Hey, lots of you have been sending me your comments on Facebook. That's fine, but...

... I'd prefer if you embedded the comments below the articles. That way we can see more fights when people disagree!

And besides, I do my best to respond to all your comments, so check back often for what I say about you behind your back... and tell your friends to come along, too!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Who IS Billy Jones: Building Buzz for an Audiobook

For those of you who have been following the blog and wondering about the Billy Jones stuff that always pops up to the left (and seriously, why haven't you clicked on it yet??), you might find the following interesting.

Who IS Billy Jones: Building Buzz for an Audiobook - Books - Blogcritics

Friday, August 21, 2009

Two Great Acts That Taste Great Together... or Something Like That

So a bit more of a "personal" blog today. Just letting everyone I know know (ha, I said "know know) about a pair of acts that are totally different, and equally great.

Act One: Cary Judd. His website is here.

Who is he? Well: check this out and you'll have your answer. And if you didn't see that, then at least here's a picture:

This guy is GOOD. Here's a list of his upcoming tour dates. CATCH HIM IF YOU CAN.

What makes him so good? Why bother seeing him live?

Well, because quite simply, chances are good you'll never see anything like it again. He's literally a one-man band. Not like the guys who walk around Disney movies with every possible instrument strapped to them. Rather, he creates "loops" for each of his songs live. So the first thing he'll do is lay down a drum line, recording it on the spot, right in front of your eyes. Then he'll bang on his guitar to create a bass drum sound. New loop. Then a rhythm guitar loop. And so on.

So in the space of about 30 seconds, you see someone put together all the background "fill" sounds he'll need for a full-bodied, full-band sound, which he controls and turns on and off, up or down, throughout the song, via a series of foot pedals and hand controls.

It's unreal, amazing, and absolutely worth traveling for.

Now, the second act I saw was a comedy troupe called The Society.

They are an improv group that I caught last night right after seeing Cary, and MAN did they impress. They took a word from the group: "Beachball" and then IMPROV'D AN ENTIRE BROADWAY SHOW around it, INCLUDING MUSIC AND LYRICS.

The ENTIRE GROUP was amazing, though for me the standouts were Kirby Heyborne as the love-struck professional beach ball inflater and Eric Artell as the crotchety rich old man who insists that his daughter only have beach balls for her 17th birthday beach party because (as he sung) "Yeah, you can enjoy lots of frisbees, and lawn darts, and surfboards and have lots of fun, but then what are you really? Just a big fat beach slob..." (message: focus, girl, you gots ta have FOCUS!)

And perhaps most amazing is that, unlike most comedy acts, when they hit a rough patch (as any improv group will... it's impossible for every joke to be a hit), they don't resort to crudity or "F-bombs" as a cheap impersonator of humor.

They're appearing at the IO West on Thursday at 11 pm. Entrance is free, but you better get there early, because it was standing room only when I was there.

And a bit of a warning: though The Society seems to be absolutely family friendly, the other group that I saw was NOT. So be aware. But then, IO West won't let you in unless you're 21 or older, so I guess chances of you packing up the kiddies for an 11 pm show in the middle of Hollywood is pretty slim.

Okay, so this was more of a straight "review," and I promise to return next time to more humorous (i.e., random and borderline incomprehensible) stuff.

But every once in a while you come across true talent, and I think that in that case, you gotta share it.

That's why you're all telling your friends about me.



[sound of crickets chirping...]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

To Die For

Driving to work today (yes, I do have a day job), I heard something both wonderful and appalling. What was it? you ask. Well, I'll tell you.

There's a lady in a posh neighborhood who owes $1 million on her house (which is now probably worth only $42.50, thank you very much bad loan policies). And, surprise surprise, she doesn't have the wherewithal to make the payments.

So she decides to sell an item of value: her dead husband.

GAH! you say?

Okay, I'm exaggerating. She's not selling her dead husband. She's selling her dead husband's grave. On e-Bay. Meaning that if she sells it, she's going to have to move hubby somewhere else.

Well, I'm all for a little sacrifice in time of need (after all, as my wife so often points out, it WAS me who tried putting our son in a bowl and pouring milk all over him during the Great Froot Loops Draught of '08). But REALLY. And what does she think she's going to get for this marvelous piece of treasure.

Well, at last count on eBay: something like $4.5 MILLION dollars.

Now, before all of you go looking for one of your less-liked relatives to dig up and sell off their "final" resting place, you should know that this woman's husband's grave had something a bit unusual about it.

No, it wasn't full of solid gold iguanas.

Rather, it was right next to Marilyn Monroe's grave. In fact, it was part of a two-fer set that MM got with her (then) husband Joe DiMaggio. When they divorced, Joe got rid of "his side of the bed," as it were.

NOW the $4.5 million bid starts to make sense.

Or does it?

I mean, $4.5 million to lay next to this for eternity?

Okay, I can see that appealing to some people.

But the fact is, it's been a while. So $4.5 million to lay next to this?

Less so.

We have all gone crazy. People are trying to push a new health care system that hasn't even been read by most of the people pushing it. People are buying big screen TVs to go in the houses they can't afford. People are pouring milk over their children when they're out of Froot Loops (see, no one is blameless).

And in this time where everyone is hurting (or at least complaining that they're hurting), we still have people who can manage to find $4.5 million to spend in order to be buried next to The Mummy.

Darwin was clearly wrong on some points. Because anyone with any sense at all would put their $4.5 million into something with a little bit better return on investment. Like butter futures or something.

Then again, whenever anyone asks me (as they so often do), "How did we ever get into this mess," I will no longer look at them blankly and go "Wha?"

I will merely say, "Marilyn Monroe's Mummy."

And my conversation partner will nod and leave. For no more, at that point, will need to be said.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thinking About Ignorance

This one is in a bit more serious of a vein than usual. My apologies, but even the best of us gets serious sometimes.

See, I can't even be serious without making a joke about it. Sad, really.

Anywho, I recently went to the Self Realization Center in Malibu (that's the picture). For those of you who don't know what this place is, it's a really lovely place with a lake, full of koi, ducks, and swans. The surrounding areas are plush, smelling richly of the flowers that veritably coat every square inch of the surrounding hills.

The place also has religious significance. There is a shrine to Mahatma Ghandi, which even contains some of his ashes, and some other religious features which I will get to in a moment.

I made the trip a bit of an outing with my children. They thoroughly enjoyed it, as did I. We did a circuit of the lake, stopping at the "feeding area" where you can feed the fish in the lake. I told them they were called Makoto fish and told them a legend of the fish's transformation to a mighty dragon if it could swim to the top of a certain waterfall - particularly cool to them because there was a large waterfall directly across the lake from us.

They were also very impressed when I told them a bit about Ghandi, and how he taught people that you don't always have to fight to win a battle. Conveying his message to a three- and five-year old was a bit trying, but if you ever want a lesson in clarity, try to distill important things down to that level: you really get to the essence and strip away everything that doesn't matter.

We also stopped by the meditation area, and I talked to the kids about the differences between thinking, pondering, meditating, and praying.

Finally, we ended up at an area that was designated to highlight each of the world's five major religions. This was (for me) the most interesting part of our small self-tour. As before, I tried to teach my kids, so I took my children to the symbol that represented each of the religions, and tried to talk to them a bit about what each religion believed, and some of the things that made each different from our own religion.

I emphasized that just because they believe differently does not make them bad, and that if someone is wrong about something, the best way to teach them is not by arguing or yelling, but by being so good they cannot help but admire you and want to emulate you.

The humbling part came when I realized I could only speak in depth about three of the five major religions. I will have to do some more studying, not because I wish to become an acolyte, and certainly not because I wish to remove myself from my own treasured beliefs in any way, but because it is impossible to understand someone when you don't understand their language.

And religion is one of the things that most fundamentally makes up a person's language, coloring his (or her) attitudes, beliefs (obviously), and actions. But more than that it colors their REactions and their INTERactions. And so understanding a person's religion - at least in a broad, basic way - can make the difference between thinking someone is an enemy, and KNOWING that someone is a friend.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

World Peace Through Higher Gasoline Consumption

I just heard on the radio and read on the net that Chevy is coming out with a new vehicle that will get a whopping 230 miles per gallon. And that's city-mileage, baby, so who knows what it can do on the freeway?

Well, that depends on where you're at, I guess. If you live in Idaho, you'll probably get higher mileage - like infinity miles per gallon (I'm rounding); if you live in Los Angeles, where I operate, you might get lower mpg... like 4. Which is still an improvement.

At any rate, hearing that information absolutely floored me. And it led to an obvious question and an obvious danger in my mind: if all cars start getting that kind of fuel efficiency, what are we going to do with all our extra gas?! I mean, we can't just let it sit there in its crude form in the ground, just doing nothing. We're not wasteful like that. "Find a use for it and use it": that's the American Way (the American Way used to be "Work real hard and buy a house for financial security," but we all know how that turned out).

So what to do, what to do?

The obvious answers are always an option: use the extra gas to feed hungry children, or to cure cancer, or to end the worldwide polio epidemic.

What? They already took care of that one? Coolio. So now we're down to even fewer options.

And then, driving to work, it hit me: we can use our extra gas to end global warming! "What?" you say. "End global warming with gas? How is it possible?"

Here's how it works. We all know that the sea levels are rising as a result of the ice caps melting. Or at any rate, we all know that who say we all know that. Some people say we haven't actually proved that, and we respect their opinions, but for now we'll just ignore them and call them "the crazy people."

So all of us (not "the crazy people") get all our gas out of our old cars - which we will immediately throw away* when this new Chevy Volt comes out because we will immediately want to get this fuel-efficient gift from the heavens (or from Olympus - we don't discriminate in this blog). We then take that gas and pour it on the beaches on the major coastlines of the world.

Then we light it all on fire.

I anticipate the heat generated will boil the beach water. This will cause steam to rise, and kick-start the rain-cycle which should drop more water over our polar areas, thus adding to our polar ice caps. Not only that, but the water that is boiled away means an automatic, instantaneous drop in the world's sea level. You can thank me later, Netherlands.

AND when all the gas is burned off, I bet there will be plenty of boiled fish washing up on the shores. We just have UPS standing by for shipment to underdeveloped nations, and WHAMMO! we've also just solved world hunger.

So is this sounding great, or what? I know, I know, there are a few obvious kinks in the process, like: what if people in areas of world hunger don't like fish? But these things iron themselves out, I assure you.

So let's all get ready. 2010 is when the Chevy Volt is scheduled to arrive. The year we all turn fuel economic on the freeway and use the earth's remaining gasoline and oil to solve global warming, world hunger, and I wouldn't be surprised if it accidentally also cures cancer.

* Where will we throw away our old cars? I dunno. You can't expect me to think of everything. But probably just in some big hole somewhere. That way, they won't hurt anything.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

G.I. Jonesing – or – Why I Want to Bear Snake Eyes’ Children

I’ve already made it pretty clear that I don’t think every movie has to be smart to be brilliant. The last movie I talked about in that vein was Transformers 2, a movie produced by Hasbro, and one that I found loud, silly, almost plotless… and totally awesome.

Well, folks, Hasbro is two for two this summer. I saw G.I. Joe last night, and when I went in I just wanted it to do one thing: I wanted it to make me remember why, when I was around 10 or 12 years old, I had to get home in time to watch G.I. Joe. No. Matter. What.

I get detention? I skip it to get home.

Car not working? I run.

Pass a burning bus full of nuns on the way? Sorry, sisters, you gots ta burn.

Because I know that G.I. Joe is coming on. And knowing is half the battle. The other half is watching the show.

Point being, I wanted that feeling, that “YO, JOE!” feeling that I used to get.

And I got it. For six specific reasons:

1) Cool gadgets.

2) Hearing catchphrases like “knowing is half the battle” and “we got a lotta Joes out there.”

3) Snake Eyes.

4) Snake Eyes.

5) Snake Eyes.

6) Snake Eyes.

Sure, there were a couple things that didn’t work for me. The little kid from Third Rock From the Sun as Cobra Commander didn’t work for me. Wayans as the stereotypical black funny guy who has his moment to shine after essentially serving as the village idiot for 95% of the movie… meh.

There were a couple of lines that made my eyes roll so far back I was looking at the person in the seat behind mine (sometimes my brain and skull go transparent, allowing me to do that – a neat but creepy party trick).

I also was a little weirded out by the ethno-cultural changes. It used to be “G.I. Joe… A real American Hero” (and if you can’t actually hear the song being sung when you read that, you’re the wrong demographic for this article, dude).

This was not the case in the movie. In the movie it would have been more like “G.I. Joe… A real cross-cultural mixed-ethnicity inter-national U.N.-sanctioned P.C. hero…” Which I have no problem with as a moral choice or anything, and I get that the folks in charge want to appeal to as many different countries as possible. It was just jarring is all.

But there were a few things – more than a few things – that did work for me.

Scarlett had a frickin’ rad crossbow.

And yes, I did just actually say “frickin’ rad.” And I say frickin’ rad because frickin’ rad was what we said when the Joes were around as cartoons.

But anyway, her crossbow was like something Buffy the Vampire Slayer might have if she had Darth Vader’s tech/weapons guy working for her. It could shoot around corners and hit you in the eye and if that didn’t make you go “Frickin’ rad!” then the fact that it glowed red at the edges and had some sort of LCD video screen would definitely make you go “Frickin’ rad!”

And there were also submarines that looked like amphibious X-wing fighters, helicopters that made Airwolf look like one of those airplanes you wind up with a rubber band, and a whole slew of “wicked kewl” other stuff.

And the catchphrases. Hearing Dennis Quaid say “And knowing is half the battle” was wonderful, if not quite as good as hearing Peter Cullen say “Autobots, roll out.”

And last but not least (times four)… Snake Eyes.

I remember that Snake Eyes was the coolest one when I was a kid. He didn’t say anything, he had a pet wolf, and you had the feeling that he could be the most popular kid at school if he wanted to, but he didn’t: he just wanted to kick the crap out of bad guys and save the day.

And they nailed it in the movie. No wolf, but they got the rest bang-on. I mean totally perfect. So here I am, a happily married man with two kids, and this guy is so frickin’ rad (again, see above re frickin’ rad) that I’m having my heterosexuality challenged. He’s got swords, a gun, and a facemask that is like Geordi LaForge’s on steroids. How cool is he? Again, I’m having trouble maintaining my straightness here.

And why is Snake Eyes so cool (aside from the above-mentioned reasons, as if those weren’t enough)? Well, I think a big part of it is that he is – oddly enough – the most human of the characters. The one who you get the feeling that if you were serious enough and tried hard enough and took a vow of silence, you could end up with the skills Snake Eyes has. Get yourself a black suit and the aforementioned cool facemask, and you are him. You don’t have to be pretty, like Scarlet, or prettier like Channing Tatum as Duke (seriously, I thought the girls in the audience – both of them – were going to die of apoplexy whenever he opened his pretty little mouth). You don’t have to be a big dude, like so many of the other (multi-ethnic) Joes in the movie are.

You just gotta want it. You just gotta work for it. You just gotta be the one who is already moving to do something while everyone else is still scratching their heads and saying, “I don’t know, what do you think we should do about the nuclear warhead speeding towards Washington?”

And no, that’s not a spoiler. There is no nuclear warhead in this movie. I will provide a short spoiler, though.


The Joes win. No major bad guys are actually seen dying. There is a Colliseum-sized opening for a sequel.


So did I like G.I. Joe?

Yeah. It was frickin’ rad.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

And Tat's all There is to it

Heard an interesting piece on the news today about how tattoo removal is projected to become a multi-billion-a-year business in the US alone.

I don’t see how that’s possible. I mean, all you have to do is wait for a while and the tattoo just wears off, right? In fact, usually when I get a tattoo, I forget to hold the cold washcloth on it long enough and then when I peel the paper back my “Superman” tattoo ends up looking like a cross between a dead fish and a llama with dysentery.

I guess maybe they’re talking about more washcloths being needed to scrub the ugly llamas off?

What? You mean they’re talking about THE OTHER KIND of tattoos? And it turns out that it’s even more expensive to get one off than to put it on?

Does this all seem kind of weird to anyone but me? First of all, I have had sharp pointy things poked into me by people who were not my friends. They did it mostly for free. So as a rule I must admit I have no wish to pay a stranger to stick sharp pointy things into me, and leave behind permanent proof that he did it. But that’s just me.

Nonetheless, it does kill me the number of people that are getting “tats” all over at the age of 16 or 18, or even 20 or 22. At some point it stops being about a cool tat and starts being a social statement.

And what’s the statement? Probably something like “I want to be poor.”

See, a rock star can get away with tattoos. He’s rich, and in a field that promotes that kind of activity.

But the majority of us are going to end up wanting to be teachers or architects or doctors or things like that.

And believe me, nothing says “Hire me” to HR at a major law firm like a teardrop tat and “Born to Burn” emblazoned across the back of your head.

Having said all that, then, I guess it isn’t such a surprise that tattoo removal is getting ready for big numbers. At some point, most people realize they have to grow up (my wife is still waiting on me). That means paying the bills. And that usually goes hand in glove with LOOKING like someone who pays the bills.

Which, in turn, implies that tattoos may not be the “wicked cool” thing they’re generally perceived as by the people getting them. Rather, they are more likely “wicked cool today, wicked dumb tomorrow.”

And don’t even get me started on the people who look like they’re trying to turn their earlobes into basketball hoops.

I’d say more (like about the tattoos all the girls are getting on their backs – you know, the ones right above their tooshes – which I suspect are going to look rather odd as they age and the things stretch out to resemble silly putty faces), but I gotta go. I hear University of Phoenix has an online course in tattoo removal, and I want a piece of THAT pie.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I Don't Know Anything About This, but I Know I Have Strong Feelings About it

I was just listening to talk radio (endless fodder there for blog topics), and the commentator started ranting about the California budget process, which as near as I can tell involves a bunch of people cloistered in a room with some accountants, a stapler, lots of paper, and a Magic 8 Ball.

The commentator's rant got my blood pressure up. "Hey," thought I (when I think, I always do it in olde vernacular like "thought I"), "methinks I agree... the budget process in California HAS TO CHANGE!"

Then I realized that I have NO idea how the process works.

Okay, I have SOME idea, but not much. And still I know - I KNOW - that things must change. And if you stuck a gun to my head and made me come up with some, I bet I could even contribute concrete suggestions as to HOW the process should change.

And I could come up with these suggestions even though (as I've already stated) I don't know how the process works in the first place. And how ridiculous is that? It's like me hanging out a sign on my door that says "Michaelbrent - Heart Surgeon" and when asked about my qualifications replying that I eat those Necco hearts each Valentine's Day that say "Be Mine" and "Hot Stuff" and things like that.

Even worse, I think this problem may not be confined just to me. I have a sneaking suspicion that an awful lot of my friends, coworkers, peers, etc., have very strident opinions about important matters that they have not bothered to educate themselves about.


GUY ON THE STREET: We need to get the troops out of Afghanistan.
ME: Why?
GUY ON THE STREET: Because they're not doing anything good over there!
ME: What do you mean by that?
GUY: Just what I said.
ME: Well, you didn't really communicate much. Do you think they could be better utilized elsewhere? Or that the methods they're using are unConstitutional? Or just that fighting in general is immoral?
GUY: [swiftly punches me in the groin then runs]
ME: [gurgle]

See what I mean? I'm not saying anything here about whether or not we should have troops in Afghanistan, or whether or not Prop 8 was a good thing, or if the Cash for Clunkers program is a good one or not (though I have opinions about at least one of them). What I'm saying is that we have all these issues flying around these days, and so many of us care so much about them that we're willing to argue and scream and yell to make our point... but we don't care quite enough to actually research the underlying facts that (in a perfect world) would actually make up our opinions.

It just seems strange to me that we will get into fist- or word-fights over things that are direly important to us, but when asked to explain our opinions in factual, non-argumentative tones, so few of us can.

But maybe that's human nature. After all, I hear that there's a bill pending in Congress that intends to ban use of paisley in clothing. I'm for it. And I'll DIE to defend my beliefs.

Just don't ask me why. It's what I believe. That should be enough, shouldn't it?

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