Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Photagrafer grammer 101

One of the newspaper paradoxes I've noticed: The more skilled a photographer is at his/her craft, the more atrocious the cutlines will be that accompany the photo.

Witness the Daily News this morning. Now, the Daily News already writes its cutlines in Tarzan English, which drives me nuts. Today, however, a lovely then/now shot as part of a Hurricane Katrina retrospective was marred by a "were" where a "where" should have been.

The paradox also works the other way. At one newspaper job, a photographer shortage had us reporters required to take our own photos at some of the events we covered. Most of our resulting work would cause the editors to howl with laughter until they realized they had no usable shots to run with our story.

I did manage to eke out two centerpiece photos during that time. One was a toddler riding a mechanical bull at the county fair. The other was a woman pinning a clown nose on her 90-something-year-old mother. I'm still waiting on my Pulitzer for those.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Smalltown letters to the editor are a prime source of entertainment for me -- like reading FreeRepublic with the racial and homophobic epithets cleaned out, to a certain extent. This one, which appeared in my hometown daily The Facts on Sunday, is an instant classic, and not merely because it's one of the most poorly argued points I've ever seen. Emphasis is mine.


I cannot stand the hyphenated designation of Americans. Do people not think that that people born in America would not like to be called “American?” Many of us were here since before WWII. Can’t you just say American?
I have learned that categorizing helps some of us think. We categorize things so they fit into our cognitive framework and so that we know how to think of them in relation to other things. What’s wrong in assigning labels to them is that it makes a political issue of them.
Politicians break it down and say they have the Mexican-American vote or the Afro-American vote. They can’t just say I have 57 percent of the population. You never hear them say I have the white vote. This does not sound fair, does it?
I have chosen to reject hyphenation, and some have called it race treachery, but it is really a demand that we are Americans equally. Many of us ignore it to not rock the boat. The older folks have gotten used to it. The younger folks have to reject the hyphenation. After all, is there not only one race? The human race?

Linda Vasquez-Allen, Brazoria

Yeah, I know that's not what she meant. But it's still funny.

By the way, if anyone wants more information on the, er, "city" of Brazoria, Texas, it's kind of like one of those places to which the lawyers in John Grisham novels are always being sent to invesetigate.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Shout down thy neighbor

I have one motivation to get out every weekend. That's when my neighborhood, more specifically the street directly below my apartment windows, turns into a reggaeton-infused block party. Still, even when I'm home, this doesn't bother me so much. Music, for some reason, is easy for me to tune out if I want, and the party usually shuts down by the time I go to bed, anyway.

Tuesday night, however, was a different story. The pastor of the iglesia across the street decided to preach on the street through a loudspeaker turned up loud enough that the people on the observation deck of the Empire State Building probably heard it.

Perhaps he thought we all needed to hear the message. Perhaps subversion of the city's noise laws were his act of civil disobedience. Or perhaps he's just a self-centered prick who can't see past his own flock.

There's a lesson here about too many modern evangelism methods, but that's a story for another day, kiddies. Right now, I'm too sidetracked by these cute albino pygmy monkeys.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Penguin Riddler Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, you fiend!

There's a little more than an hour left, on the East Coast at least, and the world is still turning. The anticipated deadline for Iran's response to the West's aim to stop uranium enrichment in Tehran. Iran responded -- with a hand-delivered response to ambassadors. With all the media/pundit build-up, it kind of felt like the ending of the film version of "The Firm," when Tom Cruise gets out of everything by exposing the firm for overbilling. Not that I'm complaining, of course.

But is that really all? Today we were met with the news the American Idol reject Constantine Maroulis (see his pouty mug above) might be coming to Broadway. The horror! After all, if Iran couldn't attack Israel, I'm sure New York was next on the list.

Before I add Greece to the axis of evil, however, I should note that he would be taking over a throwaway part in a throwaway musical, "The Wedding Singer." If this was the master plan all along, it worked about as well as North Korea's missile.

On an unrelated note: another writing tip. I was going to title this post "Back in Blogness" and make some sort of excuse for my week-long absence blamed on a bout with a dreadful case of strep throat. You see, I thought it would be really cute, especially because I had just listened to the Liza Minnelli version of that particular song.

Then I googled it. Eighty-seven results. While it's no "throw another blog on the fire" (425 results), that's already pretty heavy company.

One final note: Blogger's spell-check doesn't recognize "blog"? Goofy. I'll bet nobody's noticed that, yet.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The innocent days of the fatso and the idiot

I've been revisiting my DVDs of the fabulously underrated early 1990s series "The Critic," and for a show based on timely satire and parodies, it's held up pretty damn well. I don't care what happens in the world. Marlon Brando hula dancing to get eggrolls out of his pants as a chorus of impaled heads on spikes sings in the background -- all part of the movie musical "Apocalypse: Wow!" -- will always be funny. Some of the other jokes remain funny probably only to me, like Faye Dunaway getting whacked with an Oscar when she tries to sing.

A few gags, however, really date the show, particularly whenever Bill Clinton shows up. His appearance usually centered around him stuffing hamburgers down his throat or some other fat joke. Insert your own joke here about how the comedy ended up being about him stuffing things down other people's throats.

I had a similar observation when revisiting the musical "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" the other night (I'm not going to post a full review but will just say that it largely has held up well). The woman next to me got extremely flustered after one throwaway joke aimed at Bush, when a character sings "The Bushes of Tex were nervous wrecks because their son was dim, and look what happened to him." I didn't understand why she was so upset. Not only was it a tiny part of the show, but it's just as dated as a Clinton at McDonalds crack. Nobody, with the possible exception of Jay Leno, is making trite "Bush is a dim bulb" jokes at this point. Jokes that he is a stubborn, volatile, megalomaniacal, ill-read, crooked cowboy, perhaps. But only hacks are making the broad "dumb" jokes.

On the other hand, if "The Critic" is any indication, Hillary/battle-ax jokes haven't changed much over the last decade. Maybe it will take her presidential run to finally pull the comedy world into the 21st Century.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Before they were golden

About all I ever see anymore on television is reruns. The last new show I tried to follow regularly was "Boomtown," and considering the ratings, I was one of the only ones to do so. I've never seen a full episode of "Lost," "Desperate Housewives" or "Grey's Anatomy." It's just too much of a commitment for me. Maybe 30 minutes or an hour a day at dinner is about all I can spare for television, so it's got to be something I trust -- and something that would never leave me.

Until recently. But now even my beloved reruns are leaving me behind for reruns of shows I never watched in the first place. "Designing Women" is all but gone from Lifetime's lineup, and "The Golden Girls" has been pushed back to the hours when I'm either at work or am, theoretically, sleeping.

So as Wisteria Lane takes over Lifetime, imagine my delight to learn that the old 80s gem "Mama's Family," until recently relegated to ungodly hours on TBS, is coming to WGN, officially starting Monday night. Since I can't see Blanche and Rose much anymore, I can now go back to the time where Rue McClanahan played the frumpy one and Betty White played the uber-bitch. Now if they'd just throw in a little "Maude," I could get my fix of Bea Arthur -- back in the time when she was playing...well, the exact same character as always -- with a little bonus Rue to boot.

So glad Rue's been doing a little Broadway lately, by the way. I had gotten concerned for her when she made an appearance at my local Target in Texas shortly after "The Golden Palace" had left the airwaves. She deserved much better than that.

But sorry, Estelle Getty. This doesn't make me any more likely to watch "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot" the next time it airs.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Doing the reactionary

Now that my d:struct pliable molding creme has become the top threat facing national security, flying might be getting less pleasant than ever. Those of us who make frequent short trips, for now at least, have the choice of joining the schmucks who actually check baggage or buying new toiletries upon arrival at every destination. Given that the aforementioned hair gel comes at $12 a pop -- and I wouldn't even be able to bring it back home -- looks like I'll be choosing the former.

While it's great that the plot was stopped, it seems we're in the same over-reacting cycle as always. Just like the actions of one deranged nut now has us all taking off our shoes every time we walk through airport security, I wouldn't be surprised to see this liquid/gel ban permanent. Never mind that anyone with basic college chemistry skills could have known that liquid explosives were a possibility for years. The security forces have to show everyone that they're doing...something. Put on a show to make the populace feel safer. I just wish they'd tell me what to do with that closet full of duct tape.

Meanwhile, here's a related proud moment in capitalism. Asked by Reuters about possible ramifications of the liquid ban, travel industry expert Terry Trippler speculated that airlines, most of which are struggling financially, might now have a new way to make a few extra bucks.

Many carriers have done away with in-flight food service in coach classes. Others have begun charging for food and beverages that once were complimentary.

Trippler said that if passengers are prohibited permanently from bringing drinks on planes, then some carriers could perceive an opportunity to make more money on beverage sales.

"I think you wouldn't pass up the opportunity to make a buck," he said.

Well, ha. The joke's on them. Ever try to fly out of LaGuardia? Even when I bring a drink on board, it's long gone before beverage service even starts, thanks to the customary hour-long wait on the runway.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The new wave of corporate pollution

It's not too tough to spot a canned quote in a newspaper. The media relations staffers who write press releases, especially those that are in-house employees rather than an outsourced PR firm, often have the keenest ability to put words in a CEO's mouth that one would hope would never come up in regular conversation.

Yes, in almost every case, it's better to just paraphrase, but some writers and editors just can't shake that dependence to get some sort of quote in every story. That's why you might be reading an otherwise well-written story and then hit a clunker paragraph of PR speak. Like this (to be fair, I picked something out of one of my news stories of yore):

Flaring is a fundamental part of the safety measures at our hydrocarbon facilities. We are working to reduce the need for flaring and to minimize the impact of flaring on our community.

If the writer is worth his salt, this will be identified as a prepared statement or such. If not, he's trying to pull a fast one on the editor and/or the readers, trying to trick them into thinking he interviewed the CEO of ExxonMobil when he really just did a few quick cut-and-paste moves from a press release.

Or so I thought, until I got more and more entrenched in business writing. That's when I found out the horrible truth: People really do talk like that. I've found myself transcribing conversations so drained of any personality that Meryl Streep couldn't give them a convincing reading.

It's not too hard to figure out why, of course. Misspeak to a journalist, and the whole world could potentially see that you're an idiot. People, including formal journalists, making a living training the corporate world how to speak to the media, avoiding the dreaded "would not comment," but still saying nothing.

The bigger problem is: Some people don't know when to turn that off. They'll describe a football game with the same dryness as a quarterly earnings report. It's bad enough that corporate buzzwords like proactive and "out of the box" have crept into our language, but this guarded speak is even worse. It's further deriving words and phrases of their meaning.

Example: Someone I talked to recently was touting "exponential growth" in his company. I looked at the numbers. They grew by about 200 percent one year and by about 100 percent the next. Impressive growth, yes, but not exponential. In order to be exponential, the rate in the second year would have had to be larger than the first. Yet another word sucked dry by the same vampires who killed "hopefully" and "at the end of the day."

I used to find William Safire's weekly language column the most pretentious, irritating thing to ever appear in a newspaper. God help me, now I'm turning into him. I just hope that doesn't make Bill Clinton want to punch me.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Mod-erately pleasant surprise

Every once in a while, I'll get tickets to a show -- either a comp or through a friend -- that I really expect to be terrible. Usually, I'm right. I was lucky enough to see the so-bad-it's-good train wreck "In My Life" at the end of last year and unlucky enough to see the poorly written dance frenzy "Hot Feet" a few months ago, which earned the distinction of the only show bad enough to force me to walk out at intermission. Then there's the occasional pleasant surprise, such as "Lestat," which I thought was certainly flawed but nowhere near as bad as everyone made it out to be.

My expectations were not much better for "Shout! The Mod Musical," the latest entry in the jukebox musical ledger which is now playing at the Julia Miles Theatre, 424 W. 55th St. Fortunately, however, this one fell largely into the latter category. Reviews have been pretty bad across the board, but while I could see the reviewers' points when I saw the show last night, I found a few things to enjoy about this one.

The thin book follows five women as they stand at the brink of the women's liberation movement throughout the 1960s. They're identified only by the colors they wear: the stylish Blue Girl (Marie-France Arcilla); the Beatles-obsessed, American Yellow Girl (Erin Crosby); the domestically inclined Orange Girl (Julie Dingman Evans); the, er, promiscuous Green Girl (Erica Schroeder) and the frumpy Red Girl (Casey Clark, filling in for an absent Denise Summerford). We learn the girls' stories through brief monologues and the occasional letter seeking advice from columnist Gwendolyn Holmes (a pre-recorded Carole Shelley), whose advice for women to better their lives through a new hairstyle or a shopping spree would make Phyllis Schlafly blush.

The women's journey has the subtlety of a Lifetime movie, and although there are a few funny and even genuine moments, the cliches abound. No matter. As usually is the case with a jukebox musical, it's the music that's the star here. In this case, it's the peppy music from the repertoire of stars like Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield. Not all of it always makes sense with the point the show is trying to make -- "Goldfinger" pops up after the girls get their first taste of marijuana -- but what the hell. I happen to like songs like "Downtown" and "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me," and the expendable book didn't get in the way of my enjoyment of those songs.

The actresses are more than capable of selling these songs, too. Arcilla and Schroeder were the standouts, as well as understudy Casey Clark. A few of the songs veered too heavily into the embellished American Idol style, particular AI mainstay "Son Of A Preacher Man," but those proved to be the exception rather than the rule.

Overall, I would recommend the show for those who can meet the following conditions:
a) Get discount tickets. Full price is a bit much on this one, and considering we were the only ones on our row, they shouldn't be hard to come by.
b) Have at least a rudimentary appreciation of the music. For anyone who's not a fan of the musical era, the show would be excruciating.
c) Have a great companion to accompany you, as I did.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

No, it's not "the next Rent," thank goodness

I saw "Spring Awakening" last night at the Atlantic, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say that I was blown away, it is by far one of the best new musicals that I have seen in quite a while.

The musical juxtaposes an adaptation of a late 19th century Frank Wedeking play of the same name and rock songs with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, respectively. The word anachronism doesn't even begin to describe the sight of seeing German students of the play's period suddenly grab a microphone and scream out lyrics to songs with titles such as "The Bitch of Living" and "Totally Fucked."

The theme is a familiar one: Kids in their early and mid teens choke in the Puritanical world of rigid, righteous adults. In this case, all the adult characters are played ably Mary McCann and Frank Wood. At the center of the story is Melchior (Jonathan Groff), the typical precocious rebel who explores literature and knowledge of sex far beyond what his society expects. His underachieving schoolmate Moritz (John Gallagher Jr.), meanwhile, is haunted by sexual dreams that he doesn't have the means to understand. They're both better off than Wendla (Lea Michele), whose own sexual knowledge has only recently gone beyond, albeit not too far beyond, the stork.

Needless to say, any move counter to society in a world where the adults range from apathetic to hostile does not go smoothly, and all three become more and more alienated until they each reach their own final tragedies. In other words, don't expect a happy dance number at the end of this one.

In our sometimes overly simplified way of looking at things, some have put together the equation that rock music + rebellious youths + musical theatre = Rent II. Not quite, I'm happy to report. These kids are nowhere near as worldly or tragically wise as the characters in Rent, and outside of their songs, they are as immodern as a Jane Austen heroine. Sater wisely foregoes any impulse to update the play, which makes the anachronism much more effective than, say, the neo-fascist world of the ill-conceived "Jesus Christ Superstar" revival a few years ago.

All three of the lead characters are superb, as is Jonathan B. Wright in the smaller role of Hanschen, the seductive gay student whose Act II number "Word of Your Body" (a reprise from the first act) is a fine tension break in the otherwise heavy final portion of the show.

"Spring Awakening" uses the unique convention of seating some of the audience members in chairs lining both sides of the stage, and the characters often sit and act among them during the show. Given the poor behavior of some theatre-goers -- I can just see someone answering a cell phone call onstage in the middle of the show -- this is a risky move, but last night, at least, the convention worked.

Some reviews have said the lyrics and songs can be a bit repetitive and trite. I had trouble hearing all the words at times because I was one of the lucky audience members onstage and was seated right next to the drum player. Overall, I thought the songs worked perfectly for the show. They were the kind of muddled thoughts you would expect from someone who is decades away from understanding what rock music is. It's no accident that the adult characters have virtually no presence in the songs at all (except for a hilariously spastic dance in "Totally Fucked").

Usually this would be the point where I would include show information, but the bad news is that "Spring Awakening" closed today. Fortunately, however, a Broadway transfer is in the works, and it will be back sometime next season. Two lead characters have upcoming projects: Michele will be Eponine in the revived "Les Miserables," and Groff will be in the Paper Mill's "Godspell," so I'd imagine those parts will have to be recast. Kate Burton also recently made a one-night appearance in the show, stepping in for McCann, so it wouldn't surprise me if she ended up taking over the role on Broadway in an effort to add a name to the show. Tough call on that one. McCann's a great actress, but I'm always happy for any excuse to see Burton on Broadway. Either way, I look forward to seeing this show again when it returns.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ann Coulter -- Big old lesbo

Fred Phelps and his relatives are suddenly raising the ire of everyone -- even those who probably agree with his "God hates fags" message -- now that he's targeting military funerals with his protests. Frankly, however, I can't even find the energy to get that worked up about him anymore. They're inconsequential fringe figures who have about as much bearing on my life as Lyndon LaRouche supporters.

Ann Coulter's just about fallen into that category for me as well. Each time she so obviously tries to outdo her previous outrageous statement, I care a little less. While watching her in an interview used to put my blood pressure at Yosemite Sam levels, it now just bores me. But I've noticed a strange pattern with her the last few days.

First, in an interview with Donny Deutsch, she says that Bill Clinton has a "latent level of homosexuality," later clarifying on Hardball that promiscuous men have a "whiff of the bathhouse about them." In other words, the more women a guy has sex with, the more likely he might be gay. I'll be sure to tell Wilt Chamberlain and Bob Packwood. At any rate, it seems like the perfectly logical conclusion for someone who devotes a chapter in a book arguing on the side of those who think people and dinosaurs once lived side by side.

On that same Hardball interview, she joked that Al Gore is a "total fag." I'll admit that one did piss me off a bit, but it wasn't so much that she said it as it was that Chris Matthews and MSNBC just let it slide. I'm guessing if she or any other guess used a racial slur, that wouldn't have been the case. But I digress.

Now, today in her column (God forgive me for linking to WorldNetDaily), listing some cut quotes from a recent Baltimore Sun interview, she says the following:

Q: Does Hillary Clinton have a good chance in 2008? What are her strengths and weaknesses? What did her reaction to your "Jersey girls" comments tell you about her as a potential candidate?

A: Good chance of what? Coming out of the closet? I'd say that's about even money. Her strength is her first name; her weakness is her last.

Now HILLARY is gay. So there we have it. Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton: all gay. Ann Coulter's latest offensive is to call everyone gay, something she probably picked up from a seventh grader. People are getting worked up over this? Why? Stop scratching the rash.

It is funny, however, that these gay, gay, gay accusations come out the same time that Wonkette reports that Coulter was spotted at a WeHo lesbian bar with out-and-proud conservative Tammy Baldwin. Is it all projection? The reasoning a lot more conclusive than any evidence saying the planet is 6,000 years old, that's for sure.

Were it true, would she ever admit it? Well, it seems even the hardest of heads can be penetrated. Our miserable heat wave has convinced even Pat Robertson that maybe we really should do something about that pesky global warming problem.

And if you're giggling at the second sentence in that last paragraph? Grow up!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I'll keep my roaches, thank you very much

Even though it's been more than two years since I left Texas for good, I still make it a daily habit to check my hometown paper, The Facts. Full disclosure: I was a reporter there myself for almost three years.

This week I've been caught up in the saga of a bat-infested apartment complex in the Dow Chemical-supported burgh called Lake Jackson. The families in the complex have finally been removed from the building, but until that point, the residents had gotten used to living with the creatures. Personally, if I had to watch kids whack bats with pizza boxes at dusk every night, I might be asking for my security deposit back, but that could just be me.

I guess some people can adapt to anything. I, for one, used to be terrified of cockroaches. Now, however, I'm to the point where I barely even flinch when I see one. Granted, the tiny roaches that have infested my apartment building are nothing compared to the thumb-sized flying monsters that thrive in Texas (I will NEVER call them "palmetto bugs"). But for me, it's an accomplishment.

I just won't mention how, a few weeks ago, a baby rat invader had me on the bed paralyzed with fear for a good hour.

Just what the world needs

Here I am: another obnoxious voice in bloggerville, about four years late to the party as usual. But I had an excuse. I spent those years as a member of everyone's favorite bogeyman, The Mainstream Media (cue thunderbolt and organ chords), so pouring out my soul daily was not the most wise move for me in career terms, regardless of how few people read it.

For a variety of reasons, however -- reasons about which I might go into detail in a later post -- I'm no longer in the daily newspaper world, so the muzzle is off.

I'll be honest. This is a selfish endeavor for me. I still make my living writing, but it's not the most creative outlet around. This is a way to force myself to write every day, or at least several times each week. Let's hope I find a way to be entertaining at the same time.

One last caveat: You might assume from my tag that I'm a gung-ho astrology freak. Well, I'm not. Yes, at the time I was born, the moon happened to be positioned in the constellation Gemini. Yes, I seem to possess a lot of the typical characteristics of those who share that distinction. Yes, the mere fact that I even know my lunar sign is more than most people are willing to admit about their astrologically knowledge. But I really don't put a lot of stock in the belief that the relative positions of a few rocks that are millions of miles apart and some balls of burning hydrogen that are light years apart really has that much bearing on whether I should ask for that raise today, plan a trip to Trinidad or get a haircut. So I promise to never mention astrology again. Yeah, I know. Typical Virgo.