not much love for Ashlee

There’s not much love out there for Ashlee Simpson at the moment. This was rather painfully illustrated to me this morning when I followed a link that lead me to The Stop Ashlee petition. As of this writing, nearly 266600 denizens of the Internet have “signed” it by leaving “a” name (it should be a real name, but there are a couple dead celebrities on the list… so I’ll just leave it at that) in support of the suggestion that Ashlee find another career.

Even more interesting, many of the signers of the petition have left comments. The range of comments is rather remarkable. They range from the reasonably intelligent:

How truly amazing that someone as talentless as Ashlee Simpson is permitted to continue her “career” in the music industry despite her constant failures and humiliating “performances.” Do we no longer have ANY standards? Please put a stop to this blundering teen’s “career”– calling her an “artist” is truly an insult to all REAL accomplished musicians. — #3044

and

Oh my word…Ashlee Simpson is an abomination to the profession of music. She makes me writhe in pain. I myself am a singer and am able to perform live very well. It makes me sick that she is in the spotlight solely because of her name, when there are so many TALENTED folks out there who could sing her under the ground. Finally…PLEASE MAKE HER STOP! — #4099

From there, they move to the somewhat odd with comments like:

Much like Old Yeller, this one needs to be put down. — #142

and

Miss Daisy does not approve. I’d like drive all over her sweaty bottom! — #191 (Jessica Tandy)

Finally, some of them move, shall we say, “well off the paved road”. One of the more printable quotes was:

Baby Jesus hates you Ashley. — #4788

Beyond this, there seemed to be an unusual number of suggestions that Ashlee is physically ugly, that she should consider a career in adult video entertainment if she was really interested in a career more in line with her level of talent, and comparisons to Milli Vanilli. This last fact impressed me because I for one did not think that many of the people who follow Ashlee Simpson are old enough to remember Milli Vanilli. I also have to wonder: why is “adult video star” such a talent-less profession? I have to think that a career in ditch digging requires far less talent — though it carries much less social stigma, these days.

I did not bother to watch the Orange Bowl this year and missed Ashlee’s half-time show debacle. Feeling the need to do the proper leg work before forming an opinion, I headed over to eBaum’s World and watched their digitized video of Ashlee finishing her song… and hearing the crowd “boo”. After seeing that, I think any TV programming executives out there need to think VERY hard before taking calls from Joe Simpson on behalf of his younger daughter. Her performance did not match any definition of “music” that I can recall.

As for me, I’ve got my iPod tuned to the Indigo Girls’ Rites Of Passage. Now those ladies… they could sing and play.

baby talk

Though serious talk of reproducing is still at a time way in the future (at least a year), Mrs. Geek and I do occasionally like to talk about what we might name our children. She and I are both decidedly old fashioned in our choice of names; we stick to a hearty core of traditional Christian names common to Western and Eastern Europe. We might name our children Michael or Barbara, but definitely not Chime or Pussywillow. We even occasonally grow weary of the “new” popular children’s names like Morgan, Kyle, Dylan and Tyler.

We also tend to chuckle at some of the choices that celebrities make when naming their children. Gwynneth Paltrow named her child “Apple”, for example. The choice of “Maddox” by Angelina Jolie at least moves beyond the range of inanimate objects, but is still a tad unusual (granted, less unusual than the rest of her life — unless it is a Polynesian slang word for “sex magick” or something.) “Banjo” by Rachel Griffiths is just inexcusable, though “Elijah Bob Patricius Guggi Q” by Bono is questionable, but more reasonable. “Prince Michael” (I & II) by Michael Jackson speaks volumes. I don’t know quite what to make of the fact that George Foreman named all his sons “George”. Courtney and David Arquette managed to come up with “Coco Riley.” Slash thought “London” would be a good name. I suspect that model Elaine Irwin must be insane, because she allowed her husband John Mellencamp to follow “Speck Wildhorse” with “Hud”. It’s enough to think that celebrities should be required to go in for some counseling, drug detoxification, or (in George Foremen’s case) an MRI to determine possible brain damage before being allowed to put a name on a child’s birth certificate.

So, it is into this context that I offer the following exchange I had with Mrs. Geek last night:

ME: You know, I wonder how long it will be until some celebrity names their child ‘Thong’.

SHE: That’s it! No more input for you when it comes to naming our children!

super nanny, both serious and silly

Mrs. Geek and I have both taken to watching Supernanny after Mrs. Geek watches The Bachelorette on Monday nights. It’s a bizarre little show. Playing off the American stereotype that all things British are proper, British nanny Jo Frost visits a different American family each week, first observing the (very!) poor behavior of their kids and then teaching the parents how to fix these behaviors. The stuff she generally teaches seems fairly basic, at least to someone who doesn’t have a beastly 8 year old crying and screeching into his ears 5+ hours a day. You know, basic ideas about structured play, vocalisations used to get a child’s attention, ways to show where behavioral boundaries are. At the end of each week, we see yet another family straining under loud screams of “I DON’T WANNA!!! I DON’T WANNA!!!” and a lot of pushing and shoving of younger siblings turn into… well, something a little more ordered.

The show makes me very concerned, on a number of levels. First off, I have to wonder if Generation X (as most of the parents visited are) really ever learned any parenting skills. Were we all too busy watching re-runs of the Love Boat and Fantasy Island on Saturday night or agonzing over parental divorce to pay attention to how our parents raised us? Has the self absorbed nature of the Boomer generation taught us that parenting is all about letting your kids run wild? Does this say something deeper about society at large today? Are we so busy working multiple jobs to make house payments that we just don’t have time to sit down at the dinner table every day? Or is it just that Dr. Benjamin Spock convinced everyone to use psychology instead of a leather belt, when a leather belt just might be the quicker option? I don’t know. I have no answers.

Seeing Jo Frost in action with her very British phrase “No! You’ve been a very NAUGHTY girl/boy! That is unacceptable!” does make me wish that she was around to school some of today’s celebrities though. I would just love to see her go after, say, Paris Hilton. “No, no, no, NO, Paris! You’ve been a VERY naughty girl! Dancing on the table in a mini skirt without underwear is not acceptable! Screaming at the Louis Vuitton rep at Sundance because she won’t give you free merchandise is not acceptable!” Or better yet, I think Britney Spears could use an earful. “No, no, Britney! You’ve been very naughty! Getting married in Las Vegas as a prank is not acceptable!”

Then again, perhaps Britney and Paris really are part of the crux of the matter. How can we expect children to behave well when we tolerate the poor behavior of so many “adults”? Perhaps, dear Brutus, the answer is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

a minor obsession with biscuits

My Dad is a son of the South, born in the state of Mississippi to a big family. I feel it is only natural then, that I sooner or later desire to make that staple of Southern cooking: the baking powder buttermilk biscuit. It’s a seemingly simple recipe. Take about two cups of flour, and cut in about a quarter cup of fat (butter, shortening, or *gulp* even lard.) To this, add salt, baking powder, and baking soda to taste. Bind it together by mixing in about a cup of butter milk, and knead oh-so-gently to form a soft, sloppy dough. Finally, flatten the dough, cut with a sharp biscuit cutter and bake. Easy, right?

Deceptively easy, I say. This is one of those recipes that looks simple on paper, but can often yield stiff, crusty little hockey pucks instead of soft, crumbly goodness. This is evident in the fact that no one can seem to precisely agree on anything where biscuits are concerned. All the recipes vary slightly in the ratio of this to that as well as how long to bake at whatever arbitrary temperature.

I first attempted the humble biscuit when we had my father-in-law over about three months ago. It was too be an all Southern-style affair — biscuits, pan fried chicken, and green beans cooked with a ham hock (alas, I could not find butter beans.) Though a good first effort on that occasion, I felt that the meal needed perfecting… and I repeated it again a week later. In both cases, the biscuits were lackluster.

I was recently emboldened to try again when I saw Alton Brown do biscuits on the Good Eats epiode The Dough Also Rises. The key, I thought, was in the flour; biscuits are supposed to be made with soft winter wheat commonly grown in the Southern and Mid-Atlantic states, not the hard wheat grown in the Mid-West often used in all-purpose flour. A little pleasant searching through many of the better nearby markets and food emporiums brought me to White Lily Self-Rising Flour. This was the flour used by Alton Brown’s grandmother in the episode above. Aha! I thought, I had finally found out why my biscuits were bad.

Alas, that turned out to not be true. I ended up making three batches of biscuit dough before I got some inkling about what I was doing wrong. For the first two, I accidently put in far two much buttermilk and got Kindergarten paper paste. The third batch produced biscuits, but of very uneven quality. It was only the last biscuits of the third batch that turned out best.

It was at that point that I decided to stop fretting about flour and exact measurements. I opted instead to just try to repeat whatever it was that made those last bisccuits better. That turned out to be two things: a certain consistency in the dough and how thick the dough was when I cut it. I also just opted to put the biscuits in the oven until they looked done, instead of sticking to an exact time.

Seat of the pants cooking actually works where biscuits are concerned, it seems. The last batch of dough actually produced biscuits that were not perfect… but at least more than presentable. The thickness of the dough when it is cut appears to be fairly important. Dough that is slightly more than half an inch thick rises and is fluffy; dough that is slightly less doesn’t really rise and turns into a hockey puck.

I don’t know if I can now make good biscuits consistently, but I think I have a shot. My obsession can now pass until I feel the urge to cook Southern once again. Mrs. Geek sometimes babysits for a nice couple nearby, and the wife is also from the South. She has evidently heard about my chicken and biscuit making experiments, and commented that hearing about them makes her mouth water. I evidently have a standing invitation to bring over any such “experiments” and they will provide a lovely vintage to accompany the meal. I think we’ll have to do that soon.

my high school days were likely not my best days, by any measure

This is an entry I was forced to re-write because I attempted to submit it after the site went down last night. Ugh.

I recently came to the interesting realization that I don’t keep in touch with any of the people I used to hang out with in high school. When I look at who attended my wedding last year, it was a somewhat eclectic group that is divisible into two basic categories. There were a number of friends from my childhood, going as far back as first grade. There were also several people who I certainly met in high school but only really got to know later during college. There is no one that falls into the “we met in homeroom in 10th grade and became great friends” category, however. The people I used to know who fall into that category disappeared from my life some time ago.I find myself wondering why this is.

I think there have to be two basic reasons. First, there were a lot of people that I used to run with in elementary school and middle school that I didn’t see much of for a few years. Take my best man at my wedding, for example. He was in a different curriculum in high school (he was taking technical drawing classes while I was taking French) and I didn’t see him too much until we went to college together.

The other reason is that I just wasn’t an easy person to get to know in those years. I didn’t make it easy. I was a bit of a nerd… and not someone that people probably felt easy talking to. I had not yet learned much about the noble art of party small talk. In any case, I made a lot of acquaintances through school, but few friends. I seemed to get along better with my teachers than I did many of the students… which is too bad, because a number of them became very interesting adults.

The deadline to renew my membership for Classmates.com passed recently. I opted not to renew. There weren’t many long lost friends waiting for me there. A few people responded to a short e-mail with “hey, how are you doing?” A few more did not reply at all.

Like I said, I just don’t keep in touch with a lot of the people I knew in high school.

yet another example of why I’m glad I don’t date anymore

I was instant messaging recently with M., an acquaintance working at a nearby tech company. He was telling me about his latest adventures in the wild, wacky world of dating. It seems that he had two perspective engagements to attend this past Saturday night. One was a company-sponsored winter bash with a woman who “everyone in the company is after”, and the other was a party where there would be some lady friends of lady friends who actually appeared (scantilly clad, if I took his meaning right) in Maxim Magazine in attendance.

In the end, he opted for the choice from Column A — the company bash. The evening went well… almost too well. M. originally was supposed to be a “safe”, “just friends” escort for the evening — his date is living with someone else working at the same company and they (apparently) can’t be seen together due to office politics. It seems M. discovered that his companion is not comfortable in her current relationship, however. He also discovered that the two of them can have a lovely, fun, flirty evening out together. This has awakened a latent crush he’s had on her going for some time back… where every musing about “oh, I wish I could meet someone like that” and every brushing of arm against arm is unconscious indication of mutual desire.

The poor boy. I think he’s setting himself up for heartbreak. With my older set of eyes, I see that she’s trouble all around… at least until she’s figured out if she’s going to break up with her roomate or not. Until then, M. is just going to be the “best bud” she’s going to complain to while she continues to look elsewhere, or he’s likely going to be that someone there to date before she’s completely out of this relationship. Nonetheless, M. says he’s stuck on her.

Oh, I was like this about 10 years ago. I’m so glad that those days are over. Thank you, Mrs. Geek.

a few things to be thankful for

I am thankful that…

  • …I still have a job.
  • …even if I lost my job, I would be offered severance pay.
  • …finding another job would probably not be too difficult in this economy.
  • …I have found a true partner and helpmate in Mrs. Geek.
  • …I have family and friends who understand the difference between living well and living extravagantly.
  • …for the simple things in life: beautiful music, good friends, good conversation, delicious food, and excellent wine.
  • …my parents are two people I still love and admire greatly.
  • …my car is paid off.
  • …that I can still function even when I am not wearing glasses or contact lenses.
  • …the floor isn’t cold when I wake up in the morning, even during the winter.
  • …Mrs. Geek and I both get along well with our respective in-laws.
  • …we received so many fine pieces of cookware as wedding gifts in the last year.
  • …I live in a “blue” state that is not about to go “red” any time soon.
  • …there are many, many opportunities to experience cuisine, culture, and beauty within a two hour car ride of where I live.
  • …graduate school is something in my past, rather than my present.
  • …Mrs. Geek and I are both happy and relatively healthy.
  • …600 thread count bed sheets.
  • …I finally figured out how to make a good 3 egg ommelette over the weekend (use a good 7-9″ nonstick pan, medium heat that just causes butter to bubble, and eggs are warmed to room temperature with hot water.)
  • …I generally have a work day that lets me be home in time for dinner.
  • …I have lost 15+ pounds in the last 7 months.
  • …there is such a thing as chocolate.