Entries Posted in "May 2005"

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Coming Soon...
May 26, 2005

Fresh content! Bear with me.

Posted by Ambra in Blogging | Link to This Entry | Comments { 39 }
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Voir Dire
May 24, 2005

You know you're busy when you consider jury duty a "vacation" from the normal stresses of life. In a wonderful turn of events, it seems I wasn't picked as a juror in the three-week civil trial for which I was called. I never stood a chance. I'm all for fulfilling civic duties, but I find it odd that jury summons always seem to come at the most inconvenient times. Then again, last I checked, there's never a good time.

I'm beginning to re-think this whole "being an adult" thing. It's highly overrated. Oh what I would give to have somebody blow my nose, pick out my clothes, and tell me when to go to bed. There are days (few and far between) when I've even considered climbing back into the womb. At least then I'd be warm and have plenty of time for napping. Isn't it amazing how you grow up rebelling against the concept of "naps," and grow old wishing the traditional workday included mandatory naptime? I think I've figured it out. Naps (among other things) are wasted on the youth.

Those ungrateful wretches.

I often wonder the exact time the line between childhood and adulthood is officially crossed. Does it happen when you get your first bill in the mail? When you have your first child? When you buy your first piece of property? Too often we sit back, waiting for adulthood to happen to us. Meanwhile, it already "is." I have friends who are married with children and still can't believe God actually let them procreate. No matter who I talk to, it seems most people have moments of feeling completely unqualified for the task at hand.

I've had this feeling for most of my adult life. To some extent, my moratorium on higher education has pre-maturely launched me into the land of responsibility. Post-doocing, the last four months have decidedly been the most bizarre, strange, unpredictable, prosperous, and mind-numbingly ridiculous months of my life. Quite frankly, I'm exhausted.

As much as I adore it, writing/blogging has been the last thing on my mind (hence the week-long lags). The current contract work I'm doing has drained every ounce of energy I had left. I am kicking them to the curb. The fact that maintaining this website has taken a backseat to the "breadwinning of life" kills me because I am a firm believer that the two need not be mutually exclusive. I refuse to let myself be caught up in the regular job cycle.

I've often talked about taking drastic measures to realize my adult dreams. I wasn't kidding either. Yesterday, I officially accepted a contract position at Google. I'm disclosing my employer now to avoid potential conflicts in the future. I'm excited to have more time on my hands for writing and to be one step closer to shaking this bad habit they call a day job.

If being an adult means literally my own shots, I just might be down.

Posted by Ambra in Life | Link to This Entry | Comments { 19 }
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Jury Duty Blogging
May 18, 2005

While this week's been hectic and left me little time for writing, today and tomorrow (at the very least), I am on jury duty which means...LOTS of time for blogging. I arrived this morning to find that much to my suprise, King County Superior Courthouse now has wireless access available to jurors. For an ADD wannabe like me, this is fabulous news. I won't lie and act like I didn't almost break out in the "running man" when I learned of this, but I'm a juror now so there's no happy dances allowed. I have to be serious.

So here I am in a room full of 300+ disgruntled individuals, no doubt unhappy about their selection as jurors. Meanwhile, I'm sitting here grinning from ear to ear because not only do I get to fulfill my civic duty, but I also get some much needed time to catch up on writing. Glass. Half. Full.

I can pretty much guarantee that the minute they find out I'm an opinion writer/columnist, they're kicking me out of this place. I don't even know if the word "impartial" is in my vocabulary. We shall see.

Posted by Ambra in Blogging | Link to This Entry | Comments { 21 }
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More Thug Life to Hug Life
May 13, 2005

If you haven't yet noticed, there is a sweeping trend in the film industry to produce more family-friendly films. Nearly everyone's going soft. While I wish folks were going wholesome because they genuinely believe "wholesome" is better, the truth is wholesome sells and movies are about making money. Research shows that family films generally make more money because they appeal to a broader audience. The average parent isn't going to take their child to a rated-R movie.

It's not just parental ratings that determine success either. Time and time again, research shows that whether they admit it or not, people like wholesome entertainment. Even the sadomasochist sitting at home can't help but feel all warm and applepieish when he watches ABC's "Extreme Home Makeover."

Today even the most hardcore celebrities are trying to affiliate themselves with kittens and lullabies.

In a move to make kids' films and cartoons more "edgy," MTV and Nickelodeon made history when they recently inked a deal with Andre 3000 (born Andre Benjamin), one-half of the rap group "Outkast" to co-produce and star in a series of kid-friendly movies, including an animated adaptation of E.B. White's classic, "Charlotte's Web." And here we thought the "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," was the only book in danger of being contaminated by money-hungry humanists. Are we talking about the same explicit-lyric-having Outkast whose albums that have consistently made good use of that "Parental Advisory" sticker? If we are, these television executives have collectively lost their minds. The AP reports:

Andre 3000 says kids' movies need to be edgier -- and he plans to make it happen through a new deal with Nickelodeon and MTV.

"I've noticed that kids, they're looking up to the Jay-Zs, they're looking up to OutKasts," the rapper (and father of a 7-year-old boy with singer Erykah Badu) told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "So kids' movies and cartoons, they're getting smarter ... because it seems like kids are cooler."

As part of the deal, Andre, one-half of the Atlanta-based duo OutKast, is set to star in a new Nick Movies film, "The Hit," which he will also co-produce. It's about a fifth-grader, seeking a new wife for his father, who discovers his next-door neighbor is Cupid."

For lack of a better word, the logic behind this deal is retarted. I've waited a long time to use that word on this blog and I think it's appropriate for this occassion: retarded, retarded, retarded. And before the PC police get all bent, I offer you this:
sometimes offensive : slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress
So let's get this straight. Smart + Cool = Jay-Z and Outkast? Riight. That equation sounds pretty retarded to me.

I'm all for making movies that are relevant to kids, but seeking out pop culture icons who can't make up their minds if they want to be clean and credible, or foul and despicable, is not the answer. It is neither smart nor cool. These double-minded artists are not the type of examples we want children looking up to.

Oh but MTV does. That's why they're partnering with Nickelodeon. They want to pull them in while they're young.

Last year, when Dreamworks' shipwreck of a film "Shark Tale" was released, I wrote about reckless use of celebrydom and linked to discerning columnist Greg Braxton of the Chicago Tribune correctly pinned the "Thug life to hug life" notion:

Ludacris is easily one of hip-hop's raunchiest artists. He's made millions with his rapid-fire raps about his favorite subject -- sex -- and earned a fair share of "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" stickers with such R-rated lyrics as, "I want a lady in the street but a freak in the bed."

Not exactly the kind of artist you'd expect to see featured in the PG-rated "Shark Tale," the new animated feature from DreamWorks that opened last Friday and features an A-list cast topped by Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and Renee Zellweger...In addition to Ludacris, the soundtrack to "Shark Tale" features Eminem's foul-mouthed proteges, D12. Although hip-hop has long gained crossover status, its high-profile use in a family film represents the biggest splash yet in the effort to channel rap's coarser elements into the cultural mainstream.

Ludacris insists that cleaning up his act for "Shark Tale" is not watering down hip-hop's edginess. The rapper said the opportunity to alter his racy style into child-friendly fare is actually in keeping with hip-hop's creative spirit...D12, which usually raps about drugs and "ho's," was particularly pleased to be involved, Higman said. "They were really into it, saying, 'Wow, we've never done anything like this before.' A lot of these artists may be harder edged in their careers, but they are also pop artists."

Thug life to hug life

There's a missing step in this "transformative process." There's thug life and hug life, but what about, "Changed life?" Are there any celebrities willing to go there because that I'd like to see. My biggest question is, if you can clean it up for the kids, why not clean it up in the first place? The need to change one's behavior for the sake of appropriateness around children suggests that there's something inherently wrong with the behavior.

I am tired of people passively allowing these double-minded figures to subliminally speak into the lives of children. I have no problem with celebrities using their status to influence young people. My problem is with the lifestyles and behavior they glorify in front of impressionable minds. Worldly success and popularity means squat when it lacks integrity.

If there was any question that mass media has the best interests of children in mind, let's make one thing clear: they don't.

Posted by Ambra in Pop Culture | Link to This Entry | Comments { 35 }
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Thursday's Missive: things that will always make you laugh
May 12, 2005

I consider myself to have a fairly good sense of humor. I don't take myself too seriously. You shouldn't either. So I'm curious to know, come hell or high water, what things will always make you laugh? Here's the beginning of my potentially long list:

(In no particular order)
  • The pee story. (You had to be there)
  • My jokes--even the corny ones.
  • Dogs wearing clothes
  • Cats on leashes
  • Bad Biblical names
  • Madea
  • The mention of Mariah Carey's film: Glitter
  • Rhythmless people
  • Hairless dogs
  • Butt-whoppin' stories
  • Timely use of the phrase, "Shuck and jive."
  • Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the first 30 minutes of the movie, "Radio."
  • The Cosby Show, especially the episode where Cliff squares off with legendary hoofer Sandman Simms
  • Bill Cosby as Himself
  • My father losing his temper (he makes up words when he's angry)
  • Will Smith doing the "running man"
  • President George W. Bush speaking extemporaneously
  • The television horror that is "Walker Texas Ranger"
  • The movie, "Uncle Buck"
  • Dr. Wanda Davis-Turner
  • Zerberts
  • www.blackpeopleloveus.com
  • Chris Farley as Matt Foley, "Motivational Speaker," on SNL
    Posted by Ambra in Life | Link to This Entry | Comments { 19 }
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    High Schools Fail to Engage Students

    Just in: American high schools stink. Why we need studies to figure these things out, I just don't know. Monday's USA Today reports on the failure of high schools to engage students:

    A majority of high school students in the USA spend three hours or less a week preparing for classes yet still manage to get good grades, according to a study being released today by researchers who surveyed more than 90,000 high school students in 26 states.

    The team at Indiana University in Bloomington calls the findings "troubling." The first large study to explore how engaged high school students are in their work, it adds to a growing body of evidence that many students are not challenged in the classroom.

    Just 56% of students surveyed said they put a great deal of effort into schoolwork; only 43% said they work harder than they expected to. The study says 55% of students devote no more than three hours a week to class preparation, but 65% of these report getting A's or B's.

    Because I spent my life in private school, high school was homework-heavy. We usually averaged between 5-6 hours of homework a night. To make it without drowning, we skimmed through readings and wrote essays on books we never read. It was busywork but nothing profound.

    America's educational systems are all about regurgitation. "Memorize what we teach you and then spit it back out on the test...So long as you get the answers right, we'll pass you." That's why the Indiana University study isn't shocking. The average high school student has mastered regurgitation. I know I did. I could cram the night before a test and spit stuff out Modern European history verbatim. Too bad I can't remember squat about the topic now. Unfortunately, high schools (and many colleges) aren't teaching students how to think. I learned this most valuable skill from my parents.

    God Bless 'em.

    It's my belief that state educational standards keep high school curriculum too broad. I'd like to see more specialized study. I find it ridiculous that the average kid leaves high school without so much as an inkling as to what they wish to do in life. Then again, I'm probably an education radical.

    It seems parents aren't much help either. You'll recall last summer, some Baltimore County parents rebelled over their kids being assigned homework over the summer. What's worse, they blamed conservatives for pushing year-round school.

    If I could re-do high school and tailor it to my liking (a feat which will never happen, not even if you offered me one million dollars after taxes), I'd change everything. American high schools, private and public aren't challenging our generational genius. The genius is there, but it doesn't come out until we're 40. That must change.

    Debra England recently wrote a good article on understanding the benefits of charter schools. At this point, I'm game for anything. We've got very little lose. If things don't change, I'm homeschooling my kids....Maybe. Baby steps Ambra. Husband first.

    Posted by Ambra in Education | Link to This Entry | Comments { 24 }
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    May 11, 2005
    • Macaulay Culkin Denounces Charges Against Jackson: Today Culkin testified that Michael Jackson never sexually molested him. He also admitted to innocently sleeping in Jackson's bed a dozen or more times between the ages of 9 and 14. Does anyone think this odd? Odd? Hello? Anyone? But I guess it's okay considering how stable Culkin is and all. Blog Critics has more details.

    • The Chronicles of Narnia: "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" Trailer:
      It might be one of the most anticipated films of the year, but I'm not looking forward to seeing Disney jack up a perfectly good book.

    • Microsoft's New Xbox Details Leaked:
      Ouch. I'm currently doing some contract work for the Xbox's competition and I must say, this is a hurter for Microsoft. Most producers of gaming consoles are expected to release teasers of new products next week atE3 in California, the biggest interactive media conference of the year. My claim to fame is that my mother plays one of the voices on the game HALO.

    • PETA Kills Animals:
      At least that's what this watchdog (no pun intended) website says. I never have much trouble believing PETA is hypocritical. Why? Because they are wicked. See "7 Things You Don't Know About PETA."

    • No Handcuffs Necessary:
      Joanne Jacobs points to a program in Lowell, Massachusetts that hopes to curb student tantrums and chair-throwing by teaching "Self Control" classes to elementary school students. If only they'd had a self-control class for 42nd presidents.

    • Booker Rising's First Blogiversary:
      A shout out to Shamara Riley, proprietress at the fabulously informative Booker Rising for completing a full year of blogging. This is a great feat. If you can pass the one year mark, you're headed for longevity.

    Posted by Ambra in Linkology | Link to This Entry | Comments { 2 }
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    Caught In a Fashion Faux-Pas: Ann Coulter

    I'm going to say this once and hope that someone important takes note. For credibility's sake; for the future of the conservative movement's sake; and above all, for Pete's sake: Ann Coulter needs a stylist. Desperately. Now.

    Where oh where to begin? The only time Coulter looks halfway put-together is on her book and magazine covers which were no doubt taken during a photo shoot where there was a stylist on set.

    Remember, here at nykola.com the goal isn't criticism. The goal is to help improve the world one outfit at a time. As you know, it's not normally my practice to call people out by name when conducting fashion critiques, but for Coulter, I'm making the exception. Last night was the last straw. Someone needs to say something.

    Last night on her appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, Coulter sauntered out in what can best be described as "Premium Hooker Couture." The main act of Coulter's racy ensemble was a handkerchief masquerading as a little black dress (picture forthcoming). Suffice it say, fabric was lacking. When Coulter sat down, there wasn't much left to the imagination. Something tells me it wasn't a mistake that we could see 95% up her leg. It's not like she hasn't done it before. This time around the dress was bad. Really bad. Simply put, Ann looked like a skank.

    The sad thing is, I'm willing to bet she's better than that.

    As Time Magazine's most recent cover girl, Coulter's publicity has significantly increased over the last few weeks. As an author, a columnist, and a commentator, she definitely deserves her props. Regardless of political affiliation, in a male-dominated arena, it's great to see women staking their claim and being recognized where it counts. As far as I'm concerned, nearly any woman on the cover of Time magazine is a very good thing. For you, for me, and for the free market society.

    So why bring up the petty issue of fashion?

    Well, we complain about how people should be paying attention to a woman's brain and not her clothing, but what happens when the woman makes it clear she wants you to see more than just her brain? It's one thing to have flair. To show excessive skin is quite another. Let's not kid ourselves here. Appearance is very important for a woman. Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of going on national television and looking like decrepit raisins like some of the men who shall remain nameless. No; we are judged and measured according to how we look and how we carry ourselves. It's not bad. In fact, I view this as one of the great adventures of being a woman. It's extremely imperative that women who wish to achieve legitimate success take note of this. Whether good or bad, people care about the way you look.

    Selling sex appeal as a means of reaching an audience is a cruddy way to go about achieving success. I salute the women in visible media who have maintained modest yet fashionable standards. In the end, the classy ones will be around the longest. Right now, I wouldn't count Coulter in that bunch.

    My suggestions for a better, classier, and fashion-forward Coulter:

    1. A haircut. I'd take 5-6 inches off. Ann needs something shoulder-length with layers. Her long locks add years to her face and it's clear she doesn't know how to maximize it stylistically. Her hair always looks flat and boring and very Little House on the Prairie.

    2. A new dye job. Ann's too pale to be a full out blonde. Her hair color washes out her face and makes her look gaunt. Instead, she should keep the strawberry blonde as a base and add some darker tones and a few highlights for dimension. I would suggest a trip to famed celebrity colorist Rita Hazan. Ann can afford it.

    3. Lose the p/leather. Nothing against cowhide (fake and real), but on Ann, it's just not cutting it. She shouldn't wear anything black and shiny. Take this picture, for example. She looks like a soccer mom in mid-life crisis, not a professional pundit.

    4. Toss the mini-skirts. Ann's got a tall and lanky frame and needs clothing that will complement her slender figure. Because her legs are so long, the shorter the skirt, the sillier she looks. A mid-thigh to upper knee-length skirt would be better.

    5. Retire the flats. Ann has big feet (as do I) which means she has to be strategic about the shoes she wears. Flat shoes make her look like she has clown feet, but heels will make her too tall. My suggestion? A kitten-heeled shoe (as seen here). It will give her the look she wants, but has more dimension than a flat shoe.
    Increased visibility means setting a higher standard. Dress responsibility. Ann, you've got to do better.

    Posted by Ambra in Fashion | Link to This Entry | Comments { 15 }
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    Rockstar Radio
    May 9, 2005

    I did a brief 5 minute phone interview last week regarding my "Blog Like a Rocksar" series on the "Capital Region People" radio broadcasat on WYJB B95.5 FM.

    Audio here

    Thanks Dave Lucas for inviting me on.

    Posted by Ambra in Radio | Link to This Entry | Comments { 4 }
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    How to Blog Like Rockstar: get over the need for cyber affirmation (Part 2)

    One of the most common complaints I hear from bloggers new and old is, "I wish I had more hits." To them I say: welcome to the club, and be quiet about it already. Complaining about how you wish more people would visit your website is the antithesis of cool. Keep that stuff to yourself. Don't rant about it on your weblog. That is what nerds do. Are you a nerd? I didn't think so.

    As discussed in the previous installment of "How to Blog Like a Rockstar," the three main coveted forms of affirmation are: comments, hits and links. Last time we found out that comments (or lack thereof) aren't what make or break a weblog. Today we're going to talk about the average blogger's over-obsession: hits (also known as the number of times/people to visit your site).

    As a blogger, you don't want feel like you're writing for a party of one. And let's just be honest with ourselves here. We might front like you we don't care how many people read our blogs, but tell to the truth, deep down inside, we know it's important. It feeds the ego. Even the random lady in Bangor, Maine, catblogging and posting her favorite hot chocolate recipes wants to know people are reading.

    On the more serious note, not only does having a lot of visitors make one's labor feel important, it can also lead to big opportunities, and for some folks, big money. To date, bloggers have received book deals, newspaper columns, speaking engagements, and even employment offers just from capitalizing on the marketability of the blogosphere. Hi-traffic websites can command more by way of advertisements. A prime advertising spot on the popular Daily Kos goes for $14,000 a month. Not bad for some nobody lawyer guy who's in love with the Democratic Party.

    God Bless America.

    I began Nykola.com in January of 2004 with a paltry 12 visitors a day. Thirteen of those 12 visitors were me. Every now and then someone would stop in because they did a Google search for "black girl," or "Seattle buses," but for about 1 month, I was my number one fan. To be honest, I never really cared who stopped by. The act of blogging was cathartic. Eventually, things changed, and when I had 30 hits a day, I thought I was the stuff. Remember...success is relative. Stop comparing yourself to other people.

    My site traffic has steadily grown over the year and continues to grow as I remain consistent in what I know I'm here to do. I can only appreciate the couple thousand people that visit my site every day because at one point, no one did. And yet, my blog is still comparitively small.

    Increasing your traffic is important, but *how* you go about the increase is what separates the rockstars from the obsequious brownnosers. Your traffic might not skyrocket overnight. Hits earned quickly are hits lost quickly. Don't lose your dignity in the quest to gain more hits.

    And now I will offer my simple advice on how to get more hits. Take notes. This will be worth something someday:

    Do Not Check Your Web Statistics Every Day:
    If "it's not about hits," then for love's sake, stop checking your referrals every hour on the hour. I repeat: get a life. It's great to see who's linked to your site, but when it becomes obsessive, your motives are in the wrong place. The more you check your statistics, the more likely you are to be guided by what you see in those statistics. If you're out to be more than just an ordinary blogger, you won't be guided by the masses.

    You might notice for example, that your traffic spiked when you wrote about Michael Jackson. This isn't a license for you to do a 18-part series on the life and times of Michael Jackson. That's how network television operates--by formulas. That's not how you blog like a rockstar. Quality should be your obsession. Don't give the people what they want; give the people what they need.

    I probably check my site statistics twice a month (if that) and guess what? Bloglife still goes on. This might not be for everyone but I highly suggest going on sabbaticals from checking web statistics. You'll be better because of it.

    Avoid "Get Hits Quick" Schemes:
    Avoid them like the plague. It seems every day people discover new gimmicks to drive site traffic. Some gimmicks are good, but most are bad. Last year, I watched as many bloggers provided links to graphic photos of some of the American beheadings in Iraq. As millions of people performed searches for "Paul Johnson beheading," hits on those particular websites skyrocked for a day or two. I don't care what anyone says, most bloggers that linked to such a crude act were overtly seeking web traffic. Do yourself a favor, don't stoop this low. It's tacky.

    Write like everybody's reading:
    Since day one, I've fooled myself into believing that my website is the best on the planet. I write like I have an audience of millions. When the hits don't line up with my delusion, I don't care. I just keep writing.

    GENUINELY Comment on other blogs:
    When I had more time on my hands, I visited a lot of weblogs. As I was led, I started commenting on other blogs. I didn't drop little phony comments like, "Hi, I like your website. Please check out mine!" I didn't email the owner and ask for a link exchange. I didn't leave off-topic comments linking to my own site. NO. I genuinely READ the post and responded thoughtfully and at length. You'd be amazed at how many people will come to your site because they read something intelligent you wrote elsewhere online.

    Join an Alliance or Two:
    Joining an alliance or placing your blog in an online directory is a great way to draw people to your site when it's new. Just make sure you pick groups to which you have something to offer.

    About 3 months into blogging, I listed my site at "Blogs4God" and joined the "Blogs by Black Women" webring. That's the closest I'll ever come to advertising my own site. Later on, after I already had a steady flow of visitors, I was invited to join The Conservative Brotherhood. Nowadays, I stay away from site listings and webrings. They usually require a link back to them and I liken too many sidebar links to bumper stickers--extreme tacky factor.

    Stop trying to be the Super-Walmart of weblogs. You can't be the one stop shop, so quit trying to cover every issue on the planet. I'll talk more about this later on in the series, but one of the key things that will drive traffic to your site is when you have something that other blogs don't have. The broader your efforts, the less the appeal. There is truth in the saying, "Jack of all Trades/Master of None."

    Draw Readers, Not Tourists:
    The most important and valuable tip I can give on increasing your traffic is to BUILD A READERSHIP. Lots of tourists will stop by your site, look around, and never come back. In the grand scheme of things, they won't grow your traffic. They might come because you linked to an interesting story or because your site popped up on a search engine. That's nice, but it shouldn't be the focus.

    Don't make yourself a tourist attraction. Instead, build a relationship with your readers. It's a surefire way to keep people coming back, and telling their friends to check out your site.

    Next up in getting over the need for cyber affirmation: Debunking the myths of link-hype.

    For more see:
    - Tips #1-3: Don't Emulate the Success of Others, Get Some Motivation, and Decide Your Genre

    - Tip #4: Set Standards

    - Tip #5: Be Yourself

    Posted by Ambra in Blogging | Link to This Entry | Comments { 23 }
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    Why I'm Not a Republican Parts I, II, III, IV
    Reflections on the Ill-Read Society
    The ROI of a Kid
    The Double-Minded Haters
    Hip-Hop in Education: Do You Wanna Revolution?
    Oh parent Where Art Thou?
    Requisite Monthly Rant: the State of the Nation
    College Curriculum Gone Wild
    Walmart Chronicles
    An Open Letter to American Idol
    Gonorrhea and the City

    I Have a Talk Show