Regarding Michael Jackson

It gives me no pleasure to speak ill of the dead. Yet, amidst all this gushing hagiography I feel I have to say something about Michael Jackson.

I’d like to point out that Michael Jackson hasn’t done a single interesting thing, creatively speaking, for 20 years. His recent recordings were bland, over-processed, and derivative. His famous dancing, which set the world alight in the 1980s, didn’t change a step since then. But so what? Many people peak early, and the body of work from his early years is truly impressive.

Then there’s the weirdness. There’s the excessive consumption — it’s reported that he spend on average $30 million per year more than he earned, and this went on for a decade. There’s also the identity issue, made highly ironic and even offensive in the face of his “Black or White” song. And of course the allegations of child molestation.

Those are just the obvious things, and again one could ask “so what?” Michael Jackson had no monoply on celebrity weirdness. Heck, for the most part I admire famous people who are able to live strange and unusual lives (RIP, Hunter S. Thompson).

Where it’s different in the case of Michael Jackson is the extent that his weirdness directly affected other people. Namely, the trio of Fauntleroys that are generally referred to as his children.

I cringe every time I see a photograph of Jackson with his gauze draped kids, and I wonder what kind of mental development issues arise when you’re brought up by a self absorbed Peter Pan who has, at best, a faint grip on the reality of everyday life. Here is a “parent” who repeatedly shows no understanding of financial, personal, or any other kind of responsibility, charged with raising three children without another parent on the scene to try to balance things out. It takes more than hugs and cookies and Coke cans filled with wine to raise children.

As the fans and the media continue to gush, I keep coming back to those kids, and my feeling that maybe now there’s a chance they’ll have something resembling a normal life.

Mayflies

Every year in late spring, the mayflies swarm out of the St. Lawrence river and cover the city of Montreal in a blanket of fluttering wings. It lasts for a few days and then they are gone. Fortunately, mayflies don’t bite or sting. Their only annoyance comes from their sheer numbers and their absolute stupidity. All they do is show up and flutter, flutter, flutter, tirelessly and endlessly. They cover our cars and busses, they darken our windows, and they circle round and round your head until you think you’re going to lose your mind.

Last Friday evening I was holding court at Verses Sky, the terrace on the roof of the Hotel Nelligan in old Montreal. Everything was fine until about 7:30 PM, and then, as if someone flipped a switch, mayfly season opened.

Did I mention they’re stupid? They seemed fixated on the Carlsberg umbrellas. Every Carlsberg umbrella had a cloud of mayflies incessantly spinning in circles over its apex. It went on and on. Half an hour later it was still going on, except there were more of them.

wtf??

WTF???

By 8:15 it was out of control. Every umbrella had its own swarm, four times bigger than you see in these pictures, plus a handful of random un-umbrellaed tables had swirling balls of mayflies just above face level. People were smoking furiously in futile attempts to shoo them away, but they kept at it. There was no purpose to it; they’re not like mosquitos on the hunt for blood, or moths stupidly drawn to flame. No, they just picked random tables and went to town with their infinite and useless swirling.

We left. Even though our table was unbothered by the mayflies, their unending and futile flapping (not unlike SEO and social network marketing types on Twitter) was driving me nuts. So too was the lack of beer on tap (bottles only? WTF?); an inconvenience I was willing to put up with for the sake of the view. But with the sun setting and the mayflies threatening to smother us, off we went.

But that’s no reason to avoid Verses Sky. By the time you read this, mayfly season will likely be over.

Sxy Jns, Google, and Me

Quick, what’s the connection between my trip to Italy in 2006, the promotion for “Sxy Jns” currently on in Mexico City, and my mixed feelings for Google?

web site

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The answer begins with this blog post.

Let me explain. A few years ago I tried running Google ads on the Blork Blog. After about a year I had accumulated about $95 in revenue, which isn’t much, so I was thinking about removing the ads.

Part of the Google Adsense terms of service is this:

You are not permitted to encourage users to click on Google ads or bring excessive attention to ad units.

Regardless, soon after starting to run the ads I did exactly that, one time, and ironically. It was in a post where I was lamenting the commercialization of “alternative” journalism. I concluded with the joke “Alternative journalism at its finest. Now please click on one of my Google ads…” Given my (then) 1400 or so blog posts that never mentioned ads, I did not think that was bringing “excessive attention to ad units.”

Google spotted that while I was on vacation in Italy, a year after I made the post. They sent me an email demanding I remove the post within 72 hours or they would withhold my revenue.

What?

It was one ironic line in a blog that at that time had over 400,000 published words not mentioning the ads. Can Google not differentiate between persistent click solicitation and a one-time joke? Of course they could if they wanted to, but our friend Google, whom everyone knows and loves, showed its real self that day. When it comes to money and service agreements, Google is as short sighted and greedy as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and all the other technology “heroes” of our day.

Bah!

Fortunately I had stopped into an Internet cafe in Rome and had read the email. So I had to log into my account and change the post – all the while paying extortionate usage fees to the cafe. I was severely pissed off. A few weeks later I hit the $100 mark (the threshold below which Google will make no payments). I cashed in and immediately removed the Google ads from my blog. Incidentally, I also restored the offending post to its original state.

But what does that have to do with Sxy Jns? (“Sexy Jeans,” for the uninitiated.) A year after the Google fiasco I made a blog post in which I presented a nice photo of a bunch of wet mint leaves; a photo I had taken in my back yard. I thought it would make a nice background for something, such as a desktop wallpaper, so I decided to share it. I joked that there was no need to thank me, to just click on an ad (followed by “oh wait, I no longer have ads”). Thus is the connection between these minty leaves, my trip to Italy, and Google. But where does Sxy Jns fit in?

In that blog post with the wet leaves photo I also suggested that if you want to use the photo as your wallpaper you could toss me a nickel next time you see me. Little did I know that a year and a half later someone at an advertising agency in Mexico would be scouring Google Images looking for a nice photo of fresh spring leaves to use as the background for a spring promotion of Sxy Jns. The rest of the story is self evident; he found my image and requested a high resolution version that could be used in the campaign. And he didn’t just toss me a nickel; we agreed on a reasonable price (that was, incidentally, more than I got from Google for a whole year’s worth of ads).

It is interesting that Google plays a role in all chapters of this story. I remain severely pissed off at Google although I am grateful for its service – which I use on an hourly basis and have even made money from (this is not the first time I’ve sold usage rights to an image that someone found on Google).

When I was running the Google ads, I respected the terms of use, but allowed one minor exception, which I thought would be OK because it was clearly a joke and was not excessive. What pissed me off was Google’s Draconian response. Not only did they come down on me hard for that one reference, they gave me very little time to respond.

In the end, I feel a bit like one of those captive trophy wives; someone who is grateful for the lifestyle but really hates the source of it.

Come on, Google, grow the Hell up and use some of that awesome power you have to put a reasonable threshold on usage terms before you call in the storm troopers!

Pancetta Overload

Right now, as we speak, four two-kilogram hunks of pancetta are hanging in my basement.

4 x 2KG = yummy!

“WTF?” you may ask. Well I’ll tell you WTF. Once you’ve had real, hand-made pancetta, you’ll never go back to that factory-made crap you think is so exotic. And here’s the secret: making your own pancetta isn’t even difficult.

No indeed. You only need two things: (a) a friend who’s a big fan of Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie, and (b) a cool and dry place to hang the stumps of meat to let them dry and age (two weeks minimum). In this case, His Nibs buys the pork bellies and does the salting and rolling, and I do the tough part; letting it hang in my basement, which is rather perfect for the task.

When it has hung sufficiently, we divide the spoils. There will be much slicing and bagging (fortunately, it freezes very well), and then the blork.org pancetta festival will begin:

Etc. etc. etc.

Perhaps there will be pictures.