Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Give it up for Shaq!

I have never been much of a Shaquille O'Neal fan. Didn't help that he won some rings for the Lakers, who I hate just a little less than the Yankees, who I hate a little less than the Cowboys. But, Shaq has brought me around.

Asked about getting an NBA All-Star spot after only playing a few games this year, Shaq said, "I'm like President Bush. You may not like me, you may not respect me, but you voted me in."

If only the Shrub was capable of such candor, he might paraphrase some Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back for us: "I'm the chucklehead? You're the dumbasses who voted for me."

Ahhhh, weeee. It's funny because it's true.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Watch the f@%$ing language!

What’s the deal, lately? Could just be Doppler waves of media resonance, but stories of linguistic prudishness are rife. There was the Florida theater that responded to complaints about their marquee and changed The Vagina Monologues to The HooHaa Monologues. And a recent flapdoodle in a Seattle neighborhood over a high-end dog care store called High Maintenance Bitch. Now, for the last two days, I’ve been hearing stories of a Newberry-winning children’s book being criticized by librarians as inappropriate for using the word “scrotum.”

Really? Is this really where we are heading?

I mean, this isn’t exactly “fuck” we’re talking about. I’m at least willing to hear someone out on the bitch thing, because there is serious cultural baggage in that term and its various and sundry appropriations, but the fact of the matter is it is a real term in the dog world, entendres be damned. But vagina and scrotum?

The worst part is that in each case, it is a vocal minority putting the clamps on. N open dialogue about where limits should be set and why, but the pissiest wheel getting the grease.

Makes about as much sense as placing proscriptive grammar ahead of descriptive, or rule of law before common sense, and is yet another example of a culture infantilizing itself.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Place We Call The Zoo

I’ve always had somewhat conflicted feelings about zoos. I understand the conservation role the largest play, but the zoo-as-attraction unnerves me even as I enjoy it.

It’s my mild claustrophobia, mostly. Looking at a snake, and I don’t much like snakes, I can imagine myself living in the odd rhomboid of habitat with its attendant wall of glass. The animals don’t have to be cute or anthropomorphic for me to identify with their plight. Even as the habitats have become larger and more authentic, so far beyond the grey concrete blocs of feces-carpeted cells I remember from elementary school field trips in upstate NY in the late ‘70s, I can’t look at them without thinking, “trapped.”

Today’s visit to the local zoo (so forward-thinking they nabbed as their url), did little to settle my conflicts. Don’t get me wrong – we’re zoo members and love it, but it isn’t untainted love.

Let me start with the Zoomazium, because that’s where we usually start anyway. It’s at the zoo, it’s part museum, and it’s amazing – Zoomazium. Really a bunch of climbable rock formations and a tree to help burn juice off the kids on gloomier days, a toddler play area within line of sight of some big cushy chairs so mother’s can breastfeed, and a tent, desk and racks of stuff for the Nature Exchange, which I’ll get to in just a moment.

After scrambling about for a bit, Liv and I ventured into the Nature Exchange tent to see what was what. A bunch of kids filled one table looking at a couple books together, and an “older” volunteer was trying to push through them to retrieve a small storage chest. Wrestling it out, she looked at us and said “You wanna make some bugs?”

Of course we did. We’ve made bugs here before. So older volunteer lady started pulling bug parts out of the storage chest and setting them on the empty table, and we started making bugs. After she’s been sitting there, morosely scattering thoraxes, mandibles, wings and such, she winces in pain. “Gahd, to they have to screech like that.” And she looks up at me, pissy, as though I am going to agree, “Yeah, noisy fuckin’ kids.”

This lady is a volunteer at Zoomazium. Remember – zoo + museum + amazing? Does that sound like a place kids are going to be quiet? Or might you guess, when applying for the position, that the laughter of children will be part of the job? I checked her ankle for a bracelet, trying to give her the benefit of the doubt that maybe this was community service, but no such luck.

After we built a few bugs, we went over to the Nature Exchange desk to turn in a couple of bird cards we made last summer (took pictures of birds at Discovery Park and used WhatBird(great site) to find out what they were and printed it all up on a nifty card). I had grave reservations about this program, or, more pointedly, the ability of the zoo to administer it. When volunteers first started pitching it last summer, they babbled through some vague “you can build a bug or do a scavenger hunt, or bring things in, and earn points!” nonsense, and responded to any questions with the exact same Carroll-esque spiel. Their were hints of promise in there, but I could never get anyone to explain what exactly we were supposed to do, which, as an old ENTROS game guide and guide trainer, just baffled me. I even emailed the program director at the zoo, and her response was pretty much “it’s new.”

But, damn, they have got their act together now. Liv brought the two cards (Hairy Woodpecker and Mallard) to the lady at the desk, and said lady engaged Liv in at least a five-minute discussion about birds, and these birds in general. She didn’t talk down to Liv but kept her interest, and I even learned that when ducks eat with their bottoms in the air, that’s called “dabbling,” which is a fact that delights me. And, she gave us a few other directed activities, including an animal observation exercise we did with gorillas.

Score one for the zoo.

So, my outlook on the upswing, Liv and I headed off for some animal-looking-at-ing. She digs the jaguar, but he was sleeping and their were so many noisy kids in that area that Livvie covered her ears and said we had to leave because they were too loud.

After that were the Day/Night exhibits. The Day side was uneventful, other than my heart breaking just a little at the indignity suffered the grass snakes they have living in a country still life, complete with little antiqued abandoned wagon wheel. The Night side was very cool because I distracted Liv long enough in the entry exhibit for her eyes to adjust to the light, and then she astounded me with her ability to find the nocturnal critters better than me and roughly a thousand times better than the group of guys who marched through, ignoring the “please be quiet” and “give your eyes time to adjust” signs and loudly asking “what, aren’t there any friggin’ animals in here?” Between all of that and the bush baby that launched himself onto the plate glass and stared at us with bulbous eyes screaming “LET ME OUTTA HERE!”, I think the whole building resulted in a zero sum game.

Daddy Dumbass forgot to pack snacks, and we were deep into lunch time, so we had to hit a zoo concessions stand. They call them concessions because you have to make concessions to the ridiculous prices they have ask you to pay, and I get that, I expect that, but must the food also suck? The three dollar bottle of orange juice was bad enough, but for another three bucks I expect the soft pretzel to have a more tender consistency than a MilkBone.

I’m taking a point away for that pretzel. Zoo food should at least be better than prison food. (But, wait, is there a diff… no, stop it, just enjoy the pretty animals!)

Walking up to the raptor exhibit, I thought we were happening upon another example of cranky staff. A woman was leaning over the fence cluck-tutting at an owl that a trainer was holding, insistent that the bird make some noise for her, when the trainer said “It’s not a parrot. It’s a raptor.”

Now, I was all ready to put a check in the con category here, until the woman replied “But, I thought it was an owl,” then looked at us with an expression of disbelief that was obscured by the crazy written all over her face. The trainer tried to be more patient after that while the woman nodded over long sips of her bottled Frappucino and then interrupted the trainer mid-sentence to ask where the bathroom was.

I liked the trainer better, but this is a zero sum, too, because of where it segued.

Already, on this unexpectedly sunny day, the crowds at the zoo were getting to me. Not their size, but their make-up. Ever notice how much zoo patrons remind you of bus station patrons? Or the folks lined up with you at the DMV?

As we rounded the corner coming out of Willawong station and skirted the emu and wallaby enclosure, I noticed a group in front of us. Handful of kids ranging from probably six to twelve or thirteen, and two women. Two big, fat, foul-mouthed, slovenly women. Remember the Sir Mix-a-lot song Bremelo? Them chicks. The kind that always seem to have thin, greasy hair pulled tight up on their head into a limp imitation of a ponytail.

Anyway, the whole group had been sitting on some rocks across the path from the enclosure, and were getting up to move on. The oldest boy got up from the rock less-than-quickly. I might call it “at a moderately insolent pace” at the very worst. And, one of these troglotrolls starts slapping the kid in the face, telling him he better get up faster when she talks to him. And not even the kind of full slap that might at least make him a man to take, but the little half-ass pokes and swipes, one after another, that just humiliate. I wanted so badly to say something, to point out that it wasn’t helping, and might conceivably have felt justified if she had really walloped him. But, this was obviously a woman that would escalate, and I had Liv with me, and I know how I can get, and I just, well, didn’t. (Sure put me in mind of the spanking law discussion we had here.)

I wish I could say she was the only shitty parent I saw today, that he was the only kid I saw bullied and/or berated today, but the place was just sick with them. More than I’ve seen anywhere else (maybe because I don’t ever, ever go to the mall). Is it just that the zoo is the lowest-barrier-to-entry somewhat-educational attraction around? You can walk around outside, look at animals, try to get the to behave to your standards, disrespect their space, and still feel as though your doing something for your kids?

Our last stop on the way out crystallized my conflicted feelings. We stopped back at the jaguar exhibit to see if he had woken up and found yet another school group, older this time, probably about fifth-graders, boy-heavy so they annoyed me more right away. They were all plastered against the glass, tapping, yelling, making faces, and the jaguar was pacing along that very patch of glass, quickly back-and-forth across maybe six feet, agitated, so badly wanting that glass to disappear so he could rampage. And, provided I could get Liv out, I kinda wanted that, too.

We’re still going to go to the zoo. Often, even. Liv is really attentive to learning about animals, I finally feel invested in the Nature Exchange and she and I have some projects planned out, ZooTunes is one of the best family events going.

But, and I think this will always be the case, the conflicts remain.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

I have a confession to make. Actually, that sounds too dramatic. This is more of a clarification. But, I have an odd feeling of guilt attached to it. So, maybe it is a confession.

Ahh, get on with it, fer fuck’s sake.

Those books that I list off to the right here? I add each to the list when I start reading it. Maybe not the day that I start, but the next time I log on to Blugger I add whatever title I’ve picked up since the previous post.

But, I don’t always finish the books, and I never take off titles I haven’t finished. Still, it seems a little intellectually dishonest to post a reading list because the implicit assumption is that I am listing books I have actually read.

Now, it isn’t like I’m artificially inflating my reading profile by massive amounts here. In fact, there is currently only one book on then list I haven’t finished. What has prompted me to confess is, in fact, this one book. Because I am making a conscious choice not to finish it.

It isn’t the first book on my reading list that I haven’t finished and it won’t be the last, but usually some outside force makes some of the decision for me, most often that the book is due at the library and on hold for someone, so it can’t be renewed. This time, however, it is only choice.

That’s really where the guilt is coming from for me. Not the idea that I may have led people to believe that I complete 10% more books than I actually do (estimating that one in ten is unfinished), but the fact that I am giving up on a story.

I realize there are people in the world that will find the guilt strange, wonder why I would make any kind of big deal about not finishing a book. Well, I think you people are strange, ok? I had a roommate my junior year of college that could get up and go to bed twenty minutes before the end of a TV movie we’ve both been watching, and it boggled me every time. How could he not have to see how it ends? Who are you people that aren’t compelled to stay up well past reason to see the end of a movie? Who never sit in their driveway listening to the end of a radio program? Who feel no guilt over dropping a novel mid-stream, refusing to consider that they should, yes SHOULD damnit, wrestle with it to the very bitter end?

I’m abandoning Captain Bluebear, and it is kind of tearing me up a little inside.

There isn’t anything to hate in this book, and I’ve been delighted at moments. It is the utterly absurd tale of a blue bear, found by Minipirates floating in a walnut shell being sucked into a whirlpool, and of the 13 1/2 lives of the blue bear that follow. Well-written, brilliant concept.

But, it just isn’t moving me. I feel like I am just going through the motions, trying to get to the end only out if a sense of responsibility and no real joy. And, maybe that is why the guilt. If I hated the book, if it had somehow betrayed me (which, without question, books can do), I could drop it in better conscience. But, no, no, this is a good book. I just don’t want to read it any more. I don’t care how it turns out. There are other books I want to go read.

It’s not you, it’s me, Captain Bluebear.

I feel like a cad.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Find Your Voice

I can't sing fer shit. I mainly blame my stepfather, who was stone cold tone deaf and sang to me as a child. That, I believe, is the origin of my tin ear.

It isn't really as bad as all that. I can manage to carry a tune as long as it requires little range, so I tend to sing the songs of crooners like Bing Crosby or Kermit the Frog (Rainbow Connection was once a karaoke staple, and now is a Liv favorite) or deep basses like Johnny Cash or Tennesee Ernie Ford (16 Tons also karaoke and Liv staples).

But, damn but I don't wish I could really sing, like SAHNG, y'know. And, there are a few voices I'd really love to have. John Popper tops the list, with his ability to hit the rapid fire delivery and warble up into the angelic registers. Or Chris Robinson, whose otherwise unremarkable voice can produce those certain tones you need to nail blues and soul. And, of course, Andrew Strong, the kid with that voice, my God, that voice from The Commitments.

I've asked a couple of people this question recently in person, but want to throw it out to my nearly half-dozen loyal readers - If you could have any singing voice in the world, from a singer living or dead, whose would it be?

EDIT Sunday 2/11

If y'all wouldn't mind, I'd love it if you could slide over to and tell me what you think about my efforts so far. I'm trying to create a big portfolio/resume site as I start looking for work (because I defend my thesis Wed, completing my MA, so there's no excuse after that). Thanks!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

See these shoes? Walk in 'em.

There was this kid that was kinda in my circle in high school, Steve Noxon. Blonde, natural athlete, well-off family, moderate academic success, the most conceited, self-important Aryan I ever met. We mocked him constantly behind his back, but likely all would have been willing to be him (as long as the douchebagness wasn’t an essential part of the package).

Steve’s birthday was early enough in the year that he was able to take Driver’s Ed during the second semester of sophomore year, and had his license at least six months ahead of me.

So, one night, after I’ve had my license maybe a month or so, Steve is in my car during the endless circling of the satellite suburbs looking for non-existent parties that passed for our Friday nights, and he’s talking about driving, because he noticed that I used two hands to turn.

“When you’ve been driving long enough, you’ll start turning with one hand. Trust me. Trust me.” (And, yes, he did say it twice – on this my memory is crystal clear.)

My car at the time? A 1980 Chevy Citation with rotting floorboards and no power steering. Not just regular non-powered steering like my current beloved Escort Pony, but what had been power steering and no longer worked.

I tried to explain this to Noxon, that spindly-armed distance runner that I was I couldn’t reliably turn the wheel with one hand. Wasn’t feasible. Not a matter of experience but the reality of a shitty car. He kept slowly shaking his head, eyes closed, repeating his mantra, emphasis on the first word, “Trust me. Trust me.”

He was absolutely sure that his experience afforded him an insight I simply could not understand. I bristled against it then, and every other time I encountered that notion, in situations of far greater import than some Stepford son’s assessment of my driving. All variations on a set of themes – you can only understand when you are older/wiser/more experienced. I hated that, always wanted to believe that I could bridge those gaps through intellect.

That belief may well define being young.

But, here’s the thing. The experience thing? It’s true. Often. Like, all the time. Some things you can only understand in the doing. Like having kids. You can’t understand having a child until you do, every parallel, every analogy you try to draw that shows you do in fact understand comes up short.

Makes you angry to hear it if you don’t have kids, and nod knowingly if you do. That’s just the way of these things.

I’m thinking about this because of the anti-spanking law introduced into the California legislature. BY A WOMAN THAT DOES NOT HAVE CHILDREN. Obviously, I think that point important.

Granted, the law itself isn’t terribly heinous (but the early ones never are, are they, you slippery, slippery slope). It makes punishable, up to a felony, corporal punishment of any child under three. Even most spanking advocates acknowledge that corporal punishment isn’t effective, and is likely harmful, for kids under three.

But, the very idea of the law galls me, because I feel an incursion here, one which is all the more infuriating because it is being launched by a woman who has not walked in my shoes. I don’t spank, but that is my choice. On one level, it only holds meaning because it is a choice. The galling part, though, is that this woman believes she has the insight to legislate a relationship she hasn’t had.

And, I don’t think this intrusion into parenting is limited to this incident. As this Salon writer so accurately points out, there is a great deal of public anxiety being a parent today. I feel it all the time, perhaps more acutely because I am a stay-home-daddy and therefore stick out, invite observation and critique. I raise my voice, even a little, to Olivia in a public face, and I can feel the stares, and I know it isn’t the other parents that are, in that moment, the most judgmental. Strangers have felt somehow both allowed and compelled to give me parenting advice numerous times, none of it welcome, and more than once from people that admitted they don't have kids themselves. Yet, they, liken this woman, feel a need and a right to decide what good parenting is, where the lines should be drawn.


Where does the rationale for this law lead next? Will there be an anti-cavity law, so I can fear even more that Dum-Dum Livvie begged me for, and eventually cleaned her room to earn? How about psychological health standards that set tone, pitch and volume standards for verbal discipline? Maybe I could just outsource discipline to a consultant familiar with community standards?

Look, I accept the public interest in the health and well-being of every child, but I’d like to see that feeling exercised in better funding for schools and outreach to at-risk youth. But, that isn’t the way we play it these days, because that involves giving, making an investment with only a hope of return. Much easier to say the problem and solution lies with people whose lives you’ve never lived.

Fund and empower CPS. Encourage open dialogue about how best to meet kids’ needs. Be willing to extend yourself, agree to fund schools and outreach to at-risk youth, because while the return on investment can’t be guaranteed, we all benefit from a society that produces healthy children. Help parents as a whole, but for the love of all that is good and holy allow them autonomy in dealing with their own children.

If we actually love all kids the way parents love their own instead of blustering and trying to legislate good parenting, we’ll be better equipped to find and save those kids that really need our protection.

In related news, Salon, whose reporting I usually love, has broken the startling news that the Ashley Treatment is controversial, thus allowing numerous medical experts who have never met Ashley or her parents the chance to see their names in print condemning said parents as appalling mutilators. Well done, Slate. Good to see progressive media is still cannibalistic media.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Call Me Kreskin

Yet one more example of my underappreciated genius, hot on the heels of Rick Reilly of SI stealing my "Ben Rothlisberger met the devil at the crossroads and sold his soul for a Super Bowl" idea for his column.

Proponents of gay marriage rights in Washington have introduced Initiative 957, which would limit marriage rights to couples able to conceive children. Unions that produce no children in three years would be annulled.

Perhaps they got the idea from my August 1st, 2006 post on the subject.

I swear, I just keep giving this shit away. Like my audiobook project three years ago that crumbled when my director pulled out - this weekend NPR had a little piece about the booming audiobook market. Le sigh.

Monday, February 05, 2007

For Your Listening Displeasure

We bought a second car not too long ago. Just needed something to make the wife’s commute, which cuts between neighborhoods and sucks by bus, and the general kid-juggling easier. We found a little 91 Escort Pony with 80k miles on it for cheap enough, one that is so base-model it doesn’t have a passenger-side mirror. But, I love it. 5-speed stick, it’s like driving a go kart.

It also has a tape deck, unlike the spiffy new Mazda we got a couple years ago. All of our old cassettes have died or not made the cut during our multitudinous moves, so last week I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I made a mix tape.

I’ve made plenty of mixed CDs in recent years, but they are different. The demand is lower. You can play them shuffled, or skip around manually. But, with the mix tape, order matters. A lot.

Truth is, I never was particularly good at mix tapes. I’ve gotten lucky at times, and I know a good mix when I hear it, but for the most part I just don’t have the patience for the crafting.

And this most recent effort? Well, I believe I have made one of the crappiest mix tapes ever. Especially for a car-specific mix. It sucks.

And so I feel the need to share. I imagine there are at least two music-snobs out there, with varying levels of baldness, who will waste no time jumping in and diagnosing the problems. So, the mix, and my thoughts:


Kik It, by Brooklyn Funk Essentials

As a first song, I’m actually somewhat satisfied with this choice. It is a relentlessly funky groove that demands chair-dancing. But, it sets a tone/pace that the rest of the mix can’t support.

Bring the Funk, by Ben Harper

I like Ben Harper just fine, but this song reveals its suckitude after just a few listens. Funky enough, in that Ben Harper way, but strictly bush league as a song. It never should have made the cut.

Do It For Free, G Love

I think Philadelphonic is a great album, I dig G Love’s rhythms and he sings better on this album than that first release would lead one to suspect he can. It is not awful, obviously an attempt to bridge funk to the next songs, but the transition is week.

The Fall of the World’s Own Optimist, Aimee Mann

I have a huge crush on Aimee Mann, and her music just simply appeals to me. Heavenly voice with woeful and hopeful lyrics. This song has been stuck in my head since Aimee shepherded me through writing for 14/48, with great crescendos and tiptoes. Satisfied with this selection.

Mellow Yellow, Donovan

Was I fucking high?

Romeo and Juliet, Dire Straits

I’m a closet Dire Straits fan. Love Knopfler and whoever he chooses to play with. This is a lovely song. But it is way too lovey-specific to be on a general car mix tape. I always skip it.


Problems and Bigger Ones, Harvey Danger

This album has nostalgic resonance with me, but it sticks around because Sean Nelson can flat-out sing. I think this works as a first track, with a slow build into towering “foreswear what you undergo” and I always always sing with it.

Open Letter, John Popper

The only transition I’m really fond of in the mix. The songs progress in similar ways, though this down the blues/soul road instead of HD’s 90sIndyAltRockPop. I dig Popper’s voice, and he’s never written lyrics.

Whiskey Before Breakfast/Over the Waterfall, Leftover Salmon

So, why did I follow a beautiful spiritual song with Greatful-Dead-with-the-bluegrass-turned-to-11? Because I suck at mixed tapes. Didn’t I already tell you that? Leftover Salmon is fun enough, but I don’t know what I was thinking here.

Never Can Get Enough, London Funk Allstars

The album this comes from, Flesh Eating Disco Zombies vs The Bionic Hookers From Mars, is one of my all-timers. Great for roadtrips that demand trippiness. But, the electrofunk comes right outta left field here.

Can’t Find My Way Home, Blind Faith

“Short-lived supergroup” – that phrase tickles me. Otherwise, see “Mellow Yellow” above.

She Talks to Angels, Black Crowes

Every time I hear Chris Robinson sing, I think Kate Hudson is a bitch. I want his voice. Because his is that kind of soul voice that may not have the greatest range, but can produce the kinds of sounds soul demands and that other voices can only flaccidly approximate. This is a perfect car song, because it has to be played loud and you have to feel free to sing with wild abandon. Which I do. I imagine it is scary to witness. I’m fine with this closing a side.

So, there it is, my failure laid out for all to see. I’d like to say it sucks only because I was rushing it, but that isn’t it. I just don’t approach the task with the requisite care.

I’m better at happy accident. Like the fact that, on my laptop, in iTunes, when X’s Los Angeles ends, it segues into a Bill O’Reilly rant about rounding up and prosecuting critics of our Chimp In Chief. Now that’s a great transition.