samedi, décembre 19, 2009

Coming Out Party

In this day and age, it simply won't do to hide who we are. In the past, perhaps, we could justify cowering in the shadows of Society's closet. "For the good of Civilization" we might say. But no longer. We have to stand tall. We have to fight the closed--indeed, the bigoted minds--that marginalize and belittle us. Merely admitting it will not suffice. We must proclaim it.

I'm coming out.

As a grown, educated, married, heterosexual man, who loves sports and drives a truck, I stand and say to the world: YES, I LOVE THE TWILIGHT SERIES.

I swam through a turbulent sea of dismissive critics and superior literati looking down their noses to see the movies. I fought past my own pre-judgements and my own well laid plan to mock, deride, and despise this teenage fantasy machine. And I ended up in love. Certainly not with the obsessive mobs of fans. Certainly not with the nuclear powered product mongering corporate interests. Certainly not with the books, which are so far down my reading list--I'm scheduled to read them, honestly, but--I just can't get to them until two years after I'm dead.
No, I'm taken with the concepts, the ideas, the mythos that beats at the heart of the Saga.

Much as you should accept, even embrace, what may very well have been born in me--thereby rendering any justification on my part superfluous--I think perhaps a brief treatise on why these movies are beautiful, and OK to love, will help you feel more at ease with me living the Twilight life.

1) Finally, I get why vampires are interesting. All my life, I've thought: So they suck blood, so they haunt the night, and have supernatural powers. Who cares? And, since Anne Rice made them dead sexy, I've been sort of turned off by their super hot sexlessness. I guess you could say I couldn't attribute any humanity to them. Somehow, until Twilight I missed the point: These are people, and they are bored. How horrible it must be to live forever on this earth. To pass through era after era of human history and never change. And see how nothing ever changes. After a few hundred years it must be a desperate and daily challenge to find something interesting on this planet. Through Edward Cullen, and through the Vulteri, this dilemma is explored with subtlety that borders on delicate. It gives one pause, as one translates the idea to the concept of living forever ANYWHERE. If you believe in God, or gods, you start to wonder how an eternal being makes life interesting once omnipotence and omniscience are achieved. You start to see why people cooked up this reincarnation idea. If all the series did was make vampires interesting to me, really for the first time, it may be enough. And there's more on that front . . .

2) While I hate updates to the vampire myth (the part about their skin sparkling in the sun was a groaner, almost a deal breaker), I kind of love the idea that there are vampires trying to do good in the world. Trying, against all odds, to live in peace and help people. I'm sure some lesser known work has more effectively explored the idea of Vampires actually using their powers to non-evil ends, but the idea of the Cullen family remains compelling to me. Why wouldn't a group of vampires evolve who refuse to drink human blood? Come to think of it, why couldn't a group of vampires evolve, after millions of years, for whom the sun is not lethal? (Maybe I don't hate this sparkling thing as much as I thought. Oh well. I still hated the baseball scene.) But you don't have to appreciate the vampires, because . . .

3) You can buy into the Twilight portrayal of what it means to have a soul mate. Believe me, I wish I could simply debunk the whole idea. And I think for a vast majority of the population, the idea IS the purest bunk. But for an unfortunate few, such a thing exists. And it isn't pretty. Every major work of art that attempts to legitimately explore the idea of "star crossed lovers," from Romeo & Juliette to Wuthering Heights, ends up revealing how destructive and dangerous the very idea is. And for all that, the reality of it is even worse. Living that intensely for a single other being is more often than not contrary to the needs and stipulations of Civilization at large. It makes you a freak. And it is beyond the will. You cannot choose your way out of it. It is misery of separation or the world's daily assault against the perfection it cannot permit to exist. Imagine having that load hoisted upon your shoulders as a teenager. I love that Twilight makes its lovers suffer through at least two books' worth of pain, inconvenience, destruction, chaos, separation, despair, societal alienation, family machinations, etc. I can't conceive of anything so miserably dangerous as finding out, at any age, but especially at a young age, that there is another person upon whom your happiness, perhaps your very existence, depends. Because of this, I don't mind the sullen behavior, nor the morose portrayals of the main characters. It thrills me in the same way (though certainly not to the same degree) as the above mentioned works of literary genius. And thankfully, Twilight doesn't stop there. The author wasn't afraid to show that there is a glorious side to that kind of love. If the people involved are willing to wager all and accept no substitutes.

I could go on. But the above points suffice. Hopefully. Look, I'm just asking you to give the movie, and the people who can't help but love it, a chance. Don't look down your nose at it just because bazillions of ditzy teenage girls are screaming themselves hoarse over it. Don't give up on it just because the whole thing seems, on the surface, to revolve around a buffed up teenage werewolf and a skinny, mopey vampire taking their shirts off.

Open your mind and heart to the possibility that people like me exist. And we just might be right.

samedi, décembre 12, 2009

Unearthed Musicana

How does Peter Gabriel's album So escape people's "Best Albums of all Time" lists? Give it a listen. I don't care if several of the songs reached self parody status because of over exposure in the 80's. Even a 5 song EP with Mercy Street, Your Eyes, Red Rain, Don't Give Up, and Sledgehammer would merit consideration for All Time Greatness. If this were all he ever did, it suffices for immortality.

Speaking of which, a friend of mine and I recently performed at a local bar. When she wanted to do a Courtney Love song, I balked, having always found the former Mrs. Cobain loathsome, and believing that she was absolutely responsible in some way for her late, great, husband's death. But upon hearing the song Malibu, I forgave her everything. I remembered watching Immortal Beloved, wherein the woman Beethoven had terrorized (and loved) says: "I forgave him because of the Ode to Joy." I remembered reading an interview with Morrissey wherein he stated that David Bowie is pardoned of all sins because of Drive-In Saturday. Courtney Love is certainly no Beethoven or Bowie, but Malibu is that kind of achievement. If it were her only accomplishment, she could still be called great. And even Love haters would have to admit the greatness of at least that song.
It occurred to us, that every performer/band has their very own Malibu. The song that even detractors must accept. The song that makes you forgive them. Even non Smiths fans cannot dismiss There is a Light That Never Goes Out. It is too beautiful. Even non Bowie fans have to love The Man Who Sold the World, and/or Drive In Saturday. And for the greatness of these offerings you forgive his fop-pop in the 80's, and his hair in Labyrinth, and the fact that he made himself a publicly traded commodity (you see why he needs at least two). You might hate Metallica, but you can't help but rock out to Enter Sandman. ETC.

It isn't just picking the ear candy out of some one's catalogue. Think of every great band you like. They have to have at least one song that grabs the world and says: "judge me by this." Really great songwriters have several, in many cases because they need that much forgiveness. Often you discover these songs because bands you actually like cover them, and you realize, "I was never really into Michael Jackson, but that version of Smooth Criminal is coolness."

Can you think of any more examples?

What's your Malibu?

samedi, décembre 05, 2009


[Editor's note - The ostensible plan was to allow the author to let his mind wander, stream of conscious style, and record each thought as it occurred, to the delight of a wide range of consumer demographics. However, the initial result was slightly darker than this space usually exhibits. In point of fact that composition, consisting of a question about the ever decreasing life in the battery of his lap top, which led to a bleak meditation on decaying love and lifelong dreams being deferred until the soul itself is a dry husk, which then actually became an immense black hole sucking all life and light into a dark core of nothingness, the location of which in the cosmos can be inferred by its gravitational effect on nearby stars and planets. With that boil lanced and deleted, the author was free to let his mind wander into strawberry fields. It is hoped that the reader will delight therein, though the fate of the cosmos (vis-a-vis the aforementioned black hole) remains, at best, questionable.]

*For my money, John Hodgeman's The Areas of My Expertise is the funniest book ever written. Every page is purest gold. Even the outside cover is delicious. It even contains a chapter entitled Those 500 Hobo Names You Requested. Need I say more? Find it. Buy it. You will thank me. And you'll owe me for a thousand and one smiles and delightful conversations.

Speaking of smiles . . .

*Armed with donated gift cards, I had the priviledge of taking a kid from the shelter to Pac Sun [super hip clothing store for tweeners, teens, and twentysomethings - ed.] and was impressed with their cutting edge set up. Problem: the young person in question has a 38 inch waist. There were only two pair of super hip jeans with a waist over 34, and they were 36's. Conundrum #1: On the one hand, I was absolutely sympathetic and supportive to the chubby teen, who is a really great guy who is in the process of overcoming a very difficult childhood. On the other, I was rejoicing inside that there was a retailer willing to bring the hammer down. How to put it diplomatically that you are secretly, and yes, uncharitably, glad that the fashion industry so blatantly marginalizes the more generously appointed? Conundrum #2: since when did skinny jeans become mandatory? I love a trim line, but I do not need jeans that grip tightly around my knees and ankles. I don't understand their range of cuts, which was "skinny" on the wide end, and "tighter than Billy Idol's leather pants from the 80's" on the other. Conundrum #3: PRICES. After shopping so long at second hand stores and bargain outlets, the idea of paying more than 20 dollars for a pair of pants sends my mind reeling. Some of the jeans in that place were $50. And that's a bargain to the fashion forward. I've seen jeans selling in the $80 -$200 range and thought: I am a country mile behind the world. If I won the lottery I wouldn't pay that. If George Soros paid me Al Gore money to tell America how stupid and evil it is, I still wouldn't pay half that. It is beyond my comprehension. Dang I'm poor.

Perhaps the dominance of the skinny jean paradigm is God's way of ending the bitter, loathsome scourge of sagging, baggy jeans. My prayers that he simply use the Smite App. on his Celestial i-phone have been long unheeded. But now I see. No lightning bolt, no foul disease, no earthquake or pestilence could make them see how disgusting they look. They will never see the folly of sagging their pants so low they cannot even run from the cops who should soon be arresting them. But soon, they will be marginalized along with fatty. They will wear sweat pants in public or they will step reluctantly into the light. The nightmare of boxer shorts and butt cracks will have an ending.

Speaking of endings . . .
*LOST is coming back. The YouTube promo almost rekindles some of the early enthusiasm I felt for that magical show. The fact is, we have to know. We have to know how it ends. And isn't it a relief to see a show that says: This is it. We are ending it. We will not compromise our artifact for profit. I wish more shows would know when to call it quits. Like Flight of the Conchords. Like Extras (and almost every other BBC show, including the original Office). Like Arrested Development (Please don't make the movie! People THINK they want it, but they will rue the day.)

Speaking of ruing the day . . .

*Christmas time rolls around once a year to remind us that Jim Carry will burn a thousand years in the ninth circle of Hell for his portrayal of the Grinch. Only his stint as the producer and narrator of Arrested Development has earned Ron Howard a provisional pardon. I heard that horrible "Where are you, Christmas?" song in the store the other day and went into convulsions. It's almost as bad as the torturous "Feliz Navidad." Here are the lyrics I hear every time it putrefies the airwaves:
Here's a Spanish phrase.
Which I'll blast in your face.
Let me say it again and again and again with a blah blah blah.
Now I'll sing the same thing in English.
Now let me sing the same thing in English.
One more time I'll say it in English from the bottom of my heart.
Here it comes again.
Do you wish you were dead?
This song never ends and prospero blah blow blah blah blah blah blah.

Try it, it matches up. [Addendum: In several states it is not considered murder if you kill the composer and/or performer of that song. I'm not saying; I'm just saying -ed.] If that song is now stuck in your head, you'll be wanting to kill ME, so we'd better close with a palette cleanser. Where does the mind wish to meander.

Still Christmas.

I was 7 years old when I figured it out. I got up in the middle of the night to pee and saw my parents wrapping gifts that were supposed to be from Santa. They didn't see me. For their sake I lied about believing in Santa for another year or two. I also continued to lie to my friends about believing. I didn't want to make waves. It was such a relief when the cat was out of the bag for everyone involved.

If you don't watch A Christmas Story and Dr. Seuss' ORIGINAL animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas sometime this month, you are inartistic, ignoble, uninspired, and unamerican.

Happy Holidays!

samedi, novembre 28, 2009

Hack Into Me

What follows is an unconfirmed, possibly fictional statement from a scientist who may or may not have asked that his name be removed.

So they hacked into my private e-mails. Wherein I had spent a small amount of time, a few words here and there, wondering why the data wasn't matching my agenda. I might have also mocked those who disagree with me, referring to them as "twat" and "ignoramus" and other choice terms that mature adults use routinely when they don't think they will have to actually show their cards.

It has been really embarrassing. But not in the way you might think. I'm embarrassed for all of you.

How sad it is to see how deeply people's ideology clouds their judgement. There are actually people who believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming on a religious level. They have never looked up the facts. They accept the party line of their spiritual leaders. They derisively dismiss anyone who dares disagree with them. They assume that anyone who wants to actually look at the idea of climate change scientifically is their moral, social, and political enemy. To that end, they LOVE my smarmy name calling. The myriad UNtruths in their Gospel of Inconvenient Truth are unthinkable to them. They ignore, utterly and profoundly, the particular e-mail where I mentioned that the famous "hockey stick" graph mentioned by their Goracle is not supported by the data, and recoil, utterly and profoundly, from the possibility that I might have any questions about their dogmatic faith that man is at the root of climate change. I'm sure that if I ever find evidence to the contrary, they will throw pies in my face as I leave the symposium. They are, in short, utterly and profoundly, UNscientific.

They have counterparts. Doppelgangers if you will. People who have ignored the data with equal exuberance. Their opposition is equally devout. They sift through 3,000 e-mails to find the one or two where I dared question. They take them as evidence that makes their case. They somehow interpret my infantile jibes to their ilk as evidence that my arguments are flawed. Most of their minds exist proudly within the bounds of the AM radio waves that carry the vitriol of their prophets. If they end up being right--I should say, correct--their arguments will dismiss themselves with the self same tools they used to dismiss the tenets of their "enemies."

But these are the people who dwell on the surface. It would be wrong of me to expect better from them. From Time Immemorial humans have desperately sought after facts to fit their agenda, rather than the more sensible opposite modus operandi. That is what they will do with my leaked e-mails: they will hear what they want to hear, and this will render the whole debate fairly moot. Happily, you can count on religious types from both camps to at least be well intentioned. So I'll handle my embarrassment. I'll take my medicine like any mature adult who is caught with questionable half truths and insults in his mouth: I'll obfuscate the questionable and augment the insults even as I pretend to apologise. Watch me; it'll be beautiful. However, as you watch, you might begin to feel a bowling ball in your stomach, as the fingers of your brain grapple in the mist for the real revelation slinking around between the lines of my hacked private communications.

There are people who are much worse than those I have mentioned. People whose agenda is not well intentioned. Big talking individuals who profit in unthinkable ways by manipulating the data and the perception of the data. One group requires that GW [global warming] sink into the dank basement of myth so that their cronies and partners can increase margins and avoid regulation. They might even want to be free to pollute soil and atmosphere. The other group NEEDS desperately for AGW [anthropogenic, or man caused, global warming] to be a fact. They require the subsequent fear and panic and activism to implicate a political agenda that has little to do with the actual climate. Their financial well-being literally depends on their premise being true. I might even be one of them. Or I might work for them. Or I may depend on them remaining and gaining in power so they can dispense money in my direction. Or I am an important third party to their friends, who are captains of industry, who need to sell products that say "green" on the label. For all I know, these apparent poles of contraction are working together. Tricking everyone into choosing sides because that is how they get paid.

As it turns out, most of us have chosen sides on flimsy grounds, such as liking one side or the other, or how one side makes us feel, or whether they agree with our views on how socially progressive society should be, or whether their comedians are funny to us or not, or whether their religion is traditional or couched in pretending to be non religious.

I don't remember when I chose a side, but I did. I absolutely did. Being a scientist doesn't, and shouldn't preclude that. Keep that in mind when you judge our data. Keep that in mind when you judge our humanity. We are people. Cut us--do we not bleed? Make our private lives public, do we not appear as childish as everyone else? Try to untie the Gordian knot of where our politics end and where our objectivity begins, and are you not face to face with your own agenda driven ignorance?

If you aren't, perhaps you should be.

In the end, these are just 3,000 e-mails that will have no lasting effect on whatever passes for "debate" in this world. That said, if we squint long enough into the temporarily large shadow of this feckless electronic edifice, we might find a handwritten line by a long dead prince of Denmark: There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy.

samedi, novembre 21, 2009


Mark Twain went around the country. In the end, embittered and full of bile, he was paraphrased in the blogosphere, saying: "If you don't watch the news, you are uninformed. If you do watch the news, you are misinformed."

Not long before, Voltaire sent Candide around the world. In the course of his misadventures, he discovered something: he didn't care about the price of tea in China. It was all outside the sphere of his influence and was therefore bereft of meaning. He decided, in another immortalized turn of phrase, to "tend [his] own garden."

This was all taken to heart by my good friend Jason, who said: "Don't talk to me about current events anymore. If there's nothing I can do about it, I don't want to know about it." A month later he has never been happier. He gets more done. He eats the food in front of him without being distracted by the menu at some distant Mcdonalds.

Ask yourself: does an infantile war between an administration and a television channel have anything to do with you? Does your certainty that they are in cahoots and are simply succeeding in boosting each other's numbers help you succeed at your job or studies? If members of that administration declare earnest admiration for history's worst dictatorial murderer [ed: it's Mao Tse Tung, for the ignorant] does that change the way the tomatoes grow in your garden? Will shaking your fist at the Wall Street insiders who advise your president stop them from flushing billions of dollars down fat cat investment bankers' toilets while common people suffer? Do you really think the future generations who are being crippled by the current rates of government spending will look back at average Americans and shake their debt shackled fists in anger? "If only you had been informed about this!"

They will not. Neither will anyone begrudge you missing a Conan O'Brian reference because you failed to catch CNN that day. Free yourself.

At any rate, at least if you watch the Daily Show, [or the even better Colbert Report-ed.] you can have a good hearty laugh whilst you are propagandized and misinformed.

samedi, octobre 31, 2009

Civilization is B___S____

"War is not the answer," said the bumper sticker. I nodded my head. A lovely sentiment. Then I had a little thought. The sticker had the guts to lay it on the line, I thought it might be an invitation to dialogue. I said, What if the question is: How do we stop Hitler from slaughtering Jews and taking over countries? In that case, I thought, war is the ONLY answer. I don't care if it's a cliche. And what if 13 colonies declare independence with an eye toward inventing freedom, and the oppressive tyranny of the motherland decides to kill them until they submit? Seems to me war is the answer again. Perhaps Mr. Bumper Sticker made a rash, preliminary statement? "Look, I'm stuck here. I can't change. I have to be the truth." I couldn't make sense of the logic. And before I could ask another question, the light changed and he drove away.

I couldn't have been happier to come upon the Jesus fish on the freeway, I'd been meaning to ask if he remembered when he was secretly drawn as two arcs in the sand by the feet of Christians scared of being killed for their beliefs. I thought it was a little degrading to see him so close to exhaust and roadkill. But he couldn't answer. He seemed to have something stuck in his craw. In fact, he was chewing on something. A little version of himself, but with feet. "I'm the Darwin fish!" screamed the poor little guy. "All I wanted to do was co-opt his symbolism and insult his religion! What's his problem?" His problem, I thought later, is that he should never, EVER have put you in his mouth. The only thing more petty and childish than the first cheap shot is throwing the second punch. (I guess turning the other cheek doesn't apply to bumper sticker melodrama.) At any rate, I couldn't think what his problem was at that moment. I was too curious. Who made the Jesus fish with the little feet and called it Darwin? I mean, I think it was certainly small minded, but it is a pretty clever pun. "Oh, no one came up with that idea! These feet just grew here by themselves."

Which reminded me of another conversation I had, with a bumper sticker that compared evolution to gravity with the intention of discounting the existence of a supreme being. This one I really wanted to address. His stereo was up really loud so I tried to come up with some kind of sign language that said: I believe in evolution! Absolutely I do. I congratulate you! But it is still officially called the Theory of Evolution, whereas Gravity has long since been elevated to the status of a LAW of nature. Like thermodynamics, entropy, etc. You are discounting your argument with what might be a simple oversight! Obviously, the effort was doomed. The sticker just gave me an enthusiastic "thumbs up." I shook my head no. It was not good. I sank into a quick, but nonetheless bleak depression, thinking about a great movie I had just watched on String Theory (The Elegant Universe, check it out) wherein scientists gamely admit to working their brains out and then simply forging forward (by faith, essentially) where their knowledge breaks down, accepting that true scientists can only believe the latest thing going, which is the next thing to be proven wrong. I wanted to try and shout above the noise, and ask if he was perhaps acquainted with the brilliant scientist who told me: Science will never prove nor disprove the existence of God. We will never see him in any telescope. We will never write an equation that dispells him. The question is outside the province (or "providence" if you are Justice Sonya) of the scientific process. Be wary of anyone who crosses the ideas of Science and God with the goal of disproving one or the other. By then I had to turn right, towards the supermarket. As I signaled the turn, I remember distinctly hearing the words of the song blaring from the vehicle in question: "I am ignorant! I accept conventional wisdom on blind faith! (La la la.) Which makes it religion or worse but don't tell me that! (Yeah, yeah, yeah!)"

Well behaved women rarely make history. Or so the lavender bumper sticker seemed content to proclaim endlessly to anyone who dared to look upon her. I instantly agreed. But, as you have already deduced, I have a problem. Can't seem to simply agree with anyone. (If it makes you feel any better, it happens even when I agree with myself.) She was parked at the video store, so I knew I could have a real conversation with this one. I started small. What about Mother Theresa? She seemed pretty well behaved. She behaved herself right into the Nobel Prize. She said nothing. What about Emily Dickinson? She's the most amazing woman who ever lived. Sure, she boldly stopped going to her father's church, and then stopped going out into society at all, but, OK, maybe I see your point a little bit. Maybe you're one of those people who means "Political hay" when you say "History." In that case, wait a minute! Well behaved men have rarely made history either! Why not just say "People" for feminism's sake! In other words, what is your point exactly? Is your lovely font going to rectify some great wrong--inspire some young girl to stand up and tear down the sexist patriarchy that currently tells her to grow up and be whatever her brains and will can achieve? Who in legitimate American discourse is currently demanding that women "behave?" I waited some time for an answer. I thought the sticker was going to say "I'm left over from the late sixties. But believe me, there are people who still need to hear this." I'd have taken that. Instead, she sat there mute, her lavender turning an angry red.
[Editor's Postscript: There are millions of unsung PEOPLE in history, Ms. Bumpersticker, whom you might derisively lable as "well behaved," who poured their whole soul into being decent, hard working parents, who raised noble, hard working children, who helped others, baked great bread, kept clean homes, told delightfully bad puns, and basically made the world go around.)

For a moment, I felt a little foolish for trying to engage in any way with something so futile as a permanent statement of philosophy or belief on the bumper of a car, with anything so infantile as a punch in an ideological fistfight that takes place in tiny letters just above the place where the carbon monoxide comes out as you drive by. I decided to live and let live. And to keep my eyes on the road.

Then Calvin drove by, peeing on everything. Then praying to things. Then peeing on everything again. I love Calvin and Hobbes very much. I consider it one of the greatest works of modern literature. I saw Watterson clamoring in his grave. I mourned for humanity. I gave up. I decided I would have my car fitted with a weapon that would fire a stupidity seeking missile at any one with Calvin peeing, (or anything dirty, like the one I saw that said "Save a mouse, eat a p*ss%.") I said: I will avenge you, poor, bastardized Calvin! I will bring destruction on these vile masses. I WILL EXTERMINATE ALL BRUTES!"

Then I realized where that came from.

Truly the Heart of Darkness is our own soul.

But I still blame the bumper stickers.


vendredi, octobre 23, 2009

Me No Understand

I don't know when I gave up being a know it all. It might be when I realized I didn't know it all. Since then, my motto has been: "the more you know, the more you know how much you don't know." Some Zen guy said it. It essentially means: "I know it all about not knowing it all." Which is one of the more beautifully ridiculous contradictions of eastern thought.

That said, many of Life's mysteries evade me to this day.

I don't understand why I'm the only one who thinks that early Pearl Jam and Hootie and the Blowfish are aural doppelgangers. Eddie and Hootie have identical vocal agendas. I tell people: Put them both on as background (admittedly the only condition under which I've ever actually heard either of them) and you'll see. When you're on your cell phone with traffic whizzing by you can't tell the difference.

I have no idea why writers and audiences continue to fall for the Time Travel Conundrum (read: COP OUT). Time travel as entertainment reached its apex with the first Back to the Future movie (the nadir being represented by nearly every effort since then.) Why do people keep going back to a well that is so dry? As a plot device, it cannot answer the questions it asks, and those questions end up a gigantic distraction. Even the writers of blessed LOST admitted that writing time travel into a script is a lot like dating a super hot girl. It starts of really slick and cool and makes you think you're really cooking. Then you realize the maintenance is greater, more complicated than you ever dreamed. Did any one NOT begin to lose interest at the increasingly convoluted machinations and implications of season 5? A good friend and admirably devoted husband, let's call him Jason Adair, recently teased around the idea of going back in time to experience relations with the younger, hotter version of his wife. On the glossy surface, the idea had a good deal of initial merit. A few moments of reflection saw him discarding the idea wholesale, and not because of its scientific impossibility.
Honestly, the last time I saw a compelling time travel piece was on Comedy Central. A comedic duo played the role of a scientist and the scientist's friend. It went something like this.

(Scientist is working on his time travel device. Friend enters and inexplicably drinks an entire bottle of gatorade while Scientist eats an entire twinkie. Then the conversation begins.)
F: How's the time travel experiment going?
S: Great. I can now go back in time 30 seconds.
F: Let's try it!
(Scientist pushes a button and lights flash. They rewind to the beginning of the scene. Friend enters and drinks ANOTHER bottle of gatorade. Scientist eats another twinkie)
F: How's the time travel experiment going?
S: Great. I can now go back in time 30 seconds.
F: Let's try it!

You can guess what happened next. At the third iteration, their ability to consume the gatorade and twinkie were significantly impaired. Pink liquid ran down his shirt and all over the stage. I was sure the scientist was about to puke up the twinkies. Still they forged ahead, as everyone watching marveled, and reveled in their genius. How better to encapsulate the rash inanity of slipping even a little time travel into your plot? They went as far as they could without dying, and at some point during their trip backward, the classic Star Trek fight music came on and they engaged in a hilarious slow motion melee. I was breathless. And I hoped that they had ended time travel in entertainment for awhile. At least until a messenger from the future arrives and tells us the idea must be compelling again, lest some future event be prevented from occurring due to a missed event in the past, or our present, which would not have occurred without the messenger from the future travelling back from a time when the event which never occurred was in danger of not happening, or the one that did occur was in danger of un-happening.

I also might not be able to wrap my head around the modern immigrant. To be clear, I honestly consider everyone who wants to come here legally and make a go of it as my brother or sister in arms. My own mother emigrated from South Africa in the 70's, then proceeded to bring most of her family over. I get them. They left their homeland, for which they rightfully allow themselves to harbor a certain amount of fond reverence. But they recognize that they came here for a reason. Or several reasons. My mother is the most patriotic person I know. She raves about America far more often than born citizens. She knows it isn't perfect. She knows no country can be. But sings patriotic songs without even the tiniest hint of irony. She has read the constitution and considers her citizenship one of the greatest privileges of her life. In contrast, my relentlessly negative sister-in-law (let's call her Jorba Jorbensen) seems to have come here from beautiful foreign shores for one purpose: to complain. Americans are uncivilized. Americans are selfish. This country is ugly and the food is terrible. I've never heard a positive word. Her monumental contempt for our history and institutions is equalled only by her unthinkable ignorance of both, which is really odd coming from a person who is otherwise so fun, smart, and hardworking. Every conversation with her leaves one asking: Why are you even here? She's like a person who invited herself to dinner so she could complain about the food. If she represents the current batch of new arrivals, I don't understand them. And I can't comment further without sounding xenophobic.

Every once in a while I think I understand reality television. Then I'll catch a glimpse of a show that represents the ass end of it and realize it is WAY beyond my comprehension.

For the life of me I cannot understand why you are not watching Madmen.

For a second, I understood why Obama got the Nobel. It was for the courageous way that he continued Bush's "failed" policy in Iraq and got the media to keep quiet about it. Or maybe it was for the way he escalated the war in Afghanistan, finding new ways to mismanage a front that Bush had "ignored." Or maybe it was for the way his administration went to such great lengths to ignore the nuclear program in Iran until, apparently, we all have to panic about it. Was it, perhaps, for giving the Queen an i-pod? It all seemed to make sense until I realized the voting process was over just a few days after he took office. So I guess he got it for making speeches. Which I don't get. I mean, they were good, but . . .
Come to think of it, there's another thing I don't get. Just after the election, his supporters all put up these signs that said: "yes we did." Did what? I thought the point, the goal, was to improve America. How can you say you did that after ZERO days in office? I guess the point, the goal, was just to get in office. OK, now I get it, its like Bush's ridiculous "Mission Accomplished" speech. Damn these guys are alike!

But there are more important things I don't get. For instance. . .

Why, WHY are only women's pants allowed to be woven with that blessed stretchy material? It is magical. It is liberating. It is proof that men don't get it, whatever "it" is, and I can't figure out why we don't.

Dang. I didn't know how long a missive about the massive gulf of my incomprehension could be. If I stop here, it is for lack of time, not material.

Suffice it to say that, whatever the topic, my most likely response is a simple: I don't get it.

Which goes to show how enlightened I am.

vendredi, octobre 16, 2009

Go D.I.Y. Yourself.

Carl Sagan chilled my marrow when he observed that humanity is increasingly dependent on technology it doesn't understand. He didn't need to add that this is a "recipe for disaster." I felt that. He meant for Society at large. But that was because he didn't know me personally.

With apologies to Mr. Sagan, my friends and I cling somewhat desperately to a certain "Do It Yourself" ethic. To which end I own and maintain my own sewing machine, installed my own kitchen appliances (dishwasher, garbage disposal, sink and faucet, etc.). I purchased a kit (NOT the patented Phlobe!) and cut my own hair. I make every attempt to understand and maintain my own property and the technology thereupon. Sometimes with disastrous results.

Which brings us to my vehicles.
For years I have done what I can to maintain them myself. I could change/replace brake pads, air filters, batteries and oil--even plugs, ignition wires and distributor cap for a standard tune up. I know where to put the chemicals to charge the air conditioning. That said, (though the day I successfully replaced the electronic trunk release mechanism in the Jetta despite the pleading from the dealer to "bring it in" remains one of my proudest moments) it's all rather simplistic: If anything serious happens I run straight to the Last Honest Mechanic, a great man, and friend to our family, who knows darn well I have essentially no idea what I'm doing. [editor's note: my diesel Jetta from Volkswagen gets 50 miles per gallon on the highway, and is fueled with biodiesel. Take that, poseur environmentalists in your petroleum powered, acid battery packed hybrids!]

When the brakes wore out on the above-mentioned Jetta, I jacked it up, removed the back tires and, with the help of a D.I.Y. friend, got to work replacing the pads. I'll not bore the reader with the minutia, but suffice it to say that a special, $100 dollar tool is required to perform an important step in the process. A step that was formerly accomplished with a $5 C-clamp. We efforted with all due force, and ended by giving up the ship with bitterness and bile. Defeated, I ground metal on metal all the way to a nearby brake swindler, and, swallowing my pride, cursing the engineers who complicated the process, dispersed the commensurate compensation.

Strangely, that experience was far from my mind when the engine of my little 6 cylinder Ford truck began misfiring. The last honest mechanic said it needed a "tune up." I responded by assuring him that I, having replaced plugs and wires and filters and fluid on several vehicles, possessed the requisite skillz. I purchased the parts on the way home, got out the tools upon arrival, and to work on what used to be routine maintenance. Turns out, no human hand and no Do-It-Yourselfer's tool can penetrate the compact, tightly engineered inner workings of the modern pick-up. Goading myself on with an inner scourge of bitter curses and desperate prayer, I was barely able to complete half the job. After admitting defeat, with fists (and various orifices) clenched, I sheepishly delivered the truck to the Last Honest Mechanic. He assured me he would finish the job, and offered to change the fuel filter, which is "damn difficult" even with the expensive, specialized tool.

As I waited for my wife to pick me up, I knew the real tool would soon be in the passenger seat of the Jetta whose brakes had been installed by a paid professional.

Even if you don't accept these experiences as emblematic of a larger picture and problem, you are bound to admit the chips are sacked against us. Technology is being taken out of the hands of the common people. We cannot be expected to keep up with it.


You can interpret that as you wish.

dimanche, octobre 04, 2009

Humiliations Galore

Humility is the first, and until accomplished, only goal of an enlightened mind. It must be achieved at any cost.

Here then is a brief (yet somehow exhaustive) list of the sundry circumstances and situations that have brought me to tears in the last month.

The Foundation for a Better Life. Whoever they are, they're out to get me. They are making these (honestly wonderful) feel good public service announcements that get played after hours--(i.e. the only time I watch TV--i.e. when I get paid to watch--i.e. whilst working the graveyard shift at the Children's Emergency Shelter.) Any one of them could be considered emblematic of all the others: some jerk knocks a nerd's books and papers down to the floor and a kind hearted jock sticks his neck out an helps the outcast; a pinata is burst and all the kids but one walk away with handfuls of candy whilst a single sensitive girl turns, notices the poor kid and independently decides to share her share; a rough hewn hockey player sings Itsy Bitsy Spider to his sweet little daughter. Just simple messages about sharing and kindness. And for whatever reason, every once in a while, I find my eyes going cloudy when I watch them. Am I soft brained or soft hearted? I don't care. And I don't care what secret right wing mega church is funding the "foundation." These commercials are top shelf. And they get you either way. Tears for the better world they fictionalize, or tears for the reminder that the world really is good, and full of nobly good people who help each other.

My Son broke up with his girlfriend! She is an honestly wonderful girl that any guy in the world would be lucky to be associated with in any way. We were in no way unhappy with his association with her. Even so, one day he broke up with her, and by way of explanation, he simply stated: "I see my friends with no girlfriends, and they are all good at various things, and have seriously developed talents. Then I look at my friends with serious girlfriends, and they are good at working at restaurants and crashing their cars." He understands that at some point, when it no longer constitutes an absolute waste of his time and resources, a girlfriend will be a rather worthwhile concern. For now, he is just going to "date a variety of girls and hang out and not deal with the stresses of being attached to one single person." Who wouldn't shed a little tear of joy at a young person displaying wisdom beyond his years? Maybe you have to be the parent of the young person in question. Or maybe at his age I was ridiculously consumed with the very concerns he is eschewing, and am overjoyed to see him being spared the misery that I went out and grabbed with both hands and stuck in my mouth.

Jeffry R. Holland. Suffice it to say he is an apostle. He spoke in a recent conference about a book I have loved for a long time. He spoke with a force of clarity and a dedication and a love that brought a tear to my eye.

My Friends. They all made plans to come up and help me finish painting my house. The plan fell through on both ends; so I was either inspired at the good intentions of wonderful people or miserable for the failure. Either way, thanks guys.

Movies. I don't know, you name it. Samwise carries Frodo on his back up the slopes of mount doom. Todd and Copper realize a fox and a hound cannot be friends. Wil Smith pursues Happyness. The Apple Dumpling Gang rides again. These days, I can't watch any representation of human kindness or achievement against difficult odds without having to blow my nose. I was even misty when the lifetime underachiever from Seattle became the King of Kong (which, if you haven't seen, you have no claim on humanity!)

Some might say that I am getting old. Or that the side effect of occasionally wearing pants ostensibly made for women, (other than the supreme hotness) is a certain softening of the sensitivities--which is not necessarily a good thing. Others might claim that my life of suffering and struggle and dying dreams has left me a little raw, that my heart is a fresh and open wound that essentially over reacts to the stimulus that normal humans can brush away like so much daily dust. Whatever the reason, I know for a fact that tears cleanse the windows to the soul, and leaves the view tinted with humility.

And I'm proud of that.

vendredi, septembre 18, 2009

Little Armageddon on the Prairie.

Officially, freedom in representative government ended when the Federal Reserve was formed by unconstitutional executive fiat early in the last century. But let us put aside that depressing little fact (and the attendant story, which is too long to tell here) and break down the death of democracy the only way a modern mind can conceive: Let us make a list.

Having watched for the signs, I believe I can with confidence elucidate the
4 horsemen of Democracy's Apocalypse.

1) THE CHILD. When educated, stable, caring, responsible people are having 1.5 kids per household, and abusive, classless, ignorant, drug addled, publicly dependent households are DOUBLING that (by the most conservative estimates), there is simply no hope. When those who depend on the government are simply outbreeding those who contribute to it, Doom is automatic. There is no politically correct polish you can put on this. And no label you slap on the prophet pointing it out will alter the outcome. Every individual has an inherent nobility and an infinite potential blah blah blah. When this imbalance occurs, it's over.

2) THE PRESS. When the fourth estate is beholden to the government it was set aside by the framers to monitor, all is lost. When those ostensibly charged with dispensing information to an informed electorate are motivated by ideology, by partisanship and profit, only a fool hopes that the system can survive. Where you just caught thinking of Keith Olberman? of Sean Hannity? They are simply the extremes that reinforce each other, and they are only a symptom, hemorrhoids, if you will, resulting from a deeper imbalance of pressures from a constipated core.
3) THE FAT ONE. With sincere apologies to the beautiful overweight people all over America who get up everyday and contribute to society in dynamic ways, it must be observed that no government has ever existed that can govern a sedentary citizenry. Greece, Rome, and everyone before, between and since has crumbled when Prosperity became Opulence. In that sense, fat and sassy spells the end. Blame television. Blame the fast food industry. Blame the video games. The why doesn't matter.

4) THE CONTROL FREAK. Not me. The other control freak. A.K.A. THE LAWYER, THE NANNY STATE, or the Suer. (Hey, rhymes with sewer!). It appears in many forms: the government that wants to take care of you and the people who think that's OK; the litigious bastavich who thinks an arm broken on a neighbor's trampoline, or a lung full of cancer, or a blistered belly from coffee that was hot is a ticket to easy street; the ambulance chaser and the system that supports the fleecing of good people for honest mistakes, setting up money as the arbiter of justice. Beware of this one. It is the most subtle of all the horsemen. It admits to being evil, but rightfully calls itself necessary in a nation of laws. Once it has enough avatars and acolytes in society, the people might (for a time) be very well protected and provided for, but NO ONE IS TRULY FREE.

Luckily, these harbingers of impending doom remain far off, in a nightmare future.

vendredi, septembre 04, 2009

Don't Mess

I teach guitar.

It's a humble job. But it pays fairly well; and there is certainly no shortage of young people in Northern California who think they want to learn to play. All in all, I'd rather be playing than teaching. That said, I have had the privilege of associating with some truly wonderful, and wonderfully talented kids.

Even so, motivation constitutes a problem for the majority. Most kids have very little desire to put in the work it takes to become a real musician. Sadly, the blessing/curse of the guitar is that if you are willing to goof around long enough you can get pretty dang good at it, and yet somehow utterly avoid being able to read music or really know anything about it. There are quite a few students willing to enter this category. We all have a most excellent time. But some days I wonder if I'm doing enough to cajole my students. The least I could do is shame and scare away the slackers before they waste more of their parents' money, right?

Many years ago now, in an attempt to help them understand the consequences of their choices, and to distinguish mere players from real musicians, we invented a word:


Anyone who exhibits great skill, who can shred like a bastard and yet knows very little about music, who can play, perhaps, every AC/DC song in the catalogue but can't read Yankee Doodle from the beginner's manual, is a guitard. By extension, anyone who wants to shred, but who lacks the desire to study music, becomes, at least nominally, a guitard.

The term was effective from the get go. Even as it set the studious future musicians apart, it seemed to pay a certain respect to the shredders (in fact, the exact kind of counter cultural respect they desire); and kids with no desire to read music embraced their categorization. More importantly, it always got a respectful snicker or two from both sides of the musical fence, as most kids have a healthy sense of safety around any adult willing to use any word that remotely resembles "retard." By now, the term is practically part of the lesson plan.

As is another educational necessity: CHOCOLATE. I make a big deal of rewarding students who magnify their efforts towards musicianship. I've found that rich, classy, dark, dark chocolate is one of the better tools. Mostly because any good teacher must take it upon himself to sample the reward before dishing it to a student. A guitard will be rewarded more immediately with attention from the opposite sex, applause in the battle of the bands, etc. A musician's slower progress merits fine chocolate from teacher.

One day I stopped in a local supermarket for the express purpose of purchasing chocolate to reward my future musicians. I needed something new, something classy. Something a talented guitard might covet just enough to learn a little musical terminology or theory.
A new display caught my eye, and to my astonishment a fine chocolate from San Francisco rose like a glorious chocolate sun before me.

I don't know what invisible forces knew of my neologism and brought about this serene harmonic convergence, and I don't care. Suffice it to say, my teaching rose to a different level when we all learned together the all important lesson:
Don't mess with me. The very universe itself is on my side.

dimanche, août 16, 2009

Sorry, but Socialism sucks. And 'Utopia' means 'no such place.' But I hope we can still be friends.

I may have a problem with you. And I need you to understand where I'm coming from, because I don't want it to come between us. See, a small part of your belief system might just be a joke to me. Worse, I might even consider it ridiculous, even evil, and dismiss it out of hand, because it makes so little sense to me. I admit it. However . . .

Perhaps my problem with communism/socialism/liberalism is that it can be, in fact, has been, thoroughly debunked in masterful, scholarly works of brilliant historical analysis like The Crooked Timber of Humanity by Isaiah Berlin. [editor's note: read the book, read the book, read the book. Even if you don't have a passion for lengthy footnotes and pages upon pages of analysis so deep that you have to google one out of every three names he drops, you might still come to understand how an entire book could be conceived and composed based on a single quote from Immanuel Kant--"Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made."]

Or maybe my problem with communism/socialism/liberalism is that after an admittedly personal, but nonetheless exhaustive search of the founding documents and related statements of the founders of the United States of America, I can find NOTHING, not ONE THING that supports the idea that one segment of the population can or should be forced to pay for another segment. In fact I find the exact opposite. They feared the idea that the government might ever have the power to do immoral things like tax income, or redistribute wealth. Intellectual slouches like Thomas Jefferson dismissed such ideas with books, with legislation, with essays, with public statements, and with little quips like "The government that has the power to give you everything you want also has the power to take away everything you have." [ed. note: it is particularly painful to contrast such words with the words of a citizen, who recently got some money from the government, looked a reporter in the eye and literally said: "Hey, it's free money! Thank God for Obama."]

Possibly my disdain finds its source in my experience in Canada, where, for two years, I saw the soul of a generation sucked out and drained of anything resembling vivacity, wherewithal, or even sass by the simple fact that when they turned eighteen they were grandfathered into the welfare system, from which they would derive their material existence as long as they lived, essentially getting paid to smoke, watch TV, and go to hockey games. [ed. note: the author considers Canada a great and beautiful country.]

Could it be I find it difficult to accept a belief system that even an old hack like G. Gordon Liddy could dismiss with an epithet: "A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man. A debt which he proposes to pay with someone else's money." How am I to accept a philosophy that even my beloved (and, in fact wonderful) communist/atheist brother admits to accepting on blind faith, being without evidence of success anywhere in history?

Or does it all add up to a thought I had the other day, (as I strove to find a way to appreciate the nobility of people with compassion in their heart, who want to help others, who reach out to humans being with a helping hand): No matter how angelic it is to want to help others, wanting to FORCE others to help is satanic.

I believe that. My completely rational study, personal experience, and analysis have led me to believe it.

Which is why, if you happen to believe otherwise, my responses to your arguments might feel a little like I'm telling you to go to hell. Which I can only hope, perhaps irrationally, that you'll understand.

vendredi, août 07, 2009

On the Other Hand . . .

How could I forget the magic of shows like Arrested Development, and The Office? How could I neglect to praise the miracle of sports in HD? How could I overlook the incisive wit of the Daily Show, or, even funnier, the Colbert Report? How unfair of me to conveniently ignore the way the first season of Hero's grabbed me! What a cad I am. I can only hope it will forgive me. I still don't have one in my home, but a fairer assessment may be in order.

Modern Television might be just like Morrissey in his ripe old age, as years of greatness and geometric expansion of influence drive toward more extreme poles of contradiction: When he is good, he is better than ever--when he is not so good, he's a bit of an embarrassment.

samedi, juillet 25, 2009

I can't watch TV.

Recent exchanges on Facebook with idiotic partisans over the confirmation hearings of Inevitable Justice Sonya, who, mark my words, will go down in history among the least intelligent of all confirmed members of our highest court (she misuses easy words with the frequency of W, if that tells you anything) has left me itching to spit acid on the commentators and pundits of both sides. But I vowed that July would be free of politicality, and I'm tired of breaking promises to myself. Hence, this will not be an elucidation of the leftist pundits who, having written about how horrible and unqualified she was in the past, have had to become apologists for her now. Neither will I be listing the words she misused and asking: If I hated that about a certain Caucasian Cowboy, why do I have to accept it in a "wise [read: racist] Latina?" [editor's note: one of the words was "province." Well, she actually said "providence" as in, "it is the providence of congress to deliberate etc. . ." She obviously meant to say province.] And when if comes down to it, it was the exchange that offended, much more than the Justice or the hearings. And in the end, it just isn't worth the effort to even discuss people who are too stupid to understand the importance of an opposition party to question presidential nominees.

So, instead I will be asking the age old question: What has happened to TV?

As a child, I remember spending hours watching it. Hours. I didn't even need cable. M*A*S*H was on twice a day where I grew up. The mornings were replete with the golden age Game Shows. And what with the delicious re-runs on the UHF station, from the blessed perfection of Andy Griffith, to I Dream of Jeannie, from Gidget to One Day at a Time and right up through Diff'rent Strokes, you could literally spend an entire day watching (I did, every single time I was sick enough to stay home from school), and be entertained every moment. Saturday morning was Loony Toones and Smurfs and Trolkins and the entire stable of Hanna Barbara legends who took you into ABC's Wide World of Sports. It was TV that didn't seem to care if you were the only one watching. And I swear I learned at least as much from I Love Lucy marathons and Gilligan's Island as the kids who weren't lucky enough to be sick.

The intervening years have seen me get away from Television. Just a little. I don't have one. I watch the shows I love on DVD or on line. And they are few and far between. Perhaps my absence made the Television angry. I don't know. But last week I had the opportunity to volunteer at a facility that cares for the Elderly. Spent the day there. One of the things they do is watch lots of TV. (I guess in the TV sense, getting old is like being young. At least the part when you were too sick to go to school). The odd thing is, beyond certain obsessions, (Oprah for some; 6 O'clock news for others; Animal Planet for a few) they don't really care what they watch. Actually, what they really crave is sleep, and the TV serves as a distraction for the people who might otherwise try to keep them awake with annoying sing-alongs or childish crafts.

So there I was, remote in hand, ready to re-live the halcyon days of yore, to reclaim the ability to waste time, so alien to people who have the weight of the world on their shoulders. First order of business was The View. I've said before that this show is one of the proofs that hell exists. We need not speak of it further. The channel just happened to fall on whatever satanic station happens to run it. We quickly ran up the dial--two hundred channels up--to Animal Planet. I was anxious to love it, because I have always been an animal documentary junkie. My parents mandated that Sunday viewing be educational, and I took the occasion to fall deeply in love with Jaques Cousteau, and the entire crew of the Calypso. I even love films like March of the Penguins and Winged Migration. Ask my son, who only consents to watch our Planet Earth DVD (AGAIN!) because it is his best hope of an hour's nap on a Sunday afternoon.

Suffice it to say that Animal Planet left me bitterly disappointed. Between the abject depression inspired by "Animal Cops," a show about people who abuse animals in large cities and the people who cite them, and the sensationalistic shock shows about animals gone awry, I was left pining for Nova, or the old National Geographic, or Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. I learned nothing from watching a deer jump through a plate glass window and tear up an apartment. Not the first time they showed it. Not the 50th time. Not even from the 25 times they showed it in grainy slow motion. I had to change the channel. [ed. note: Animal Planet later redeemed itself, ever so slightly, with an actual documentary about Wild Russia.]

I then had to navigate through a barrage of Judge shows. All of which seemed to be trying to one up the others in the all important "yelling at the participants and telling them how stupid they are" category. It seemed that to watch 3 minutes of one was to get the point of 3 hours of any of them. My soul sank deeper into the gulf of dark ennui that TV was digging in my brain.

All the news channels, ALL OF THEM, were instantly soul killing. Toggling between MSNBC and Fox is like flipping a rigged coin. Heads: you lose--RNC spit takes that aren't funny because that's actual spit and it lands on your face. Tails: Keith Olberman pulls his head out of the anus of DNC marching order headquarters and smears you with the intellectual offal that passes for commentary in the minds of people who think he's any different from Sean Hannity. And I know they don't always have 'round the clock posthumous lionization of Michael Jackson and Walter Cronkite, but even if I caught them on a bad week, let's not pretend that another viewing will find me nodding and saying: "wow, their shameless advertisements for Obama's socialization of the health care system have left me feeling informed." The situation was not improving. [Speaking of Cronkite, it was fascinating, which is to say, sickening, to watch how CBS stretched out their reportage, whilst the other networks truncated theirs. It was as if the former was desperately trying to say, "See how Katie lives up to his legacy?" and the latter were proclaiming "legacy? What legacy?" But perhaps it is fitting that "the most trusted man in America" is worth hours to the network that owned him, and 30 seconds to the networks who can only wish they did. Can't you just hear the board meetings? "Let's not be overly sentimental here people. How can we use this?" vs. "Let's not be overly sentimental here people, he was CBS. Let's just hope Brokaw kicks the bucket during sweeps."]

But I think I'll stop complaining there. Not just because prime time has a good deal more to offer. (LOST and a hot minority of highly entertaining, cutting edge shows save the day.) (Also, I am a closet sports junky.) (Did I mention Lost?) And not just to avoid the shame of revealing how certain shows like "extreme makeover, home edition" (which I caught on line once) make me cry as if the TV just gave birth to my firstborn child. I just don't want to pretend that TV has nothing to offer. As Homer Simpson said: TV gives so much, and asks so little.

Still, how can it be that when there were five channels, I had a more satisfying viewing experience than now, when there are 500?

It doesn't take a fuddy-duddy, or even a curmudgeon to point out that the modern age of television is not an embarrassment of riches. It's just an embarrassment.

mardi, juillet 14, 2009

Counter Culturalissimo

Permit me to reveal how deeply committed I am to bucking the establishment. Give me this moment to open a window, to give you a view of the interior of my house of rebellion. In short, let me tell you how hardcore I am.

Long before the tattoo was de rigeur for every single college kid and mid-life crisis in America, essentially the province of teenagers and cougars, I got one. Long before the very idea of the tattoo became the absolute mainstream, essentially making ALL of them, with the exception of Mike Tyson's, images of the Fonze jumping the shark, I had one. (Don't worry, in a few years, it will be a mess of blurred, indecipherable ink, you can tell people it used to say "Wino Forever.") It is still there, my tattoo, and it is so edgy that no amount wardrobe alteration (i.e. wearing my shirt unbuttoned and scratching a phantom pectoral itch) will shine the light of day upon it. Yes, I have a tattoo on the tender flank of my one remaining kidney.

Take that, ye grizzled Harley men! Ye kitschy odd-ball man-child hipsters! Ye self-finding socially conscious casual drinking college age post feminist granola girls!
(Face it, a tattoo so cutting edge that only a crooked doctor in a third world country even has the slightest chance of being awed by my bodacious audacity is the cutting edge. All others are swimming in my inky wake.)

And did I stop there? Absolutely not. Mere ink is not disfigurement enough for me. My anarchistic supremacy needed something that couldn't be faked with a sharpie. Yes, I needed a piercing. I needed a hole in a place where nature didn't put one, and I needed metal in that hole. Hence, long before your pants-sagging recreationally dependent bong banger was incrementally making his ear lobe holes big enough for nickels, I took it up a notch, and had the pierceologist at the local parlor put a 4 penny nail through my brain stem. (This is also why I forgot your birthday, whoever you are. As any counter cultural acolyte will testify: sometimes the price one pays for bad-assitude is slightly diminished cognitive function. So be it!) You can't see it, and I don't care if you can. I didn't do it for your approval. But you can bet your sorority sister silver tongue post that when I set off the metal detector at the courthouse I get right up in The Man's face and say, "What's the matter, you got a problem with my nail? No it isn't surgical. It's art. I did that ON PURPOSE, WHITEY."

Yeah. Take that, ye pierced eleven-year-old noses! Ye perforated eyebrows! Ye lint trapping belly button rings, now languishing in folds of fat!

Perhaps, now that my secrets are out, I can at last re-claim the title long held by usurpers.

samedi, juin 20, 2009


Every once in a while, we experience what, I believe, in the future, will be referred to as a "Miles" moment. You don't have to be familiar with LOST, specifically, the final episode of the most recent season, to get the point. Just picture a situation wherein the major players are all dedicated to a difficult, bizarre, or strident course of action, and are suddenly derailed by a pointed, incisive question by one member of the group, in this case the one named Miles. The moment made for a delicious few seconds of television. But it can happen in boring everyday life. A situation evolves, and suddenly someone you know asks a question that seems to throw a new light of clarity. It's been happening from time immemorial. Like the way my life hinged on the moment I dared to ask "Why couldn't a man where a woman's pants? They're hot aren't they?" But seriously.

Imagine: some activists approach a talented film maker named Doug. They ask for a donation to "fight global warming." He says, humbly, that he'll be glad to donate to their cause, if they can answer a question first. Smelling the money (activists have a special nose for that) they say "Lay it on us." Then comes the simple query: "What temperature is the earth SUPPOSED to be?" They thought about it, and then realized. They'd have to look elsewhere. For funds, if not answers.

Of course, it isn't always a happy light that comes on. I can never forget the night when, at a club where I had, with reckless abandon, danced the night away many times with my friends, I asked my sweaty self: "What is this place? What is dancing? What does this mean?" I realized I didn't get it. I couldn't dance the rest of the night. And I still don't get it. I've tried to dance since, but I can't work it like I did when I didn't know I didn't get it.
Likewise, I had never questioned the end of World War 2. The entire war is a sacred cow of sorts. And the math seemed to bear out the idea of killing a whole mess of people from one of the aggressor nations in a few seconds from hell, in order to prevent the hellishly protracted taking of even more lives on both sides. Then, in one fell swoop, the mad genius of asks me to ask myself "Why couldn't have Truman tested the Bomb on some deserted cay or atoll in the Pacific? Surely the level of undeniable destruction would have been enough to scare the Axis powers into submission. Did those thousands of people really need to die?" Immediately I say to myself, Of course not! That makes perfect sense! Then, Wait a minute. Then, as a whole mess of thoughts that had literally not been allowed come flooding in, I hear myself saying, Holy Crap.

The real classics are the ones that allow for intellectual evolution. Descartes' question about the tree falling in the forest gets dismissed rather too easily by most people, who answer "Who cares about a tree falling in the forest? So nobody hears it! Whatever." But I once asked some students of mine to really let themselves think about it for a week and then right a paragraph or two. One of the more brilliant girls who ever lived did just that, and answered Descartes in a way that had him smiling in his grave. "The tree never makes a sound whether you are there to 'hear' it or not," she said. "By living, it produces energy. By falling, it produces the same thing. If you happen to be present when it falls, you can interpret that energy as sound. But the tree only produces energy. You produce the interpretation."

People with those kind of answers might just continue to let themselves ask the hinge turning questions. Are you one of them? You don't have to be wearing girl pants to know.

jeudi, juin 11, 2009

Call to nonaction

I am not here, today, to pimp the achievements of others. But in the interests of being able to take a break from talking politics, I must direct you to a wonderful blog, that does a better job than I ever could of trashing partisans on both sides. A delightful blog. Slightly overwritten, but when a skewer is well manipulated, one mustn't quibble over verbosity. Please enjoy this insightful thrashing of just a few of the truly unpleasant people claiming to run our country, courtesy of Please also read some of his older and newer postings. I think you'll find something to get behind, even if you don't agree with him entirely. He even has the guts to go after sacred cow John Stewart. NICE. And if you don't like what you read on some level, then don't ever talk to me again about anything political ever.

So read him, then come back here for frivolity. After today. Today we must dismiss another round of sad individuals from the Arena of Ideas. (We did this before, but perhaps we were too kind.) We are, since the election, and perhaps more than ever, in danger of sullying the sacred arena with the mental droppings of people with Half-a-Brain syndrome. Hence, the following dismissals are hereby issued.

*If you think Letterman is still funny, then see you later. Take your tired, partisan, flabby sense of humor and go somewhere else to laugh at jokes about Sarah Palin's daughter being raped. You'd think bitter partisans would be thanking her for the way she helped John McCain torpedo the party you, in your enlightenment and zenitude, mock and hate and deride. Suddenly now its OK to laugh at sexual aggression against a young woman? We have a tent set up for you and your ilk outside in the parking lot, Andew Dice Clay will be your moderator.
(BTW--this is coming from a lifelong Letterman fanatic. I used to stay up late on school nights to watch him. I once wrote and recorded a tribute song called "staying up late with dave." That said, he's tired, old, and openly campaigning for his completely one sided view on a show that used to make me laugh. You should watch CRAIG FERGUSON and see how it is done.)

*If you think that Sean Hannity and Keith Olberman are not the same person, goodbye. Watch them both on a split screen and count how many times they attack attack attack. They are, if not the same person, opposite sides of the same coin. Both shills for the party they "unofficially" represent. I have almost never heard a substantive discussion from either one. But I have noticed that people suffering from Half-a-Brain almost always love one and hate the other. Therefore, all die-hard fans of either guy are to congregate behind the port-a-potties behind the smoking area at the west exit. As long as none of you mention either guy by name, you'll all think you're all talking about the same partisan hack, and you'll get along swimmingly.

*If you ever railed against the deficits piled up by the Bush administration, then you were right. There is no way to cast the national debt in a positive light. If, on the other hand, you have remained silent on the subject as Obama tripled the combined debt of all other presidents, then good riddance. In other words, (we'll put it simply, knowing to whom we're speaking) if you called Bush on his horrible, but comparatively small debt, good. If you give Obama a pass on his disgusting, unfathomable debt, then get out. You are bad for the country. You are bad for whatever school employs you to poison the minds of its students. You are bad for the community in which you live and the household that puts up with you. In fact, you are not simply to be escorted to the parking lot. You are to GO TO HELL. If you pass go, you can collect $200 of the worthless money Obama is printing by the truck load if it makes you feel any better.

*If you support, in ANY WAY, the idiot who shot the abortion doctor, or the recent shooter at the Holocaust Museum, you are excused to leave. Permanently. You are not permitted to remain in the parking lot. There is no opportunity for you to return. You are banned for life from the Arena of Ideas. But this is too obvious; and most of you left a long time ago, because almost no one in the arena ever listened to you. But just in case there are any of you left: GET OUT.
ADDENDUM: if you tried to make political hay out of the doctor's death, (i.e. if you tried to identify the murderer with the pro-life movement, like Olberman, or if took the occasion to say the doctor deserved what he got for taking thousands of 8 month old humans apart with surgical implements) you are likewise excused.

*If you have been following the Lindsay Lohan saga and ignoring the Korean Nuclear saga, then go to the lobby for a little shock therapy. (Don't be worried, they say it isn't as bad as a taser.) If you know more about the travails of ANY CELEBRITY than you do about the horrific oppression of women who try to leave North Korea, and the journalists who tried to document their plight, then report to the adjacent percussive therapy room. A couple slaps to the face might wake you up enough to re-enter the arena. Until the shocks or slaps have had the desired effect, please refrain from discussing legit issues, even in the lobby.

Perhaps, with this purging of the riff-raff, we can give a bit of intellectual stimulus to the mental economy. This being done, we return next week with something completely different.

dimanche, mai 17, 2009

Lost Party

We're all pretty well sucked into Lost. We talk about it. We get together to watch it. We make video parodies of it and post them on the Internet.

At the, ahem, explosive season finale party, we invited some charming people who hadn't seen the show before. Halfway through, one of them says: "at least it isn't a soap opera." It was a funny, smart observation that made me stop and think: "Wait a minute, this whole thing really is off the rails and melodramatic. Am I only forgiving it because their kool-aid was so excruciatingly delicious when I drank it in season 1?"

I've tried not to think about it since, but it has become undeniable. There are aspects of that show that are maudlin enough, and twists that are bizarre and inexplicable enough, to qualify it as a soap opera. On the surface of it, this can't be good. Just like the summer I baby sat my Aunt Terry's kids in the mid-80's, I am addicted to a soap opera. But is Lost simply the Young and the Restless with cool special effects, a super sexy cast, and and even more convoluted multi-year story line?

Even if it is a soap opera, it is a glorified, enhanced, power punching prime time version that no midday ham handed hack job ever approached.

Hence, to all detractors I can only say: You can't come in the middle. Watch the first and second season on DVD. They EARNED this soap. They crafted this opera. Watch it. Do yourself a favor. Once you smoke that crack, I can promise that you'll stand and say with the rest of us: I KNOW WHAT LIES IN THE SHADOW OF THE STATUE--ME.

mercredi, mai 13, 2009

K.I.S.S. me goodbye

When I die, I have but one request: Keep it simple.

I've never thought death was a big deal. It is, i realize, the only REAL existential crisis; but that doesn't mean it should be complicated or difficult. Like EVERY OTHER PERSON who ever lived, I'll be here one minute, gone the next. My affairs will be in order. I will have lived a full rich life, even if it happens tomorrow.

So I'm asking you, please, to keep the funeral arrangements simple.

A shovel is all you'll need. No maudlin fanfare. No mourners. No bogus recaps of "a life well lived" or well wishers pretending I had some great effect. Just a hole and a pile of person. Toss me in it and go.

Except of course, I've always loved the sea. Sadly, as with so many other aspects of my life, she didn't love me back. She always made me throw up all over her. Come to think of it, that might have more to do with her hatred of boats. At any rate, it was a complex relationship, and that's the only real reason I can think of that I was overcome with paralyzing fear every time I got near her. So perhaps, if only for poetic reasons, I'd like to be buried at sea. Simply, without pomp, of course, and without circumstance, but definitely at sea.

I don't know what that entails, permit wise. It might be complicated, which would go against the general tenor of my wishes. Perhaps you could just do a Weekend at Bernie's thing: sneak my lifeless corpse out on a whale watching boat and dump me unceremoniously overboard. I hope there are no legal ramifications for you.
Come to think of it, go ahead and get the permit. That sounds less complicated than an extended legal wrangle.


As long as you're having to go through the rigmarole of the permit, we might as well go ahead and get a casket. On land, a pine box would be more than enough. Too much even. But I'm afraid that might float. I think this one might have to be steel, or iron. That sucker will sink like a rock. I hope that isn't expensive. And you know what would be cool? A window. A round one, like on a ship, right over my face. That would be cool for some scientist someday in a submarine to discover this tank of a casket, with this withered corpse staring out of the window. Plus, on the off chance that I'm not actually dead, but paralyzed like that guy on the Twilight Zone, I'd at least get to watch some interesting stuff on the way down. And you know what? As long as I'm going to the bottom of the ocean, it might has well be the deepest part of the ocean. The Marianas Trench. That's it. Find that--somewhere off the coast of Monterey--and drop me out there, in my iron casket with a submarine grade window.

Speaking of submarines, it might be cool to have one follow me down, just in case I do wake up. Plus they could film it, and it could be part of an awesome reality show about people's final wishes. Call it "Death Wish," or "Finality Follies." The profits from that will certainly off-set any expenses you might incur carrying out my simple wishes for my very simple funeral.

vendredi, mai 01, 2009

I Hate You(r hypocrisy)

Ceteris Paribus.
This Latin phrase, meaning, "all things being equal," was to be a simple way of comparing two ideas, or situations, or individuals. I used to enjoy the act putting two divergent contingencies on equal footing, so as to compare them by their actual merits. The result was almost always a deeper appreciation of both sides of the story and the various adherents to either one.

But then you came along. You partisans. You ideologues.

The sad thing is, I know in advance exactly how you will react to what follows. I know, with absolute assurance, that you are not capable of analysing this situation. As soon as the idea that your Man might not be perfection incarnate, you abandon your right and your responsibility of rational thought. I've seen this too many times to try and deny it now. So, essentially, I might be writing this for myself; I don't think you'll get to the end.

That said, let's take baby steps. First, let us establish that I am no fan of the former president--and not just because I have never been nor will I ever be a fan of ANY politician. It is not just because it is intellectually reprehensible, morally infantile, and against the founding principles of our country to position one's self as an acolyte of any public official or personality. No, I was no fan of his because he was objectionable, domestically ineffectual, and was in a position to embarrass his country when he embarrassed himself. He spent too much of the people's money and used a crisis situation to overstep what the Constitution says a president can do. That's why.

With me so far?

Then let me admit that I also do not HATE the former president. Neither am I stupid enough to conjecture that he is stupid, or evil, or that he wanted to destroy America in a mad quest for power. Moreover, he had no effect whatsoever on me personally. In NO WAY, NOT EVER, did anything he did ruin my day, or effect my level of optimism. I'll admit that my sphincter did indeed tighten a little when he misspoke. But other than that, THIS IS AMERICA, I'd say to myself, and HE'S JUST THE PRESIDENT.

Hope I didn't lose you there.

Now let us utilize our imagination. I want you to imagine that the press, and, more importantly, the PEOPLE of this great nation treated all politicians equally. Picture that. Take a minute and try to wrap your head around both sides of what that contingency might entail. Now let me present you with a situation or two. Keep in mind that I am not going to present my opinion. Not once. I am only going to present some facts, and ask you to ask yourself some questions.

*What do you think might have been said, or thought, about Bush if he had refused to turn over ANY records, from his college transcripts to his birth certificate? Might there not have been a media circus? An outcry for disclosure? Conspiracy theories?

*What if, as governor (because he was not a senator) had secured a large grant for a hospital, which then proceeded to hire his wife for a well paid, (and by some accounts, bogus) position with almost no responsibilities--a position that ended promptly when he began his run for president? Might a reporter have asked him a question about that? What might you have thought? Would you have an opinion about people in power securing money and position for family members? Might you have gotten out your thesaurus and used the word "nepotism?"

*What if Bush had once been contracted to write a book about the Constitution (I know, I know, Bush is too dumb to have even written a birthday card, let alone a book. Ha ha. Done yet? This is hypothetical. Let us move on.) Imagine he had signed on to write said book, about the CONSTITUTION, and had instead written a book about his dad. Do you think that people would have let that go, no matter how good the book was? Can you admit that the fact would at least have been raised for scrutiny? We know it's illegal for a public official to sign a multi-million dollar book deal. What if Bush had smartly taken advantage of the brief period between the election and the inauguration (when he would have been technically unemployed), to sign a very lucrative deal? Might someone on MSNBC have mentioned it, at least in passing?

*Imagine that Bush had nominated lobbyists and tax cheats for his cabinet (after promising to eliminate the same). What might the media and commentators and columnists and Daily Show writers have said?

*Imagine that Bush had said in a press conference that his administration was working hard to "put an end to privacy," (as a certain current president said after shooting three Somali venture capitalists in the head, we know he meant "piracy"-was the teleprompter wrong?). Imagine the late night talk show jokes and scoffs of coffee house faux intellectuals. Speaking of teleprompters . . .

*Imagine, if you will, that Bush had a well known almost total dependence on a teleprompter, and took it everywhere, and had several embarrassing gaffs that occurred when said teleprompter done him wrong. (As in "And let me--wait. I already said that. Go ahead and move it up." An exact quote from the current president.) How many comedians would be ALL OVER THAT?

*Pretend for a second that Bush had made a beautiful campaign promise to post all legislation on-line before signing it, thereby giving the people a chance to scrutinize it and comment. Then imagine that he proceeded to sign several pieces of legislation with no apparent thought toward his promise. Is it possible that you might have been slightly embittered? (That is, if the press even bothered to mention it.)

*Imagine that a candidate, any any candidate, had spoken out against a foolish and mismanaged war. Then, as president, had suddenly had a change of heart and (silently) stuck to the previous guys plans almost to the letter? Would you change the face on your anti war bumper sticker? And what if he had railed against the way the previous regime had intruded upon the privacy and civil rights with, say, warrant less wire taps, but then, upon becoming president, decided (curiously) to extend (and perhaps EXPAND) said wire taps? Might you angrily shake your fist in protest against the oppression? Might you make a you tube video with myopic caricatures of the president and his jingoistic cronies?

*What if a candidate made an INSPIRING promise to scour the budget, to go over it with a fine toothed comb and eliminate waste of all kinds. Then imagine said candidate reiterating said promise as president. Then imagine his people spending $328,000 dollars on a photo op. Could Bush have possibly gotten away with that? And what if that photo op was of Air Force 1 and two fighter jets fly very low over the city that will never forget how similarly low flying planes killed thousands of people and traumatized millions. Imagine that the president's "people" had INEXPLICABLY demanded total secrecy about the photo op, thereby insuring that the city be traumatized. If that happened to be Bush, and not Obama, might you not have a passing thought about the bungling insensitivity of the people in the Whitehouse? Would you expect that Keith Olberman would tacitly accept a tersely worded "apology?" Really?

*How did you react when Bush sought the support of the international community to attain his international ends? I remember. It was ridicule. It was contempt. What might you have for a newer president who seeks out help with his militaristic ends on another front, and finds his request tossed unceremoniously in his face by every single potentate and political entity in the world? Where is your contempt for a president who seeks to enlist help, even with economic issues, and meets with almost no cooperation whatsoever?

*And what if Bush had spontaneously, creepily laughed out loud when he talked to 60 Minutes about the failing auto industry? What if Bush had insulted developmentally disabled people on Jay Leno? What if Bush had promised jobs in his first week, and 100 days later unemployment was at record highs? What if Bush had stated he didn't want to "micro manage" the failing auto industry, and then consistently did JUST THAT until they were bankrupt? AND WHAT IF BUSH HAD SENT THE NATIONAL DEBT TO RECORD LEVELS, NUMBERS UNHEARD OF IN RECORDED HISTORY? Might you not have a negative opinion about the inevitable inflation? Might you not worry (as Bush's detractors did so vehemently) that the president is bankrupting our children?

And what if Bush had been given a free pass on ALL OF THE ABOVE by his followers, party members, and the press? I'm going to go out on a limb and say that would bother you. Well, you may (or may not, sadly) have guessed that all of the above were all perpetrated by your superstar president Obama. They are the hallmarks of his first 100 days.

I know what you said about Bush every day for eight years. I accept the validity of your opinions, though my ears are still recovering from your shrill, panicky tones. But much as I welcome your relative silence on a sonic level, on a moral level I have to ask:

Where are you now?

mercredi, avril 15, 2009


So my good friend Keith Lowell Jensen, the Evangelical Atheist, brings up that despite Reagan's charm, or sense of humor or something, he considers the deceased president "The Freaking Antichrist." My first thought is of the equally deceased Phil Hartman's portrayal of Reagan during SNL's glory years. I can't think of Phil Hartman without feeling deeply saddened for at least 10 minutes, but I'm not maudlin enough to let it affect a conversation. In a second, I actually get to thinking about Reagan. Keith is smart enough (and funny enough) to be taken seriously, so I test the mettle of his statement, and prepare a response.
I'm about to say: "Aw c'mon, don't exaggerate. You can disagree with him all day--even hate him, as I know that floats the boat of your ilk--but ANTICHRIST? Don't you think that's a little strong? He won in a landslide twice. He couldn't have been THAT bad."

But then I realize: what could the word Antichrist mean to a proselytizing atheist? For a believing type, the word has some pretty serious implications. (I've had to put the beat down on a couple religious types who ascribed the title to Obama.) But to a devout, faithful unbeliever? It has to mean the opposite, right? I realized that by calling Reagan the Antichrist, Keith was singing the praises of his favorite president. So now I have to re-test the mettle of his statement. I have to completely change my response.

NOW I'm about to say: "Aw, c'mon, don't exaggerate. You can like him all day--even worship him, as I know that floats the boat of your ilk--but ANTICHRIST? Don't you think that's a little strong? He won in a landslide twice, but he couldn't have been THAT great."

But before I got it out, we had changed the subject. Something about the merits of Presidents insulting retarded people on late night low brow television, or something. I lost track. I was sad about Phil Hartman.

PS: I wasn't kidding about Keith being seriously funny. Everyone should go see his show (sure to feature more of his crazed, hyperbolic worship of Ronald Reagan) this weekend. Check him out at