Sunday, November 30, 2003

The Time I Became a Mormon for Dating Purposes

Apologies to any Mormons in advance. I recommend you don't read this post at all, actually. No disrespect is intended, but neither do I hedge on my opinions here.

My senior year in high school I met a girl and we started dating. She was a Mormon, and as things began to get serious between us that summer, she told me that if I wanted to marry her, I would have to convert to Mormonism. One of my good buddies was a Mormon, and others I knew who were seemed like a nice enough bunch of people, so I looked into it.

Holy tar baby, Batman.

I started up the process in my first year of college. For some ungodly reason (yeah, yeah, a groaner, I know), the temple was on the freakin farthest snow-blasted edge of Fargo - I attended college in Moorhead, the Minnesota twin city to Fargo - so the drive was long, horrid and dull. I shoulda bought the clue right there, Pat and Vanna. Right away, I had a lot of questions about the Book of Mormon like "what does this have to do with Jesus?" and "why doesn't this make any sense?" (- Compared to the New Testament, which is pretty straightforward.) The answer, almost always, was "look into your heart, and it will tell you if it's true." Well, my heart didn't get it either, so I just nodded and went along hoping that it would become clear later, like history class sometimes did.

Church for Mormons is an all day event on Sunday. There's church proper, where three of the congregationalists get up and talk about whatever. Then there's Bible study (usually Book of Mormon study). Finally there's the segregated between the sexes men's and women's studies stuff. THEN they have social hour. I've never been much of a churchgoer (mostly due to a passionate loathing of organ music), but, I tell ya, I certainly got church fatigue the few times I went to temple on Sunday. Further, some guy who looked like a greasier version of Tom DeLay (if that's possible) kept ragging on me to join their nightly Bible study. I told Mr. Grecian Formula 101 that I was a college student with a full load of classes and two jobs. He cared not and just invoked Mormon Guilt, and said I should make it anyway. (Catholics and Jews sometimes think they've got the guilt market cornered. Ha! They should try Mormon-style guilt. It's top-shelf.)

The day of my baptism came and by then I had broken up with the girl the whole episode had been about anyway. As I had always been a Christian (raised Lutheran), the things I had learned during my Mormon indoctrination really bothered me, though I wasn't sophisticated enough in my understanding of plain ole vanilla Protestant theology at the time to be able to explain why. It just seemed wrong. (To cut to the chase here, the Mormons claim one has to do many more things to be saved than believe in Christ. Simply believing in Christ and what he did is not enough. No, you've got to be a Mormon to make it to heaven, of which there are seven levels, btw. Also, one has proper undies one must wear, and one must treat the body as a temple, so no beer or cola (even though the Mormons own fast food chains that serve the stuff), and on and on and on. Still the biggest and most important was they essentially undid, or for all practical purposes, denied that belief in Christ was the way. Since Christ himself, Paul and the other Apostles said belief in Christ was all you need, it's suspect when a denomination adds to the dance card. No one needed all this other baggage the Mormons had conceived to get on the rocket to heaven. This, my friends, is heresy*.)

TLD: But then all religions are heresy to each other, with the possible exception of Hinduism as they tend to adopt everything from other religions. So what I mean here is that the beliefs of Mormons are vastly different than those of most Protestants, Catholics, and Greek Orthodox. They have Jesus as the initial prophet of their religion, but that's about where it begins and ends with similarities to historical Christianity. Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventists are all lumped into Christianity because they claim Jesus as their prophet to some extent, but then contradict his teachings and, most importantly, his dying so that our sins might be forgiven, with their version of theology. That's like saying that "Jews for Jesus" are Jewish; someone can attempt to claim such a thing, but it just isn't true.

So, I showed up at the temple planning to say I wasn't going through with my baptism because I didn't believe in the doctrines of the church. I had even purposely left my white, cotton baptism clothes back in the dorm room so I couldn't be guilted or forced into it. Of course they plan for this very thing. They had clothes there for me. They pulled me to my knees (hard, too) and said, "Satan is working on you! Don't give in!" (Yes, really, the said that. That kind of talk usually make me giggle.) After about an hour of this, I realized that the easiest path out of the temple was to go along with it. As I felt their beliefs were false and such, I didn't think God would be angry at me for going through the motions physically when I wasn't doing so in my heart. I was actually thinking of finding a Lutheran church again whilst getting dressed in my special white cotton baptism clothes (with no undies, btw - that was part of the ritual).

Mormons believe in complete immersion, so they have these huge baptismal fonts that can hold eight people, and the water comes up to your waist. There were five or so other dunkees scheduled along with me, and since I was had tried so hard to escape, I was last in line as I had held up the ceremony. So down they went into the water, and got dunked. The guy (it's never a woman - the Mormon's believe only men can hold priesthood specialness; the women get it via spiritual osmosis from their husbands, and it's just too damn bad for old maids) would say something, then the dunkee would cover his/her nose, the guy would put his hand over their face, put one hand behind their back, and down they'd go. Kerplunk! Then he'd say a long prayer and pull them back up. They always had a look on their face that I'm sure the pious assumed was epiphany, but I was pretty sure it was just shock for having been underwater that long and finally getting air again.

My turn came, and I was feeling terrible, because even though I didn't think God was gonna hit my Impala with a lightening bolt as I left the parking lot, I did feel bad that I was being forced into performing a lie when others were taking this seriously, so I kept my eyes down and waited for the moment of dunkatude. It came and down I went. I was under so long that I started wondering what would happen if I freaked and clawed my way up the dunker for air, like drowning victims often do to their rescuer. I wondered if they'd dunk me again, or if they'd declare it a miss and say I couldn't join or something. I got to where I was way past the point of discomfort and wondered if they were trying to make a point, like trying to kill me for my attempted backing out. Finally, I made a deal with myself that at the count of five I was standing up whether they liked it or not, and I got to three.

And then up I came. We come now to my fondest memory of that day. I immediately had to revise my supposed reason for the look on everyone's face when they surfaced again. As I mentioned, we had to wear white cotton with no undergarments - the men wore pants and a shirt and the women wore simple dresses - well, everyone knows what happens to white cotton when it gets wet. IT BECOMES COMPLETELY TRANSPARENT. There they were, on the side of the font, looking down at me, naked for all practical purposes. We were told that we were to entertain the most holy and sacred of thoughts during this event, but there are some directives that are nearly impossible for a 19-year-old horndog to follow, this being one. I tried completely unsuccessfully to not stare. It was a bitterly cold hinterland day and the font water wasn't all that warm, either, and as they had been cooling off on the side of the font this whole time, everything was at absolute attention and rendered in bas-relief. Two of the girls my age were absolute babes, and I was recently single again - and I suddenly didn't have the conversion hurdle to get over (well, I did, of course, but they didn't know that) - I began scheming as to how I could bump into them after we'd gotten decent again.

But then I finally did get that feeling the Holy Ghost will hit you with, a sort of "don't push it, dude," when you're being bad and you know it. Even though I intended to flee after the baptism because I thought this was BS, I shouldn't be nuts deep in a baptismal font thinking of scamming on cute, wet-t-shirt-contest-winner Mormon chicks at that exact point in time. I blushed and crawled out of the font, covering myself modestly. Pulling onto the street later, I literally peeled out in my haste to put some distance between the Mormons and me.

About eight years later I was relaxing in my apartment when there was a knock at my door. I lived in apartments on the edge of town where a lot of young singles lived, and so we didn't have many unexpected knocks on our doors. Lo and behold, there stood two Mormon missionaries, smiling at me in that Latter Day Saints way they have. Between college and this moment, I had finally had a chance to read the Bible, had taken many comparative religion classes, and had passed through the gauntlet of my fundamentalist atheist college buddies (most of whom were anthropology majors which calls for a mandatory conversion to atheism). I had waited for this moment. The inevitability of Mormon missionaries knocking at your door is comparable to having a flat tire at some point in your life. "Just prepare" is the only advice I can offer.

But before we got down to it, they did something that freaks me out to this day. After identifying themselves as missionaries, they said, "You're [my name here], correct?" Yes, I said. Then they said, "We show that you lived in Fargo/Moorhead from [date] to [date], then moved to T___ from [date] to [date] ..." and so on. They had kept complete track of me that whole time. I had managed to shake some annoying acquaintances who still called drunk in the wee hours, a creditor or two (not my fault), some ex-girlfriends, my alma mater, and even a couple family members, but the Mormons knew where I was at all times. Well, that pissed me off even more, so I smiled and invented them into my little den.

One harrowing hour (for them) later, after I had knocked down each theological point they raised with examples from the Bible, they stood up, faces now slack masks of shock and disdain, and told me in the most polite, but very specific and nonmisconstruable way that I was going straight to hell, with an afterburner strapped to my ass. To this day I wish I could remember the exact phrasing because it was killer. It took me aback it was so brilliant, which they mistook for second thoughts until I divested them of that notion.

I imagine they're tracking me to this day*, because that's just something they do, and I don't know if I've been officially excommunicated or not. But then, unless they threaten you like Scientology does, does it really matter if they have, since being excommunicated from something you believe to be false is the very definition of inconsequential? Btw, that's where I've gained insight into how atheists feel when they talk to believers of any religion. The atheist who is legitimately an atheist, meaning they're not just mad at daddy or at a religion for some real or imagined insult, so completely doesn't believe what you do that all conversation necessarily stays at the rock bottom floor of disbelief itself; thus debating theology is like discussing color swatches with the blind. Don't take that wrong, my atheist friends. It's kind of a back-handed compliment, actually.

*TLD: One thing that bugs the hell out of me is that a large portion - I've heard it's from at least half to perhaps a large majority - of the agents in the FBI, CIA, NSA and other American spook organizations are Mormon, because only Mormons - and those bitter, lost souls in college who would never take a hit off the joint with everyone else - can pass the purity test you must to gain admission into the intelligence organizations. I've heard if you admit to smoking pot over three times in your life, you can't get in. It's not that I mind that there are so many Mormons in the intel ops, per se, but that their world-view is very controlled and molded by their faith in a way that might make them unsuitable for the job. For instance, breaking any law is considered a sin to Mormons - a fact which usually makes Catholics laugh so hard that beer comes out of their nose. So, if you are to remain so pure of mind, how can you effectively delve into the deception and evil that naturally comes with the responsibilities of the job? I've heard on the grapevine that it was floated - though never officially because it would be construed as persecution of religion - that one of the components of the intelligence failure related to 9-11 was the fact of the Mormon contingent in intel who couldn't fathom such an attack and thus ignored the signs. Do I have hard facts regarding this? No, I do not. So take it with a grain of sodium, please. It's just something to think about.

And that, my friends, was my brief voyage into Mormonism. I should state here that I do respect other's beliefs and their right to have those beliefs, even if I do not share them. Again, I apologize if I've offended any Mormons or have come across as disrespectful. Let me spell it out right here that the only "religions" I truly do disrespect entirely are Scientology (which isn't even really a religion); fundamentalist atheism - those atheists who don't legitimately lack belief or have an active disbelief in God (or gods) but just take on the title to attack and belittle believers; and any cult or religion that thinks it's OK to kill, physically harm, or imprison others who don't believe as they do. We don't need to point fingers on that last one, do we?

Someday, I'll tell you about my fun with Transcendental Meditation. I mean, if the Beatles did it, it couldn't be all that bad, right? Auuuummmmmm.....

Update: Having thought about it, there's not much to the TM story, except that my instructor was in her early twenties and I was about fourteen when I got trained or initiated into it. It was a mild thrill going to her trailer alone for my lessons, as I both hoped for and feared a possible Mrs. Robinson scenario - the wild delusions of a horny adolescent, to be sure. As for TM itself, all I ever got out of it was the occasional headache and some wasted time that could have been better spent on my skateboard. You're never supposed to tell anyone your mantra, for reasons that were never clear to me, and I was always tempted to, just to see what might happen, here it is (phonetically): "ee-mah". I feel so devious!

Monday, November 24, 2003

What a Bum Rush

I have always thought, since Nixon started it and the Reagans gave it new life (particularly by introducing the unconstitutional power of civil asset forfeiture) to give Nancy something to do other than choose china patterns, that the Drug War has been one of the worst things to happen to the United States - barring actual wars - in my lifetime.

So, that fact that Rush Limbaugh is now in trouble for being a drug addict, buying illegal drugs, and evidently "laundering" money (according to the laws introduced by the Drug War) to do so, makes me sad - even though I'm a liberal and think Rush a jerk. Even jerks don't deserve to be persecuted due to bad laws. The laws of the drug war are mostly bad laws (I don't think we ever want to legalize the truly bad ones like heroin or crack).

For instance: right now, Tommy Chong, of Cheech & Chong, is in prison for selling bongs over the internet. We can thank John Ashcroft for this, and his abuses of the PATRIOT Act to prosecute the Drug War.

So, we have Tommy in jail not for selling drugs, but for selling paraphernalia - also made illegal for the sake of the Drug War. (Btw, the recent items added to the drug paraphernalia list are baby's pacifiers and glow sticks since they're used at raves. Yes, you can really be charged with possessing drug paraphernalia if you have a pacifier - it's gotten that outrageous and dangerous.)

(And here we come to the big BUT, har har:)
But Rush is probably going to get away with buying and using actual drugs because he's a popular conservative mouthpiece, and they all think that the laws shouldn't apply to him.

Just on whose planet does this count as justice?

When are we going to end the Drug War?

(And, for what it's worth, I don't think either Tommy or Rush should spend time in prison for what they've done.)

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Rules for being Republican these days

Got this from Moby's site and had such a fine guffaw over it, I had to post it here, too.

25 Rules For Being A Good Republican by Michael Holman

1) Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you are millionaire conservative radio jock, which makes it an "illness" and needs our prayers for your "recovery".

2) You have to believe that those privileged from birth achieve success all on their own.

3) You have to believe that the US should get out of the UN, and that our highest national priority is enforcing UN resolutions against Iraq.

4) You have to believe that government should stay out of people's lives but it needs to punish anyone caught having private sex with the "wrong" gender.

5) You have to believe that pollution is ok, so long as it makes a profit.

6) You have to believe in prayer in schools, as long as you don't pray to Allah or Buddha.

7) "Standing Tall for America" means firing your workers and moving their jobs to India.

8) You have to believe that a woman cannot be trusted with decisions about her own body, but that large multi-national corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind with no regulation whatsoever.

9) You have to believe that you love Jesus and Jesus loves you, and that Jesus shares your hatred of AIDS victims, homosexuals, and Hillary Clinton.

10) You hate the ALCU for representing convicted felons, but they owed it to the country to bail out Oliver North.

11) You have to believe that the best way to encourage military morale is to praise the troops overseas while cutting their VA benefits.

12) You believe that group sex and drug use are degenerate sins that can only be purged by running for governor of California as a Republican.

13) You have to believe it is wise to keep condoms out of schools, because we all know if teenagers don't have condoms they won't have sex.

14) You have to believe that the best way to fight terrorism is to alienate our allies and then demand their cooperation and money.

15) You have to believe that government medicine is wrong and that HMO's and insurance companies only have your best interests at heart.

16) You have to believe that providing health care to all Iraqis is sound government policy but providing health care to all Americans is socialism personified.

17) You believe that tobacco's link to cancer and global warming are "junk science", but Creationism should be taught in schools.

18) You have to believe that waging war with no exit strategy was wrong in Vietnam but right in Iraq.

19) You have to believe that Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush's daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney was doing business with him, and a bad guy when Bush needed a "we can't find Bin Laden" diversion.

20) You believe that government should restrict itself to just the powers named in the Constitution, which includes banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.

21) You have to believe that the public has a right to know about the adulterous affairs of Democrats, while those of Republicans are a "private matter".

22) You have to believe that the public has a right to know about Hillary's cattle trades but that Bush was right to censor those 28 pages from the Congressional 9/11 report because you just can't handle the truth.

23) You support state rights, which means Ashcroft telling states what locally passed voter initiatives he will allow them to have.

24) You have to believe that what Clinton did in the 1960's is of vital national interest but what Bush did decades later is "stale news" and "irrelevant".

25) You have to believe that trade with Cuba is wrong because it is communist, but trading with China and Vietnam is just dandy.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Vanessa Beecroft

Ever heard of Vanessa Beecroft? I hadn't. I had seen fleeting images of her performance art installations where she has a group of people, typically women, usually partially or entirely nude, stand, sit, or mill around in an art gallery - but I didn't know who the artist was. Turns out to be an Italian/American artist called Vanessa Beecroft.

I'm not going to debate the supposed artistic skill it takes to tell someone to strip and stand over there for an hour whilst art gallery patrons try to appear blase upon encountering several naked people in public as this is not about skill; it's about concept. For once, I think the concept has merit.

Now, I've seen a lot of performance art and most of it registers on my personal appreciation rating level just below most abstract paintings, which themselves register below someone hurfing up hors d'oeuvres and box wine in the corner of the gallery. This particular, uh, display, however, intrigues me - and not just because there's nekkid girls involved. Heck, in this age of the internet where you have to explicitly tell your search engine to not return porn, strip clubs that festoon every berg, Mardi Gras, "Girls Gone Wild" and so on, the connoisseur of flesh does not face a dearth of product.

What intrigues me is the visceral reaction most patrons must have when encountering one of Vanessa's performances, especially if they didn't expect to. We are all hard-wired to react to the nude body of another; we are helpless in the face of this ingrained response as we are to other notable human events, such as the cry of a child, seeing someone getting hurt, laughter, a passionate kiss, etc. What must it be like to happen upon this kind of thing?

So, there ya are, bebopping along, inwardly shaking your head at the smearings of pigment on canvas that mean something only to the artist, his/her mom, or his/her shrink - or perhaps you have had that rare exhilaration of encountering something truly beautiful, moving, and artistic - and HOLY COW THERE ARE A BUNCH OF NAKED PEOPLE HERE! (Whoa ... Don't look like an idiot, put on your art observation face...)

Imagine bumping into this, for instance:
(Warning to those at work, nudity ahead. Click to view full size.)

Or this:

This too:

Or, Dear Lord, this:

Look at the faces of the people in the crowd in this pic. Barely suppressed shock or lust or embarrassment or who knows what - all barely suppressed, though.

I imagine I would react much like I did when I encountered it on the web by accident, with no explanation for context. (The trail of blame: I found it via CrazyAss13 [DON'T open this at work, either!], who I found via Dooce.) Since the verbiage of the link was "I Have No Idea" and went to a page of unexplained thumbnails, the only difference from my experiencing it live (though a very significant difference, for sure) is the actual live presence of the nude women themselves. (The men in her performances are always fully clothed, evidently. Odd, that.) I was curious, enchanted, confused ("What the hell?" crossed my mind in capital neon letters a few times), and intrigued by what the point, if any, could be. It had me thinking about it for a couple days. Thus, the artist succeeded.

The artist herself describes her performances like this (btw, I'm assuming she herself does not participate in the performances, I was unable to find that out):
"Beauty creates shame," Beecroft claimed "...I want women on heels because that’s powerful, that’s not natural nudity or pureness," she explains. "When men see this woman standing on heels as if she were dressed, and facing the audience, well, if that’s what they like to see, then here it is, so what. I don’t know if that will create more respect or go somewhere beyond that. Maybe after they see it twenty times they’ll start not to think of it the same way, I’m not sure. It’s an experiment."

For the first and only time, a performance piece has made me think about it - the topic itself and not all the ways that I could laugh about it and mock it.

I wondered how the women in the piece felt about the experience. I wondered how each and every person who saw the performance felt about it, and what they thought, maybe how they interpreted it.

I still haven't worked through all the reactions and questions this has provoked for me. I wonder... What do you think about it? Have you seen a performance live yourself? What were your reactions? Were you one of the women who participated in one of the performances? How did you feel and what did you think about it? How does it make you feel?


So, having thought about it, I think this is what hadn't formed in my thoughts when I posted this:

The intriguing thing about this is that art has always celebrated the nude, as it should, because nude bodies can be beautiful. And as I said before, we are simply built to respond to them.

However, at least for me, when they are offered in a purposely prurient way, say as a stripper or as porn, the effect is corrupted because there is an overt attempt to manipulate the spectator sexually - not really allowing a choice on how he/she might choose to perceive it - and the subject or object of the porn is lying, essentially, as they are not there for their own reasons or artistic reasons, and are certainly not there for any reason other than selling sex. (Obviously I consider the selling of sex a less than honorable thing.)

At these performances, the spectator gets to choose how he/she feels about the encounter, and I don't imagine the women are offering themselves for sexual or pornographic purposes anymore than models for nude paintings/sculptures/pictures/etc. are (not that I can totally assume that or rule out dubious purposes since I can't read their minds). Rather than viewing a painting or a sculpture, we get the model his or herself and not a representation or a reworking of the same. In other words, one can (perhaps naively) choose to approach or regard this as a pure admiration of beauty; art in its purest form, say.

(Which reminds me. I also find it odd that is there never anyone who is obviously a little fat, or old, or otherwise towards opposite end of what's typically offered as aesthetically pleasing. Not that I would want to round a corner and encounter 27 octogenarians milling around in the nude - heavens no. But it might go towards a broader definition of beauty if some not-quite-so-perfect people were included in these performances. Just a thought.)

Get Your Kicks

Something that has been a source of grim amusement for me during my period of unemployed repose is the vitriolic glee I keep encountering regarding the vast sea of us jobless Information Technology/Computer Science folks.

I won't point fingers (via links) at the various blogs who've tee-hee'd over it; because, so what. I laughed, bitterly, at some of the things said, visions of the snotty computer tech guy from the Saturday Night Live skits dancing in my head.

I even chuckled, darkly, at my wife's boss taking a swipe at us (he owns an independent window coverings shop which competes directly with the big box, home decor stores), when he said: "And another reason why you wouldn't want to buy your blinds from [a big box store] is because the people wearing the red (or blue) vests are nothing but laid off IT workers." Heh heh. Ouch. Yet, true.

BUT, when a headhunter / placement service feels cocky enough to include this in their "too bad, so sad" blowoff letter: "Our clients' demand for these skills is low right now", a disenfranchised IT worker has to wonder if he/she should pretend he's/she's been selling colostomy bags and trusses for a living.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Rock and Roll, Part 3
Ubiquity Alert

You know that great tub-thumping song by Gary Glitter, glam rocker and pedophile, called "Rock and Roll, Part 2"? Sure you do. (Just listen.)

Well, a new song has arrived that will be as ubiquitous and as long-lived as it is. It will be used at sports games, probably at least three commercials, and it will play mercilessly for the next year. You will hear this song for the rest of your life.

I'm only telling you this so you can pace yourself and not come to hate it since it will be played to death in the coming year before it takes up permanent residence in our cultural soundscape.

Luckily, it's a great song.

"Hey Ya" by Outkast.

Shake it like a Polaroid picture, indeed.

My daughter asked me why she couldn't watch the movie I had just rented: The Matrix Reloaded.

I said, "because it's very violent and it would give you nightmares."

"Will it give you nightmares?" she asked.

At the time I chuckled and told her it wouldn't. Since then I've reconsidered.

My lovely wife and I went to see the final movie, The Matrix Revolutions. Hmmmm. It's not a bad movie, but it isn't necessarily a good one either. Though my opinion might be a function of my age - I dunno. (These days, I'm often wondering if my impressions regarding some music and movies are based on their actual artistic merit, or my possibly shifting tastes.)

We emerged from the theatre with dual headaches, kinda shrugged at each other, then went and got some McDonald's fries to get rid of the sour taste leftover in our mouths. (Dollar menus, good idea!)

Just to say something positive, the women definitely have the best lines in the flick. Jada Pinkett (Will) Smith has two of the best. It must have been a blast to have the best catch-phrases all to herself, especially as a minor character.

But the rest is dark, noisy, and sad. The original one had some fun gee-whiz, freshman dorm stoner philosophy and that great, mid-show smack upside the head. The last two have been rather grim marches through swat-fu and chase sequences. They're spectacular in each, but even really top-notch beer is still just beer after all (to make a really clumsy comparison). The story has been rote since the first one gave all the goodies away, so even blowing past the road signs of plot points is just like enduring one of those grueling family vacations that center around a long car trip, where dad eventually freaks out and screams at everyone that we're not there yet so stop freakin asking already (you've all been there, I know you have).

The primary thing that did finally get to me was how fantastically dark the story is. Since life has thrown a few curves at my family and me this year, we don't have much tolerance for dark these days, so that part of it was an endurance test. The first one had some nice light moments and some humor. This one has some humor, but it's about four laugh-out-loud lines in the midst of the big swirl down the drain to the sewage treatment plants. I imagine teens and young adults who still have nothing but a future so bright they gotta ... continue the cliche on their own ... they will like it.

Me, I might have nightmares.

Oh, and every single preview was for an upcoming war movie. We have Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe, Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thorton and on and on in war movies on the sea, in Japan, in Texas, in ancient Greece, blah-de-blah. Hasn't even one of these movie executives who green-light films ever studied the history of how well war films do during an actual war when real soldiers are dying?


I'm becoming increasingly convinced, even though I've held some form of this opinion since my late teens, that well-done children/family films are really some of the best entertainment there is. Yeah yeah, I love some great adult movies and wouldn't want to have missed them, such as the "Godfathers", Apocalypse Now, Body Heat, Alien, Fight Club and such. But a glance at my DVD rack reveals a lot more all-audience classics than not. The best "National Lampoon's Family Vacation" is the sole one in which Beverly D'Angelo does not do a topless scene (hint: "Christmas Vacation"). I say this because the movies I've enjoyed the most lately are family films.

Elf has been the family favorite so far this season. It's just sweet and innocent, which is such a relief anymore. After all the crippled fish of Finding Nemo and the "lifetime partners" couple (though I like the phrase one of my friends uses: "the friends of Dorothy") in Good Boy (which was terrible in many other ways as well), a clean and light-hearted kids film with no agenda and no politics was like an ice-cold Coca-Cola with ice and a bag of chips on the hottest day of summer. We laughed and laughed and had nothing icky to try and explain away after the movie on the way home. ("Honey, some fish and people are just born with small limbs and stuff." "Yes, it probably did hurt to land on those dental instruments." "'Two daddies' just means they both owned that dog, honey." Etc.)

We liked Disney's Brother Bear, too, but it did not evoke the "can we buy the DVD when it comes out" sure sign of a good film from the MPC. The best thing about the whole flick was Bob and Doug McKenzie from the old SCTV skits reincarnated as moose, which is kinda sad and funny all at once. I chortled to myself about the way imaginary Eskimo life was portrayed. Most children's films anymore make "native" life seem like some sort of utopia where everyone lives a comfortable, happy middle class American life where everyone is cherished and all the children are above average, doo dah doo dah. The grandma of the tribe assigns everyone's "spirit animal" in a ceremony similar in tone to the huggy, warm ritual they had for my daughter's kindergarten graduation. It's no wonder bored suburban kids become suffused with bullshit weltschmerz about such things when they aren't shown what a truly hardscrabble life a hunter-gatherer's is. Yet, this is a Disney film after all; we wouldn't want the quasi-verisimilitude of Quest for Fire, would we? That would be harder to explain than gay doggy owners. Oh, and supposedly this is the last Disney film that will be "hand drawn" as all the new ones will be animated by computer via Pixar; it's too bad that the film wasn't any better since it's supposedly the last of its kind.

And, finally, we saw Holes on DVD today. It was a pretty rough film for anyone under 10. It is essentially a prison film for the Capn' Crunch demographic. Even though critics and friends said it rocked, we only kinda liked it and have decided to stick with Elf as our fave so far.

And there you have it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003


Does it count if I'm not the actual composer of a political post? I think not.

In a great interview on today with Bobby Kennedy Jr., there's this, which says in a nutshell my biggest concern with the way our country is being run at the moment:
Salon: In Rolling Stone, you use the term "corporate fascism" to describe what's happening under Bush. Do you think that's excessive rhetoric?

Kennedy: No, I don't. When I was growing up, I was taught that communism leads to dictatorship and capitalism leads inevitably to democracy. And I think that's the assumption of most Americans. Certainly if you listen to people like Sean Hannity or any other voices of the right, there's an assumption that capitalism in any form is beneficial for democracy. But that's not always true. Free market capitalism certainly democratizes a nation and a people. But corporate capitalism has the opposite effect. The control of the capitalist system by large corporations leads to the elimination of markets and ultimately to the elimination of democracy. And we desperately need to understand that point in our country -- that the domination of our country by large corporations is absolutely catastrophic for our democratic process.

Corporations don't want free markets, they want profits. And the best way to guarantee profits is to eliminate the competition; in other words, eliminate the marketplace, through the control of government. And that's what we're seeing today in our country. There is no free market left in agriculture. The free market has almost been eliminated in the energy sector. These are two of our most critical sectors, and the marketplace has disappeared. We're seeing the same process underway in the media industry now. So there's very little consumer choice and Americans aren't getting the benefits and efficiencies that the free market promises us.

Under Bush we're seeing the complete corporate domination of the various departments of government. The Agriculture Department, which was created to benefit small farmers, is now a wholly owned subsidiary of big agribusiness and the principal instrument of their destruction. The Forest Service is being run by a timber industry lobbyist, Public Lands by a mining industry lobbyist. Virtually all Bush's Cabinet secretaries, department deputies and agency heads come from the very industries that those agencies are supposed to be regulating.

The same thing happened in Germany, Italy and Spain during the fascist takeover in the 1920s and '30s -- you had industrialists flooding the ministries and running the ministries, and running them in many ways for their own profit. If you read the American Heritage Dictionary definition of fascism, it says "the domination of a government by corporations of the political right, combined with bellicose nationalism." Well, we're seeing that today.

Of course the first people who start talking about this connection are going to be derided for it. Even though Rush Limbaugh calls feminists "Nazis." The right wing for years has tried to discredit anyone who believes in the idea of community as a "communist" or a "pinko." But it's time that people started telling the truth about what's going on in this country. And start realizing that democracy is fragile, that corporate cronyism is as antithetical to democracy in America as it is in Nigeria.

The other day I got something in the mail from a farmer -- small farmers in this country understand better than anyone how markets are being stolen and democracy is being eroded. He sent me a quote from Mussolini that said fascism should really be called "corporatism" -- because it's the control of government by large corporations.

Another farmer sent me my favorite quote. This one was by Lincoln, in 1863, during the height of the Civil War, when he says, "I have the South in front of me and the bankers behind me -- and for my country, I fear the bankers most." Lincoln, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Eisenhower and all of our great leaders have warned our nation that the greatest threat to our democracy is from large corporate interests.

Friday, November 07, 2003


"How many politically correct assholes does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"

"Zero. They are perpetually in the fucking dark."

- Dennis Miller
The eclectic joys of Ween

Ween is a couple guys pretending to be brothers but doing anything but as musicians. To the truly musically trained, these guys must be like the smartass idiot savant of the class who can ace every spelling test or math quiz, but gets F's regularly because he would rather clown around and make unappreciated fart jokes. "Talent" doesn't even begin to cover it, and then they play songs so full of juvenile prurience and glee, it would make a South Park character blush.

Folks who are Ween fans can't just review the albums, they have to give a Harry Knowles-like review where they describe the weather that day, what they ate, what their nightmares were, the position of the planets, the placement of the lint in their navel and so on. THEN they tell you about the first time they discovered Ween.

My experience was during the time I lived in Minneapolis, and I had made the long voyage on foot (I had no car at the time because a license and insurance in the Miniapple was more than my rent) to one of those great old-time music stores with the skank of a thousand incense sticks burned over time and sun-bleached posters of bands who didn't last beyond one solar-induced shift in the Pantone (R) spectrum of the same. I'd had a gyro for lunch, having only recently discovered Greek food to my utter delight, and was avoiding breathing directly on anyone should they react like a cartoon character encountering Pepe LePew with bad intentions. It was a cold, sunny day. I think it was the month of Aquarius with Venus descending. Over on the new rack was a primary red and blue line drawing of a face with a storm sewer mouth and shocked hair, entitled "God Ween Satan - The oneness". Cartoon satanism in rock has always annoyed me, so I picked it up to see how bad it really was. Well, it had songs like "You F*ucked Up", "I Got a Weasel", "Never Squeal on the Pusher" and, geez, "Papa Zit". Nothing about the devil, though. It was way cheap, about half the price of the other CDs, so I took a chance. Later, as my roommate and I were gasping with laughter only half way through, he wheezed, "Stop! Turn it off! My side hurts! I'm gonna hurf up my beer!"

I've been a big fan ever since.

I wish I could find the review I once read where the reviewer related his Ween discovery story about an entire group of partiers who had to gang up on a guy who had recently purchased "The Mollusk" and played it over and over until a spontaneous intervention erupted and someone chucked the CD out the window. This threw the guy into such a black mood, had tossed everyone out and wouldn't forgive his girlfriend until she bought him another copy. That's dedication.

And, how could you not love an album cover like this?

(This contains the hit "Voodoo Lady".)

With each subsequent album, they have gotten better, wierder, and much more diverse. They even did a country album . Their last studio release, "White Pepper", is so all over the road, if you didn't have the label to tell you differently, you would assume it was a sampler CD of different bands.

Frinstance, check out:
- "Even if You Don't" - where they sound just like the Beatles.
- "Bananas and Blow" - with steel drums and a Caribbean beat.
- "Stroker Ace" - a hard rocker with a title taken from a very bad Burt Reynolds movie.
- "Ice Castles" - which sounds like they discovered mom's Optigan in the garage, fired it up, and got this one last song out of it before the plastic sound disc shattered from age.

And they're all on this one CD.

Maybe your Ween experience is out there waiting for you. I hope it is.

In the meantime, pop open this short little spurt of a number: Papa Zit.
(I added the movie quote on the end, btw.)
Recent viewings

Being an official geek (though I may lose my membership if I can't get another job in IT. and since the industry currently thinks (stupidly) that India is the solution to everything, it looks grim), I have to watch each Star Wars film more than once. With the original three, that was no problem as they were great in each and every Ewok-free frame.

The new ones, of course, blow hot and cold, but since they're so patchy, they may as well just suck out loud completely. The whole first one is kind of a trial with only Ewan McGregor's dead-on impersonation of Obi-wan Kenobi being enjoyable. (Ok ok, Natalie Portman is very easy on the eyes, but that's like saying sunshine is bright.)

Over the course of three nights the family tried to wade through eppy 2 - "Attack of the Clones". The child bailed sometime during one of the many committee meetings that festoon the film like leaf rot. The wife remarked that it was a particularly bad soap opera, and she was right.

However, the last half-hour of the movie is nearly perfect, kinda gets the old skank back. From the time Natalie and future Darth arrive at the droid factory, the movie rocks. (The one scene where Obi-wan is escaping debris from the god-like flatulence bombs that turn asteroids into a deadly projectile sandboxes is kinda cool, too, but it's just a little too much like what we've seen before, so only that wild sound rescues the scene.)

If they were to edit together the first two movies, cutting out all the dross, leaving the last half hour or so alone, they would have one bitchin' movie.

Saw the newly restored Superman DVD on the library shelf, and snagged it for the MPC (Most Precious Child), as it is almost the perfect movie for her age. And since Superman is such an icon in American mythology (alongside "Star Trek", "Star Wars", "The Wizard of Oz", and "Gilligan's Island"), I wanted her to see it. She really liked it. I had forgotten how charming it was. And, for once, the footage they added actually improved the film.

It had some pretty good "making of" documentaries, too, better than the usual HBO/Showtime marketing campaign castoffs. The screen tests for Lois Lane were fun, especially the one with the ultra-hot Anne Archer. The discussion over the size of Superman's, uh, codpiece should make its way into every film school's texts. Oh and Cliff Claven has a bit part. He's the guy who can't turn the missle from nuking California. That alone made the revisit good enough for me.