Friday, October 31, 2003

WELCOME TO The Ignorant Critic, an occasional new feature of Off-Topic.

There's an AM-radio ad for Archer Daniels Midland that pretty much embodies everything I hate. I'm not really talking about the message, although that's execrable too -- it's something about how we need to kiss this huge conglomerate's ass because it turns corn and soybeans into affordable luxury garage townhomes or excellent two-buck chardonnay or something. No, I'm talking about aesthetics. The background is a Peter Gabriel-type song that blends pretentiously soaring atmospheric instrumentals with pretentiously existentialist minimalist lyrics ("Hello? Can you hear me? Am I getting through to you? Hello?"), and the voice-over is that pretentiously breathy Sally Kellerman-type tripe you've heard a million times.

I don't know whether Peter Gabriel or Sally Kellerman are actually involved. I could look it up, but that would be beside the point. I hold Peter Gabriel responsible for that kind of music, and I hold Sally Kellerman responsible for that kind of narration. Some people whom I respect are big fans of Peter Gabriel. I can't explain all that well why I'm not, though maybe I just did. There's no accounting for taste. I'm not sure anyone is a big fan of Sally Kellerman.

I'm pretty sure it's an ADM ad. Either way, I hold ADM responsible for that kind of corporate message.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

WATCH FOR REPEATS of the finale of "The Joe Schmo Show" on Spike TV. There's plenty of recap, so don't worry if you haven't watched it before.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

THE TOP 1.4 million. Take that, Grisham!

WHEN IT COMES to being a law-abiding, criminal-hating citizen, I consistently make one exception. (No, not that one. That was years ago.)

Normally I fume when I see people turning right on red when they aren't supposed to. In fact, this is one of my biggies. But most of that fuming is based on the principle that you shouldn't #@$@% pull in front of moving traffic.

Part of it, though, is the "Can't you #@#@ read?" objection, and I have to admit I'm rather inconsistent. You see, there's this "No Right on Red" sign on my way home from work. There's absolutely no reason for it. As you pull up, there's no way you could possibly cut somebody off, because the traffic that you might have cut off doesn't exist -- the street turns one-way at that point.

And then there's the fact that the streets are practically empty when I'm driving home. Except, that is, for the person who's invariably in front of me dutifully obeying the "No Right on Red" sign. This is the only place in the metropolitan area where I ignore those signs, and it happens to also be the only place in the area where anyone else obeys them.

When I have to wait at that light, I have to stop at another light. And so on. Throws the whole drive off.

Monday, October 27, 2003

FEAR feels a lot like hypoglycemia.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

YES, I WENT BACK to the "Awesome Dawsome" McDonald's. It's right on the way to work, parking is usually easy, and the fast food is fast in the eating, if not always in the serving.

I chose a line and lost (remember, it's the little-slice-of-Vegas system, not first-come, first-served). The transaction in my line seemed to be taking place entirely in Spanish, but then I realized that the customer was speaking English. ¡La zona crepuscular! ¿Donde esta Rod Serling?

In the line I should have chosen, a homeless-looking man said simply, "Cheeseburger." Toward the end of the ringing-up process, he muttered, "Double cheese."

I'm not sure which item he got, or which one he wanted. Me, I would have loved a lunch from the kind of place where you'd expect Spanish to be the official language, but I had to settle for a couple of all-American cheeseburgers. "Two cheeseburgers" was the way I ordered them. The price seemed a little steep, but what do I know about what McDonald's items cost? I might as well be George Herbert Walker Bush staring in awe at scanning technology.

What I was charged for, of course, was two double cheeseburgers. The confusion was catching. The bilingual cashier noticed the mistake, albeit belatedly, and after some difficulty (the word "cuarenta" kept coming up) she refunded the extra money. I wasn't sure what was in my bag, but closer inspection revealed that I had the double burgers. I was allowed to keep them. They weren't bad.

NOT AVAILABLE FOR MONTHS and already in the top 1.5 million!

Now, get those advance orders in and let's see if I can crack the top mil.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

NOBODY KNEW what I was talking about, and I guess I didn't either. I was picturing the aforementioned corner-grocery signage as sort of a wallpaper border at the top of a window -- and potentially along the top of one wall of our theoretically remodeled kitchen. What I found when I went in search of what I thought I remembered was something different, and something in disrepair. These windows are from Congress Market (left) and the Lincoln Park Market, both in the Capitol Hill neighborhood:


I doubt the Coke people are still making window dressing that looks like this; the typeface and the backgrounds are giveaways of a certain vintage, and they're what I find appealing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

WHAT I WANT: In old urban corner stores, behind the burglar-proof mesh, the tops of the windows tend to sport cardboard (?) borders, sans-serif black on yellowed white, alternating stating-the-obvious descriptions of the goods inside with advertisements for soft drinks. So they might say: GROCERIES (Enjoy Coca-Cola) COLD BEER (Enjoy Coca-Cola) FRESH VEGETABLES . . .

You get the idea. EBay would seem to be the obvious place to find such a thing, but I'm having no luck. I'm not entirely sure what category to even look in. Any help is appreciated. If all else fails I might actually walk down the street and talk to the owner of such a sign, but I'm not much on talking to people. And I don't speak Korean anyway.

Monday, October 20, 2003

MY NOMINEE for the "It Was Clever the First Time, but When You Hear It Every Day, It Gets a Little Old" award:

The idea of otherwise rational people being afraid of clowns.

There are other good examples, I'm sure. This one in particular bothers me because it's based on such a scanty premise. I'm sure that gaudily painted faces often frighten children in the name of entertaining them, but how many non-sitcom adults do you know who feel that way?

Saturday, October 18, 2003

MICHAEL KINSLEY makes a compelling point about reality vs. cheerleading in news reporting. Even if you don't agree with his thoughts about the president -- especially if you don't agree with his thoughts about the president -- his response to the familiar "Why don't we ever hear about good news?" whine is well stated.

Friday, October 17, 2003

YEAH, I'M ONE of those R.E.M. fans. Not that I really expected "Murmur" to ever be topped . . .

IT'S A HISTORIC TIME for reality TV. In the space of a few hours you can watch the greatest reality-competition contestant ever, Rupert ("Survivor Pearl Islands", CBS), and the biggest mucking foron in reality-TV history, C.T. ("The Real World: Paris," MTV).

Thursday, October 16, 2003

"KILL BILL" didn't strike me as a great movie the way "Pulp Fiction" did, though it was beautifully filmed. I left the theater feeling not much of anything, much like the New Yorker's critic. But the movie didn't make me mad the way the trailer for the next "Matrix" installment did.

I know that a lot of my favorite people like that kind of movie. Lileks, the king of bloggers, inspired this post by making the opposite point, disdaining Tarantino while confessing a love of all things Matrix, even if he knows they suck. So I'll refrain from calling the easily-thrilled-by-explosions-and-shiny-objects crowd any bad names. But what, what, what does anybody see in this crap? The special effects? There was a time when the special effects alone would have been worth the price of admission, but today special effects aren't special at all. They're expected, and we know that the filmmakers can pretty much create any illusion they want to create. Is it the acting, the dialogue? Right. Cue orchestra, put thousands of extras in place, have someone with over-the-top costume and make-up announce with bombast something that starts with "I shall . . ." Doesn't get more exciting than that. (OK, fine, so I never actually saw a "Matrix" movie. Maybe they're brilliant once you get past the superficial stuff that the ads showcase. But I doubt it.)

Given my bespectacled-nerd-Monty Python-fan background, you'd think I'd be a huge science-fiction enthusiast. You'd be wrong. I want my fiction, whether it's a book or a movie, contemporary and essentially realistic -- or at least original in its fantasy. I can't stand olde-tyme epics either; I put them in the same category as science fiction. Special effects turn me off. Period costumes turn me off. When I played astronaut as a kid, my missions had to remain faithful to the basic precepts of the Apollo program. I liked "A Wrinkle in Time." I liked the "Twilight Zone" TV series. But that's about it. I'm sure there's other good sci-fi out there somewhere, but what I see when I look at the genre is a lack of imagination hiding behind a "Look how imaginative I am!" sign.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

MY NEW BOOK just showed up for advance ordering on Amazon.com! But I think it's more than 93 pages. (I'm no math wiz, but can a book have 93 pages?)

Oct. 16 note: Amazon has corrected the number of pages.

RUSH LIMBAUGH likes to play humorously appropriate songs when making fun of others' foibles. Rush's theme song, for some reason, is the Pretenders' "My City Was Gone." Let's come up with a new one.

First nominee: "White Rabbit."

(No, that wasn't partisan. If Michael Moore, say, runs over somebody with an SUV, I'll be there.)

Thursday, October 09, 2003

YET ANOTHER RADICAL NONPARTISAN political post. Now hear this: If Alec Baldwin and the rest of the Hollywood left are idiots, as the conservatives tell us, for thinking their celebrity translates to policy expertise, so are Arnold Schwarzenegger and the rest of the Hollywood right. And if Arnold Schwarzenegger is a bad guy, as the liberals tell us, because women claim that he groped them in years past, so is Bill Clinton. (Forget about Monica Lewinsky. Remember Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick. I'm not saying I believe or don't believe either man's accusers; I'm just saying that the situations are, for purposes of claiming the moral high ground, parallel. If you truly believe otherwise, you're on drugs. Like, take your pick, Rush Limbaugh or Aaron Sorkin. Allegedly.)

So that's Liberals/Democrats 1, Conservatives/Republicans 1. I could go on, but I think the score would stay pretty close to a tie. American political discourse has devolved into a simulacrum of the American legal system, where advocates on both sides lie their asses off and somehow that's supposed to produce truth. We'd all like to think that our lies, if we tell any, are of the righteous prosecution variety, inadvertent untruths rather than the nakedly calculated denials of the guilty defense side. But what both sides' rhetoric almost always boils down to is "When your guy does it, it's because he's evil. When our guy does it, there was a good reason." The only thing both sides can agree on is the biggest lie of all: that one side has a monopoly on honesty.

"If you're interested in which wing lies more, you're probably not very interested in the truth." I wish I'd written that, but it was Slate's Jack Shafer. I'm not the first radical moderate to cite the brilliance of that line, but I don't think it can be repeated enough.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

IT'S DISAPPOINTING to find further evidence that the publishing industry is getting sloppier, but it's heartening to know how much good copy editing is appreciated. Note Amazon.com's reader reviews of the new John O'Hara biography.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

THE D.C. AREA is a great place for kitchen remodeling . . . if you have a project the size of, say, the Pentagon. Here's how our conversations with contractors have gone:

Sunday, October 05, 2003

ROY HORN wouldn't seem to be a headline writer's nightmare, but of course nobody knows him as "Horn." In reporting the recent unfortunateness with the tiger, what do you say? "Roy, of 'Siegfried and . . .' "?

An Associated Press report on Yahoo News made me chuckle: "Mauled Illusionist," it called him. (What a great name for a blog.)

And was The Onion's timing especially bad or especially good? (Oct. 7 note: In a rare display of good taste, the site yanked the "Commentary" in which Roy Horn acknowledges compliments about the show but adds each time: "That was Siegfried's idea.")

FUN WITH HAY FEVER. Here's what to say after you let out a particularly explosive sneeze:

"Guess I'm allergic to all the BULLSHIT around here!"

Saturday, October 04, 2003

PLAGIARIZED BY THE LORD! From Page 103 of "Lapsing Into a Comma" (Contemporary Books, 2000):From Episode 2 of "Joan of Arcadia" (CBS-TV and Sony Pictures Television, 2003):

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

UPON REVIEW, I've decided that Alan Corey, real estate speculator/professional cheapskate (or improv comedian, or personal-finance guru, or tech-support geek, or whoever he is), pulled one over on the "Queer Eye" folks.

This may be the first story I've broken since the Phoenix-police-test-dead-Phoenix-firefighter-for-cocaine scoop of 1985 or so.

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