Monday, July 14, 2008

On goobyes

Okay, so June 21 was my fourth blogiversary. You'll notice that it slipped by completely unremarked upon. You'll probably also notice that I haven't posted anything of substance for nearly two months. And there's a reason for that. I just haven't felt like it.

A lot of it can be attributed to overwork, which is certainly a major factor in my life. A lot of it can be attributed to the current state of politics, much of which is just more of the same crap I've been writing about for the past four years. A lot of it can be attributed to the glut of really talented writers out there, my brother among them, who tend to put things better than I ever could, leaving me with no more comment than, "Yeah! What she said!". And more than a little bit of it can be attributed to me; I don't know if I'm depressed or burnt out or just unmotivated, but my give-a-crap meter doesn't peg at nearly the level that it used to.

Practically Harmless deserves better, and so do you. You deserve better than a Friday Random Ten every three weeks and the occasional apology for not posting more. That's why--and I swear, I'm tearing up like a big baby just writing this--I've decided to retire.

I'm leaving the blog up, just in case anyone still cares at this point, and I can't promise I won't return to it at some time in the future (if Michael Jordan and Brett Favre can do it, so can I). But I just see no reason to keep promising to do better when, in reality, I struggle to come up with enough good and bad things to fill a Friday post.

So this is it. I thank the bloggers who have inspired me over the years, I thank the readers who have made me feel like I'm not just screaming into an empty warehouse, and I especially thank those of you who have stuck with me in my none-too-productive recent months. It's been fun, even the parts that haven't been.

Try the veal, tip your waiters, and if you drink, don't drive. Last one out, turn out the lights.

Friday, June 20, 2008

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten

Okay, so it's amazing* 'cause it's Friday, and it's amazing* 'cause for the first time in weeks I don't have any work to take home with me tonight, and it's amazing* 'cause I'm, like, the most prolific writer my office has ever seen and I'm, like, amazing*, yo.

It's also amazing* because of Frappuccino. Aren't they great? Aren't they great in mass quantities? Aren't they icy delicious and full of awesome, amazing* sugar and caffeine? Amazing*!

What's amazing* (for the week ending 6/20):

- the first Frapp of summer
- the first moment of realization that the physical therapy is starting to work
- baseball
- the second season of Veronica Mars on DVD
- The Golden Compass. Seriously, it was a really good movie. Kind of a shame they almost certainly won't be making the other two.

What's bad:
- pharmacists who won't dispense pharmaceuticals. Yes, you have a right to your religious beliefs and your morals, but if you think you might be called upon to dispense something you disagree with, don't become a pharmacist. If you're Muslim and can't touch pork, don't become a butcher. If you believe solely in the healing power of prayer, don't become a surgeon. And if you're an anti-choice fundie who disagrees with birth control pills, don't become a pharmacist.
- preggo teens. This isn't an abstinence issue or a birth-control issue or even, really, a teen-sex issue. These aren't the Lost Children of Rockdale County, although they seem to suffer the same lack of parental supervision; these are kids who deliberately got pregnant all at the same time. Why? A search for unconditional love? Looking for a living baby doll? Had no one ever impressed upon them the difficulties and responsibilities of parenthood? Whatever it is, that stuff is messed up.

The Ten:

1. Kool & The Gang, "Jungle Boogie"
2. Frank Sinatra, "Luck Be a Lady" (with Count Basie)
3. Georges Bizet, "Toreador Song" from Carmen
4. The Bloodhound Gang, "Why's Everybody Always Picking on Me"
5. John Coltrane Quarter, "Psalm"
6. Phats & Small, "Respect the Cock" (White Label mix)
7. Elvis, "Heartbreak Hotel"
8. Athenaeum, "Suddenly"
9. Soft Cell, "Tainted Love"
10. Ella Fitzgerald, "(I'd Like to Get You on a) Slow Boat to China"

Well, if my Friday Random Ten is any prediction of the success of my weekend, it's going to be... less than amazing*. Oh, well. What about you? What's amazing* for you this week?

*This post thoroughly amazing in honor of Katie Holmes. Why? Dunno.

Friday, June 13, 2008

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten

Okay, so no comment. No. Effing. Comment.

What's good (for the however many weeks ending 6/13):

- my big brother, who hit 30 last Wednesday but doesn't act a day over 25. All the cool kids celebrated at the Monkey on Saturday; everyone not there was, obviously, not one of the cool kids. Sorry.
- my dad, who is thriving after an ever-so-slightly terrifying bout with heart disease. I wanted to write something at the time, but Doug said it better than I ever could.
- gratitude to God and whatever angels were looking out for my family
- the end of primary season. Good God, it almost--almost--came to the point where I didn't care who the nominee was as long as we had one. I'm glad it didn't quite get to that point.
- crabmeat empanadas at Sol y Luna
- Handbrake. All of my favorite DVDs are now at home on my iPod, and I couldn't be happier. Who's going to be listening to Pride and Prejudice on the way to Tuscaloosa this weekend? This gal.
- inspiration
- The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, despite a few elements I didn't quite remember from the book. Did C.S. Lewis really have Susan gettin' some play before returning to her world?
- shade on a sunny day
- the end of a massive project

What's bad:

- overwork. And stress. Bad and not healthy.
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I could tell you in two words how bad this movie is, but I'd be giving away the ending. I mean, see it, of course, because it's the first Indiana Jones film in nearly two decades, but don't expect it to be good. Expect to come out of it muttering two words.
- this mess. Between this and her terrorist dap, Michelle Obama just can't get a break. Nice to see the right can stay classy.
- while we're at it, this mess. I didn't actually believe that a black man could run for president without this kind of thing happening, but golly, I sure hoped.

The Ten:

1. Etta James, "At Last"
2. Cornershop, "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)"
3. Diana Krall, "Devil May Care"
4. Yaz, "Don't Go"
5. Johnny Cash, "The Night Hank Williams Came to Town"
6. Led Zeppelin, "Kashmir"
7. Athenaeum, "Comfort"
8. Howie Day, "Collide"
9. The Police, "Roxanne"
10. The Perishers, "Trouble Sleeping"

There it is, your TGTBATFRT, fully phoned in. What's good for you this week?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

On my undisclosed location

Okay, so I've gotten a few e-mails of the "Where the hell have you been?!" variety lately, and I realized that it's been going on a month since I blogged last. For this, I am terribly sorry. In my defense, my schedule for the past month has looked something like this:

- 800-word story
- 600-word story
- 600-word story
- media kit
- fundraising case statement
- video shoot
- 600-word story
- 500-word story
- 800-word story
- take two days off to watch Dad try to have a heart attack
- 600-word feature
- 600-word feature
- physical therapy
- 400-word rewrite
- 400-word rewrite
- 400-word rewrite
- 400-word rewrite
- 500-word reworking of past feature
- video script
- 600-word feature
- 2,600-word feature
- take 15 minutes at lunch time to nearly have a heart attack of my own
- proofreading

To put it bluntly, I'm fresh out of words. I do have ideas, though, so as soon as I find more words, I'll be back to regular blogging (or I'll farm it out to someone in India). If it makes you feel any better, the things I've neglected during the past month have included

- blog
- boyfriend
- novel
- short story
- laundry

so you're in good company.

See you soon.

Friday, May 16, 2008

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten

Okay, so it's been a while, I know, and I also know I say that at the beginning of every TGTBATFRT, usually because it's been a while. Work continues to be a pain in my assholes, and the personal life is... good, actually, really good, but time-consuming. But quit you're whining, because TGTBATFRT is back, baby, we're back, and we're... back.

What's good (for the bunch of weeks ending 5/16):

- gays settlin' down
- chicken and vegetable potstickers
- Iron Man - a seriously entertaining movie, whether or not you care about comic books. And it brought teh hotness back to Robert Downey Jr.

- Bonnie Richardson is very, very good.

What's bad:

- all this bulljive over gays settlin' down. Seriously, people, I've heard the legitimate arguments and given them due consideration before refuting/dismissing them, but this whole "gay marriage destroys straight marriage" thing? How? For the love of the invisible pink unicorn, would someone please tell me how marriage becomes weaker when more people are allowed to do it?
- George W. Bush quitting golf... to show empathy for mothers who've lost kids in Iraq. Now, I'll grant him that playing golf while people die draws some pretty significant fiddling/Rome-burning associations, but if you've just lost your husband and the father of your children to a roadside bomb, is your first thought going to be, "Well, at least President Bush cares enough to sleep in on a Saturday"?

The Ten:

1. Dion, "Runaround Sue"
2. Queen, "We Are the Champions"
3. Cheap Trick, "Surrender"
4. Sarah Vaughan, "All of Me"
5. Brian Whitman, "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me"
6. Frank Sinatra, "Fly Me to the Moon"
7. Chicane, "Low Sun"
8. Franz Schubert, "Das Fischermadchen" from Schwanengesang
9. Guster, "Born to Be Wild" (live, with Jump, Little Children)
10. Sarah Brightman, "Scene D'Amour"

What's good for you this week? That and your Ten go in comments.

On gays settlin' down, redux: California soul

Okay, so yesterday, California's highest court struck down as unconstitutional the state's ban on gay marriage, voting 4-3. Blah, blah, blah, judicial activism, blah, here's the reason it works:

First of all, let's note that the will of the people is not the highest law in the land, nor should it be. The will of the people has brought us slavery, discrimination on the basis of race and sex, Sunday blue laws, and American Idol. The people can be kind of stupid sometimes. Not always, but sometimes. And on the occasion that the people get stupid and try to pass discriminatory laws just because they have the sheer numerical authority to do it, someone has to be able to step in and say, "Well, yes, I realize that you all want it, but you can't pass a law outlawing Catholicism just because the Pope is really creepy. It's unconstitutional."

And that's what the courts have said here: that whether or not a majority of people in California want to deny gay people the right to marry, it's unconstitutional to discriminate against them by denying them a right that straight people have. Over at Pandagon, MAJeff (who appears to be the god of biscuits, for which I salute him) explains what it means that gays are now considered a "suspect classification":
In constitutional jurisprudence, there are basically two levels of analysis: rational basis and heightened scrutiny. Different states may have different levels, and Federal jurisprudence has sort of a middle one for gender, but these are the two basic ones.

Rational basis is the lowest level. It basically assumes that laws are constitutional if the state can show a rational reason for making the law–in this case, the state would need to have a “good enough” reason to distinguish between gay and lesbian people. Under this standard, the burden is on people challenging a law to show that the state does not have a “good enough” reason to deny the right.

The higher level is strict scrutiny. At this level, the burden falls upon the state to demonstrate is has a “really really good” reason to deny a right or treat people differently.

There are generally two ways to bump the analysis up to strict scrutiny. The first involves the denial of a “fundamental” right. Generally, those are the ones listed in constitutions, but things like marriage and privacy, although not explicitly listed, have been included.

The other way is through a suspect classification. At the Federal level, race is the only category that bumps this analysis up. Gender occupies sort of a middle location. Sexual orientation has no status at the Federal level.

MAJeff does go on to note that he's not a lawyer (just a "geeky sociologist who is studying the issue"), so any lawyers out there might want to check behind him on that, but on the surface, it sounds square. Gays should be allowed to marry not because there's any special reason to give them any special right, but because marriage is a basic right and there's no good reason not to give it to them.

Of course, if you read through the rest of that linked thread, you'll see that the fundies and Freepers have plenty of reasons to deny gays the right to marry, most of which involve dogs and/or polygamy and/or the influence of Satan (and, apparently, little boys and girls being forced to marry each other in public schools, which I don't quite understand). A few things to remember:

- Your dog cannot legally consent to marriage, nor legally sign the marriage certificate, so stop trying to make him.
- Straight Californians will not be forced to divorce their heterosexual partners now that marriage is legal for gays; it's a both-and thing, not an either-or.
- Churches will not be forced to perform gay wedding ceremonies, but should, because they're bound to be awesome.
- "Voting from the rooftops" is illegal (exceptions: voting precincts located on rooftops; absentee or mail-in ballots).
- Massachusetts has yet to collapse under the weight of its own sin and crumble into the ocean.

So here's to gays settlin' down (in California, at least) and what are sure to be the best wedding receptions evar.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

On The List

Okay, so I have a couple of problems with the way this issue has been handled. I think it's possible for school administrators to go too far in their pursuit of order and decorum. I think that PDAs can be kind of icky when they go too far. I think high school kids will, to some extent, be high school kids. And I think that, despite recent security concerns and efforts on the part of many school administrators and even the protestation of the courts, kids should still have some right to privacy, because they're supposed to be learning to be adults and part of being an adult is seeing to your own business without needing constant monitoring.

That's why I think that people on both sides of the issue have... issues. And I have issues with that. For instance:

Issue the first: The infraction in question is a public display of affection. Now, it's been several years since I was a high school student, but when I was, public displays of affection tended to be public. You didn't need to make a list and track them down or monitor them or anything, 'cause they were, like, right there. In public.

Issue the second: I don't know if this is a failure on the principal's part or a failure of reporting, but the ABC report doesn't say that the boys who were outed had actually participated in any alleged PDAs. It only said that they were on the list of students to be "monitored," and that that's how the outing occurred. Which means they're suffering negative consequences for doing nothing wrong.

Issue the third: This is just supposition, of course, but in general, people who have something they're trying to keep quiet tend to, y'know, try and keep it quiet. Two guys who are trying to hide their coupledom from the rest of the school aren't likely to be among those causing PDA problems in the hallways.

Issue the fourth: This isn't entirely an issue of discrimination. This is a serious invasion of privacy for gay and straight students. There's no reason that the high-school administration should keep track of the ever-shifting configurations of teenage romances unless they're actually in the process of causing trouble--in which case, see above re: Issue the first.

Issue the fifth: This is still kind of a civil liberties issue because the gay kids are far more likely to suffer negative consequences for their relationship than the straight ones are. According to the ACLU's lawsuit, both boys have dealt with harassment from other students and one has even lost educational opportunities because of the outing.

Issue the sixth: A PDA is a PDA whether it's gay or straight. Even if Andrew and/or Nicholas had been engaged in a fervent hallway make-out session, the principal had no reason to call and say, "Your son was caught making out with another 'mo in the hallway." A simple, "Your son is being disciplined for breaking the rules by engaging in a public display of affection," should be entirely sufficient.

Issue the, what, seventh? Seventh: Nicholas's mother, who was apparently unaware that her son was gay until so informed by the school, reports that the principal said she "had a problem with homosexuality" and that "homosexuality will not be tolerated." If that is, in fact, the case, there is a clear case of discrimination here on top of the indiscriminate violation of privacy, and that ain't cool.

PortlyDyke over at Shakespeare's Sister has a really powerful post up about the pressures of simply being gay, even being "out," in a society that isn't entirely accepting of it. She writes about a challenge she made to a close friend of hers:
Spend an entire week pretending that you're not a couple. Don't write a check from a joint bank account. Hide all the photographs in your home and office which would identify you as a couple. Take off your wedding rings. Touch each other, and talk to each other, in public, in ways that could only be interpreted as you being "friends". Refer to yourself only in the singular "I", never in the "we". When you go to work on Monday, if you spent time together on the weekend, include only information which would indicate that you went somewhere with a friend, rather than your life-mate. If someone comes to stay with you, sleep in separate beds. Go intentionally into the closet as a couple. For a week.

They took my challenge.

They lasted exactly three days.

My friend returned to me in tears on day four and said: "I'm sorry. I had no idea what it is like for you."

Chances are, these kids were under enough stress as it was just trying to keep their relationship quiet in what was obviously a hostile environment, and there may well have been a few hetero couples on the list that were making similar efforts for their own reason. Even assuming that the list in question was made in good faith and in an effort to maintain decorum in an educational setting, the effort required to put the list inside a desk drawer or folder where it couldn't be seen by other students would be minimal at the very least.

And if the principal did, in fact, out a couple of high school students for no other reason than her own discomfort with homosexuality, she should be removed from her position. High school is hard enough, trying to get into college, wondering if that one tough teacher is out to get you, without having to wonder if that one tough teacher really is out to get you.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On Grand Theft Irony

Okay, so when I was a teenager, back before roving bands of kids skulking around with water guns constituted a national-security threat, we played a game we called Assassins. We each had one target, we each were a target to one other player, and our goal was to take that target out--without being taken out ourselves--using water pistol, water balloon, or Super Soaker. It was a fun game and a great way to spend the summer, planning out strategy, staging ambushes, never knowing who the enemy was or when the icy stream of an assassin's attack would wind its way down our spine. And not one of us, not even my gun-crazy friend Newman, ever progressed from Super-Soaker attacks to the real thing or thought for a moment that actually killing someone was in any way an appropriate or acceptable response to a real-life problem.

Similarly, I have played, and enjoyed, the game Grand Theft Auto. I like driving around town and exploring what the game designers have created, and while I'm not crazy about the first-person shooter aspects of it, I'm kind of tickled to be able to steal someone's car and run them down with it. I do have to wait a couple of hours before actually getting behind the wheel of an actual car, because I'm an assertive enough driver anyway, but I recognize that it's a game and that running down old ladies and shooting up dry storefronts and beating up hookers isn't something that you're meant to do in real life. It's not okay.

So what in Dick Cheney's own hell is this kid's problem?

It's fun to do bad things! He just wanted to do hood rat stuff with his friends!

You can blame a lot of stuff on bad parenting, and I suspect that this kid might suffer from lack of supervision among other things, but you can bet he has never gotten the message that bad things are, y'know, bad to do. Despite being fun. Bad. He probably wasn't led by his mother to believe that doing "hood rat stuff" and running a stolen SUV into things is acceptable behavior.

So where's the disconnect? Where, in kids, is the line between "it's fun" and "but it's bad so I shouldn't do it"? What's the inherent difference between a kid who can make that distinction and a kid who can't?

I think kids these days lack a sense of irony. They don't get that Grand Theft Auto is funny because you don't actually win "health points" in real life by patronizing prostitutes. They don't understand that Road Runner cartoons are funny because coyotes don't actually make coyote-shaped holes when they fall off of cliffs (or flatten out into coyote-shaped pancakes) and then make a full recovery. They demand literalism in all things, and when they're presented with something that requires any appreciation of satire, it flies right over their little heads.

Humor and irony should be required subjects starting early in elementary education and carrying well into high school. Tom & Jerry through Jonathan Swift. Why is this funny? Why do we laugh at this? What does this tell us about our lives? Sure, funny things sometimes lose a bit of their humor on analysis, but when you're faced with a crisis, sometimes you have to sacrifice a bit of humor in the interest of public safety. I would much rather have a teen driver on the road who knows the difference between an entertaining video game and real life--or a kid in high school who knows the difference between a song lyric and a life strategy--than one who can watch a Simpsons episode with a chuckle and then go to set the cat on fire.

Friday, April 25, 2008

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten

Okay, so TGTBATFRT is BACK, people, although I don't think you could say it's better than ever. Just back. Its absence is attributable to a great many reasons: Bloggerpalooza and G-Day, a deeply awesome trip to New York with the fam, a massive and time-consuming project at work, and a general paucity of words and/or motivation on my part. The last two, actually, still factor significantly in my life, and that's not going to resolve any time soon, but I thought I'd at least try to bring the standard Friday meme.

On that note...

What's good (for the three weeks ending 4/25):

- New York, bitchez, and food, and shows, and fake Hermes bags, and the swankness that is Sofitel. Seriously, as we walked in, Doug said to me, "Are they playing something from Massive Attack's first album? This place is awesome." We had no idea, at that moment, how right he was.
- Bloggerpalooza, bitchez, even if it was raining much of the time
- The Riches
- picnic weather
- Ben & Jerry's ONE Cheesecake Brownie ice cream

What's bad:

- graduation speaker Clarence Thomas. Some may (rightly) point out that Justice Thomas was accused, but never convicted, of sexual harassment, but considering the recent spate of dirty professors at UGA, it seems like the kind of controversy the administration might want to avoid. And come on, professors. It's called professionalism. You're not their friends; you're their teachers.
- haggis. Well, okay, it's not actually bad, certainly not sexual-harassment bad, but it tastes like precisely what it is, which is organ meat, and I just don't see the attraction.

The Ten:

1. Men At Work, "Overkill"
2. Athenaeum, "No One"
3. Gioacchino Rossini, "Kyrie" from Petite messe solennelle
4. The Smiths, "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me"
5. Shirley Bassey, "Big Spender"
6. Duran Duran, "Come Undone"
7. Hepburn, "I Quit"
8. Further Seems Forever, "Bye Bye Bye"
9. Ella Fitzgerald, "Ill Wind (You're Blowin' Me No Good)"
10. The Rivieras, "California Sun"

Now it's back to unpleasant and uncomfortable amounts of work. What's good for you this week? That, your Ten, and your position on organ meats go in comments.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On self-defense

Okay, so as long as they're not zombie five-year-olds, it looks like I'm good.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

On a story that'll break your heart, now available in hardback

Okay, so last September, I blogged about Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor who is facing pancreatic cancer with more courage than I address the average hangnail.

He gave a powerful "Last Lecture" last lecture on the most valuable lessons he's learned during the course of his life--a lecture that's worth bookmarking and watching regularly, incidentally. He has since expanded on that lecture and provided it in convenient portable form with his new book, The Last Lecture.

I encourage--nay, order--you to buy a copy.

Monday, April 07, 2008

On the power of the Rick

Okay, so we continue our Rick Rolling kick with Mr. Astley's humanitarian power to soothe the savage breast. Who else could tame the hysterical hate-spewers at Westboro Baptist?

Well, okay, so Rick wasn't enough to actually tame them, but I'm sure he confused them pretty solidly for a few minutes. And shut them up a bit, too, which is never a bad thing. We take what we can get.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Friday, April 04, 2008

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten

Okay, so Tom Cruise and his team are up in arms over a new strain of medical marijuana now available in California. The strain is called Tom Cruise Purple, is labeled with a picture of Tom Cruise's manically laughing mug, and is rumored to have hallucinogenic properties.

Wow. They really do know how to cure disease.

Here's my question, though: Most people I know smoke pot for the mellowing properties. If that's what you're going for, are you going to buy weed stamped with a picture of America's most famous hysterically laughing couch-jumper?

What's good (for the week ending 4/3):

- pot roast sandwiches. I know I've done pot roast as "good" in the past, but this is pot roast sandwiches, which is what happens on Day 3 after pot roast and pot roast leftovers.
- fourth dates. Everyone talks about how great first dates are, and butterflies and excitement and meeting someone new and blah blah blah, but I'm strictly "whatevs" on first dates. First dates, to me, are a necessary evil endured only for the sake of getting to second and third dates and, ultimately, Date Number Four. Date Four is the comfortable one where you've hit the bottom of the well on flashy marketing tactics and must resort to being yourself; trading awkward silences for companionable ones is, in my opinion, never a bad thing.
- Hillary Clinton's unique relationship with Barack Obama:

- John Frieda Radiant Red Luminous Color Glaze (if you can find it)
- a piano guy who doesn't charge for the first consultation

What's bad:

- rain on your wedding day. And on your tailgate. If Saturday is a-raining, Bloggerpalooza 2008 is assembling in the North Campus parking deck just before 11 a.m.
- Madonna's latest. The editing on that video gave me seizures. And Madonna, you're pushing 50, you've got a bangin' body... look into pants.

The Ten:

1. Vertical Horizon, "We Are"
2. Deee-Lite, "Groove Is In the Heart"
3. REM, "Why Not Smile"
4. Sade, "Feel No Pain"
5. Pet Shop Boys, "Friendly Fire"
6. Etta James, "I'll Be Seeing You"
7. Cee-Lo, "I'll Be Around"
8. Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown, "You Keep Me Hangin' On"
9. Shirley Bassey, "Just One Of Those Things"
10. John Coltrane, "Cousin Mary"

That list makes me appear far cooler than I actually am. Shame, really.

And a question, apropos of nothing, for my male readers: If medical science advanced to the point that you could get preggo and carry a baby yourself, would you choose to? Your answer, your ten, and anything else you feel like blathering about go in comments.

On not no ghetto Boone's Farm

Okay, so when I say "Lil Jon," you think "class," right? I know you do. You think class and then you shout, "Yay-uh!" And that's precisely why Mr. Jon is starting his own upscale winery:
OS ANGELES (AP) -- It turns out Lil Jon drinks more than crunk juice - the larger-than-life producer and rapper has started his own wine label, offering selections including chardonnay and merlot.

"It kind of came out of nowhere," Lil Jon told The Associated Press of his new venture, Little Jonathan Winery. "We were just going to do some private label stuff (for parties) and we did it, and people was like, `Hey, it's pretty nice.'"

Lil Jon acknowledges that he's no wine connoisseur. "I'm not no `drink wine every day' kind of dude," he said in a telephone interview. "I'm not like an expert, so don't ask me no questions ... I just like the taste."


Mr. Jon made his first foray into the beverage industry with Crunk!!! Energy Drink, but this one he's taking a little more seriously. That's why he's putting his full name on every bottle.
"My full name is Jonathan," the Atlanta-based artist said. "The wine is more nature: I wanted to not just have a direct connection, but make it just a little bit more upscale than regular 'Lil Jon.' ... This is not no ghetto Boone's Farm; this is some real wine."


Full disclosure here--I will be purchasing at least two bottles of Little Jonathan Sauvignon Crunk, Beaujolais New Ho, or whatever else rolls off the conveyor belt: one to display and one to serve to my friends without telling them first.

(H/T The Superficial.)

Monday, March 31, 2008

On those ginormous freaking Wakefield sisters

Okay, so any young woman who picked up more than one Sweet Valley High book in her day can probably tell you exactly, precisely what Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield looked like -- eyes the same blue as the ocean, wavy blonde hair, and "perfect" (always "perfect;" Francine Pascal had some less-than-creative ghostwriters) size-6 figures.

The hideous fat cows.

Thank God Random House is doing something about it. In honor of the re-release of the Sweet Valley High series, the book covers are getting a makeover (with a new cover model) and those lardass Wakefield sisters are getting some work done of their own.
To publicize the re-release of teen fiction series Sweet Valley High, Random House Children's Books sent a letter to journalists highlighting the changes made to the content of the 1980s paperbacks. New cover girl Leven Rambin (pictured) was not mentioned, but just to make sure preteen and teenaged girl readers are sufficiently insecure about their bodies, the publisher made the "perfect" clothing size a couple of notches more restrictive. It seems kids in the 80s lived by totally fat standards. Also, Sweet Valley High students now have their own anonymous blog, presumably to hatefully bully the fattest of their classmates.

A letter from Random House notes that those portly twins have slimmed down to a "perfect" size 4. They've also traded their red Fiat Spyder in for a red Jeep Wrangler, and Liz's job has moved from the student newspaper to the student Web site and her own gossip blog.

Because God forbid we should give our daughters inaccurate accounts of the unnatural physical standards to which they will be held. No reason for them to be spared the misery of poor body image just because they're reading out-of-date teen novels. Keep an eye out for Sweet Valley High books in which Jessica gets roofied and date-raped by Bruce Patman, Todd makes Elizabeth get breast implants (forcing Jessica to get them, too, so that they can continue their periodic twin-swapping routine), and Enid learns a very important lesson about self-respect after a drunken stint on Girls Gone Wild.

While we're rewriting history, someone should probably tell those tubby Babysitters Club chicks that it's time to hit the gym (except for Stacey, of course, who's had the advantage of diabetic skinniness since Book 3). And does Nancy Drew do Pilates? 'Cause she really might want to start. I'm not sayin' that Ned would have proposed already if it weren't for the excess junkage in her detective trunkage; I'm just sayin'.

Friday, March 28, 2008

On the good, the bad, the annoying as hell, and the Friday Random Ten

Okay, so I'm not the world's most positive person, but I try. While I'm not really a pessimist, I'm certainly not all about the sunshine and the rainbows. That's one reason I've purposely limited my "bad" section on Fridays to two items; it would be really, really easy to lose track of myself and spew out a page-long bitch list with all of the things that have gone wrong in the past week.

But sometimes, things just have to be said, and that's why this TGTBATFRT comes complete with a bonus list of pet peeves, because some things just have to be said.

1. "booty." Shudder. We're all adults here, and we can use any of the multitudinous euphemisms for "ass" that don't sound completely infantile. I once fell asleep in front of the TV and woke up to an infomercial for Yoga Booty Ballet; I thought I'd died in my sleep and was finally being punished for my sins. Exception: Mos Def.

2. "entitled." Double shudder. This one hits me right in the editor button. If you're talking about a book, magazine, or movie, you can safely go with "titled" and not sound like a complete nutscrub. Exception: Entitlement complexes.

3. "exspecially." It's not spelled that way, there's no reason to pronounce it that way. Period. Exceptions: None, fool.

4. "a myriad." This used to be behind "plethora" on the Peeve List but has jumped ahead since I've started hearing it used as a noun. "Myriad" is an adjective, people. It's a word that describes nouns. And if you're using it, you'd probably be better off using "various" anyway. Exceptions: None.

5. man's inhumanity to man. Exception: Cage fighting.

But on a more positive note,

What's good (for the week ending 3/28):

- the Egg McMuffin. The creator of said delicacy died Tuesday, and I think we should celebrate his life and his creation by indulging in greasy breakfast goodness today.
- having someone to hold your spare keys. Everyone needs at least one person in their lives who will, after two days without contact, enter their apartment without invitation just to make sure they haven't been eaten by wolves.
- Easter leftovers. Not quite as good as Thanksgiving leftovers, but still up there; sourdough rolls + ham + beet relish + potato salad = one hell of a leftover sandwich.
- Sally Hansen Diamond Strength No-Chip Nail Color in Chocolate Chiffon
- the calm before the storm

What's bad:

- the storm
- 4,000+ war dead. Seriously, are we done yet?

The Ten:

1. Diane Schuur, "Come Rain or Come Shine"
2. Vertical Horizon, "Give You Back"
3. Gioachino Rossini, "Domine Deus" from Petite messe solennelle
4. The Ocean Blue, "Ballerina Out of Control"
5. Miredys Peguero, "Dragonfly"
6. Bon Jovi, "It's My Life"
7. Annie Sellick, "Gravy Waltz"
8. Jump, Little Children, "B-13"
9. Steve Tyrell, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore"
10. The Cure, "Just Like Heaven"

What's good for you this week? That, your own pet peeves, and your Friday Random Ten all go in comments.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

On smacking your girlfriend for Jesus

Okay, so I know a lot of you guys have been wondering, "But when is it okay to smack my girlfriend around? When is domestic violence acceptable? There have to be some circumstances under which it's appropriate for me to slap the bitch out of her, right?"

Lucky for you, Steelers chairman Dan Rooney has laid out some guidelines.
A day that started with the release of Steelers wide receiver Cedrick Wilson after he was charged with assaulting his former girlfriend Wednesday night, ended yesterday amid a series of statements by team chairman Dan Rooney to address what appeared to be a double standard in dealing with players involved in off-field domestic disuptes.

Wilson became the second player in 11 days to be charged in a domestic dispute with a woman. On March 8, Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison also was charged in an incident involving his girlfriend.

Harrison is still with the Steelers.

See, Wilson was charged with simple assault, harassment, and disorderly conduct when he clocked his ex-girlfriend in a bar. And that's not okay. Harrison was charged with simple assault and criminal mischief when he broke down his girlfriend's door, broke her cell phone in two when she tried to call 911, and slapped her with an open hand. Which is okay, if you have a good reason, which obviously he did.
"What Jimmy Harrison was doing and how the incident occurred, what he was trying to do was really well worth it," Rooney said of Harrison's initial intent with his son. "He was doing something that was good, wanted to take his son to get baptized where he lived and things like that. She said she didn't want to do it."

See, if you have a good reason, it's okay to break down someone's door and beat them up. So if you ever feel the need to break down someone's door and smack them around and get away with it, make sure you have a good reason. Like getting someone baptized. That makes it all okay.

(H/T Feministing.)

On another sad milestone

Okay, so you know he's been thinking it.

Shorter Dick Cheney: 4,000 war dead were askin' for it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

On where the crap I've been

Okay, so that question has been asked, albeit in a somewhat more polite manner. (Well, actually, not really. It was more like, "Post, already!" which isn't all that better on a politeness scale.) The answer to the question is, of course, "at work," and not the kind of work where I can slack off and write blog posts all day like I used to. Things have been significantly shaken up here of late, and that may result in light posting on my part. I don't intend to take another hiatus, but I can't guarantee the volume I was once able to produce. If you want to help ease my burden a bit, here's what you can do: Take one (1) person you know who's interested in and qualified for the role of marketing director at a small-to-medium university in Birmingham, Alabama. Point toward Birmingham, pull back, and release.

Seriously. The other day, I squeezed my stress ball so hard it bit me.

But there is happier news to be had. There is a new member of the Practically Harmless family, and she brings me much joy. And I think she's just as cute as a button. Have a look:

No, obviously, it's not a dog. Or a baby (God forbid). I'd love a dog, but my dog-negative apartment precludes that particular addition to my life (a situation that'll have to be remedied soon). But lacking a cuddly source of unconditional adoration, a piano is, for some, an adequate alternative. And this one's a doozie.

Meet Abbey. Abbey is a vintage Fender Rhodes Seventy-Three stage piano. She's not fully functional quite yet--she has a few sticky keys and a few staticky contacts--but she's lovely, and she's got that awesome sound that's unique to the Rhodes family. Shamefully, all I have in my musical repertoire at the moment is a Chopin prelude that I remember from my recital days, and that's... well, that's not what this piano was built for. But in terms of churning out a little bit of funk and/or blues, as I have every intention of doing in the near future, this is the crucial Step One.

So that's my newest addition, and I think it's a good one. Watch this space for updates on French skills, automotive maintenance, and vocal percussion. I think I might even be inspired to attempt pancakes on Saturday. I know, I'm a wildwoman.

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten

Okay, so I'm so slack about getting this stuff done (Fridays are a bizarrely busy day for me, and I feel it should be otherwise. There is no easing into the weekend for me; it's just charging along at blistering speeds and then slamming into a brick wall. Hello to the relaxation), and my slackitude never holds any consequences. I love that. I should do it more. I wonder what other areas of my life allow for consequence-free slackitude?


I'm not going to try to burden you with a TGTBATFRT-times-three, but I'll at least double up as my way of saying, "Sorry, I'm a slacker. Not much I can do about it. Except for, y'know, not slacking. Which I'm not going to do."

What's good (for the, crap, three-week period ending 3/21):

- The Talented Mr. Ripley. How have I not seen this excellent, disturbing Matt Damon movie already?
- the moment at which an overlong and boring meeting is finished
- Rojo
- chai
- having someone at home when you get there. I've got a friend crashing with me for a few days, and I'll tell you, it's kind of nice coming home at the end of a brutally tough day and having someone there to say, "Wow, you look stressed out. Why don't you sit down and tell me about it while I grab you a Pepsi?" I guess that's part of the appeal of having a dog, although those ring-tabs are tough to navigate for critters lacking opposable thumbs.
- this guy.
- going to an art exhibit and actually being able to make some kind of intelligent commentary on the art
- Brett Favre
- Leona Lewis. I wish I'd said something when I discovered her ages ago, because now that she's going to be huge in the US, no one will believe me that I was fan before it was cool.
- peanut butter

What's bad:

- Eliot Spitzer. As Doug so rightly points out, the whores come after work. Work first, then whores. Good that he resigned.
- Sister... you-know-what-ers*. If you're an idiot and want to out yourself for it, feel free, but don't go projecting on the rest of us who, arguably, aren't. If you're an idiot and you want to try and get in good with the boys' club by slagging off the entire rest of your gender, then... you-know-what* you.
- Kashi's sweet-and-sour chicken microwave dinners. Just yuck.
- the fifth anniversary of our invasion of Iraq. Are they better off because of it? Arguably. Would they be still better off if we had actually planned ahead instead of bombing the crap out of them and crossing our fingers in hopes that it would all work out? Probably. At the very least, there'd be more of 'em, and they'd probably be less ticked off at us. Whether or not our continued presence would help or hurt peace efforts in the region, I think it's safe to say that we've cocked this thing up from the very beginning, and the fact that so many of the folks in charge of it then are still running it now is a mystery to me.

The Ten Twenty:

1. Dave Brubeck, "Heigh-Ho"
2. Lauryn Hill, "When It Hurts So Bad"
3. Evanescence, "Lies"
4. Lauryn Hill, "Ex-Factor"
5. Ella Fitzgerald, "Mack the Knife"
6. Serge Gainsbourg, "Joanna"
7. Sade, "Pearls"
8. Marilyn Horne, "Pineapple Rag"
9. Jewel, "Intuition"
10. Michael Bublé, "La Vie en Rose"
11. Sarah Vaughan, "Polka Dots and Moonbeams"
12. Nickel Creek, "Sweet Afton"
13. Howie Day, "Sorry So Sorry"
14. Cyndi Lauper, "I Drove All Night"
15. A Tribe Called Quest, "God Lives Through"
16. Elvis, "Are You Lonesome Tonight"
17. Arlington Priest, "Why Need Not Love"
18. Mos Def, "Close Edge"
19. Eminem, "Lose Yourself"
20. Kay Starr, "More Than You Know"

Unusually jazz-heavy. I'm always suspicious of the randomness of my shuffle feature; I think it gets into moods sometimes. Anyway, that's my ten-times-two; yours goes in comments. What's good for you this week two three weeks?

Incidentally, for anyone who happens to be traveling this weekend--Travel safe, have fun when you get there, don't forget to write. Best of luck with everything. Do not forget to keep in touch; I want to hear all the details.

*End of Lent in T minus two days

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On another milestone

Okay, so I'd be horribly remiss not to acknowledge Doug's third blogiversary over at Hey Jenny Slater. Be sure to drop by, if you haven't already, and blow a little sunshine up his tucchus on this hallowed occasion.

On a fond Favrewell

Okay, so I know I haven't posted lately--I've been up against deadlines like whoa at work--but I did want to observe one passing that pokes me in the heart just a little bit with a stiffened, jabby fingertip.

Enjoy your retirement, Brett Favre. You've earned it.

Now, don't go telling me that Favre is hardly the NFL superstar that he used to be, or that he might have become, or that he might have once been, or that he might have once been positioned to be, or that he could have at one point been positioned to have beecomen. A three-time AP MVP and two-time Super Bowl winner, he did slow down just a scootch in the end, probably because he'd been playing the game professionally for 17 years and was kind of tired. He still has a buttload of QB records to drag into sunny retirement with him.

I guess I'm just kind of boggling at the thought of a National Football League without Brett Favre in it. I was ten years old when he was drafted by the Falcons in 1991, and I know I hadn't yet discovered the addictive wonder that is football, so pretty much the entire time I've cared about the sport, he's been in it, kicking behinds and chewing bubble gum.

But what's always gotten to me is the way he's just a solid guy. Despite having a heck of a time of it at various points throughout his life, he's never (with the exception of his Vicodin rehab in '96) really gotten himself into Michael Vick-levels of trouble. And despite being the consummate badself, he's never really gotten himself into Terrell Owen-levels of ego and self-inflation. He does charity work and volunteer work and actually seems to enjoy it. He seems like a really nice guy, not even by the "I'd like to have a beer with him" standard but by the "I'd like to bring my kid over to play with his kid and we can stand by the barbecue grill and watch them throw the football around" standard.

So although I mourn, on behalf of all pro football fans, his loss to the sport, I can't even resent him his retirement. He said himself that he could continue playing if he wanted to, and he just plain didn't, and I respect that. If anyone's earned a nice retirement, it's him, and I hope he has a good time with it.

And if he'd like to spend it in the announcing booth, I've got to... encourage him not to. Let's just leave our memories the way they are, shall we?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

On a woman who can speak for herself

Okay, so Jill over at Feministe was kind enough to burden us all with the knowldge that there exist in the world women like Charlotte Allen:
I can’t help it, but reading about such episodes of screaming, gushing and swooning makes me wonder whether women — I should say, “we women,” of course — aren’t the weaker sex after all. Or even the stupid sex, our brains permanently occluded by random emotions, psychosomatic flailings and distraction by the superficial. Women “are only children of a larger growth,” wrote the 18th-century Earl of Chesterfield. Could he have been right?

But let's not risk an accusation of taking her out of context. There's a whole lengthy column in the Washington Post about how stupid women are, and she should know, 'cause she's a woman. Enjoy:
Here’s Agence France-Presse reporting on a rally for Sen. Barack Obama at the University of Maryland on Feb. 11: “He did not flinch when women screamed as he was in mid-sentence, and even broke off once to answer a female’s cry of ‘I love you, Obama!’ with a reassuring ‘I love you back.’ ” Women screamed? What was this, the Beatles tour of 1964? And when they weren’t screaming, the fair-sex Obama fans who dominated the rally of 16,000 were saying things like: “Every time I hear him speak, I become more hopeful.” Huh?

She means that every time she listens to a speech by Barack Obama, she looks forward to a future where he's president, because she believes he'll accomplish good things as president. It's okay, Peaches. Grownup writing is complicated sometimes.
“Women ‘Falling for Obama,’ ” the story’s headline read. Elsewhere around the country, women were falling for the presidential candidate literally. Connecticut radio talk show host Jim Vicevich has counted five separate instances in which women fainted at Obama rallies since last September. And I thought such fainting was supposed to be a relic of the sexist past, when patriarchs forced their wives and daughters to lace themselves into corsets that cut off their oxygen.

She does have a point there. Since the corset was done away with in favor of unhealthy dieting practices and a societal embracing of obesity, no one has ever gotten overheated, had low blood sugar, hyperventilated, forgotten to eat lunch, or gotten sick. Except, of course, for those dumb, hysterical women who get excited about Barack Obama.
I can’t help it, but reading about such episodes of screaming, gushing and swooning makes me wonder whether women — I should say, “we women,” of course — aren’t the weaker sex after all. Or even the stupid sex, our brains permanently occluded by random emotions, psychosomatic flailings and distraction by the superficial. Women “are only children of a larger growth,” wrote the 18th-century Earl of Chesterfield. Could he have been right?

No, Peaches, he couldn't have. Not according to the findings of medical science, anyway. Screaming and gushing are expressions not of some innate stupidity or immaturity but excitement, and in these dismal days of politics, I'd think that excitement would be a good thing. Not to mention the fact that, hey, hello to the double standard; if they'd been shouting and pumping their fists in a sufficiently manly way, or even being moved to tears but having a penis, I'm sure they'd get a pass from Ms. Allen. But then, she can't speak for men anyway; she's not a man. She's a woman, giving her the authority to tell the world exactly how stupid we are.
And obviously men do dumb things, too, although my husband has perfectly good explanations for why he eats standing up at the stove (when I’m not around) or pulls down all the blinds so the house looks like a cave (also when I’m not around): It has to do with the aggressive male nature and an instinctive fear of danger from other aggressive men. When men do dumb things, though, they tend to be catastrophically dumb, such as blowing the paycheck on booze or much, much worse (think “postal”). Women’s foolishness is usually harmless. But it can be so . . . embarrassing.

Well, now I'm starting to buy her argument that women may, in fact, be stupid; she's certainly making the case for her own stupidity, anyway. Peaches, he doesn't eat standing up in the kitchen because he's instinctually guarding against aggression from other males. He does it because he's too lazy to put any amount of distance between his body and the fridge before he starts shoveling in the food. For the record, he doesn't eat his fried chicken cold because of his animal instincts to eat his food raw or because he wants to make KFC tartare; he just can't be arsed to heat it up. But well on you for being the supportive mug of a wife who'd believe it.

It's good for you to be embarrassed by female foolishness, though. Step 1 is to look in a mirror...
Take Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign. By all measures, she has run one of the worst — and, yes, stupidest — presidential races in recent history, marred by every stereotypical flaw of the female sex. As far as I’m concerned, she has proved that she can’t debate — viz. her televised one-on-one against Obama last Tuesday, which consisted largely of complaining that she had to answer questions first and putting the audience to sleep with minutiae about her health-coverage mandate. She has whined (via her aides) like the teacher’s pet in grade school that the boys are ganging up on her when she’s bested by male rivals. She has wept on the campaign trail, even though everyone knows that tears are the last refuge of losers. And she is tellingly dependent on her husband.

A stupid campaign that... is working, apparently, judging by the primary returns from last night. And we won't go into the fact that football players and our very own president can succumb to similar displays of emotion without catching half of the crap that Clinton caught for hers. Nor will we go into the fact that John Edwards let Elizabeth do a lot of his fighting against detractors for him, even taking on Skelator Coulter, without anyone questioning his manliness or indicating that he might be "tellingly dependent" on her. Whatever, you're right, Hillary Clinton isn't manly enough to be a woman, or something.
What is it about us women?

What, this monolithic hivemind that is femininity? Dunno, can you be more specific?
Why do we always fall for the hysterical, the superficial and the gooily sentimental? Take a look at the New York Times bestseller list. At the top of the paperback nonfiction chart and pitched to an exclusively female readership is Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.” Here’s the book’s autobiographical plot: Gilbert gets bored with her perfectly okay husband, so she has an affair behind his back. Then, when that doesn’t pan out, she goes to Italy and gains 23 pounds forking pasta so she has to buy a whole new wardrobe, goes to India to meditate (that’s the snooze part), and finally, at an Indonesian beach, finds fulfillment by — get this — picking up a Latin lover!

Spoken like a true woman with a perfectly okay (but unexceptional) husband, a steady (but unfulfilling) job, and a social life that's more cats than anything else who wants deeply to chuck it all, move to Italy, eat herself fat on baked ziti, and screw some hot Latin dude on a southeast Asian beach but doesn't have the stones. I can identify. I have a friend who's currently preparing to move to Las Vegas to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a professional poker player. I tried to convince him how ridiculous it was until I realized how jealous I was that I didn't have the huevos to chuck it all and move to Vegas. Now I'm wishing him well and figuring out how I can gather the fortitude to follow my dreams. Even if they may involve Italian food, significant weight gain, and sand in the cooch.
This is the kind of literature that countless women soak up like biscotti in a latte cup: food, clothes, sex, “relationships” and gummy, feel-good “spirituality.” This female taste for first-person romantic nuttiness, spiced with a soupcon of soft-core porn, has made for centuries of bestsellers — including Samuel Richardson’s 1740 novel “Pamela,” in which a handsome young lord tries to seduce a virtuous serving maid for hundreds of pages and then proposes, as well as Erica Jong’s 1973 “Fear of Flying.”

Whereas novels by Tom Clancy (war pr0n), Stephen King (horror pr0n), and John Grisham (law pr0n) are innately valuable to an inexpressible degree because they... are... read by people who have pensises? Stop trying to trap me with your logic and go back to your romance novel, woman!
Then there’s the chick doctor television show “Grey’s Anatomy” (reportedly one of Hillary Clinton’s favorites). Want to be a surgeon? Here’s what your life will be like at the hospital, according to “Grey’s”: sex in the linen-supply room, catfights with your sister in front of the patients, sex in the on-call room, a “prom” in the recovery room so you can wear your strapless evening gown to work, and sex with the married attending physician in an office. Oh, and some surgery. When was the last time you were in a hospital and spotted two doctors going at it in an empty bed?

Dude, I work for one of the largest health systems in the southeast. You have no idea. General Hospital pales in comparison.
Depressing as it is, several of the supposed misogynist myths about female inferiority have been proven true. Women really are worse drivers than men, for example. A study published in 1998 by the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine and public health revealed that women clocked 5.7 auto accidents per million miles driven, in contrast to men’s 5.1, even though men drive about 74 percent more miles a year than women. The only good news was that women tended to take fewer driving risks than men, so their crashes were only a third as likely to be fatal. Those statistics were reinforced by a study released by the University of London in January showing that women and gay men perform more poorly than heterosexual men at tasks involving navigation and spatial awareness, both crucial to good driving.

Women are bad drivers? Really, Charlotte Allen? This is our argument? That women are worse drivers by half an accident every million miles? Really? I'm looking forward to your next two columns, "Asian people are really smart" and "Black people hate dogs and can't swim." They'll be page-turners, I'm sure.

Besides, who'd you rather drive with: the person less likely to get into an accident, or the one less likely to kill you in an accident? I'll be waiting in the car.
The theory that women are the dumber sex — or at least the sex that gets into more car accidents — is amply supported by neurological and standardized-testing evidence. Men’s and women’s brains not only look different, but men’s brains are bigger than women’s (even adjusting for men’s generally bigger body size). The important difference is in the parietal cortex, which is associated with space perception. Visuospatial skills, the capacity to rotate three-dimensional objects in the mind, at which men tend to excel over women, are in turn related to a capacity for abstract thinking and reasoning, the grounding for mathematics, science and philosophy. While the two sexes seem to have the same IQ on average (although even here, at least one recent study gives males a slight edge), there are proportionally more men than women at the extremes of very, very smart and very, very stupid.

Of course, as a foolish female, she can't be expected to know that intelligence is linked less to brain size than to the wrinkliness of the surface of the brain, and that women tend to have wrinklier and more gray matter-rich brains than men. Or to recognize that, with more men at both extremes of the IQ range, the greater number of statistical geniuses is balanced out by a greater number of absolute numbskulls.
I am perfectly willing to admit that I myself am a classic case of female mental deficiencies. I can’t add 2 and 2 (well, I can, but then what?). I don’t even know how many pairs of shoes I own. I have coasted through life and academia on the basis of an excellent memory and superior verbal skills, two areas where, researchers agree, women consistently outpace men.

If that is, in fact, the case, which, judging from this column, I'm willing to question, what's the problem? If you're able to function perfectly well using the skills at your disposal, what does it matter that your skills aren't the same as some other people's? I can't play the violin like my friend Gabriela or do a Chewbacca scream like my friend Ben, but I don't go around talking like everyone who can't do one of those things is inherently inferior to anyone who can. You do what you're good at and what you enjoy doing, and you leave others to do the stuff that you're not good at and they are. That's why we live in a society: so we don't all have to be good at everything.

Why would you need to walk around knowing exactly how many pairs of shoes you have anyway?
So I don’t understand why more women don’t relax, enjoy the innate abilities most of us possess (as well as the ones fewer of us possess) and revel in the things most important to life at which nearly all of us excel: tenderness toward children and men and the weak and the ability to make a house a home. (Even I, who inherited my interior-decorating skills from my Bronx Irish paternal grandmother, whose idea of upgrading the living-room sofa was to throw a blanket over it, can make a house a home.) Then we could shriek and swoon and gossip and read chick lit to our hearts’ content and not mind the fact that way down deep, we are . . . kind of dim.

I'll tell my friend Derek that my capacity for tenderness toward children and men make me an ideal homemaker. He'll probably faint from the shock, and that'd be entertaining, because he's a big guy and would make a big thud when he fell over. I'm pretty darn good at making a house a home, though, even if I've yet to master the art of pancakes.

Here's my advice for Char: Take your advice. Take those skills you're good at, the caring for men and children and the weak, and the housekeeping, and do those things. Interior decorating doesn't seem to be your thing, so maybe don't do so much of that. Hire someone, maybe; find someone who is good at it. Here are other skills that don't really seem to be your forte: generalizing personal traits out to entire populations, trying to get in good with the guys by stabbing your fellow women in the back, and interpreting scientific studies. And none of that is because you're a woman; those are just talents that you don't have and that you might want to leave to people who are good at them.

In other words, woman, get back in the kitchen.

Friday, February 29, 2008

On the good, the bad, and the Leap-Day Random Ten

Two things that should not be applied to the face.

Okay, so it's Leap Day, and we all know what that means: Happy birthday to motivational weirdo Tony Robbins (12), actor Antonio Sabato, Jr. (9), rapper Ja Rule (8), and Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (6). It also means that it's the day for women to nut up and make their move; legend tells us that back in 5th-century Ireland, St. Brigit griped to St. Patrick about women having to wait for men to propose and was given a one-day window of opportunity every four years. Legend also tells us that in 1288, Queen Margaret of Scotland established a fine for men who refused Leap Day proposals that included a kiss and enough money to buy a new silk gown, gloves, and shoes.

Dearest male readers of Practically Harmless, we've been together for going four years now, and I've never felt closer to each and every one of you. Would any one of you do me the honor of being my husband? I'm a dress size 8 Tall, shoe size 9, or just send the money to my PayPal account.

What's good (for the week ending 2/29):

- um, getting free stuff on Leap Day. Like, obvy.
- Gilbert and Sullivan. I know I'm outing myself as a complete geek here, but I sat in on dress rehearsals for UAB's production of The Pirates of Penzance the other day, and it was just hilarious. My favorite has to be The Mikado, but I'll take Pirates in a pinch.
- "nutscrub." My brother and I were, for some reason, trying to find a male-based alternative to the classic, offensive-to-some "douchebag," and that's what we came up with. Say it. Say it like you're angry. Pretty satisfying, yes?
- Starburst Sour Fruit Chews
- thing Rick Astley would never do (h/t Amanda at Pandagon)

What's bad:

- Tim Russert. Okay, Tim, we get it; Barack Obama = Louis Farrakan. Thanks for saying it out loud instead of circulating it in an anonymous chain e-mail. You're a for-real journalist. Nutscrub.
- Prince Harry getting outed by the Drudge Report. Willing troops are in short supply in war zones right now (go figure), and now they're going to be O-N-E L-E-S-S because Matt Drudge couldn't keep his mouth shut and put Prince Harry, and his troops, in danger. Why do you hate America, nutscrub?

And I just had to mention:

- whatever the crap Mary Kate Olsen is doing with those sunglasses. Seriously, she looks like a bizarro version of Carrie Donovan. And if you're bizarro-ing the Old Navy Lady, you're bizarre indeed.

The Ten:

1. Cypress Hill, "How I Could Just Kill a Man"
2. Lenny Kravitz, "Bank Robber Man"
3. Pet Shop Boys, "Miserablism"
4. Billy Stewart, "Summertime"
5. Ella Fitzgerald, "Wait Till You See Him (De-Phazz remix)"
6. Marvin Gaye, "Let's Get It On"
7. Oasis, "F***in' in the Bushes"*
8. Wu-Tang Clan, "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F*** Wit"*
9. Goo Goo Dolls, "Iris"
10. Cibo Matto, "King of Silence"

*I'd considered giving up alcohol, swearing, and chocolate for Lent; I ended up going with all three. Mistake. At least I didn't try for caffeine, which I've done in the past; my coworkers protested. Vigorously.

So, what's good for you this week?

Monday, February 25, 2008

On a well-deserved apology

Okay, so the mom was in town last night, and as she and Doug and I sat at Jim 'n Nick's eating way too much barbecue and reminiscing about the good old days, I realized that I owe someone an apology, and it's way, way overdue. So here's an open letter to accomplish just that.

Dear everyone I encountered between the ages of 11 and 15,

Boy, am I ever sorry. I really am. I'm so sorry you had to meet me/talk with me/fit me for running shoes/try to teach me something/make fleeting eye contact with me during that part of my life. That was more than should be reasonably expected of anyone, and I couldn't feel worse about it.

You see, Everyone (can I call you Everyone?), that stretch of years was a really tough one for me. I was awash in unfamiliar hormones, living in a new town, trying to make friends, trying to establish some sense of self. That's not an excuse, I realize, but I hope it at least serves as an explanation. So if at any point during that time I might have, say, snapped at you, or sassed back, or screamed at you, or hit you upside the head, or belittled you, or hurt your feelings on purpose, or poked you in the ribs over and over and over again until you wanted to break all of my fingers off, or burst into tears without provocation, or pretended I couldn't hear you, or rolled my eyes, or slammed my bedroom door, or slammed someone else's bedroom door, or stormed/flounced off in the middle of a conversation/argument, you have my sincerest apology.

And for what it's worth, I'm sure that if 11-to-15-year-old ACG were here today, she'd probably say, "What have I done that's wrong, huh? Huh? What did I do wrong? God, maybe if you people knew what you wanted, I'd be able to give it to you. But noooo, instead I get to figure this out all on my damn own. Oh, yeah, I said it. I said a cuss word. What are you going to do, ground me? Oh, please, please don't ground me, I didn't mean -- I'll load the dishwasher, I'll wash your car, I'll -- That is so totally unfair! You're such a jerk! I -- Oh, no, I didn't mean that, I -- But -- But -- I am so totally running away from home."



Friday, February 22, 2008

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten

Okay, so in the interest of my continuing education, I've decided to dive right into my list with both feet. To that end, I've started... well, okay, listening to French cabaret jazz is about it. So more dipping a couple of toesies than actually diving at all. But toes are important. They're going to have to get wet eventually. And I can already do a pretty sweet rendition of Carla Bruni's "Le Plus Beau du Quartier."

What's good (for the week ending 2/22):

- Nutter Butter cookies
- The Prestige. I picked this up on my last Costco run, sight unseen, because I knew it couldn't suck. And it delivered. I was much pleased. And of the following, whose baby would I be willing to have? a) Hugh Jackman, b) Christian Bale, or c) Scarlett Johansson? The answer is actually d) any of the above. Fooled you there. That was, what, the "turn"? I think that was the turn.
- the end of the writers strike. I miss my 30 Rock, and I hate -- HATE -- reality TV.
- Natalie Portman. Can I somehow be her when I grow up? Can that be arranged?
- rain. Even when I don't happen to have an umbrella handy, the fact that 37 percent of the state is still under extreme drought conditions means that rain is a good thing.

What's bad:

- a return to civil-rights-era voter suppression tactics. Two voting machines parked miles away from where any particularly tan voter could easily get to them? Stealthy.
- evil sentient robots

The Ten:

1. Paul Oakenfold, "Hypnotized"
2. Kraftwerk, "The Telephone Call"
3. Ella Fitzgerald, "This Time the Dream's On Me"
4. Diana Krall, "Pick Yourself Up"
5. Frank Sinatra, "All Of Me"
6. Arlington Priest, "This Is For Melody"
7. Diana Krall, "Popsicle Toes"
8. Kay Starr, "Nevertheless (I'm In Love With You)"
9. 311, "Livin' & Rockin'"
10. Pet Shop Boys, "Forever In Love"

If we're going by Josh's theory that one's Random Ten can predict the success of one's weekend, I know exactly what this (inexplicably jazz-heavy) Ten means for me. And I'm not telling. So there.

But it's good.

What's good for you this week?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

On that Finding Nemo feeling

Essay portion: These college students are marching for the right to vote. Q1. What year was this picture taken?

Okay, so there's this feeling you get (well, I get) that's kind of happy and sad at the same time. It's the kind of feeling you get watching a family-friendly film where circumstances are really crappy and the underdog endeavors to persevere anyway. It's the reason I cried at Finding Nemo (well, that, and some unexamined daddy issues), and it's the reason I almost teared up to read this:
Unfortunately, it appears that the BRACKETTexas early votingBRACKET system is rigged so that convenient polling places are only available to some people, which changes the demographics of who actually votes. Surprise surprise, one of the targets of such abuse is a historically black university outside of Houston called Prairie View A&M. Their county is only providing two voting machines, and they are located away from the university, so voting is convenient for townies, but not the students. The students, who have been victimized by this sort of disenfranchisement tactic before, decided to stage a protest.

1,000 student voters with 1,000 friends and allies walked the 7 and a half miles from the school to the voting booth and stood in line. And they will vote two at a time this way until they all vote or until the county gives them more machines.

Obviously, it's really inspiring to see students unite like that, especially when I grumble through the two-block meander to my polling place if it's raining out. I can't think of the last time anything impassioned me enough that I would have walked seven miles to make my point, and if ever there was a worthy cause, this one would be it. My heart swells in a Rudy-as-directed-by-Spielberg-and-scored-by-Williams sort of way.

But at the same time, at what point in the twenty-first century should any group of students be compelled to march in order to preserve their right to vote? Sure, they still do have the right to vote, presuming they can find transportation to the distant polling station and the time to stand in line to use the two voting machines available to the entire county. At the library where I vote (remember, the one two blocks from my apartment?), there are four stand-up voting booths and another two roll-in booths for the physically impaired, and I've never, even in the busiest times, had to wait in line at all to use one. I have three times the opportunity to vote just in my district as these people do in their entire county, and then they went and put both machines where only the townies could get to them.

I want to cry because people still believe that racism doesn't exist. I want to cry because it's so freaking unfair. I want to cry because seven miles is a freaking long distance to walk, and you can tell that some of those folks have real shoes on, and that had to have been really uncomfortable. I want to cry because there should have been more than 1,000 friends and allies marching with them. But mostly, I want to cry because a bunch of students marched a cumulative total of 14,000 miles because voting was that important to them and they weren't going to be denied the right to make their voices heard. And that's worthy of a John Williams score.

On welcoming our new robot overlords

Did somebody say "evil robots"?

Okay, so we should probably start being afraid.
Robots can evolve to communicate with each other, to help, and even to deceive each other, according to Dario Floreano of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

In the interest of science, Floreano and his team equipped a bunch of robots with lights, light sensors, and 30 simple software "genes" and sent them on their merry way in habitats with glowing "food sources" that recharged their batteries and "poison" that sapped them. The team started with robots that lit up and moved randomly, and at the end of the exercise, they took the robots that had found the most "food," recombined their "genes," created a bunch of better robots, and repeated. What did they discover?

That some robots like to screw each other over:
By the 50th generation, the robots had learned to communicate—lighting up, in three out of four colonies, to alert the others when they’d found food or poison. The fourth colony sometimes evolved “cheater” robots instead, which would light up to tell the others that the poison was food, while they themselves rolled over to the food source and chowed down without emitting so much as a blink.

There were, of course, "hero" robots that lit up in warning upon discovering poison while they themselves got drained. But the question is, when our Roombas evolve enough to overpower and enslave us, will our Aibos be loyal enough to give their circuitry in our defense?

Reminds me of a joke:

A robot walks into a bar and orders a drink. "Sorry, we don't serve robots," the bartender says. The robot just nods knowingly. "Someday," he says, "you will."

On nineteen

Okay, so 19.

Didja catch it?

Huh. It seems that that should have been more fun than it was. Go figure.

I think we can all rest assured, though, that history will prove us wrong and reveal Bush to be great president indeed.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

On skills for life

I actually do understand the jokes here, thank you, Mme. Mion.

Okay, so a bachelor's degree in journalism with a concentration in advertising takes four years, two of which consist of prerequisites and general electives and the other two of which consist of classes in advertising message strategy, execution, and management and internships. All of that comes after twelve years of education in literature, social sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, humanities, and sadistic unmarried women in knee-length shorts who make you play volleyball even when it's obvious you have no aptitude whatsoever for volleyball.

And what have those sixteen uninterrupted years of concerted educational pursuit gained for me now that I have a real job in the real world? Slightly more than jack, because although they did qualify me for the degree that qualified me for the job, they didn't teach me how to deal with political hirings and firings, overly attentive micromanagers, unstructured command structures, and the basic day-to-day dealings of office life. And it's more than that. Which class taught me how to make a much-needed breakup stick when the truth is I really liked the guy and didn't want to break up with him? Which lab did I miss that explored the difference between venting, complaining, and problem-solving? Did I miss ENGL 4440: Finishing That Damn Novel Already Before Books Are Replaced by Microchips Implanted Directly into the Brain, and if so, was I mistakenly given credit for it?

I just feel like I've been cheated out of a lot of the things I should know for a fulfilled and fulfilling life. And that's why I've decided to devote the rest of this year to, well, finishing that damn novel already, to start with, but also to learning things that were mysteriously omitted from my early education. There are a lot of gaps that need filling, and by New Year's Eve 2008, I fully intend to be fully capable of:

1. Carrying on a coherent conversation in French. One might think that six straight years (four in high school, two in college) of French study would leave me reasonably proficient in the language, but my last attempt at conversation with an actual Frenchman went something like this:

Me: Excusez-moi, où est la métro?
Frenchman: [unintelligble]
Me: Ah. Excellent. Merci beaucoup. [to mother] I have no freaking idea. Somewhere that way, apparently.

So that could probably use a refresher.

2. Making good pancakes. I'm a decent cook in my own right and a hell of a baker, but I've never even attempted pancakes. Part of it is simply that it seems a waste to make that much of a mess for a single-person breakfast, but I think it's also that, judging from the amount of experimenting my dad does when he's behind the griddle, there seems to be rather an effort differential between lousy/marginal/decent pancakes and really good pancakes. And I want to make really good ones.

3. Changing my own oil. This is a skill I'm not likely to use all that much; I'm pretty sure that pulling my car to the side of the road and throwing it up on an Alabama jack stand would get me raised eyebrows from my landlord, the church next door, and the swank French restaurant across the street. Still, self-oil-changing seems like a good skill to have tucked away, and it doesn't seem that much of a stretch from changing my own spark plugs to changing my own oil, right? Right?

4. Playing blues piano. This is another thing that one might assume I should be able to do already -- on the surface, it's mostly just a bunch of repetitive chords and some noodling, after all -- but more than a decade of classical training in piano and voice has completely obliterated my capacity to noodle. I just can't do it. My mom is a champion noodler, can play anything by ear, and I'm ridiculously jealous of that fact. It seems counterintuitive to study how to improvise musically, but I can't think of any other way to learn how to do something I don't currently know how to do.

5. Beatboxing.

What complicates these goals is the fact that I don't have an awful lot of money to spare. I could probably knock Skill 1 out rather quickly with a few free Monday evenings and some Rosetta Stone software, but I'm kind of short the $500 necessary to get me through levels 1, 2, and 3. Similarly, beatboxing is only offered at UAB at the graduate level, meaning I'd have to work through several semesters of prerequisites before I could even register for BEAT 5410: Introduction to Mouth Percussion. So if anyone can suggest affordable ways to pick up the life-enhancing skills I'm looking for, by all means let me know. I've got several months yet before running up on my December 31 deadline, but some of them (apprendre à faire des crêpes, par exemple) look kind of time-consuming.

Friday, February 15, 2008

On the good, the bad, and the double-your-fun Friday Random Ten

Okay, so I went out of town last weekend -- home to visit the family -- and didn't manage to get in a Friday Random Ten. That's why this week, you get a super TGTBATFRT, with double the goodness and the badness and twenty random tracks to choose from! Don't you feel lucky? Pretend you do.

The good (for the two-week period ending 2/15):

- warm weather. On Tuesday, I walked around in a short dress with short sleeves, and I had to dump my sweater at lunchtime because it was just too darn hot. The sun was shining, it was kind of windy, just beautiful.
- cold weather. On Wednesday, the day after Tuesday, I walked to work in the snow. It wasn't enough to stick, but it was enough to see and to feel, and that was kind of awesome, too. I suspect that, since Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and General Beauregard didn't, we're in for a steel-cage weather death match for the next six weeks.
- the grilled cheese and chili special at Becky's
- mark's Self Sanctuary line in White Tea-Vanilla
- single-girl dates (even if not all of you are technically single, Katie)
- International Kilt Day. I had no idea, but I'm all for it.
- TurboTax
- "douchenozzle." If you can't, for whatever reason, say truly, appropriately naughty words, this is a satisfyingly vulgar alternative.
- good listeners
- peanut butter cookies

The bad:

- Valentine's Day. I know it's such a cliche to be single and bitter about V-Day, but come on. There was a couple at Chez Fonfon last night who were feeding each other at the table. Do not try to tell me they think that stuff's acceptable on a regular basis; it's entirely because Hallmark has told them they have to be disgusting every February 14th.
- congressional hearings on steroid use. I will grant you that steroids are a bad thing and that use thereof throws the future history of sports into considerable disarray, but are we really devoting extensive government resources to determine whether or not Barry Bonds really deserves the title of Home-Run King? Seriously?
- downsizing
- nostalgia for the good old days, when rape actually meant something. Really, Doug Henry? Seriously? Are we really going there?

The Ten Twenty:

1. Lenny Kravitz, "Battlefield of Love"
2. Prince, "Raspberry Beret"
3. Carl Orff, "Estuans Interius" from Carmina Burana
4. Pet Shop Boys, "Why Don't We Live Together"
5. Faithless, "If Lovin' You Is Wrong"
6. Howie Day, "Sorry So Sorry" (featuring John Mayer)
7. Abbey Lincoln, "You Made Me Funny" (featuring Stan Getz)
8. Amy Winehouse, "Tears Dry On Their Own"
9. Guster, "Barrel of a Gun"
10. Evanescence, "Lies"
11. Johnny Cash, "I Still Miss Someone"
12. Simon & Garfunkel, "The Sound of Silence"
13. Gioacchino Rossini, "Gloria in excelsis Deo" from Petite messe solennelle
14. Devo, "Whip It"

Let's just take a minute to savor that juxtaposition. Savoring... and moving on:

15. Public Enemy, "Fear of a Black Planet"
16. Shakira, "Underneath Your Clothes"
17. Serge Gainsbourg, "Bonnie and Clyde" (with Brigitte Bardot)
18. Jet, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl"
19. Limah, "The Neverending Story"
20. Pet Shop Boys, "New York City Boy"

Random Twenties are always a bit of a nail-biter, because there's twice the chance that something truly embarrassing is going to crop up. I think this one turned out rather well. What's good for you this week?

On being a Boston fan

Okay, so I've always been a bit of a Boston fan. When I was looking at schools, I poked around up there and really liked the town; liked the trees, liked the bars, liked the universities, even liked the accent. A friend of mine is from Boston, and when he's tired or drunk, the accent comes out full force, and I think it's awesome. (Incidentally, his fiancee happens to despise his accent, which I just can't understand. How do you marry a man when the most offensive thing that comes out of his mouth in the morning isn't morning breath? If "Oh, Gad, baby, fastah, hahdah. Oh, Jesus, that's wicked pissah" doesn't turn you on, maybe you shouldn't be marrying a Bostonian.) I like baked beans. I like seafood. I like, on occasion, the Red Sox. I like Matt Damon (a lot). I like Boston cream pies. I like Boston terriers (okay, I love Boston terriers). And now, I like Boston, the band.

And it's not that I have anything against Mike Huckabee personally. Well, that's not entirely true. I haven't made a secret of the fact that I vehemently oppose his concept of a Constitution amended to adhere to Biblical standards and all of the quasi-theocratic rule that would be sure to follow. His views on gay marriage and reproductive freedom run diametrically opposed to my own, and while I try not to take that sort of thing personally, it is just the tiniest bit galling to think that a person would find me incapable of making my own health decisions without the interference of his personal savior. So, yeah, he's not my favorite guy, but not really more or less so than any of the other uber-fundies on the Right.

Still, I got a chuckle at this:
THE founder of the rock band Boston is enraged that Mike Huckabee is using his band's hit "More Than a Feeling" on the campaign trail. He's written a letter to Huckabee demanding the GOP candidate stop using it. "Boston has never endorsed a political candidate, and with all due respect, would not start by endorsing a candidate who is the polar opposite of most everything Boston stands for," wrote Tom Scholz. "In fact, although I'm impressed you learned my bass guitar part on 'More Than a Feeling,' I am an Obama supporter."

Sorry, Mikey. I'd still love to hear you rocking out on the bass, though. Maybe you could sit in with these guys.