Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Good Riddance, 2008

As the last few hours of 2008 are ticking down here, I'm trying to avoid reflecting too much on all the bad things that went down in this, the worst year I remember living through.

Damn! This sure was no pick nick. And to add insult to injury, they're making this stinker of a year a second longer!

So anyway. Hit the road, 2008. Don't let the door hit ya.

I found this really nice New Years Eve clip of Gladys Knight singing "Overnight Success" on youtube. May 2009 bring us all the fulfillment of our dreams.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Our Prayers Are Answered: Medical Breakthrough

Heroic scientists have found a cure for one of the most devastating ailments of our times: Flimsy-eye-lash syndrome.

Allergan Inc, the maker of Botox, said on Friday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved its eyelash-thickening drug Latisse.

Latisse is designed to treat a condition known as hypotrichosis of the eyelashes, which means a person does not have enough eyelashes.

The active ingredient in Latisse is bimatroprost, the same ingredient that is in Allergan's glaucoma treatment Lumigan. Patients taking Lumigan found a side effect of the drug to be eyelash growth, prompting Allergan to study it for the new use.

Latisse is a once-daily prescription treatment that is applied to the base of the upper eyelash with a sterile, single-use-per-eye disposable applicator. Once treatment is stopped, eyelashes will gradually return to where they were prior to treatment.

True, it's more of a treatment than a permanent cure, but even so: No longer will those who suffer from flimsy-eyelash-syndrome (FES) be unable to throw a sultry wink at a handsome man in a three piece suit. No longer will small insects be able to dive into their eye balls like Greg Louganis into a pool. This amazing discovery lashes out at a debilitating affliction that affected dozens of people around the world.

To celebrate this great discovery, here is one of the most stylish videos of all time, Ashford and Simpson's "Found a Cure!"

Friday, December 19, 2008

Celebrity Gift Suggestions: Rick Warren

I've been out with bronchitis for a while, but I am recovering just in time to bring you another installment of the Internet's fastest growing blog sensation, Celebrity Gift Suggestions.

Today's gift is just perfect for Rick Warren. I'm sure we're all a bit stumped how a right wing preacher who compared President Elect Obama to a holocaust denier before the election now ended up being invited to do some superstitious hoodoo I don't get at the inauguration. But we can't be as stumped as Warren's family members, who are facing the task of buying a gift for somebody who made enough money with his book deals to bail out the auto industry all by himself.

Well, be stumped no more, Warrenses. Your prayers have been answered!

For Rick Warren: A Mike Jones gift certificate.


A few hours with the man who previously serviced Warren's esteemed colleague Ted Haggard, and possibly Larry Craig, too, and Rick could get out of his system whatever makes him think about homosexuality so much. Everybody wins!

Just a word of advice, Mr Warren: No barebacking at Saddleback, mmmkay? We want this Christmas to remain merry!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Celebrity Gift Suggestions: Ann Coulter

I am not sure if this person does have loved ones, but here is today's gift suggestion for right wing harpy, Ann Coulter.

A straw.

It's two gifts in one, really: First, she will need one to have her daily small diet water, as she broke her jaw recently and they wired it shut - hopefully permanently. I mean that in the most loving and constructive way possible.
Also, the straw being very thin, 100% white and completely empty is a dead ringer for Ann - so you can tell her it's the ultra rare new Ann Coulter action figure!

The straw is available for free in most fast food restaurants and already comes gift-wrapped in stylish white paper. Show her she's worth it!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Celebrity Gift Suggestions: Big 3 Auto CEOs

With this newest installment of the increasingly popular "Celebrity Gift Suggestions", I am responding to an increase in demand by lending a hand to several families at once. I am talking about the loved ones (and trophy wives) of the CEOs of America's leading car makers.

Alan Mulally of Ford, Robert Nardelli of Chrysler and Richard Wagoner of GM saw it fit to fly to Washington in their individual private jets to explain to the government how their companies are doing so badly that only a dose of socialist welfare will keep them over water.

Now, the perfect gift for those three gentlemen must be ...

The Greedy Bastards edition of "Simplify Your Life!"

Unlike the book I suggested for Kenny Rogers, this one is not available anywhere yet. But I am just disgusted enough to write it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Celebrity Gift Suggestions: Ted Haggard

I hesitate to call Ted Haggard a celebrity, as he is more infamous than famous. I guess a better description of the man best known as Pastor Meth would be lying, hypocritical scum.

But it's the season to be giving and loving, and lord knows the man put his family through enough and they deserve a little support - and what am I if not giving?

The formerly reverend Ted Haggard now resurfaced as an insurance salesman. Because our opinion of him had not been low enough previously, I guess. But back to being giving.

For Ted Haggard, I suggest two gifts: "Praise the Lord" tumblers and Jesus air fresheners.

Because nothing fills that void left behind by crystal meth like cheap liquor downed praising the almighty, and nothing chases away the aroma of santorum like a pine scented messiah.

Merry Christmas, Haggard family!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Celebrity Gift Suggestions: Kenny Rogers

Ho, ho, fricken ho. As the first snow is decorating the roofs I can see from my window, I decided to give the gift of inspired ideas this holiday season to the many families of celebrities I am sure are reading my blog.

It must be hard when you have to buy something for somebody who has everything. I know Oprah said she really loved the Lalique decanter that Luther Vandross gave her a few years ago, but are we really sure she did not use it as a gravy boat because she already had fourteen others?

So this year, at absolutely no cost to the public, I am presenting gift ideas for celebrities on my blog.

First off is that icon of country and pop music, one of the most successful recording artists of all time, Kenny Rogers.

For Kenny, I suggest his family buy the book How to Fold by Pepin Press:

Kenny has known for years when to fold 'em. It's about time he learned how to fold 'em, too.

How to Fold is a whopping 432 pages and comes with a CD ROM. It's available for less than 20 bucks from good book stores or online. Are you reading, Rogers family??

Friday, November 07, 2008

Kim Jong Il Photoshop Controversy

The North Korean government has been releasing all kinds of photos of Kim Jong Il posing with soldiers to prove that he is not, you know, pushing up posies. Only problem is: As The Telegraph notes, the photos look manipulated. Holy Weekend at Bernie's, Batman! Here is another photo of Kim visiting with a special undercover task force of the proud North Korean army. You be the judge... I think it looks legit, personally.

The Gourmet Choice: Bacon > Fries

Not a hoax: That race was between Bob Bacon and Matt Fries. It is not true, however, that the Green Party candidate was one Michelle Milk-Shake.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Two Great Voices Fell Silent Forever

Over the past few days, two of my favorite singers passed away.

Dee Dee Warwick... Dionne's sister, who called her "the singer in the family." She may not have had Dionne's perfect command of melodies, but she more than made up for that with extra helpings of passion and soul. She sang the original version of "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me", later recorded by the Supremes with the Temptations as well as Gladys Knight and the Pips. And I'm pretty sure that if you give her wonderful recordings a listen, she will indeed make you love her. Dee Dee was only 63 years old but had spent her final months in a nursing home due to bad health.

Levi Stubbs, the unforgettable lead singer of the Four Tops, also passed away. He was 72 and had long been plagued by serious health crisis, including cancer.

Levi is often underestimated as a "shouter" because he is best known for songs like "Reach Out, I'll Be There" and "Standing in the Shadows of Love." But the strength of his voice came with impeccable control and could reveal an unexpected tenderness, as on the Four Tops original recording of "I Believe in You and Me" - a song that requires a humongous vocal range and was later covered by voice acrobats David Peaston and Whitney Houston. But to me, the Four Tops version will always be the ultimate rendition of this beautiful love song, due to the unparalleled Levi Stubbs.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Review: Bourbon Island, 1730

On a recent trip to France, I picked up a new graphic novel by one of my favorite authors, Lewis Trondheim. The upcoming English translation from First Second publishers will be called Bourbon Island 1730, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. In previous works, Trondheim has dealt with everything from offbeat sci-fi humor to Seinfeld-style character studies and almost Proustian philosophizing. And almost always, he has done so with funny animal characters. This time, he and co-writer Appollo take a look at a dark chapter in the history of the latter's home island, once called Bourbon but nowadays known as La Réunion.

The tale starts out as an adventurous tapestry of engaging characters: the ornithologist trying to find the maybe-not-extinct-yet dodo, his young assistant who is fascinated with the stories of Pirates on the island, the farmer's daughter who has romantic ideas about the escaped slaves living in the jungle while her father is a former pirate who took advantage of the French government's (historically authentic) amnesty offer.

The story soon becomes something much deeper, however. It does not fall into the trap of romanticizing the past. Its depiction of slavery is brutal and moving. Bourbon Island 1730 could be to slavery what Art Spiegelman's Maus was to the Holocaust.

I took the liberty to translate a dialog from around the middle of this 288 page (including the helpful historical notes in the back) black and white graphic novel.

A young Yoruba was recently captured in his West-African home and sold into slavery. From outside his jail, he is suddenly addressed in his own language by an unknown stranger...

- What's going to happen to me?

- Tomorrow you'll be sold on the market square. A planter will buy you with a lot of other slaves and take you to his plantation. You'll be a pick-axe negro. They'll give you a garment you'll wear a year. And you will sleep in a cabana with the others.
In the morning, before the sun rises, you will head out to the coffee fields. You will work all day without rest. If it's not fast enough, the commander will whip you. At nightfall, you return to the cabana. You'll be to beat to think of anything. You will sleep like a beast to try and recover before the new day.
Sundays, you may sometimes rest. But the white preachers will take you to church where you will pray to their God. Forget the old gods: they never did anything for you and nobody here knows them. The new god isn't any better, but one has to pretend.

- Is there no escape?

- The Malagasies sometimes escape to the mountains. But the Whites will soon chase them down. Others build logboats to try to make it back to the big island. But I don't know if any of them ever survived the crossing. But you, little head, where would you go? Your home is too far away. You have nowhere to go. If the whites catch you trying to flee, the first time they will cut off your ear. The second time, they will cut off your foot and the third time, they will kill you. As you see, it's well organized.

- What about you? Are you going to do something for me?

- No... Here, take this knife. Kill Dhermitte if you can. If not him, any white will do. Don't use it against yourself - kill somebody else with it. They need to know that they, too, can die like dogs at any moment. I'm going to leave you now. It was nice to talk in the language of the old country again...

Bourbon Island 1730 is solicited for October 28 from First Second. Ask for it at your local comic book store.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Congratulations, soon-to-be Grandma, Sarah Palin!

Sarah "not Hillary" Palin, expected to be the second woman in history to lose an election as candidate for the vice presidency, announced that her 17 year old daughter Bristol "the Pistol" Palin is 5 months pregnant.

And now the lucky dad, whoever he is, will have to marry her.

As ABC News informs us:

Gov. Palin is a strong proponent of teaching abstinence-only sex education to teenagers.

It gives a whole new meaning to "no child left behind," doesn't it? Let's just hope she doesn't give the kid an embarrassing name.


You might not remember this singer from the 80s, but my best friend still loves her and the story the song tells is kind of relevant here.

Friday, August 29, 2008

When the Pen Is Not Mightier...

So. You thought you'd get through this election season without me blogging about it, didn't you?

Well, think again, Chester! Never let it be said that the4thpip stood idly by as ruthless politicians mistreated grammar.

Yes: I said grammar. And yes, this is about John McCain. But it is not about the fact that all of his sentences have the structure verb/noun/P.O.W.

It's about this pen, available from his official campaign store (thanks to Infra-Man for posting this out to me at YABS):

I guess that's what you get when you have your merchandise produced on the cheap in Asia. Or maybe it is to imply that learning impaired students support McCain?

Anyway, it seems horribly unpatriotic to mistreat your native language with unnecessary apostrophes. I hope we soon will get to see a Democratic ad that ends with the lines: "John McCain. Wrong on Grammar. Wrong for America."

I am the4thpip and I approve and proof-read this message.

Also, as John McCain has a lot to learn in spite of being 200 years old, here is somebody whose drinking has probably made Cindy McCain a nice bundle of money over the past few years - Amy Winehouse, with "Teach me Tonight."

Update: It seems somebody at the campaign read this and fixed the spelling on the image posted at the online store. Of course, if they already have 300 boxes in stock, that won't help them much.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Summer Reruns: Ted Haggard All Done with Rehab... Again?

Haven't I blogged about this twice already?
Penis chewing, meth smoking pastor Ted "Pastor Meth" Haggard is all done with the rehab program that would turn him back into the upstanding, Jesus worshiping penis chewer and meth smoker that he'll always be.

I'm having a serious case of déjà vu. So here is a Dionne Warwick, who has a cousin with a bit of a drug problem herself, with the song of the same title. "Déjà Vu" that is, not "Penis Chew."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dale Eaglesham wins coveted Shuster Award

There is no higher honor for Canadian comic book artists than being named "Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Artist" at the Shuster Awards, named of course after Superman co-creator Joe Shuster. This year's deserved winner is Dale Eaglesham for his work on Justice Society of America. And he was up against some stiff competition: Tom Grummett, Pia Guerra, Stuart Immonen, Karl Kerschl, Thierry Labrosse, Jacques Lamontagne.

I hope DC Comics will give Dale a raise now... The weak US Dollar can't be easy on Canadian creators working for US companies!

Here is a panel from Dale's earlier work on Villains United:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Who's gonna be Obama's Veep? I heard something on the grapevine.

So everybody's speculating whom McCain and Obama are going to pick as their running mates.

For McCain, who is already falling behind in the polls, there are basically two strategies: He could pick a woman to get some of Hillary's voters who are still upset that she did not get a nomination. Or face the fact that he is quite unpopular in his own party and pick one of his former opponents from the primaries: Giuliani, Huckabee, Romney, Thompson.

Which is why I think Barrack Obama should pick Gladys Knight as his vice president. She is a woman like Hillary, a triple divorcée like Rudy, a Southerner like Huckabee, a Mormon like Romney and a TV actor like Thompson. She is the Super-Adaptoid weapon to counter every possible Veep McCain could pick!

And to prove that she performs well as part of a team, here she is with Marvin Gaye doing "I heard it through the Grapevine" with cabinet members The Pips in the background.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Raising Her Voice a Little Higher: The Pain of Linda Jones

CDs with warning labels are nothing new, as one can find the "Explicit Lyrics" sticker on albums by artists as different as gangsta rapper Snoop Dogg and the early blues diva Bessie Smith.

But a good decade or so ago I pulled a CD from a "marked down to next to nothing" bin that had a warning label of kind that I had never before encountered:

The music contained herein exudes an intensity rarely evident in popular stylings, and even infrequent within the "deep soul" idiom, and if you are not that familiar with Linda's output, I would genuinely recommend that you sample this CD in smaller doses.

I had never heard of Ms Jones at that point, but how could I not put down my 2 bucks and change for a CD that came with that kind of caveat?

Linda was signed to Loma records in the 1960s, but never achieved the kind of success that her stable mates Lorraine Ellison or Ike and Tina Turner were blessed with. The excellent double CD "The Best Of Loma Records: The Rise And Fall Of A 1960's Soul Label" contains no less than five songs by Linda, including her almost-hit "Hypnotized". She later signed to Sylvia Robinson's Turbo Records in the early 70s, and unfortunately most of the recordings from that era sound somewhat distorted whenever the technical equipment of the era was outdone by Linda's unique vocal range (which was basically all the time).

The first thing that will hit you - hard - about Linda Jones is that she never held back. Her rare joyous songs are ecstatic jubilations, while the majority of her tunes convey a sadness and drama that make you fear Linda has already put the razor blade next to her bath tub. Linda was a bit like Patti Labelle in so far that she did not seem to know any moderation, though her voice is very different from Ms Patti's.

If you compare Linda's recording of "I can't Make it Alone" with Dusty Springfield's version, you can't help but notice how much more Linda "got" the lyric. As incomparable and talented as Dusty was, as brilliantly produced as the "Dusty in Memphis" album is, I doubt you'll ever be able to enjoy Dusty's understated reading of the song again once you have sampled Linda's agonized, driven masterpiece interpretation of the King/Goffin composition. When she yells "Help me!" you just want to reach through your speakers and hold on to her for her own, dear life.

Linda suffered from health problems, including diabetes, and died at the very young age of 28. The pain in her voice was clearly driven by pain in her life, and maybe she explains her singing style best herself in her spoken, rambling ad libs in the middle of her knock-you-to-your socks cover of Jerry Butler's early hit, For Your Precious Love. If this version of the song sounds remotely familiar to you, that is probably due to the cloned version that Truth Hurts recorded for the soundtrack of the Will Smith movie Ali a few years ago. Personally, I would have preferred if they'd remastered Linda's recording to use it on the soundtrack to introduce more people to this forgotten diva. Anyway, here is what Linda said in that song, and if you click on the clip below, lord have mercy, you can hear her explain herself better than I ever could.

You know something ladies? And especially you ladies, I'd like to speak to you.
Cause you know something, ladies? If you got a man, I don't care what kind of man you got he'll want you to get down on your knees sometimes and kind of crawl a little.
But you know what? I got a man that's somewhere out there that I don't mind crawling to.
Sometimes I wake up in the midnight hour with tears rolling down my face.
And when I look around for my man, I can't find him.
Hell, I fall a little lower, look a little higher
Kind of pray to the Lord.
Because I always believed the Lord can help me if nobody else could
Well sometimes I think he don't even hear me!
So I have to fall a little lower on my knees, look a little higher,
Kind of raise my voice a little higher
And this is what I sing when I call to my man
And I especially want you ladies to listen to me
Because maybe you can try this
It might help you once in a while
This is what you sing...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

It's International Day Against Homophobia

Today, May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia.

If you don't know what Homophobia means: it's not fear of humans, as the linguists among you might wrongly deduce. The word is a tad confusing because the behavior it describes, at least on the surface, is not fear, but hatred. Hatred of homosexuals, bisexuals, transgendereds.

Sometimes I feel like calling it a phobia is almost trying to excuse inexcusable behavior. Did the people who murdered Matthew Shepard really do so out of fear of something that they did not understand, or were their hearts just cold and spiteful organs pumping bile instead of blood?

I won't try and claim that I can figure out the root of a kind of hatred that unfortunately is found in so many cultures around the world. But I believe in my soul that education is a key, and that governments have a responsibility to signal that gays and lesbians are of equal value to society as everybody else. In that sense, I applaud the California Supreme Court for not only allowing many Cali lovers to finally tie the knot, but to hopefully also help us drive back homophobia in the long run.

Here is another very nice remix of Carl Bean's "Born this Way." Why does it seem that the music industry has been taking steps back since the 70s, if THE African-American label of the day, Motown, could release a rousing gay disco-gospel anthem back then, but nothing like that seems to be out there today?
If I were you, I'd sit down and consider what you're doin'!

Friday, April 25, 2008

When Mommy and Daddy (and conservatives) Don't Know Best

This week, health experts told the US congress something that should have been common knowledge for years now: "Abstinence only" sex education does not work.

Armed with scientific studies showing that not only is the "just keep your pants zipped" approach less effective than comprehensive curricula, it can actually be worse than no sex ed at all!

The organisations represented at the hearing included the American Academy of Pediatrics, the
U.S. Institute of Medicine, the American Public Health Association, the American Psychological Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. They spoke with one voice: Sex education that does not include information on contraceptives like condoms does not lower the rates of teenage pregnancies and infections with STDs. Some of the those programs actually lead to higher rates in both cases.

Republicans in the House of Representatives were stunned and apologized for wasting $ 1.3 billion of taxpayer money on those ineffective programs since the late 90s, and for sabotaging successful HIV-prevention programs in countries like Uganda by tying financial aid to abstinence only programs.

No wait, they didn't. They don't give a damn about science and facts. As Stephen Colbert once remarked, reality has a well-known liberal bias. They want to hold on to programs that make America's youth sicker and put them in desperate situations. Family values, indeed.

My favorite idiot in this is Rep. John "John" Duncan, a Tennessee Republican, who according to Reuters said

that it seems "rather elitist" that people with academic degrees in health think they know better than parents what type of sex education is appropriate. "I don't think it's something we should abandon," he said of abstinence-only funding.

Yes John, they're a part of the country's elite. Because they are better educated than many, most certainly better than you. They are part of an elite that you should turn to for answers instead of trying to make "elitist" a slam the way you and your friends did with "liberal" years ago. Would you also claim that parents who raise their children on a diet of sugary sodas and cheeseburgers know better than nutritionists?

It's time to stop talking about values and actually standing for some, John. You're killing kids.

Dedicated to John Duncan, here is a pre-Thetan level Will Smith aka the Fresh Prince with DJ Jazzy Jeff and "Parents Just Don't Understand!"

Saturday, March 29, 2008

When Good News Makes for Tough Choices

I know, it's been a while. But at least I brought a new look for spring!

One of the reasons I've been away from blogging has been that my volunteering for the local AIDS center has kept me busier than usual. Other than looming budget cuts we had to deal with a bit of potentially very good news for millions of people living with HIV.

EKAF, the Swiss National AIDS Commission published a report in the Schweizerische Ärztezeitung (Swiss Journal for Medical Professionals) stating that research shows that HIV positive patients whose viral load has been undetectable for more than 6 months as a result of the usual combination therapy no longer seem to be passing on the virus to their sex partners (if they are free of other STDs). You can read an unofficial translation of the article here.

To clarify things for those not overly familiar with the subject matter: The combination therapy is not a cure. Once you go off the meds, the virus comes back with a vengeance.

I am still not quite sure how I feel about that publication. On the one hand, I have friends whose partners are HIV-positive while they are not, and this must be a huge relief for each half of those relationships. Heck, most people with HIV would have a burden lifted from them.

On the other hand, I have quite a few questions.

First of all, the research seems to be mostly based on heterosexual intercourse. As anal sex has long been known to be the riskiest for transmission,how sure are we that the results can be translated to the gay population?

Secondly, a doctor working at the local Chronic Infectious Diseases clinic told me a couple of years ago that almost all new infections they see are with virus strains that already have a level of immunity against some of the drugs being used in combination therapy. That means that at some point in the chain of infections, this virus was transmitted by a person who had received anti retroviral medication for quite some time. Are we to believe that all those people showed bad compliance with their medication regimens to remain infectious? And wouldn't infection rates actually go down instead of up as they have in recent years?

And finally: How do we prevent these news from filtering down to "Condoms aren't necessary anymore" in too many heads?

I'd like to see more research into this. As usual, we should avoid the easy answers. Neither going on with the same old prevention message nor calling off the dogs is in any way advisable here. If the results from the Swiss study prove accurate, we need to get more people tested and get infected people on medications sooner. We need to fight even stronger to get those with HIV in developing countries access to medication as it would not only add years to their lives and life to their years, it would actually slow down the spread of the disease.

As for all of us individually, I'd listen to this advice that the late Mary Wells is dishing out in one of my favorite songs by her:

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Crack-Smoking Celeb Leaves Rehab Early

And it's not Amy Winehouse. No, no no!

It's our old friend, Pastor Meth Haggard! Evidently, he can't tell the world often enough that he's no longer gay, no longer sucking on male escorts and no longer smoking crack.

The team appointed to oversee Ted Haggard's "spiritual restoration" after scandal forced him to end his ministry at New Life Church has agreed to his request to end their oversite of his recovery program.

New Life Church issued a statement Tuesday saying it believes the termination of the relationship is premature, but would not say why. Earlier in the process, church leaders had said they assumed that Haggard's recovery could take several years.

The Colorado Springs evangelical congregation that Haggard founded also said it remains convinced that he should not return to any church ministry.

Haggard prematurely leaves rehab, New Life Church says

Here's a little something to educate Pastor Meth: Pour Homme's cover of Carl Bean's Motown classic, Born this way.