Monday, July 31, 2006

Many Happy Returns

Thou shalt not steal. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you.

No matter how you say it, it’s a simple concept. Unless, that is, you’re talking about international artifacts.

The British Museum, for example, is full of the world’s treasures, some of which original countries of origin want back. Greece, for one, seeks the return of the Parthenon Marbles (often called the Elgin Marbles). These sculptured panels decorated part of the Parthenon in Athens before Great Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire brought them to England at the turn of the 19th century.

Recent news out of the Middle East, however, gives us hope.

Iraq may still await peace and prosperity, but it again owns one of its most prized cultural relics. Last week, US authorities returned to the Iraqi government a 4,000-year-old representation of Entemena that looters had pilfered in April 2003.

Entemena, in case you’re wondering, was an ancient Mesopotamian king—not, as some of you are thinking, an ancient Mesopotamian enema.

The king’s followers honored him with a rare black stone statue, which rests again in Iraqi hands. Homeland Security officials received a tipoff earlier this year about the headless statue’s location, recovered it, and verified its authenticity before arranging its return to the people of Iraq.

This trend seems worth continuing. Let’s consider the following returns to set things right:

Alaska and Northern California. Two hundred years ago, the Russians established settlements and forts in Alaska and down the western coast of the continent, all the way down to a few miles north of San Francisco. Russia has fallen on hard times since the fall of the Soviet Union and could use a generous land grant boost.

Not to mention that we haven’t had much luck finding the elusive Bigfoot. Why not give someone else a shot at it?

New Orleans. Founded—and brilliantly located—by the French in 1718, New Orleans suffered because of that placement decision when Hurricane Katrina smacked the city last year. American taxpayers should stop footing the bill for reconstruction and give it back to France.

After all, France handles its own urban social ills so well … I’m sure they’ll have no difficulty fixing the Big Easy’s problems.

And, while we’re at it:

The Entire Western Hemisphere. North and South America had some pretty healthy occupants before the Europeans came over and ran roughshod over the hemisphere. Maybe Native Americans can get all the land back, save for a few reservations where anyone of European descent can settle.

Don’t worry—we’ll let these new reservation-dwellers run casinos and stuff. That’ll ease our conscience.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Me, Myself, and My iPod

My earliest memories of music go way back. To the days before real musical choice. Before civilization.

Yes, before the iPod.

These were days when mothers subjected their progeny to the sounds of Barry Manilow, Bread, and ABBA on eight-track.

If you’ve never pushed Hot Wheels around the carpet to the sweet sounds of Seals and Croft, Tony Orlando, and Neil Diamond, trust me—don’t start now.

My therapist and I are working through it. I’m healing. Really.

Before long, I turned to radio to escape the pain. I first turned to the allure, the glamour—yes, the pure cheese—of pop music that defined the 1980s.

After enduring the likes of New Kids on the Block on the hour, every hour, for months on end, I turned to classic rock. Artists from Eric Clapton to Pink Floyd to Peter Gabriel expanded my horizons … but only delayed the inevitable. I remained a captive, you see, because my mother’s domination eight-track hegemony had given way to the domination of program directors.

So I started flipping channels like nobody’s business, moving from one opening chord to another. I rarely found that one song to fit my mood, sadly, and I remained unable to truly control my musical environment.

But there was a solution—and it involved my allowance.

Buying and listening to CDs allowed me to control what I was hearing. Say hello to the Police, Van Halen, and Rush; say goodbye to Richard Marx, Whitney Houston, and Michael Bolton.

Fast forward twenty years. My basement-filling CD library gathers dust while my ubiquitous iPod entertains me through my home entertainment system, in my car, and on my home office desk.

And it contains only the music that I have put there: 9,000-some songs representing the best of my music collection. I choose that addictive iPod “Shuffle” option, trusting that a random mix of MY music will get me through the day.


It doesn’t last an hour. Or even five seconds. I revert back to my teenage survival mechanism, skipping songs more than I hear them out.

After two decades of collecting music, after thousands of dollars in modern audio technology, I’m right back where I started. But I’ll still tell you it’s been a damn good investment.

After all, these days I’m not hearing any ABBA, New Kids on the Block, or Michael Bolton.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Mammoth Deception

Some of you lie about your age. Occasionally, you might fib about your weight or your income.

Maybe—shame on you—you even misrepresent your sexual history.

But most of you don’t deceive private and government donors by diverting nearly $1 million in funds earmarked for legitimate scientific research into side projects, like attempts to clone mammoths.

Clearly, you’re not South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk.

Stem cell and cloning expert Woo-suk was on top of the world in 2003 and 2004. That was before news surfaced last year that his stunning cloning “successes” rested on doctored data. He now finds himself in court, fighting charges that he bought human eggs illegally and used research money for personal expenses.

And Woo-suk’s defense—yes, his defense—rests on his claim that instead of gaining personally from the misspent money, he used it to finance experiments to bring back the mammoth from glacier-preserved cells.

You might enjoy seeing a mammoth the next time you go the zoo. But surely there are better things to bring back from the past.

Music fans would love to see the artists they never had a chance to thanks to the grim reaper. Let’s bring back John Lennon, George Harrison, John Bonham, Jim Morrison, Keith Moon, John Entwistle, and Freddie Mercury and have one hell of a rock and roll reunion show, featuring The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Doors, and Queen.

Cloning Leonardo da Vinci seems like a no-brainer. We could resolve once and for all the debate over whether he was hiding secret messages in his works.

Da Vinci’s engineering skills would even prove useful as we tackles some of the greatest reconstruction projects of our time. Like Iraq. And Lebanon. And M. Night Shyamalan’s career after the dreadful opening weekend of Lady in the Water.

Wouldn’t it be nice to replicate some of our best leaders of the past to help us now? Step forward George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Andrew Jackson.

Not so fast, James Buchanan. And you’d better stay back, too, Herbert Hoover.

Rest assured there’s one thing we aren’t likely to bring back, no matter how good this technology gets.

Hwang Woo-suk’s career.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Null and Void

Apparently, boaters in Virginia have been passing more than maritime tips. And state officials have had enough.

Now the Department of Health is going to make it easy for people on the water to do the right thing—and do it in the right place.

To counter the rising levels of fecal bacteria in Virginia’s waterways—which boaters contribute to every time they make their own unauthorized deposits—authorities intend to build a floating restroom.

Apparently, many folks in Fecal Beach (formerly known as Virginia Beach) are either doing their business in buckets that they empty overboard or just dropping their load in directly. And that’s no way to treat your water supply.

Officials may think that spending somewhere between $40,000 and $80,000 for a toilet bobbing on the waves is efficient stewardship of taxpayer money. But this is America, the land of not only evacuation but also innovation. Can’t we do better?

We’d see a better return on our investment if the government adopted a pay-for-poop plan. Boaters would bring their best to the harbor authorities and speed off both a few ounces lighter and a few bucks richer.

Or Virginia may want to consider going for the “maximum effectiveness” approach, equipping each boat to deliver an electric shock to anyone who even thinks about taking a dump in the water. Just use that miracle of modern technology—the crap detector.

(Note to Hilary Clinton and Rick Santorum: Stay away from Virginia waters unless you have a high voltage fetish. Not so fast, Rick … I know you’ve a big fan of that Old Testament fire and brimstone stuff.)

Fiscal conservatives are likely to push hard for a cheaper alternative. I picture them encouraging water-goers simply to pull close to shore and hurl their turds as far inland as the human arm allows. They can even publicize this sensible proposed practice through a targeted public ad campaign.

“PSAs for BMs.”

Friday, July 21, 2006


Today I’m taking a short break from the rhythm of my “regular” posts to give you a few short updates.

For one, I’ve added FeedBlitz and FeedBurner links over there to the right. I’m choosing to remain ignorant of the nuances of blog subscription arcana, but I hope that those of you who would fin this service useful take advantage of it.

For another, I made it to my one-year “blogoversary” earlier this month. And I’m enjoying writing for this outlet even more than when I started.

You continue to amaze me with the creativity of your comments. They usually make me smarter and always fuel me to keep posting here … so keep the good stuff coming!

Several of you have requested offline that I post more often. That’s difficult while I’m in the process of burying myself in paid writing work, but I’ll try to meet your requests by posting three times a week for a while.

In return, I ask that if you enjoy what you see here, spread the word about this site. Your referrals will make a difference; more traffic makes it easier for me to continue.

Oh yes, and you may have noticed my new avatar. I’d like to think it represents my demonic charm and devilish good looks, but it’s actually just an easily-identifiable image that I’ll enjoy using as my online face—for now.

Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Rock, Paper, Scissors

It’s been a busy week for the newspaper world.

To start off, the New York Times declared it will reduce the width of the paper by one and a half inches in early 2008. Just in time for the presidential election, its narrow political focus will be matched by a narrow design.

The move will save money on newsprint and appeal to 21st century readers, who prefer the more convenient size.

It also provides a convenient excuse—lack of space!—for neglecting to cover conservative-friendly stories. Of course, Fox News may counter by handing the channel’s editorial decisions directly to the Republican National Committee.

The Wall Street Journal is also making changes. The paper announced yesterday that it will allow advertising on its front page for the first time this fall—a step that might bring in tens of millions of additional dollars.

Imagine the possibilities. We may see a story about a new corporate scandal accompanied by plugs for the embattled company’s products, or a feature on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation paired with Windows ads.

You could even spill your coffee on a Starbucks ad.

Maybe the New York Times will follow suit. Of course, the paper will soon have to sell only skinny ads. Probably for weight-loss programs. Or Chilean tourism.

Some other proposed changes to print media:

Indoor delivery: I’m sick of finding my newspapers strewn across the metro area. To raise circulation in the Internet era, papers should offer personal delivery to subscriber’s beds each morning. And breakfast in bed would be nice, too.

Smear-free newsprint: Honestly, people, we’re able to build a space station and manipulate DNA … why can’t develop an economical way to print newspapers that don’t leave our fingertips black?

More wise-ass columns: Let’s get some fresh authors with humorous perspectives on world events and pop culture into the mainstream media.

I wonder if anyone fits that description.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Golden Age

You’ve seen a lot of get-rich-quick schemes.

Some of them find you through the Internet, others via direct mail. No matter how you receive them, these offers usually promise to bring you gold … but they rarely do.

Perhaps that’s because they don't employ ralstonia metallidurans bacteria.

It sounds odd, I know. But scientists working In Australia have found that 80 percent of gold grains thousands of miles apart had these microorganisms living on them. They assert that the bacteria help purge other metals and create solid gold.

You might be thinking that it’s time to invest in these microbes, distribute them around your yard, and reap the benefits. Sadly, the researchers report that the little guys only help the process move along more quickly; they cannot create gold where none is present.

But surely there are some other slow processes these crafty bacteria can help us out with.

Americans’ obsession with reality TV looks like a good candidate. A few well-placed germs might move us on to the next entertainment fad, which can’t be more degrading than this ongoing lowest-common-denominator trend.

How about France? It’s only polite to deliver ralstonia metallidurans there to help the French move past their tradition of surrender and learn about a concept called “victory.”

We could apply some of these handy bacteria to the Democratic Party’s snail-paced search for ideas of its own. And a side benefit—this would also help Howard Dean evolve fully into a human being and leave his howling Neanderthal days behind.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the microbes could wrap up the world’s international crises without further bloodshed? Let’s drop batches of ralstonia metallidurans around the globe to hasten the end of the insurgency in Iraq, the crisis in Lebanon, the nuclear standoff with Iran, and the brinkmanship of Kim Jong Il in North Korea.

Best of all, let’s sprinkle some on this David Amulet character.

He really needs to get over his nasty France-bashing habit.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Journey and Def Leppard: In Concert

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing one of this summer’s great double bills: Journey and Def Leppard.

It was a night of surprises … and the largest shock actually arrived well before Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge even opened its gates.

The band had announced earlier in the week that Steve Augeri—who has sung the band’s hits since Steve Perry and Journey went their separate ways eight years ago—would miss this Washington, DC-area show and at least several others due to a throat infection.

In his place stood Jeff Scott Soto, who had sung with Journey guitarist/mainstay Neal Schon in several projects but had never sung for Journey before this concert.

Needless to say, the crowd tingled with not only anticipation but also a touch of trepidation. Soto’s exceptional voice, however, provided the second surprise of the night; he nailed nearly every note that Perry had put on vinyl, even those approaching the stratosphere.

Journey—which has collected more than two-dozen top 100 hits in the US since the late 1970s—offered another shocker by starting the show with “Escape,” a relatively unknown album track from the 1981 album of the same name. From that point on, however, the group mostly put on a greatest hits show. The crowd screamed for favorites “Don’t Stop Believing,” “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” “Any Way You Want It,” and the twin ballads that defined thousands of proms during the 1980s, “Open Arms” and “Faithfully.”

The band played the well-known tracks flawlessly, marred only by some irritating feedback during “Ask the Lonely” early in the show.

Schon and company have taken Journey in a far more commercial direction than one would have guessed from his time with Santana more than 30 years ago, but his playing offered flashes of guitar brilliance that justified the competition between Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana for Schon back when he was just a teenage prodigy.

The slowest moment in the set came when keyboardist Jonathon Cain sang lead on a song from the most recent Journey release, Generations. Although his performance wasn’t bad, it reminded fans why Cain doesn’t handle lead vocals more often.

After a brief intermission, Def Leppard took the stage to take the crowd on a virtual trip across the pond.

Those in the audience who held a love/hate relationship with the band for creating two of rock music’s best pop metal albums (1981’s High ‘N’ Dry and 1984’s Pyromania) but then morphing into pathetic purveyors of schlock almost twenty years ago had a nice surprise. The rockers from Sheffield threw them a bone with the opening song of the set, “Let It Go” from High ‘N’ Dry.

These old school fans then wretched, however, as the group turned to pop smash “Let’s Get Rocked,” from the 1992 album Adrenalize. Most of the crowd, of course, went nuts for the song.

Thankfully, the band did not subject the audience to other pop smashes like “Two Steps Behind” and “Have You Even Needed Someone So Bad” that would have slowed the show down.

Instead, Def Leppard focused on up-tempo hits like “Photograph,” “Foolin’,” and “Rock of Ages” from Pyromania. The band played fully half of 1987’s smash album Hysteria: “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Love Bites,” “Rocket,” “Armageddon It,” “Animal,” and the title track.

Joe Elliott’s vocals have held up much better than one might suspect after nearly 30 years of pop-metal screaming. His take on Badfinger’s “No Matter What,” a track from the group’s new album of covers, Yeah!, stayed close to the original and sounded great live.

Unless you looked at the frequent big-screen camera shots of drummer Rick Allen’s multi-tasking feet, his solid play might have made you forget about the car accident more than twenty years ago that led doctors to amputate his left arm and learn a new drumming technique.

The band closed with archetypal arena anthem “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” providing a final burst of energy and leaving the crowd as any good rock show should—wanting just a little bit more.

If the Journey/Def Leppard tour is coming to your area, see it. Whether you grew up with this music or discovered its joys after the two bands crested in the 1980s, you won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Shot Full of Rock

You probably enjoy your occasional cup of joe. But how do you feel about a cup of Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter?

That’s right—it’s now even easier to rock and roll all night with the caffeine buzz you’ll get at the KISS Coffeehouse in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

KISS bass player and frequent lead singer Gene Simmons is no stranger to marketing. He has managed to get the KISS logo on everything from comic books to condoms, from underwear to coffins.

And now, he says, it’s time for the KISS faithful to have their own refreshments. So step right up and order your French Kiss Vanilla, Demon Dark Roast, or Kiss Frozen Rockuccunio.

Yes, these drinks really are on the menu.

We may be seeing a new trend; keep your eyes open for these upcoming musician-themed food-and-drink specialty shops:

Clay Aiken: Cheese

Slayer: Devil’s Food Cake

Scott Weiland of Velvet Revolver: Coke

Lars Ulrich of Metallica: Danish

Country Music Association: Crackers

Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe: Sausage

Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson: Pop tarts

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Lend Me a Hand

Almost six months ago, I asked you (if you were around then) to help me create a “best of” list. You can see the results now, over there to the right -->

Since then, I’ve posted about 40 essays, concert reviews, and other stories. And it’s high time for you to help me update my greatest hits collection.

At the end of this post, you’ll see links for what I’ve been told are among the best in the last five months. Take a few minutes today to look at these posts to refresh your memory. Please add a comment here identifying the two or three from this list—or from others not on this list—that you enjoy the most.

I’ll gladly exchange links with you if you leave a comment with your opinion. And if I already have your link up, well … then I’ll give you a big virtual pat on the back.

Without further ado, here are some candidates. I look forward to your comments!

From February: Here Comes the Bribe and A Marriage for the Dogs.

From March: Trial by Liar and Welcome to Hotel Caloriefornia.

From April: Yellow Fever.

From May: INXS: In Concert, Where in the World Is …, and The Days of Our Lives.

From June: Loose Lips Sink Planes.

Vote early and vote often. Gracias.