What You Will

Another Burma Shave billboard on the information superhighway. Random thoughts about arts, faith, culture, music, language, literature, and the shortcomings of the Hegelian dialectic. (OK, just kidding about that last bit.)

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Location: Edmonds, Washington, United States

I wonder what goes in this space?


Literary action figures

Standing on my desk right now, courtesy of Archie McPhee, are two "literary action figures": William Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe. They're reasonable enough likenesses, but neither can sit down, which in a writer would seem to be an unfortunate oversight.

The other day my friend Michael and I brainstormed some additional literary action figures we'd like to see:

Joseph Mitchell
Comes into the office every day for 32 years; sits and stares at its typewriter. Now with Extra Heavy-Duty Writer’s Block, and Real Tears of Regret for a Talent Wasted.

Sylvia Plath
Complete with Crawling and Asphyxiating Motion! For extra fun, get the Wax-Headed model!

Hunter S. Thompson
Will do anything it sees you doing, just to see what it feels like. Adults only.

Emily Dickinson
Will not come out of its packaging—and isn’t meant to.

Richard Dawkins
Asks, with a smirk, “If Archie McPhee made me, who made Archie McPhee?”

Ernest Hemingway
For longer product life, avoid simultaneous use of the Hennessy Bottle and Shotgun accessories.

Dylan Thomas
Unsteady, with thrilling Stumble/Fall sequence. Speaks beautifully; swears horribly. Secondhand accessories included, but may be exchanged for Rotgut.

Oscar Wilde*
Armed only with a Pen, but still fights an impressive Battle of Wits. Not appropriate for young boys.

Ambrose Bierce
Not intended for use as a chew toy; leaves bitter aftertaste. Rinse thoroughly after contact. May wander off to Mexico in search of Pancho Villa.

I imagine we'll add more to the list later, but that's enough for now. Must go and sharpen my quill.

*Shoot, ol' Archie has beaten us to the punch on this one.


What's missing?

Here is the biography of Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby on his official Web site.

It's missing one important detail. Do you know what that detail is?

A lot of senators and representatives are doing this, I'm told...


Ridiculous Web site of the month, part 7

A while back, Alabama's Decatur Daily reported on the trend of sports teams hosting "Faith Nights" to attract churchgoers — complete with live Christian rock bands, VeggieTales characters, and booths selling your basic evangelical-subculture T-shirts, Moses bobblehead dolls, and Bibles. "Faith Nights" started with Arena Football teams, are moving into big-time sports like Major League Baseball. What particularly caught my eye was the following paragraph:
"It'll be no different than any other group out there," said Derrick Hall, the Diamondbacks' executive vice president. "They will promote it at a much greater level than most groups can. As a result, we'll sell more tickets."
Did you get that? If you thought the Arizona Diamondbacks would put on a "Faith Night" because they were somehow interested in accommodating people of faith, you're sadly mistaken, my friend. It's all about the dollar signs, and at least Mr. Hall is honest enough to admit it. (When Sony Pictures decided to use churches and Christian leaders to shill for The Da Vinci Code, a sophomoric, ill-conceived attack on Christianity, they cleverly spun the campaign as an opportunity for "dialogue." Mr. Hall's remarks are, bracingly, devoid of any such spin.)

It's working, too — at least for the Arena Football teams, which are attracting lots of new fans with the venture. I guess going to a "regular" game, where you might have to sit next to a non-Christian, is just too much for some people to contemplate. I have a friend who publishes Christian music magazines — and on top of going to the standard summer festivals devoted to such music, he also sets up a booth at a few general-market festivals, including the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention. I like to think that this is his way of being the "salt of the earth," of going out into the world at large instead of waiting for it to come to him. Whatever it is, it's the opposite of "Faith Night," even though he covers some of the same cultural territory.

I have just one burning question left: What do you suppose is the effect of "Faith Night" on a stadium's alcohol concession?

Public Radio International: Music thieves?

Here's a little radio piece on European buskers (street musicians), reported by one Gerry Hadden for PRI's "The World" show. I suppose his preference for Dire Straits covers over buoyant Gypsy violin playing must be chalked up to a matter of taste. But perhaps the most intriguing part of Hadden's story is an encounter with a busker in Rome:

Walking down a broad avenue I come upon an African man playing a conically shaped stringed instrument. So I start to record. But when notices me he abruptly stops playing, stands up and shoves me.

He must have me pegged for some audio paparazzi. I don't understand his Italian but I do recognize the universal symbol of a raised fist. So I move on.

Whether or not that guy was famous he certainly acted like it.

As a onetime busker myself, I can shed some light on why this musician was upset about being taped. No matter whether a musician is “famous” or not, it’s rude and unethical to record a performance without permission. Furthermore, in the case of buskers and all other musicians trying to make a living with their music, it’s also unethical to broadcast that music without compensating them for it. Most buskers aren't collecting publishing royalties, ticket revenues, or appearance fees. Busking is like public radio – just because you can hear it without paying first doesn’t mean it’s free. If Hadden didn’t compensate the musicians he recorded for his piece – or obtain releases from them – then shame on him.


When you get tired of beating a dead horse...

just have a seat.


Dr. Seuss, Web visionary?

The late Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, is rightly remembered for his contributions to children's literature: a stream-of-consciousness writing style, heavy on rhyme, rhythm and coinage, accompanied by carefree, fanciful illustrations. (Come to think of it, there's probably a doctoral dissertation to be written comparing Seuss' work to that of his predecessors, Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. But I digress.)

What hasn't been noted before, at least anywhere that I've looked, is that Seuss might've been the first writer to use the word "blog"; he coined it in his 1973 book The Shape of Me and Other Stuff. OK, he spelled it "blogg," and it referred to some large, ridiculous-looking animal instead of an online journal, but give the man a break. He also coined the word "zillow," a smaller but equally ridiculous-looking animal at the end of 1974's There's a Wocket in My Pocket! As you may know, Zillow.com is now a hot real-estate site featuring user-generated content. I hope its developers have paid the Geisel estate the royalties it deserves.

What lessons can we draw from this? Well, if you need a name for your new Web site, service, or application, there are worse places to look than the children's section of your library. As the parent of an 18-month-old, I'm spending more time there myself these days.

Why you need an editor

Here's an e-mail from the Northwest Danish Foundation:

Ellen Rossen, pianist will perform in a free rectal Saturday January 6 at 2 pm at the Frye Art Museum. Sponsored by the Ladies Musical Club, the program will include works by Bach, Haydn, Shubert and Bartok. Seating is first-come first-served, beginning at 1 pm.

Please do attend this unique event and celebrate the talent of a longtime NWDF member.

Wow, that's bound to be an interesting performance.

Ridiculous Web site of the month, part 6

A high school student calling itself "MK" has slapped up a halfhearted blog called SPUWatch, the purpose of which seems to be to hurl invective at my alma mater, Seattle Pacific University.

As MK correctly observes, nobody, including SPU, should be above criticism. On the other hand, everybody should be above the type of tiresome, irrelevant, thoughtless blather that MK dishes out.

When a friend of mine and I both commented on MK's first post, MK thanked us for "legitimizing" the blog. So one can "legitimize" something by observing how pathetic it is? I'm still trying to get my head around that one.