Sunday, August 28, 2005

How Do You Spell "Rip-Off"?

***Find the spelling error in this post and win a free coffee***

A lot of people dislike me because I am one of those people. You know, the kind that constantly corrects people on their grammar and spelling. Many people think that this is a result of arrogance or an attempt to prove some sort of intellectual superiority. But it's not. It's the result of a bitter episode in my young life.

When I was in 8th grade, I was a very very good speller. Not quite as good as Rebecca Sealfont or one of the other wunderkinder that you see at the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee on ESPN8, The Ocho. Not quite, but I was very good for my age group. And I was clearly - CLEARLY - the best speller in my 8th grade class.

There was only one person who was even close. He name was Mike Albany (not his real name but, hint-hint, you could probably figure his real last name out with only 49 more guesses). Mike was a real prick, even back in 8th grade. He was an arrogant kid who considered himself intellectually superior to all others. He was especially unkind to me, constantly mocking me for one reason or another. I was his own personal whipping boy. It's as if I were Daniel-San and he was Johnny, if that draws the parallel (except without all of that karate).

But boy was he smart. He was definitely the smartest kid in the class. And he knew it. I am certainly no genius today, but I think I was borderline mentally incompetent in 8th grade. Common sense was completely out of my realm, and while my grades weren't bad, they sure weren't good. So the fact that I was even dumber back then than I am now compounded my problem.

I played soccer, and was not very good at that either. Mike Albany played hockey and was generally regarded as an outstanding player, at least by the other guys in my class who were in the know. This didn't help. But overall, Mike was a very sorry, very unhappy person. I think that his father probably pushed him pretty hard (dad always seemed like a prick too), and this made him ultra-competitive. And maybe insecure?

When it came to spelling, though, he and I were neck-and-neck. He could claim no superiority over me in this particular arena. We took the weekly spelling tests, and each week I either bested him or tied him. In fact, in 8th grade I got 100% on every single spelling test, never missing one word. I know for a fact that he did not accomplish this same feat, seeing several 90s, and even a couple 80s on his tests.

I never gloated this fact, of course, because it's spelling for chrissakes, not something important like health class or something. It's not like I was gonna say, "Hey Mike, how'd ya do on that spelling test? Oh, 90, huh? Hmmm... not bad, but it's not 100, is it? IS IT?! BOO-YAA!" I would have been an even bigger dick than him if I tried pulling that move.

My spelling acumen was further illuminated by my performance in the 7th and 8th combined grade spelling bee, open to all 7th and 8th graders in my school. Both grades got up on stage and spelled and spelled and spelled, with the incorrect spellers taking an early seat. I did very well in this spelling bee. In fact, I was one of the last three standing, and the only one left from my 8th grade class. (Two 7th grade girls had inexplicably gotten past my entire class.) Mike Albany had long since been eliminated several rounds prior.

The winner of this spelling bee would go on to represent the school in the district spelling bee or some such thing. And the person who finished second would be the backup, in case the winner could not make it. Truthfully, I did not want to win my school's spelling bee for this reason. And I'm not trying to be David Brent here; I really didn't want to win. It was fun, somewhat thrilling, to breeze through the spelling bee for my school alone, but I would have been terrified trying to compete on a larger stage with competition from other, larger schools. So at this point, I had felt that I made a nice showing, beating everyone in my 8th grade class, and if I lost, so be it. I never would have "thrown" the bee, of course, or taken a dive. Never. But if I lost fair and square, I wouldn't have been heartbroken.

Here's where it got interesting. (It's about time, eh?)

Near the end of the bee, I went up to the podium for what turned out to be my final at-bat. The word they gave me was "opindent."


I have never before, nor since, heard or read this word. My teacher announced it, and I went completely blank. I asked for a definition, and I don't even remember it. I had absolutely no clue what this word was.

Was this a conspiracy? I'm not sure. I attempted spelling the word, and failed. I think I spelled it with an "A" or something. (To this day, these events are a complete haze.) But that was that. I walked off the stage, into the provincial crowd of fellow also-rans, and my disappointment and bewilderment were tempered by a small pang of relief for being spared another couple weeks of nervousness, which I already had in abundance in that awkward era of my life.

The months go on, and I forgot about it. My mind wandered to other things, like girls I would never date and preparing to go to a high school I would surely hate. The whole spelling thing never really entered my mind again. Not until graduation night.

My 8th Grade graduation ends up being a happy/sad event as all graduations are. There is a mass at our church, then a banquet afterward to which all the families are invited. All the kids are dressed up in suits and dresses, and we all look unusually grown up. The night goes fine, even though my family of 6 is seated further back than anyone, and sort of separated from the rest of my class's families. (This separation complex has been an ongoing theme in my life, but that's another topic entirely.)

So okay, toward the end of the evening, it's time for the 8th grade superlatives. The teachers had gotten together and decided which students excelled the best at each subject, called each student to the podium, and gave each one a plaque. They go through all the subjects, like Social Studies, Math, Science, etc., all of which I was terrible at, so I just sat there with no pressure, like Vin Diesel at the Oscars. But English was coming up.

I knew I wasn't the best English student, but I thought that maybe, deep down, I had a chance to win this award. I had been given high praise for my writing in that class, even having some of my papers read aloud, and I thought maybe this would propel me to an unlikely upset in this category. I felt my temperature rise ever so slightly.

My teacher says, "For excellence in English, we give the award to Mike Albany." Aw shucks. No big surprise, I guess. Mike goes up to accept his plaque to polite applause. But once he is at the podium, something happens that I likely remember for the rest of my life.

My teacher, forever tainted after this moment in my mind, keeps Mike Albany at the podium and makes the following pronouncement:

"As long as he's up here, I think it's obvious that Mike was also our best student in the subject of spelling."

I quite literally felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. I could not breathe. Even today, thinking about it, I have a small twinge of anger and hurt over it, as pathetic as that sounds. I hadn't known that they would give out a separate award for spelling, but if I had, I would have assumed that the award should have gone to me. Look at the results? Who had the best overall spelling score in the class? Who finished above everyone else in the 8th grade in the bee? Whose spelling skills in papers were so hallowed that they were often cited for excellence in writing?

I don't think it's an overstatement to say that this event tarnished the entire night beyond repair, and even much of the year itself. I felt a profound sense of injustice. You know when you go to a bar -- the bar you always go to -- and you're waiting for five minutes to get a drink? But you can't catch the bartender's eye? And then someone else strolls into the bar and gets served immediately? Imagine that feeling times a thousand, compounded with the person who just walked in being your most hated rival. Oh, and he took the last beer in the place, the one you wanted.

It wasn't just that he got the award, because he was close to me (not better than, but close to). But to say it was "obvious" that he was the superior speller? That was the thing that sent me over the edge. There was nothing "obvious" about this. If anything, this was an upset. This was Art Carney defeating Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Albert Finney and Jack Nicholson at the 1974 Oscars. Never had there been a more dominant, more legendary performance of spelling in the history of St John of Rochester Parochial School. Not only should I have been given a plaque, but a plaque bearing my name should have been put in the trophy case heralding my achievement. Surely this would not only have inspired the new students coming in to aspire to a higher level of excellence, but it would have put the school on the map! (It's no coincidence that the school closed it's 7th and 8th grades only two years later. Karma is a lass with a sense of humor.)

Yet somewhere that son of a bitch Mike Albany has my plaque.

So next time you talk to me and I correct your grammar, or tell you that it should be "whom" instead of "who," please know that it's not to try to make myself feel superior, and not to make you feel stupid. It's because, just in case my 8th grade English teacher should happen to be walking by, she will know what a collossal mistake she made. And she will weep for her short-sightedness.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You're Welcome for Ruining the Internet

Today is my Blogoversary. Hurray for me! What a long, strange trip it's been, huh? HUH? All ya'll haters doubted me. You said, "Herbalicious, you ain't BAD..." to which I replied, "Oh yeah? Well you ain't nothin'! YOU AIN'T NOTHIN!" But here I am, a full 365 days later, still going stronger than ever. I'm goin' up, up, up, and soon all ya'll player haters are gonna be shinin' my shoes. So go home and get your #&$!%* shinebox! People said, "Herbalicious, you can't find one single interesting thing to write about, let alone a full year's worth!" Well, yeah, you were right about that one, but so what? Shut up!!! I'll find something blog-worthy eventually, and when I do, you'll all be sorry. You'll say, "Wow, the H-Dawg really found something interesting and insightful to write about. Too bad he's dead now." Then ya'll'll be a sorry bunch!

I'll give you a quick preview of Year Two. Here are some things you can look forward to reading about in the upcoming year.

  • Football
  • Stupid shit that I did
  • Pictures of my newborn toddlers
  • Bad things that happened to me
  • Embarrassing things that happened to me
  • Celebrities I hate
  • How much weight I've gained
  • My iPod
  • Ju-jitsu (and other forms of self-defense)
  • Celebrities I think are hot (are your ears ringing, Jude Law?!)
  • The boys my twin teenage daughters are dating
  • How to get one side of the Rubik's Cube
  • Sneaking food into a movie theater
  • Which baseball cards will appreciate in value over the next five years
  • Movie quotes
  • An "irreverent" look at religion
  • Nutritious dishes you can make in under 40 minutes
  • A tribute to Lance Bass
  • Cats (The animal, not the musical, silly!)
  • My soon-to-be annual pledge drive
  • World leaders Pat Robertson wants to assassinate now
  • Rants against the evils of corporate America and the way that big business runs our country
  • Crossword puzzles I've actually finished
  • Rappers to which I give mad respect

My very first full year of blogging! Good lord, I hope I don't screw it up!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Spammers are D0uch3b4gs

Sometimes I get bored and click on the "Next Blog" button at the top right-hand corner of this page, which whisks me away to some other random blog by some other random blogger. I find it interesting to look at snippets of other people's lives, even if I don't know who they are.

Most of the other blogs are not that interesting. (Of course, I'm sure most of them would say the same thing about mine.) Many are "Here are 43 pictures of our new baby! All pretty much identical!" Some are political, usually leftist, but sometimes very conservative. Some are just random pictures of oddities or funny images (these are usually my favorites). Some consist of "Well today Tyler had a tummy-ache and my husband got home from work late and ..." No matter the content of these blogs, at least they're real.

Let's face it, blogging is really a very masturbatory exercise. It's more or less a web page about yourself, no matter how self-deprecating it may be. [Cough, cough] But that's okay. Blogs are the new chat rooms. They allow us to connect to our friends and other people all over the world and see through the small windows they open up to us. They are good for sharing opinions, getting things off one's chest, and especially for posterity.

But of course, a bunch of assholes decided they would take advantage of the democracy that is the internet and fuck it up for everyone.

Whenever a new technology comes about, you can count on two things: the porn industry will be the first to exploit it, and some dickhead "entrepreneurs" will try to overload people with advertisements.

This spam stuff is so much worse than the commercials you see on TV or even at the theaters before the movie starts, because they pretend not to be ads. At least when you're at home watching "Joe Millionaire" or some such thing, when they go to commercial you know it's a commercial. You know they're trying to sell you something, and since you have this understanding with the advertiser, you are open-minded to their product. We all know the rules of engagement here.

But spammers and e-tailers have no such candor, no such desire to alert you of their desire to sell to you. How many emails do you get every day for anything from C14L1S to a mortgage? I get maybe 10 emails a week from actual people I know, and the rest (closer to 20 a day) are from companies desperately trying to get my credit card number or some other information from me. And they're almost never selling actual products, most are just trying to get information so they can steal your money and run off with it. Many are overseas, mostly in third world countries, so it's hard for the government to track it or stop it. Still, it's amazing how rampant this criminal activity is.

It's bad enough that half the random blogs I visit are in different languages, but a good 25% of them are ads for something. Ads for real estate, or to buy books or t-shirts or prescription drugs or a new cell phone or your "free" credit report (which was also a goddamn scam). But they are just a bunch of nonsense. They offer no content, no insight, nothing interesting to read. Just a bunch of cheap bastards who decided they didn't even want to spend the advertising money to put an ad in the paper and instead decided to set up a free blog. But when you're hitting the "Next Blog" button, this is equivalent to commercial breaks, but much more dishonest.

I'm glad the internet is free, but isn't this just taking advantage of a good thing. These assholes always have to ruin it for everyone.

What's even worse than having the blogs set up, though, is the new trend of getting comments on blogs from these ads. And it's not just "Drink Coke" or "Check out my website." Instead, it's something like this:

I really liked your blog. I have bookmarked it. You made some really good observations. I read a lot of blogs and yours is one of the best!

If you are interested in finding out more about the Timber Industry, click this link!

The fact that these people are trying to put forth the impression that they are just "someone who was passing by" when they it's really just some dickweed who loaded some kind of program to scan through blogs and leave these comments. The disembodiment of the source of the ad is Grapes of Wrath-esque.

[Amusing aside: Clicking on the "Next Blog" button led me to a site where it was some woman telling very graphic sexual stories. Honestly, I ended up there unintentionally. Seriously. Anyway, it was very very graphic with a lot of salty language. So, there was a comment on one of the stories that said something to the effect of: "This is a great blog. I am going to bookmark it for sure! If you want to learn more about the holy word of God and his son Jesus, click this link!" So classic.]

The worst part isn't so much the dishonesty, but that it's clogging up the internet with useless bullshit, as usual. Instead of getting real folks' real blogs (regardless of quality), we get a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, interrupting the natural flow of the internet.

Since the government can do little-to-nothing about all this, what's the solution? Old-school, Wild West justice.

I propose this solution: if you find a blog site like this, go to the "Comments" section, and leave one of the following comments...

  • "This site stole all my credit card information and used to to buy drugs."
  • "This site supports terrorism and I have proof."
  • "This site gave over $100,000 to the Ku Klux Klan in 2003"
  • [Create your own slur here.]

Better yet, if you see a link like that on your or another person's blog, follow the link and see if you can leave that comment on their site.

Why? Because, as Dave Chapelle once said, Fuck 'em, that's why.

Most of these people don't bother checking their blogs anyway, so it's not like it will come back to bite you. Plus, what these people are doing is the very essence of dishonesty, so what moral high ground do they have?

Wouldn't it be magnificent if the entire blogging world could unite to outspam the spammers? To fill up the mailboxes of these wretched people who fill up ours? To punish those who punish us with their attempts to further blur the line between truth and advertising? If every blogger did this only five times, we could make the snake eat its own tail. At least I think so.

I am hooked up with "SpamPoison" which uses computers to try and overload the robots with phony email addresses. You can get hooked up with it by clicking here .

Also, if you ever happen to meet a spammer, beat the living shit out of him.

South Park Me

The sad part is that it's so much handsomer... Posted by Picasa

Go to THIS SITE and create your own. It's all in Danish or Dutch or some such crazy language, so you have to look for "Exklusiv" then "SP-Studio" then "South Park Studio" and then "English." The rest is pretty delf-explanatory.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

In Defence of Rap

If you are anything like most caucasian people in the United States of America, you probably hate rap music. You are not wrong, you have probably just been misled. When you think of rap (or "hip-hop," as the term was coined by Natalie Merchant many years ago, though I will be calling it "rap" here because there is less typing that way), you probably have the following images:

  • Large-breasted, large-bottomed women dancing shaking their large breasts and bottoms.
  • Lots of gold teeth.
  • Large cars.
  • Matching white suits.
  • Guns.
  • Fish-eye lenses and weird camera angles.
  • Gobs of jewelry.
  • Fancy people drinking champagne.
  • Slow motion.
  • Lyrics about big breasts, cars, guns, money, big bottoms and drinking champagne (or "Cris").
  • Lyrics that don't make any sense or are untelligible.

But you're wrong!

You, Cletus and Clementine Q. American, have been sold a fraud. Yes, most rap sucks, of course. But most of any musical genre sucks too. We only get what they give us. It's nearly impossible to find good music in the current musical climate, for a couple of reasons:

  1. MTV and radio are garbage and will only play the same crap over and over instead of rotating different artists and/or songs.
  2. The record industry punishes oddball and niche artists by trying to get them to become more mainstream (it's happened to every major musical artist since the dawn of time, look it up).
  3. Music media latches onto certain artists and promotes them. (I like Spin magazine, but how many times can they mention Dashboard Confessional, Interpol, the Killers, the Libertines, Death Cab for Cutie, etc., etc., etc before I'm starting to wonder if this is new-Millennial payola.)

So rap, when you look at it in the grand scheme of things, is hardly in a different category. I think it gets a bad ... uh... reputation because it separates itself from other musical genres more easily than many rock acts. For example, few would say that someone like Iggy Pop is typical of rock music, because he is but one facet of the large, diverse rock pantheon. But even a learned music listener may discern that Li'l John is typical of the average rap act, which is just not true.

I'm not saying that you should like rap music. In fact, one of my great maddening pet peeves of music criticism is the way that mainstream (usually white) music journalists give rap -- even obviously shitty rap -- a free pass. Maybe it's a desire to seem more "credible," or just more open-minded to the rap-listening contingent (or maybe it's just a ploy so as not to get shot by Fiddy Cent), but it's sickening that no rap album gets less than a "B-" or a "6/10" in any mainstream music magazine. Are you seriously telling me that some Ying-Yang Twins album is a "B+"? I'll slap you in the mouth!

If you want to hate rap, please feel free. But know what you're hating. Just as one would scoff at putting, say, Nickelback in the same realm as, say, U2, don't put Eminem in the same category as Aesop Rock. (And if you even have any clue who Aesop Rock is, I'm already seriously impressed.) All rap is not the same.

Let's debunk four main myths about rap music together, shall we?


This contention has always amused me. People who say this have clearly not heard any rap since 1986. Gone, dear friends, are the days of one hollow drumbeat and a simplistic rhyme scheme. Condolences. Nearly every modern hip hop song uses some kind of musical accompaniment, be it a sample of another song or some godawful synth. Again, feel free to hate it, just know what you're hating.

Is it not music because there is no singing? Look at any kind of instrumental music, like jazz or techno. There is often no singing there, and hardly anyone could categorize it as non-musical.

Is it because there is sometimes no melody? Listen to the song "Shotgun" from Jr. Walker & the All-Stars sometime. Find the melody for me. What you are hearing (and what is so great about the song) is the groove, with a jazzy saxophone riff. Music is not always about melody, sometimes it's about a pulse. (Please note that I have no knowledge of musical terminology or nomenclature, so you will often find me not quite able to say what I'm saying.)

Find me one song in rap music that is not "musical" in one way or another. You can't do it.


You are probably thinking of a lesser rap artist such as Sean "Puffy" Combs (I'll just stick with his first name from a decade ago rather than play along with his pathetic ever-changing persona) or another such artist who would simply take a small snippet of a popular and obvious song (usually from the disco-era, but not always) and loop the instrumental over and over so the song essentially became a remake, not a rap song.

Look no further than "Puffy" himself, and his versions of "Every Breath You Take", "Kashmir", "I'm Comin' Out", "Been Around the World", etc, all in his off-key sing-song style. You can hate this if you want. I hate this. This is stealing.

But most rap music does not perpetuate "Puffy"'s propensity toward plagiarism. Most rap music does sample, yes, but with a few key differences. Firstly, "good" rap (for lack of a better term) uses obscure songs, ones that you won't hear on some K-Tel retrospective. Most great rap songs use samples from jazz or soul, mostly before 1975. And often, the samples are no more than 3-5 second, non-chorus parts of a song that are repeated. (These are called "break-beats," but I won't get into it here.)

The best artists not only find the most obscure musical samples (a good crate-digger won't even have to cite the source of the clip), but often fashion the sound in a way by which even someone who has heard the song will not recognize where it came from. It is the manipulation of one or several sounds to create a brand new composition, usually having no sonic similarity to the original.

This is a far cry from the wholesale hijacking of pop music that "Puffy" and the like have been trafficking in since the mid-'90s. Hate "Puffy" if you like, don't hate sampling.


This myth comes from the fact that the popular rap music right now is the "club" rap music, like Nelly, 50 Cent, Li'l John and all that other Crunk shit. When young people are in a club, they tend to have sex on their minds, and therefore they listen to the music that makes them feel sexier. What better way to make people feel sexy than to constantly talk about sex? This is why "Hot in Herre" was such a hit: it threw out all subtext and actually had the lyric, "It's getting hot in here / so take off all your clothes." And who says romance is dead?

But it's not just sex. Indeed, violence and materialism also run rampant. Much talk of guns, jewels, cars, money, sex, etc. But you know what? You will probably find that in any Motley Crue video too.

When people satirize rap, or try to illustrate the stereotypes associated with it, they still say things like "bust a cap in your ass" or some such thing. Again, hate to tell you, but the phrase "bust a cap" probably hasn't been used in a legit rap song in 10 years. And no one calls each other "G" either.

The truth is, there is much rap music out there that does not fall into the traps of negativity. Now most rap is not kittens and clowns, but there is much of the genre that does not fall into hedonism. There is, believe it or not, creativity to much of it. And there is a breadth of subject matter the further you go underground.


This is the most insane argument of all.

I want you go to and write a rap song. Make it three verses, and make it good. It's much much harder than you think. It takes talent.

Is it because they don't sing? How is being able to sing a talent, really? Isn't it more than a gift. Some people are not born with a good singing voice, but it doesn't mean they shouldn't try to make good music. Some good singers have bad voices, but still make great songs.

Is it because they don't play instruments? Mariah, Whitney, Celine and all the rest don't play instruments to my knowledge, and most don't even write their own songs. But they are never called "untalented."

There are many rap artists out there who have made it without talent, but there are musicians in every genre who have done the same. Don't hate the game, hate the players.

I'm not trying to get you to like rap, in fact I hate most of it myself. I know it would be a futile attempt anyway. I know, for example, that no amount of persuasion could make me like country music, a genre that I detest almost as much as I detest Oprah. But I know that there is some good country (or country-ish) music out there that I actually like, like Johnny Cash and, well, some others I can't think of right now. But I know what I hate, which is pretty much any country music made in the last 20 years.

And knowing is half the battle...