Monday, October 23, 2006

COLUMN: Negative Ads

My favorite source for the news of the day has got to be newspapers. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that I work for one. It may or may not also involve my editors stringing me from my toes if I were to say something different. Regardless, I think we do a pretty good job bringing you the top stories of the day.

Or so I thought.

See, I've been watching a lot of TV lately. After all, it IS the new fall season, and as much as I love our newspaper, it doesn't routinely feature Evangeline Lilly, or Jenna Fischer, or any of America's Next Top Models...

Or that one girl on "Heroes" who I'd like to mention but know that even though she's been photographed partying with Paris Hilton, in reality she's only 17 and ergo that would be WRONG, Shane. Very, very wrong.

Anyways, thanks to my sad obsession with hot TV celebrities, I learned about a new threat we all must fear. And it's a threat our newspaper sadly seems to overlook. It turns out that there are two very, very dangerous men roaming about the Iowa countryside. And If it wasn't for a helpful barrage of non-stop TV ads, I never would have known about this threat to our way of life.

Funnily enough, both of these apparant harbingers of doom are running for Congress.

NOTHING on Earth so efficiently drives me crazy quite like negative campaign ads -- and this election year, we're setting a new precedent for the things. I'm referring in particular to the race for Iowa's 1st District between Mike Whalen and Bruce Braley.

I should barely care about this race. I don't live in Iowa; these guys don't represent ME. No offense, but the only thing I care about when it comes to Iowa politics is making sure someone's there to tell future viable Presidential candidates that it's not the best idea to yell "Wheeeeargh!" when making their Iowa concession speeches.

Yet, night after night, I have to suffer through the mindless back and forth mudslinging going on by these guys and the random PAC's that support them. I have yet to hear an ad that talks about which candidate is GOOD for Iowa. I only know why they're both BAD. The respective arguments of these ads go something like this:

• Mike Whalen has a whole lot of money. This is apparently a bad thing, as guys with lots of money are apparently greedy and evil. Frankly, I think the fact that Whalen built a restaurant empire out of nothing speaks to his initiative. And hey, Whalen's Heart of America owns Johnny's Italian Steakhouse, and have you guys tried the Filet Trio over there? Anybody responsible for THAT foodgasm going into my mouth is an okay guy in my book.

• Braley, meanwhile, has "been labelled a 'peace candidate' by the Communist Party!" First off, doesn't it take a crowd to have a "party"? Isn't it more like the Communist Brunch these days? No offense to you aspiring socialists out there, but isn't today's Communist Party nothing more than a few overly-idealistic college kids and that same guy who runs for President every 4 years? Who cares who the Communist Party sorta-endorses? And, Commies aside, what's so wrong with being a "peace candidate"? Would you rather be the "Warmonger candidate?"

Is this what today's politics has come to? Hoping that controversial groups DON'T support you? What's next? In two more years, what will we be seeing? "Hi, my name is Larry. I'm a convicted pedophile and arsonist, and I'm here to tell you that Jim Schtick is my choice for Congress. Yes, on behalf of all the arsonistic pedophiles nationwide, I can safely say that Jim Schtick is our man! (Paid for by the League of People Who Think Jim Schtick is a Doodiehead.)"

How about trying something different, folks? How about telling us who TO vote for, rather than who NOT to vote for? Campaigns should be about the issues and concerns of constituents. In fairness, both candidates' websites address and answer these negative ads, but still, this campaign has managed to turn "blue vs. red" into the Greenbacks vs. the Red Menace. It's all pretty silly, but then again, I've never claimed politics weren't funny.

I'm just waiting for one of the OTHER guys in the hunt for that Congressional seat to run an ad claiming that a newspaper column has just linked both Whalen AND Braley to arson and pedophiles. Then my editors probably WILL string me from my toes. And then, heck, nobody wins.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

COLUMN: Renaissance

Ooh, you picked a good week to read my column. That's right, lucky reader, this week you get to gain valuable behind-the-scenes insight. People often ask me (between autographs, of course) how I choose a column topic each week.

Truth be told, it's a highly scientific process involving two important steps:

(1) I sit around for a week, and
(2) Hope that something dumb and funny happens.

This is a proven method for success (I'm just a magnet for stupidity.) Every once in a while, though, the clock starts ticking and the stupid stuff just doesn't happen. Last week, in fact, I went five whole days without anything idiotic going on around me. I was starting to sweat. Would I have nothing to write about this week? Then my prayers were answered:

A renaissance fair was a-comin' to town. The gods were on my side.

After all, what could be funnier than a pack of grown adults putting on fake suits of armor and fake fighting each other with fake swords until one of them fake dies? It's Instant Comedy: Just Add Dorks. This is the humor columnist's Mecca.

Now, no offense to you Renaissance Fair-loving folks. To each their own, I say, and if your idea of fun is wearing tights, using the word "m'lady" as a pickup line, and chugging a mug of Schlitz -- sorry, I mean, MEAD -- then hey, more power to ya.

Me? I'm ENOUGH of a nerd as is -- I don't need to display it publically. Frankly, I believe God created puberty for a reason, and that reason is to give us an exact timeframe in which to pack up our Dungeons & Dragons modules. As difficult as it was to accept back in 8th grade, I had to come to grips with the harsh truth that most girls don't actually care that you're a 12th Level Paladin who successfully defeated the dread Troll King of G'narloff Spire.

So I was pumped. Granted, I didn't want to go on an all-out assault against the Renaissance masses. After all, these people are kindred spirits - we nerds can smell our own. I like my video games and my computer, and yes, I spend my days posting on "Lost" message boards and the like. I'm a dork through-and-through, so I wasn't going to devote an entire column ridiculing the Renaissance folk.

Still, I could poke fun a little, right? Right?

That was the exact moment when technology decided to declare war on me. Let's recap:

• A taillight goes out on my car. Which is courteously pointed out to me by a police officer and a written warning.

• I get home to find my air conditioner going "KA-CHUNK! KA-CHUNK!" I'm no expert, but I'm guessing that's not good.

• My universal remote control goes out -- but that's okay, because so did the TV in my bedroom.

• To top it all off, I turn on my computer to do pre-work on this column... to find out it's hosed. My primary hard drive is toast, along with all of my software and about 175 GB of music for my weekend DJ gig.

Look, I know that random bad things happen from time to time. But never like this. Never all at once. I'd like to play a video game, but I'm afraid to touch any more technology. I'm living in fear of my toaster exploding. This is no mere run of bad luck. Nope, this must be MAGICK.

My guess is an Elf Mage, with a Hex of Mechanical Failure +2, and I missed my saving throw. I thought I could make fun of the Renaissance Fair without harm, but NAY! A seer must have gazed into a mystic crystal to become learned of my plot, and hence crafted a stealth attack to thwart the scribing of thine column.

Thy moral of thy story: Mock ye not the Renaissance Fair, lest ye be cursed. Oh, and if ye happenth to possess a 250GB Western Digital hardeth drive, thou art encouraged to send it hastily my way.

Vengeance, however, is mine. My column may have been thwarted, but I was happy to turn on the news last night and see live coverage from the Renaissance Fair. In the foreground, medieval dorks were frolicking about as you'd expect. But in the background? Cars whizzing by, one of which was clearly blaring a diddy from that minstrel bard of yore, Sir Snoop of Dogg.

STOP THE PRESSES! I can't even make a Snoop Dogg joke without the wrath of the Renaissance warriors! I woke up the morning after writing this column to find my car dead in the parking lot. Won't turn over, won't move. I have mocked the Renaissance Fair and its denizens for the last time. You are all wonderful, powerful human beings and I beseech you to leave me and my technology alone. I shall ne'er speak ill of you again. Just remember: when I call you "dorks," it's with the utmost respect.

Monday, October 09, 2006

COLUMN: Plane-o-phobia

0114420880933852. When your caller ID shows THAT, you pick up the phone. That HAS to be an important call. Or at least an interesting one.

I was hoping it was Harmony, my friend who's spending half a year in Beijing. Instead, it was the voice of an old friend with an interesting proposition.

It was, in fact, the ex-wife of my old college roommate. After their strangely amicable divorce, Kari had followed her dream -- oh, who are we kidding, she followed MY dream -- and moved to England to become a music writer. While we still sent the occasional e-mail, our communications had slowed over the years and the miles, so it was fantastic to hear her voice.

It turns out that her boyfriend of a couple years, a Welshman named Maughan (which, disappointingly, does NOT rhyme with "noggin,") popped the question -- they're getting hitched in February. Not only was Kari calling to tell me the great news, she was calling to see if I'd DJ the wedding.

IN LONDON. On the Tower Bridge, no less.

Wow. I've always wanted to go to England. Between the history, the culture, and the nightlife, it's my dream vacation, honestly. And to get to show off my DJ skills to an entirely different country? That's pretty cool. Plus Kari's in the music business, so the guest list at this little shindig might be pretty impressive. I want to do it. I want to do it BAD.

There's just ONE problem. England is, most decidedly, difficult to drive to.

When I was a kid, our family flew down to Disney World. I don't remember much about the flight, I just remember thinking how cool it was to be in an airplane.

Flash forward some 20 years, and the paper decides to send me out to a conference in Boulder, Colorado. Awesome! I hadn't been on a plane in FOREVER, and to be handed a free trip to Colorado for a week? Shoot, sign me up!

I got to the airport one excited globetrotter. Ticket in hand, I proceeded through the terminal with a spring in my step. Then I boarded the plane.

"That's funny," I thought to myself, "this sure seems small." When I was a kid, I remembered planes being huge on the inside. You know, like the planes you see in the movies. THIS plane, on the other hand, was a winged school bus. It was kinda dirty. It smelled a little funky. People were crammed in like sardines. Then we pulled down the runway.

Ten seconds after liftoff, I thought I was dying. I could see my heartbeat as my shirt fluttered faster and faster. My knuckles were white as snow. Breath came shallow. "Swell," I said to myself, "You really ARE a weenie."

Turns out I have a horrific fear of flying. It was news to me, honestly. I thought flying would be fun. Then I looked DOWN and saw clouds, and about saw my breakfast on my lap. Far below the clouds was Earth, a patchwork of fields and colors... and all I could do was wonder which one of those little squares would be the softest to crash-land in.

We arrived in St. Louis and I barely had time to make my connecting flight to Colorado. By now, I was noticably shaking. The last thing I wanted to do was go up AGAIN -- but then again, being stuck in St. Louis and having to tell my boss that I was too afwaid of da big bad pwane didn't sound like a better fate. So I sucked it up and boarded the connecting flight. And who of course sits down next to me but THE HOTTEST GIRL THAT HAS EVER LIVED.

This was fate. This was karma. This girl was my soulmate. Or at least she was until I reached for the barf bag. Try as hard as I could, there was NO way to be cool. I had to fess up to her that I was terrified, and she did her best to placate me the rest of the way. Air travel is for the deranged and fearless. I am a rational human being, and rational human beings accept that people aren't expected to float at 40,000 feet in the air.

Yeah, I know, cars are far deadlier. But, at least in a car, MY hands are on the wheel. My fate is LITERALLY in my hands. In a plane, my fate is in Capt. Doug's hands. Or Al the engine mechanic. Or Phil the shoe bomber. Too many variables, people, that's all I'm saying.

So instead I've been doing a lot of pacing. I really want to go to England come February, I really do. But can I do it without tossing my Transatlantic cookies? Maybe they can knock me out just like Mr. T in the A-Team and presto, I'm in London. My friends say I should do it, and that movies and music can distract me. Well, unless that movie is "Harry Potter & the Plane That Always Lands Safely," I'm still gonna be a basket case. I've got a couple weeks to decide, and until then, I keep repeating Kari's mantra to me:

"British chicks dig guys with American accents."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

COLUMN: Bedbugs

Okay, so we've all watched shows like "Dateline NBC" and "48 Hours." As a result, we all know that every item in our household is, in fact, a ticking time bomb of danger that could, quite suddenly and without warning, kill us painfully. We all know that every square foot of our kitchens can be put under a microscope to reveal a world of parasites, bacteria, and legions of micro-ickies that could, quite suddenly and without warning, kill us painfully. We all know that every guy who uses the internet, is, in fact, a child predator who could, quite suddenly and without warning, gross us out bigtime.

Not even our own publications are immune to a touch of sensationalism now and again. Thanks squarely to articles in our papers, I am now completely afraid to go outside in the summer. Once upon a time, I lived a blissful life of ignorance -- before discovering that every innocent mosquito buzzing about is, in fact, a carrier of deadly West Nile whatzit that could, quite suddenly and without warning, make me act like a ninny anytime I hear buzzing around my ear.

Now, thanks to four articles that we've run in our papers thus far in 2006, we can welcome a new addition to my closet of paranoid fears and neuroses. Scoot aside, identity theft. Make way, tainted spinach. Don't crowd, contagious anthrax. Say howdy to our newest paranoid fear: THE BEDBUG!

Prior to this year, I didn't even know there WERE such things as bedbugs. I thought it was just a little nursery rhyme fun: "Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite!" Little did I know this phrase was less happy ode and more fearful prayer. Turns out that bedbugs are quite real, and the little suckers are supposedly making a comeback. Once upon a time, the bedbug menace barely existed thanks to our insecticide buddy, DDT. But, wouldn't ya know, it turned out that DDT can, quite suddenly and without warning, kill us painfully. Sigh. So bye-bye, DDT; hello, bedbugs.

Great. Like I had an easy time going to sleep in the first place. Now I get to lay there and feel phantom bedbugs crawling all over me, causing me at least once a night to leap out of bed, pull the covers back, and REALLY tick off my cats.

Good news, though! The last article I saw said that if you suspect that your home might have bedbugs, "Don't panic!" In fact, all you have to do is look for tell-tale "tiny blood spatters on your sheets!" Neat!

Let me ask you this: If finding tiny blood spatters on your sheets is NOT a good time to panic, WHEN EXACTLY IS? Frankly, any type of living situation that requires one to routinely check for your life essence leaking onto your bedsheets is, decidedly, a panic-able situation in my book. Plus, my sheets are black. When I was shopping for bedding, the ability to see things-that-go-suck-in-the-night wasn't exactly a priority.

And every article basically says the same thing: if you've got bedbugs, it's pretty much game over. The little vampires hide in mattresses and wood cracks and fabric and then wait til you're asleep before coming out to the blood buffet. You can't kill them unless you can find them, and you pretty much can't find them no matter how hard you look. To the bedbug, we're a human Ponderosa, and it apparantly doesn't matter if you slather yourself in Deep Beds Off.

"Do your research!" the article instructs. "Talk to (or hire) a professional pest-control worker." Do my research? Do my research WHERE? 'Cause let me tell you, the day I wake up and see tiny blood spatters on my sheets is the last day I wake up in THAT apartment. And I won't be happy with a pest-control worker, no siree. I would need the entire Orkin Army showing up en masse with enough ammo to suddenly and without warning kill every bedbug painfully within a radius of five square miles.

So, hurrah! Bedbugs are real, and it is our duty as media-watching citizens to be very, very afraid. So what's next? What other seemingly fictitious evils are next in line to spring into reality? Let me guess -- there really ARE boogeymen living in our closets? The Grinch really MIGHT steal Christmas? Eggs & ham might suddenly turn green? If that's the case, let me be the first to go on record: I would be afraid in a box. I would be afraid with a fox. I don't want bedbugs in my house, I freak out enough when I see a mouse. I do not like this paranoid fear, and I wish that it would