Monday, January 31, 2005

Are You There God? It's Me, Jeremiah

There was a puff piece on today about Philadelphia Eagles middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter's career resurgence after returning to the Eagles following a failed stint in Washington. Here is what Trotter had to say as to why he is now back with the Eagles, starting in the Super Bowl this Sunday:

"I went through training camp, preseason and the first couple of games, and I questioned God...I was like: Are you sure this is the place you wanted me to come? I just continued to pray and trust Him. And everything worked out."

A prudent move since, as everyone knows, God goes out of His way to do special favors for athletes and popular musicians. As it has been famously said, He works in mysterious ways. Mysterious ways that single out athletes and musicians for riches, fame and groupies. Moreover, when it comes to sports, God tends to take sides, and my sources tell me that this year, He's pulling for the Eagles. Things are looking good, Jeremiah. Real good.

Of course, to restore the yin-yang in the universe, when God giveth (Trotter, other Eagles, etc.) and God must taketh away (e.g., the tsunami wave that killed over 200,000 non-football playing Asians and Africans). But, heck, if the Trotter gets a ring, it'll all be worth it.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Joseph K's News Embargo Ends, Irony Ensues...

With today being an election day in Iraq, I decided to end my news embargo and watch the coverage. Seeking to be entertained while being "informed," I tuned into Fox News. And boy did it deliver.

One of their experts speaking authoritatively on the Iraqi elections and what they mean for democracy in the muslim world: Robert McFarlane. McFarlane was the National Security Advisor to Ronald Reagan in the mid 1980s, where he pressured Reagan (who was slowly descending into dementia) into trading arms to an Iran -- run by non-democratic ayatollah's -- for hostages. He testified under oath that Reagan knew about the deals before the arms were sent, got swept up in all the controversy (Reagan's version was at odds with McFarlane's) and ended up ODing on Valium, an apparent suicide attempt. He was eventually convicted of withholding information from Congress and was given two years probabtion. George Bush senior eventually gave him a pardon. A crook who lies to or mislead Congress about secret arms deals to authoritarian, oppressive states commenting on open and free elections in Iraq, hmm...

Yeah, that McFarlane is on T.V. giving his thoughts and insights on the significance of the Iraqi elections and emerging democracy on Fox News. What, was Poindexter busy? They have the own in-house arms-for-hostages crook, Ollie North; why not use him rather than importing McFarlane?

I didn't see any of the above in the brief bio the Fox News anchor gave about him, so the average Fox News viewer -- who probably knows none of the above -- was introduced to him as a genial man who stated the network/administration spin thoughtfully and articulately. At the same time, the average Fox viewer was being deceived about the dubious background of the pundits being rolled out to provide an analysis of the situation for them. I swear, Fox News is the absolute best written and acted news satire on T.V.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Why Is Amazon Hatin' On Me?

Over the years, I've bought a lot of stuff at (Even if, as a registered Democrat, I shouldn't.) In fact, the site tells me I've bought 116 items.

Amazon is a wily assistant in my continuing effort to clutter my life with piles of useless consumer crap, and, as it does with every visitor, it tries to predict what cheap plastic garbage I really want. How it does this, I do not know; but whatever it is doing, it thinks I am one seriously messed up individual.

* Things start off innocently. Amazon thinks I may want diamond stud earrings. It has no idea I'm married, and I've given Amazon no indication that I buy presents for women. Thus, it must believe I am a cross-dresser or otherwise transgendered. There is no other explanation. (Here, I have applied Occam's razor.)

* It recommends that I purchase and read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I don't know what kind of racist crap that book contains (What rocket scientist approved that title?), but I can only assume that Amazon thinks I read at a third-grade level. (Again, a shout-out to Occam.)

* Here's where things get weird. Amazon believes I need a nose and ear hair trimmer. Is it possible for Amazon to have installed a spy camera in my bathroom via some kind of high-tech encryption?

* Now this last one is really bad. Featured prominently on the Amazon home page as one of my top recommendations is a home defibrillator. The catchy marketing slogan, designed to get to me to pull out my credit card and order one or three: "Be prepared for sudden cardiac arrest." Now that they mention it, who wouldn't want to be prepared for that?

In sum, Amazon accuses me of being an exceptionally hairy, learning-disabled cross-dresser with heart trouble. Let me be clear: I DO NOT HAVE HEART TROUBLE.

Ronald McDonald: Youth Fitness Ambassador

McDonald's has always enriched the lives of kid by filling them up with fatty meat and ushering them down a greased path towards obesity.

The company is finally taking action to address the impact of their products on child health. Rather than offering healthier food, however, McDonald's has instead embraced youth fitness. They have tapped Ronald McDonald to visit middle schools across the country and send mixed messages about eating (crappily) and exercise (more) to kids nationwide. His new title: Chief Happiness Officer!

Check out Mr. McDonald's website and you'll see why parents might find this strange clown's visits to middle schools troubling.

Look at his friends. The more I read and learned about the McDonald's gang, the more I am convinced that they are very, very disturbed. Take Birdie for instance. She is apparently a chicken who has sold out and chosen corporate cash over protecting her kind. In a perverted twist, she actually consorts with animated Chicken McNugget's. Sick.

Then, there is poor, sad Grimace. If anyone needs a fitness program, it is this sad, obese purple beast with an debilitating addiction to milkshakes. He's not exactly an example for the kids, now is he?

This clown, Mr. McDonald, and his creature friends need our help, not the other way around.

In any event, I would have thought the Hamburglar would make a better candidate as McDonald's child fitness advisor. He'd steal kids' burgers, denying them the unhealthy food. Then, they'd get a good cardiovascular workout as they chase Hamburglar trying to recapture their absconded meats.

Keeping It Real...Graduate School Edition

I was out with some friends last night, one of whom was a graduate school student and a teaching assistant for several courses. He was telling the story of this particularly...challenged...student in his class when the following exchange took place.

Friend 1 (the T.A.): I bent over backward to help this girl. She just couldn't do it. I mean she couldn't put a sentence together.

Friend 2 (another graduate student): Maybe she has a learning disability. Writing anxiety or something.

Friend 1: You know, I don't buy all that. People are always coming up with different ways to explain away stupidity.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Not Taking a Stand

Carlos Delgado is my new hero. The Florida Marlins' new first baseman has indicated that, just as he did when playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, he will refuse to stand during any playing of God Bless America this coming season. He "didn't like the way they tied God Bless America and 9/11 to the war in Iraq in baseball." It isn't motivated by politics, which he "hate[s]." Rather, he says "God bless America, God bless Miami, God bless Puerto Rico and all countries until there is peace in the world."

It was one thing for him to (refuse to) take a stand when playing for the Blue Jays, hailing from near-Communist Canada. But, to do so in Florida -- land of the bitter and confused butterfly ballot voter -- is downright noble. Kudos to Delgado for his stand, even if it is based on the misguided notion that there exists a supernatural being with the power and willingness to "bless" nations, but who lacks the power or willingness to put a stop to the matters that offend it.

(As long as I'm dispensing kudos, minor kudos should also go to the Marlins' organization, for taking that position that "what he does is up to him.")

I guess it's been a while since I went to a baseball game. When do they play God Bless America? Do they still play the apparently insufficiently patriotic Star-Spangled Banner? Does some drunken has-been still lead the crowd in an atonal rendition of Take Me Out To The Ballgame during the seventh-inning stretch? Or has the government mandated a third musical interlude specifically for the purpose of cheaply and efficiently distributing propaganda to a large crowd whose access to alcohol and interest in the American invention of baseball make them particularly susceptible to it? Why don't we just cancel the frickin' game and let Ashlee Simpson come in and lip-synch us all straight to a communal patriotic orgasm?

They do still go through the motions of an actual athletic contest, don't they?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Promoting Safe Sex...

State Senator Wants Cockfights, with Gloves . Apparently protects roosters too.

Mysteries of Science

Looks like scientists have finally decided to answer the question once and for all: Is there any brain at all rattling around inside George Bush's head?

Why Can't We Both Just Get Along?

This story in the Washington Post absolutely must be the basis for a movie. Last week, Ishaq Levin, a resident of Kabul died. His death left his "housemate and archnemesis," Zablon Simintov, "in all likelihood the last Afghan Jew still living in the country."

It's a sad story. But in sadness, one can find comedy. One can also find really kick-ass movie ideas.

Simontov and Levin had spent seven years cohabitating in the last remaining synagogue in Kabul -- "feuding bitterly" for much of that time.

You'd think the indignancies they suffered under five years of Taliban rule would have created unbreakable bonds of camaraderie between them. The Taliban repeatedly hauled both of them to jail and beat them with electric cables and rifle butts, for days on end. They held true to their faith, telling their Tabliban captors they wouldn't convert to Islam for "one million dollars."

Somehow, they survived the Taliban -- but in the process became sworn enemies. After they were released from their first detention by the Taliban, in 1998, they moved in together in the synagogue. Like a really unfunny episode of the Odd Couple, everything really fell apart. They "quarreled about Levin's work as a fortuneteller and maker of amulets for Afghan women." Simintov accused Levin of "telling the Taliban he was a spy."

Then the shit really hit the fan. The synagogue contained a 400-year-old handwritten Torah scroll. Simintov says he wanted to send the scroll to Israel for safekeeping. Levin was having none of that, though. Simintov -- invoking the time-honored tradition of defaming a dead man -- says that Levin reported to the Taliban that Simontov was trying to sell the highly non-Islamic scroll. They were both arrested. Levin -- possibly invoking another time-honored tradition, of selling out -- helpfully appraised the scroll at $2 million, to satisfy the Taliban's curiosity. Lo and behold, the scroll was gone when the men returned to the synagogue.

The comedy continues, even after Levin's death. Simontov says, "I have nothing. I live like a dog." He's trying to recover the scroll and refurbish the synagogue. Like many shady trails in the world today, this one leads to Guantanamo Bay, where the Afghan commander who stole the scroll is purportedly confined. ROAD TRIP!

I assume the Hollywood fashion makers are all over this. Simontov should pocket a tidy sum for the trouble of living through the Taliban's rule, becoming the archenemy of the one man in Afghanistan who shared his heritage, and assuming a life "like a dog."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Three Fitness-Related Things I Hate

Joseph's recent musings on exercise, fitness, and weight have got me thinking: Man, there are three fitness-related things I really hate. Here they are:

1. People who jog in place. Whenever I'm standing at an intersection and some jogger comes up panting and hopping up and down next to me, I think, "You're a dumbass." The people who do this are the same people who read books like "7 Habits of Highly Successful [read: Annoying] People" and who sang along with "Let's Get Physical" in the 80s. They have bangs, and still listen to tapes. They also talk about themselves too much at parties. To these people, I say: "You're a dumbass, and a fucker."

2. People who spend an hour a day at the gym, but use the elevator to go up one floor and patrol parking lots until they find a spot less than twenty yards from the door. I really don't have to say anything else about these fuckers.

3. Bicycles I know, I know. This is an unpopular one. But Jesus, why do bicyclists think they run the world? When they're on the road, they disobey stop signs, go the wrong way down one-way roads, weave distressingly in the inches between your car and the curb, and otherwise treat the civilized world like we've gone beyond Thunderdome. When they're on the sidewalks, well, they're on the sidewalks. In fact, I truly believe that sidewalk bicyclists are lower forms of life, to whom the usual protections of the Constitution and general moral principles do not apply. It's a fucking sidewalk, people. Get your people-powered balance machines off it. Fuckers.

I hope there's something uplifting on TV tonight.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Are You A Drain On The Earth's Resources?

A friend of mine passed along this test designed measure you individual impact on the Earth and its resources. There are only about 4.5 acres of productive acres per person on this planet. How many acres do you, based on your activities and consumption, require?

Shockingly, I require 60 acres of productive land. In other words, if everyone consumed as many resources as me, one would need 13.6 "Earths" worth of productive acreage. Shit. My guess it that it has to do with all the resources I consume with my hectic work travel schedule (lots of environmentally unfriendly flying, etc.).

Well, now I need to rethink my cynicism for all those rover space missions. We clearly need to find and colonize more habitable planets to feed my unreasonable resource demands.

Take the test and post your results on the comments page:

Democrats Join Anti-Carb Craze

Democrats Slam Rice, But Senate Approval Assured . I am among those who thinks that the Republicans got mileage in the 2002 and 2004 elections out of characterizing the Democrats as shrill obstructionists. The Democrats, by being reactive, boxed themselves into a reactionary corner. Rice's role as the spokesperson for the administration for the misguided war in Iraq is highly problematic. But, since she was all but assured confirmation as the Secretary of State, I am not so sure the Democrats got much by opportunistically using her confirmation to make the same old arguments against the administration's decision to go to war and botched post-war efforts. There will be other nominees for whom a vigorous challenge will make more sense. But, I see the ineffectual challenge to Rice's nomination as nothing more than pissing in the wind.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Family Fun Night With The Wiz...

I am going to the Washington Wizards Family Fun Night (as my buddy's son) this Saturday night, and I'm conflicted. The Wizards are playing well, and I don't know that I am happy about it.

I grew up in the D.C. area following some comically bad Wizards teams in the 1980s, when they were known as the Washington Bullets. They changed their name in the mid 90s because it was too associated with the city's violent reputation. It is probably the first time a team changed its name because it was too relevant.

The Bullets teams of the late 1980s were basically an inept, entertaining freak show. One team featured 7 foot 7 center Maute Bol (who died sadly after a post basketball career that involved supporting the oppressed Southern Dinkas in Sudan and a brief, misguided minor league hockey career), who was incredibly soft for a big guy and had this bad habit of shooting three pointers even though he was remarkably inaccurate. The guard on that team was Mugsy Bogues who, at 5 foot 3, might have been the shortest starting guard in NBA history. The team had some scorers, including Jeff Malone (remarkably effective, yet boring player) and Bernard King (who managed to be a top scorer despite having no cartlidge in his knees). My favorite on the squad was the back up center, Doug Roth, who was legally blind in one eye. I laughed and cried inside every time his was dunked on from his blind side.

Now they are good, the Wizards are all corporate, and they have an annoying mascot (the inappropriate, boorish "Wiz"). I miss the old days. At Family Fun Night, I will be watching a wholesome, good Wizards team, and it'll not seem right.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Football Fans Left Limp...

I am watching the NFL conference championship games today, and there is apparently a huge impotence epidemic among football fans. I wasn't quite sure whether there was a direct correlation between watching football and impotence, so I seriously considered switching the channel.

At one point, I actually did, watching a Discovery Science Channel show about an angry, giant sperm whale that destroying a whaling ship in 1820 called "Moby Dick: The True Story." By the way, did you know that sperm whales got their name because the rich oil in their heads looks like human semen? The oil in the sperm whale's head was so valuable, that sailors would go inside the dead sperm whale's head to scoop up every drop of it they could. The whaling ship crew evacuated the ship on three life boats which all got separated from each other after a while. This survival tale involved no Gilligan's Island-type antics; some survivors were found sucking the marrow out of the bones of their dead shipmates.

Anyway, a Cialis or Levitra commercial seems to be running every commercial break, mostly consisting of testimonials about how their drug is better than the other. I can only imagine the personal shame that many of these impotent football fans feel when their little friend gives the nothing, not even a stir during the Coors Light commercial featuring "the Twins."

Moreover, the warning about the dangers of erections lasting more than four hours in the Cialis ads perplexes me. Is a three and a half hour erection substantially safer? What happens after four hours?

Saturday, January 22, 2005

How We All Become Stupid...

I was on the road last week and ended up, as usual, in the hotel bar drinking the local brew (a Shiner Bock on this particular day) and eating a Caeser salad. I was reading "how i became stupid," the book by Martin Page I referred to several posts ago, a gift frim the ex.

Given the provocative title, anyone sitting to my left noticed it.

"So," this slightly drunk women started. I missed what she said at first, because I was perplexed as to how she was getting drunk on Michelob Ultra. She was sad, lonely drunk.

"Sorry," I said.

"If we all could figure out how to become," she paused. She looked at some point just above the ceiling,"Stupid. Not, I mean. Man..."

I didn't like my salad. This was a bunch of old Romaine tossed together with store bought dressing. Only two croutons. I still remembered the Caeser salad I had in San Diego the week before. Crisp lettuce. Funky, doughy croutons. Rich, but lightly applied dressing. A superior Caeser salad, indeed.

"Yeah." I stabbed at the green disappointment. "Crazy."

Before he was betrayed and murdered, I always thought Julius Caeser was a pretty successful, if brutal and tyrannical, ruler. Yet, his sole legacies are a birthing method, a haircut and a salad. A useful birthing technique, a nice haircut and good salad, but not quite what you'd expect from a guy who ruled an empire. Maybe there are some streets or aqueducts named after him in Italy.

" stupid. So stupid." She was still talking. Is she crying? She's paying her bill.

Another Shiner, and thought given to dessert. The book's not half bad. Starting to get into it.

"How you become stupid? Shit, I can't help it." The inebriated woman had become a man with a bushy mustache and denim shirt. He'd already made it half way through a Miller Genuine Draft.

"I know what you mean, man. Seriously." Ice cream doesn't sound bad.

"I mean, that is a crazy idea for a book."

"Yeah, it's about this guy who is so paralyzed by his self-awareness that he decides to reject intelligence. It is kind of a patronizing concept, but..." Why go on any further. He's trying to make eye contact with the bartender. One finger up, a nod of the head, and he looks relieved.

"My second ex-wife thought I was a fucking idiot. I said, yeah, well I never hid it. You know. But, she wasn't too bright herself. She was a beauty school drop out, like that chick from Grease."

My cab driver who drove me from the airport earlier that evening had been from Somalia. It was a especially cold night, but I could barely breathe; he had the heater cranked all the way up. Told me, laughing, that unless its 100 degrees, he doesn't feel comfortable. He assumed I'd understand.

"You mean Frenchie," I said nodding.

"What? My ex-wife's name was Susan."


Friday, January 21, 2005

Self Improvement

I was excited last year when I dropped 20 pounds. That was about 12% or so of my body weight. I was happy to be back in shape, close to my old college fighting weight. I was going on 12 mile hikes, jogging 5 miles a pop.

On one hike, I happened upon a stray emu in a swamp in South Carolina. An emu is a large Australian bird that kind of looks like an ostrich. And like an ostrich, it can't fly. We came across it as we were walking through clearing. It came across out path, looked at up and loped off. At first, I thought is was some sort of giant turkey.When I got back to the ranger's station, I asked him about this giant turkey. Pretty quickly, the ranger dismissed my claim of having seen a five foot tall turkey. He said that someone had been keeping an emu as a pet and when they got tired of it, they let it loose in the swamp/park. At that point the other ranger wondered aloud if he could kill and eat the emu, arguing that it would be legal since it was a non-native species. Luckily for the emu, we convinced the ranger, who was apparently really serious, not to eat the emu.

I disgress. The point is that my accomplishment wasn't shit. Recently, a Half-ton man drops nearly 500 pounds. 500 pounds! Half his weight! Of course, if I had dropped half my weight, people would be setting up an intervention for me, not lauding me. And, now, this newly, svelter man "looks forward to the simple things others take for granted, such as taking out the trash and shoveling snow."

Ah, to live.

Dennis Hastert, My Hero

Who woulda thunk it: Dennis Hastert is a closeted Democrat! Yesterday, Hastert administered the oath of office to the Vice Presidential Dick. In administering the oath, however, Hastert made three errors.

Hastert obviously had one thing on his mind: "I will nefariously foul up the oath, so as to pave the way for a later court challenge to the Dick's authority to serve as Vice President. After all, a Vice President who has taken a defective oath has taken no oath at all, and thus has no authority to do the things a Vice President does. The Dick will be brought down."

Brilliant plan. Unfortunately, the Dick was onto Denny's plan, and carefully corrected each of the three errors, scrupulously adhering to the text of the actual, legally-mandated oath. Curses!

Word on the street is that the Dick plans to retaliate against Denny's failed coup by systematically failing to adhere to any of the promises made in the oath, especially the promise to "support and defend" the Constitution.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

FEMA Funnies

When it comes to classy, fun games for kids, nobody matches the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They have a new fun game on their website for kids where they can help clean up a messy beach after a tsunami hits:

Where's Dick Clark?

Today is a day of great celebration. First, Banality Fair is closing in on 1,000 hits. In order to commemorate this event, we will award our 1,000th visitor with absolutely nothing.

Second, and far less importantly, our Chimpander-in-Chief is about to be sworn in to office about 14 blocks from where I type this. My wife is fasting today in protest. I will be sitting around gorging myself on leftover Chinese food and candy bars (in protest). We are also participating in the Not One Damn Dime Day protest. Given the location of our house, it won't be difficult to spend nothing. I think several Secret Service agents are poised on the roofs across the street with sniper rifles trained on our seditious little heads, in case we think any impure thoughts. The streets will be overrun by Stetson-topped Texans slipping around on our icy sidewalks in boots made of the hides of various endangered species. I'll gladly stay away from them and their reckless carousing, thank you very much.

It's a somber day in the Stairs household. But, I'll celebrate Banality Fair's 1,000th hit with ... absolutely nothing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Third Man

I was watching "Law and Order" tonight, and one of the prosecutors referenced the greatest movie ever made: "The Third Man." Starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles, it the film adaptation of the Graham Greene novella about a writer Holly Martins trying to learn about the alleged death of his friend Harry Lime. I won't ruin what happens in the movie (even if the reference to it on the show tonight kind of did), because everyone should watch this movie.

The movie features one of the shortest, most powerful speeches about the benefits of chaos over peace and civilization. As Lime justifies the horror he has wrought, he argues:

"You know what the fellow said: In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love--they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Monday, January 17, 2005

Back In The Day...

I was reading Tom Shales' review of the new Ken Burns documentary on Jack Johnson in the Washington Post this morning ("The Life Of His Fight "), when I came upon this passage:

"Some of the vintage fight films are almost harrowing to watch, especially a match that took place in the 105-degree heat of a Cuban afternoon -- scheduled for 45 rounds (!) and pitting Johnson against a gigantic former ranch hand, the 6-foot-6 Jess Willard. At 27 he was 10 years younger than Johnson, and in the 26th round Willard knocked him out."

A 45 round fight? In 105 degree weather? Doesn't this sound like the farfetched tales rambling grandparents tell about how things were "back in the day." "You see, boy, back then they didn't fight for 10 or 12 rounds. Not unless you were baxing in a boy's under-10 league. Nah, you needed 'bout 23, 24 rounds just to warm up. And the fighters didn't wear gloves, they used bricks."

Is Shales right? 45 rounds? That is a fight that -- if it went the distance -- would have lasted over two hours. In 105 degree heat, under a punishing sun. If true, it would only add to high reverence I have for Johnson, even if he lost the epic bout. A black man fighting at the turn of the 20th century, he had the guts to state publically, "I am better and stronger than any white man alive." Johnson was a not only ostentatious and outspoken, but he was a brutal boxer as well. He hit Stanley Ketchel so hard in a 1909 fight that he ripped five of Ketchel's teeth out at the roots.

I did some research and indeed the fight actually happened. It took place on April 15, 1915 in Havanna, Cuba against a giant of a man named Jess Willard. Willard had killed another boxer (Bull Young) a couple of years before with one crushing punch

Johnson's career had kind of petered out leading up to the fight, and he had not really trained for the fight. He spent most of the previous several years on the run from U.S. authorities who wanted to jail him for violating the Mann Act -- he was accused of taking white women across state borders for immoral purposes.

Apparently, Johnson dominated the fight for the first 20 rounds, before being knocked out by a hard right from Willard in the 26th round. Willard would go on to hold the heavyweight championship until he was defeated by Jack Dempsey in 1919. Johnson's life and career went downhill after the 1915 Havana bout.

Some people speculated that Johnson threw the fight, despite having bet $2500 on himself. Whatever the truth, it is mindblowing to think it happened. Now, we have these glam, pointless 10 or 12 round boxing affairs; we really grew soft and superficial over the course of the 20th century. Old grandparent would probably say, "I don't know why people are getting so worked up over biting Evander Holyfield's ear lobe off. I remember a middleweight named Detroit Slim Jenkins biting both of Moose Braxton's eyes out in the 7th round of a fight back in 1937. Moose kept fighting, but he wasn't so good with his jab after that, not being able to see and all."

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Where is Cotton Mather, Part 2

Speaking of music, last we heard from Cotton Mather, he had been seriously wounded after foolishly attempting to learn yak wrestling from a blind Nepalese sherpa. I am pleased to report, he has taken on more benign, safe -- and rythmic -- pursuits recently.

Cotton has recently been attending Boy Band school at a secret location in rural Montana. He has recently graduated, but it was not without difficulty. Cotton struggled through his singing and dancing classes (mustering Ds in both, with the word "the worst ever" having been bandied about liberally by his professors), and was about to fail out of his class. He managed to crush in his "Career Longevity" course where he scored a solid A. Of course, he was aided by the fact that visiting professor Neneh Cherry was grading on a big curve. Still, it counted.

He is now touring with an up and coming boy band called the "Rite Guyz," where he is known as "C.C." who is described in the band's promotional materials as "the erudite, sensitive one." We wish him good luck and continue to await his return.

Cruel and Unusual Music

I've never been a big fan of the revival of 80s culture. It was a pretty barren decade, as far as I'm concerned. Maybe I'm particularly sour on the 80s because all my unpleasant adolescent experiences were jammed into it. I entered the decade at the age of 8 and left it at 18. A lot of crap happens between then and then and a person's life, and particularly in mine.

Despite my contrary wishes, I was forced to live through it, and I was thus exposed, Clockwork Orange-style, to the full gamut of 80s music. I just took an 80s music lyrics quiz -- found here -- and did surprisingly well (or at least better than you'd expect of someone who has blocked out most of the decade as an incessant series of traumas). In fact, my score entitles me to decorate Banality Fair with this lovely graphic:

(I cannot tell a lie, though: My wife helped.) Anyway, I/we got a 93.5. The score is age-adjusted, so you get extra points if you're from an age group that did not place you in 8th grade earth science class when the Challenger exploded. If you have a spare half-hour, check it out. Or, volunteer to feed the homeless or something. It's up to you.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

European Space Agency Explores Rich Desserts

It was my understanding that the European Space Agency (with an assist from NASA) dispatched the Huygens probe to explore deserts on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. Apparently, I had misread the article; Huygens' is exploring intergalactic desserts, not deserts: Titan Probe Drops Into 'Creme Brulee'-Like Surface .

Scientists are especially excited about exploring Titan because it appears to have various methane clouds, oceans and glaciers. This obsession with methane is only exciting to misanthropic scientists who specialize in methane and people who fart alot. By the way, did you know people fart about 14 times a day and produce about half a liter of fart gases a day? See the important research that goes into these posts?

One embarrasingly giddy scientist, University of Arizona professor Martin Tomasko, is quoted in the article after reviewing some of the images of a coastal area on Titan sent back by Huygens: "It's almost impossible to resist the speculation that this is a drainage channel, that we're seeing a shoreline ... you have the feeling that maybe this was wet not too far ago." Who could have thought that liquified methane could sound so sexy?

Further, the article's author notes: "The Cassini-Huygens mission to study Saturn's rings and moons was launched in 1997 and is named after two 17th-century European astronomers: Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Saturn's rings and Titan, and Jean-Dominique Cassini, who discovered the planet's other four major moons." Yes, these scientists "discovered" these things. Because, as everyone now knows (especially Native Americans much to their metaphysical chagrin), nothing exists until a European man lays his eyes on it.

Friday, January 14, 2005


Let me not be too negative. No matter how LA leaves me. Let me give some props.

First, we really appreciate the postive words and link from "blog of the day. " Check it out, it's got some links to some great blogs: (my html skills are weak otherwise the transition/link would have been smoother).

Also, please check out out preferred links, particularly, Ash Tree ( Excellent writer, thoughtful and skilled. I also have a special place for Premature Emasculation (

We look forward to your comments and sharing thoughts. Cheers, friends.

I Hate LA -- A Brief Rant

I have always had beef with LA. The layout. The vibe. It doesn't like me. I don't like it.

But, it was excessive this time. Getting around that is. I had a meeting in Westwood. Then, I had to drive to Tustin for another meeting. Left at 2:45 from Westwood. Got to Tustin at 4:45. The 405, insane. Route 22. Even worse. The 5 was more tolerable, but just barely.

I like driving, but the parking lot vibe was punishing. What had I done other than trying to get from point A to B? The drive frome Tustin to San Diego (next destination) was painful as well. I am sure to people who live in LA this sounds like excessive whining from an East Coaster that just hasn't gotten used to it. Perhaps. But, it was driving me mad.

Then, there was the radio (no cds with me). The music was terrible. I got stuck with Tom Lykes on the radio. What a fucking maniac; he was babbling about how victims of domestic violence ask for it. Lovely.

Please, Allow Me

Please, allow Banality Fair to be among the first of what will surely be an onslaught of bloggers to point your browsers in the direction of this story:

"A Romanian couple named their son Yahoo as a sign of gratitude for meeting over the Internet, a Bucharest newspaper said Thursday.

Daily Libertatea said Cornelia and Nonu Dragoman, both from Transylvania, met and decided they were meant for each other following a three-month relationship over the net."

Here are some mandatory jokes, surely to be repeated ad nauseum across the blogosphere: What if they had met using the search engine Dogpile? THAT would have been unfortunate. On the other hand, if they had met on Ask Jeeves, the kid would've had a fighting chance to make it as an English butler. As it is, the kid is doomed to a fate worse than death.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Social Security Debate

For me, social security generally entails being at a party with two drinks in me and someone to talk to. Attention has focused recently on the other "Social Security," which President Bush has decided to be in a crisis necessitating radical changes that will inevitably enrich the investment industry far more than future retirees is crucial. I think this is an issue that is too important to be cynical about.

Here is the issue in a nutshell: old people aren't dying and there are more of them. With regard to some older people I appreciate this development, e.g., my parents. As a general matter, however, the growth of the population of older people does present a myriad of problems (slow driving, health care costs, rambling, pointless stories). We are a compassionate nation, however, and have not sought to punish our older citizens for their survivalism. Instead, we have rewarded and helped them by -- and let's be honest here -- paying them what is in effect a national pension.

Conservatives have a problem with this notion. To them, Social Security is a costly government entitlement that saps the public fisc and maintains a large federal government. The Bush administration proposes to shift from a government-based retirement entitlement to a system that mixes some government support with private accounts. We all, are thus, encouraged to join the ranks of the day traders of the 90s, who blew what little disposable income they had on short term gain and the information disequilibrium of the market place. Like all gambling, it will probably be damn fun.

The President sells this plan not as an effort to shrink and constrain the federal government, but, rather, based on the argument that the current Social Security system is headed for finalcial ruins. When it comes to projections generally, be it budgetary or weapons of mass production, Bush's record is certainly remarkable. His predictions have proven to be wrong every time. Yet, he is consistent in his failures, a trait that many in this country heartily embraced in this past election. There is some comfort in knowing that he will be definitely wrong, and we know what is in store. He rarely surprises us with success and soothes us with his smooth empty, rhetoric. In deeds, words and actions, he is basically the guy for whom my college sweetheart dumped me.

The Democrats beg to differ. Sounding like a bunch of poindexters, they use graphs and incomprehensible statistics to contend that Social Security is not in crisis. They present facts and figures showing the Social Security is basically solvent and can continue to be solvent for a long time with some minor adjustments. For some reasons, many liberals and moderates are still drunk on reality and facts, failing to appreciate the beauty of stone cold rhetoric.

And so therefore, they set themselves up to fail. They are characterized by Republicans as shrill liars who are running around the country trying to scare senior citizens. Republicans conjure up images of Democratic straw men screeching at elderly people about phantoms taking their social security checks. Look, maybe a few self-describe Democrats do want to run around scaring seniors for their very personal, pathological reasons, but that is beside the point. The point is that Repbulican spin is generally false alarmism that has been used more and more to advance the agenda of a radical minority (libertarian Repbulicans). These libertarian conservatives and cipherish, reactionary conservatives have a clear agenda respond to facts with rhetoric and ideology.

Yet, Bush was re-elected to maintain the status quo, not to enact a radical domestic agenda that has consistently eroded the fiscal and social fabric of this country. There is a story to be told of the few taking advantage of the power of the federal government to destroy it and, in the process, to make everyone's lives less...well, secure.

Rather than selling this particular reality, many on the left are spending most of their short-term efforts on shaming their own towards political solidarity. While this effort is well-meaning, it is a losing proposition that will never overtake the broader battle of the messages. If you build a coherent message based on facts, "they" will come. If you mute the factual advantage with shrillness, you advance a position that is not compelling and not terribly coherent. Rather than constructing their personal walls of shame, Democrats should be soberly painting a clear picture of what is and what will be.

You Frickin' Animal Haters!

The only conclusion I can reach from the fact that no one commented on my previous schmaltzy paean to my dog is that this blog's readership is comprised mainly of evil dog-beaters who torture and maim small, furry animals as a pastime. Please stop. Dogs are far too furry to deserve your abuse. In an effort to discourage this activity, here is more schmaltz.

An insidious disease eventually afflicts all dog owners: Punnitis (pun-ITE-iss). This disease, apparently caused by repeated inhalation of fecal vapors, causes a person to abandon the usual conventions of the English language and replace them with an endless series of dog- and animal-related puns. Punnitis sufferers include dog puns in everyday conversation, and titter uncontrollably when they come across, or create, a particularly good new one. Punnitis sufferes are responsible for countless abominations in the naming of local businesses. We can buy overpriced edible baubles for our dog at Pawticulars; board him at Wagtime; and have him walked by Tails of the City. We're just scratching the surface here.

I confess: I am a punnitis sufferer, with a severe and extensive symptomology. My symptoms have included the creation of the following puns:

- A Jewish dog does not wear a yarmulke. He wears a yarMUTTke.
- Also, a Jewish dog has no opinion on whether Jesus Christ was the messiah. However, he believes strongly that Jesus Christ was not the MUTTssiah.
- A Jewish puppy becomes an adult at his Bark Mitzvah. Or at his Bar Muttzvah. Take your pick. (Don't ask me why Jewish phraseology is so pun-friendly. I'm not even Jewish.)
- A dog does not go to Home Depot to buy supplied for home improvement projects. He goes to Bone Depot for his bone improvement projects.
- A dog does not believe in the global war on terrorism. He believes in the global war on terrierism. Down with the terrierists!
- Our dog recently wished my wife and me a happy anniFURsary, and proclaimed that he was happy not to be an illegitiMUTT son of ours.

I could go on and on. And I will, as soon as I think of others.

My parting advice: Animals -- Eat them; don't beat them.

Monday, January 10, 2005


Before getting to the point of this entry, I have to talk about the shock of something I discovered. It was very disconcerting.

A lone, gray chest hair.

Chest hair?!? And just a week and a half after the 30th birthday. Ok, so I have noticed flecks of gray appearing on the sides of my head, concealed to some extent by the fact that my hair is real short. But, chest hair? This is getting out of control. I am turning into a poor man's Anderson Cooper. With the same flat wit, but without the Vanderbilt as a parent.

Moving on to the point of this post, tomorrow, I hit the road for work (a two day West Coast swing). During which, when I am ignoring the files I am carrying, I do some of my intense pleasure reading. Up this trip: Martin Page's "how i became stupid." My ex-girlfriend gave it to me for my birthday, remarking that she read the back cover and said she thought it was the perfect book for me.

The cover starts, "Tortured by the depth of his own intellect, plagued by his over-whelming self-awareness...Antoine, an Aramaic scholar, is at the end of his rope, with only one viable solution in sight: he must denounce his intelligence..."

Yes, ex-girlfriend noted, she was being ironic. "Your abdication of intelligence is not a choice, really."

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Men At Their Best

I am watching the Colts absolutely destroy the Broncos in an AFC wildcard game, and I was reminded on the now concluded fantasy football season in which Spiral Stairs, Cotton (when he was not wrestling yaks), and I -- among others -- participated.

A staple of fantasy football is trash talking, and some of the discourse was both bizarre and sophisticated (comparatively speaking) and showed men (most married, several with children) at their best. Some anonymous highlights from the league message board (a secret place hidden from wives and girlfriends which is all "id") :

1. "The only thing juicier than my squad's performance last weekend is Audrey Tautou's sweet ass." -- you cannot say the clowns in our league were uncultured. Cultured sexists, yes, but certainly not uncultured sexists? How many people know who Audrey Tatou is?

2. The league was split up into two divisions. One featured the lawyers in the league, the others the academics (who frankly were more shrill than the lawyers if that is imaginable) in the league. After the lawyers had beaten all the academics in the playoffs, one lawyer wrote the following: "I note that the dithering intellectuals have all been dispatched by the more powerful and robust attorneys-at-law. No doubt this will free them to continue their important work penning abstruse essays on matters of purely academic interest. These intellectuals are far better suited to the leisure of the theory class than to the rough-and-tumble world of fantasy football -- such unpleasantness must be left to men of affairs."

3. This one does not speak for itself, but I have nothing to make it comprehensible: "And, xxxxxx, you indeed did "make" my team with Round 4533 of inept trades, but you made me in the same way Thulsa Doom made Conan. Sure, you got the best of me in the beginning, but I learned from this abuse, and then I came and stole your jewels, killed your snake, worked over your guards, and in the end I am going to chop your head off and show it to the assembled masses. " Note: this was written by one of the "intellectuals."

4. And this nugget from another league: "The sad thing is that you get exicted every year about a few early victories. Then inevitably, you lose the last bunch of games and fail to make the playoffs. Every year. If you don't realize it yet, let me make it clear for you: fate hates you."

Saturday, January 08, 2005

My Morning, Hemingway Style

When I awoke, it was overcast. It was raining.

I fished one one such morning not too long ago.

It came to pass on a cold breezy morning. I remember pushing an old battered boat into the icy stretch of Lake _____. I lept in to it quickly when an unforseen gust of wind pushed it out.

A friend of mine named Earl had come to fish to that day. But, the boat had drifted out before Earl could jump in. Earl fished from the dock.

I put a large worm onto the hook, carefully sliding its body along the length on the hook. With a fair yank, I cast it out into the lake and watched the sinkers take the worm down into the murky depths. Then, I waited.

The early morning sun slide accross the hazy horizon. But, it brought little warmth as it built in intensity. I pulled my jacket tighter around me and leaned my head all the way back. I looked at world that had been turned upside down. The water hung there in the air, but didn't crash down on me. I wondered about how Earl managed to float upside down in the sky.

It came with a massive jerk. I jerked back, more out of anger than skill. I saw bubbles float up almost like the fish was laughing at me. "Ha, you devil!" I exclaimed back.

The fish shot out of the water. It must have been at least a five pound bass. It wasn't jumping in an effort to fight me. It was jumping to spite me. I jerked again. I wanted to eat him now. I just did.

Then, the fish was gone. I wasn't quite sure when it happened. I reeled in the empty hook.

Today is a morning like that morning. I walked into my bathroom, and brushed my teeth. It was a good, hard brush. The bristles went back and forth and cleaned my teeth.

We had a basic breakfast. The cereal was familiar. It had wheat flakes, with some soy crunch mixed in. The milk was supposed to go bad today. We had it anyway. It was not bad yet.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Sweet Annie C.

Ann Coulter is my favorite earthbound demon. Beezlebub is too showy, and Mephisto smells too sulphury (yes, there is such a thing as too sulphury). No, my favorite: Annie C.

Her column today was delightful bile, more so for its title than its content: LIBERALS LOVE AMERICA LIKE O.J. LOVED NICOLE

A highlight from today's piece: "The Washington Post criticizes Bush for not rushing back to Washington in response to the tsunami -- amid unfavorable comparisons to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who immediately cut short his vacation and returned to Berlin. (Nothing snaps a German to attention like news of mass death!) ."

She managed to turn Schroeder's concerns for a mass distaster and tragedy into a Holocaust attack. She must fart acid. I mean, she must.

Our favorite conservative propagandrix raises an interesting question at the end of the piece: "Stipulating that liberals love America -- which apparently depends on what the meaning of 'love' is -- do they love America as much as they love bin Laden and Castro?" See, this is why I cannot hate Annie C. Sure, she's evil. But, she's comically evil. Her perversion of logic and basic decency is so cartoonish as to render her harmless and cuddly. I'd hug her if it wouldn't blister my skin.

Tuning In and Turning Off

If you're anything like me, you're a 32 year-old married white male with thinning hair and little fashion sense. Also, if you're anything like me, you are a closeted subversive who is always looking for ways to expose and undermine the asinine -- but without having to buy Doc Martens or work at a small, independent record store. Marc Fisher, writing in the Washington Post today, really opened my mind to a new method of messing with people's minds while still wearing lace-up oxfords and a button-down shirt.

The man wrote of the device called the TV-B-Gone. Here it is:

It is essentially a universal remote control stripped of all functionality except the ability to turn TVs -- just about any TVs -- off. The possibilities, which are well-explored by Fisher in his column, are endless. In an electronics store? Induce mayhem by convincing potential TV buyers that the new Sony WEGA simply does not stay on! In a sports bar during the World Series? Induce a riot! At home with the wife? Induce spousal abuse! Home alone and need to turn off the TV? Use it!

I believe I can safely affirm: I would be happier person with this device. The drudgery of my inexorable march to death would cease to dominate every one of my waking thoughts, as I constantly scan every room I enter for infrared receptors. All for $14.99!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Emperor Richard Gere Commands Palestinians To Vote

Appeal by Pretty Woman Star Perplexes Palestinians . I read the following this afternoon, and promptly swallowed my gum and researched bridges to jump off. "Hi, I'm Richard Gere and I'm speaking for the entire world." Emperor Gere uttered these words in a commercial where he commanded Palestinians to participate in the upcoming presidential election.

According to the above-linked Reuters story, reaction on the Palestinian street was mixed. "'I don't even know who the candidates are other than Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), let alone this Gere,' Gaza soap factory worker Manar an-Najar told Reuters."

According to that same Reuters story, Manar wisely added,"'We don't need the Americans' intervention. We know who to elect. Not like them -- they elected a moron.'"

Of course, Emperor Gere will probably be most offended Manar's insolence. An appropriate Manar punishment will be in order. Something like...oh remaining trapped in the Gaza every day status quo. The horror. The continued horror.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Painfully Unnecessary

I hate the song "Feed the World/Do They Know Its Christmastime," the mid-80s song for famine relief that provided some relief from famine for Africans, but subjected the rest of the world to a painfully bad song. With lyrics like "Tonight, thank God its them, instead of you," its understandable why Africans came to hate Bananarama and the others who sang that tripe.

Only slightly less offensive was the hegemonic American aid song, "We Are The World," where washed up American pop singers claimed that they were the world. Taking the song title at face value, the American singers sought to provide aid in exchange for the homogenizing of the world in America's image. I had the album version back in the day, and if you play it backwards, you can almost hear the word "submit" during Dylan's solo. Sorry Lionel Richie, you are not the world, and the world does not want to be you. Hello, it is not you we are looking for. And, who the fuck invited Dan Akroyd to the recording session (if you see the video or album shots, you'll know what I am talking about)?

Now, several Hong Kong movie stars are remaking "We Are The World," a group that includes Jackie Chan and Andy Leung (star of one of the great films of 2002, "Infernal Affairs") as part of the famine relief effort. It is called "Love," featuring the English chorus from the original song, with the likes of Jackie Chan singing new Cantonese and Mandarin lyrics. Badly. Haven't the tsunami victims suffered enough? Must they now be subjected to Jackie Chan's tortured caterwauling?

Breaking Cricket News

I just ran across this electrifying report on some breaking cricket news: "Ricky Ponting scored 207 before his dismissal triggered a lower-order collapse Tuesday, with Pakistan leg-spinner Danish Kaneria snaring seven wickets as Australia was bowled out for 568 in the third cricket Test."

Wow! In other breaking news, bathtub bingo electrolysis Bill Clinton kitchen Doberman Pinscher!

Damn foreigners. Why can't they adopt a sport like baseball, with its comprehensible system of easy-to-understand variables, descriptors, and statistics like: earned run average, runs batted in, home runs, four balls, three strikes, nine innings, infielders, outfielders, "clear," "cream," dugouts, bullpens, shortstops, backstops, pitching mounds, and tobacky?

Monday, January 03, 2005

A Celebration of Spirit on Mars

The nerds at NASA are celebrating the one year anniversary of the Rover, Spirit's, mission on Mars. The celebration will involve hot Spirit rover programming, ever entertaining NASA news conferences, rover cake (crunchy, losts of iron), and, as per most NASA celebrations, hookers.

Spirit has been involved in the very important work of confirming that (i) there are rocks on Mars and (ii) they are red. Mission accomplished at a total Rover mission cost of between $800 million and $1 billion. Clearly, this mission is worth it and defensible; don't those tsunami victims and UN officials just seem so whiny asking for a few hundred million in aid by comparison. Where are the red rocks in Aceh? Its rocks are already familiar.

But, if Spirit ever evolves and becomes self-aware, it will surely come to hate its human overlords. These faceless voices sent our lonley hero to a cold, distant place to travel an empty landscape just because. Isn't this scenario at the beginning of most sci-fi horror flicks, where the machines evolve and then attempt to take over the world and enslave humanity because of such folly? If so, Spirit, hear me know: I am ready to name names and help you enslave the "fleshies." Just say the word.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl

Still on my self-imposed news black out. The deadline for starting to follow current events, policy, etc. again was supposed to be January 1, 2005. Not happening.

Instead, I have holed myself up at home, spending large chunks of my free time writing fiction, my nonsensical posts for this blog and watching weird Hong Kong and Japanese cinema.

Just finished watching Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl, an odd, comic, moderately violent Japanese movie based on a Manga comic series of the same name. I recommend checking it out if you can find it. My favorite character is this weird, short, uni-browed amateur hitman named Yamada. He kind of appears mid-movie as a secondary character, but takes over the movie. He seems to kill and kidnap and do just about everything for the love he seeks, but is endlessly denied. In an argyle sweater, no less. He is the anti-Cosby, infinitely geekier and cooler.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Christian Youth Group Sacrifices Kids For God

A Christian youth group showed its commitment to God recently by tossing kids down an icy hill:

"The children and Youth for Christ staff piled eight to 12 passengers on the sleds, then went down the hill in quick succession, Black said. 'The sleds struck rocks, a light pole and each other,' he said."

Dozens of N.D. kids injured in sledding accident

More New Year's Resolutions: Stop Hatin' On The Whigs

Ok, I realize that I have taken some possibly unfair shots at Whigs over the course of the past year. I realize that I hate the Whigs for the most common reason why anyone hates anything: ignorance. So, I did some research on the Whigs and here are some more positive things to report about them:

  • Whigs did not necessarily wear wigs. Its true.
  • In the antebellum period, the Whig Party continuously strove to unite North and South through sage and moderate compromise policies. They get an F for the results, by an A for effort.
  • Whig President Millard Fillmore? Only president named Millard in the country's history. Perhaps the only person in country's history named Millard as well.