Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Best Web Comic

I gave you, yesterday, a little insight into how my mind works. (Technically, this whole blog is about how my mind works, excepting those nominations from intrepid readers who dare to disagree with me.) Today, let me give you an example of how my job works.

As a lawyer, most of the day, I spend sitting around suing people. But suing people is boring and a lot less dramatic than Sam Waterston would have you believe. Yesterday, it involved me driving 2 1/2 hours, one way, to question a witness, only to have him refuse to answer questions. So I drove back home. Today, I spent 3 1/2 hours reviewing rules about garnishments.

So those times that I'm not in court, I need, occasionally, a break from the tedium of statutes and the like. And because my work is pretty easy for me, my mind tends to wander during those breaks. It will sometimes roam back into Memoryville, and I will remember being a geeky young teenager who liked Dungeons & Dragons, liked it so much that I used to buy Dragon magazine.

That was, say, 25 years ago. I don't remember much about Dragon magazine now (which is weird, because I do remember two of my D&D character's names: Duran Greyhawk, and Tuscan Greyhawk. Tuscan was a paladin.) (Note how I say it's weird that I don't remember much about Dragon magazine, but don't comment on whether it's weird or not to remember my character's names.)

What I did remember about Dragon magazine, some time ago, was that there was a comic strip in the back drawn by Phil Foglio, which followed characters named "Phil" and "Dixie" and talked about Phil and Dixie's desire... ahem... to discuss "sex and D&D." They never quite did, of course, but the strip was funny and had busty women, and I was, as a teenager, a fan of both humor and busty women.

(Dragon also had a comic called "Snarfquest.")

So one day, I took a break from whatever tedious legal arguments I was making, got a cup of coffee, and used my computer to get on the Internet and find out if Phil and Dixie had ever completed their quest. I couldn't find it (at first), but what I did find was Girl Genius, a whole new Phil Foglio webcomic. So I started reading it a bit, and then a bit more, and before I knew it most of that workday was done.

The Girl Genius online comic began, judging by the dates on their site, in November of 2002. I'm not sure how often it's posted, because I'm only up to August 26, 2005:
But the story so far involves Agatha, who finds out she's a "spark," someone who can create working mechanical objects, and gets inadvertently kidnapped or captured by the Baron, who rules this world. The capture was inadvertent because the Baron thought someone else was the spark, not Agatha, and she was able to escape with her talking cat, Krosp. They both hooked up with a set of traveling performers.

That outline doesn't do "Girl Genius" justice; Phil Foglio has created an entire world here and from the outset, he throws you into it headfirst; there's very little explanation of the world and what explanation there is fits into the story expertly, so readers slowly become accustomed to the language and culture and rules of the story, and they seem more natural that way. And there's backstory and legends built in.

Plus, the story centers on a great character. Agatha is both interesting and fun and somewhat of a surrogate of the reader in that she, too, seems a little confused and lost as she's swept along on the larger bulk of the storyline.

Finally, there's the art. The art was what I remembered from Dragon magazine -- it was clean and fun and well done. But here, on the web, Phil's art has really blossomed. The characters' expressions and clothing and the backgrounds are all well done, but it's the mechanicals and objects that really pull the eye. It makes me want to get a bigger monitor just to see it all laid out the way it should be (and I have gone and gotten some of the books to do just that.)

Nowadays, I go every day or two and read a few more installments of "Girl Genius," so someday I'm sure I'll catch up to the storyline and find out what happens. (DON'T spoil it for me!) But I'm not in a hurry to do that. I take it a few pages at a time because some things are so good that you want to savor them, and "Girl Genius" is one of those things. I love to see the drawings, I love getting caught up in the story, I love the little side adventures and new monsters that Phil comes up with, so while most of me wants to rush and read the entire thing in one night (like I did with Harry Potter #7), the more mature part of me is taking it a little at a time (the way Charlie Bucket ate his candy bar.)

You decide how you want to approach it, but approach it you should: Girl Genius is The Best Web Comic.

UPDATE: Reader/Blogger Corgi provided more information about this nominee here

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(Hey, you intrepid readers, where are you, these days? It's been a while since
Riley C. decided to go head-to-head with me over who was really The Best Superhero. Remember, you can always submit your own nominations here.)

Also, loyal readers will realize that the intro picture to The Best Postseason Sporting Event foreshadowed this entry. Foreshadowing is a literary technique used by only The Best Writers.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Best Postseason Sporting Event

Here's some insight into how I pick topics I'm going to write about.

I was staring at the screen, thinking What Best Thing Do I Like Today? and I looked at a list of ideas I keep handy, things that start out popping into my head while I'm driving, then get written on my hand, then get transferred to a post-it note in my wallet, and then typed into a list titled "TBOE topics." Here is that list, as it exists right now:

TBOE Topics:
The best spoken word song (Long long time Guy Forsyth)
The best commercial jingle?
Best use of candy hearts in a story line (Futurama or “Arrested Development?”)
Best comic strip I think I could have drawn but didn’t (Jim’s Journal)
The best web comic (Girl Genius)
The best Dickens’ book (David Copperfield: traddling and cried.)
the best Newhart series
The best version of “lion sleeps tonight video”
TBOE best capturing of teen angst:
VF first album (we think as teenagers that life should be like Paradise by the Dashboard lights but really it’s more like “Please Do Not Go” plus is there any more appropriate capturing of teen thoughts than the song Promise (well you know that I want your lov)
The best instrument (bagpipes? Harmonica? Theremin?)
The best online clock?

So I looked at that list, and thought Which one do I write about today? And then a guy on the radio mentioned Badger basketball, and that got me to thinking that we're only a few days away from March, which brought up March Madness, and then I realized that I have a "Sports" category on here that is underutilized (probably because most of my sports thoughts end up on Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!), so I thought, I should do a sports topic, and then decided to name The Best Postseason Sporting Event.

And you're going to be surprised, because it's not the Superbowl. How could I name the Superbowl? If you're a football fan, think about it: count the number of good Superbowls. Less than 10, right? Maybe less than 5. Mostly they're boring and mostly they're blowouts. Ravens-Giants? Come on. 49ers winning 55-10? Great for my bet (I bet my boss at the time that the 49ers would win, and we bet $2 per point for the winning team) but bad for enjoyment. Even this year's game, as great as it was to see the Patriots* go down, was not a thrill-a-minute contest. Most people watching the Superbowl watch for the commercials, or watch because it's the last real football game of the year and we'll miss the sport.

So the Superbowl is out. And don't even think about bringing up things that aren't sports (like NASCAR), or sports nobody cares about (like hockey.) If it's going to be The Best Postseason Sporting Event, it has to be something that people watch and which matters, which limits it to football, basketball, or baseball.

I've already ruled out the Superbowl, and I'll rule out the National Championship game for college football, too, primarily because while it's controversial, it's also usually boring and it's played, for some reason, in the middle of the week after New Year's, guaranteeing that nobody can get excited about it or stay up to watch the whole thing. Plus, it's college football, and the only football that really matters is pro football.

I will next strike down the World Series, and here's why: It's too long and too late. The World Series is seven interminable, slow games spread out over what feels like 33 years. Here's how much I watch of the World Series: the last inning of the last game. That's it. That's all you need to watch. For some reason, major league baseball plays a hundred quintillion games to get to the postseason, and then another hundred quintillion to decide the champion, and by the time they're done I'm more sick of baseball than I was already, and also football is on, so who cares? Before the World Series could really be the best event, it would (a) have to be much shorter, (b) have to be in September before football gets really fun, and (c) not have to involve baseball.

So that leaves basketball, and I'm ruling out the NBA Finals for a couple of reasons, too. Again, too long and too late. I think they begin playing the NBA Finals in June, and they finish in 2015. And why, in basketball, are they playing a best-of-seven series, anyway? I understand in baseball you want the teams to face different pitchers and there are different rules between the leagues. Basketball has none of that. So they stretch it out just to bore me. And bore me they do, through too-long games that are decided in the final minute.

Plus, basketball even has a boring name for its championship. Think about it: Superbowl. World Series. And... the NBA Finals. You know who else has "Finals?" Schools. So the NBA championship calls up all the excitement of an essay test in May.

And, I don't really care for basketball anyway, despite being incredibly awesome at it. Which is what makes my nomination a twist ending worthy of M. Night Shymalan: The Best Postseason Sporting Event is... March Madness, the NCAA College Basketball Tournament.

But! But! But! you readers cry out. But you said college football doesn't count because it's college, and basketball doesn't count because it's basketball, and March Madness is longer than any of those other ones because it's not even over until AFTER March...

Just calm down: All true, but take it easy. Here's why March Madness is The Best Postseason Sporting Event: because it makes me forget all those things.

I don't like basketball. I don't like college sports. I don't like championships that go on forever. And yet, I love March Madness. I don't even know who's playing, or care -- I don't follow college basketball at all beyond The Boy telling me what teams he likes (the ones that are winning) and doesn't like (the ones that are losing), and yet when March Madness comes around, I read about the lineups, I follow who gets in and who gets out, I watch some of the games, I get into the office pools.

I do that because what March Madness and the NCAA have done is capture everything that's good about sports and rolled them up into one big lump of entertainment. Underdogs? Check. One-and-done games? Check. Dynasties? Check: Duke's in it every year. They get it just right: they include a couple of teams like George Mason and UW-Milwaukee that aren't supposed to go anywhere. They have a highly-ranked team get knocked out. They play the games all over the country. And they have the most awesome name.

That all becomes infectious. I started, a few years back, to realize just how interesting the little schools were, how fun it was to watch a matchup of really good schools, how there are always unique things that happen in these games, and began paying more and more attention to it, period.

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament somehow overruled every single bias I had against it, and made me a fan. I could not care less about college basketball -- until March 1. They did it right, and that's why it's The Best Postseason Sporting Event.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

The Best Variation on "Dramatic Look."

I am a deep thinker. You can tell that simply by counting the number of entries here that reference either candy or Star Wars. But sometimes, I just like to let my hair down and like things without philosophizing about them. Things like "Dramatic Look:"

Which I found hilarious and love to watch over and over. (Deep thinker, that's me.)

"Dramatic look" appears to have, for a while, conquered the Internet, and has spawned a cottage industry of "Dramatic Look" interpretations, some good, some bad. And I've watched, I believe, all of them, and have selected this one as The Best Variation On Dramatic Look:

You know what does it? Not just the hat and monocle -- but the fact that the monocle flies off. Genius.

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The Best Celebrity That I Think I Could Hang Out With

Celebrities, as a whole, do not strike me as real people. For all I know, they may not be real. I've never met most of them -- although I have met my fair share of phenomenally-popular celebrities, including Alan Thicke.

You may, for a moment, ponder how cool it is that I met Alan Thicke.

Done? Okay. Like I was saying, I have met some but not all celebrities (I'm using the term loosely, here. For a definition of who might not be a real celebrity, check out what I think of gossiples.) I might have even met more than I think, since I never recognize celebrities when I see them in public. It's one thing to recognize Simon MacCorkindale when he's on the big (or little) screen.

What's that? Sure, you know him. He starred in "Family of Cops," which was, so far as I can tell, about a family of cops. He also was Manimal:

It's one thing to recognize him when he's manimaling around. It's another thing to recognize him when he's the guy who's paying the cashier for his scratch-off lottery tickets with a pile of nickels and dimes while you're trying to get gas in the morning. (Note: I do not know if MacCorkindale has ever done this, but other people have and it's annoying. There should be a line for people paying with all change, and it should be at a store that I don't go to.)

So maybe I've met a lot of celebrities in my life and just don't know it. There might be one sitting right next to me, right now.

Only there's not.

But there's only one celebrity I've ever met that I figure I could hang out with. For a while, I thought there were two. I always thought, despite my substantive disagreements with a lot of what he thinks and does, that I might be able to hang out with Bill Clinton, who I figured would be like that really crazy guy we all knew who's always trying to get you to go on road trips, and doesn't last long at any particular job, and calls the waitress "honey" in an unironic way and steals your girlfriend but you don't mind because you didn't like her that much anyway. But then Clinton got all testy on the campaign trail and seems too cranky, so I gave up on him and returned to my first celebrity that I could hang out with, Nick Lachey, and here's why: Nick Lachey, from the very very little I know about him, does exactly what I would do if I suddenly found myself with lots of money and lots of time.

I didn't really know who Nick Lachey was until the show Newlyweds. Although I've grown up with Middle and Older, who were in their tweens during the 98 Degrees/ 'n Sync/ Backstreet Boys heyday (I still like to tease them by repeating this actual quote from both of them: We will never get tired of Backstreet Boys. And I have their boombox to prove it, their actual boombox from when they were tweens, which I use in my office now:
Nick Lachey just never registered in my mind as an actual person or distinct entity. Then Sweetie got into the show Newlyweds (or, as I think of it "Proof that cashing in on your marriage will destroy it") and I would occasionally watch it. "Occasionally" in that sentence means twice. But in the two episodes I saw, Nick Lachey convinced me that I could hang out with him because of what he did.

In the first episode, Nick and his brother were hanging out, being rich, good-looking, and bored. (I am frequently one of those. Guess which one?) They decided that they would landscape the backyard, and set about buying all sorts of supplies and then hiring not one, but two crews, to landscape the backyard.

I have done that. I have been sitting around and decided to redo the yard -- on the hottest day of the year, I went out and dug up our whole front yard, terraced it, moved rocks around, trimmed bushes and got rid of plants, all to create a new look. I didn't, of course, have much in the way of supplies (I got some discount plants at Wal-Mart) and my crew was simply me, but you can see the parallels, right?

Then, in the other episode, as I recall it, Nick decided to buy a videogame for his house and had to have it hauled into the house via a forklift and crane operation.

That is something I dream of doing. I would love to be sitting around and decide to play a videogame and then just go buy it and the heavy construction equipment that it needs to get it into my house. That is exactly the kind of life I want to live -- except maybe in Hawaii.

Since Newlyweds, I haven't had much of an opportunity to see whether Nick is still the kind of guy I think I could hang out with, but I'm pretty sure he is. I know he takes trips with his new girlfriend, recorded an album, and, Middle Daughter tells me, he coached a choir on a TV show. (Which apparently he won.) In between there, he also apparently bought into some sports teams, according to Wikipedia (although I'm not sure how much credit to give to that news, since Wikipedia also declared that the 43rd president of the United States is Snuffleupagus.) From what I can gather, he's just going around being a regular guy who happens to be worth millions of dollars and happens to be famous enough to keep being famous enough to earn millions, but at the heart of it is still a regular guy.

A regular guy -- like me! So, Nick, when you read this, get in touch with me, and we'll move you up from The Best Celebrity That I Think I Could Hang Out With to The Best Celebrity I DO Hang Out With.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Best Happy Song

While I'm on a music kick this week, I thought I'd counterbalance The Best Sad Song with some upbeat stuff. So here's a mirror image of that entry: The Best Happy Song, "Love Today," by Mika.
There's no big mystical reason why I like this song, no hidden agenda here, no philosophizing. Just music that makes you want to move.

This song is like aural coffee. I cannot listen to it without tapping my toes. If I wasn't in my office right now, I'd probably be dancing. This morning, I was tired from being up since 4:30 a.m., and I had a frustrating drive in, and then had to rush off to court for a divorce trial, and didn't have enough actual coffee. So I grabbed my iPod and listened to this song. Twice. And by the time I got through that, I was in a good mood again and smiling.

Now, it's late afternoon and I'm dragging and I'm wading through a pile of papers on my desk and people are bugging me, so I put it on again and watched the video, and started smiling again.

Everybody's gonna "Love Today" indeed. Listen to it yourself and see if it doesn't get you moving.

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The Best Sad Song

Sad songs can be hard to like. Like coffee, they are an acquired taste. And I ask myself sometimes, why would someone work to acquire a taste for something that's hard to like?

I like the song "If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)" a lot. It's off the "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack, but it barely figures into that movie, so don't worry about that connection. Instead, focus on the song itself.

It's about love, of course, and Maria McKee, the singer, is singing it to someone she loved who was her angel but is now "real." Maria wails about how "the morning after, you know what you bring," and then requests "if love is a red dress, then hang me in rags."

Here's the entire lyrics:

My heart is empty.
Your eyes are dark.
Once we were hungry,
Now we are full.
These chains that bind us,
Can't beat these chains.
If love is shelter,I'm gonna walk in the rain.
You were my angel.
Now, you are real.
So like a stranger,
Colder than steel.
The morning after,
You know what you bring.
If love is a red dress,Well, hang me in rags.
There goes the fairy tale.
Lord, ain't it a shame?
In all this comfort,
I can't take the strain.
If we played even,
I'd be your queen.
But someone was cheatin'.
And it wasn't me.
I've laid it on the table,
You had something back.
If love is Aces, Give me the Jack.

That doesn't capture the whole feel of it, though. The words are only half the song, because they make clear what's going on: the singer has lost at love, and lost so badly that she doesn't want it, and rejects it-- or cannot have it at all: If love is shelter, I'm gonna walk in the rain.

Maria McKee does a beautiful job of putting music to those words; she accompanies it with a sparse acoustic guitar, and whistling, and her voice wails as she sings it.

And the whole effect is one of unbearable, crushing, tear-rending sadness -- it can almost bring me to tears.

So why do I love this song so much? Why can I listen to it over and over and over? Why did I acquire this taste?

Because it's not me singing the song and it's not me the song is aimed at. That's the hidden beauty and allure of sad songs: they are not my life. No matter what is going on in my life, it is not so bad as the singer's life in "Red Dress."

I can listen to "If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)" when I'm in a good mood, and happy, and things are going well, and it makes me appreciate what's going on in my life. It adds depth and resonance to what I'm doing, because it is the down times in life that make us appreciate the up times.

More importantly, I can listen to "If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)" when I'm down, and things are not going well, and it will make me appreciate my life more, because, as I said, this song is not my life. I have never had anything so bad happen to me that makes me think I would be better off walking in the rain than in shelter. I've never ended up in rags instead of finery.

I've never had my angels turn real. Listening to this song reminds me of the fact that no matter how badly I might be feeling at the moment, my angels remain angels. I need to be reminded of that from time to time, and that's why this is The Best Sad Song:

UPDATE: 12/29/08: I just found out the video no longer works, so you can listen to the song HERE.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Best Proof That My Experiments Are Not All That Well Thought Out

Remember when I did a little test to see just how many people were perverts out there?

Sure you do. It was right here. My theory was that if I put the word "sex" in the title of Youtube video, it would generate more views than if the video didn't have the word "sex" in the title.

So I took this video:

And retitled it from "Mahna. Mahna" to "Sexy! Sexy! Sexy!" The video had 54 views when I retitled it.

A week later, I checked, and found... ah ha!... I mean. Um. There were only 7 views that week, or one per day, or less than there had been before, on average.

So I gave up and retitled it back to "Mahna. Mahna." And then today I checked it and ... um... there were 7 more views.

In 3 days.

So viewership doubled when I went back to the title.

So now I don't know what to think. Except that maybe "Mahna Mahna" means "sex" in some language.

The Best Star Wars Movie

Let me just put this right out there, since it shocked The Boy when I said it last night: I didn't totally hate 'The Phantom Menace.' I know I'm not supposed to say that, because if you like "Star Wars" you're supposed to hate The Phantom Menace as much as we all hate Ewoks. (And we all do hate Ewoks.)

But I didn't totally hate The Phantom Menace and I didn't even think that Jar-Jar was the worst thing about that movie. The worst thing about The Phantom Menace was that Darth Vader

Spoiler alert

as Anakin Skywalker was approximately six years old and could fly a spaceship and blow things up, and there was just no reason to have him be six years old. He could have been 16, or 20, and still a prodigy. But, no, George Lucas had to have young Darth/Anakin be a Phantom-Menacey version of an Ewok: cute but ferocious. Seriously, would it have been terrible to have Darth Vader be, say, 18 when he discovers all his powers? I know a six-year-old, my nephew. He's not, I grant you, chock full of midichlorians, but he's pretty bright. And when he rode a motorized scooter at Christmas 1 1/2 years ago, he almost crashed it into the car. So I just didn't buy Vader-the-wunderkind. But it was still a pretty good movie and had a lot more backstory and explanation than you find in a lot of science fiction.

With that, though, it was not The Best Star Wars Movie. That comes down to one of the three. The first one, or one of the two that focused on the dark side of the story: Either The Empire Strikes Back or The Revenge of the Sith-- parts 2 and 6, respectively, of what George Lucas would have you believe was all along going to be a six-part (or maybe 10 part) story.-- even though George Lucas never actually planned it that way and I can prove it.

Let me quickly say why the others don't measure up. Like I said, The Phantom Menace drops out because of KinderVader. Return of the Jedi can't be in the running because of the Ewoks, because of the fireworks at the end, and because of the totally lame resurrection-of-the-Death-Star plot. Attack of the Clones can't be The Best because it has that dumb running-through-the-fields hand-in-hand scene and it felt a little jumpy.

The two that looked at the bad guys, The Empire Strikes Back and Revenge of the Sith are the popular choices for The Best Star Wars Movie, I think because of how dark they are and because the plot just keeps rolling along. And they have a lot going for them -- great fights and good bad guys (does that make sense? "Good bad guys?") being the main things.

But they lacked something. They lacked something that the first movie had.

What they lacked that the original Star Wars had-- and I should note that I'm not going to call Star Wars "A New Hope," because it's just Star Wars. That's what it was when I was a kid and that's what it is now. Just Star Wars. My memory is spotty in a lot of details, like my kids' birthdays, but it is crystal clear on two things: there were never velociraptors when I was a kid (which is how I know they're fake), and it was not called A New Hope when I was a kid.

... I got distracted.

Star Wars had the thrill of being new and naive when it came out. Because here's the thing about these claims that Empire or Revenge is better because of the villains or the plot: they had the same villains, and the plot moved just as quickly in Star Wars as in Empire or Revenge. There were just as many good fights: for every AT-AT attack in Empire, there's a TIE fighter battle in Star Wars. The movies match up fight for fight, villain for villain.

But Star Wars gets downgraded by the Star Snobs, probably because of that newness and naivete. Star Wars, when it came out, was fresh and unheard of, science fiction that wasn't ponderous and slow and technobabble. And it was genuine: just like Luke Skywalker was the farm kid from Tatooine that had never seen the universe and seemed dumb compared to Han Solo, Star Wars was the freshly-scrubbed country bumpkin cousin to Empire and Revenge. It wasn't sophisticated and dark and flashy. It wore its heart on its sleeve and begged you to like it.

And like it I did, and so did all of you, too, if you're being honest. From the initial battle on the spaceship to the end when they got the medals, you thrilled to Star Wars in a way that none of the five sequels could bring out in you. Star Wars was fun, exciting, new. It began one of the greatest storylines in movie history. It introduced us to fresh twists on old characters. It had great lines...

Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?

Don't get cocky, kid,

Use the force, Luke.

And great aliens and one of the all-time great doomsday weapons.

It became fashionable later to knock Star Wars and focus on the darker movies. Pessimism always seems cooler than optimism: Han Solo was cooler than Luke. Han Solo worried and grimaced; Luke said taking out the Death Star would be like shooting a womp rat from his 'speeder.

But optimism is better. It's better to look up than look down. Star Wars got us all looking up. And that's why it's The Best Star Wars Movie.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Best Modern Song About The 19th Century

As kids, my parents had a "hi-fi." You youngsters nowadays won't believe this, but there was a time when, with audio, bigger was better. I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but it's true. Now, music players are the size of a quarter and clip onto your lapel. But when I was little, they looked like this:

And played records, which looked like this:

That's right: music used to come in tangible form. If you wanted to "swap" music, you picked up the record and took it to your friend's house.

One of the records that I listened to on that hi-fi when I was a kid was a record that I expect was originally purchased by my Dad. Neither Mom nor Dad had great taste in music, but Mom's was slightly better than Dad's. Dad likes the Bee Gees, and a lot of other really, really junky music. (I'm excluding, from that "junky" label, Herb Alpert & His Tijuana Brass, which I hated when I was a kid but which I really like, now.)

Mom, like I said, had slightly better taste. She had a lifelong crush on Rod Stewart, who rarely made good music, but she also liked Elvis. And The Beatles.

So Dad had the, um, quirkier taste in music, and that's why I think that Dad had the record that for a long time was the undisputed choice for this category -- because how many could there be, right?

Dad's record was "The Battle Of New Orleans," by Johnny Horton -- and I listened to it so many times that I can still sing it from memory:

Historically accurate, rhymes, good beat: that song had everything you could want, including some humor. (I am assuming that US soldiers did not actually use an alligator as a cannon.)

So "The Battle of New Orleans" was a shoo-in for this category, until I heard this song:

That's right. There was suddenly competition in this category. And what competition! A song about the original Dark Horse, James K. Polk. And it's catchy, it rhymes, it has humor and historical accuracy, too.

How to choose among the two? I re-listened to them today and have now decided that it's close but I'm going to go with "James K. Polk" as The Best Modern Song About the 19th Century, and here's 3 reasons why:

1. It has a theremin in it. The theremin is underused and underappreciated as an instrument.

2. I admire anyone who can pick out a president that nobody cares about and make him a legend. In high school, we formed a group called "Rebellious Youth Without Phones." The sole purposes of this group were to promote riboflavin as our favorite food additive, and Ulysses S. Grant as our greatest president. (You cannot believe how cool I was in high school, can you?)

3. It's tough to use "manifest destiny" in a song and still have the song be cool, but They Might Be Giants did it.

There you have it: "James K. Polk" is The Best Modern Song About The 19th Century.

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The Best Celebrity Recipe

This post has been removed and will appear in my upcoming book Up Was MacaroniClick here to find all my books on Amazon.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

The Best Narnia Book

I just watched the movie The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, which has a longer title, I know, but I'm not going to put all of that up here. And it was pretty good, too; they captured the spirit of the book pretty well and the kids were good actors and the characters and animals looked more or less like I pictured them looking (which I think is a phenomenal thing for a director and actors to do. When I saw the Lord of the Rings movies, they looked exactly like I'd pictured. But J.R.R. Tolkien used a lot of description; C.S. Lewis is more sparse with his, so getting it right, right being the way I think it should be, is pretty good.)

The Boy, by the way, did not like Lion, and is not a fan of Narnia, which I find disappointing. However, his introduction to Narnia was less than desirable. About a year or two ago, The Boy got himself into some minor trouble and was looking to avoid grounding. I told him he could get out of being grounded if he read a book and did a book report on it, and said he had to do one of the Narnia books. He chose the shortest one, The Magician's Nephew, and reported on that.

His report was that it was boring. I took that with a grain of salt because first of all, this is a kid who is so against reading that he reported that the Harry Potter books were boring, too, and never made it past the fourth one. So clearly he's insane. The Harry Potter books were so good that I pre-ordered the seventh one and set aside an entire night to finish it, staying up until 3 in the morning... so clearly I am not insane.

I also took it with a grain of salt because The Magician's Nephew was not the best of the Narnia books. It was kind of boring. I had suggested that he either read Lion, or, if he was going to go out of order, that he pick The Best Narnia Book, which is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

I bet I read Dawn Treader fifty times in my life. When I was a kid, I used to go to the library weekly (I remember my card number: it was 4208) and take out stacks of books; new ones and ones I'd re-read over and over. Sometimes the little card in the book had my number 7, 8 times in a row. That's how much I read when I was a kid.

That level of reading explains why I am almost completely unfamiliar with pop culture from the late 70s and early 80s. People scoff when I tell them I never watched "The Dukes of Hazzard," but I didn't.

I would like to say that the level of reading also explains my almost complete lack of a social life until I was 20 or so, but that's not true. Reading was not the cause of the lack of a social life -- being overweight and having glasses and an eyepatch had a lot more to do with it. Reading was the beneficiary of my lack of a social life.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my favorite of the Narnia books because it was so focused and because the adventure was just so different and so spectacular.

Spoiler alert!

And I'm even more diligent about putting in those spoiler alerts since everyone in the world seems bound and determined to wreck Lost for me. I'm still only 1/2-way through the second season and I know that puts me way behind, but do we have to slip Lost references into everything? They led off The Soup with "Lost" jokes one night. And this past week, Entertainment Weekly had an article called "There Will Be Blood... On Ben," and in the first sentence that explained that headline, they also revealed that a character on Lost is, in fact, an Other -- something that I had not yet found out in the show. So if I agree that I am pathetically behind on Lost, could we not spoil it for everyone for no reason? I expect it all over now; I think we're a step away from people having t-shirts with Lost spoilers on them at my health club. I'll be jogging and someone will pass me and it'll say Jack dies in the 3rd season.

Anyway, here's some spoilers for Dawn Treader: I loved the character Reepicheep, a large rat with a rapier. I liked the fight with the sea serpent slowly crushing the ship. I loved that Eustace became a dragon for a while, and I liked the part with the invisible dwarves that had one foot. But more than that, I liked the magical atmosphere of the book. As the Dawn Treader the boat got further and further away from land, Dawn Treader the book got more and more fantastic and ethereal; while the crew sailed away from the known world, so did the reader and so did the writing. So at the end, when they set off in a coracle to go over the edge of the world, it was something completely different.

And I liked the way it was written. Dawn Treader was my first experience with a sad kind of happiness. I was young then and didn't fully understand how happiness and sadness could be linked together and each make the other both more full and more tolerable. How sadness leavened happiness like salt on popcorn, making you appreciate it because you were aware of the lingering pain nearby. And how happiness could carry sadness with it and make you appreciate the sadness.

It's that sadness/happiness joinder that stands out now, years later. The voyage was to the end of the world, literally: the Pevensies were not coming back to Narnia, and Prince Caspian was not coming back to Narnia, but it was all right, somehow, because things had to be that way and because they, and we, were all better off for it. That lesson carried over into life, where frequently happiness and sadness intermingle. When we get an unexpected bonus that helps pay bills, we are happy for the bonus and sad about the bills, and our life is fuller for that experience. When someone dies after a long illness, we can be happy they are free from pain and remember them fondly, while missing them terribly. When a baby is born, there are sometimes hours of pain and trauma and suspense before you look at your little son or daughter and smile.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader taught me to understand that: to understand that transitions between one world and another, between youth and adulthood, between happiness and sadness, are not to be avoided or shunned; they are to be embraced because without the one, the other is less.

Plus, it's a terribly exciting book. Let's not lose sight of that.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Best Thing About Winter

... is that it ends.


This could have been the shortest nomination ever, but I am feeling wordy as I sit here, on February 16, 2008 (that date is there for you people who go back and read this months -- nay, years -- from now) as I sit here, on February 16 and look outside at the snow and the cold and think about the promise of the snow and the cold. (And if you are reading this, person in the future, I hope that you are doing so on a warm day. Look outside. Is it sunny? If so, think back in time to me, sitting here typing this and looking at feet and feet of snow.)

I had to run an errand today. I had to pick up Oldest's TV from the repair shop. As we brought it outside, the repairman, in a t-shirt, said "It's not so bad today," and I agreed that it was not, in fact, so bad.

It was 9 degrees.

Such is life in Wisconsin. Life in Wisconsin means that you don't think it's that bad when it's 9 degrees. In fact, you wear t-shirts at that temperature.

I continually wonder, all winter and every winter, how I ended up here? I don't mean in a literal sense: I was born here, and went to school here until I was 18, and then went to college here because it was cheaper to go in-state, and chose my law school the same way (it was a good law school, the UW Law School. It was ranked 43rd when I applied. It was ranked, I believe, 60th when I left. But I don't take all the blame.) Then, if you graduate from a Wisconsin law school, you get to practice law in Wisconsin without taking a bar exam...

... that's right, Wisconsin is home to a bunch of untested home-grown lawyers...

... so I stayed here and now I've got a family and all these cats, so it looks like it's cold for me for the rest of my life. Or at least until I get rich enough to move somewhere without having to look for a job there because I don't want all the stress of moving combined with all the stress of having to look for a job and if I was rich, there would be no stress of either sort, so I could convince Sweetie to let me move. Until then, though, until you readers make me rich, I am stuck with winter, and I hate it.

I mean how did I end up here, a person who hates the cold living in what might as well be the Arctic circle? Maybe I am in the Arctic circle.

I didn't used to hate winter. When I was a kid I didn't mind winter. We had snowball fights and built snow forts and used them to throw snowballs at cars (okay, we used our arms to throw the snowballs. We used our forts to hide from the cars when the drivers stopped because they objected to having snowballs thrown at their cars.) We played ice hockey on the swamp and I cross-country skied as a teenager, and we went sledding and otherwise had a fine time in the winter, as fine as we did in the summer.

And then it ended. My love, or like, of winter, ended. Somewhere along the way, I realized this about winter:

It's #$*$#($&%@! cold!

Cold in a way that I no longer can tolerate. From October 1 to May 1, I freeze to death. I can't get warm enough (until I start sweating) to do anything, and I have to lug around that big coat and gloves and a hat. And my feet get wet. And our driveway has sloped sides and so the more snow we get the harder it is to get it off the driveway because you can't throw the snow up the edge anymore and you just try to heave it out of the way and it slides back down, so the driveway gets narrower and narrower-- it's only about 6' wide now. Any more winter and I won't be able to leave the house.

Why should I leave the house, anyway? I don't ski anymore. I don't ice skate (and if I did, there are indoor rinks available, even in Wisconsin. If they can play hockey in Texas, I don't need winter to ice skate). I don't even sled, which I might do except that the kids are all the wrong ages to sled and besides, I've got a bad back now.

I run into people, now and then, who try to defend winter, and they try to give me things that I could do, but the problem is that all of those things require going outside, and if they didn't then I wouldn't have to suffer through winter to do them. Anything I can do in winter means one of two things. I can get cold and then get warm, by going outside and then back inside to do whatever it is I'm going to do. What's the point of that? Or, I can get cold and then get colder, by going outside and staying there. And there's no point to that.

Those people, the Freeze Meisters, keep trying, and they always pull the same final argument out, too: What about Christmas? they ask. Wouldn't you miss snow on Christmas?


No, I most definitely would not.

Remember that scene in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation when Clark looks outside and envisions his swimming pool, all sunny and warm and "Mele Kalikimaka" plays?

Okay, there's something kind of sad, I agree, about basing your life on Clark Griswold's fantasies, but I'm going to do it anyway:

"Mele Kalikimaka" would be my motto. I can't imagine anything better than being warm on Christmas and wearing shorts and a t-shirt and sitting out on my deck and humming Christmas carols. If I want to see snow on Christmas, I'll watch re-runs of the "very special Christmas" episodes of 80's sitcoms. And when I reach that point, I'll change this nomination from "The Best Thing About Winter... is that it ends" to The Best Thing About Winter Is That I Escaped It.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Best Song For Valentine's Day

I can play many songs on the guitar, with varying degrees of skill. The degrees of skill vary from "not god-awful" to "I can almost tell what song you are playing." The songs include such rock standards as "Free Falling," and "Suspicious Minds." (And Sweetie and I used to duet on "Suspicious Minds," and we were good.) I also have written my own songs, including The Big Mouth Frog Blues. Those songs, though, are light on romance, and Sweetie deserves romance.

But my own idea of romance tends to lean more towards The Big Mouth Frog and less towards the roses-and-jewelry ideal. Sweetie's learned to cope with that: for this Valentine's Day, she gave me a list of what she would like for a present. Want to see the list? Here it is, from memory:

When I told her she should put some other things on the list to at least preserve the mystery, she wrote squiggly lines, like what Charlie Brown's parents would write to him if they wrote instead of talking. Sweetie takes no chances with me. (She got her perfume this morning. She's also getting roses, two dozen of them delivered; don't tell her!)

I am, as you can tell, frequently at a loss to convey to Sweetie just how I feel. At least I was until I came across The Best Song For Valentine's Day, "A Wonderful Life" by Rosa Chance Well.

I found this song on Muruch, a great music blog, and was overwhelmed by its simple beauty. The beauty of the song, not the blog (although the blog is very good!) Rosa Chance Well, according to their label, consists of Vanessa Downing and Dean Taormina, who apparently were in a band named "Samuel," then a bunch of other bands with cool names like "The Wicked Farleys," before actually recording an album with help from two others. The label says that their music "comes to feel like a bracing hand on the shoulder," but that's not what "A Wonderful Life" feels like.

"A Wondeful Life" feels like that moment when Sweetie and I first got together -- the first time that I ever woke up in the morning and looked across the pillow and saw her sleeping there, and knew that we were going to be together forever and knew that it was perfect that we would be. It is a quiet, loving, hopeful song that in a few words encapsulates how you feel when you realize that you cannot live without the person you're looking at:

From afar, cross my heart
You were sent
By the stars.
Valentine, be mine.
We will have
A wonderful life.

When you're brave
When you're wrong
I will always lend my hands
Precious find
We will make
Wonderful plans

And it's all right
With you in this world.
And I'm all right
With you now.

And it's all right
With you in this world.
And I'm all right
With you now.

And it's all right
With you in this world.
And I'm all right
With you now.

I couldn't find a video or player -- but you can click here to listen to the song:

A Wonderful Life, by Rosa Chance Wells

I wish I could say things like this song says things. But with the song, I can at least play this for Sweetie and give her an idea of what's in my heart.

Happy Valentine's Day!
*Sweetie gave me a brand and a store, too. But I'm not providing any free advertising here.

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Also, I am aware that I previously nominated "True Companion" as The Best Romantic Song. There is no inconsistency -- that's my wedding song. So I can't go around just using my wedding song for Valentine's Day now, can I? I don't think so. You've got to mix it up a little -- keep 'em guessing. Romantically, that is. Keep 'em guessing romantically.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Best Video on Youtube That You Can Find By Searching for “The Best Video On Youtube.”

The Best Video on Youtube That You Can Find By Searching for “The Best Video On Youtube.”

The babies are finicky eaters these days.

I have a laptop.

Those two facts do not seem to go together at first, but they do when I add in that the babies eat better if I let them watch cartoons and the like while they eat—it distracts them so I can get some food into their mouths.

I use the laptop for that; I park it near their chair and look up stuff on Youtube for them to watch. They primarily like “Mahna Mahna” and “Laughing Baby” – these two:

You can see how much Mr F, at least, likes Mahna Mahna here:

But I get bored just watching those over and over again, so I throw in other things that I think they might like – mostly nostalgic videos from when I was a kid. But the plethora of stuff you can watch got me wondering – what would be considered The Best Video on Youtube?

And how would you find it? I don’t want to work my way through 10,000 “dramatic look” reinterpretations – the only good one of which is “Curses!”

Because most of the videos will be bad, right? And because I’m lazy, right? So here’s what I hit on: My incredibly scientific method would be to search for “The Best Video On Youtube” and then watch some of those.

Surprisingly, out of the 100 mocha-zillion (a number I made up that is equal to how much I dislike people who order fancy coffees at places like Starbucks when everyone knows that the more you pay for coffee, the worse it tastes) videos on Youtube, only 111 of them can be found by searching for “The Best Video On Youtube.”

Here’s the number one most popular of those, titled “Sexy Student Goes Wild 4 Sex.” I wonder why this one is so popular? Let’s watch:

Ha! They tricked you, didn’t they? Tricked you so bad that you will never ever buy Bristol Boys. That video is the Youtube equivalent of chat lines – you think you’re going to end up having a wild, sexy time, and instead, you get some direct-to-DVD movie.

So, clearly not The Best Video On Youtube. The girl’s not even pretty.

Then there’s something called “Free Running – Le Parkour.”

That actually is pretty cool. But here’s the thing. “Free Running” is what it sounds like – it’s a sport that involves just running as fast and hard as you can in some direction no matter what obstacles are in your way. It actually seems dangerous and exciting. But danger and excitement are very hard to capture in still pictures and quick cuts. That’s where you MTV generation kids will miss out - -your inability to pay attention to something for more than 2 seconds will ultimately mean that all your movies and TV shows will look like this.

I saw this trend coming when NFL highlights stopped showing the whole play. Instead of the 70-yard touchdown run, we saw the last 2 yards. Because, hey, we’re busy people with our iPodding and Wii-ing and stock trading on our iPhones and second marriages and all, so we can’t watch the whole run.

So they took a cool idea and made it Not The Best. And, in case you are wondering how to make your videos popular, you should note this: “Sexy Student Goes Wild 4 Sex” has 1.5 million more hits than “Free Running—Le Parkour.”

And when I noticed that, I thought of a little experiment. Remember that video of Mr F and Mr Bunches watching “Mahna Mahna?” I put it on Youtube and called it “Mahna. Mahna.” As of today (February 9), it has 54 views.

So I, today, retitled it “Sexy! Sexy! Sexy!” I will check in and tell you how many views it has next week.

Anyway, back to our quest to find The Best Video On Youtube That You Can Find By Searching for “The Best Video On Youtube.”

Number three on the list was “How to Levitate Anything Light,” which would not seem to be, strictly speaking, necessary, given that the things are, well, light – so how hard is it to lift them? But I gave it a run:

So the kid was pretty good at it, and had the presence to explain his own mistake on the video. But, while I’m sympathetic, I didn’t think this was the best. What is impressive is that he’s third on the list with over 100,000 views and his video features no Sexy Students Going Wild 4 Sex, and nobody about to break their fool head.

I then skipped over “Corbin Bleu Interview,” and Evanescence video, a “Titanic Deleted Scene” that promised a leper colony – hilarity is bound to ensue, right? – and something called “depende huevos cubanos.” My Spanish is rusty, but I think that means “Cubans need eggs” and it didn’t sound promising.

This one did, though, which tells you something about me: The next in line was “A Shark Attacks Naked Strog.” How could I skip that? It has one of the necessary elements of being the best – sharks – and a second – nakedness. And it had a “strog.” What’s that? Let’s find out:

I try to stay positive here, but I can’t always. That might be the single worst video I’ve ever seen. How high is the guy filming it that he’s laughing at it?

Plus, that’s a dolphin, Naked Strog.

Then, whoa—it’s “Sexy College Student Goes Wild For Sex.” Same student, it looks like, only this one only has 21,000 views. Maybe spelling out “for” instead of abbreviating it “4” meant that people lost interest while reading the title – it was too long?

Maybe I’ve been doing this wrong. I thought that more hits = higher quality, but if the public knew anything about quality, “Futurama” would still be on the air and Jessica Simpson would be the kind-of-pretty girl working at the convenience store. So let’s go to the end.

There are exactly TWO videos there at the end of the list that have zero hits. Two videos that nobody, before today, had ever watched. One of them is 3:48 long and featured a guy named “Randy Orton.” I don’t know who that is.

The other is 0:08 seconds long and is actually named “The Best Video On Youtube Ever.” So I watched that one first, and, frankly, the guy who made it is right. (I’m assuming it’s a guy, because this kind of video is a guy thing. Only a guy would bother doing this.)

And frankly, I can’t believe this isn’t more popular, because I almost spit coffee through my nose when I watched it, and then almost did it again when I watched it a second time. It’s perfect. The timing is perfect. The graphics are perfect. The music is perfect. It all came together in one sublime experience that only takes 8 seconds to watch. So, “Bigtigers4life,” I bestow upon your effort the title of The Best Video on Youtube That You Can Find By Searching for “The Best Video On Youtube.”

Monday, February 04, 2008