Friday, March 28, 2008

The Best Olsen Twin: A New Nominee



As readers know, or should know, The Best of Everything is not necessarily a one man show. Readers are welcome-- even encouraged -- to submit their own nominations, which you can do by emailing me at thetroublewithroy[at]yahoo.com, or by leaving a comment, or any other way you can get it to me. If, for example, you wanted to have it delivered to me with a pizza, I would wholeheartedly encourage that.

Readers have submitted their own nominations on what is The Best Joke, The Best Mascot, and more. But until today, nobody had ever submitted a nomination to challenge the Single Most Controversial Thing I've Ever Said.

No, not the thing about "velociraptors" being fake. That's not controversial; that's truth. No, the single most controversial thing I've ever said is that Ashley Olsen is better than Mary Kate even though the two are identical twins. I said that a year ago and despite the incredible amount of controversy that ensued, up until now, nobody has ever bothered challenging my nomination.

Until today, when Allie rose to the task. Allie originally made this a comment to my post, but it's so well written and so brave of her to tackle this insanely controversial topic that I've decided to repost it. So here is Allie's nomination of Mary Kate Olsen as The Best Olsen Twin:

Well I think that Mary Kate is pretty damn amazing. I like both girls, because they are talented and gorgeous, but Mary Kate is a lot more interesting then Ashley.

First of all, her fashion choices. Yeah, people might say that she is goofy, and I have to agree, sometimes she freaking scares me, but still she is interesting. Ashley wears "safe" clothes, while Mary Kate lets her imagination go wild, and that's what real high fashion is about.

Mary Kate was in a lot more shows and movies then Ashley, but that doesn't mean that she is better. It just means that Mary Kate has a passion for acting, which doesn't make her better then Ashley, just like it doesn't make Ashley better then Mary Kate.

Oh, and the point that you made about the "New York Minute" and Mary Kate playing the rebel teen, while Ashley is a perfect daughter... Yeah, that doesn't mean that she is setting an example for girls, because it's just a movie, and there were two roles. Someone had to be the rebel!

Overall, both of the twins are amazing. I personally like Mary Kate better, but that's just my opinion. :]

Cool blog by the way.

Clearly, Allie is right about that last point. And, Allie, you say it's "just [your] opinion," but what's the motto of TBOE? OUR opinions are righter than yours. So welcome to the club of people whose opinions are righter than other people's.

And, for your trouble, I've listed your nomination in its own box at the side and you're now entered into a drawing at the end of the year to win a free t-shirt!

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Best Song To Get You Through Hard Times.


And by the way
You know that hope will make you strange
Make you blink, make you blink
Make you sink
It will make you afraid of change
Enough to blame the box with the view of the world
And the wars that fill the frame
I turn it up
But then I turn it off
Because I can't stand
When they start to talk about
The hurting and killing
Whose shoes are we filling
The damage and ruin
And the things that we're doing
We gotta stop
We gotta turn it all off
We gotta
Rewind
Start it up again
Because we fell across the fall line
Ain't there nothing sacred anymore
Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah

Somebody saw him jump
Yeah, but nobody saw him slip
I guess he lost a lot a hope
And then he lost a grip
And now he's lying in the freeway
In the middle of this mess
Guess we lost another one, just like the other one
Optimistic hypocrite that didn't have the nerve to quit
The things that kept him wanting more
'Til he finally reached the core
He fell across the fall line
Ain't there nothing sacred anymore
Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah
-- Fall Line, by Jack Johnson.

I don't even know why, really. But this song helps. When I quit smoking, nearly four years ago, I did it both after a long try and all on the spur of the moment. I was down to four cigarettes a day, after a year of cutting down, and I was about to have my second of the day. I looked at it, and I put this song on the CD player, and then I threw the cigarette to the ground without ever lighting it. I threw away the other two, also, and I went for a drive.

It was a hot July day. I drove around for a bit, just looking at the scenery and replaying "Fall Line" over and over.

It lulled me, maybe. It was soft and quiet and mellowing.

The words seemed to mean something but I wasn't sure quite what.

I didn't know what a "Fall Line" was.

But I kept listening to it over and over that day and it helped get me through the first 24 hours of quitting smoking. And I still listen to it now and then, when I'm feeling stressed out or need a little break or just want to relax.

In yoga, which I've just taken up, there's a pose called "Relaxation Pose." It's the last one I do each week in my yoga session. You lay flat. You close your eyes. You relax your hands and legs and shoulders and arms and knees and neck and head and mouth and stomach. You breath slowly and deeply. And it fills you with a sense of warmth and peace and comfort.

I like it.

But I've been getting that feeling for nearly four years listening to "Fall Line."

I don't know why that is. But it is.



Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Best Advice Columnist

Who writes to advice columnists? Even with e-mail, who can wait 1 or 2 or 13 weeks to get an answer to a problem that was so urgent they needed to write to someone to get help to settle it? Or, if it was not urgent, why write for advice?

Do you know what I'd like to see? A letter in an advice column that goes like this:

Dear Prudence,

Help! Which is the best way out of this burning building?

Signed,

In Need Of Exit.

Prudence would no doubt advise the writer to go for counseling. Going for counseling is the Advice Columnists' "Nestle-R." So it wouldn't...

... what? You don't know what the "Nestle-R" is? How can you not know "Nestle-R?" You must not watch "Wheel Of Fortune." Although if you don't watch Wheel of Fortune, that puts you squarely in line with 98% of humanity. I think the only people who watch Wheel are the people who write to advice columnists, and my 12-year-old self.

My 12-year-old self used to watch Wheel along with my younger brother's 10-year-old self. We watched it 'back in the day' when you still had to take your money and go shopping, a novelty that never got old or boring except for every single time they did it. What a great idea: let's slow down the game show part that requires thinking and watch a contestant buy a rug and three coat racks. My 12-year-old self and my brother's 10-year-old self noticed, back then, that everyone who got to the final puzzle and had to pick five vowels and a consonant picked the same letters, every time: RSTNL and E. We rearranged those into "Nestle-R," and that became a code word for something everyone does in a situation.

(Wheel now accounts for that habit by picking puzzles that don't include those letters, making it harder for their contestants... no, wait, I forgot. They account for that by giving their contestants Nestle-R and additional vowels.)

(I only know that because Wheel happened to be on one day while I was at the health club working up a sweat on the Stairmaster. I swear that's true. The people at my health club pick the absolute dumbest things to have on the TV. Of the 8 TVs that face the Stairmasters, 3 are tuned to MSNBC-Financial, or something relating to people talking about stocks, and two are tuned to the Country Music Channel, and one always has Wheel on. My feelings on that are, in reverse order: Wheel sucks; we live in Wisconsin so why are you watching the Country Music Channel; and, what are you going to do, stop jogging in place and call your broker, frantically gasping sell, sell into your iPhone? Quit being pretentious.)

(My feelings on that are also: obviously the people who are actually watching "Wheel" don't want me to know so they tune to the financial channel so I won't look down on them. But I do.)

AS I was saying, "go for counseling" is the Nestle-R of advice columnists. (Get it now?) Advice columnists say "go for counseling" so often that writers have started telling them not to do it:

Don't tell me to go for counseling because my husband won't do it/there's no counselors in our area/I am a counselor/I don't have time, I'm watching Wheel of Fortune and the financial networks simultaneously.

Advice columnists get around that by simply saying "And do try to go for counseling." So there's a bit of a Mexican standoff there. Can I say "Mexican standoff?" I'm going to anyway.

My real point is, I guess, that advice columnists don't make any sense to me and the things that people write in to them don't make much sense to me, either. They write to Prudence about whether they should respect their daughter's religious choices, to Abby about loud people in restaurants, and to Carolyn about, well, whatever it is lame people who want to seem hip care about. American Idol, I think. And the universal answer they get back is a mixture of (a) common sense (ignore the loud people and tell the manager) and (b) seek counseling.

And yet, I still read them. I don't know why. I still read "Hagar The Horrible," too. Habit, I guess. Or a kind of fascination, like the morbid fascination that makes us look at accidents. Moribund fascination.

One person stands out from this pack of columnists, though: Dan Savage. Dan Savage writes "Savage Love" and as such is responsible for more good advice and funny columns than every single advice columnist who has come before him, or after him, all rolled together. Put another way: If you take all the 'good' that has been done by every other advice columnist in history, and all the 'good' that will be done by every other advice columnist in the future, and add it all up, Dan Savage has already done more good than that.

I'm not exaggerating. Dan Savage writes about relationships and sex and love and all the weird or sad or funny or stupid things that happen to relationships and with sex and love, and he writes about them bluntly and yet somewhat nicely -- the way it was 'nice' when you would fall and skin your knee and your dad would say "You can handle that, you're tough." You secretly wanted him to pat you on the head, or have your Mom kiss it, or you wish you hadn't fallen at all, but also you were a little proud and excited that Dad thought you were a tough guy.

That's the kind of advice Dan Savage gives, albeit in a way that won't appear soon in your morning paper unless your morning paper and the people who read it are both unusually liberal and deal with the kinds of issues Dan Savage deals with. Recent topics include a husband who was turned off by his wife after her breast cancer surgery, what to do when your boyfriend secretly looks at porn, and a 72-year-old father who might send away for a Russian mail order bride.

Those are the more family-friendly topics. I like to keep things family-friendly here, and I know that kids read this, so I won't reprint Dan's answers -- although it probably wouldn't hurt the kids to see them, really.

I say that because it's not so much the specific kinds of topics that "Savage Love" handles that makes Dan Savage The Best Advice Columnist so much as the fact that he handles them at all, and, on top of that, handles them in such a straightforward way. There are numerous benefits to his column.

First, when you read Dan Savage's column, you have one of two reactions: either (a) wow, I can't believe someone else thought of that, too, so I'm not weird, or (b) wow, that guy is really weird, I'm not so bad. Reading something that lets you know you're not so weird is never a bad thing -- because we all worry that somehow we fall outside the norm, don't we? "Savage Love" lets you know that, no, you don't. You're normal, or nobody's normal.

Secondly, Dan's advice doesn't mess around. He tells people to dump other people. He tells them when they're being jerks or selfish. He tells people when they're lying. He doesn't sugarcoat it and he does lay on the common sense. In years of reading Dan Savage's column, I've repeatedly had my sensibilities challenged. I'm a middle-class 39-year-old white guy from the Midwest. There's almost nothing that appears in "Savage Love" that wouldn't challenge my sensibilities. And for years, I've read his advice and his stance on things and, frankly, it makes sense. So Dan Savage has, I think, made me a better person: more openminded, more accepting of people's beliefs.

But don't get me wrong, either: He's not without morals or standards. I've never gotten that "Savage Love" is an "anything goes" kind of kingdom. Instead, there are rules that Dan Savage insists his readers follow, and those rules are a kind of morality. He doesn't suggest that whatever you want to do is okay; he does suggest that almost anything you want to do is okay if you do it in a decent, human way that doesn't hurt others. (He didn't say that; I'm paraphrasing.)
Thirdly, his column is interesting and funny and smart. And that's important. Like I said, reading other advice columnists is boring. Nobody really cares what fork you use; if you're going to write about it, at least be interesting about it. But they don't.

It would seem easy, I suppose, to be interesting and funny and smart about relationships and sex and love, but nobody else manages to do it, and "Savage Love" does. He can dispense frank and controversial advice to, say, the daughter of the Russian-bride-orderer, and make you laugh a bit while he does it, and if you read him long enough, you'll be a lot more open-minded and a lot better person, frankly, and more able to handle your relationships and love and sex, even if those relationships and love and sex don't involve, for example, people dressing up in costumes.

You might not agree with him, and you'll almost certainly be shocked more often than not when you read him, but you can't do any better than to get your advice from Dan Savage, The Best Advice Columnist.

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The Best Anthropomorphic Animal Superhero

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Best Easter Candy

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Friday, March 21, 2008

The Best and Absolutely The Last of The Best VersionS of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

Spring is here! And it's snowing outside and we're supposed to get 10 inches of snow! Oh, man. I hate winter. When will March stop coming in like a lion? It's March 21! You're already in, March. Now go out! Like a lamb!

Okay. So I'm thinking today about "Bohemian Rhapsody," by Queen. For no particular reason except that The Best and Absolutely The Last of The Best VersionS of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." has made me think about that song.

I play the piano. I'm not great at it, and I don't practice often, but I play. I've even got some songs memorized because when people know you play the piano they always want you to play something but if you say you don't have your music with you, they'll think you're just a liar. So I've memoried "Chariots of Fire," and "Music Box Dancer," and Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which you don't think you've heard of but you have, as you'll see if you watch this:



That's by something called the "Music Animation Project," which appears to be the kind of project I would run if I was independently wealthy and also knew more about computers and music than I do. They also did "Frog Round," which you should watch and listen to but it will hypnotize you:



So I know those songs, but I've been working for years and years on playing the song "Bohemian Rhapsody" on piano, a quest I started when Oldest was in choir in high school and we went to a high school choir concert and the choir sang that song, or a very-very-expurgated version of the song that somehow made no reference to killing anyone or the devil or anything. It was barely recognizable.

That choir, also, did a Christmas version of the theme song from "The Grinch" that made me almost laugh out loud. You know how men never really sing anything? Like when we're singing happy birthday and the women are singing and the men are sort of mumbling because we all think it's a little fruity to be able to sing well? Not that we can't sing: when nobody's around, men are hittin' the high notes and jamming out and pretending the cell phone is a mike. But when people are present, we don't want to be misunderstood as someone who can sing outside of a narrow 2-note vocal range that constitutes the "manly" portion of the scale, so we sing in a monotone and pretend we don't know the words. Steve Martin understood this when he did his "Grandmother's song" or whatever it was and had all the men sing "Live in a swamp and be three-dimensional" and they mumbled it.

I bet even Bono, when he's not on stage, just sort of mouths the words and hems and haws.

Oldest's choir teacher was apparently unfamiliar with this phenomenon, and also apparently unfamiliar with rehearsal, because for the Grinch song, she had a part in the middle where first the girls sang, and then the boys. The girls belted out their side, and when it came time for the boys, the song just stopped dead. The audience heard a grumbly couple of grunts and the piano kept going and then the song picked up again. The boys had not sung their part at all. Not one of those boys, who had volunteered for choir and were being graded on it, bothered to sing their part in the concert.

And I almost laughed, and I couldn't help but wonder: hadn't that happened in practice? I would have seen it coming a mile away. There is no force, no threat, great enough to get a 16 year old boy to sing in front of other 16 year old boys.

I walked away from that concert thinking something else, though, and that something else was this: Bohemian Rhapsody could be played on piano! Although I knew there was piano in the song, I never thought about whether you could just go and play the song-- mostly because my piano teacher focused a lot more on people like Beethoven and a lot less on people like Freddy Mercury. Go figure.

I got me the sheet music, and I began practicing, and have kept at it ever since -- years -- because I have a goal, and my goal is this: I am going to learn to play the piano and then make all the kids in our house sing the song live for my family. We are going to to a live performance art production of "Bohemian Rhapsody."

The kids, the older ones at least, roll their eyes at this and say it'll never happen, that they'll never perform it and I can't make them. I used to say I would simply force them to do it or they'd get extra chores, or make similar threats that I could not possibly keep, but now I have a different remedy. I will guilt them into it, and I'll do that by showing them The Best and Absolutely The Last of The Best VersionS of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

Watch it:



See? That guy got his daughter to sing and he played keyboards. They formed a family band. This family has inspired me. They have shown me that my dream is possible. They have given me a renewed sense of purpose in life.

Plus, they did really well on the song, don't you think? And for that, they are the The Best and Absolutely The Last of The Best VersionS of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."



You should also look at The Best Version of the Song from a country or group I have a tenuous connection with, The Best Indie Rock Version, and The Best Version from A TV Show!

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Best VersionS of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" from a group or country I have a tenuous connection with.

Back in the early 1990s when I lived in Milwaukee, I worked at a sub shop next to a record store. Remember "record stores?" They sold tapes and records and even new things called "CDs" then and people would go to them and physically pick up their music and then go put the tape into the boom box at the sub shop they worked at and rock out.

One day, when I stopped by the record shop on my way to work to browse through the remainder bin -- I worked at a sub shop, remember. I couldn't afford to buy music from anywhere but the remainder bin, so my music tastes have always focused around those things that were too obscure, too lame, or too old to still be on the shelves-- there was a small crowd around a guy by the register. I didn't know who the guy at the register was, and the crowd was very small -- 3 people. But they were 3 very excited people. So I went over and asked "What's going on?" to the cash register guy.

"This is Johnny Clegg," he said.

"Who?" I asked.

To which Johnny Clegg held up his cassingle -- the worst idea in the history of music-- of his song "Cruel Crazy Beautiful World." Here's that song:




I talked with him a bit and realized that he was the "Johnny Clegg" on the cassingle, and that he sang with his band "Savuka," and was from South Africa. Then I got him to sign a birthday card for a friend of mine, because that's the kind of guy he was and the kind of guy I am -- I'll get anybody who might remotely be considered a celebrity somewhere to sign anything, and apparently he was the kind of guy who will wish a happy birthday to a random American -- and I bought his cassingle, because it was cheap. Bu the song was pretty good, as you've seen.

Then I never heard about him again or thought much about it in the intervening 18 years until my day of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" when I came across not one but two versions of the song by Soweto singers. And Soweto, as you know, is in South Africa. Which is where Johnny Clegg was from.

So it's like I know these people. Here you are: TWO of The Best VersionS of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" from a group or country I have a tenuous connection with.

By a choir:




And an instrumental version:





Want to hear The Best Indie Rock Version of the Song? What about The Best Version From A TV Show?

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Best VersionS of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" Part 2: The Best Indie Rock Version

TBOE continues celebrating March "coming in like a lion, going out like a lamb" by presenting The Best VersionS of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Okay, it's a weak justification, but I love this song and so do a lot of other people.

Is it fair to call REM an "indie" rock band anymore? It was true, no doubt, when REM was releasing "Radio Free Europe" with lyrics that nobody could understand, and albums titled "Document No. 5," unless it was called "Document," and it was the 5th album? (Indie bands do that all the time. The Violent Femmes, who I love, released an album called "3." It was something like their fourth or fifth album.)

But can REM still be an "indie" band when they've been around longer than the Beatles? When everyone, really, knows who they are except maybe my dad, who stopped buying music when "Saturday Night Fever" came out? Can REM be an indie band when they've released the song "Stand" and remade one of their songs to include Muppets in the lyrics?

You probably think I'm joking about that. But I'm not:



It's called "Furry Happy Monsters."

The answer to those questions is: "yes, they can still be an indie band." Here's why: (A) They are still cool and inscrutable and don't get a lot of airplay, and (B) I still like them and I like indie music even though the "indie" music I like is increasingly showing up on Oldies' stations.

You people my age should re-read that last sentence and absorb it before you get the kind of shock I did when I turned on the "oldies" station expecting to hear a little Chuck Berry or Elvis and instead got The Cars. On the "Oldies" station. 80's music is now "oldies" music, and if you like it, you're an "oldie."

Except for REM, because I am declaring them to still be "indie," and their version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to be The Best Indie Rock Version of that song, because I need some things in my life to not remind me how old I am, and so this is one of those things:




And, really, they do a good job of it, don't they? Slowed down, acoustic guitars, a capella beginning, it's got a sort of swing-y feel to it, and places emphasis on the sleepier side of the song; it's almost a lullaby, almost dreamy. You can feel the peace descending on you as the horns kick in and then Michael Stipe comes in with the almost-vocal-only "hush my darling."

Did you notice, too, that he changed it? He says don't cry my darling, not don't fear my darling. That's part of the lullaby feeling, too: What do parents say to little kids? Not don't fear but don't cry.

I could almost see this being played in the Babies! room as they fall asleep at night. REM would be softly playing this song, and the Babies! would go from wondering who these old guys are and why they're blocking the TV to sitting quietly, softly swaying back and forth, to drifting off to a dreamland where the lion is sleeping, the village is peaceful, and indie music is not on the oldies' station.

Want to see other great versions of this song? Check out The Best Version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" from a TV show.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

The Best VersionS of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight--" The First Installment: Best Version on A Television Show.

You read that right: It's The Best VersionS of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." A couple of weeks back, when I determined for the world what was The Best Part Of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", I had the chance to spend an entire Friday listening to version after version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." And you would not believe the versions that are available out there. Some of them are great. Some of them, like this one:



Are not. That video is horrifying. Did that girl have a spider on her head? Yes. What's up with the axe? It's like "South Park" if South Park were a collaborative effort of those Hellraiser guys. So don't watch that video.

But I'm not here to celebrate the worst versions. I'm here to celebrate The Best VersionS of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Because there were so many great versions of the song that I could not, for the first time ever, make up my mind as to which, in particular, was The Best, so I broke it down into a couple of categories. And we'll explore those categories over the next week or so, to celebrate Spring (when, of course, March stops coming in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. So you see? I've got some method to my madness.*)

*There is a lot more madness than method.

Today's Version is The Best Version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" On A Television Show, and the winner is "Friends." Remember "Friends?" I loved those guys. They were like my Friends. Oh-- wait-- I just now got that! That title? The characters weren't just friends with each other, they were friends with me, too, right?

Odds are, if you remember "Friends," you remember "Marcel," the monkey Ross got to let him know what it's like to have a kid. Which is a smart idea, because everyone knows that kids can climb the walls when they're young and are incapable of any sort of intelligent communication. And they carry scary diseases. And have tails. That's what I've learned from raising my own kids.

"Friends" loved "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" so much that they did it twice:










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The Best Language

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Best Plant

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Friday, March 14, 2008

The Best-Looking Science Fiction Alien Chick.

It's Friday, and I get to spend a lot of the day driving, which I love because it means I get paid to listen to sports talk and my iPod, and it's kind-of-almost-spring here because it hit 39 degrees yesterday, so I'm going to give in and just throw out some cheesecake here. But I have to, as usual, overanalyze it because if I just post pictures of women and say they're good looking, Sweetie thinks I'm looking at them and I think they're pretty.

But if I post pictures of women and explain that they are aliens and that I'm only rating them for how they look as alien chicks as part of a scholarly analysis on aliens in science fiction, then Sweetie will...well, she'll still think I'm looking at them and I think they're pretty, but she'll also think I'm a terrible liar. Like the time I tried to convince her that I liked Xena for the storylines and not for this scene:



Which, Sweetie, is here just to explain that anecdote and not for any other reason.

Aliens were not always "hot chicks," as any science fiction fan can tell you. Aliens, when they first came out in public, were machines with tentacles:

Or robots:


But around the 1960s, two things happened. First, science fiction got televised, which meant low budgets for aliens, resulting in this:



That is, aliens began looking a little more human, because it was cheaper to put them in blue jumpsuits and a prosthetic head than to have them be slimy and tentacled. (Although even Sigmund the Sea Monster looked a little scarier than that Lost In Space guy, above.)

And the second thing was that sci-fi producers realized that sci-fi lovers were primarily geeky guys reading comics, and that our televisions was really the closest we'd get to hot chicks, and that we'd watch simply for the hot chicks, resulting in this:

And as a result of making aliens simply hot chicks, Star Trek achieved legendary status.

That re-birth of sci-fi caused some difficult times for us geeks for whom a shot at love lay only in the stars, since girls in my high school didn't like fat guys with glasses -- but aliens would because they'd like intellect -- because the re-birth of sci-fi had George Lucas messing with what had become a good thing and replacing hot chick aliens with aliens that, while they might like me, I wouldn't want to mess with them in any sense of that word:



And that kept up for a long time, what with E.T. and the Star Trek movies putting big budgets and special effects back into the mix. But luckily, sci-fi returned to TV, with its low budgets and resultant "aliens." First came "Firefly," which had no aliens at all, so far as I could tell... and then came the only remake I've ever truly embraced: "Battlestar Galactica," the new series.

Now, let me say that the chicks on Battlestar were not the only reason I liked it. I watched the remake-miniseries and really liked it a lot because I loved Battlestar as a kid and this new one had all the same ideas but wasn't cheesy and also had realistic space action. In fact, when the miniseries came out, I was critical of it because Cylons are supposed to look like this:


But on the series, they cheaped out and had Cylons looking just like humans. Which I didn't embrace, immediately, because I did not give any thought to the, um, creative possibilities that could result when our sworn enemies look just like us...

... yes. Creativity! Way to go, creativity!


So Battlestar Galactica has come back to where sci-fi should be, which is taking ideas about our culture, wrapping them in a futuristic patina, and making us think about our own lives through the lens of the future.

Yes, the lens of the future. Culture. Where was I? Oh, yeah-- sci-fi has lots to teach us, blah, blah, blah. Battlestar also has learned from the mistakes of the past and has prominently featured hot chick aliens trying to destroy humanity, two of whom are the [SPOILER ALERT] last two pictures here -- Tricia Helfer and Grace Park.

But they are not The Best Looking Science Fiction Alien Chick. While they are eye pleasing and are also pretty good at being aliens and making me... think... about the future... they are not The Best Looking Science Fiction Alien Chick because the winner in this category has vaulted from that alternate universe in the past right into the future. She's gone from nearly making out with Gabrielle in that hot tub to controlling the race of evil robots that is trying to kill humans and also she's trying to discover who the missing Cylons are and there's some mystical stuff about God. That's right: Lucy Lawless, who is only the Number Three cylon on the show, is The Best Looking Science Fiction Alien Chick.
And I've picked her simply because of the storylines, Sweetie.
I swear.


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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Best Ice Cream Named After A Superhero

Back when Sweetie and I lived in a duplex and had only one car and the Babies! were not born yet, back when we were poorer than we are now, one day, Sweetie was out with Oldest and had the car. We only had the one car, then. My relatives and friends thought that I was rich because I'm a lawyer, but I'm the kind of lawyer who would be unhappy being at the firm at 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday night. I'm not those guys who kept screwing over Michael Clayton. I'm the kind of lawyer who wants to be home having dinner with my family at night. The kind of lawyer who is not rich.

So The Boy and Middle were home with me, and we were just hanging out when on the spur of the moment, I grabbed some change and we caught a bus to downtown, where we walked over to an ice cream shop and got a couple of double-scoop cones. The trip involved changing buses at one point and took over 2 hours. But we made it there, we walked down the local shopping-district street, and we got our ice cream cones. We sat on a bench, enjoying the sights and enjoying our cones, then took the bus back home, using up the last of my spare change -- and the last of my spending money for the week.

Only one ice cream could make me make that trip and blow the last of my little money at the time: Superman Ice Cream.

I can't describe the flavor of Superman Ice Cream. We discovered it, at that shop, about a year before that bus trip and would go, whenever we had a little extra money, to that shop to get some Superman Ice Cream cones. The ice cream itself was Superman-colors, red, yellow, and blue, and had a taste that we compared, at times, to "vanilla and cotton candy" to "some kind of berry," to "fruit, maybe," but we could never quite pin it down.

(A sour-grapes employee, the kind of person who works in an ice cream shop but only grudgingly because she's an artist, you can tell by the pierced nose and she wouldn't have to work here if people would just get her art, tried to tell us it was just vanilla with food coloring added, but we all agreed that it was not vanilla and that she sucked.)

The flavor, whatever it is, is really really good, and you can tell it is because I like Superman Ice Cream even though Superman Ice Cream has nothing of the kinds of things I usually require from my ice cream, i.e., lots of other stuff mixed in, lots of nuts and caramel and fudge and cookies and dough. Superman doesn't have any of that. But it does have its indescribable flavor and the neat look of the ice cream itself. And, of course, it's named after Superman, so it has quite an image right up front (and that's how I could squeeze in another ice cream category, when I've already picked the best store bought ice cream.)

But beyond the flavor, there was another reason, I think, that I liked Superman Ice Cream so much, and that was because it was such a treat. Like I said, we were poorer then. Three kids and a new job added up to "not much money left over," so a trip to the Superman Ice Cream shop was a real treat, and that added sweetness to it.

Nowadays, we have more than one car. We don't live in the duplex. We're doing better, financially, and don't have to save up to get some ice cream cones. We still go from time to time to get a cone, and you can get "Superman Ice Cream" in the store. Like I did recently, at which point I discovered that "Superman Ice Cream" still had that indescribable flavor, and which still tasted a little like fruit, a little like vanilla, a little like cotton candy -- and a lot like the memories of a time, not so long ago, that "Superman Ice Cream" was not only a new, unique taste, but a rarely-enjoyed treat.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

The Best Charles Dickens Book


I didn't know it was possible for a book to make me cry. Books, after all, are hardly immersive experiences. They don't engage your senses the way a movie, or a song, or a roller coaster does. Although you use your eyes when you read a book, it's not a visual onslaught the way a TV show or painting is. You can turn music up, as I do when I'm alone in the car, until it surrounds and envelopes you in a cocoon of waves.

But books: you have to keep turning the pages and thinking about what you're reading. So I could never get into a book enough to have it work up real emotions.

Until I read David Copperfield, that is.

I've read a lot of Dickens' work -- Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House (don't bother with that last one)-- but I had not gotten around to David Copperfield until I was in Morocco and ran out of things to read. I almost always have a book I'm reading, so even when I'm in a strange country eating sheep eyeballs and touring Jamaa El Fna de Marrakech (the market place in Marrakech), I still have down time (especially if you drink the water in a foreign country) and down time is reading time. Having read all the books I brought with me, I needed some new stuff and found a secondhand book store in Rabat that sold books in English. Their selection was, not surprisingly, poor, but I picked up two that turned out to be worthwhile: Les Miserables, and David Copperfield.

It was David Copperfield that would stay with me for years, although somewhat unexpectedly. I expected that it would be a good book, with the kind of storyline that Dickens loved to tell (growing up in England, usually rags-to-riches, or, if not riches, then rags-to-better-rags) with some plot twists thrown in.

The plot twists are a key point of Dickens' writing, you know. People think Dickens and they think boring old English writer, lumping him in with, well, every other English writer up until J.K. Rowling. But Dickens didn't just write fusty old novels about people tramping the grouse moors. He wrote serials. Dickens' books would be written a little at a time, coming out a chapter or two at a time. (That's a writing style that I admire and emulate, as you can see if you go here. Or here.)

So he had to keep readers wanting to read them - -he had to have great characters and plot twists and interesting things happening. If you just go buy a book, like we do nowadays, then you've paid the author for everything already and if you don't finish the story, it might impact his or her next book but they've already got your money. So if a book stops holding your interest (like Mason & Dixon did for me, many times) you're still out the dough.

But if you serialize a story, you've got to keep the reader coming back for more. (This, too, is how I know that George Lucas never intended that Star Wars be more than one movie. The first one does not have a cliffhanger. Every other movie in that series does. Except number 4, which wraps up all the story lines.) So you do whatever you can to make sure that after they read part 3, they want to go on to part four. You could, for example, reveal a ridiculously improbable pregnancy at the same time as a bunch of monsters appear to attack someone.

Dickens never had to stoop that low. He used some gimmicks, because each book has some great twists, but he mainly relied on perfect stories and characters that you could never ever forget. Aged P? Scrooge? Joe ("J-o") Gargery? Miss Havisham? Traddles and his skeletons? If you've read these books, you instantly pictured those people, with their cannons and counting houses and 'oncommon bolts' and stockings. If you haven't read these books, you have missed out on a great experience.

Dickens' greatest character, though, was the one everyone says is based on him: David Copperfield. I can't tell you much about the book's plot without spoiling too much, but I can tell you that David Copperfield is worthy of two, maybe three, books about his life. As he grows up from a basically happy child ignoring the troubles in his life, meeting interesting people, into a basically happy person, David both observes and moves through the lives of the always-colorful Dickens world, having them shape him as he shapes them.

The part I can't tell you much about is the part that also made me cry. David is in a love triangle. He meets Agnes, who he grows up with a little, and who falls in love with him, and who he loves, but neither one of them really realizes how the other one feels. David then meets Dora, who he also falls in love with, and marries. And David is happy with Dora -- very happy-- while also aware that Agnes was very much right for him, too. And Agnes, meanwhile, may have no choice but to marry Uriah Heep.

Dickens resolves it, and resolves it in a way that is satisfying, thrilling, startling, and beautiful. Like I said, it brought tears to my eyes. And I'm not a guy who cries easily. Very little else in my life has ever made me cry: just getting married, having my babies born, and that part in Titanic where the old people go down with the ship.

So you know this is a good book. It is, in fact, The Best Charles Dickens Book.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

The Best Part of The Song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

We have a routine for those days that the twins are acting up a little.

"Those days that the twins are acting up a little" = any day ending in Y; they're transitioning to grown-up foods. Well, not 'grown-up foods,' because they don't eat, say, burritos, but we're trying to get them away from bottles and carrot mush. You wouldn't think it would be hard to wean someone off carrot mush, but they love it.

The babies do eat some surprisingly good food. Me and Middle and Older are all a combination of slightly jealous that they get cool food, and slightly afraid that we're missing out on something, so we try each new snack they get, and I like a lot of them. I am not a fan, however, of the sweet-potato flavored snack. The twins are, but I am not. How does "sweet potato" get considered a flavor to add, anyway?

Here's some insight into psychology, too. Do you know what a 'sweet potato' is? It's a yam.



And I, unlike the rest of America, am not a sucker. You can't simply call something "sweet" and convince me that it's not disgusting. A yam is gross, and calling it a "sweet potato" doesn't make it any less gross. A rose by any other name, right? But you all have fallen for it before. You forgot that Hillary! used to be "Hillary Rodham." And let's talk about the "sea bass," which is a highly-popular and expensive fish beloved by you gourmets out there who think it's amazing to eat at restaurants that charge you $100 for a plate of two asparaguses and a sliver of meat.

The sea bass used to be called a "toothfish." Here's a toothfish:


And here's your "sea bass," that you'll pay $24.95 for:



Here's that toothfish again. $24.95 per portion. Yum!


So you're not fooling me with "sweet potatoes."

But I was talking about feeding my boys, who are just over 18 months old now and don't like being restrained in high chairs when they could be careening around the house carrying my practice bagpipe, or they could be trying to tip over the grandfather clock, which I had to bolt to the wall because it was so attractive to them. So now, in my house, I have an alarm clock that's broken and screwed into the wall. If you buy my house, I hope you like grandfather clocks because you're not getting rid of this one.

So to keep the boys in the high chairs and divert their attentions, I do what all great parents do: have them watch TV.

Ha! Ha! No, just kidding! Only a horrible, neglectful parent who wants to spend eternity in the 13th circle of Hell would ever, ever let their kids watch TV! We never even let ours in the same room as our TV. We only have a TV, in the first place, because we want to be able to catch the 24-hour-storm alerts during Severe Weather. And before we turn it on we make sure that all the kids are at French Camp first.

What I do, instead, is have the twins watch Youtube videos on my laptop. See? That's nothing like TV. Using my laptop, on the table, I can get them distracted enough that I can feed them, or they'll feed themselves, and they won't die of starvation or live solely on the ice cream I share with them at night.

They watch three videos, always in the same order, and I keep repeating them until done. I don't change the order of the videos, and I don't insert new videos, because they will get mad and start yelling and throwing mushed carrots around.

They watch Mahna Mahna:



Then they watch Baby Laughing!





And, finally, they watch "The Lions Sleeps Tonight."



And the others in our house have adopted my method of keeping the babies happy on those days. They do the same rotation, which has given me a chance to decide what The Best Part of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is: It's the part where they guy goes "Oh! Oh" about 2/3 of the way through, right after part where the lion sleeps near the village, and he does it again right after his darling is not supposed to fear because the lion is sleeping tonight.

That's the Best Part because it's the part everybody does, and the part everybody agrees on. The world can't agree on almost anything, including what they're saying in the background (I say it's "Weem-0-weh" but a lot of people, crazy people, say it's "Weem-o-way." Nutcases.) Around our house, around America, around the world, no matter what else you do with your life -- watch TV, constantly change your last name in a desperate bid to establish an identity, eat toothfish but call it sea bass, -- whatever else you're up to, when it get to those parts, you chime in with "oh! oh!"

It's the great unifier. If politicians could harness that, if countries would band together to have a national day of singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," and have the entire world go "Oh! Oh!" at the same time, just imagine what we could accomplish.

It might distract the babies, at least.




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Doubt me at your peril! Listen closely to this version of the song -- sung by children who have NEVER had contact with anyone from modern society...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Best Decade For Style

Who knew that The Boy had opinions on stuff & junk? Hot on the heels of a debate we had Sunday night (in which I confessed that I had picked Star Wars as The Best Star Wars Movie -- a debate that included us trading off key lines from the movies, and a debate which I think that I won by making two key points: (1) only the original Star Wars had that cool song from the Cantina that gets stuck in your head and you can't get it out...




and (2), if it were not for The Empire Strikes Back, we would never have got to "Return of the Jedi" and the Ewoks.

So those were two key points, and also it was a very entertaining debate -- the kind of debate that should be on TV. Hello? Important Hollywood Execs? If you are looking for a TV show that can be made cheaply and will be entertaining and does not involve any form of dancing, karaoke, or losing weight... call me.


One example of why it would be so entertaining is that I am such an astute observer of culture that I have noticed our society has graduated from one which celebrates our great movies by recreating their scenes in Legos to one which celebrates our great movies by making Naughty Lego Parodies of them. With Lego Thongs:





Anyway, after that argument WHICH I WON, I mentioned to The Boy that yesterday I was going to do today's topic, but then Brett Favre retired, so I posted The Best Quarterback Ever. When I said that I had been going to do an article on The Best Decade for Style and pick the 50s, The Boy disagreed with me again! He said THE 40's.

The 40s? He must be nuts. Here's some "style" from the 40s:


What's to like about that? It's hopelessly dated and a little boring.



That is the problem with most styles, you know. Growing up, as we mature through the decade that will define us (in my case, the 1980s) we think this style is timeless and will never look dorky.


I thought that, at least, and so did my friends, and so did everyone. We had some reason to think that was true. Who could not like the 1980s styles:












Well, okay:


But at least the 1980s' fashions were not so obviously lame (Kajagoogoo notwithstanding) that we should have known that they would ultimately look silly. Some decades should have just realized that instantly. I'm looking at you, 1960s:


And other decades share the shame. Hello, 1920s!


As you review decades, in fact, it seems that Americans one unifying drive is to look sillier than the generation that came before them. Let's review quickly:
1800s:


1820s:





1840s:





1860s:



1880s:




1900s:




1910:



1920:



While most of those were women, men also had their own ridiculous fads. Especially in facial hair:






And it's not over:

We can then single on the 1970s for special attention. Disco PLUS hippies equals... this:




Men, you share some shame, too.



It's truly 200 years of shame. People bemoan Americans' lack of style and fashion now, and complain that we drag our beer bellies and giant butts (I'm talking just about me. And the people who sit next to me on planes) and our fannie packs and our Packers' t-shirts and our cutoff shorts:



all around the world. But is this:



So much worse than this?




I think not.

There's only one decade that really holds up well in terms of style and fashion, and that's the 1950s. From hairstyles:

To women's clothes:

To men's outfits:

To, yes, swimsuits:
The 1950s managed to put together a style that holds up over time and does not look ridiculous, even now. In fact, the worst excesses of the 1950s don't look lame, they look fun.

The 1950s also gave us classic style and fashion icons: The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit. Playboy. And, of course, this guy:
So, The Boy, I have to disagree with your disagreement. The 1940s? Pleh. For 219 years, America has existed as a country, and for 209 of that we've shown that we are, like 2-year-olds, unable to dress ourselves. But from 1950-59, man, we were awesome. The 1950s is The Best Decade For Style.



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