Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Connecting With Your Inner Half-Elf

Sharing a blog with another person is interesting: utterly distinct threads can develop as each person explores a different way in which life sucks. Joseph, for instance, has been analyzing his inner spiritual self. I, on the other hand, have been spending my time examining my inner nerdy self.

As I was walking to work this morning, I was fondly recollecting my days as a sex-deprived, acne-riddled, Coke-bottle-glasses-wearing, debate-team-joining, straight-A-aspiring, 300-baud-modem-using Dungeons & Dragons player. (Holy crap. I actually felt my self-esteem shrink up and cower while typing all of that out.) Anyway, it's true: I was a D&D dork. Playing D&D collided with my sexual frustration too. Among the group of friends with whom I played, our favorite location was in Justin's basement. Justin's basement was his bedroom too, which seemed unbelievably cool to me. Inexplicably, his father had stashed a near-complete collection of Playboys, dating to the 1960s, in an unsecured cabinet in the basement. Yes, in the same space where his puberty-experiencing son spent his nights alone. So when it came time to pick a place for our overnight D&D insecurity fests, someone would inevitably remark, "How about Justin's basement? He has all those Play- … I mean, there's lots of space down there."

Our D&D sessions in Justin's basement would commence innocently enough: painted figurines aligned in our marching order; a few saving throws; an orc here; a bugbear there. But how long could we ignore the stash in the cabinet? About an hour, it turns out. Someone would creep over to the cabinet and pull a Playboy out and idly look at it. It would be passed on, and another pulled out to replace it. Within minutes, the basement floor was covered with Playboys and we were reclining all over the place, feet in the air, examining the intricacies of every photo. Then we fell asleep.

Maybe that was a sign that we were becoming adults. Sex trumped hand-to-hand combat.

All of that is a preface to the real purpose of this post. During my walk to work this morning, I asked myself, "If I were a D&D character, what would my character attributes be?" (Ah, that timeless question.) For those who don’t know, when you create a character in D&D, you roll dice to generate numbers for six attributes. You roll a 6-sided die three times, which means that the range of possible outcomes for each attribute is 3 to 18. However, these numbers are distributed on a bell curve, since there is only one way to roll an 18, but there are many ways to roll a 12. Here's what I came up with:

Strength: 11. On an age-adjusted basis, I'm pretty average here.
Intelligence: 16. Okay, whatever number makes me smarter than you. Beat it.
Wisdom: 13.
Dexterity: 13. Seems limited to pool tables and dart boards.
Constitution: 12. Generally healthy. But bad personal habits have likely taken a toll.
Charisma: 18, bitch!

Oh, and I'm a neutral good half-elf. Named Gwydion.

Now, people, connect with your inner half-elf and give us an honest assessment of your character attributes. Later, we can all get together and assume these personas in a mammoth game of D&D. I'll bring the Playboys.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Banality Fair Reviews The "Left Behind" Movies, Part 4

Some loose ends.

1. Product Placements: Sometimes, events overtake the market, drastically reducing the price of goods and/or services. For example, the crack epidemic in the 1980s dropped the price nationwide of a blow job from a prostitute from an average of $40 to $20, practically overnight.

There was a recent article in the New Yorker about changes in the advertising industry, about how advertising on broadcast television is becoming less effective. With the advent of digital cable and satellite TV, less are tuning into broadcast television. As a result, companies are looking to advertise more in non-traditional media, such as product placement in movies. The result is cheaper and manifold ways to advertise your product.

While product placements in movies are not anything new (remeber the ads for the safe and delicious Marlboro cigarettes in the second Superman movie?), there has certainly been an explosion in product placements both in movies and on T.V.

I wonder how much Honda paid the producers of "Left Behind" to insure that most of the driverless cars careening out of control when the rapture comes will be Honda Odysseys.

2. Anti-Semitism: The most offensive aspect about these movies was not the brow-beating evangelical vibe. It was the insidious way that the movie was anti-semetic. For example, there was this whole subplot about how the anti-christ maneuvered his way into the position of secretary general of the UN. He was bankrolled and supported by unscrupulous "international bankers." There was this bizarre scheme by the bankers to install Carpathia, the antichrist, in power to facilitate a plan to unify world currencies. The plot is never fully explained and (*spoiler*) the bankers are killed by the anti-christ as he consolidates power.

It is hard to ignore the notion of evil "international bankers" conspiring with the antichrist to consolidate power to empower themselves. It conjures up all the disgusting stereotypes about Jewish people as "improperly" engaging what was considered many years ago to be the unChristian practice of usury and money-lending. Disgusting.

In "Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force," the esteemed Rabbi Ben Judah helps save the day by being convinced by Kirk and the gang that Christ really is the Messiah. I guess it was up to Kirk and his evangelical gang to show Jewish people "the way."

Weird observation: For some reason, when Kirk went to meet Ben Judah in Jerusalem, they met in a cafe that had goats roaming around freely. I've been to Jerusalem. There are no free range goats hanging around in cafes. Hot women with rifles, yes. Goats, no. It is a pretty "modern" city. I am searching for some sort of symbolism, but the best I can come up with is ignorance and confusion.

3. Violence: I have already talked about the fiery deaths in the aftermath of Rapture. The movie also features hundreds of planes being supernaturally destroyed, prophets burning people with fire shooting out of their mouth, and a bloody shootout in the UN (where the anti-christ kills the afore-mentioned bankers). What could the "Left Behind" producers do? They had to "keep it real."

4. Kirk Cameron: Man or Mannequin?: In honor of the passing of Johnny Cochran, I will refrain from taking a cheap shot at Kirk Cameron today. (Mannequin).

Monday, March 28, 2005

Banality Fair Reviews The "Left Behind" Movies, Part 3

So what is the "Left Behind" series about, in a broader sense? On its face, it is an evagenlical movie, seeking to convert people. But, more interesting, perhaps, are the sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious attacks the movie launches against secular humanism.

Secular humanism is a school of thought basically views humans as having the capacity to solve any problems faced by humanity relying on science and rational inquiry. Secular humanists view earthly harmony as the ultimate goal of one's existence. Most troubling to an evangelical: secular humanists reject the notion of the supernatural (God didn't create man, man created God) and believe that they only have one life -- this life -- to live.

It is clear that the authors and producers of the "Left Behind" series believe that secular humanism has infected the social and political discourse, dooming most of humanity to a fate of eternal suffering in hell. They are out to save humanity from its own hubris.

And, the place where the rot of secular humanism is most evident: the United Nations. The anti-christ in the movie is a diplomat named Nikkolai Carpathia, who through various machinations maneuvers his way into becoming the secretary general. Once appointed the secretary general, he begins pushing for the spread of democracy, the elimination of poverty and suffering, and harmony between the religious people in the world.

You are probably thinking, "Ah, so the anti-christ will trick people into thinking he supports all this stuff. But, in reality he is evil and is using these feel-good sentiments to sucker people into suypporting him." Well, you'd be right and wrong. The anti-christ in "Left Behind" is trying to sucker in the (potentially) faithful. But, it is not evident that he is lying about his beliefs.

Instead, the movie insinuates that those beliefs -- shared political, social and religious values throughout the world -- threaten true Christianity. How? Two principal ways. First, it gets them focused on the problems and pleasures of the natural world and distracts them from their duty to believe in and serve God and Christ. In other words, it is secular humanism in action.

Second, the anti-christ, by talking about harmonizing the religions, was in fact perverting spirituality. Here is the interesting nuance in the "Left Behind" concept of secular humanism. Most would agree that secular humanism is athiest in belief and practice; there is no God, only man and his world. The "Left Behind" authors, however, conflate mainline secular humanists with other religions. Anyone who does not share their view of Christianity is a functional athiest. For them, there is only way to get to heaven: believe that Christ was the messiah and follow certain rules in the way you live your life here. Otherwise, you are wasting your time with misguided good works.

So, there you have it. A life of virtue -- without the right faith -- is, nonetheless, a doomed one. As I blogged about a couple of months ago, I have been told that I am going to hell because I don't believe the right way. I can see it now, Mother Theresa and I hanging out in Hell. Her turning to me, saying, "Ain't this a bitch?" Me replying, "For real. If it was going to come to this, you should have not bothered with those poor folks and just screwed around."

The final review will address some loose ends about the movies, in particular the not-so-subtle anti-semitism, the movie's extreme violence, the weird product placements, and whether Kirk Cameron is a man or a mannequin.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Banality Fair Reviews The "Left Behind" Movies, Part 2

Where to begin with director Vic Sarin's masterpiece. The plot is too convoluted to try and summarize. So, these reviews will be more thematic in nature. This first entry explores how the movie deals with being "left behind."

As the name implies, the movies are about those unbelievers left behind when the Rapture begins. Those not "left behind" are taken up to Heaven to be with God and Jimi Hendrix.

The actual taking of the believers is remarkably boring. They are there one minute, and then gone the next. No theatrical-flash-bang stuff. No "blooop"-type sound. When the Rapture starts, two of the main characters (Kirk Cameron as Buck, an intrepid reporter named Buck who trying to piece everything together, and Ray, an airline pilot) are on a plane. Everything is cool, then all of the sudden half the plane's passengers disappear. An old woman wonders what happened to her husband who was just next to her. She looked really nice. But, somehow she screwed up with God. A young mother screams for her kids. For some reason, while the believers go to Heaven, their clothes, glasses and jewlery -- like the unbelievers -- are left behind.

Apparently, all dogs are unbelievers. The movie features a bunch of scenes of dogs running the streets with unmanned leashes attached to them. One sad dog sits on the ground next to a suit -- all that remains of his owner on Earth. In another scene, we learn that hamsters have apparently displeased God as well.

Some people are taken to Heaven while driving, which leads to a bunch of bloody car accidents. Many of those left behind are seen stumbling around, covered in blood after having been smashed into by a driverless car. At one point, the pilot character radios air traffic control to figure out what is happening, and the air traffic controller says he doesn't know and describes planes falling from the sky as some flight crews were taken to Heaven. Their left behind passengers sent to a fiery death. It left me wondering why God didn't send a warning that the Rapture was coming on Tuesday, so that those who may be taken to Heaven are warned not to drive or fly.

The main characters are, of course, all left behind because they are unbeliever/athiest types. The movie is about them discovering their faith and getting a second chance to be saved.

Others are left behind too, but mostly because their beliefs are screwed up (i.e., they don't believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the son of God). Take for example the left behind people on the Kirk/Buck's plane.

The Sikh guy? Left behind!

The black woman in the afro-centric dress? Left behind! (was it the black pride or the bright colors that angered God?)

Later, we see that all the Israelis (Jews) and Arabs (Muslims) are: Left behind!

Later in the film, we are told that all the children in the world are taken to Heaven because they are innocent and not in a position to choose to be an unbeliever. Yet, dogs are left behind. Who would have thought that more is expected of dogs when it comes to accepting Christ as you messiah than that which is expected of kids?

In any event, all the children and the believers should add up to at least a few billion people. But, at some point in the movie, a news report claims that 142,800,000 people have "gone missing" in the world. How could the numbers be so wrong? Are there only like 140,000,000 children in the world? Or, is this just a reflection of some really subpar census work in India and China?

The beginning of the Rapture creates chaos in the world and a leadership void, which will be explored in later posts. But, as a preview of those posts consider this: What if Kofi Annan -- with all his talk of peace and international cooperation -- is as subversive and evil as some uberconservatives insinuate? I don't mean a "bad guy"-type evil. But evil-type evil.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Banality Fair Reviews the "Left Behind" Movies, Part 1

As a public service and for its own edification, Banality Fair will be watching and reviewing the movie "Left Behind" and its sequel "Left Behind: Tribulation Force." Banality Fair alum Cotton Mather and I will be consuming large quanties of beer tonight and taking the series in. We invited Spiral Stairs, but he's off on a fool's errand: having a life.

Cotton's job was to get the booze and food. My job was to get the movies. Frankly, I think his job was much, much easier. The difficulty was not in finding the movie -- it was at the local Blockbuster. In the drama section, which was weird because the on-line reviews described a movie with a lot of action.

No, the reticence came in actually taking the videos up to the check out. For a somewhat lapsed Christian like myself, renting religious themes movies is almost as awkward as renting porn. You kind of don't want anyone to know that you are turning to the likes of Hollywood or Kirk Cameron for spiritual guidance. Or think you are some sort of rabid evangelical type. To make matters worse, these movies aren't just films with Christian themes, they are films from the crazy end of the spectrum films with Christian themes.

At first, when I came to the "L" section, there was a cute girl in a grey pullover pondering whether to rent "Mystic Rover." She was too close for comfort. So, I went to the Martial Arts Section and picked up a copy of "Hard Boiled."

When I got back, the aisle was clear. I picked up both films, and went to the checkout. The cashier scanned my cards and the movies, then looked up at me. He balled his right hand and pounded the left side of his chest twice. "I'm down man."

"Yeah, I think this as good a movie as The Killer," I said pointing to my copy of "Hard Boiled."

"Nah, with God."

"Oh. Word."

A Fair Trade

Today, I selected ten obscure literary publications in obscure corners of the country and sent them each a package containing a mediocre short story, an uninteresting cover letter, and a self-addressed stamped envelope for their convenience in rejecting little old obscure me.

Ah, yes. I'm brimming with self-confidence.

The way I see it, I am offering a simple trade: "Here, Sir or Madam Literary Magazine Publisher, is a packet of scratch paper. In return, please send me one piece of scratch paper, preferably on thick stock." Each such piece of scratch paper, hopefully on thick stock, will end up costing me about $9.43. $1.06 for sending the package to them; $.37 for the stamp on the return envelope; $4.00 for the beer I will have when I get the rejection letter; and $4.00 for the shot of whiskey I will have when I realize that the beer is inadequate to dull the throbbing pain of rejection. Luckily, I was able to steal the envelopes and address labels from my wife's office, so those expenses have been avoided.

I will probably send out another story to another batch of obscure publications in a couple weeks. I can't get enough of that scratch paper!

I promise to update Banality Fair with news of the rejection letters as they come in. (At least until they have become so mind-liquifyingly common that even I lose interest in them.)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

New Favorite Referral

A new search referral that brought some poor, unsuspecting -- and ultimately confused -- web surfer to our site has taken the title of my Favorite Web Search Referral Ever: "I love fucking and joel osteen."

Whoever you are/were, you rule.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The "Crisis" of Male Buffoonery

I have recently taken to listening to Christian radio. I feel like I have been too judgmental about evangelical Christians without being properly educated as to their views. I have never let the facts get in the way of a good story or dig, but I have been trying to get a better grip on my own spirituality. I thought about Buddhism and various other alternate religions, but settled on Christiniaty because (i) I am familiar with it and appreciate it and (ii) Christian chicks show more skin.

I digress. The point of this post is that the morning DJs on the D.C. area Christian station were discussing an interesting issue. What appeared to be an older man was lamenting how on T.V. shows and in commercials men are being made to look like silly doofuses. "Even black men and Hispanics," he added at one point. Wow, that's a huge change from the progressive portrayal of blacks and Latinos in the early age of television.

Anyway, the DJ was absolutely right. Many T.V. critics have pointed out there has been an unsettling proliferation of bland, generic sitcoms featuring fat, witless men married to attractive, sassy and understanding wives. I think CBS's entire comedy lineup follows that same basic paradigm.

I think this sends the wrong message to kids, particularly overweight boys. It teaches them that they don't need to lose weight and get healthy to succeed. They need to get shrill and outlandish to score a nice house and attractive wife. Instead of vegetables and exercise, they'll turn to doughnuts and jokes. Ten years from now, you'll have a generation of lonely fat guys who'll feel they've been lied to.

The Christian DJs had a completely different take. They featured that the crisis of male buffoonery is undermining good Christian relationships. Their argument was that if men are shown as doofuses, that image will settle into place. Consequently, women will not respect men properly thus undermining relationships. The woman in the DJ duo further argued that this was the result of ungodly feminists taking hold of the media to exact hurtful revenge on innocent men.

This analysis was an offshoot of a men's rights movement which has caught fire in conservative circles. I did some research on the movement, and was shocked by how big it was. It is not a homogenous by any means. You have the evangelical Christians on the one hand tieing the denigration of men to Christian dogma (make fun of guys and you're pissing God off). This wing is most visibly represented by the Promise Keepers. They want to empower men in their faith through the adherence to seven promises. Some are, quite frankly, odd, like the one where you are supposed to pray for your pastor and give him cash (#5). The most difficult promise might be to practice "sexual purity," in a life filled with temptation. For some evangelicals, even lusting after a women in your heart could send you on a one way ticket to hell. If that is true, I bought myself seven tickets to hell on the subway ride home tonight alone.

Being sexually pure is not an issue to the other wing of the men's rights movement. On the other end of the spectrum are the libertarian, non-religious conservative types who just hate feminists and dig chicks. The biggest difference between the two wings of the movement is that the libertarian types openly celebrate porn and the exploitation of women -- and therefore feature better pictures on their web site (see this blog on the "Men's News Daily" site for example which features occasional shots of women in tight clothes. Classy. The Promise Keepers site had a bunch of shots of men holding hands. Boring.).

I guess my point is that there is a loose, but large confederation of men who feel...well, victimized (this blogger has a good summary of the various camps). And they have banded to strike back at the media and feminist activisits who seek to undermine their place in the world, whether spiritual, damily, work, etc. They get together to celebrate and advance their masculinity, which they believe has come under ferocious societal attack.

Really? I don't see it. Frankly, these men's rights dudes seem pretty insecure. What a bunch of wusses.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Here They Go Again...

Looks like the needy, attentioned-starved astronomer community -- (see this prior post) -- is at it again. Today, some of them made a *gasp* wild claim that "that they had seen the glow of alien planets for the first time ."

Stop the presses. "Two different teams studying two different planets were able to distinguish the planets' infrared radiation - or heat glow - from the overwhelming glare of their parent stars." This is a critically important study because these -- uninhabitable -- planets are pretty far away. So, scientists had not been able to detect the planet's infrared radation. Now, they can. Which is remarkable, because the infared radiation coming off far away planets directly affects the tides. Right? The Seasons? Weather?

Just when the yawn starts to set in, and you feel like patting the astronomers on their heads and say, "That's nice, champ," they cry "wolf." Which for astronomers means that this new discovery could somehow, someway possibly maybe give us some insight into whether life may exist on other planets. These astronomers claim that this new discovery is significant because it may open the door to learning more about the composition of "exoplanets" and whether they can sustain life. Where, presumably, this alien life is monitoring the events of "American Idol" on on intergalactic satellite system. "You see," our astronomer friends will say," They are just like us. Except for the fact that they breathe methane." Moreover, what if the gelatinous blobs of planet TrES-1 just want to be left the fuck alone.

The story further notes, "'We've been hunting for this light for almost 10 years, ever since extrasolar planets were first discovered,' said Dr. David Charbonneau of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, adding that he was ecstatic when he first saw the data." It is worth noting that Dr. Charbonneau won the "Most Easily Excitable Man of the Year" award in 1993 and again in 2000.

Not to be outdone on the hyperbole front, "Dr. Geoffrey Marcy, a planet hunter at the University of California in Berkeley, called the results 'the stuff of history books.'" History books written by lonely planet hunters that no one will read. It will be right up their with "An Oral History of my Crappy Vacuum Cleaner," which I'll be performing this weekend when I return the damn thing to Sears.

Realizing the futility of their "science," astonomers are trying mergers and acquisitions as a way of gaining credibility for their voodoo nonsense. "Dr. Alan Boss, a planetary theorist at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., noted that it had been only 10 years since the first so-called exoplanets had been discovered. 'This discovery,' he wrote in an e-mail message, 'also shows that we are well along the way to combining astronomy and biology into the new science of astrobiology, with the ultimate goal being to search for life beyond Earth.'" This dangerous pronouncement will no doubt spark worldwide biologist riots, who will be out to punish the blasphemous astronomers.

Monday, March 21, 2005

To Catch Or Be A Thief

After a long, hectic day, I came home to learn that I've been victim of a property crime. Someone had stolen my recycling bin. To be completely accurate, it was the trash company's bin. That I possessed. (If this had been another era, I would have happily engaged the services of Detectives, Inc.)

The bin was pretty useful; I believe in recycling. I wish they had stolen something less important to me. Like my dignity.

The likely suspect was a confused neighbor. Or a malicious neighbor. Or a drunk neighbor. Or a bipolar neighbor. Frankly, I am not sure what my neighbors are like, except that they are there. I don't really talk to them. I am not really a misanthrope, except when it comes to my neighbors. I want to imagine I live in my own space that extends beyond my house and yard, not surrounded by a bunch of row houses filled with yuppies. Part of me wanted to storm up and down my street, knocking on doors and asking tough questions (I am good at that in my work life). Then, I realized that I'd have to talk to them if I did that. Plan A was a no go.

So for much of this evening, I have been peering out my window every so often to see if someone had realized their error and returned the bin. I was waiting for "Godot." Moby Dick. Except my bin was not God. At least, to the best of my knowledge it was not. And, unlike Moby Dick, it was green, not white.

If I had to guess who might have taken the bin, it'd be my Republican neighbors next door. They are just as confused about garbage etiquette as they are with their politics (at one point, their house was almost completely covered in "W '04" stickers. It was profane. Anyway, they have this bad habit of putting their trash bins practically outside my door, even there is room on their property. I have taken a minor stance on the issue, shifting their bins ever so slightly onto their property to counter their acts of aggression. They have rejected my effort to negotiate a fair solution and continue to place their trash practically on my doorstep. Perhaps they have escalated the situation by kidnapping my bin.

After finishing a five mile jog on the treadmill to work off my annoyance, I looked back out my window and saw a recycling bin outside a house on the other side of my Republican neighbors. Perhaps the Republicans had gotten confused, realizing their error in taking my bin but thinking they had taken their other neighbor's bin.

So, I had a decision to make. My bin has no distinguishing characteristics. I'd have to assume that the bin I was taking is mine. If I was wrong, the consequences could be awkward. Do I go and swipe the bin in front of a neighbor's house two doors down -- which could very well be theirs -- or leave it be?

I came up with several plans to lift the stray bin. It would be best to have no witnesses. First, I'd need to conduct careful surveillance. Lots of people have dogs in my neighborhood; I'd have to make sure no one is out walking their dog during the operation. And I would have to dress in night camoflauge. I went to my closet, looking for the appropriate clothing. My only black pants are exercise snap pants with reflective stripes down the side. A car comes down the road, and boom they'd see a bunch of suspicious actving vertical white lines. Too risky. Dark jeans would probably work. Should I wear the dark v neck or dark turtle neck sweater. The contrast of my neck skin against the black v neck may cause me to stand out. Turtle neck it is.

I took a deep breath, and walked outside. I looked left and right. No witnesses. I walked up towards the bin quickly. I took a look at it and walked back to my house. Without the bin. But, what I had was a sense of perspective and something else more important. The phone number for the recycling company on the side. I'll call the company tomorrow, explain that someone had taken my bin by accident and get another.

After all, it wasn't that big a fucking deal.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Smells Like Joseph K

In an effort to make my postings more personal too, I will share with you all an issue I have been pondering recently: if I had my own men's fragrance line, what would be my scent?

"Joseph K" the cologne would have to reflect who Joseph K is. Most colognes are made from fragrance oils mixed with a dilutant. When making homemade colognes, some suggest using vodka as a dilutant. I used to practically live off of vodka tonics in law school. So, perhaps the appropriate Joseph K cologne would consist entirely of vodka. You'd dab a bit behind the ears, on both sides of your neck, and pour a fifth down your throat.

But, vodka doesn't really have a scent per se. Whether I like it or not, I'll have to find the right fragrance oil to define l'essence de Joseph K. What scent screams: Joseph K! Well, I am kind of salty. Perhaps a salty oil. Although, I doubt most people want to smell like a cured ham.

I am not really a metrosexual. So, I shouldn't have anything to sweet or perfumey. I am not hypermasculine either, so a strong Drakkar Noir-type scent wouldn't work. Stumped, I went to a web site that featured over 200 fragrance oils, looking for l'essence de Joseph K. Some possibilities?

1. "China Musk?" I was hoping it was really the scent of a musk ox. I don't know what a musk ox smells like. Probably pretty bad. But, I like the concept of a musk ox. Perhaps I am into a steppes/Mongolian thing these days because I was really digging on some Mongolian throat singing we were listening to at a dinner party the other day.

2. "Dragon's Blood?" You could dab on a little Joseph K and then be band together with a bunch of geeks and battle on some orcs on-line.

3. "Plumeria?" Not quite sure what this scent is? Wasn't there a disease that afflicted Chesapeake Bay fish -- causing them to develop festering sores -- in the late 1990s called Plumeria?

4."Tuberose?" I believe this is the Tuberculosis concentrate. Citrusy scent, not so good for the lungs.

Well, we'll figure what the smell will be later. Let's turn to a name. I want to give my fragrance a name that is bold, exotic, and tantalizing. I pondered the issue long and hard and suddenly it came to me. A name that is exotic, sexy, and reflective of the Joseph K meme:

Crudite by Joseph K.

There would be an accent over the "e." That's what will make it cool.

The Real Me

On the blog of loyal reader Henry, I recently mused about the meaning of blogging, and my general unclarity about my own motivation for doing it. Henry said he likes the idea of seeing a more "personal" side of me (as opposed, I assume, to the disconnected smartass persona I usually adopt here). One problem with that is that, for various reasons, I'd rather not have my identity discovered. It's hard, I'm finding, to be really personal but totally anonymous. Nevertheless, it is probably possible to reduce the smartness of my ass and share a little more about who I am. Since I shared one odd fetish in my last entry, let me offer up a few more of my peccadilloes and obsessions. These may sound smartassed but, honest, it's not intentional.

1.  Cars.  I can't help it.  I didn't own a car between the ages of 18 and 30.  When I hit 30, coming up on three years ago, whatever gland produces teenage car-obsession awoke from dormancy and caused me to subscribe to no fewer than four car magazines.  I've let a couple of those subscriptions lapse, since we bought a new car and my wife made me commit to a minimum five-year delay before getting another.  (Three years, ten months to go!)  But I still get a -- sit down -- weekly car magazine, which I read as soon as it comes through the mail slot.

2.  Electronic gadgetry.  Every day, I read websites dedicated to Palms, Macs, and gadgetry in general.  Multiple times a day.  For instance, I regularly read The Gadgeteer, a website devoted to the principle that our free will should be subjugated to the facsimile of free will that is generated by integrated circuits.  The Gadgeteer even gives out "Gadgeteer of the Month" awards.  The main criteria for winning this award appear to be a supremely dorky demeanor and a gadget collection that would stock a Radio Shack.  I was going to post a direct link to one or two of these award-winners, but I started to feel bad.  So go find them on your own and reach your own conclusions. (You won't find me among the winners. Bastard judges.)

The world of Mac users is particularly full of gadget freaks.  The Mac world is, to give a prime and recent example, a world in which the mere rumor that Apple may release a mouse with two buttons instead of just one is enough to incite an orgy of comments currently numbering over 500.  Ah, my dearly beloved brethren.

Please don't think I'm a nerd, even though I may, technically, be one.

3.  Shoes.  This may not rise to actual fetishdom, but I have more shoes than my wife.  By a substantial margin.  They're not expensive shoes -- most come from outlets and discount stores.  The real reason I have so many shoes is not because I love them but because I do stupid things relating to shoes.  If a pair of dress shoes gets really scuffed, I don't polish them.  I say, "Guess I need a new pair of dress shoes!"  Also, I sometimes order shoes online, get them, realize they don't fit me, and then stuff them in my closet forever. Other times, some passing shoe fad grabs my attention for a moment and I give in to the urge to buy, for instance, a pair of bowling shoe-like things. After the stupor passes, I realize I'm not half as stylish as I would need to be to wear those shoes. So they sit in my closet.

4.  Arcane and unpublicized rules of personal behavior, the breach of which will cause me to hate you.  I have a lot of rules in my head.  You break them at your own peril.  I will not tell you what they all are, however, because I am shy and avoidant.  That will not prevent me from hating you if you break them though.  Here are a few: (1) DO NOT take an elevator one or two floors when a perfectly good stairwell is available to you; (2) DO NOT circle a parking lot for fifteen minutes in order to save three minutes of walking; (3) DO NOT walk on the left side of the sidewalk; (4) DO NOT pass me on the right when an open passing lane on the left exists (this holds while driving, walking, or pushing a grocery cart); and (5) DO NOT advance to the front of any fast food line without considering (a) what you want to order off the giant, icon-driven menu that is designed to be comprehensible to the functionally illiterate, and (b) where in your unreasonably large tote bag full of crap you will be able to find your money.

There are others, and if you break them, I will simply seethe and behave in a very passive-aggressive way toward you.  If you then ask me what is wrong, I will say, "Nothing," and deem you as having violated Rule No. (6): DO NOT ask me what is wrong with me.


Friday, March 18, 2005

My Fetish

Here's a little-known fact about me: I have a fetish for office supplies. When I am near a Staples or an Office Depot, I feel a palpable urge to go in and paw notebooks, calendars, pens, and the like. I particularly enjoy going to the pen department and reviewing the latest selection of Uniballs, gel-ink pens, disposable fountain pens, mechanical pencils, blister packs of pens in assorted colors (I love green pens!), pocket-size pens, pressurized space pens, Sharpies, and other devices for delivering pigment to paper.

Notebooks, too, have always been fascinating to me. For a while, I started carrying a spiral notebook in my shoulder bag that was supposed to be my "do-everything" notebook. I took pleasure in yanking it out and writing down phone numbers, sketches, and drunken epiphanies. The idea that the notebook could serve as a running record of my life, haphazard but all-inclusive, was really attractive to me. I like the idea of its corners getting battered by time and usage. But it was too big to carry around except in my bag, so it was necessarily incomplete. Drunken epiphanies that occurred to me at times when I was bagless went unrecorded. The notebook fell into disuse, and my mind again became a junkyard into which ideas stumbled, spent a few days lollygagging around, and then departed unnoticed.

I ran across a site the other day devoted to the idea that it is okay to fetishize office supplies, and it is okay to see the perfect notebook as one of the higher callings of man. The site is called 43 Folders, a reference to a complicated folder-based "tickler" system devised by people even more obsessed with office supplies than I am. The fetishists at 43 Folders turned me on to a particular kind of notebook called a Moleskine (apparently pronounced "Mole-uh-skeen-uh"). While available in various sizes and formats, one kind of Moleskine called to me like a siren: a pocket-sized notebook of 192 pages, with a convenient little pocket for storing notes and the like and an elastic closure mechanism.

Bear in mind that, as of late, I've been trying really hard to see myself as a writer. You know how athletes visualize themselves executing their athletic maneuvers perfectly, as a means of achieving perfect form? That's me with writing. I visualize myself being a writer. The little Moleskine fit right into that vision: A writer carries a notebook; a writer never lets an idea dissolve without recording it; a writer is an eccentric weirdo who obsesses about notebooks.

I had to have one.

So I figured out they are actually available at Barnes & Noble, and I charged off to get one. $10 for one. My hands trembled a little when I saw the pricetag; but how can I assign a cost to being a writer? I can't. So I bought the damn notebook, and I've been carrying it around in my front pocket for a few days. I've already got some drunken epiphanies in it. I also took it to my writing class on Wednesday and used it for the diarrhea that my teacher calls an "in-class writing exercise." Anyway, it makes me feel like a writer.

I do have to go to an office supply store and find a good, slim pen to go with it. The folks at 43 Folders have all sorts of ideas about that too. I love them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Case Against High School Coaches In Positions of Power

We should be wary of seemingly unassuming high school coaches who ascend to positions of power. This entry is going to focus on empirical data. Two case studies in high school coaches who ascended to positions of power, only to abuse those positions of power and/or betray the public trust.

Case Study No. 1: Speaker of the House, Denny Hastert. Perhaps it is his matinee idol looks, but most people probably think that Hastert is a former celebrity-turned-politician or something. But, it may shock you to know that thirty years ago, he was directing sweaty guys how to grapple with each other -- he was a high school wrestling coach.

Now, he is perhaps one of the most powerful, thuggish and manipulative House Speakers ever. There is no compromise with him. His partner in legislative mischief is an ethically challenged former exterminator-- Tom Delay. The bug man and the wrestling coach. Not necessarily what one would have imagined as one of the most effective legislative duo in history. B.J. and the Bear? That's one weird duo that I might have imagined being effective in Congress. "Congresswoman, who are you to question the Banana Subsidy Act of 2005? Why another banana subsidy act? It's, uh, part of the President's plan to stimulate fruit production. It's not you job to ask why congresswoman. Just sponsor the bill. Isn't that right, Bear?" [Bear scratches head, grins and blubbers lips -- Sheriff Lobo stews in the corner, somehow foiled again].

Hastert's job is to steamroll the President's agenda through the House by any means necessary (wonder if he has that cool Malcom X poster in his office?). When it looked like the Medicare Modernization Act wasn't going to pass in 2003, he bent the House rules to extend the time to vote as long as necessary to shake down and muscle those in his caucus who were wary of voting on what is a seriously flawed bill. Position, technique, and winning, always winning. Only winning.

Case Study No. 2: Bernie Ebbers. Another high school coach that ascended to a position of power and then abused it is recently convicted Woldcom CEO Bernie Ebbers. Prior to becoming the CEO of Worldcom, Ebbers used to coach high school basketball. And when defending himself against fraud allegations, he employeed what I like to refer to as the "Jeff Van Gundy defense." Jeff Van Gundy is the coach of the Houston Rockets, a great coach even though he looks like he probably can't dribble a basketball.

Ebbers claimed he didn't know how to actually play the accounting "game." He claimed he did not know any of the techniques and fictions his accounts used to cook the Worldcom books. He just directed people to do their job and motivated the sales force; according to Ebbers his subordinates actually engaged in the fraudulent activity.

Even if you buy into this fiction, like all the problematic CEOs in the 90s, Ebbers would demand that his company hit certain numbers. If the sales or revenue weren't there, what to do. CEOs like Ebbers said: I don't care how you do it, hit the numbers. Accounting is an art. Make it pretty, Coach said. Did these CEOs know exactly how the numbers were manipulated?

The real question is: does it matter? Let's go back to the Van Gundy defense. Ebbers basically told his team, "win the game or else you are off the team. " Coach has a big bonus tied to making the playoffs. Coach structures players salaries so that there is a big payoff for them if coach wins. Others are betting on the team based on what Coach has promised. More bettors, more bonus for Coach.

He knew his team could not win unless it did something illegal, like pulling a Gillooly and busting knees. He sees his team win, even though it shouldn't have. Knees were clearly busted. Coach gets his bonus. Coach Ebbers later says, "But, I didn't know they were using concealed lead pipes and busting knees to win." Oh, well if you put it that way...

The knees didn't have to be broken. Sometimes you are supposed to just play and maybe just lose. Coach Ebbers is rightly looking at up to 85 years behind bars.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Oh Say Can You...What?

I was planning about writing something profound tonight. Then, I came across this story about the national anthem. The gist of the story is that most people don't know the lyrics to the national anthem. Shocking, because, I mean, when have we ever let ignorance get in the way of patriotism. And, yet, we raged with indignation when Rosanne Barr fucked it up a few years ago at a Padres game. They just didn't get that when she spit and grabbed her crotch at the end, that she wasn't being originial. She was paying tribute to Francis Scott Key, who did the same thing when he first recited the piece at a poerty slam in Annapolis in 1812.

But, the truth is that not many of us know the lyrics to the national anthem. The chances are that you know the "O say can you see" part. And, if you went to a college whose name or mascot might match up with a lyric, you might know one or more other lyrics. I went to the University of Virginia as an undergrad, and the students affectionately referred to their team as the "Wahoos." A Wahoo is a fish that can supposedly drink twice its weight in...stuff. Fish probably don't drink. It was a silly way of saying, we're drunks and we're proud of that fact because we had little else. Anyway, at the part where the word "Whose" came up, the drunk Wahoos would yell in unison, "Hoooooos!" Mr. Jefferson, the University's founder, would have been most proud.

Maybe the difficulty in memorizing the song comes from the fact that while the beat is catchy, the lyrics are complex and arcane. And they don't rhyme. Let's be real, Francis Scott Key was something of a 19th century beatnik, writing obscure, emotional lyrics that seem more at home when scored by experimental jazz than a populist reaffirmation of national pride.

The lyrics should probably be taught to allow Americans to properly learn the anthem, but that does not mean that they should be blamed for not getting it instantaneously. The lyrics are not intuitive. They reflect the pride Key felt as he reflected on the American flag surviving after an attack on Fort McHenry. Kind of a cool concept. The flag surviving, basically intact. Although, I doubt the British were targeting the flag. It would have probably been silly if they had been targetting something other than the fort itself. I doubt some British admiral was saying, "What do you mean you missed the flag?"

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Kirk Cameron Takes On The Devil's Minions

A while ago, I blogged about one of my favorite sites on the web, a Christian site run by celebrity evangelist Kirk Cameron, a.k.a. Mike Seaver from "Growing Pains," and some dude named Ray Comfort who has a thing for converting burly truckers. Comfort's Christianity is not for the faint-hearted, "The message of Christianity isn't one of God wanting to better this life for humanity. It is one of warning of a terrible fate in store for those who continue on the road of sin. We are told by God's Word that there are two deaths on the highway to Hell. The first death is when we leave the storms of this life and pass into timeless eternity. The second death is the chasm of eternal damnation. It is the terrifying justice of a holy God." Ray, you had me and Judas Priest at "highway to Hell." Rock on.

Being an evangelical is hard for Kirk Cameron. Recently, he wrote about the devil sending a "shrimpy" "little Indian Buddhist" to thwart his efforts to do some street preaching in his neighborhood: "As I swung to the subject of God, a little Indian Buddhist girl stepped forward and said 'So this is what you do now? You give people money so they'll stand here so you can brainwash them?!'"

Kirk is a sensitive sort. He can be wounded. He wears his emotions on his God-fearing sleeve.

"I felt sick. She might as well have said 'You're pathetic. I used to like you on TV, but not anymore because you're bribing people to listen to your religious garbage.' I swallowed my pride for about 10 more minutes before I packed it in and went home, licking my wounds. I felt terrible, as my fears got the best of me that night."

The truth was a bitch for Kirk. He was a washed-up sitcom actor who HAD been handing out cash to kids to get them to listen to his message of submission and fear. Kirk had been playing some sort of trivia game with the local teens he was preaching to, giving them $1 for every right answer. Which the kids probably used to buy liquor. But, that is another thing. Kirk was not about to be defeated by this nefarious little Buddhist girl:

"I was determined not to be defeated by a shrimpy little girl, so I went back the next night.


[W]e talked to one group in the parking lot, two groups in front of the theatre, and then... I panicked. In the distance I could see that little Indian Buddhist girl standing on a bench in front of her friends. I ducked behind a tree, but it was too late. She spotted me, ran up and threw her arms around me and yelled in a mocking voice, 'Oh Kirk Cameron, where's my free Bible? I want a free Bible!' After shaking off this little distraction (obviously a demonic dart to discourage me again), Johnny and I shared with another group and prayed with a young man to receive the Lord. "

Kirk's heroics in the face of this obnoxious little Buddhist's taunts are to be commended. She was not an atypical Buddhist. Budddhists are known for their persecution of Christians. This little devil's sneers are a mild form of that torment. Indian Buddhists have been known to feed Christians to elephants for sport. Buddhists are rude and hate God. But, the silver lining for Kirk is that an angry, but holy God will send this little girl to burn in Hell forever, while Kirk and Ray get to hang out with truckers and teens in heaven.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Blogger Can Bite Me

I have a circuit of a few blogs that I navigate through a few times a day, several of which are on Blogger. For the last two days, I've been unable to post comments on any of the Blogger sites; I am told "Blog Not Found" when I try.

Being the idiot I am, my first instinct was to post a comment on the blogs in question and say, "Hey, I can't post comments!" Then I took my medication.

But seriously, in the blog world, we build up little communities in which there are three modes of communication: (1) Posting blog entries; (2) posting comments on blog entries; and (3) e-mail. E-mail is the heavy artillery. You fire one of those off when it's, literally, personal. But you don't get to hope that some third party will read your words and say, "My God, you're brilliant." (Isn't that the secret, or not so secret, hope of every blogger?)

Posting comments is the preferred mode of day-to-day communication. It's somewhat personal, directed at a single person and all. But you can still try to impress others, and maybe even succeed.

But, dammit, I can't post comments. So I'm left with posting a whole frickin' entry in order to communicate a couple discrete points. Shout-out, therefore, to my main man Henry, whose poignant post today prompted this whole escapade. Shout-out also to my main Magazine Man, whose Chapter 2 of "Job #1: Boy Detective" has kept me on the edge of my seat today.

If you think anything I've said here is unbearably brilliant, feel free to say so. You may have to post a whole frickin' entry on your own frickin' blog to do so, though.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Unforgettable Exchanges

The first in an irregular series on unforgettable exchanges Joseph K was a party to. The first features Banality Fair alum, and perhaps future contributor, Cotton Mather...

Joseph K: So, what's up with the upcoming trip to France?

Cotton: Yes, we'll be driving around the south of France. Drinking wine, exploring.

Jospeh K: Yeah, great cheap wines. Too bad the wifey cannot indulge. Being pregnant and all.

Cotton: Eh, maybe she can have a glass or two. What's the worst that could happen? Little ____ will just have to try a little bit harder.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Phase

I've largely been absent from Banality Fair and other blogs lately, for reasons that aren't entirely clear even to me. But I've got it down to a few possibilities.

1. I've decided that I hate Daily Kos. I went through a period -- beginning just before the election and ending, it appears, recently -- of being a very active participant there. The charm wore off. As near as I can tell, a small cabal of anonymous, presumably uncredentialed attention-hounds run the place, and everyone else jumps around and dispenses "4" ratings to the elect few in the hope of currying a diary recommendation or a reciprocal "4" rating. All that mutual masturbation just got to be too much. Plus, I think it's actually a pretty intellectually vapid place. That's what you get when anyone can post anything. I think my anti-Kos feelings are affecting my feelings about bloggery in general. People who write blogs are vain and presumptuous, by definition. But Kos seems to be little more than an orgy of people reveling in their own vanity and presumptuousness. (All this negativity comes largely, I admit, from the annoying and distasteful reaction of a particular dKos user to the last diary I posted there. I've kind of thrown up my hands about the place.)

2. I only have so much energy, and I've been busy at work.

3. I only have so much energy, and I'm trying to divert some of it to fiction-writing. I've got a couple short stories in nearly finished form. (Or, to paraphrase the quote I read in one of Henry's writings, in nearly "abandoned" form. Who said that, Henry?) I believe I may even send one or both out to be considered for publication. The net effect of that effort will likely be the conversion of several fifteen-page copies of stories into several one-page pieces of paper bearing rejection letters. But, then again, life is like a box of chocolates: It attracts maggots and festering disease, and its outcome is better dreaded than predicted.

4. I only have so much energy, and I'm a lazy prick.

5. The "M" key on my keyboard is broken. No joke. There was a crumb under it, and I tried to pry off the keycap to get at the crumb. I succeeded in removing the keycap and the crumb, but failed in replacing the keycap. It's wedged in at an angle, and every time I try to type an "M", I have go back over it and pound it repeatedly with my finger. This is a disincentive to typing. The people at the Apple Store were too busy to look at my machine, so I have go back this weekend.

I must say, although I hate to because it involves typing the letter "M": It's a nice thing having Joseph K around to carry the full weight of the Banality Fair flag while I go through "a phase." (Hey wait, I didn't have to use "M". AwesoMe!)

A Burro's Right To Due Process

Free Pacho! This cry for freedom rang out in Bogota recently as animal rights activists fought for the release of Pacho the burro who was being held by Colombian police after having been involved in an accident with a drunk motorcyclist. It is a story about the wrong burro being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Like Dr. Richard Kimble in "The Fugitive," Pacho was unjustly charged with responsibility for the accident and arrested. Instead of the drunk motorcyclist. Even Pacho's owner was allowed to go free. But, the owner felt sympathy for his incarcerated burro friend, saying "He is very sad when he sees me and begins to bray, like he is telling me he is innocent and asking me to get him out of this place which is not his home."

Pacho became the Mumia of the animal world. Pacho's representative complained that Pacho had been denied proper representation and has been confined in poor living quarters. Animal rights activist Alvaro Mechan argued, "They are violating a burro's right to due process."

Eventually a public outcry led to Pacho's release. No Nelson Mandela-like post-confinement fame for Pacho. Humble burro that he is, he "returned to his daily labors, transporting old junk through the streets of Arauca."

This is not the first time burro/mule/donkey rights have been at the center of a major national or international controversy. A couple of years ago, the maniacs at PETA wrote a letter to Yasser Arafat pleading with him not to use donkeys to carry out ...donkey suicide attacks (does a donkey have free will?)... against Israelis. Thankfully, only one Israeli was injured in the January 2003 donkey attack that drove PETA to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. PETA's letter is so stupid, sickening and insipid, I print it in its entirety without further comment:

"Your Excellency:

I am writing from an organization dedicated to fighting animal abuse around the world. We have received many calls and letters from people shocked at the bombing in Jerusalem on January 26 in which a donkey, laden with explosives, was intentionally blown up.

All nations behave abominably in many ways when they are fighting their enemies, and animals are always caught in the crossfire. The U.S. Army abandoned thousands of loyal service dogs in Vietnam. Al-Qaeda and the British government have both used animals in hideously cruel biological weaponry tests. We watched on television as stray cats in your own compound fled as best they could from the Israeli bulldozers.

Animals claim no nation. They are in perpetual involuntary servitude to all humankind, and although they pose no threat and own no weapons, human beings always win in the undeclared war against them. For animals, there is no Geneva Convention and no peace treaty—just our mercy.

If you have the opportunity, will you please add to your burdens my request that you appeal to all those who listen to you to leave the animals out of this conflict?

We send you sincere wishes of peace.

Very truly yours,

Ingrid Newkirk

President, PETA"

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Tragically Unhip

So I went on to prove that I am not an aging fart and can be on one of their inane reality shows. I'd be subversive. I'd act all zany, strong-willed, combative and off-the-wall to get on something like the "Real World." Right before the show starts shooting, I'd gain 50 pounds. Then, I would spend the whole show scratching myself, sitting around drinking milk in my underwear and shrugging my shoulders at my tv roommates' dismay.

Getting on one of those shows. I mean, Lizzie Grubman ran over 16 people, and she's gotten her own series coming out soon. I've only taken out about two squirrels in my life. But, if I need to run over more to get my own show on MTV, I'll do it. And maybe a hobo or two.

Unfortunately, the show pickings are pretty slim.

For example, there is the "MTV Wants to go to the Prom with You!" promotion. My prom was, unfortunately, 14 years ago. But, quite frankly, who wants to just go to some annoying loudmouth, bubblegum-popping teen's prom with them. I think the show would be much more interesting if the show was about "the creepy thirty-year old guy standing in the corner and drinking out of a paper bag." I could do that real good.

Here was an option: "Are You the Ultimate Trash Talker? ... We're looking for the ultimate trash talkers who can hold their own in a no-holds-barred competition that pits the country's toughest smack talkers against one another. Are you the ultimate trash-talker, and do you live in Los Angeles?Are you great at insult humor (e.g. 'Your momma's so fat, her blood type's Ragu")? If so, Wilmer Valderrama is hosting the ultimate trash-talking contest and you NEED to enter!" I think I am a pretty damn good trash talker, but I'd probably get disqualified for directing my trash-talking exclusively towards teen girl-loving, Gen-Xer Will Valderama. On a trash talking show, TV's "Fez" should be kind of like the secret ingredient (e.g., "squid!") on the "Iron Chef;" the trash talkers break him down in creative ways to show their skills.

Then, there is this show: "Are You Stuck in a Nightmare Roommate Situation? Do You Need a Great Roommate?" Yes, yes I do a nightmare roomate situation. Archduke Ferdinand has a horrendous flatulence problem. My therapist claims I live alone, but I am afraid the poor man is suffering from scurvy. So, who's the new great roommate? Christina Aguilera?

A show for the thinking man or woman: "Do You have an Awesome Spring Break body...or Need Help Getting One?"

MTV goes meta: "MTV Wants to Give You Your Very Own Reality Show… About YOU!" A reality show about me, you say. What are their fucking insane? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Ridiculous, everyone knows that are lives are one big farce.

It takes really healthy sense of self to apply for these shows. For example, one show encourages people to apply only if they think they are "endlessly fascinating." I think I am all those things, minus the "endlessly" and the "fascinating." I am " ."

Well, that went nowhere. I guess I'll join a book club instead.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Osteentatious Ruminations

Many people see their lives as an audition before God. And like all auditions, each of them has a different way of playing the role of the righteous. Some suck up, playing God for a narcissist, yearning for constant praise. For them, it is never enough. Some do the goody-goody shtick, figuring that God needs our help in sorting out what's gone wrong with this Earth God created. Some see themselves as gatekeepers, setting God's rules for him/her and keeping the ins and the outs in ways that -- surprise, surprise -- empower them and disenfranchise others. They don't have much material to work with, so they make it up as they go along. And the good ones play your insecurities and hopes something beautiful.

In the end, they are all racing away from what eschatologists paint as some kind of reckoning. Regardless of whether you think its all real or bullshit, one thing is for sure. Every second you live is a second that cannot be recaptured, relived, redone, reanythinged here, in this life. It's there and then it's gone.

You can't recapture the approximately forty-five seconds it took you to sit there and read the last three paragraphs. I hope it was worth it.

I was reading the paper this morning with the TV on in the background. At one point, when I looked up, the pompadored pastor in a $1000 suit named Joel Osteen was big-tooth grinning his way through a sermon about diligence. I'd seen Osteen's teeth and hair just a few days before on a book at Barnes & Noble the other day. I've also read about him and the massive church he's building in Texas, the diverse group of adherents.

Osteen's not really a gatekeeper. The money's he's bringing in is not really going out to help anyone, so he's not doing goody-goody. He sweats God, yes, but there is something expedient about it. No, he's more of a sheppard. Trying to guide people through this finite life.

His cheery attractiveness to believers has always struck me as being somehow subversive. As I mentioned above, his sermon today was about dilligence. Working hard. Noses and grindstones. I am not so sure how that matches up with any of Jesus' teaching's in the new testament, but encouraging everyday people to work hard is certainly music to the ears of an IBM manager.

What is his secret? How does he reach so many people? I listened today and finally figured it out.


I took notes this morning and this is his sermon about diligence boiled down to its essence: "Don't be complacent." "Keep on keeping on." "Be Dilligent." "Work hard." "Be determined." "Stick with it." "Get the job done." "Give it your all." "Dig you heels in." "Inspiration backed by perspiration."

It left me wondering whether some of the things Jesus said were cliches a couple of millenia ago.

Mark 9, verse 50: "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other." In ancient Isreal, saying "that salt has lost its saltiness" was perhaps a way of saying that somethings not as wondrous and fun as it used to be. "Man, when I first got together with Hannah, it was great. But, the salt has lost its saltiness, if you know what I mean."

Mark 10, verse 25: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" A famous statement by Jesus. Back in the day, the "camel/needle" line was probably pretty common. "You think I'll be able to outrun the centurions when they come for me?" "Man, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for you to outrun a centurion, you dig?"

John 12, verse 35: "The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going." Probably a common cliche back then, and probably the truth. I think one of the Dead Sea Scrolls was about the travels of Peter the many times he walked off in the dark and got lost. The tales of his time in Persia (he'd taken a wrong turn at Jericho) are especially weird. Even weirder than Jonah being swallowed by a whale.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Less Hare, More Krishna

I was walking down 18th Street to meet a friend at a bar. As I came to the intersection of 18th and K, I heard chanting. At first, I couldn't place the group of people clumsily dancing to an offbeat drummer. There were two women handing out pamphlets, wearing what appeared to be saris. But, the saris were covered in glitter, and had almost a stars and stripes pattern. One of the guys was wearing Lugz. What were these people?

I kept my head down so as to avoid having to take a pamphlet. But, as is the norm with my luck, the light changed and I was stuck on the corner with them for 45, 44, 43 seconds (the crosswalk clock seemed exceedingly slow).

They were apparently Hare Krishnas. I don't know if they were in D.C. for a one time engagement or if they are going to pop up all over the place like the Falun Gong have recently in New York.

I listened to their song, and frankly I was unimpressed. Look, I am open to all religions. If you want to worship voles, have at it. But, that doesn't mean you can't suggest improvements.

The Hare Krishna chant was basically "Hare, Hare, Krishna, Krishna" over and over. It got real tedious after about 20 seconds. I understand that the power is in the intonation and the spiritual enlightenment the chanting evokes. But, I don't see how adding some verses to the chorus could hurt. A good song writer could take their chants to another level. Burt Bacharach (sappy, mushy lyrics)? Timbaland (edgy lyrics, but he'd give them a better beat)? I don't see how winning them a Grammy could hurt their efforts to proselytize and spread their religion.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

What Would The Tow Guy Do?

As I spent a good chunk of my week in airports, I pondered why the series LAX failed. Perhaps because it focused on the shiny, pretty "struggles" of airport Administrators Blair Underwood and Heather Locklear. It should have focused on the invisible people we never notice. The woman who fled female genital mutilation in Somalia to come here where she now works at Satrbucks, whipping up half-caf no foam vanialla mochas for distracted, impatient travellers. In freedom.

As I was sitting on my flight home today, I wondered about the guy who was driving the tow (buggy? cart? It's not really a truck, is it) that was pushing the plane back from the gate. How long has he or she been pushing planes in and out of gates? Did he have to work his way up from being one of the signal people who guide the planes into the gate? How does she feel about her special place in this world? Why don't planes have a "reverse" gear, that allows them to back up on their own power? Why? Because what would tow gal or guy do then? Unload luggage. That's for Calvinists.

What if the tow guy today was a quiet man, a man of few words who lives alone and pines away for the girl who got away? Who went for the mechanic who had a tatoo of a bomb going off on his tricep because the mechanic keeps the planes from falling from the sky.

And so he has taken up feng shui at home, to get some sort of glued-together peace. He doesn't place the goldfish he bought for wealth and fertility (just in case) in the bedroom or kitchen, because you just don't. He's installed a floodlight in his bathroom, lest he live in dimness and apathetic energy. If he actually had guests and served them tea, he'd definitely know not to point the spout at his guests, because of the hostile energy it projects.

But, he does keep the dead, dried roses in a drawer in his house. He'd sent them to her, and she had sent them back. He knows they represent dead energy. But, he hopes one day they'll come back to life. And, so will the "them."