Friday, June 29, 2007

MySpace and the Media

Last week, Maine Attorney General Stephen Rowe made headlines by awaking from a deep, 20-year slumber and proclaiming himself a loyal subject of King George the Third.

NO, wait, that's Rip Van Winkle. My bad. But you can see how I might get them confused.

What Rowe did upon waking up from a two-year slumber (no less amazing, really) was stretch, belch, pour a cup of coffee, and start thinking about maybe, after lunch, trying to track down some sex offenders on MySpace.

In case your idea of being tech-savvy means proficiency at both abacus and typewriter, MySpace is a social networking website popular with young people, especially teenagers.

You wouldn’t know it from reading the Maine media, but several other states have already nabbed alleged perpetrators who allegedly used MySpace to try to lure alleged children into their alleged sordid grasp.

News reports here made Stephen Rowe seem innovative and tough on sex criminals for demanding cooperation from MySpace, even though he’s actually a Johnny-Come-Lately. While other states took action months ago, Rowe (screen name: “zzzzzzz”) waited around for more and more predators to gain access to Maine children before finally stepping forward to make noises to the effect of maybe doing something about it.

One would hope that MySpace, which has been obscenely popular for at least two years now, would have already done more to root out sex offender use on its own. After all, the site is owned by our culture's premium icon of integrity and wholesomeness: the same company that owns Fox News, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

(It's no secret that Murdoch and Fox News lean Republican. Consider the fact that the few liberal commentators they interview tend to have the intellect and debating skills of a Saint Bernard puppy. Plus, a recent investigation found that Bill O’Reilly has his own MySpace page, on which he declares that embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez is, “like, sooooo hott!”)

As official mouthpiece for the GOP, we would expect Fox News and its parent company to stand up for decency, family values, and protecting our children from squalid, unclean influences.

Unless, of course, they can make more money by doing the opposite.

A recent study at Fresno State University found that 59 percent of MySpace users, including 71 percent of the 14-15-year-olds, posted sexually explicit or risqué materials on their sites. Often these innocent cherubs use the service to publish photos of themselves posing suggestively. Nearly ten percent of users also posted readily-accessible links to pornographic websites.

News Corp is not exactly moving swiftly to restrict their profitable teen-oriented site to only wholesome material.

If the rest of the media does, in fact, have a liberal bias, I’d like to know why Murdoch's inaction hasn’t been blown up into an obese, gnarled, pulsating scandal.

Instead, the media, at least here in Maine, seems wound up in the technicalities. The Morning Sentinel and the Kennebec Journal each published a ghastly editorial June 29 criticizing Rowe for demanding too much information from MySpace. These papers feel law enforcement should only be able to get account information for a few sex offenders, those whose conditions of release prohibit them from using the Internet.

Uh-huh. If you're a convicted sex offender, and you signed up for a MySpace account for some reason other than to meet lonely, vulnerable teenagers, then step forward right now and I'll give you my entire life savings ($37.22) and the keys to my car (R.I.P.).

No takers? Hmph. Would have been a good deal two years ago.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Getting The Most Out Of Your Yahd Sale

It starts in January, when anything done outside in warm weather, even jogging or keelhauling, sounds like a good idea. Your spouse says, “Let’s have a yard sale this summer,” and you say, “Yeah, definitely!”

After hours of arguing, arranging, and advertising, people arrive and take about half your least-favorite possessions away, leaving you very small quantities of money and a giant mess in your yard, which, if you’re like me, will remain for several days in the vain hope that someone will randomly stop by and abscond with your crap.

But your next yard sale does not have to be depressing. Here are several tips for making it the thrilling capitalistic orgy it should be.

1. Join forces. This way, you can advertise as a “multi-family” yard sale. When it’s all over, sneak some of your unsold stuff into their truck.

2. Make it a party. Play funky music, and set up games for children. People will stay longer if the atmosphere is fun and if their kids aren’t writhing around in crazed fits of boredom.

3. Know what to throw away. Those old Engelbert Humperdinck cassettes and that 1988-vintage Barbie doll that is missing some of its limbs and most of its clothing: priceless treasures. Mark ‘em way, way up (for you young folks who think I just made up the name Engelbert Humperdinck, visit and absorb yourself in his profound magnificence).

4. Encourage “early-birds.” What? You’re not willing to get up at 4:45 to greet that guy in the junk-filled Dodge Ram Pickup who wants to know how much you’ll take for that stained, malfunctioning recliner? Are you insane? The “early-birds” are your best customers. Your ad should say, “early-birds welcome – to pay triple the asking price.” Your sale could be over by 10:00, leaving you the rest of the day to roll around in piles of cash.

5. Do not attach your signs to telephone poles, unless you want a snotty guy from the electric company to bring them back to you, discarding them in your driveway in a way that communicates how disgusted he is that vermin like you actually exist.

This happened to me, and I’ll admit freely that I’m a little bitter about it. The electric company guy moaned about how he has to spend a large chunk of his day removing yard sale signs from telephone poles, and how he was being such a great guy for not fining me $100 per sign.

Sorry to make your job so horrifically difficult, mister. While you’re here, maybe you can explain why I should pay more for electricity so you can ride around in a giant, gas-guzzling pickup truck just to read meters. Maybe you need all the cargo space for carrying around the psychological baggage that comes from knowing that your job could be done by a haphazardly-trained orangutan.

He even had the gall to complain that nails left on the telephone poles could injure line workers or damage their clothing. Hey, any line worker dumb enough to actually climb a pole, rather than using a utility truck with a “cherry picker,” deserves whatever tetanus-infused scrape he ends up with.

So I’m a little bitter. To feel better, I only have to remember that my name, thankfully, is not Engelbert Humperdinck.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Judge, Jury, and Pooper-Scooper

All rise!

The honorable Judicial Magistrate of Profound Excellence Charles A. McKay is presiding.

“You may be seated. Do the People wish to begin their opening arguments?”

Yes, Your Honor. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: The case before you this afternoon is a difficult one. The defendant who sits before you may appear harmless, but during the course of this trial the State will prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is the living nexus of pure, remorseless evil.

Objection, your honor!

“Overruled. Continue, prosecutor.”

As I was saying: The state will establish the following facts: Young Mr. Jethro, aged three years, is a mangy mutt trying to pass for a chocolate lab. On the night of June 12, 2007, he willingly, and with malice aforethought, sneaked his way onto the couch during the night and slept there until discovered in the early morning hours by his owner. In the resulting chaos, the defendant's claws tore into the sofa cushion, mercilessly ripping it wide open.

[Audible gasps.]

“Order! Order in the court!”

The state will further prove that the defendant has a lengthy criminal record, ranging from misdemeanor reckless urinating and vomiting to aggravated criminal jumping on the guests, a class C felony in this jurisdiction.

Objection! My client's previous record has no bearing on the current charge!


You will also see overwhelming physical evidence that proves the horrifying destructive power of this creature. Exhibit A: several pieces of chewed-up Tupperware with tooth marks matching the defendant's bite patterns. Exhibit B: The remains of a homemade birthday cake, painstakingly baked and immaculately decorated over the course of five grueling, sweat-drenched hours, subsequently 88% devoured by the defendant in the span of ten seconds when his owner left the room to answer the phone.

[More gasps.]

Furthermore, the defendant sometimes ignores obedience school commands and runs off to find the largest pile of manure possible to roll around in.

Objection! Counsel is obviously misrepresenting my client! Everyone knows that Labs need to be walked and allowed to run to stay healthy. My client was simply exercising his right to ... uh, exercise.

Your honor, the state will prove that this particular lab could run for miles a day and still maintain this same psychopathic behavior. I think the jury might agree that his chosen form of recreation, matting his oversized, wrinkly coat with old horse droppings, poses an undue hardship on his owners.

And I haven't even begun to describe the holes dug in the yard, the annoying begging at the dinner table, the prodigious piles of poop in the yard--

“I've heard enough. Jethro, this court finds you guilty of all charges. You are hereby sentenced to serve three consecutive weeks in Uncle Henry's under the “Free For the Taking” section.”

No! Your honor, look at him! Those floppy ears! Those earnest, loving eyes! He's so good with the toddlers! He lets them climb all over him and doesn't budge! He's so loyal! He just needs more love and attention, more opportunities to run, and he'll--

“My conscience does raise a good point, counsel. Do the people have any rebuttal?”

Your honor, we would ask you to consider the poor, defenseless sofa cushion, ripped open and exposed to the world for all time. The physical and psychological wounds for this piece of furniture and its family may never heal.

“Very well. The court will recess indefinitely. You will have my final decision... someday.”

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Scythe Matters

Since planting our first garden last year, we have learned a ton about what it takes to grow vegetables:

  1. You can't just stick cucumbers and carrots and broccoli and spinach in the ground and expect them to grow. You have to plant the seeds.

  2. Manure makes great fertilizer, but not just any manure. Dog feces may seem like a nice, inexpensive substitute, but it contains almost no nutrients (try telling that to your dog, though).

  3. Roto-tilling via dynamite may seem like a fantastic idea, but first make sure old Mrs. Beasley across the street is in good cardiac health. Beware that she might try to report you as some kind of horticultural terrorist.

Despite these and other missteps, we actually managed to grow some food – enough so we could go two whole months without buying groceries for our colony of Japanese Beetles.

My wife and I did swipe some harvest for ourselves, as well. From one 20-foot row of tomato plants we plucked exactly six delicious tomatoes.

We aren't exactly the sort of people to simply rest on our laurels after such a success. In search of more gardening info and advice, we trucked ourselves down to Unity a couple of weeks ago for the annual Small Farm Field Day, sponsored by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Now before you go activating your stereotypes of MOFGA-types being pot-smoking peace-nik hippies, remember that these folks are just like you and me, except they are trying not to actively destroy the ecosystem.

For example, when we got there, several fellows were cutting a field of grass with scythes, lazily swaying the giant blades back and forth in the morning sun, cutting smooth, even swaths through the pasture. They made it look like an easy replacement for my gas-powered push-mower.

Then a tourist (probably an amateur gardener like myself) tried to use one, and I discovered the scythe could also double as a hoe, and, under the right emotional circumstances, a javelin.

The friendly farmers offered helpful suggestions and encouragement, but you know later they were just laughing themselves hoarse over a few bottles of home-brewed ale.

In fact, I bet there's this huge rivalry within MOFGA between the farmers and the gardeners, and the farmers are always pulling these stunts to make the gardeners look silly.

I found further evidence of this during a lecture by a bearded guy named Clayton, who showed a thoughtful-looking audience a garden in which he had deliberately grown weeds so he could scythe them down and use them as mulch.

Right, fella. You want me to grow weeds on purpose. Good thing I'm on to you.

The rest of the day was pretty much a blur. I did find out that you shouldn't use horse manure for fertilizer, which is bad news for those of us who have access to an ample supply (i.e. those who live near horses or near Augusta).

And sawdust is no good for mulching because it invites bacteria that suck all the nitrogen out of the soil. Although, you can -- this is true – urinate on the garden to help restore the nitrogen (“Good morning, Mrs. Beasley! You're up early today!”).

Just to be clear, when the cops show up, blame Clayton, not me. He's the one with all the weed. Uh, I mean, weeds.

Friday, June 1, 2007

National Public Humiliation

I think enough time has passed for me to reveal how I was humiliated and insulted on National Public Radio.

Until a few months ago, I was a loyal NPR listener, enjoying such programs as A Prairie Home Companion, Elitist Intellectuals Discuss Jazz, and Bach’s Bowels.

I even pledged money one year, only to find out they don’t accept coin rolls.

But ever since I called in to Car Talk, my support for public radio has crumbled away like the bed of a 1986 Toyota pickup.

Car Talk, if you’re not familiar, is a hilarious program consisting of two brothers, “Click” and “Clack,” who dispense auto repair advice to Volvo or Honda-driving callers from Oregon and Massachusetts. Once in a while, someone calls in from North Carolina with a question about a 1974 El Camino, and the boys tell him to “sell it.”

People routinely call the program to settle marital disputes about driving. I fell into that category. As every sane person knows, you’re supposed to leave the button on the hand brake alone, so the brake makes that “click-click-click” sound as you pull it up. My wife, automobile heathen that she is, presses the button in so it makes no noise.

Furthermore, she refuses to recognize that I, as the carrier of our family’s lone y-chromosome and a former driving instructor, have superior automobile knowledge and should be trusted on such issues.

(One of my wife’s most annoying qualities is her refusal to respect “expert” opinions without heavy scrutiny if they don’t make sense in her own head. Since when were women allowed to think independently, anyway?)

So I called 1-888-CAR-TALK and left a message. The producer, smelling blood, called me back, and I participated in a recording of the show.

Needless to say, “Click” and “Clack” did not share my opinion about the emergency brake. In fact, they went so far as to declare, “Chuck, Chuck, you’ve got your head up your keister.”

(Just so you know, “keister” was not the word originally used; good thing it’s not a live show).

“The Tappet Brothers” insisted that whether you hold the button on your hand brake or not makes virtually no difference to any sane person. I remain skeptical. They were probably just providing whatever answer had the most entertainment value, looking for any opportunity to tell a listener that his noggin was lodged inside his most cherished personal orifice.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, NPR had to re-broadcast the segment a few weeks ago during their pledge-drive, complete with my weak attempts at humor, and, later, my sad and pathetic pleas for them to stop dismembering my ego.

My wife, of course, remains gleeful. She could be on the worst PMS-fueled, raging migraine rampage of her life, and I just have to mention the words “Car Talk” and she breaks into a broad smile and repeats the taunt, “Chuck, Chuck, you’ve got your head up your keister.”

Our two-year-old has even started repeating it.

I’m glad I can bring so much joy to my family.