Thursday, March 29, 2007

Boys have penises and girls have vaginas (get over it)

Recently I read in a friend's blog about an incident in the after-school care program where she works. A kindergarten girl told a pair of boys in her class that boys have "wieners" and girls have "pee-pees." The official response to this incident was not to use the moment to teach the children that actually boys have "penises" and girls have "vaginas." No, the official response was to give the children "timeouts" and tell them not to discuss such things at school. And, when the little girl's father quite naturally complained to the school's principal about his child being punished for saying something so innocuous, the principal informed him that if she continued to speak of such things, she would be expelled from the after-school care program. Apparently, the principal considers the existence of "wieners" and "pee-pees" to be forbidden knowledge that must not be shared among kindergartners.

Now, one might well imagine this to be merely an isolated incident in a freakishly backward part of the country. But one would be wrong, because last month, I also read about this year's Newberry Medal winner, a book called The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron. The Newberry Medal is awarded annually for excellence in children's literature, and brings prestige and book sales to its winners. Ordinarily, libraries and schools all over America buy copies of the winners. The Higher Power of Lucky, though, is an exception. Many librarians, particularly those at elementary schools, are refusing to purchase this book. Why? Because it dares to use the word "scrotum."

On the very first page, the 10-year-old protagonist overhears someone say that a dog has been bitten on the scrotum and wonders what the word means. Oh, the horror! I can certainly see why elementary school students shouldn't be given access to such a book. Heaven forfend that children should actually learn medically correct terms for canine anatomy, much less their own or [shudder!] that of the opposite gender! Who knows what might happen if they learn at such a tender age that males have scrotums! Next thing you know, they might start talking about them in school!

I swear, when it comes to sexuality -- no, not even sexuality, just anatomy -- this country is completely nuts.

(Pun intended.)

Killing is fun

The brutality of standup comedy as a performance art is expressed in its vernacular. If the performance goes well, you "kill." If it goes badly, you "die." Kill or die -- it's not just you and the audience, it's you or the audience.

I've died before, and it's not pretty. But last Tuesday night, I killed. I got to perform at another comedy class graduation. The class only had five performers, so the teacher, Leigh Anne, asked if anyone else wanted to perform. Since I'm going to be competing in the local "Laff Off" competition on Sunday and I needed the practice, I volunteered.

I went fourth. The first three comics were kind of so-so. They didn't die --they all had some good bits in their sets -- but didn't really kill either. (I think it's actually almost impossible to die with a graduation audience; they're wonderful.) Nobody really had the audience going from start to finish. So then I went, and bam! I killed. I did the opening from "It's not easy being big,"* "I dated a midget,"** and, of course, "Japanese condoms are too small."

Of course, it's not fair to compare my set with the others, because I only had to do five minutes of my best stuff and I've been working on it for almost a year, so I'm not comparing, but I felt like I kind of made a difference to the show, like I raised the energy level and the funny level. It's kind of a power trip to make a bunch of strangers laugh when you want them too. MUWAHAHAHAHA! And an ego booster too.

The last two comics were really good. There was a woman named Tracy and a Mexiwegian guy named Juan Knudson. Tracy's was more like a one-woman play. It wasn't that funny, but it was a really interesting slice of life kind of thing. And Juan killed the hell out of the audience. He's one funny motherlover, gosh darn him. He'll probably beat me if he's in the Laff Off. The son of a beach.
*"It's not easy being big. When you're a big guy, complete strangers walk up to you and say things like, 'Hey, you're really big. How tall are you? Are you a basketball player? Are you a football player? Are you a giraffe trainer?' OK, I don't get that one so much. But you never see tall people going around to short people and saying stuff like, 'Hey little fellow, you're really short. How short are you? Are you a jockey? I bet you're really good at miniature golf.' Doesn't happen. Because we're better than that."

**"And it's hard to find tall women to date too. Not that I have anything against short women. I actually used to date a midget, excuse me, a little person. She was quite short, barely more than waist high [hold hand waist high]. She asked me out first. I don't know who put her up to it. (Put her up to it?) At first we got along really well. I was nuts over her. (Nuts over her?) But after a while we didn't get along very well anymore. We had a big argument. She said she'd had it up to here with me [hold hand chin high]. I said I didn't like the way she's always sticking her nose in my business. She said our relationship left a bad taste in her mouth. But I'm not bitter."

Monday, March 26, 2007

Random Cool Site: Jack Bauer [24] Kill Count

Being on teh interwebs for about 15 years now, I've bookmarked literally hundreds of random websites that I've stumbled across and found interesting. The best ones end up in a folder I call "Random Cool Sites." I've decided to start sharing some of them in my blog as a new occasional feature.

Today, I direct your attention to Jack Bauer [24] Kill Count. It's a season-by-season and episode-by-episode listing of everyone "Jack Bauer" has killed on the show "24," with the names of the deceased and the methods/weapons used to kill them. But it's not just a list, it has pictures and videos of each killing as well. It's very cool and kind of twisted at the same time. Check it out.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lawn heretic

I don't get lawns. Apparently, many Americans aspire to have lawns that look more or less like this:

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I don't really understand the attraction. Aesthetically, I don't find it pleasing at all. It's all the same color and has almost no texture. It's smooth, sterile, and boring. It looks more like a pool table than anything you'd find in nature. And it's probably full of toxic chemicals. I can scarcely imagine it supporting any sort of ecosystem; surely no bugs nor any other non-grass lifeforms could survive in this green desert. Why would anyone want this in their yard?

I much prefer my own lawn:

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It looks fairly natural. Because it has more than one length of grass and more than one kind of plant, it has an interesting bumpy texture. And not only does it have more than one shade of green, it has pretty little yellow and white flowers. I find it much more pleasant to look at than any pool-table lawn. And if you imagine it supporting its own thriving mini ecosystem, you'd be right. My lawn has insects, it has spiders, it has snails and slugs, in the corners it has snakes, lizards, and salamanders. Birds come to my lawn to find food. And I like it that way.

Of course, this is heresy. An American lawn is supposed to be a smooth, flat carpet. In fact, one should aspire to creating a smoother and flatter carpet than one's neighbors have. Or so the fertilizer, herbicide, and pesticide companies and the home and garden chains that sell their toxic products tell us. Well, I'm not buying. I'll stick with my bumpy, colorful, living, non-toxic, mostly grass lawn, thank you very much.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Soy un perdedor

I'm a loser baby so why don't you kill me?

I am 85% loser. What about you? Click here to find out!

Found at Rae's blog.

Not updating my WP blog anymore

Well, I've been experimenting with keeping two identical blogs, one on WordPress and one on Blogger, to see which I like better. WordPress was much easier to use than Old Blogger, but with New Blogger there's really not all that much difference. Although there are some things I like better about WP, especially the commenting features, I find that on the whole I'm a bit more comfortable using my Blogger blog, most of my few regular readers come here, and I get more hits here most days.

So I've decided to end the double-blogging experiment and just post to this blog for the next few months. It's probably more a matter of what I'm used to than anything else. I plan to migrate to my own website sometime this year anyway, so when I do I'll reevaluate which platform to use. In the meantime, those of you who have been kind enough to blogroll my other blog, please change your link to:

10 more things I wonder about

I wonder about words a lot. Like,

1. What is the plural of "singular"?

2. If the plural of "tooth" is "teeth," why isn't the plural of "booth" "beeth"?

And foreign countries confuse me.

3. If people can marvel at things that are marvelous, can they travel to places that are travelous?

4. If people speak German in Germany, why don't they speak Hungar in Hungary?

5. In France, is a French kiss just called a "kiss"?

6. And what do they call Swiss cheese in Switzerland?

I also worry a lot about medical issues. Like,

7. What would happen if a werewolf bit a centaur?

8. And, how come cancer is the only disease that gets its own zodiac sign? ("What's your sign?" "I'm a Heart Attack." "Really? I'm Gout. We're very compatible.")

And I don't understand business very well.

9. If a pimp wants to dig up his garden, does he hire a gardener or just use his own hoe?

10. When burn victims are cremated, do they get a discount?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

YouTube favorites

It's been awhile since I've done one of these, so here are some more YouTube favorites. As always, asterisks* mean NSFW/not suitable for prudes or small children.

I'm not sure whether this one is self-explanatory or simply inexplicable, so I guess I'll just let you watch.

William Shatner may well have been the greatest Unintentional Comedy Genius of all time. This version of "Rocket Man" might be his greatest work. (And yes, this performance is meant to be dead-serious. Oh, and the sound is kind of messed up, so you might want to turn it down a little before you play it.)

Americans isn't stoopid.

Masahiro Mori developed the theory of the "uncanny valley," which asserts that as robots become more humanlike, people relate to them more, until the robots reach the point of being too lifelike (but not lifelike enough), which repels people. I think this is a good example, because I find it creepy as hell.

Our Dead Comedian of the Month is Richard Jeni.*

The 80s were a strange time, so what could be stranger than an 80s novelty song? (I'm not sure that the weirdest thing in this very weird video isn't the guitar player's beard, BTW.)

Imagine yourself with no TV experience filling in for a sportscaster. Then imagine that the teleprompter is running so fast that it's impossible to read, and the pages of your backup paper copy are completely out of order. The results would probably look something like this.

Speaking of Shatner, I've seen this episode of Star Trek many times, but somehow the dialog here seems a little different than I remember it.

In the interest of equal time, here's Obi-Wan explaining a few things to Luke.

This is your spider. This is your spider on drugs.*

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Brown Paper Pete

A cowboy walks into a bar and orders a whiskey.

While the barkeep's pouring, the cowboy looks around.

"Where is everybody?" he says.

"Gone to the hanging," says the barkeep.

"Hanging?" says the cowboy. "Who're they hanging?"

"Brown Paper Pete."

"Brown Paper Pete? Why do they call him that?"

"Well," said the barkeep, "All his clothes are made from brown paper bags. His hat's made from brown paper bags, his shirt's made from brown paper bags, his jacket's made from brown paper bags, and his pants are made from brown paper bags."

"Really?" says the cowboy. "What are they hanging him for?"


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Idol thoughts

I think I've mentioned somewhere or other that my oldest daughter sings, and that she wants to try out for American Idol next season. This is the only recording I have of her singing. It's from a recent concert with her high school jazz choir. She'd actually be pretty mad if she knew I was putting this on teh interwebs, because she hates her performance. She was pretty upset when she heard it -- she was almost crying when she came home -- because she goes flat part way through. But some of it's quite nice, I think, and it gives a fair picture of where she is with her singing right now.

The flatness is from inexperience. (She's never had a lesson -- we can't really afford them -- so all her technique is from imitation and what she can pick up in her school choirs.) She has a good ear, but you know how your speaking voice sounds different to you on tape? The same thing happens with singing apparently. She was on pitch in her head, but went a little off for everyone else. She also needs to sing with more power, and she needs a lot more stage presence, but I think with a lot of hard work (she's going to get a job this summer and pay for her own lessons) it's not unreasonable for her to try out for something like American Idol.

I know some people who read my blogs are AI fans, and some of you are musicians. So tell me truly, am I another one of those delusional parents with a talentless kid, or is she actually pretty good?

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

North Korean news item of the week

From Korean Central News Agency of DPRK:

Bean Paste full of National Flavor

Pyongyang, March 15 (KCNA) -- March is most opportune for making bean paste in Korea.
Housewives made balls of steamed soybean in the beginning of the winter. Now they are making tasty bean paste with the fermented soybean balls with all sincerity. [Down with insincere fermented soybean balls of the imperialist running-dog lackeys!]

Dr. Kang Hui Ho at the Fermentation Institute [Hic!] of the Branch Academy of the Light Industrial Science under the State Academy of Sciences has been devoting his whole life to the research into soybean paste and soy. She said that the customs of making kimchi for winter in November and bean paste in March are inherent to the Korean people. [She noted, however, that gender confusion may be a side effect.]

The bean paste, which should be put on the sumptuous feast, is the essential foodstuff in the dietary life of the Koreans. [How's that workin' for ya?]

The bean paste has thousands of years of tradition in Korea. Ancestors found out that the fermented soybean is tasty and nutritious. They, therefore, started making bean paste and soy with steamed soybean to use them as essential foodstuff and seasoning. They even make stands for the bean paste jars in March habitually. [It's nice that the ancestors still have something to do every March, what with them being dead for hundreds of years and all.]

The Korean people are proud of bean paste. The folk method of making bean paste, along with the industrial method, is encouraged in the DPRK where the folk traditions are valued.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

RIP, Uncle Herman

My uncle was murdered a few weeks ago. He was 67. He was on his way into the kitchen to make a sandwich when his best friend shot him in the back. Nobody seems to know why. The friend was arrested by the local SWAT team after holing up in the house for a few hours. His attempt to commit "suicide by cop" failed when the police knocked him down with their beanbag guns.

I didn't know Uncle Herman well. I hadn't seen him for years -- for decades in fact. He was the youngest of my mother's three brothers. He was sort of the black sheep of the family, and the only one of my mother's siblings who lived in America (they're German by birth), but my mother didn't really want him around. He'd caused some problems for her by giving her name to creditors and stuff like that. I'm actually a little vague on why exactly she decided to keep her distance a little bit, but she thought he was kind of bad news.

Uncle Herman led a pretty colorful life, I guess. He was a US Army paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne for awhile as a young man. I don't know what he did for a living for the next 10 or 12 years after that -- there was even some vague talk about gangsters in Vegas, where he lived for a long time -- but eventually, according to my mother, he became more or less some sort of gigolo. Apparently he shacked up with a series of wealthy women and sponged off of them. He spent 10 or 20 years doing that, I guess. Nice work, if you can get it.

There are two stories about him that I think kind of sum him up from my mother's point of view. The first is from when they were children right after World War II. The children had been sent to the country to live during the war to avoid the bombing. When the family finally all got back together, times were hard. Food was short. The family had some seed potatoes or whatever they're called. They're little potatoes that you plant, and in a few months they grow into big potatoes that you eat. Uncle Herman used to dig up the little potatoes and eat them. He couldn't wait for them to get big enough to feed the whole family. He was hungry, so he ate them. Of course, he was only a little kid at the time, just six or seven, but to my mother that seemed sort of characteristic of his whole life.

The other story is similar in a way, but nastier. When my grandmother died, Uncle Herman went to the funeral. While he was there in Germany, apparently he took some of my grandmother's jewels and gave them to the "floozy" he took with him. No talking it over with the family, no who wants what for what sentimental or even financial reasons, no "what would Mother have wanted," no concern for anyone. He wanted to take the jewels and give them to his woman, so he did. End of story.

But my own impressions of Uncle Herman were somewhat different. When I was a child, I saw him quite often. I thought he was pretty cool. First, there was his name. I didn't know anyone else named Herman. (I think I still haven't ever known another one.) The only Herman I knew was Herman Munster. I enjoyed that show a lot, and whenever Herman Munster's niece called him "Uncle Herman," I'd think "I have an Uncle Herman too." I liked that.

Another thing I liked about him was the way he blew smoke out of his nose when he smoked a cigarette. My mom smoked too back then -- most people did in those days, I suppose -- but she always blew her smoke out of her mouth. I thought blowing smoke out your nose was the coolest thing.

(A little digression here -- that may be what kept me from ever becoming a smoker. When I was 12 or 13, I'd steal cigarettes from my mom once in awhile. I figured out how to light them, but I didn't actually inhale. I'd just suck the smoke into my mouth and blow it out and feel cool for doing something forbidden and grownup. But one day I decided that I was going to really go for it and inhale. So I lit up my stolen ciggy and took a long pull and Crap! COUGH! HACK! COUGH-COUGH-cough-hack-hack! Damn. But I wasn't easily deterred. I decided that the next puff I was going to blow out my nose like Uncle Herman. Thinking that I could beat the coughing that way, I inhaled fast and blew it out hard through my nose and Oh. Shit. OW! IT BURNS! IT BURNS! OW-OW-OW! Cough-cough-cough-hack-hack! Ow! Cough! Crap. So before my eyes even stopped watering, I decided that this smoking thing wasn't all it was cracked up to be. That was pretty much the end of my smoking career.)

Anyway, this is getting too long, so I'm going to wrap it up. Even though I also saw glimpses of a darker side to Uncle Herman -- even as a child I noticed that he wasn't a particularly attentive father sometimes -- and I heard all kinds of stuff from my mom, my childhood impressions of him never really went away. When I was working on my novel that I don't expect to ever finish, I found myself giving the protagonist his own "Uncle Herman" as a sort of mentor in coolness during his boyhood. I suppose I must have had some sort of longing for a real relationship with him. Now that he's gone, I find myself wondering how -- if -- we would have gotten along as adults. Me the straight-arrow family man and him the Vegas libertine. Maybe we could have taught each other a few things. I'd like to think so. Rest in peace, Uncle Herman.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Iran misoverestimates intelligence of American public

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From IMDB Movie & TV News:

Warner Bros.' hit movie 300 has become the latest powder keg in relations between the U.S. and Iran. The movie, which earned $71 million at the box office last weekend, is based on the ancient battle of Thermopylae in which, according to Western lore, a force of 300 Spartans held off thousands of Persian soldiers. As reported by the Associated Press, Javad Shamghadri, cultural adviser to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, charged that the film represented another effort by the U.S. to humiliate Iran in order to "compensate for its wrongdoings in order to provoke American soldiers and warmongers" against Iran. The independent newspaper Ayende-No, said beneath the headline, "Hollywood Declares War on Iranians," "The film depicts Iranians as demons, without culture, feeling or humanity, who think of nothing except attacking other nations and killing people. ... It is a new effort to slander the Iranian people and civilization before world public opinion."

There's only one problem with Mr. Shamghadri's little complaint: Americans are much too stoopid to know that Persians and Iranians are the same thing. And we don't care. We don't watch movies like 300 because we care about history or politics, we watch them because we like to see half-nekkid bodybuilders hack each other to bits with swords and spears. If the Iranian government can't understand that about us, no wonder we're about to go to war.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Nerds with Light Sabers 2!

The long-awaited (by everyone who saw Ryan vs. Dorkman) Ryan vs. Dorkman 2 is finally here. It's just two guys with fighting with light sabers, but this is seriously fun stuff. I know Ryan and Dorkman slightly on-line, and these are two very talented young film makers. If you dig mindless action (with light sabers!) that's inventive, energetic, and has a sense of humor, you'll love this. (Note that it is violent, about on a par with Revenge of the Sith. It may not be suitable for young children.)

I'm embedding the YouTube version here, but it really doesn't do the production quality justice. Go here to watch the HD version to get the full benefit of the cinematography and effects. You'll probably need to install the DivX software, and you need a really fast connection to stream it (download it if your connection is too slow), but it's like a hundred times better in full-screen high definition. (Also, you can buy the DVD and/or soundtrack at

(If you have trouble playing the DivX file after you download it, installing VLC should solve all your problems.)