, which is an easy promise to make, but a harder thing to do. There's her ever-present promises on health care, which seem to get more and more vague, and she supports the ridiculously bigoted Defense of Marriage Act.
Reality Check: Just like Joe Lieberman, she's basically a Republican in Democrat form. She became a senator in 2000 basically so she could mark time until she could run for president. She pretends to be a moderate, but what has she really done other than make it a bigger hassle for kids to buy violent video games? And have you seen her in interviews now? It's like somebody kidnapped her and replaced her with a robotic construct. There's something very unsettling about her.
My Opinion in One Sentence: My fear is that a lot of women, who have certainly not been voting for pro-feminist candidats so far in history, will vote for her because they believe that claptrap about how "if a woman was president, there'd be no more war," when in fact Hillary's only interested in power for herself.

Barack Obama
Platform: Unlike most of the candidates, he lists his priorities right on his website: strengthening our role overseas, ending the war in Iraq, ending corruption in Washington (good luck!), becoming energy independent, increased benefits for veterans, improving education and health care, reforming Homeland Security so it actually works, protecting the right to vote, and defining the role of faith in politics.
Reality Check: Seriously, he's only been a senator in Illinois for two years. I've lived in Illinois since I was four, and I still have almost no idea what he's actually done. He seems like a great guy, and I like some of his positions, but he's promising a lot. On the other hand, having a short political record means he doesn't owe things to a lot of special interest groups; he hasn't been around long enough. The fact that he's an unknown quantity is both intriguing and confusing.
My Opinion in One Sentence: Nothing definitive yet; Woodrow Wilson was only a governor for two years before being elected, and Bush Jr. was only a governor for six years before doing the same--but they were both crappy presidents.

John Edwards
Platform: Universal healthcare and "undoing the president's mistakes."
Reality Check: You've got to love the audacity on this guy. And his website actually details how his universal healthcare program is going to work, which is a nice change of pace from the usual "I've got a system ready to fix everything, but you'll have to elect me to find out how it works!" He comes across as a really nice guy. But he didn't have the strength to fight through last time, and he won't this time, either. He's too quiet.
My Opinion in One Sentence: Nice kid, but does anyone really think he has a realistic chance?

Bill Richardson
Platform: Getting out of Iraq, strengthening our national security and foreign policy, ending partisan bickering, fixing the environment, becoming energy independent, tax cuts and more jobs (you can't do both), "quality, affordable healthcare"TM, and fixing the "state of emergency" on the US-Mexico border.
Reality Check: Is he reading all of that out of a book? It sounds like he's reading all of that out of a book. Are you reading that out of a book? Actually, all the bullshit aside, he's worked for the United Nations, and actually negotiated tense situations in Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, Cuba, and Afghanistan. Hell, he was just negotiating a cease-fire in Sudan last month.
My Opinion in One Sentence: The more I read about him, the more I think I like him; isn't it time we had a president who's good with foreign nations?

Joe Biden
Platform: The same as the others, only with an added emphasis on crime.
Reality Check: An old-school plagiarist. Astoundingly inauthentic and, frankly, kinda creepy. He seems to have terminal foot-in-mouth disease, and that's probably already ended his candidatorial race before it's even begun. Having a well-spoken president would be a nice change for the 21st century, wouldn't it?
My Opinion in One Sentence: Meh; he's just so easy to not notice.

Tom Vilsack
Platform: I honestly have no idea.
Reality Check: Well, he has no international experience, but his campaign has been sucking up to young people by using YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace.
My Opinion in One Sentence: Who the hell is Tom Vilsack?

People I'm Not Yet Taking Seriously: Wesley Clark, Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, Al Sharpton (please, God, not again!).

A Personal Plea: Help us, Al Gore; you're our only hope!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Song of the Week: "Love"

Because it's a gentle morning and John Lennon is the closest thing to God.

Are There Still Fans of Literary Science Fiction?

I found this book meme at Byzantium's Shores.

1. Science fiction, fantasy, or horror?

I honestly don't make the distinction anymore and just refer to everything as genre. Some of the authors I like, Joe Lansdale for instance, fall into all three categories. My favorite author, Harlan Ellison, flirts with science fiction but calls himself a fantasist, which is a really good description. H.P. Lovecraft's work is horror, but could easily be called science fiction. As long as it's interesting and engrossing, I don't really care which category it falls into.

2. Hardback, trade paperback, or mass-market paperback?

Again, I don't really care. I like the way they all look on a bookshelf, and when it comes to reading them, I grab anything. I like the portability of the mass-markets, so those are what I read between classes in school.

3. Heinlein or Asimov?

I love them both, but if I had to read one over the other I'd pick Dr. Asimov. He's just a better writer. Heinlein's early works are great, but he fell into a sort of trap that Stephen King fell into (for a contemporary reference); after Stranger in a Strange Land, they stopped editing Heinlein and told him he was great, which let him ramble on and on into embarrassing books like The Number of the Beast and even in potentially great novels like Time Enough for Love, which is somehow both incredibly pretentious and wonderful. I've never been disappointed by any of Asimov's work. Still, as great as his fiction is, I prefer Asimov's non-fiction, especially his essays, his history, and his autobiographies.

4. Amazon or brick-and-mortar?

Either one. I love to browse in bookstores (especially used bookstores), but Amazon's good when you know what you want and either can't find it anywhere or don't want the hassle of being asked if you want a Barnes & Noble discount card.

5. Barnes & Noble or Borders?

Borders, but it's a weighted question for me, because I used to work at Barnes & Noble and wouldn't piss on one if it were on fire. Plus, Borders is much more relaxed; somewhere along the line, B&N got uptight, and now you can't look in their music section for three minutes without being hassled by someone with a nametag who wants to appear helpful but is just watching in case you steal anything. Borders, all the way.

6. Hitchhiker or Discworld?

Until halfway through the third book, I love the Hitchhiker novels (the fourth one is a good sort of companion book). I've not read Discworld and I don't know if I'm going to.

7. Bookmark or dog-ear?

Bookmark. I generally throw in a small piece of paper or something, which is weird because I do have actual bookmarks somewhere.

8. Magazine: Asimov's Science Fiction or Fantasy & Science Fiction?

I notice when I pick one up, it tends to be F&SF. I don't know why that is.

9. Alphabetize by author, by title, or random?

By author. I have two separate bookcases for my genre collection, but I desperately need a third. Actually, in my non-genre books, I just kind of throw them together in categories (graphic novels, animation history, art books, etc.).

10. Keep, throw away, or sell?

I keep most of it, and anytime I go through to get rid of things, I always sell the paperbacks. The hardcovers usually get donated.

11. Year's Best Science Fiction series (edited by Gardner Dozois) or Years Best SF series (edited by David G. Hartwell)

Hartwell. There's something about Gardner Dozois that just irritates me, though I can't put my finger on what it is.

12. Keep dustjacket or toss it?

I always keep it. Why wouldn't you? When I'm reading the book I tend to remove the dustjacket until I'm done, but then I put it back on.

13. Read with dustjacket or remove it?

See above.

14. Short story or novel?

As long as it's well-written, who cares? Harlan Ellison is primarily a short story author, and he's my favorite writer. I love to read new short genre fiction. Some authors, like Julian Barnes, do both spectacularly well. Robert E. Howard's short stories beat his novels any day of the week.

15. Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?

I've not read the Lemony Snicket books, but I love the Harry Potter novels.

16. Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?

Chapter breaks. If I'm tired I'll just try to get to it faster.

17. "It was a dark and stormy night" or "Once upon a time"?

To be honest, those are both pretty hackneyed ways to start a story.

18. Buy or borrow?

I prefer to buy, but of course that's not always possible, so I check a LOT of books out from the library.

19. Buying choice: book reviews, recommendation, or browse?

I read reviews of genre novels, and sometimes they influence me. I don't actually know anyone anymore who reads the same kinds of books I do, except for the 'zine circle I write for, and I take their recommendations over anyone else's. But I mostly browse.

20. Lewis or Tolkien?

Tolkien, but I actually like Lewis. For years I thought I hated him, mostly because I really did not like the Narnia books as a kid, but you know, I didn't like The Hobbit when I was a kid, either. I re-read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe recently and quite liked it, and I think The Screwtape Letters is one of the best novels I've ever read.

21. Hard SF or space opera?

Either one, though I tend to like Hard SF over Space Opera these days.

22. Collection (short stories by the same author) or anthology (short stories by different authors)?

Again, either one. There's nothing like a Harlan Ellison collection, but a great anthology (like Gunn's The Road to Science Fiction series or Ellison's own Dangerous Visions) is a treasure trove.

23. Hugo or Nebula?

I don't honestly pay attention to the awards.

24. Golden Age SF or New Wave SF?

I don't have a strong preference; sometimes Golden Age stories are boring and meticulous, sometimes New Wave stories are less thought out and more gimmicky. I take it piece by piece.

25. Tidy ending or cliffhanger?

It had best be a really, really fucking good cliffhanger. Luckily, I've read a lot of those. If the ending doesn't work, it doesn't matter how good the story was before hand, it's all for shit.

26. Morning, afternoon, or nighttime reading?

Any time is the right time for reading. Gawd, can you believe I just said that?

27. Standalone or series?

I don't go in too much for series, because I'm afraid of getting stuck in one of those unending, masturbatory, can't-tell-a-single-story-without-15-Bible-sized-novels, Robert Jordan things. That said, I've read every Tarzan and Oz novel, the Ian Fleming James Bond series, and even some of the Star Trek and Star Wars novels. It takes a special author to pull me into a Harry Potter or Song of Ice and Fire series, but when they do, I get caught up.

28. Urban fantasy or high fantasy?

Either one. You must be tired of reading that answer. I'm not sure what qualifies as "urban fantasy," though. Paul di Filippo and Joe R. Lansdale might qualify, and I love them, so I guess I like both.

29. New or used?

I love to scour used bookstores to find out of print books. I've actually managed to find two Robert E. Howard paperbacks in the last three years, and nothing beats the thrill of actually nabbing one. (For the record, those books were Three-Bladed Doom and a flawless copy of The Book of Robert E. Howard).

30. Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?

Gee, I don't know, I'm not all into being the guy who relishes the fact that no one has heard of the books he likes; I like to share things with people. And I have no idea what people have or haven't heard of. Most of the people I talk to about such things don't know who Julian Barnes is, but the literary establishment does, so...

31. Top X favorite genre books read last year? (Where X is 5 or less)

I don't really keep track of the books I read; conversely, I keep a list of every movie I've seen. I should start with the literature, but after 30 years, I don't know if I could keep up. Okay, in 2006, based on what I would term genre and what I actually read, here's the five best I can think of, in no particular order.

Writer of the Purple Rage, Joe R. Lansdale
The Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean M. Auel
The Valley of Horses, Jean M. Auel
A Feast for Crows, George R. R. Martin
The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo

32. Top X favorite genre books of all time? (Where X is 5 or less)

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle

33. X favorite genre series? (Where X is 5 or less)

James Bond (shut up, yes it is)
Tarzan
Conan
A Song of Ice and Fire
Harry Potter

34. Top X favorite genre short stories? (Where X is 5 or less)

It's harder to pick, but here's the first five genre stories I love that come to mind.

"A Boy and His Dog," Harlan Ellison
"Deathbird," Harlan Ellison
"'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," Harlan Ellison
"Jeffty Is Five," Harlan Ellison
"Paladin of the Lost Hour," Harlan Ellison

Do you see a theme developing here?