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June 28, 2006

Books: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Shortly after Mr. and Mrs. Girl visited Seattle, Maggie wrote about her husband's hithertofore secret addiction to Harry Potter on her website. I dropped her a note to sympathize:

Me: If we'd known our spouses shared the same affliction we could have gotten them going on Harry Potter and then slipped off to catch a movie.

Maggie: The Queen too, eh?

Me: And how. Fortunately she has lots of friends who also suffer the ravages of Pottermania, so I am spared the coerced conversations. But if she ever decides to attend an event that starts with some word coined by J.K. Rowlings and ends in "-con," we should get together, the four of us, and stage a group intervention.

Maggie: If you think Bryan would help us stage a Potter intervention, you're nuts. They'd be much more likely to overcome us, tie us to a sofa, and read aloud until our eyes glazed over.

Me: No no, by "group intervention" I meant you and I could get intervention for both of them at the same time. I figure we could get better rates that way.

Maggie: Bulk-rate Harry Potter intervention ... now there's a potential gold mine.

Me: Hey, yeah. We could stage a fake convention called MuggleCon or ConWeasley or somesuch, and people would urge their Potter-addled loved-ones to get all dressed up and go. And then, after everyone arrives, we would seal the doors and have a bunch of specialists would come in and intervene the shit out of everyone. PROFIT!

Maggie: However, as a conscientious business partner, I should point out that we could make a lot more money just organizing Mugglecon, and then robbing people blind for stuffed toy owls and boxed lunches. Of course, it would be tough to shower away the stench of shame afterwards...

The sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, had been released at the time I wrote this, but I hadn't read it. Nor did I plan to. I'd read the first five books, but Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix was so dreadful that I swore off the series forever.

But then I found myself between novels, and Half-Blood Prince was laying around our house, and I figured I'd just read a few chapters to tide me over until my next trip to the library. And then ...

Um, intervention for three, please.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is easily the best of the series, and the first I thoroughly enjoyed reading. And I'll tell you why, too: J.K. Rowling's publisher finally decided to assign her an editor. Her fourth and fifth books (Goblet of Fire and the aforementioned Order of the Phoenix) were released at the height of her popularity, at it was clear that no one dared edit The Sacred Word of Potter; as the result the books were long, rambling, unfocused, and boring. Worse, Rowling decided to make Harry act like a teen in the last few books, apparently forgetting that everyone hates teens for good reason. Half-Blood, on the other hand, while only slightly shorter in length than the previous book, has a much tighter narrative, one in which every scene actually advances the storyline (unlike earlier novel, where entire chapters could have been excised). And Harry stops acting so insufferable, so the whole thing doesn't come across as a 800 page LiveJournal entry.

I'd recommend you read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The problem is that I cannot, in good conscious, recommend you read all the books that come before it.

So here's my Harry Potter Reading Plan, similar in spirit to my How To Watch The Star Wars Prequels primers.

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The book is relatively short and you'll breeze through it in a couple of bus rides, so you might as well read it. It's enjoyable in a "kids book" kind of way, even though I was pissed that the "logic puzzle" the kids have to solve doesn't make a goddamned bit of sense. The movie was also okay, though if you've seen any of the Lord of the Rings flicks you are bound to be disappointed. Just read the book, you pansy.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: If you read the first novel, you've already read this one too, as it has pretty much the same plot structure. The film too is rather lackluster. My advice: skip them both, read the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Wikipedia entry and call it a day.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: I actually liked this one quite a bit, and it was my favorite before I read Half-Blood Prince. Rowling starts introducing darker themes, and drops the standard Scooby-Doo plotline that she structed the first two novels around. The film is also pretty good, so take your pick.
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Oh dear, here's where everything goes pear-shaped. Entirely too long and utterly lacking in internal consistency, Goblet of Fire contains a couple of important revelations, but the story arc as a whole is sound + fury = nothing. Paradoxically, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the best of the four movies, so watch that instead.
  • Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix: AVOID. There's no film yet but the Wikipedia page is exhaustive, so just read that.
Follow the above steps, read the surprisingly, um, readable Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and against your better judgement you'll find yourself actually looking forward to the next and last book in the series, due to be released next year. I know I am.

Now, if I could only get this stench of shame out of my clothing.

June 26, 2006

Soccer Is Hell

I ask my friend A. why he is so tired.

A: I've been getting up every morning at five to watch World Cup games.

Me: Still? The US is out, man.

A: I'm not rooting for a team, I'm rooting for the entire thing. Go soccer! Besides, I'm kind of glad we got eliminated. They say that playing soccer is a metaphor for waging war, and I don't feel like we have anything more to prove in that area.

Me: Yes, the United States is something of a literalist when it comes to the whole "waging war" motif.

June 23, 2006

Let's Get This Potty Started

There are a hundred different methods for toilet training a toddler, most of which revolve around incentives and punishments designed to coerce their child to poop in their potty.

The Queen and I are trying a different tack. We're just going to teach The Squirrelly to enjoy sitting alone in a small room every morning for as long as he'd like, quietly reading the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly.


The Bad Review Revue

Garfield: A Tale Of Two Cities: ""Kids should see Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. It'll help prepare them for a lifetime of mediocre entertainment ahead." -- Kyle Smith, NEW YORK POST

The Shaggy Dog: "As a comic actor, Tim Allen's palette is limited to varying degrees of beige." -- Ann Hornaday, WASHINGTON POST

Waist Deep: "Hall writes and directs with the finesse of a rusty hatchet." -- Michael Sragow, BALTIMORE SUN

Click: "So much like the Jim Carrey vehicle Bruce Almighty -- Steve Koren and Mark O'Keefe worked on both -- the writers could sue themselves for plagiarism and then write a screenplay about it." -- Michael Phillips, CHICAGO TRIBUNE

See No Evil: "Shallow as a toilet bowl and twice as rank as its usual contents." -- Nick Schager, Slant Magazine

June 22, 2006

Slammin'

When Coca-cola debuted it was sold in 6 oz. bottles. Six ounces! Today the thought of drinking a mere 6 oz. of Coke seems unfathomably quaint, like riding around in a carriage or steadfastly refusing to believe it's not butter.

I remember buying the 8 oz. "half cans" of Coke at the local market when I was a kid, but the 12 oz. can reigned supreme for the last few decades. No longer, though. Now the standard unit of Coke (here in the Northwest, at least) is 20 oz. -- you can no longer find the smaller-sized cans of soda at gas stations or convenience stores, and even vending machines now dispense plastic bottles.

When Coke sold in 6 oz. bottles it was billed as the "pause" that refreshes. Now it's a motherlovin' sabbatical.

You'd think that there would be a logical upper-limit to the amount of cola soft drink companies could pawn off as the "standard." You'd think that, but apparently you'd be wrong. Wendy's, for instance, is currently renaming its drink sizes, and what was once a "Biggie" Mountain Dew is now a "medium." In other words, their "standard" size contains 32 oz. So does the 7-11 "Big Gulp" -- and it's the smallest of the Gulp family, which includes the Super Big Gulp (44 oz.), the X-Treme Big Gulp (52 oz.), and the Brobdingnagian Gulp (a Coca-cola syrup canister with a straw stuck into it). We can't raise the minimum wage in this country, but the minimum serving size of Sprite just goes up and up and up.

"Sure," you might argue, "but those are fountain drinks, which are 50% ice anyhow. But the standard size of soft drinks sold in stores can't possibly get any bigger than 20 oz." Au contraire, Mon Pèpper! Here's the side of a vending machine I saw today, photographic evidence that the cola companies are already laying the psychological groundwork for future increases:

I'm just growing accustomed to drinking 20 oz. of soda in a single sitting, and now I'm told that such a quantity is suitable for "slamming" "quickly?" Um, you go first. For some reason I find the thought having my esophagus lining stripped off by carbonic acid unappealing. But I'm sure it gets easier over time, as the scar tissue builds up in there.

I think the cola companies have one simple goal: to only have to make their product in a single size -- perferably a size they already produce so they won't have to modify their existing facilities. And they're well on their way. All they have to do is increment the "standard" a few more times over the next few years and, by 2010, drinking a two-liter bottle of Coke with your lunchtime Reuben will be considered the norm. We're gonna need some bigger cupholders.

June 21, 2006

The Trouble With Toddlers

 

Gone Fishin

In the months before The Squirrelly was born, The Queen and I had many discussion about whether we would prefer a boy or a girl, and, in the end, we decided that it didn't really matter. But I can tell you one thing: if we'd been given a choice, we certainly wouldn't have opted for a two year old. And I'm not just saying that because giving birth to a 30 lb. toddler would have made The Queen even crankier in the weeks following the delivery.

No, the problem with toddlers is that they are actual human beings. Unlike, say, infants. Infants share genetic material with the rest of our species, but that pretty much where the similarities end. You can't reason with them. You can't fathom their moods and desires. They have no memory or bowel control or sense of decorum*. They don't even enjoy watching Arrested Development, for crying out loud -- their idea of a good time is looking at a black square on a page. They pretty much exhibit none of the essential characteristics of humanity, aside from the farting. On the spectrum from "Pet" to "Person," babies are much closer to your average box turtle than they are to you and I.

But that was okay by The Queen and I -- we're not crazy about people anyway. We get along famously with our cats, though, so adding another critter to the litter suited us just fine.

But there's a big different between cats and kids, we soon discovered: cats become increasingly inert as they get older, while infants start crawling, and start walking, and start running, and start climbing, and start demanding that you play the "Best of Harry Belafonte" CD four times in a row. And one day you realize that nature has stealthily insinuated a little human into your lives. You start out with an infant, you wind up with a housemate.

So, long story short, now we got this thing crashing' around our household:

Under The Boardwalk

Oh, well. If we had been given the opportunity to pick out our own toddler (out of a police lineup, perhaps), we couldn't have selected a better one than the one we got.

Of course just because we like the little guy doesn't mean we couldn't stand two hours less of him every day. Sadly, this has not been the case since April, when, in the throes of a one-fortieth-of-the-way-through-life crisis, The Squirrelly a abruptly realized that Every Moment Counts and decided to stop squandering his precious time on naps. So now he's a 9 to 5 job -- except it's closer to "7 to 7" job, and you don't get a lunch break (unless downing a few bourbon shots while he eats his noontime chicken nuggets qualifies as "lunch"). The upside is that he goes to bed at night pretty reliably, though he has made it clear that he does so by choice and not necessity. Once, about a month ago, we put him down for the evening, settled on the couch, and started watching a DVD; "Hiya!" The Squirrelly said 10 minutes later, as he gamboled into the living room, having climbed out him crib and opened his door to his room. He hasn't done that again since, but he probably figures he doesn't need to. Just the knowledge that he can is enough to make us live in fear.

So what does The Squirrelly do with his boundless energy? Well, he enjoys the pool, for one.

Water Nymphs

We have him enrolled in swimming lessons for children under three, and man oh man does he ever love them. I think the allure of swimming is that we basically encourage him to do all the things we usually frown upon. "Kick!" The Queen yells from the sidelines, as I lead him around the pool, "for the love of all that's holy, kick your feet!" And then, 30 minutes later in the pool's lockerroom, he's doing the same thing as I try and get a diaper on him, and I'm growling "you seriously need to stop that" and he's all, like, "okay, look: you and mom need to call an executive meeting and get your story straight on this whole kicking issue, because I'm getting nothing but mixed messages here." Additional (and otherwise verboten) activities he gets to engage in while at the pool include flailing his arms with a ferocity rarely seen outside Animal from The Muppet Show, and leaping off walls into a 5 ft. deep concrete pit (albeit a pit filled with a fluid mixture consisting of 4 parts water, 1 part chlorine, and 2 parts toddler urine).

He's also way into spelling these days:

Future Spelling Bee Champion

So far he's got "mama," "kitty," and "duck" down pat, so he's already well on his way to "chiaroscurist" and "staphylococci." Which is good because his winning the National Spelling Bee when he's 11 is pretty much our current plan for funding his college education.

Or I guess we could just invest the money we're saving on groceries. About a month ago The Squirrelly apparently became epiphytic, because he no longer eats food and, we can only presume, now absorbs nutrients directly from the atmosphere. His boundless reservoirs of energy also have us convinced that he is photosynthesizing as well. Even though I married a botanist I never imagined I'd wind up with the Swamp Thing as a son.

Dinner guest  Swing  Time For A Book

* Well, okay: in this respect they aren't that dissimilar from myself ...
 

Joke 3.0.1

It only took me a week to realize that a much better name for the explainline would be "the aftermirth."

June 20, 2006

Never Share

Files Are Not For Sharing, a collaboration between Goopy and I, appears in The Morning News today.

Apologies to Elizabeth Verdick, author of the "Xs Are Not For Ying" series. They really are good books and The Squirrelly likes 'em a lot, so go buy a few to assuage my guilt.

June 19, 2006

#1 Dad

I'm not proud of my youthful indiscretions. But on Father's Day, when those cards and gifts arrive from children all over the United States, I have no regrets.

[ link | Humor]


June 16, 2006

Blue State Skies

The Queen: I think Bush is in town for a few days.

Me: He was just here this morning. He left a few hours ago.

The Queen: Ah. I wondered why the sun came back out.

June 15, 2006

Break A Leg!

My favorite aspect of the World Cup is the theatrics. You know, like the way that any two players that pass within 70 ft. of one another will immediately drop to the ground, clutch their right knee, and writhe around in unbearable agony -- and then, five seconds later, and completely irrespective of whether the official calls a foul or not, leap back to their feet and charge back into the action. There is more dramatics in a 90 minute soccer game than an entire season of your local repertoire theater. In the off season I bet these guys supplement their income by going to the local Piggly-Wiggly, pretending to slip on a wet spot on the floor, and doing their "Sweet Jesus I've torn every ligament in my thigh!" routine until the liability lawyers come a-running.

I also love the way how, after the ball goes out-of-bounds or there is foul, each player involved will stop, stare directly at the referee, and act out the call he wants the official to make. And then the ref goes ahead and makes whatever ruling he was going to issue anyway. It's as if every team were made up of the galaxy's most ineffectual Jedis.

June 14, 2006

A Pitcher's Worth A Thousand Words

I get a lot email. Not all of it is mine.

To: Matthew Baldwin
From: Geoffrey Ambler
Subject: Friday Night

Hey Matt,

I was talking to frazz last night and we were talking about how we should have a late night dinner before we go out of friday. I have work til like 630 on friday and then I am coming into the city with bull should be there by 9. Make a reservation somewhere for like 930. I mean bars don't get good til after 11- 1130 anyway. We might aswell eat and drink and then drink drink delta til 6 am. Let me know what you think?

I love you,
Geoff

* * *

To: Geoffrey Ambler
From: Matthew Baldwin
Subject: Re: Friday Night

Hey, Geoff. This sounds great, except I think you're probably talking about a different city than the one I live in (Seattle). Also, you may have intended this to go to a different Matthew Baldwin. Sounds like a good time, though.

Best to frazz and bull,
Matthew


* * *


To: Matthew Baldwin
From: Geoffrey Ambler
Subject: Re: Friday Night

You know what you're right the baldwin I am talking about is straight. You must be his gay twin who his fucking Jamie Moyer (pitcher for the seattle mariners). I'm sorry man I won't bother you anymore. Seattle, huh, doesn't it rain 23 hours a day 6 days a week there?

Best to grunge rock and starbucks!


* * *


To: Geoffrey Ambler
From: Matthew Baldwin
Subject: Re: Friday Night

Oh hey man, I thought you knew: Jamie Moyer (pitcher for the seattle mariners) and I broke up back in February. It was probably for the best. Honestly, we'd been drifting apart for years. He spent so much time on the road with the team, and I was spending so much time on my latch-hook ... you know how it goes. We were really only staying together for the kids there at the end, you know?

I still see him occationally, at Starbucks or grunge music concerts. He's moved on now, I guess -- got a new guy named Trevor or Tyler or something.

Thanks for asking, though -- it means a lot to me that you care.

Well, too bad Friday night didn't work out for us. I guess I'll just stay at home this weekend. Been doing that a lot, lately. Just staying home and listening to the rain and thinking about Jamie. We had some great times together, me and Jamie. Some really great times.

I love you too,
Matthew

June 13, 2006

My Arms Being Tired Implies That I Flew Here Without Mechanical Assistance

Over dinner Saturday night a four year-old told me this joke:

Him: Knock knock.

Me: Who's there?

Me: Undies.

Me: Undies who?

Him: Undies pants!

Yes, it lacks some of the surreal sublimity of the jokes found in the Achoo'nior repertoire, but y'gotta give the kid credit for having The World's Funniest Word (underpants) as a punchline and using a synonym for it (undies) in the setup. That youngster knows what the audience craves and, by gum, he gonna give it to 'em.

Speaking of jokes, I saw an ad for The Simpsons on TV the other day, which featured this snippet of comedy gold:

Home: You're sure spending a lot of time with Moe.

Bart: Yeah, he's like the father I never had.

{Beat}

Homer: Wait a minute: I'm your father!

It's so nice to see that the writers on The Simpsons have, at long last, adopted the Joke 3.0 format.

To put this in context, I'll need to give you a quick primer in the history of the joke.

Jokes originated in ancient Egypt, though the earliest consisted of only the straightline.

Sphinx: What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?

Ramses II: I don't know.

Sphinx: No one does.

{Awkward silence}

Ramses II: I really think you should get that thing on your nose looked at.

Jokes persisted in this form for thousands of years. They were particularly popular with Zen monks, who would ask each other "What is the sound of one hand laughing?" or "What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the west?" and then collapse into hysterics.

Then, in 1882, George Washington Carter revolutionized comedy with his invention of the punchline.

George Washington Carver: What do you call four nuns and a bicycle with no seat?

Nick Fury, who has been sent back in time to assassinate the grandfather of Benito Mussolini: I don't know, what?

George Washington Carver: Peanuts!

It took a few more years of combining various straightline and punchlines to refine the formula ("What's brown and sticky? Arr, it's drivin' me nuts!"), but soon the "joke" as we know it was perfected.

But did we Americans rest on our laurels? NO! In the late 20th century we pioneered Joke 3.0, which added a third line -- the explainline aftermirth -- to the equation. Pioneered by such ground-breaking shows as Home Improvement and the comic styling of Gallagher, the explainline aftermirth finally made humor accessible to everyone, even mooncalves like you and I.

Oh I get it: Homer is his father! It's funny because it's true!

So next time you tell your favorite joke, don't forget the explainline aftermirth:

Why are fish so smart?

Because they live in schools.

The word "school" could refer to either a group of fish or a place where children are educated!


Did you hear about the psychic in San Francisco who specialized in predicting bad breath?

Her sign read "Super California mystic, expert: halitosis."

The people in California are so dumb they elected Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor -- you can't help but laugh!


Supreme Court Justice One: Who's there?

Supreme Court Justice Two: Undies.

Supreme Court Justice One: Undies who?

Supreme Court Justice Two: Undies pants!

Supreme Court Justice One: I'm afraid I'm still not entirely clear on who you are.

Supreme Court Justice Two: "Underpants" is the world's funniest word.

Supreme Court Justice One: Hahahaha!

And remember: it's innovations like Joke 3.0, born of pure Yankee ingenuity, that have made our nation the "shining city on the hill" it is today.

That's sarcasm. In truth the United States is not highly regarded in the International community!

June 12, 2006

Return

I apologize for my recent absence -- after my last post I was seized by the Secret Grammar Police and extradited to Gerundland as part of their War on Error. I was held in an underground modal and wasn't released until I swore to never again engage in wanton misapostrophication.

(Actually, I was working on a project with the genius behind Goopymart, which should be appearing in The Morning News soon. I'll resume work on the yeti today.)

During the my hiatus, someone reminded me that I'd long ago promised reviews of both Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Caylus, so I'll try and get those written shortly. Someone else asked for an update on The Squirrelly, and I'm working on one now. And I received email asking that I exhume those Vocabulary Bookmarks I posted a million years ago.

So if anyone else would like to make a request or remind me about something I said I'd write but never did, I guess this is the thread to do so.

Update: Sorry I didn't make this clear: the link on the Vocab Bookmarks page points nowhere. I removed the bookmarks PDF from my site a long time ago, back in the day when my webhost only gave me 10MB of space. As soon as I unearth them on my home PC I'll post them in a new entry.

June 01, 2006

Mob Rule: Grammarama

I posted this question to a discussion group and it incited a veritable brawl:

Which is grammatically correct: "I have had sex with each and every member of Avenged Sevenfold, one of the bands that [is|are] part of Ozzfest 2006."
No consensus was reached, so we can settle the matter once and for all, right here on this humble little webpage. Fight!