Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Top 10 Albums of 2008

Here it is. My official annual top 10 albums of 2008 list. This year, I've included You Tube clips of each band so you can see and hear them instantly! What albums did I leave off my list that you feel belonged on it? Comment on this post to let me know!

10. Swell Season – Live from Chicago

I admit this album is a bit of a “cheat” choice and a make-up addition to the list for not adding the Once soundtrack to my 2007 list. From a recording of their show at the Chicago Theatre in 2008—where I was in attendance—this group really delivered a performance that left nobody in the building doubting how downright talented they all are. If you haven’t seen the movie Once, go rent it ASAP. Then, go buy the soundtrack and music from Swell Season—featuring the Once duo with a full band. Some people are just born with the skill. And this band proves it.

9. Army Navy – Army Navy

I hated the Smashing Pumpkins when they first came out. I thought Billy Corgan’s voice was too odd for my ears. But the unique vocals were something I grew to appreciate and I was—until recently—a big SP fan. Army Navy can be described in the same way. The vocals my bother you at first. They sound whiny and flimsy. But once they grow on you, you’ll hear an album that is a fine and unique brand of pop music.

8. TV on the Radio – Dear Science

A critically-acclaimed album, so I was swayed into buying this album. Upon first listen, I admit I thought only one thing: overrated. But I gave it another shot and discovered this is an album that grows on you slowly. With elements of Prince, New Wave, Beck and old R&B, the group puts together a unique sound that draws you in deeper.

7. Santogold - Santogold

It took me some convincing to give Santogold a shot, as she seemed more like an M.I.A. copycat from a distance. But a closer listen to her self-titled album disproves this assumption with a wide range of sound that borrows heavily from the 80s, but updates the sound with gracefulness and rhythm.

6. Foals - Antidotes

Foals are a math rock band. (Math Rock is music that sounds electronic/techno, but is actually created with real instruments). Since I’m not generally a fan of this type of sound, it takes a good album for me to take a liking to it. Foals accomplishes this with Antidotes; a catchy, powerful album that demands your attention.

5. Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

Technically an album from 2007, I had overlooked Josh Ritter for years until discovering this effort. (Truthfully, with the emergence of Robin Thicke—son of 80’s TV icon Alan Thicke—I made an unfair assumption of Josh Ritter and avoided his music altogether.) But I’m glad I gave the guy a shot, because he’s a heck of a songwriter. This album takes elements of Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen and reworks them into Ritter’s own brand of sound.

4. Albert Hammond, Jr. – Como Te Llama

Albert Hammond Jr., of The Strokes fame, is not an easy guy to like; as is the entire Strokes group. They all act like they’re too cool for school; like you’re missing out on the big joke. But the annoying attitude does not transfer to Albert Hammond’s latest album, which picks up that Strokes sound; removing some of the punk elements and replacing them with more harmony. The result is a good, classic pop rock album.

3. Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight

Frightened Rabbit are what Snow Patrol had the potential to be: very good. An album that at first listen sounds like a Scotsman beat up the lead singer of Counting Crows and took over; but after a few more listens, you’ll realize it’s much more than that. This album is a truly great pop effort.

2. Clear Tigers – Brutal

This artist is hard to describe. Sometimes, you hear the Shins, other times I Am Kloot. But overall, the song development and creativity of this album is remarkable. Many textures and layers and a catchiness that will get you hook you in. My favorite song: Igloo, which sounds like a modern pop song using the framework of an old 1920s French tune.

1. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that my top album of the year would come from a band whose primary influences seem to be African pop artists and 1980’s Paul Simon, I’d have said you are crazy. There is so much about this band that I should hate. One, the Paul Simon influence. Two, their overtly ivy school preppy style. Three, MTV has even pushed this band.

Yet ever since the album was released way back in January 2008, it has consistently found my iTunes and CD players and I knew it would take quite an album to top it for the year’s top honor. It’s catchy, well written and fun music that will get your toe tapping. I urge you to purchase this album and if you aren’t singing “Who gives a f*#@ about an Oxford comma?/I’ve seen those English dramas toHOO/They’re CruHOOL” within a week, then you can ask me to refund your money…and you can call me Al.

Monday, December 15, 2008

best songs of 2008 list

It's that time of year. Here is my annual list of the best songs of the year. If you would like to receive a free CD of all the tracks below, feel free to email me your address and I will burn a copy and mail it your way. Or, if you have an iPod and just want the tracks, I will be posting a zip file for download later this week. Let me know if you want me to email you the link to download the file.

Tomorrow, I will be posting my annual top ten albums of the year.

Best songs of 2008 (and some from 2007 that I didn't hear until this year), in alphabetical order by band name:

gfcalbert hammond, jr.
my thin sides – army navy
evening/morning – bombay bicycle club
igloo – clear tigers
what up man – the cool kids
nothing ever happened - deerhunter
am I wasting my time – eli “paperboy” reed and the true loves
cassius – foals
the modern leper – frightened rabbit
try not to think – the grey race
to the dogs or whoever – josh ritter
better to be – liam finn
death to los campesinos! – los campesinos
little bit – lykke li
get better – mates of state
weekend wars – mgmt
i woke up today – port o’brien
l.e.s. artistes – santogold
love dog – tv on the radio
a-punk – vampire weekend
valium skies – the verve
right hand on my heart – the whigs

If you think I missed a track, comment on this posting and perhaps I'll publish an amended list later this week!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Durbin: Make Ryan Serve

Somebody should ask Senator Durbin why he has misplaced his sympathy. With his request to have George Ryan's sentence commuted--citing a concern about the poor health of Ryan and his wife--he seems to have lost touch with real people like Pastor Duane Scott Willis.

We remember Pastor Willis as a father who--along with his wife--lost six children in a 1994 car crash that was caused as a result of Ryan's criminal corruption involving illegal licenses.

We remember the horrifying story told by Willis and his wife about how they had to witness their six children being burned to death. (You can read their story in their own words here.)

But Senator Durbin has seemed to forget about regular people like Pastor Willis and his wife. His sympathy is better placed with their family, not with a criminally corrupt, unrepentant man.

Yet Durbin has sent in a request for Ryan to be spared the inconvenience of serving time under the duress of being in poor health.

Senator, George Ryan deserves his time in prison. Why? Because the Willis family's grief over the loss of their children can never be commuted. Their lives are forever changed. They don't get to pull a few strings with the President and get their six children back. And they never will.

Ryan has never sincerely apologized to the family and was defiant and angry about his sentencing. He is a truly bad person.

It's not fair to them or any of us who demand justice rise above corruption to let Ryan walk. If you are somebody who demands that Ryan should stay behind bars, write a letter to Senator Durbin now urging him to make Ryan serve. You can submit an online letter to the Senator here. It will take only three minutes of your time, but may be just the difference needed to see justice served.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Message to Spammers: NO! NO! NO!

No, I don't need pills using ancient Chinese herbs that will magically shrink my waistline without having to exercise or diet. Sound more like you're trying to sell me a parasite that would cause me to have extreme health problems--or you're just selling another scam.

No I am not looking to enlarge, extend or improve the endurance of my penis. I don't care how many spaces you put in the word V I A GRa.

No I am not interesting in refinancing my home, especially since I have yet to finance a home, let alone have the need to refinance one. To steal from a popular scene in Wayne's World, "I don't own a gun, let alone many guns to constitute the need to own a gun rack."

No I do not want to update my Bank of America Account information. I may be interested in doing so....if I actually had a Bank of America account.

No, I do not want to help you, a civil servant of the Republic of Nigeria, transfer several millions of dollars--that were somehow magically discovered by you--into my account so you can split the money with me after you arrive stateside. Do you really expect me to believe that the continent of Africa--yes, continent, not a country Sarah Palin--just has millions of dollars sitting around unaccounted for? Because when I think of Africa, I think "bunch of inattentive millionaires over there just leaving their cash all about and what not!"

No, I don't want to take you up on your offer to give me a free iPod, Nintendo Wii, Playstation, Apple iPhone, computer or HDTV just by simply clicking on a button of your banner ad. Last time I checked, electronics manufactures do like to turn a profit on their equipment.

No, I don't want to contact you about the free vacation you told me I just won. I guess why I don't want that vacation is because I never entered any sort of contest or raffle for said vacation, yet somehow my name was magically drawn. I have an idea! Send me my plane tickets and itinerary in care of: Mr. Bojangles, 123 Main St., Fantasyland, Krpton 90210.

No! No! NO! I don't anything you have to offer! So please, stop bothering me and everybody else you bombard with emails on a daily basis! Are you fed up with SPAM as much as me? If so, share your stories!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

America's Greatest New Inventions: All New Sorts of Crazy

On Good Morning America today, they ran a feature about a mental condition called Foreign Accent Syndrome. Apparently, people who have suffered previous brain trauma--a stroke, skull fracture, etc.--can wake up one day and speak with a foreign accent without even noticing a difference. It's as if they have had the accent all along. The lady featured was a southern woman who woke up one day speaking some sort of Eastern European accent. And it's lasted ever since. (Weird thing is she actually kind of looks Eastern European.)

There are people who literally go to bed saying "good night, honey" and wake up saying, "'top o' da' mornin' to ya' dear." They may wake up sounding Russian, English, French, Italian or whatever accent that sticks. They could go from saying, "You want spaghetti for dinner?" to saying "You-a wanna a me to a-make-a you a-da' pasta?"

I am not making this up. Don't believe me. Type "Foreign Accent Syndrome" in your Google bar and watch the results flow in. This is a real thing.

But it got me thinking. One thing Americans have always been known for is the ability to produce great inventors. We created the airplane, the telephone, the light bulb and the computer. But in the last couple of decades, it seems like the thing we create most is new forms of crazy.

Don't get me wrong. I can sympathize--and sometimes empathize--with people who suffer from mental illness. It is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. What I'm referring to is these rare and questionable conditions that make you wonder. Like people who are terrified of bread. Or people who cry if they hear somebody sneeze. Do those sound made up? It's because they are. I just pulled them out of my head. But I wouldn't be surprised to do a google search and find a network of people suffering from breadfear syndrome or SSC--Sneeze Sadness Condition.

I'm sure these types of conditions have always existed and exist all over the world. But we're the only country that seems obsessed on creating a label for them. You fall asleep whenever you wear linen? You suffer from Linen Drowse Syndrome. Maybe you giggle every time you see cottage cheese. We have a label for that too: curdle cackles condition. Ah, yes. The dreaded CCC. I wonder if the volume of your laugh is equally proportionate to the size of the cottage cheese curd? Small curd gets a chuckle. Large curd causes a side-splitting laugh.

Perhaps we obsess over our own little neuroses so much that the only way to quell the flame of that obsession is to have a label for the neurotic behavior. Maybe that makes us feel less alone. Like if we know that somebody else out there urinates whenever they hear the Bee Gees, that it's not so weird.

News Flash from the Obvious Department: we all have something that's a little crazy in all of us. What's my weird little bit of crazy? I'll tell you. Whenever I see somebody ring out a wet rag--on television or in person--it makes me cringe. I can't tell you why. But I can tell you that I don't care if it has a label or not. It's just part of who I am.

Share your bit of craziness by responding to this posting. Air it out. No one will judge you--unless they're suffering from Judgemental Jerk Disorder.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama Grant Park Rally: The Perpective of One American in Attendance

“I wish it was the sixties. I wish I could be happy. I wish, I wish, I wish something would happen.” –The Bends lyrics, Radiohead

Deep down, I have always been a bit envious of the 60's generation. Sure, today we look back at that era more as a caricature rendering of a hippy, free love, drug-addled cultural phenomenon. But they were more than that.

They were a generation whose youth stood up and demanded change. They strove for the ideals of peace, freedom and liberty in all aspects of life—and it was a rough road that brought with it the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr; a destructive Vietnam war, civil rights atrocities and fear mongering politicians.

But as I laid my head on my pillow last night and thought about my evening spent at the Obama Election Rally in Grant Park, I no longer felt envious of that 60’s generation. And, more importantly, the void in my soul made from the departure of that envy was filled with something that I—and likely many of the Gen X and younger crowd—have never felt: proud patriotism.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always loved my country. I believe the United States is the greatest nation in the world. But I just never felt that connection with it. To me, it was like a distant second cousin—a shared bloodline, but little beyond that.

But I did feel that connection on November 4th, 2008, when I ventured out to my first ever political rally and witnessed and was part of an event that was truly remarkable in so many ways. To give you a full grasp of what I am talking about, following is a summary of my evening at the Obama Election Rally in Grant Park:

The train ride into the city was quiet. I’d discussed with my girlfriend Dana the news I was hearing about the rally. How people had stood in line for more than 13 hours; how Mayor Daley had basically called in the entire Chicago police force to handle the event; and even how the city had expected one-million people to show up. But as I looked around our nearly empty train car, I began to suspect I’d fallen for a bit of media hype.

But as we began to make stops along the route, the car began filling up. First, a pair of twentysomething males wearing ties. Next, a group of college-aged girls boarded with an introduction to our first “Obama!” cheers of the evening. After that, another college-aged group entered. All who boarded were beaming with excitement and giddy. But this being a work day—thus me already being tired—I attributed it to the typical energetic jubilance of youth.

As we’d exited the train, and worked our way up to street level, we began our walk over to Grant Park. As I looked around, I saw dozens of young Americans walking to the event as well. The mood: determined to get there as soon as possible. But with our first sighting of a police presence—four officers leaning on a parked squad car parked in the middle of Michigan Avenue—came the view of the spectacle of the event. Hundreds of people walking down the same, traffic free street.

Lining the street along the way were dozens upon dozens of vendors selling unofficial Obama merchandise—t-shirts, buttons, hats, rally flags and more. These street vendors were spaced no more than 10 feet from each other and lined our entire quarter-mile walk to the event. Some sold t-shirts that said “Yes We Did,” or “McCain-Palin: Same old Bushshit.” Some sold buttons that said “Obamapalooza.” All made me feel like the event I was to attend was more of a gimmick—a scene, the place to be—more than a potentially historic moment treated with dignity. (I was later proved wrong.)

The pure size and scope of the event wasn’t apparent until we crossed over Michigan Avenue and made our way up to the designated Congress Street entrance. Thousands upon thousands of people were crowding their way in. Think Taste of Chicago times a one hundred. The crowd of people were buzzing and eager, with their digital cameras out snatching images of every little detail signifying the event: a line of police officers on horseback, the lights on a nearby skyscraper lit up to spell out “USA;” a group of people cheering from atop a pillar.

Near a statue, a duo stood wearing masks. One, a pigs mask and another in a skeleton mask and both holding up anti-Republican signs. I’d thought to myself that this was the sort of tasteless and mindless approach that keeps this nation divided—and there’s no room for it. Luckily, they were the only two I saw taking that tack this evening.

We eventually weaved our way through the security lines and made our way to the event grounds. In front of our eyes were a sea of people, thousands deep—lit up by several high-powered floodlights. Dotting the crowd were several American flags waving in the wind. A large jumbotron with CNN tuned in sat in the center of the crowd, with five or so spotlights beaming out at an angle into the night sky.

We made our way into the crowd and got as close as we could to the main stage—which was basically about 800-yards away and out of plain sight—and knew we were going to have to rely on the jumbotron for our glimpse of the stage.

I have been to a number of high-attendance events such as Lollapalooza and sporting events where trekking through a crowd is like fighting an angry mob along the way. Don’t you dare step on somebody’s shoe or there may be fight! How dare you bump into that guy, you deserve an angry look! Or, "I’m pushing you out of my way because I’m more important than you" type of people.

But this crowd was not that way. Bumps were met with smiles. Toe steps met with courtesy. This was a crowd that saw past the minor inconveniences and agreed to just be content. It is something I have never experienced before throughout the many crowd-filled events I’ve attended through the years. It was a truly happy and peaceful event.

As we stood in the crowd, my proud patriotism was born. I was shoulder to shoulder with people whom I didn’t know, but they acted as if we were old friends or part of the family. We talked and shared in conversation. We exchanged smiles. We shared in our anticipation for an announcement. We were courteous, concerned with others in the group and peaceful. We were in this together. We were fellow Americans.

And when the announcement was made that Obama won the election, you could feel in the air a collective release of anxiety and stress from the years of frustration. People cheered, hugged, celebrated or stood in a silent awe to let it all absorb in.

The audience was made up primarily of people 30 or younger. The youth of the nation who decided to stand up—like that generation did 40 years ago—and demand a new way. History may look back at that moment as the time when the first African-American US President was elected. It should be remembered in that way. But this is an election that produced a biggest voter turnout in decades. It’s an election that substantially grew the first-time voter numbers. It’s an election that drew the youth back into the equation.

Well after Obama’s speech as we walked back to the train stop, I saw thousands of young people walking in their own makeshift parades down the center of the streets. Cheering. Clapping. Dancing. Waving to onlookers who viewed through their hotel windows. And, most importantly, filled with an excitement and drive to be a part of this great nation of ours. When we walked down those streets, I saw people who were proud to be Americans. Proud to be true patriots. Focused less on the “win” and more on the beginning of things to come. There were no chants of “we won!” There were chants of “Yes we can!”

And I can’t help but think, someday years down the road, I will look back at that moment and remember those people more than anything else. They are the ones that made all the difference. They are the ones that played the biggest role in looking past barriers from the past and demanding a change for tomorrow. They are the ones who helped make history while at the same time built a bridge of hope to the future.

They are the ones who made me feel for the first time how proud I was of my patriotism—something those storied tales from the 60’s were never able to do. And I feel truly honored to have been one of them.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Memo to the Youth: Let 80's Style Be

I recently spotted a young teenage girl walking through a parking lot wearing acid washed jeans. They even had holes torn in the thigh and knee area. She was one Bon Jovi t-shirt and some blue eyeliner away from looking like she used a time machine to warp two decades ahead from 1988.

If some of your youth was spent in the over-the-top, hairspray-filled decade known as the 1980s, you too have likely seen this resurgence of its style on today's youth. Whether it's the big hoop earrings, big hair, jelly shoes or skinny jeans, it's almost inescapable.

What's next? Shoulder pads? Punky Brewster hairdos? The resurgence of Terrance Trent D'Arby? It's all so very...frightening. Why? Because as we who grew up in the 1980s can attest--and have the photo albums to prove--the 80s style turned us into portraits of a toxic, electric shock, color spewed, proportion-warping trend zombies that made us all look really, really bad.

It is our obligation--nay, our duty--to today's youth to prevent them from becoming victims of this bad style resurgence. We were not forewarned, nor did we have the Internet to help spread the world that wearing 132 bracelets on one arm looked ridiculous. We subjected ourselves to hair-spraying our hair to mimic the Berlin Wall so that future generations would not be subjected to such absurdities.

Yes, the children of the 80's were the pioneers of bad taste, paving a way and shedding a light on how rolling ones jeans would have a severe negative effect on the attractiveness scale. (We looked at the style of the 70's and said "that's all you got?") Don't let this generation repeat our mistakes! Get the word out. When you see a teen on the street wearing leg warmers and a giant belt, tell them they look like they escaped from the nearest mental health facility.

If you spot a kid wearing anything fluorescent, tell them that they look like the result of a construction worker and a clown getting together to formulate their fashion choices. If anything, sign the petition to stop 80's style resurgence by replying to this post and signing your name and/or even sharing a fashion nightmare.

Stop the madness! Save the youth of this country before they decide to wear sweatshirts with the collar cut out (so one side hangs off of a shoulder)! Stop them before they give Aqua Net back its ozone-killing empire! Sign the petition today! Tell the tale of your 80s fashion nightmare!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Four More Things That Annoy Me

To keep the topic rolling, I give to you another four things that suck with one bonus thing that sucks from reader Andrew:

1. Loud Motorcycles
There should be a law passed that outlaws those extremely loud motorcycles. You know which ones I'm talking about. The motorcycles that wake you up when the drive by your home at 3 AM. The ones that have the decibel load of giant 777 Boeing Jet. The ones usually driven by some guy wearing leather chaps and a headband who things he looks really, really tough (though, in all reality, he looks really, really gay). Those motorcycles. They suck.

2. Merged Celebrity Couple Names
Bennifer. Bragelina. Come on people. These are actors. Not amoebas that eventually bind and permanently merge with one another. Lay off the stupid name shortcuts. And while you're at it, stop talking about them all together. Because none of us really cares! I have a name for all the people who create and use these celebrity couple names: dumbiot.

3. Guys Who Wear Their Sunglasses Backwards on their Head
Nothing says "I'm a douche bag" more than wearing your sunglasses backwards on your head when you go indoors. Plus, it's quite confusing. I can't tell if you're coming or going, but just the site of this ridiculously placed accessory makes me wish for the later.

4. Road Construction (by Andrew)
Why does it seem like the roads are always under construction? I understand there are a lot of roads and they have to get old eventually, but why does it seem like the same stretches of highway are constantly under construction? In this modern time of hybrid vehicles and nuclear power plants we have yet to figure out the road making technology that lasts more than 3 years?

Do you have a thing that sucks that you'd like to share? If so, reply to this post and it will make the next list.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Seven More Things That Suck

To add to the previous entry, another seven things that annoy me for some reason or another:

1. Potato Salad
Mmmm, overcooked potatoes stewing in gobs and gobs of mayonnaise sitting out in the hot summer sun at a cookout. It's a stomach virus waiting to happen. Yet you can't escape potato salad at any cookout to which you go. Can you remember every having a craving for potato salad? Me neither.

2. Sitcoms that Use Stale 90's Style
Sure, a group of young, good-looking people dropping sarcastic quips and pausing for laugh tracks worked in the 1990's. But much like the VHS tape, it's format is now outdated and stale. Why? Because sarcasm isn't very funny without creativity. It just makes you feel like you're watching a bunch of dysfunctional jerks. Yes, I'm looking right at you "Two and a Half Men."

3. Cadillacs
Remember when people used the term "it's the Cadillac of (insert product here)" to describe the high-level of quality of something. Not anymore. That's because the only people who drive them are senior-citizens and guys who leave the top four buttons of their shirt unbuttoned to show of their chest hair. Either creepy or old.

4. Mustard Containers
Has there been no advancement in mustard container technology in the last 30 years? Why must you always have to first clean off a crusty film over the spout and--no matter if you shake the bottle or not--squirt the 1st tablespoon out of the bottle into the sink to avoid soaking your sandwich bread in a watery mustard juice?

5. Glass Ketchup Bottles
You find them at every restaurant and it's likely you will always get the brand new, unopened bottle of ketchup. This requires you to use a myriad of tricks to get the ketchup to loosen its gravity-defying grip from the bottle and pour out. You hit the "57" or pound the bottom of the bottle with your palm. You may tip the bottle upside-down and leave it be for 10 minutes. Or, you dig your knife into the bottle and scoop it out. Why do we still use these things when the squirt bottles do just fine?

6. Renee Zelwegger's Squint
She always looks like she's just eaten a bag full of lemons. Or like she's staring into the sun while sucking on a cough drop. Regardless, it's just annoying. You know why she does it. Because she's better than you.

7. Eardrum-destroying Ring Tones
Nothing like standing in a public place and feeling like you've been magically transported to an Usher concert because somebody has apparently set their ringtone volume to the "deafening arena blast" decibel level.

There's seven more. Feel free to add to the list by responding to this post. I will add it to the next blog post.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

10 Random Things That Suck

I thought today's entry would just be a basic assembly of rants on stuff that bug me. For the sake of time, I will limit the following list to 10 rants:

1. Movie Theatre Prices
Not the ticket prices so much. I understand that the money has to come from somewhere in order to pay celebrities enough money to afford makeup artists for their lapdogs. I'm talking about concessions. Popcorn is just corn that's heated up isn't it? How is it that it costs $6 a bag? And, isn't it amazing that a 16 ounce fountain soda costs $79 cents at a gas station and $5 at the movie theatre? My last trip to the movies, I had to fill out a credit application just for a box of Junior Mints and a Sprite.

2. The Word "Movie"
Why do we still use it? Doesn't it sound old fashioned to you? We don't call cars "motorees" do we? We call them cars. Motored carriage hasn't been used for decades. Yet we still use the shortened term for "moving pictures" when we talk about films: movies. I'm surprised we don't call televisions "magic picture boxes." I think we can all agree that the pictures don't actually move. These days, the digital zeros and ones do all of the moving.

3. Crocs
I don't care if you're wearing an Armani suit with them, if you're wearing Crocs you look like a bum. Inevitably, if you tell somebody who has Crocs that they make them look like a Swedish nutjob, the always say the same thing: "oh, but they're soooo comfortable." You know what else is comfortable? Walking around in a robe. But the only people who do it are Hugh Hefner and mental patients.

4. Windshield Cleaners at Gas Stations
What happened to those handy dandy rubber squeegee things at gas stations that has made them suck so much? Every time I use one, it leaves a rainbow-colored grease streak on my windshield. Did they replace the windshield cleaning fluid with ocean water gathered after the Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster? It's bad enough they're taking $50+ dollars from you each tank, now they give you low grade perks.

5. Candy Canes
Lets' face it. Candy canes are the worst candy of all time. There's a reason that you don't find them in the candy aisle or near the checkout in the candy bins unless it's Christmas time. Because it's like eating your toothpaste. Chalky, an off sweet taste and a minty overload.

6. People Who Can't Make Up Their Mind at the Soda Machine
These people always stand directly in front of the soda machine and ponder all five selections that are the same five selections that have been there since 1991. Meanwhile, a line forms behind the person of several people holding empty cups. Every machine has the same items: brown soda, clear soda, fruit-based soda, root beer, low-cal soda and that little water tab. Yet these people stand there like they're being asked to determine the fate of their lives.

7. Store Clerks that Ask If They Can Help You Find Something
I'm in a specific aisle, looking at specific products in that aisle. I am not confused. Yet, a sales clerk--or associate, team member, or whatever they're called--feels obligated to come over and interrupt me to ask if I need help locating something. "Um, I'm not wandering the aisles in a daze wondering where a certain product is. Clearly, I'm looking straight at what I'm going to purchase. So, No, I don't need help." They must have a minimum quota of can-I-help-you-find-somethings that they have to ask each day.

8. Radio Commercials
Every one of them tries to be funny and none in the history of all time have ever succeeded. Exhibit A: A commercial where a man says to his wife "honey, this memo says I have to see Paige. Who's Paige?" The wife responds: "No, Frank. Seepage. We have seepage in our basement." And I'm thinking, who just writes the word "seepage" all by itself on a memo and expects anybody to get it's meaning?

9. Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee
If you watch Food Network, you know who I'm talking about. If you don't, let me explain: imagine a soulless, Stepford-wife-like, Martha Stewart wanna-be lady telling you how to cook the stuff you buy from a grocery store. "Let's make macaroni and cheese. First, buy a box of Kraft Mac-n-cheese and boil some water. Now add the noodles, Add a dash of garlic salt. That way it's homemade!"

10. Frozen Food Packaging
On the cover of the box, the baked chicken lasagna you just bought looks like it was made by a world-renowned Italian chef using ingredients fresh from the farm and garden. When you pull the lasagna out of the box, it looks like it comes predigested: a pile of slop in a small plastic bowl that lets you know just what it was like to get prison food in the 1940's.

There's my list of ten. Have one to add? Please do and respond to this posting.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Seasoning Salt

We have four seasons every year here in the Midwest, if we're lucky (as sometimes winter consumes spring altogether). With this proverbial changing of the guard, I thought it'd be fun to rank each of the seasons on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being a "this weather is way better than sliced bread" and 1 being "May the great hand of Zeus smite you, wretched season!" So, here you go, in order from best to worst:

Rating: 8.7
* Weather is usually always moderate. It comes after the unbearable heat of Summer to comfort us like that euphoric feeling you get when you finally break a fever.
* It provides us perfect opportunity to enjoy a cup of hot cocoa or hot apple cider. They're drinks that give your stomach a hug.
* Halloween: It's the only holiday that allows you to walk around dressed as a bumble bee without ending up in a mental hospital.
* Football season starts. Sunday afternoons regain a purpose and facilitate prerequisite lazy day-edness.
* Trees offer an endless palette of colors. And that smell of the leaves burning seems to bring comfort with each inhale.

* Always ends up becoming Winter's b*tch. It's the snooze button of seasons.
* Days get shorter and shorter. The Sun begins its annual vacation to the Southern hemisphere where it inevitably eats one too many steak tacos and gets food poisoning.

Rating: 7.5


* Let's winter know that Spring is it's daddy. It crushes the icy grip winter has on us and rids us of all the snow. (Chicago is an exception.)
* Birds chirp and greenery grows. All that winter has smothered rebounds and reminds us that things are going to get better.
* Baseball season begins. Optimism reigns for at least 30 days.
* Cabin Fever no more. A walk outdoors no longer requires wrapping yourself in 19 layers of clothing.

* Rain and mud. Carpet cleaner manufacturers rejoice everywhere. The rest of us wonder why umbrellas aren't designed to handle a slight breeze without inverting.
* Spring schizophrenia. Cold and rainy one minute, sunny the next, gusty the minute after that. You have to wear a sweater, bring a jacket and wear those pants that convert into shorts to get by.

Rating: 7.1

* Long days. Even the sun partakes in the lazy days of summer, staying up past 9 p.m.
* Cook outs. Nothing beats the smell of meat products sizzling on the grill.
* Everybody looks better with a tan. You can lay around in a recumbent tan pose. Your legs might be spread a little wider than they ought to be, but it's okay: it's just tanned you being tanned you.
* Farmers Markets. Vegetables without curious mass-production virus risks.

* Too hot. Car seats that could char a slab of ribs. Literally sweating while you are sitting idle is common. The heat overwhelms many into submission, keeping them indoors hugging their air conditioners.
* Kids on vacation. They're everywhere and their parents are driving them everywhere, which means more traffic for all.
* Tornadoes, hurricanes and violent storms visit...and they never offer to help clean up when they leave.
* Baseball season continues....and continues. Hope is gone for many a fan.
* Road construction. Usually exclusively on just the roads you need to use daily.
* 4th of July. Celebrations and picnics are fun. Your neighbors lighting off bottle rockets at 4 a.m. Not so fun.
* Bugs. Everywhere. Including those icky gigantic insects you've never seen before that appear to have 7 wings and opposable thumbs.

Rating: 0.3

* It eventually goes away.
* Big snows make trees look really cool when the snow coats their branches.

* Lets see, perhaps the cold? The frigid, finger-numbing, shiver-inducing and skin burning bitter cold. It's so cold, your eyes cry, even though you're not sad.
* Snow: winters B.M. It dumps on you and swirls around with the mud to become a slushy mess just waiting to penetrate your shoes and freeze your toes.
* Driving. Not so enjoyable when you must worry about your car spinning like Nancy Kerrigan on the ice.
* Kills all things colorful. Grass, leaves, plants and the rest of nature get buried by snow. Birds fly away. It all becomes a white, grey and black muck.
* Sunshine for about 5 hours a day. Vampires rejoice. The rest of us get depressed.

So that's my rating of the seasons. Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? Let me know.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

That's One Big Loud Cha-CHING!

With all the discussion (i.e. arguing, finger-pointing, political maneuvering, etc) about the $700 Billion dollar bailout bill dominating the news, it got me thinking: What if the government gave me that $700B check? What would I do with all of that money to improve the prosperity of the country?

So, I put together a budget plan, seen below, that I feel will make this nation a better place for everybody:

$60 Billion: Fight Fire With Fire Investment
I would spend $60 Billion on the best lobbyists the world has to offer. I'd even buy up all of the lobbyists currently working in Washington on the behalf of oil companies, pharmaceuticals, insurance companies and other greedy corporations. I would then buy each of my newly hired lobbyist staff a plane ticket to a remote island and have them all stay there permanently. If a new lobbyist is hired by a greedy corporation, I would be sure to buy the new lobbyist out and send him to Sell-Your-Soul Island with the rest of them. I would recoup some of the investment by having a reality television show on the island where lobbyists have to balance on pork barrels.

$30 Billion: Health Care Reality Check Investment
I would buy out the companies or organizations responsible for providing the exceptional level of health care and insurance to our politicians. I would then run that organization just as poorly--if not worse--than the insurance companies the rest of us average Joes have to deal with. "Oh, you an illness, Senator? I'm sorry, you have a $50,000 deductible and can only choose from three non-English speaking doctors with offices that are totally overrun and more than 30 miles from you." Oh yeah, and if Congress votes to give themselves a raise when undeserved, I would raise their deductibles and insurance costs to offset the raise. Think that might give our politicians some perspective?

$500 Billion Tax Rebate (Sans the megarich)
Much has gone around about how the $700B bailout is the equivalent of $2,000 for every American. But if you adjust that number to show what it is for each taxpayer (the people who actually pay taxes every year not adding in children), the number rises to $6,000 per each tax paying citizen. I would offer a $500B Tax Rebate, but would omit the top 1% of earners...which basically includes Bill Gates and corporation CEOs (and accounts for a third of the total tax cut). It's not exact math, but each taxpayer would receive about $9,000. Imagine that! I wonder what they would do with that money? Perhaps pay their mortgages and buy property, in turn stabilizing the economy. Crazy idea I know!

$100 Billion Education Investment
New schools, better budgets and better paid teachers for all. We shouldn't have to trail a communist nation (China) in education. And we need better education so we don't get fooled again.

$30 Billion Real News Investment
I would create a new news network that would have a cable station and newspaper dedicated to providing actual responsible journalism. If a politician says something, my reporters will be there to research it and make sure it's not B.S. Not just ask a bunch of idiots in a room what they thought about what the politician said. Every bill that goes through congress would be researched by the news team and reported daily. If you need news about what the hot fashions are for the Fall Season or what Miley Cyrus is doing these days, you can tune in to the other networks.

That's my two--er--$700B--cents. I think I make some very valid points in my budget that are common sense solutions to our issues, which is exactly why none of this will come to fruition. Do you have some better ideas for how to spend some or all of the $700B? Let me know. Reply to this blog.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

We Have Too Much Stuff

I'm planning to move soon and have come to the sudden--though not shocking--realization that I have too much stuff. I can't even give you all of the particular details or breakdowns of the stuff I have too much of, because my too-much-stuff-edness applies to just about every category of items people can own and it would take too long to write down, let alone read. But I do. I have waaaay too much stuff. And if I were to take a guess, I bet you have too much stuff too.

We all do. For some reason, Americans can't resist bringing stuff home and filling their homes with it until they have to invest several days or weeks riffling through it all to make space...for more stuff. For example, I have too many socks. Socks that I wear and socks that I don't. Apparently I treat them like collectors items. I even have too many loner socks--you know, the socks that lost their match because dryers presumably feed on them. For some reason, I save the loner socks up, hoping that one day the missing matches will be coughed up by the machines that devour them. And it never happens.

I have too many books. I have too many DVDS. I realize that I own both only so that I can loan them out to other people. Because when you think about it, how often do you reread the same book or watch a movie for the third or fourth time? Very rarely. Yet there they all are, lined up neatly on my bookcase collecting dust, just waiting for me to pack too many of them in a box and blow out my vertebrae while moving them. I suspect that some books may indeed may be made of iron.

I have too many forks and spoons. For some reason, I figured that having 20 of each makes complete sense, just in case I were to host the entire starting lineup of the Chicago Bears someday. And you know what ends up happening as a result of having too many utensils? Dishes. Because there's never a need to wash a fork when there's always a shiny clean one sitting there in the drawer beckoning me to succumb to my laziness. I swear my utensils use some sort of Jedi mind trick on me that forces me to avoid washing them until they are all completely dirty.

I have too many pens. When you think about it, it's so hard to throw away a pen. It seems wasteful. But yet I always seem to come home with them somehow. I forget them in my pockets or get caught without a pen at a time when needed and have to buy some. (This usually happens when I procrastinate buying a birthday gift until the day of the party and am forced to fill out the card in my car in the driveway of the birthday celebrater.) So on my desk sits enough pens to rewrite the entire bible by hand 47 times over.

I'm not sure why we all have this need to let stuff pile up and take over all of our space. I guess its the same reason why we can't pass by a free sample at a grocery store or why so many of us act like insane rioters whenever there's the potential to catch a free t-shirt that we'll never wear. Perhaps none of us likes to go home empty handed.

Time to go. I've got stuff to do, mostly involving undoing all of my stuff.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How'a About'a a Kiss'a?

Today's entry comes courtesy of Seth McFarlane. Enjoy the video clip. You can also find more of these funny clips on the site http://www.sethcomedy.com/.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On Next: Doing Laundry with the Stars!

Ranting against reality television is nothing new, so I'll spare you of the same old stuff you have heard a countless amount of times about how reality TV is scripted, casts narcissists exclusively and constantly pushes the limits of taste and morality.

But there is one aspect about reality TV worth ranting about that you may not have heard. For instance, last night, Dancing with the Stars premiered, featuring it's usual cast of typecasts (washed up sitcom star, retired NFL athlete, person famous but not for having any talent, old person who will likely break a hip, comic relief person and person who you have no idea why they're famous but they kind of look familiar).

I wonder, is there any real reason to find out who is the best dancer amongst this crowd? Why not instead reunite the cast of Cheers and see who is the best at bass fishing? Or gather the actors from the Facts of Life to compete in a rock-paper-scissors tournament? Point being, will it matter if one of the Golden Girls beats out a retired linebacker in a tango face off?

To me, reality television is only good if there is some sort of interesting outcome as a result of the show. American Idol gives its winner a record deal. The show lets you watch a career being launched. Top Chef gives talented chefs a head start to opening their own restaurant. Extreme Home Makeover gives a deserving family a better quality of living. Are all three of those shows great shows? No. But they aren't completely devoid of quality. You can watch them and have a rooting interest.

The shows that don't offer much of an outcome are the ones that really suck. For instance, any show featuring somebody picking a stranger to marry. Or shows that feature people backstabbing other people on their way to a prize. Shows that feature Donald Trump in any capacity. And the worst of them, shows that feature people sitting around in a house doing nothing. In the case of Dancing with the Stars, it's not like Emmitt Smith had a career in dancing launched and went on to star on Broadway. He went back to his normal life of being an NFL legend. So what was the point?

I guess there isn't meant to be a point. Cotton candy wouldn't exist if everything had to have a purpose. That's why they call it fluff. And, in case you wondered, I would put my money on Norm to take in the most bass.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Have Your 4th of July Fireworks Yet?

About three weeks ago, I made a trip to the market. (Geez, I sound like one of the little piggies...let me rephrase.) Three weeks ago, I went to the grocery store. And, there at the entrance of the building were mountains of pumpkins stacked high and wide like a proverbial utopia of gourds. A gourdtopia, if you will.

Inside, spread throughout the store: tables and tables full of trick-or-treat candy, an aisle full of plastic costumes and enough motion activated "spooky" home decoration noise makers to drive at least three of the grocery store employees to madness with their constant screeches and chimes.

Seeing all this threw me for a loop. After all, Halloween--at that time--was at least two months away. Yet, to grocery stores, pharmacies and strip malls across this country, selling holiday junk (even of the perishable variety) more than 60 days out makes complete sense for some strange reason. And for some stranger reason, people buy it up without a second thought.

But who in their right mind is buying and displaying this stuff so soon? Can you imagine somebody waking up on a warm, late August morning and thinking to themselves: "Oooh, I better start hanging faux cobwebs up on my porch now!"

During my trip to this particular grocery store, I even half expected to see (if one can "half expect" something) Easter decorations down the aisle next to the Halloween decorations. God forbid we don't start decorating our eggs now! Because, as we know, nothing celebrates the resurrection of Christ better than some chocolate bunnies and painted eggs! Let's get the eggs painted now so by Easter they will smell exactly like eggs smell after sitting out for half of a year!

Can you imagine what a pumpkin looks and smells like on Halloween after being purchased, deseeded and degutted of all of that slimy orange stringy stuff and carved...two months early? I imagine it would look like a cross between a half-deflated balloon and a Petri dish experiment that got out of hand.

Have we really become a nation that is so obsessed over instant gratification that now we can't even wait until the actual month the holiday falls in before rushing out and buying all of the disposable holiday junk for sale at the nearest corner store?

It makes me glad I've been blessed with the gift of procrastination! Sure, the trick-or-treaters don't appreciate the fact that I forgot to buy a bag of bite-size candy to distribute to them when they come around demanded sugar from me. But there's nothing wrong with finding whatever one may find stashed away in the house as an alternative to candy (when in a bind), such as a can of Lima beans, spare change, a coupon for $1 off on a pizza or other random crap taking up space in your home.

If the kids balk, just tell them that you opted to "trick" rather than "treat" and send them on their way. They'll get more candy soon enough. After all, Easter is right around the corner.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Top Five Reasons Why I'm Sick of the Presidential Campaign

Number 5: Fashion over function.
I have been unwillingly informed several times of how I can too own the same pair of glasses worn by Sarah Palin. Or where I can buy the dress Michelle Obama wore on the View. You know, the important issues of the campaign.

Number 4: Overexposure to horrible campaign-selected music. The songs selected by these candidates are likely the same tunes used by the government to torture those at Guantanamo Bay. ABBA? Seriously! ABBA!

Number 3: Too much family drama.
Last time I checked, when one interviews for a job, he/she doesn't bring their spouse and kids to smile at the employer and later complain about how family shouldn't be factored into the hiring process.

Number 2: Unabashed and faulty justification overload! Example:
Interviewer: You said that your candidate is a complete idiot and frequently kicks puppies.
Candidate: But my opponent has said that I am insane and like to punch senior citizen war vets.
Interviewer: But you did say he is an idiot.
Candidate: But HE STARTED IT!
Interviewer: Go to your room!
Candidate: No FAIR!

Number 1: Change, Change, Everywhere with the Changing!
Both sides preach how they will change this, change that and change the other. I think both candidates misheard the voters. We were asking for change that we can deposit into our bank accounts...quarters, nickels, dimes, whatever...we stopped asking for dollars because we know those are all reserved for large greedy corporations who need bail outs.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Just Because You're Louder Doesn't Mean You're More Right

I tuned into the Today Show this morning at the start of the interesting discussion about how CEOs of major corporations are just one of many groups of folks sucking the economic lifeblood out of the United States like a bunch of dehydrated vampires. You know the story: ABC Corporation collapses, 20,000 lose their jobs, benefits and retirement nest egg, CEO gets $400M severance package.

Other than being quite annoyed with the fact that the news networks are just catching on to this story now (about 15 years too late in my book), I was quite bothered by the two "expert" pundits the show had on to "discuss" the topic. The problem: one of the said pundits did anything but discuss the topic. Rather, he decided to yell over the other show guest, cut off any dissenting statements made by any others people in the segment and throw out completely off-the-mark comparisons to make his point. You know, your typical news network format. (Yes, I'm looking at you Bill O'Reilly).

It was like adding an eight-year old to the discussion and asking him to say "I know you are, but what am I" over and over again over the others. The more adult of the two pundits couldn't get a word in edgewise before the other pundit...let's call him jerkstore...would cut in to say things like "well, why don't people complain about A-Rod making $200M with the Yankees! Why do CEOs get all this heat for getting paid so much money?"

DUH! Perhaps because maybe when the Yankees don't do well, it doesn't result in thousands of people losing their jobs and retirement funds as a result. But forgive me. That's a common sense statement that has no room in a discussion with a conversation bully.

These jerkstore pundits are everywhere now and it's usual they have little important to say, they have little intelligence and usually always stay true to their platforms no matter how dumb it makes them look. It has made news networks like CNN and Fox News almost unbearable to watch and now it's apparent they are starting to penetrate the big networks as well.

Sure, I have my opinion on the matter of CEOs making too much money. It's hard to restrict a salary in a capitalistic system, but I feel some rules should be in place that when a company folds, the people at the bottom get their cut first so that 20,000 have some security as opposed to one having a gluttonous payday. But it would have been nice to watch the segment on TV today and learn something new. Instead, I had to watch jerkstore engage in his jerkstore ways and maek the segment a complete wash.

At the end of the segment, they cut to the weather report with Al Roker, who started off by saying "wow, that gave me a headache." Words that I imagine millions of viewers--self included--likely echoed.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Just Need them for a Run, Not an Expedition to the Moon

I remember as a teen being excited about buying new gym shoes--namely those endorsed by one Michael Jeffrey Jordan. At that time, gym shoe designs were already part of pop culture, inspiring several creative and unique shoe designs. People got excited about buying a new pair of gym shoes and anticipated the release of subsequent designs.

But have you tried to buy a pair of gym shoes today? The experience is quite different and it's quite apparent that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong with gym shoe design during the last five to ten years.

That's because gym shoes are looking less and less like they are being designed for a game of hoops or jog on the treadmill and more and more like hi-tech, shiny and bubbly moon boots made for a trip to outer space. Colors to choose from back then were from your basic color palette: red, blue, black, grey, white, brown, etc.

Today's shoes use fabrics that mimic the appearance of aluminum foil and gold. Combine that metallic fabric with a few LED lights that light up upon every step you take, you have a shoe that looks like a cheesy robot from a 60's television show. What's next? A shoe that yells "DANGER! DANGER WILL ROBINSON!" with every step? Or perhaps shoes that are endorsed by the Jetsons?

It makes shoe shopping quite difficult because the shiny, sparkling, swooping kicks overwhelm anything else you are wearing. Have a nice pair of Adidas track pants on? Can't tell because your shoes are currently shooting laser beams into my eyes.

And here's some clever marketing for you: now every part of gym shoes are labeled with some faux hi-tech term. Don't believe me? Take a look at the soles of your gym shoes. You'll see things that are labeled with terms like "super torsion grip bar" or "flex system dual core abrasion bridge." You know what are some better names for those items: rubber, plastic or cloth.

So, please, gym shoe makers, stop making all of your gym shoes look like they came from the prop department of original Star Trek series. How about something simple, understated and less labeled? I think you'll find that people prefer shoes that look like shoes.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Outtathaway Sir Lancelot!

There are many things that annoy me while driving. Some warrant my ire--cell-phone drivers, people who prefer to drive less than four inches away from my rear bumper, Chicago traffic. Some are unwarranted--red lights, bugs splattering on my window (it seems that between the bug and me, the bug had more right to be annoyed), kids who sit backwards in the car and stare at you the entire drive.

But almost nothing irritates me more than when I see a bicyclist riding down the center of the road, creating a dangerous bottleneck, brake-fast situation for the people who are using the road for its intended purpose: driving an automobile upon it.

It's even more frustrating when you look over to the side of the road and see a perfectly clear, neatly paved sidewalk lining a parallel path along the road that the cyclist could rather use. But heavens no! How could we expect a bicyclist to ever face the burden of having to deal with the occasional ramped curb? No, it's MUCH better to make dozens of drivers screech to a 10 MPH pace and attempt a dangerous maneuver to drive around the bicyclist instead!

I understand the need for serious bicyclists to ride on more road-like surfaces to train for professional competition. But if you look on a state map, you will find hundreds upon hundreds of miles of bike paths built exclusively for bicycling. Instead, these bicyclists choose to ride on roads made for cars. And they never just choose any road to ride on. Typically, they choose to ride on the most busy road in the area and seemingly cycle exclusively during peak traffic rush times.

Imagine if you or I took our cars onto one of those bike paths and tried to get around that way? Bicyclists would find our actions dangerous. Our car would take up both lanes, forcing cyclists to strain to get around the vehicle. Our rate of speed with differ greatly from theirs, causing dangerous situations. If you ask me, it's no different than a bicyclist riding down the middle of a lane on a busy road during rush hour traffic.

What's more annoying about these bicyclists: they all appear to believe that they are the second coming of Lance Armstrong. They wear tight spandex shorts and shirts that many have no right to wear in public and those goofy helmets with the aerodynamic point coming out of the back. They're dressed for the Tour De France for a bike ride through Arlington Heights.

But the worst part: these bicyclists have organized in some places and are actually complaining about safety issues on the road, pestering government officials to pass laws and provide means of making their cycling safer. It's the equivalent of a man going into a crowded room to practice his target shooting and later complaining to lawmakers that all of the people are getting in the way of his bullets.

I know that drivers can be unsafe. I'm not justifying dangerous driving. But these cyclists too ignore the rules of the road. I heard a great story about a woman in Chicago who works as a crossing guard for an elementary school located on a busy city street. She's seen it all during her many years of experience at that corner. Bad drivers, bad accidents and dangerous situations and she doesn't approve of any of it.

One day, a bicyclist stopped and asked her if she would start yelling at drivers who are driving dangerously because he felt like his life was in danger from all of the motorists not obeying the rules of the road. Her response was swift. She asked him why none of the cyclists obey the rules of the road themselves? She asked how come all of them zip through the four-way stop signs near her intersection, why they never signal when they planned to turn, why they don't pay much attention to their surroundings.

The cyclist rode away in frustration. A feeling many a driver has felt whenever confronted with bicyclists on the road.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bottom Line + Art = Crap

MTV is just awful. Just completely awful. And for the last 10 years or so, I have avoided it like the plague because its quality has been on a consistently rapid decline every year.

The running joke with MTV has always been that they don't actually play music anymore. And it's true. Now, the channel focuses on offering its interpretation of reality TV, which consists usually of throwing a handful of attractive people in a room (who need way too much attention) and either feed them scripted lines, lots of booze or artificial drama. (Somewhere along the way, the Real World changed from being a pioneering reality show that shed light on serious issues in our culture to a drunken orgy of the ignorant and vain.)

But I can't blame MTV's suckiness totally on reality television, given that every network has cashed in on offering low-budget, low-brow reality programs that suck. What I can blame their suckiness on is when they actually do have programming based on music.

The teen in me remembers the MTV Video Awards show for being the best in the business. Diverse, unpredictable and liberated from the usual awards show stuffiness. I remember watching a member of Nirvana having a guitar knock him in the head. I remember seeing the lead singer of Garbage have a wardrobe malfunction way before Janet Jackson's Superbowl incident. I remember seeing Run DMC dominating the stage with a great performance. So, every year, when the MTV airs the awards event, it sucks me back in and I find myself glued to the TV to see if MTV will ever regain its form. But every year it gets progressively worse and I'm left disappointed and annoyed that I wasted two hours of my life.

So, I thought I'd offer some advice to MTV on how to be less sucky when it comes to producing an awards show:

1. Stop Trying to Make Stars and Start Discovering Them
This last awards show dedicated 100% of its performances to Pop or Rap artists. No alternative music. No rock bands. No electronica. No decades-long rock idols. Apparently, the MTV music world stops at Rihanna, Brittney Spears, Chris Brown, the hottest boy band of the time (Jonas Bros) and whoever has the catchiest song of the year...in this case Katy Perry. In fact, they had not one, but two performances featuring Rihanna. What used to make the show great was seeing the best of the best in all genres...not just the two.

2. Cut Down the Shameless Self Promotion
Why must every awards presenter have a movie or album coming out within the next few weeks? This awards show gave time to LL Cool J...which would be great if it were 1984. But he spent some of his time pushing his album release. What's wrong with having interesting people at the awards show who aren't using their time on camera as a commercial ad? And are CDs now parachuted out of a plane to the nearest record shop now, given that every artist says his/her album "drops" next week.

3. Mix in Some Ugly People
Music is supposed to have some ugly people in it to give it that grit. Can you imagine the Sex Pistols looking like the Jonas Bros? Or the Ramones looking like N'Sync? Music represents the rare occasion that American's embrace ugliness in their entertainment. We have loved Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Michael Stipe, Neil Young and Steven Tyler for decades, despite them all resembling something more of an alien life form than a human being. But all MTV offers is shiny white teeth, runway model types with great smiles and even better record producers to hide a lack in talent. I'm looking at you Taylor Swift.

4. Nix Rap Artists Who Sound Awful Live or Feature 37 Back-up Rappers on Stage
This is not a dis to rap music, rather it's a dis to live rap performances, nine out of ten of which sound completely horrible. Whether the artist holds the mike up to close to his/her mouth, speaks to loudly in the mic or has a posse sloppily rapping along with the artist, it all just sucks. The only live rap performances that I've seen that sounded as good or better than the recording was Outkast, Run DMC and Eminem. If MTV insists on having rap artists who can't perform well live, I would recommend having them lip sync to their songs like Christina Aguilerra did this (yes the stinky one).

5. Even Retreads Get Old
How many years in a row do we need to see Brittney Spears? How many times can you award Michael Jackson for something? How about trying to get somebody with a real, significant contribution to music be your retread if you insist on having one. Is it really that hard to come up with a new idea?

I suppose that since MTV is more of a corporate entity than anything, it shouldn't be surprising to see them so blatantly sell out every year. But what they've failed to understand is that most of us have stopped buying. We all enjoy some empty calorie candy every now and then, but eventually, we grow up and prefer actual real sustenance.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Grumpy Old Man Column

This column is going to make me sound like a grumpy old man. Not just any grumpy old man, but the grumpy old man made famous by Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live (remember back when SNL was actually funny). In the routine, Carvey played an old man who complains about all of the new and improved stuff today's youth have that he never had as a kid. He would say things like:

"In my day, we didn't have video games! We just sat around and watched a potata' bake!"

"In my day we didn't have hair dryers. If you wanted to blow dry your hair you stood outside during a hurricane. Your hair was dry but you had a sharp piece of wood driven clear through your skull and that's the way it was and you liked it! You loved it."

"Life was a carnival! We entertained ourselves! We didn't need moooovin' pitchurrrres. In my day, there was only one show in town -- it was called "Stare at the sun!" ... That's right! You'd sit in the middle of an open field and stare up at the sun till your eyeballs burst into flames! And you thought, "Oh, no! Maybe I shouldn't've stared directly into the burning sun with my eyes wide open." But it was too late! Your head was on fire and people were roastin' chickens over it. ... And that's the way it was and we liked it!"

But I must admit, kids today have got it made in many ways. I often joke about how I'll have to tell my grandchildren that most homes didn't have computers until I was about 10. I will even have to tell them that the first video game system came out when I was a kid. And it will be likely they will laugh at the images of Pong they find online and tell me that I'm "oooooold!"

Kids today have high-speed Internet. HD TV. HD Video games. TVs in the back seats of the cars they ride in. Portable gaming systems. Cell phones (I still don't get why a 10 year old needs a cell phone). They have hundreds of cable channels. Wireless everything. I could go on. In many ways, the youth of today are very lucky to have so much information and entertainment available to them so conveniently. Imagine writing a paper on Shakespeare with the Internet at your fingertips. Makes you wonder if they still use the dewey decimal system at all!

But in many ways, I feel sorry for them. Some of my best days as a kid were those days I was outside playing sports with friends or letting my imagination take me on an adventure with matchbox cars and other simple toys. But I mostly feel sorry for today's kids because all of this instant gratification around every corner has helped put them in the disposition to be little dictators of their households. And parents typically give in, rather than expose them to even the briefest period of a gratification void.

For instance, how many times have you gone to a restaurant and have seen a mother hunched over asking her child what he/she would like to order? "Do you want the chicken fingers? No. Okay, how about the hamburger? No. Okay, how about a hot dog? No. Okay, how about mac and cheese? No." So now, you have a waiter standing there waiting and the other patrons at the table held hostage until little Timmy decides on what he wants to eat...which inevitably leads to him asking to have ice cream for dinner.

I recall as a child being happy to have a limited choice and a short time frame in which to decide that choice:

"Hamburger or Fish Sticks?"
"Okay, you're getting a hamburger. Go sit down."

And parents do this to their kids with everything. The moment they demand something, parents respond to them with responses as if to convince the child of the logic behind a decision. They actually attempt to reason with a four-year old. For example:

"I want that toy."
"But I want it."

"We can't get you that toy today because Christmas is coming up and you might get it as a gift. Maybe if you don't get it for Christmas, we can come back to get it. Is that okay?"

Here's how that reasoning went when I was a kid.

"I want that toy."
"Why not?"
"Because I said so."

And that was all it took, because I knew if I kept asking, not only would I not get that new toy, but I could be grounded from playing with the toys I did have. It wasn't mean or heartless parenting back then. It was disciplined and taught me to value the times when I was treated with toy or a special meal. And it taught me that you don't always get your way. And many of my friends have parents who were the exact same way.

So, yes, this column probably makes me sound old and grumpy. And that's fine. Am I envious of the fact that a nine-year old literally has the tools to put together his own movie from his desktop? Yes. Do I wish I had cartoons to watch during our long drives down to Florida for vacation? You betcha. Do I wish I had exposure to information on literally any subject I wanted to know about by simply going online? It sure would have made school much easier. Am I completely happy with my childhood? Without a doubt.

Because I know, as an adult, that people say "no" all the time, and there are times when I don't get what I want. But at least I have had the experience to know how to handle it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Red Pill? Blue Pill? Try a Reboot First.

Just like the movie, The Matrix, we are all attached to the mainframe in our professional lives and are completely useless without that connection. Think about it. Have you ever experienced a power outage or a server crash at your work? Notice when it happens, everybody in your office seems to react as if they have just been released from a coma?

They rub their eyes, look around at the office as if to realize for the first time their surroundings. They stare at each other and back at the blank computer screen. They hear birds chirping, see the sunny sky out of their window, seemingly for the first time. Then, confusion sets in. And collectively, not one person can figure out an alternate way of being productive. They walk around aimlessly like zombies, thumbs twiddling and weather discussing.

Or perhaps you've been a customer who is depending upon somebody serving you in some way, when they say "I'm sorry, my computer is down." And then they stare at you with a look that says "there is no way I can possibly do anything for you now and none of it is my fault so leave me alone."

It's all because we don't just need our computers. We REALLY NEED them. It made me start thinking that our computers likely get more attention and interaction with us than do the people we find near and dear to our hearts. So who/what gets more of your attention? Your computer or your significant other? If you think about it, your significant other likely comes in a distant second. Here's why:

Hugging, Touching, Typing
Odds are, your fingertips caress your keyboards for as much as 8 hours a day. You stroke keys likely thousands of times. Now, how many hours per day do you caress or--gulp--stroke your significant other? If you say eight, I applaud your stamina...and call you a liar.

Longing Gaze
Eye contact is an important aspect of a relationship. You stare at your computer for so long, you can feel the burn of its glow in your eyes. You stare at your significant other a fraction of time. Ironically, the both of you likely spend time together not staring at eachother...rather...staring at another screen.

Emotions, Emoticons
Admit it, you've had passionate conversations with your computer. And, by passionate conversations, I mean passionately frustrated and anger-filled rants at a box that has no intention of responding. They usually go like this:

You: What the? Why is it doing this? Did it just freeze up on me?

Computer: (silent)

You: No. No. NO! I can't lose this file! Why are you doing this?

Computer: (slight beep)

You: Why the heck are you doing this to me you S.O.B.! You better CTL+ALT+DEL or I'm throwing you through the window.

Computer: (silent)

You: I hate you. If you were a person, I'd pour sand in your gas tank and punch you in the ear.

Now, let's see the conversation you have when you're significant other crashes (or takes a nap):

Sig Other: I'm gonna take a nap.

You: Okay. I'm gonna hop online an look for shoes.

Hmmm, one seems to have more dedicated emotions than the other.

DOS, Love and Understanding
You understand your computer more than your significant other. You may even know some of the many languages computers speak, like html or other codes. You know how to navigate your system software with ease. You know your computer so well, you can predict its reactions. "I can't run Word and Excel at the same time because it acts up." Your significant other should be so lucky. Sure, you may know how to press a few of the right buttons every now and then, but odds are, you still have completely no idea of how the opposite sex really works.

An Affair to Download
Your computer isn't even enough for you. You need a little something on the side. So, you cheat on your computer with other devices that offer many of the same features your CPU does, just in a smaller package. Perhaps its a web-enabled cellphone, a blackberry, palm pilot, laptop (talk about a double entendre) or video game system, odds are you've got your sweaty little hands all over a little side CPU action. When it comes to your significant other, you know that he/she is everything you will ever need from a mate (and you should). But, unlike your CPU relationship, you actually find times and reasons to get away from your significant other...a day of shopping, fishing, or out with close friends.

Almost all of us are guilty of having more CPU QT than we should. If you want to respond to this post, stroke your keyboard keys or get your hands all over your blackberry to send your response. Or, you can just tell your significant other about it...by email of course.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Best Thing I've Read All Week...

Today's blog entry will come courtesy of this protester who interrupted the McCain speech at the Republican National Convention. I couldn't have said it any better myself.

The protester is Adam Kokesh, a member of the Iraq Veterans Against the War organization, who fought in Falujah.

You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQJWIBj0HB4

Notice the Homer Simpson-esque chants of "USA! USA!" by the attendees?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thank God for TIVO

Television commercials used to have some sort of diversity to them. One would be a straight forward breakdown of a product, the next a jingle-based presentation, followed by an ad based on humor. However, there is a new trend in advertising and it has become quite annoying, which has me counting my blessings that I have a DVR to skip past all of the 30-second eye-rolling, sigh-inducing clips.

The trend: feature a person who has an unreasonable, uninhibited obsession of whatever is being pitched and attempt to make it funny. And it seems like every commercial uses this premise.

For example, I recently saw an ad for a product that is supposed to deodorize and scent your home. But rather than focus on the benefits of having the product, the ad instead showed a woman shoving her nose into her carpet and inhaling the odor like a bloodhound. I don't know about you, but I'm not overly eager to buy a product that is suggesting that I will snort it like a coke addict for hours on end.

Or perhaps you've seen the Burger King ads that show people on the verge of threatening physical violence upon BK employees who tell them that they no longer sell the Whopper. Makes me want to go even more so I too can be an irate jerk over a greasy sandwich.

Beer commercials are the worst. Whether the guy has created some elaborate way of sneaking, storing or protecting his stockpile of beer, or is going through elaborate schemes to lie his way to getting more drinks, the commercials often seem more like a promotion for the value of Alcoholics Anonymous than an advert for a tasty brew.

A recent ad features a person going into the new AM/PM gas station shops and going on a shopping (and cholesterol) blitz on all of the "food" the store offers. The shopper goes in to buy $10 in gas (HA! $10 dollars buys a fume these days) and opts to instead leave with a horde of Funyuns, soda, candy and those hot dogs that roll on those metal bars all day long. And I wonder how anybody in their right mind would walk into a gas station market and think "OOOH, better stock up on all the grade A, high-quality food items in here!"

There are many more. And the shame is that the message of what they're selling often gets lost in a poor, cliche attempt at humoring the viewer. And that's why I love that little button on my remote with the two triangles pointing right. If there's anything worth obsessing over, it's pressing the FFW button to skip past those ads.