September 28, 2006

It's killing you, I know it.

I had no idea so many of you were so interested in my news... Honestly, it's coming. Really soon... But I'm somewhat superstitious, so I'm not entirely ready to divulge just yet.

Patience... patience...

September 24, 2006

Some big news...

Fearless readers, I am indeed back from the long dreadful week of pain - and with some very big news. Sit tight, a fresh posting is imminent...

September 18, 2006

Postus Interruptus

Twice a year I do a very large, very complicated program at work, which totally consumes me until it's done. This week is one of those weeks of glory and pain for me, so I suspect I'll be pretty quiet until next weekend.

Happy Rosh Hashanah to my fellow tribesmen and tribeswomen, and I'll check in when I can -


For your viewing pleasure, one of my favorite paintings, by Salvadore Dali:

September 14, 2006

And it goes a lil' something like this...

An astute reader of this blog, who also happens to smell like lilacs, emailed me the other day to assert that my blog has been way too political this summer. She wanted more of my life, what was going on with me, girls, and I think she also suggested ewoks. (Clearly she knows that I can easily put together a thousand words on the hirsute denizens of the forest moon of Endor should the mood strike me...)

She asked for more Dan in my posts, so here's some Dan...

Just a few weeks ago I fulfilled a lifetime goal of mine. It wasn't one of those "cure cancer, walk on the moon, solve world hunger" type goals, and it wasn't even one of those impressive personal challenges that we set for ourselves like running a marathon or winning a Pulitzer prize. In fact it was a silly, not important to anyone but Dan goal, one that I had never voiced aloud let alone shared with anyone, yet it had been on my to-do list for more than half my life.


I first started getting into rap music when I was 14. I can still remember, and in fact likely still have, the badly recorded audio cassette that had Run DMC's first album on one side, and The Fat Boys and UTFO on the other. Though at that early age I wasn't yet aware of what exactly I liked about rap music, in hindsight I know that it was the craft of it all; the mix of lyrics and music, the rhythms, and most importantly the construction of the verse. Masterfully displaying all of those traits, Run DMC is clearly and unarguably the single greatest rap group of all time - yet my favorite song since I was 15 and first heard it, is La Di Da Di, by Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh. It's a song elegant in its simplicity: just one guy beatboxing with one guy rapping, telling the story of a particularly busy morning for a young man back in 1985.

I can remember driving around in my '76 Delta 88 Royale (affectionately referred to as "the Led Sled") with a battery operated cassette player on the front seat next to me, playing a special mix tape of mid-80's rap on an endless loop. Anyone who bummed a ride with me was treated to whatever songs I felt they desperately needed to hear. For many of them, what I felt was missing from their lives was La Di Da Di.

One summer night at a cast party in 1985, while talking about rap music, my friend Felicia started rapping the lyrics to La Di Da Di. She loved the song too, and knew all the words, and though I very much wanted to jump right in and do the beatbox for her, I was a bit shy and unsure of my beatboxing skill, and I just kept my mouth shut.

It was one of those moments in life you wish you could do again and get right. Had I been bolder, that could have been a night I never ceased to relive eagerly. Instead, it was forever a moment tinged with regret; regret over lost fun that could have been had as we enjoyed a momentary duet, regret over the lost opportunity to share my love of rap music with others, and regret over the lost opportunity to impress Felicia, whom I was totally hot for in that eager clumsy way of 15 year old boys.

Though I didn't realize it at the time, I would spend years and years of my life waiting for the opportunity to have a do-over of that moment. It was never an active quest, mind you - but in the back of my mind whenever I heard that song at a club, on the radio, or on my own mp3 player, I would always take a moment to reflect on what might have been.

Until August 24th, 2006, the day I found out.

This is me doing the beat-box to La Di Da Di, while my friend and co-worker Audra raps the lyrics.

And this is the crowd having a blast, singing along, cheering us on. When I began the first beat-roll, they went nuts! Whatever they might have been expecting to come out of my mouth, some tight, old-school Doug E. Fresh beats certainly wasn't it. Audra and I tored it up that night - you know how I know? Cause they told us so.

And yes, "tored it up" is proper usage here. When you're as frickin' dope as we were, you go way beyond merely tearing something up, crossing deep into the realm of toring it up.

This is how it happened - it was late on a Thursday night at Hip Hop Karaoke, my new favorite thing in the world. I was initially considering The Humpty Dance, and Audra was looking for her own track, when we decided to do a duet. Almost afraid to ask, I leaned in close so she could hear me and asked "Do you know La Di Da Di?" She did, but the song has no instruments, so there isn't an instrumental track extant that we could use for the karaoke. "Well, I could do the beat box" I offered, knowing full well I've been working those beats since I was 15.

When we were introduced just after midnight to the packed house of hip-hop-heads, the emcee of the event merely said "Dan and Audra, who are doing something a cappella..." I stepped on the stage, picked up the mic, and told the crowd that we were going to try something they hadn't heard in a while, and they should help us out if they knew the words. Glancing over at Audra, I saw her flash me a sign that she was ready to go. I licked my lips, took a deep breath, and said the words I'd been waiting to say to a crowd for 21 years -

And it goes a little something like this - HIT IT!

September 11, 2006

9/11 and Revising the Clinton Legacy

Writers with complex and insightful takes on the conclusions and meanings we can draw from September 11, 2001 will provide you with hours and hours of reflection today, should you be interested in their viewpoints. I won't presume to have anything new or novel to add, any additional wisdom to provide.

I do want to mark the day with a tip o' the hat to the shear audacity of the Republican party however...

Many of you will remember the 14 months and over 40 million dollars spent in the 90's to derail the Clinton Presidency, because of the shocking revelation that he had some sex with someone he shouldn't have and then lied about it. While Congress was occupied with investigating then impeaching Clinton, the effectiveness of the Presidency was severely compromised, Clinton's ability to focus national energy and attention on pressing matters diminished, and the role of the President as a national priority-setter undermined. During the months of scandal and impeachment Congress largely ignored Clinton's agenda, and he was unable to get media attention for anything that wasn't scandal-related.

Yet some Republicans now claim that is was during that very time -- the time that Clinton was being hamstrung by Republican efforts -- that was our greatest opportunity to pro-actively defeat the terrorists with whom we are now so preoccupied, and Bill blew it. They're blaming Clinton for 9/11! The same Republican party who 8 years ago had prominent members accusing Clinton of attempting to divert attention away from Monica Lewinsky's testimony by attacking Afghanistan and Sudan in August of '98, are now retroactively accusing Clinton of not aggressively prosecuting a war against terrorists while we had the chance to hit them before they hit us.

For Bill Clinton, regardless of whether you act or don't act, it'll be a spun as character flaw.

Just prior to the August attacks in 1998, Republicans had been arguing that Clinton should resign because his scandal had rendered him ineffectual as a President and the American people no longer trusted him. On the day of the attack, the same day that Monica Lewinsky was wrapping up her testimony to Ken Starr, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) rushed to have a press conference to ask why Clinton waited until then to act? Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said: "After months of lies and deceit and manipulations and deceptions -- stonewalling -- it raised into doubt everything he does and everything he says."

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) at the time took a more neutral line back in 1998. I wish I could infer from his remarks a certain amount of frustration that the President had been hampered from further action due to the efforts of the Republican party to check any Democratic agenda:
"This administration for the last seven months has neglected compelling national security threats besides this -- Saddam Hussein's ejection of our inspectors, North Korea building nuclear weapons again in violation of an agreement, Middle East peace process stalled, thousands of people being ethnically cleaned in Kosovo," McCain said. "I hope that the president will not confine his activities to just this, but to address the other very compelling problems that also affect our nation's security problems long-term.
Perhaps McCain recognized that Clinton had little or no room to maneuver; perhaps McCain was one of the few Republicans who felt that their party's witch-hunt was a distraction from more pressing matters. If so, McCain was one of the paltry, quiet minority. Republican's boxed Bill Clinton in for a large portion of his Presidency, allowing him little room to take any significant action -- and now they bemoan his lack of action.

In contrast to Clinton's dogged two terms in office, hounded by Whitewater and by Monica Lewinsky, by travelgate and Vince Foster's death, G.W.B. has enjoyed carte-blanche to act as he pleased and spend as he pleased, with the least accountability of any President in recent history. It is amazing to me that now that the war that Republicans envisioned, sold, prosecuted, and paid for with our budget surplus has gone horribly wrong on so many levels, Republicans are attempting to re-classify the whole affair as an unfortunate legacy of a wasted Democratic Presidency.

Just stunned at the chutzpah. Stunned. Keeping my eyes open for Bubba's response; I can't imagine he'll allow his rep to be tarnished this way, especially with so much riding on the good Clinton name over the next two years.

September 09, 2006

Liquid Candy

Slow weekend, so I thought I'd drop in a quick post about something that just rubs me the wrong way. Without a fight, the insidious forces of evil reduced our soda-value by 25% over the past two years. No protests, no hippie folk music, no marching through the streets...

For years soda bottlers have attempted to gently nudge the price point of a two-liter bottle of soda upwards from 99 cents to a buck-fiddy or more, yet we resisted, we fought long and hard, and you could still get yourself some decent, legitimate flavors of soda for under a dollar. That is, until the day the soda died...

Retailers, always looking to be your soda-pusher of choice, failed to cooperate with the soft drink companies and would constantly undercut the competition by offering sale prices ranging from 89 cents to $1.09. The financial arrangement between the suppliers and bottlers and retailers was such that it was in the retailers best interest to sell more product, turning volume sales to their advantage. This did nothing for the bottlers, as they couldn't raise their prices, due to cutthroat competition.

So what were those poor bottlers to do?

If your goal is increasing profit margins, you can either charge more or provide less. Due to the retailers lack of cooperation, they were unable to get us to consistently pay more for 2 liters -- so instead the insidious League of Evil Soda opted to ease us into paying the same money for less product: 25% less soda, same 99 cents! What a terrific bargain!

While many soda outlets are increasing the amount of soda that constitutes a serving, the bottlers have shrunk what we get for our hard-earned buck. We pay for the "convenience" of a more manageable soda size. "It's a bottle you can handle," said Harriet Tolve, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, corn subsidies have kept the price of corn relatively stable during the past 10 years. Why does that matter, you wonder - because corn syrup is the primary ingredient in soda. So since the cost of production hasn't increased significantly, what's the justification for the diminished value?

Because they can, of course. Things are as expensive as they can be in our market economy, and we're accustomed to paying $.99 for soda, regardless of the size. And if that's what's on the shelves, that's what we buy. And they know that about us. And they know we'll suck it up.

And we do. Because Dr. Pepper is just so damn good...

September 07, 2006

Fish Story

The untimely death of Steve Irwin saddened me greatly this past weekend, as I'm sure it also saddened the four or five crocodiles left in the wild.

Though famous for being the frenetic, empty-calorie modern equivalent of Marlon Perkins, underneath it all Steve was a dedicated conservationist. He nearly single-handedly introduced a whole generation of Australian children to the wonders of their natural habitat and the cautious appreciation of the creatures with whom they share it, educating as he entertained.

While the world mourns his passing and his family comes to grips with his loss and the immense show of support his loss has inspired, I can't help but reflect upon the brutal truth his death has exposed - no matter how many deadly land animals Steve taunted and annoyed throughout his life, it was the vicious, freedom-hating monsters of the deep that finally did him in. That stingray didn't care one bit about Steve Irwin and the joy he brought to millions of children, it couldn't have cared less about the vibrant, vital human life it was snuffing out with one whip of its poisonous, barbed tail-spine. No, this flappy killer of the deep had a shot, and he took it. And you should let this be a lesson to you:

Fish hate you, and they'll kill you given half the chance. Believe it.

I didn't always feel this way. Once upon a time in my reckless youth I was quite fond of my time spent swimming in a lake, dolphining about like the Man from Atlantis and trying to catch fish with my barehands. It was the heady days of the late 1970's, and the undersea world was full of possibility.

Until one dark day at Lake Compounce.

For those of you unfamiliar with New England, Lake Compounce is a moderate sized amusement park situated next to Connecticut's only body of water named after a compounce. It has been a leisuretime destination since 1846, making the lake area the oldest continuously operated theme-park in North America and it's a terrific local summer spot for families tired of that nearby shit-hole, Lake Quassapaug.

My parents, who otherwise did a terrific job keeping me happy and healthy during those dangerous formative years of my childhood, brought my sister and I to Lake Compounce one summer weekend for some light, supervised, sugar-enhanced fun. Though there were many rides, at that age I was consumed with video games and spent as much time and money playing in the arcade as possible. (Astute readers will recognize how radically different the pre-adolescent Dan was from the thirtysomething Dan of today.)

The only other activity I was particularly interested in was swimming; I was an excellent swimmer and diver from an early age, achieving the lofty heights of flying fish when I was only nine, and shark by the summer of '80 when I was ten. Always uncomfortably warm, the summer temperatures regularly drove me into any standing body of water to cool off, and Lake Compounce's waterfront beckoned that afternoon like a siren luring me to my doom.

Having spent the past 140ish years as a summertime destination, the Lake has hosted thousands and thousands of sweaty, pasty New Englanders every summer. The impact of this on the ecosystem is quite clear, as the denizens of the surrounding parkland and especially the lake have come to appreciate the benefits that close association with humans bring them.

Perhaps in some nether region of the ichthyotic hindbrain there was a primordial fear of humans, but summer after summer of being around - and more importantly, fed by - frolicking humans had conditioned the many unnatural fish of Lake Compounce to lose their fear of man. Let this be a lesson to you bleeding heart liberals out there - when animals stop being afraid of us, we lose the only edge our soft, weak, pink bodies afford us in our eternal struggle for dominance over the beasts of land and sea.

This particular afternoon my father and I were in the lake, him swimming about in the distance, me working my way in. I was up to my mid-belly or so, taking my time acclimating to the chilly water, when my father shouts out to me "Look at that fish!"

Casting my eyes out into the distance, I began scanning the water for whatever fish antics my dad was trying to point out. "No, there" he calls, pointing to right in front of me. Again, I scan the surface of the water, expecting to see something leaping, or perhaps even floating belly-up. What the hell was he pointing at?

"Right in front of you" my father says, observing I still hadn't caught sight of the fish in question. And it was then that I finally saw what he had seen: hovering in the water just a few inches directly in front of me, mouth puckering and dead, fishy eyes staring at my exposed, pale ten-year old belly, was a big-assed fish. This evil hell-spawned leviathan was clearly sizing me up for a death-dealing chomp, and I immediately went all Shaggy and Scooby and got my ass out of there.

Ever since that moment I've had to actively suppress my fear of swimming in infested waters, and in fact I can count on both hands the number of times since that day that I've gone more than toe-deep into any un-chlorinated body of water. When I have done, the moment something as innocuous as seaweed brushes up against me, I'm gone - up the beach, into the car, home, and under my blankets.

It's not every day that one has a life-long phobia generated, and I suspect that it's fewer people still who can pinpoint the exact moment in time their irrational fears were kindled. Years later, reading 1984, I knew immediately what would be in my Room 101: a tank full of murky water with one single hungry fish. Just one - because that way I'll never really know where it was or when it would strike. It could be seconds, it could be minutes. I may not know when, but I know it's in there with me and it's coming for me -- and that's enough to give me shivers even now, aged 36 and sitting alone in the dark covered in Dorito crumbs...

Do I rationally know that swimming in lakes and the ocean is just fine, sure I do. Can I overcome my fears and get into the water and have some fun, yes I can, and I have. But every now and again I'm reminded that every irrational fear is only irrational until the horrible event that proves the difference between being paranoid, and being prescient.

Steve Irwin wrestled crocodiles for a living, played with poisonous snakes on a nearly daily basis, thriving for years and creating interest and affection for all the world's creatures. Yet just one day in the water and he gets stabbed in the heart in a single moment of fishy antagonism.

Watch yourself, dear readers. Those fish hate you. They hate everything you stand for. And they especially hate that Arthur Treacher.

September 05, 2006

Who do you trust?

The photo on the left is a picture of an Israeli warship being destroyed by a Hezbollah missile last summer, according to the Hezbollah website. The photo on the right is of the intentional destruction of a decommissioned Australian destroyer in 1998. Look closely - they are the same picture.

As has been widely reported, Reuters has had a challenging time with photo journalistic integrity during the recent Israeli- Lebanon war. Specifically, they have been accused of publishing photos that:
  1. are inaccurate depictions of reality - doctored in some way, or outright fabrications
  2. have misleading captions that don't accurately describe the photo - claiming the image was of one thing, when it was not
  3. were staged photo opportunities
Not to be left out by Middle Eastern and European media, our own CBS got into the act last week.

The photo on the left was taken of Katie Couric in May, and is the official CBS photo of their new anchor. The picture on the right, clearly photoshopped, was released on August 29th as part of CBS's fall 2006 Watch Magazine. Note her waist and her jowls in particular.

Last week I descried the lackadaisical attitude towards the truth in our mainstream media outlets. It's been clear for some time that not only can we not count on the MSM to hold people accountable for the fraud they perpetrate, but more and more we're discovering that the latest frauds are brought to us by the MSM themselves.

Is this some conspiracy or plot? Of course not - it's aggressive propaganda or an over-zealous intern in a photo department. In either event there is a clear lack of integrity in the process, however. There is little or no commitment to the truth, to what's so, to accuracy in reporting. Fewer and fewer resources are being spent on confirming the veracity of what is broadcast and published, while more and more content is being consumed by a voracious public.

Be conscious of where you get your news from - the days of the neutral reporter are done. The days of a picture being worth a thousand words are over. Be it shoddy work or intentional fraud, we cannot take the authenticity of what we view for granted -- if we ever could.

As Ronald Reagan said, "Trust, but verify."