Sunday, August 28, 2005

MTV VMA's: Who Cares?

Ah, yes, it's Video Music Awards night on the MTV.

As Diddy (the artist formerly known as sane) puts it, "ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!" Too bad nothing did, other than Fat Joe probably getting shot later tonight.

A few random comments on the night's boredom:

(1) Clearly, R. Kelly has lost his damn mind.

(2) Clearly, Kelly Clarkson is officially a hottie. "American Idol" really DOES work; that girl's gonna be around for awhile.

(3) The "special secret surprises" were MC Hammer & My Chemical Romance??? Suddenly I find myself yearning for the days of Michael Jackson & Lisa Marie Presley making out.

(4) Favorite moment of the night? The water jets arching over the winner's heads as they walked the aisle to the stage. Or, more to the point, the water jets malfunctioning and arching NOT QUITE over the winner's heads, causing fabulous people in fabulous outfits to either strut through the water spray (Green Day) or crawl on their hands and knees to avoid getting wet (Kelly Clarkson.)

(5) The grand public debut of the Terror Squad / G-Unit rap war. Fat Joe made fun of 50 Cent's massive security posse, then 50 & Tony Yayo called Fat Joe a "--------- pussy --------- ------!!" during their set. I don't know exactly what WAS said thanks to MTV censors. But the point is, somebody's gonna get shot soon.

(6) Paulina Rubio apologizing for the Gorillaz being "unable to attend." Possibly because they're cartoons, mmm?

(7) I'm TOTALLY writing Lil' Kim while she's in jail. Maybe I'll get an autograph back. Hey, it worked for Slick Rick...

(8) The show sucked. But what else is new?

COLUMN: Diary of a Sick Day

8:32 a.m. - Katie Holmes. A hot tub. Some lime Jell-o. It is the dream of all dreams, when suddenly I'm awakened to the blare of my alarm clock. Quick, hit the snooze timer -- Katie, come back!

8:37 a.m. - Katie is gone for good as my alarm goes off again. I shut it off and lay for a moment, enjoying the relaxing sound effects of a distant crackling fire.

8:38 a.m. - Wait a second, that crackling is coming from my LUNGS. This can't be good.

8:40 a.m. - Reality starts to settle in. Apparantly, while I was tending to the Jell-o in my subconscious, an Ebola of a cold has settled into my head and chest. Urgh. There is NO WAY I'm going to work today.

8:45 a.m. - The inability to breathe without coughing means that I MUST call in sick to work. I really hate doing this. Don't get me wrong, I love skipping work -- I just hate having to make that phone call to do so. I say a couple of sentences out loud to the wall. Grr, nope, my voice isn't shot, it sounds fine. They're TOTALLY not going to believe that I'm sick. Ah well, I really DO feel icky, and it must be done.

8:46 a.m. - Whew. Voicemail. Bosses are so less intimidating when they're recorded. Message left, which means it's official. I'm playing hooky.

8:47 a.m. - I do the hooky dance in my PJ's in the living room. But only for a second; then the headache and nausea set in. Grr, I really AM sick.

9:15 a.m. - The battle stations are prepared. I lay down on the couch and examine the table before me. Box of Kleenex, bottle of Robitussin, 2 pieces dry toast, jug of water, remote control. Check, check, check, check, and check. I'm set. Let's get to illin', y'all.

10:05 a.m. - Daytime TV rules. Today, on a special "Maury," Marisol brings in the 14th possible father of her child for paternity testing. Oh, man, do people actually WATCH this garbage every day? There MUST be something better on, I say to myself as I grab the remote control.

10:45 a.m. - It's not #14's baby, either. Ooh, Marisol, you tempestuous vixen, you.

12:00 p.m. - I'm hungry. This presents a problem, as the only inhabitants of my fridge are a can of grape juice, some Grey Poupon, and something that may or may not have been Chinese food sometime in June. I need to go on a food run. The paranoia sets in. What if a co-worker sees me out driving around? I don't want anybody to think I'm faking it. I plan a route to KFC using all side roads.

12:30 p.m. - Having returned with my stealth lunch, it's time for some soaps. Like sands of the hourglass, so are the Days of our Lives. Hasn't this show been on for, like, 100 million years? That's gotta be one slow hourglass.

1:45 p.m. - Two thoughts cross my mind. First, is there anything worse than the taste of Robitussin? I'd rather go on Fear Factor and munch on rotted animals than take another swig of this stuff. Second, what a STUPID name for a drug. Doesn't it sound like a Japanese monster-movie nemesis? "Godzilla vs. Robo-tussin," coming to a Creature Feature near you.

1:55 p.m. - Robo-tussin has declared war on the rest of my coffeetable. The Sudafed box puts up a good fight but is no match for its awesome power. The only thing that can save the peaceful community of Tabletown is... Captain Advil-Bottle! When I realize I've spent 10 minutes playing with a bottle of cough syrup (complete with sound effects and narration,) I decide that maybe I need to ease off the cold meds a bit.

3:10 p.m. - I want my mommy.

3:40 p.m. - If you channel-flip long enough, there is ALWAYS an episode of "Cops" on somewhere. Astoundingly, I've seen them ALL before.

5:00 p.m. - As my sick day winds to a close, and I trapse through the sea of wadded-up Kleenex around my couch, I still feel pretty icky. On the lighter side, however, if I do it juuust right, I might just be able to turn this into a funny column. Time will tell, I guess...

Monday, August 22, 2005

COLUMN: Peter Pan

In short time, I will be 35 years old. Eek. Don't send cards quite yet - it's not for another five months. Still, the fact that it's that far off and I'm already worried about it does NOT bode well. But who can blame me? 35 is officially old.

If I played professional sports, I'd be contemplating retirement about now. Soon, I will no longer be in the "coveted 18-34 market" that advertisers obsess about. No, instead I'll be lumped into the age bracket where advertisers try to reach me via reruns of "Matlock" and "Murder She Wrote." Where looking at college freshman girls becomes -- officially and decidedly -- creepy. Where MTV starts to become "just crazy kids making crazy noise."

I find myself at an interesting crossroads. On the one hand, I don't ever want to be "the old guy." I don't EVER want to be uncool, unhip, or past my prime. I don't EVER want to be called "sir" in my life. Yet, on the other hand, when my hopes and dreams are actually realized, it's just as irritating.

Let me explain. The other day, a co-worker of mine, in an off-hand conversation, made a comment that part of me wanted to take as a compliment, while the other half simply shriveled up in a ball of embarassment. She innocently referred to me as "Peter Pan."

I mean, why should that bother me? Peter Pan exemplifies the essence of eternal youth. Peter Pan should be my ideal! The world populace can become old fogies all it wants to -- ol' Peter Pan here will just laugh and dance about and then go play some X-Box, right? Right?

Then reality starts to nudge its way in. I'm all for youthful exuberance, but Peter Pan doesn't bring to mind youthful exuberance as much as it brings to mind creepy asexual frolicking. I mean, there's a REASON that Peter Pan is usually played by WOMEN. Staying young in spirit is nifty and good, unless the end result is that women of the free world now think of me on the same sexual level as Sandy Duncan. Never in my life have I heard a girl go, "Wow, that Peter Pan is SUCH a hottie."

I've been to class reunions lately, and people I went to school with are starting to look old and balding and wrinkly and such. Meanwhile, the other day a strange girl came up to me at a summer festival and was all, "Shane? Shane BROWN? Is that you?"

I didn't recognize this middle-aged woman one bit. Turns out we went to GRADE SCHOOL together. We hadn't seen each other since we were, oh, 10. I wouldn't have been able to pick her out of a line-up even if she were wearing her "Wataga Warriors" t-shirt. Yet, she pegged me from 50 yards off. Why? Because I still apparantly must look like I'm 10. THIS is a bit distressing for a 34.6 year old.

The other day, it got WORSE. I was having a "feel-bad-for-me" day, so I decided to treat myself to a movie. However, what I was not expecting at the ticket counter? "I'll need to see some ID, please."

That's right: 34-year-old me got carded trying to get into an R-rated movie. Suddenly, I was HAPPY I went by myself. I was so flabbergasted that, for one of the few moments in my life, I became indignant.

"Look," I said to the ticket girl, "you have GOT to be kidding. I could walk into this movie with a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, an absentee ballot in my pocket and a porno mag tucked under my arm!"

Note to self: This is NOT the best way to impress a theatre employee. Yes, I had to stand there, holding up the line, while she carefully held my ID to the light, checking to ensure it wasn't a fraud -- and all this to prove that I was of the maturity level necessary to watch "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo." There really IS something wrong with this world.

At the end of the day, I guess I just need to stop worrying about what others think, and just be me. My co-worker says my Peter Pan mentality is both "my charm and my downfall," and hey, I can live with being charming. Perhaps a compromise is in order. I'm not going to start wearing suits and listening to Celine Dion, but maybe it's time to ditch my subscription to "Electronic Gaming Monthly" and start getting "Esquire" instead. After all, in five months' time, the REAL fun can start: that's when this Peter Pan will be old enough to run for President.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Sunday, August 14, 2005

COLUMN: Cookouts

I am never going to be a homeowner. This decision, which I made ages ago, means that I will never have complete privacy. I will never be able to crank my stereo as loud as I want. I will never be able to take a shower without fear that the guy in the apartment next door will pick that exact moment, as he often does, to flush his toilet.

BUT -- it also means that I will never have to do yard work. I will never have gutters to clean. I will never make a mortgage payment. And, most importantly, I will never have to succumb to The Rule.

As more and more of my friends have left the collegiate era of apartment dwelling to become responsible, white-picket-fence home dwellers, I've started to become all too familiar with The Rule. Though I have never seen this rule in print, I know that it must exist, as every one of my homeowning friends has fallen under its spell. The Rule is such: If you own a home, you must -- at least once per year -- invite everyone that you've ever met on Earth over for an afternoon cookout.

Happily this is a rule that shall never apply to me, as "cooking out" at my place would involve holding the microwave precariously out the kitchen window. As that's a bit impractical, I may forever escape the role of party invitor. Sadly, the downside of that coin is that I am perpetually one of the invitees.

So what to do if you find yourself invited to one of these Saturday afternoon shindigs? The way I see it, I have two distinct levels of friends. When an upper-tier friend -- mainly former college roommates, girls I fancy, and co-workers who sit within 3 desks of mine -- throws a party, it's a Must-Attend. If it's anyone else, there's a good chance I've got Other Important Stuff to do that day.

Last weekend, I found myself at one of these cookouts. A good friend of mine just moved into her first house, plus it was her birthday to boot, so her party definitely fell within the Must-Attend variety. The problem was that when I arrived, I found that of the 75 or so people in attendance, I knew precisely: two. This isn't just a bad thing for me; it's borderline apocalyptic.

I come from the land of shy, awkward dweebs. Small talk is not a life skill that I've picked up over the years. "Mingling" is not in my vocabulary. But, I gave it the ol' college try -- and I discovered that, when faced with a cookout full of total strangers, a few simple strategies can be employed to make the event less awkward:

(1) Align yourself with the Providers. Everyone respects a man standing beside a grill. Small talk is easy when you're gathered over a burger. Everyone's got a magic grilling secret, myself included (onion powder, garlic salt, and 2 parts steak seasoning pre-grill; 1 half-can beer poured at the halfway mark.) Befriending the Grillmaster is a safe bet -- unless, of course, the Grillmaster is one of those crazy "I-just-like-fire" guys who's hooking up the propane with one hand while taking a drag off their cigarette in the other (that's NOT the version of "housewarming" one wants.)

(2) Align yourself with a housepet. Find the party-thrower's cute kitty and spend as much time as possible playing with it. Kittens are fun to hang with, they draw cute girls like flies, and you don't have to worry about making up inane banter about football or the weather.

(3) Find like-minded souls. Scan the crowd for anyone else outside the fray with a similar look of desperation. All it takes is one well-timed "man, I don't know ANY-body here," and your fellow outcast should commiserate.

If all else fails, sit back and remember why you're REALLY there. You're there because it's your friend's special day and she wanted you there.

Then realize that your friend is way too stressed out throwing the party to actually realize who's in attendance; promptly bum-rush the kitchen and eat your body weight in free burgers, brats, and Aunt Edna's potato salad; then sneak out the back when noone's looking. Or maybe I'm just pathetic. Sorry, Jamie, next time I'll be more social. Promise.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Planning for Cancellation

Is it just me, or does it seem that a lot of these much-hyped new fall shows are setting themselves up for little more than one-season orders?

There's a show coming to CBS this fall, I think, called "Prison Break." They're running the ads for it incessantly on TV. (This, meanwhile, is problematic enough, as these commercials take away from the leadening fact that THE FUTURE OF OUR WORLD DEPENDS ON JUST EXACTLY WHO WILL BECOME THE NEW LEAD SINGER OF INXS!) The plot of "Prison Break," as I understand it, involves Brother A being convicted and sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit. Brother B, some sort of prison-building-expert or something, commits a robbery on purpose in order to be sent to the same prison and help his brother hatch an elaborate escape plot.

(1) How would this guy know he'd be sent to the SAME prison? Wouldn't it suck to do the crime and then find out you're going to Utah or someplace to spend 20 years in a jail cell with a guy named Bubba Love?

(2) HOW can this show exist for more than 1 season? It's either going to be THE most elaborate prison break in the history of history (Season 1 involves 24 different attempts at sneaking a nail file into a cake,) or perhaps on each season finale they'll be re-captured and re-sent to a different prison so they can team up and do it all over again.

Oh, and there's another show -- maybe this one's coming to Fox, I don't remember -- where the show is basically a 20 year old murder mystery involving a group of friends, and apparantly every episode takes place 1 year after the previous episode. 20 episodes and you see 20 years evolve in these character's lives. It's like the anti-"24." Jack Bauer would NOT be amused.

(1) How would you like to be the makeup crew on THIS show? "Yeah, we need you to age, umm, EVERYONE in the show by 20 years. Cool?"

(2) How can THIS show exist for more than 1 season? I think it'd be great if the show gets picked up and they force the cast to evolve ANOTHER 20 years... then ANOTHER, etc., until finally it's a show about geriatrics living in the year 2050, still trying to solve the 100 year old murder while dodging flying cars and evil robots hell-bent on world destruction.

Maybe I just over-think things sometimes...

Secrets of the Dispatch/Argus/Leader, Episode 1

Here behind the closed doors of the Moline Dispatch Publishing Co., LLC, we are respectable journalists. Work-a-holics. Slaves to the grind. Here to inform you, the innocent public, about the news and times of this, our world. Nothing stands in our way to bring you the truth. And, when we trusted public servants have the occasional down time, what sorts of academic worldly pursuits become our folly? Why, we intellectual types ONLY reach to expand our minds to the height of knowledge:

Yes, this IS a real picture from the inside of our break room.

Sunday, August 07, 2005


Attention farmers of the Midwest: I bring good news. I know it's been a rough summer for all of you. That's why I, at great expense of personal resources and brainpower, have figured out a simple solution to this drought problem.

It all came to me two weekends ago. The Travoltas -- the disco tribute band from Canada with legions of fans here in the Quad Cities -- were playing outside at Ribco in the District of Rock Island. Because there was no opening band, I was hired in my usual moonlighting capacity to hop onstage and spin some records for two hours to warm the crowd up.

Problem was, the crowd was already warmed up, owing to it being 100 degrees outside at the time. Add to that the extra heat of the stage lights blazing over my head and I was quickly learning the REAL definition of "Disco Inferno." That's when it happened: I started to sweat. But this wasn't your average, everyday, "hey-I'm-out-in-the-sun" kinda sweat. This was a full-on deluge. I looked like I'd been on the losing end of an epic battle with a Water Weasel. I've never felt so gross.

Ten minutes later, sitting in my car with the air on blast, I got to thinking about just how nasty sweat really is. When you're working hard and break out in a mild sweat, it feels almost satisfying, as if it's liquid testament to your hard work and diligence. Heck, sometimes looking at members of the opposite sex as they're sweating is a turn-on. Personally, if anyone had looked at me onstage that night and thought "sexy," I would have been fleeing in terror. When you really ponder it, sweat's just plain icky.

Think about it: we secrete weird biological fluid from the pores of our skin in order to cool off. LITERS of the stuff, in fact. That doesn't sound natural to me at all. That sounds slimy, alien, and gross. Thank heavens for whoever came up with the word "sweating," because let me tell you, Richard Simmons wouldn't sell any copies of something called "Secreting Fluid to the Oldies."

After lengthy research (aka typing the word "sweat" into Google,) I was even more appalled. Sweat comes from glands all over your body, some of which (your apocrine glands) produce sweat that's ripe with protein and carbs. When released to the skin, that protein gets munched on by bacteria that naturally hangs out all over your body. The bacteria then produces its own waste material that often has a distinctive odor (known by its scientific name, "da nasty funk.") So the next time you're standing next to some dude who's rank as decaying fish inside a gym sock, what you're REALLY doing is inhaling tiny molecules of, essentially, bacteria doodie. Folks, there are reasons I don't like to go outdoors; this is one of 'em.

I'm already the most self-conscious guy in the world; I don't need the added paranoia of wondering if I'm stanky or not. I'm a proud endorser of Mitchum deodorant, just because of its slogan: "So Effective, You Could Skip a Day." Not that I'm about to try it. Regardless, Mitchum or no, that Saturday night was the only time I've prayed that cute girls DIDN'T come up to the DJ booth to request a song.

I despise sweating like a pig. Except for the fact that pigs don't sweat. Pigs actually have the decency to keep their body fluids to themselves. This makes us inherently more gross than many of nature's creatures. I mean, would you keep a housepet if it sweat all over the place? Would you still love little Fluffy or little Fido if they cuddled up to you at night all wet and sticky? Ewwwww.

So I've learned that, when faced with massive temps, I sweat gallons. Drought schmought -- I'm just going to hire myself out to farmers. Just stick me in the sun and let me roll around the cornfields a bit. On that note, I'd best be off; this column paints SUCH a sexy picture that I'm guessin' the ladies will be e-mailing like mad.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Oh Man...

Okay, at the risk of sounding like (as my co-worker Heather often says) Bitchy McBitcherson, I need to vent about something for a second. And this involves people you've never met and probably could care less about. But a friend of mine is getting the shaft BIGTIME and I need to rail on it.

I've got a friend. She's not an extremely close friend, and her name's not important. But she's one of the most interesting people that I've ever met... and, for the most part, the only non-crazy person that I've ever met strictly within the confines of this here internet thingajigger.

Anyways, this girl's from the Quad Cities, but is currently off at seminary school far, far away. As long as I've known her, her life has been dominated by religion. But not in the usual way.

When you think of people whose lives revolve around religion, a certain stereotype falls into mind, doesn't it? You think of people who spew Bible verses at random, who go to church every Sunday, who have Jesus fish bumper stickers on their car, etc., etc. Perhaps it's an unfair stereotype, but it's an honest one (at least for me.) Basically people who live their life according to their spirituality.

My friend, however, let's call her Mary (just 'cause she'll HATE that *grin*,) follows a different code. Rather than letting spirituality dictate her life, her life dictates her spirituality. Her entire existence is a quest for knowledge, answers, and spiritual satisfaction. The church needs more Marys.

This is a girl who has never been afraid to ask some tough questions about her faith... to examine the grey areas... to seek truth, even if she trods through some deeply controversial waters on her journey. She doesn't want an easy answer. She attempts to understand how religion affects such things as interpersonal relationships and femininity and sexuality. She's not afraid to question some of the hairier parts to the Bible, to speak her mind about the aspects of religion that can be unfair or offensive or goes against her personal viewpoints on life. In other words, she's going into seminary school, but not letting it dictate to her how she should blindly defer to the traditional church doctrine and never question her faith.

When she first told me that she had been accepted into seminary school, I was a bit aghast and may have mentioned something about her turning into a "Jesus zombie." I just didn't want her to EVER stop exploring... to ever say the phrase, "...because the church says so." Her quest for the inner truths in life are nothing short of inspiring, and I didn't want to see that quest get lost in a haze of morality and tradition.

I needn't have worried. Mary's been in seminary for a couple years now, and she's still just as vibrant, just as intelligent, just as curious. And I love her for it. She's met the guy of her dreams down there, and I couldn't be happier.

For years now, Mary has kept a blog on the internet. Not only does this blog detail her life at seminary, it also chronicles her quest for insight. She's not afraid to raise some pretty controversial discussions on her blog, and her visitors have long and often appreciated the spirited debates and discussions that her frequent posts raise.

This girl has an AMAZING future ahead of her. There are few people out there in life who I think TRULY have the power to change the world, and this girl's one of them. In person, she can occasionally come across as shy and reserved; but inside, she's sharp as a tack, quick-witted, and the bearer of an intelligence that I could only DREAM of having.

This past week, Mary's entire identity has officially come under attack. I don't know the EXACT details, because I don't go to seminary myself and I'm not nearly as well-versed when it comes to religion. But basically the story goes like this. At her particular school, each student has a judicatory group of faculty and staff who basically advise that student -- a peer group to let them know how they're coming in their progress, their strengths and weaknesses, offer advice, etc. It might be constructive or it might be domineering, I honestly don't know because I'm not there.

The problem is: this judicatory group finally discovered the existence of Mary's blog. And they're none too pleased. I won't deny that the blog's not shocking -- there's frank language, frank debate, and more controversy than you can shake a stick at. But it's not POINTLESSLY shocking; it serves a greater good. It's there to expose the problems that exist in religion, and to open discussions that might clarify and might even help overcome these problems.

If you were to talk to Mary, she'd tell you that her blog is just the chronicle of her journey through seminary school; I'm sure she thinks it's nothing special. But I tell you now, and this is coming from me who's not a deeply religious person, the information and posts and discussions that this blog brings up could make a best-selling book. Seriously. I'm completely addicted to her blog. Even though I barely pipe up in there to say more than the occasional "hi," I love to read her thoughts and the thoughts of those that regularly visit.

Except that now it's gone. Her judicatory group insists that the blog stop; they've given Mary several reasons for it, including that the blog's existence could harm her chances of getting a job once she's through school. I think that Mary could care less; if a prospective employer didn't appreciate her freedom of expression and her questioning nature, she wouldn't want to work for that employer in the first place.

So now my poor friend is in a quandry. She's honestly contemplating NOT becoming ordained as a result of the blog shutdown (opting instead on a focus towards Human Sexuality Education Within Christianity.) How on Earth a group of people devoted to religion couldn't see the AMAZING benefit of this challenging yet spiritually redeeming journal boggles my brain.

In the meantime, she's started a new journal -- but this one's only open to those she can trust and those who can appreciate her insight without the gasp of self-righteousness and closed-mindedness of many in the religious community. Perhaps if you comment to this post, and perhaps if she sees that comment, she'll contact you and include you in her odyssey. Then again, maybe it's best that Mary stays on the down-low, so that she can continue her spiritual exploration within the confines of the morally superior.

Regardless, I make this post to publicly say that I wish her well on her journey, and to let her know that her work is not in vain. Someday she'll change things; mark my word on it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The REAL magic of Harry Potter.

Wow. I sure have gotten some interesting mail this week.

It seems that my Harry Potter column has stirred up some controversy. Specifically, it wasn't so much my column that stirred the controversy, but the words "Harry Potter" themselves.

I had heard that there were those out there with serious Harry Potter issues. I've now heard from a few of them... and I want to say a few things out in the open.

First off, I'm not a very religious person. Don't feel sorry for me or anything; I'm honestly okay with it. I went to a Lutheran college, I've had my share of religion classes. I'm FASCINATED by religion and LOVE talking about it. I just don't know if I necessarily buy into it. I like to consider myself still searching... for answers, for truths, for a religion that jives with me and my belief system.

I respect all religions. I understand that it's a VERY VERY VERY important aspect to many a person's life... and there's nothing wrong with that one bit. Even if I don't agree with your religion, anything that builds community and positivity and peace is, frankly, a GOOD thing in my book.

However, all this said, I'm now receiving letters from folks out there condemning me for even referencing Harry Potter in one of my columns... because, to make the story short, Harry Potter is apparantly turning children of the free world to the occult. And, more to the point, by my mentioning of Harry Potter in a column, I'm basically an accomplice to the crime.

No offense... but man, gimme a break.

First off, what the Harry Potter books have managed to do above and beyond all is to encourage kids to read... and quite frankly, there's nothing wrong with that. That's AWESOME. Reading opens doors to the mind, to the world, to possibilities.

I don't for a second think that reading a FICTIONAL book about FICTIONAL kids who know how to cast FICTIONAL magic is opening the doors to the realm of the occult. Show me a kid who's read a Harry Potter book and promptly gone out and renounced their religion to perform black magic... and I'll show you a kid who must have had some SERIOUS issues before he or she ever cracked open that book.

Nowhere in the Harry Potter books can one find a passage encouraging little kids to perform evil magic or join the ranks of the occult. It's a STORY. Just like the 200,000 other stories that one can find in one's local library. It's so harmless it's absurd.

Worse yet is this insinuation that by referencing the Harry Potter series, I'm somehow in cahoots with the dark occult evil empire. Get real. I'm not mad that someone's casting me in a negative light; people do that all the time. But I AM mad that someone would use Harry Potter as a reason to do so.

I write for a newspaper. We cover news -- whether it's politics, sports, weather, (cough) HUMOR, whatever. Our paper has spent several a column inch reporting on Al Qaida... does that make us in league with terrorists, too? Get real.

There's a whole lot worse out there for kids than Harry Potter. If you squirm about your kid reading Harry Potter, you should be bedridden with fear over what your kid experiences every day when he or she gets to school. Schools are a bubbling cauldron of peer pressure, outside influence, and bullying. Little girls walk the streets in Paris Hilton get-ups. Eating rotting bugs is now considered prime-time television entertainment. Oh, Mr. Dylan, you WERE so right -- the times, they sure ARE a-changin'.

Yet with all the tragedy... all the trauma... all the senselessness in the world, some people out there prefer to set their radar on HARRY POTTER?! The morals in those books are strong, unwavering, and crucial to success in life. Valor... honor... compassion... love. That's what Harry Potter teaches. And it's VALUES that need to be encouraged in kids rather than random fear. Those values will set the path for the children of tomorrow to make the right choices in life. And the positive impact that a little kid can get from reading books like Harry Potter is the only REAL magic afoot here.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Is there anything funnier on Earth than this comic strip? I mean, REALLY?! It might be in poor taste to be up here promoting a comic that our newspaper tragically doesn't even run (despite my many pleas to management,) but I don't care. It's just that funny. Monday's actually made me inhale Pepsi up my nose. Go to (click above,) read it, buy the books, get a t-shirt, whatever. Just worship at the ground of Stephan Pastis. Trust me.

Alan Ball Must Die (Six Feet Under & Out)

(Photo courtesy

What on EARTH has Alan Ball done to HBO's "Six Feet Under" this year?! I'd like a do-over, please.

I've only encountered a few people who are addicted to "Six Feet Under" like myself. Usually, those people share the qualifying trait of being some of the coolest people I know. It's like a secret club that only hipsters and people I respect belong to or something.

But MAN has this show lost itself this season.

This is, in case you don't know, the final season for the groundbreaking HBO series. At this writing, there are (I think) 3 episodes left. In final seasons of TV shows, we expect closure... we expect things to wind up, then dramatically wind down. It's (appropriately enough) the closest thing to the 5 stages of grief that we can witness outside of feeling it ourselves.

I've invested a whole lotta time into "Six Feet Under." I've watched close to every episode from Day One. And here it is, the final season, and the show is now a full-on parody of what once made it so freakin' great.

This season, the writers seem to have ONE agenda: take every major character and completely flip-flop their personalities. Occasionally, it's worked to good effect; but for the most part, it's more laughably absurd than brilliant.

Take, for instance, the long-suffering Fisher daughter, Claire. When the show began, Claire was an interesting kid. Dark, deep, gloomy, a little messed in the head -- the archetypal Disaffected Artiste. Imagine Winona Ryder's character from "Beetlejuice" a little more detailed. For years, we've watched her weather the emotional storm of her family and her life whilst she's developed into a pretty cool artist. In short, she's become any girl I've ever wanted to date ever. This season, it all falls apart. Claire has a wake-up call, puts her art aside, and basically gets a stereotypical office job and falls for the stereotypical suit-wearing co-worker. The fact that she does a complete about-face as a character might be considered interesting if it were done well. It's not been. In last week's episode, for example, Claire takes her new Republican boyfriend to an art show thrown by her old friends (central characters in past seasons; barely seen since.) And her old friends, who once had defineable, compelling problems, were there... as caricatures of their former selves -- turned from visceral characters that you once CARED about into shallow art geeks having emotional blow-ups over little more than their own pretentiousness. It's like the writers are saying, "Yeah, we totally wasted your time with these people." If the moral of this show is to be that art types are little more than whiny deranged pansies, it's time for me to find a new show. I simply don't believe that anyone who is, at their core, deeply artistic can happily just seem to toss it all aside as youthful folly. And, if there's anybody out there who really HAS done that, it should be seen as more tragedy than triumph.

Then you've got Ruth, the matriarch of the Fisher clan. Once the solid rock of old-fashioned wisdom and charm, this season finds Ruth ditching her new husband because of his mental illness, then going on a crazy rampage for companionship of any kind. It's a joke. To hear Ruth yearning to live on a man-free commune and borrowing Claire's pot isn't just a character shift; it's a full-on meltdown of everything we've come to love about the woman.

David (the Fisher son) and Keith (his lover) have been an intriguing pair since the show's start. This year, their quest to adopt children has turned the two into little more than a parody of "Mr. Mom." They've almost turned into comic relief.

And the OTHER Fisher son, Nate... well, if you didn't see tonight's episode, I won't go into detail... but suffice to say he got his life-changing experience tonight as well.

Maybe Alan Ball's done a fantastic job -- maybe he's a genius. I mean, really, there's not much else on TV that would make me sit here in front of my computer and type such a nerd-centric blog entry. I must care about these characters to be this worked up about the writers screwing them over so badly this year.

I dunno... I'm just appalled, though. Not that I won't watch the final episodes in search of a little redemption. All I know is that a show that was once the most cutting edge thing on TV has become ridiculously weird and cartoonish. And that's just sad. RIP.

COLUMN: Harry Potter

You guys almost didn't get a column from me this week; I had better things to do. I wish those things made for a cooler story, like saving little bunnies from menacing testing labs or saving little Katie Holmes from menacing Tom Cruise, but no such luck.

Instead, I, like the other 9.5 million of you, spent the past week deeply engrossed in "Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince." Some of you might not see any problems with this; I consider it to be a HUGE character flaw of mine.

For a very long time, I resisted the Harry Potter lure. "It's a kid's book," I would say to myself while shaking my head with disbelief whenever I caught one of my co-workers deeply engrossed in a J.K. Rowling book. "Why on Earth would you be reading it?"

I've never really thought of myself as a book snob -- but a lot of my friends definitely are. I have friends who sit around and read Nietzsche and Descartes FOR FUN. I, meanwhile, don't much care for books that require five attempts to make it through one page, especially when that particular page is the beginning of a 50-page philosophical discussion on whether or not a chair is a chair. (Personally, I agree with Burt Bacharach that a chair is still a chair, even when there's no one sittin' there, but a chair is not a house and a house is not a home yada yada.)

I have far more lowbrow tastes when it comes to books. That said, I've never dipped so low that I've walked into the children's section at Borders for pleasure reading. Back then, I thought that a 34-year-old reading Harry Potter was no different than a sober person watching the Teletubbies.

Until one day I snapped. I was officially sick of my co-workers using words like "quidditch" and "muggle" in regular conversation. It was like the whole world was joining a club that I wasn't a member of. So I went to Borders on a clandestine mission and picked up the first Harry Potter book. I think I even said something to the clerk like, "It's for my little cousin." Yeah, right.

Within two days, I had finished it. Within two hours, I was back for the sequel. On and on, until I had read 'em all. Last week, I was so excited about the new installment, "Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince," that I left my weekend DJ gig at 3 a.m. and drove straight to Wal-Mart to buy it. And yes, my world came to a grinding halt until I had made it all the way through. It's a pretty dark book, too -- definitely the "Empire Strikes Back" of the Potter saga, and a good setup for the grand finale promised for the next volume.

Is Harry Potter great literature? Probably not, but I still love the books -- although, from an adult perspective, a few concerns:

-- The kids in "Harry Potter" are known to sit around and drink "butterbeer" and "firewiskey." There's a reference to the firewiskey "going to their heads." Perhaps there really is no evil Lord Voldemort; maybe it's all just a paranoid delusion brought on by adolescent alcoholism. Just say no, Harry.

-- At the Hogwarts School, kids are split into four "houses." The good kids go to Gryffindor; the bad kids go to Slytherin. I feel bad for the kids who are relegated to the OTHER two houses (Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw). They're seldom mentioned in the books, confined to a life of minor characters and magical mediocrity.

-- The jock in me (yes, he's there -- he's just really small and likes watching instead of playing) has to say that quidditch is, at its heart, a really stupid game.

-- I know it's a kid's book, I know it is. But I really detest the corny endings in the Harry Potter series. Every time, Harry is confronted by evil. Every time, Harry manages to come out on top because "he can love." My biggest fear is that we'll get to the final showdown between Harry and Lord Voldemort, and Harry's gonna run up to him and give him a great big bear hug, and he'll evaporate into a pink cloud of butterflies, sunshine, and effervescent cheesiness.

But that won't stop me from secretly sneaking out to buy the next book and trying to beat every 12-year-old on the planet to the finish. Then I can stop this silly obsession and move on to quality literature that's more my age.

I've been hearing good things about this Lemony Snicket fella...