Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Message boards

Ever read a message board? They're hilarious. So full of passion, anger and LARGE CAP FLAMING. You can almost feel the Dorito-flecked spray of fanboy spittle.

What's interesting is that, as a message post gets longer and more populated, it begins to take on a predictable pattern. It's like a sociology experiment: a mini community asserts itself and posters take on well defined roles within that community. They don't mean to -- we all want to believe that we bring a unique perspective to the discussion. But it's seemingly unavoidable.

Here is an example of a message board pattern.

FOUNDER: I have an opinion that I want to share about the subject at hand. Didja ever notice that while most people think this, it's actually not this but the other thing?


DISSENTER: Your point is ridiculous. It's obviously this, because of these points. Nice try, but you're way off.

FOUNDER: Don't say my point is ridiculous. I was merely offering an OPINION, which is legal in America. You should try to have a reasonable discussion instead of just attacking me. But no, you're too stupid to be reasonable.

MEDIATOR: Sheesh, guys. This is supposed to be a discussion. Can we quit the name calling and talk like adults?

-A flower in the woods reflects all the light of midnight stars.


SARCASTIC ANTI-FLAMER: Ummm. Flamer? You should really learn to spell if you're going to question our intelligence. This is an adult discussion, so you really shouldn't pipe in until you're 18, OK? And by the way, when you WRITE IN ALL CAPS, IT'S REALLY ANNOYING.


ANGRY ANTI-FLAMER: Flamer, you are such a little fuckhead. Why don't you do us a favor and go beat off to animal porn, you dickless wonder.


MATURE ANTI-FLAMER: Hi all. Just wanted to say that you should ingore Flamer. He's just looking for attention. If you ignore him, he'll eventually go away. Now, back to the discussion. ;-)

SUPPORTER: Well said, Mature Anti-Flamer! :-)

INTELLECTUAL: Founder, you state that while most people assert this about the subject at hand, the truth is actually the other thing. Let me clear a few things up for you. For years, the other thing was proposed as a viable alternative to this, but if you read THIS AUTHOR, you'll find that he conclusively rules out the other thing in his FANCY TITLED ARGUMENT. Furthermore, this is the real truth because of A, B and C.

FOUNDER: I still think it's the other thing.

MEDIATOR: You both make good points!

-A flower in the woods reflects all the light of midnight stars.

FLAMER: This message has been deleted by the administrator

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

These church doors only open in the front, buddy.

The Vatican has released a nine page document on gays in the clergy. The conclusion: You can become a priest if you're kinda gay, but not if you're Carson Kressley gay.

According to the document, men with a "transitory problem" (a brief dalliance in seminary school, for example) can be admitted to the priesthood, as long as they've been non-gay for at least three years. Men with "deep seated" homosexual "problems," however, should not be admitted. The Vatican provides no definition for "deep seated," other than the cheeky connotation of the term itself. Very punny, Catholic Church.

Why the document? The Vatican is reacting to the wave of child molestation problems that have plagued it of late. They figure that by winnowing out actively gay priests, they'll solve the problem of molestation. This despite the fact that experts find no link between homosexuality and child abuse.

Finally, a poorly-defined solution to a faulty supposition!

I love the tortured logic of the church.

It's not just that they insist on viewing homosexuality as a choice.

It's not just that they concoct various degrees of homosexuality, assign values to those categories and then fail to define the illusory differences.

It's not just that they insist on equating homosexuality with criminal sexual behavior.

It's that they go through all these machinations, these twists and turns of language, simply to preserve the perceived intent of words written in a book more than two-thousand years ago.

But clearly the real problem is that the document leaves a gray area around what constitutes intractable, and therefore unacceptable, gayness. Perhaps there should be a test of some sort that is designed to separate the merely curious from the chronically fabulous. Something like this:

  1. Have applicants recite the following and calculate level of lisp: "Christ once slumbered in sheepskin sheets."

  2. Q: Who deserves sainthood more: Mother Theresa or Bette Midler?

  3. Q: Jesus: Hot or not?

  4. Q: Which of the following is not one of the seven deadly sins: Avarice, Gluttony, Love Handles

  5. Q: If the Sacred Host transforms into the literal body of Christ upon consecration, does that mean it's Atkins friendly?

Friday, November 18, 2005

A trip worth taking

Q: What does the movie depicted on the left have in common with Dick Cheney?

First, go to "The Lantern Fishworks," read this post about Cheney, and scroll down and read the first comment by psaur.

Next, go to Diary of A Man Out of Time and check out MooT's comparison. It's a match!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Jurassic Beer

I wish I could find bee trapped in a bit of amber from the Jurassic Period. I'd cut open the casing and dab the bee gently with a fine brush. Then I'd dip the brush in a small vial of malt water and wait.

With luck, a small quantity of dormant yeast, harvested from the bee's proboscis, would take hold in the liquid, consume the simple sugars and begin to multiply. Before long, I would have a viable colony of prehistoric yeast.

Yeast, like all living organisms, evolves over time. Which means the colony in my vial would be different than any yeast available today. It would be closer to the yeast that Betty Rubble might use to bake a cake for Bam Bam's birthday.

What would I do with the yeast? Why, make beer, of course.

I would call it "Jurassic Beer." It would be an ale, most likely. And it would probably taste like dinosaur shit. But it would be mine.

I would drink it all and lie down to take a nap inside a sensory deprivation chamber. Then, filled with the yeast from another time and high on ale, I would perhaps begin to de-evolve into a proto-human, very much like William Hurt in "Altered States."

I'd break out of the chamber, now a primitive humanoid and still quite drunk, and lope around New York City in search of my favorite prey, a small deer-like animal. I would settle for a dog that looked something like that. I would fall asleep on a street corner. Later, I would awake, hungover and still de-evolved, and screech as a large yellow animal with circle legs whizzed by.

"What is this strange place?" I would ask myself in a crude illiterate way that sounded something like: "Bwa deru blah?" I would somehow make my way to Brooklyn, not knowing it was Brooklyn, then break into a dwelling. The dwelling, ironically, would be my own apartment. Exhausted, I would collapse in my own bed and dream of proto-women.

The next morning I would get out of bed and look around. Somehow, my hairy foot would step on the TV remote and on would pop a daytime talk show: Maury Povich. I would squat in the living room and watch the strange images magically flicker before my uncomprehending eyes. The show would teach me my first words. I would learn to say "talk to the hand!" and "don't judge me!" Eventually, I would learn to use the phone to call for pizza. The delivery guy would look like a fellow proto-human, and I would try and communicate with him. I'd stuff some green paper into his outstretched palm, and when he asked for a tip, I'd say: "Talk to the hand."

Weeks would pass. Now fluent in English, I would stumble over an old pay stub and learn where I worked. I'd shave my body to look like Maury Povich, then take the subway into work, enter my office and start writing copy.

I'd present a headline to my boss. The headline would read: "The mobile phone to take, wherever life takes you." My boss would complain that it was a little expected, and I'd pound my chest and smear the wall with feces. He would relent and the headline would end up on a postcard. The postcard would be mailed to six million people and sales would increase by 45 percent. When my boss told me the good news, I'd scratch my ass.

I would lunch that day at Han Bat, ordering the bibimbab and a Coke.

I would get married and have 2.5 half human/half proto-human children.

At 65, I would retire and receive a gold watch, which I would eat.

I would die three weeks later of gold watch poisoning.

No one would learn my secret.

Ten million years later, X-boxorg, a half-human/half-computer superbeing, would find a remnant of a beer bottle in a vast wasteland that was once Brooklyn. The petrified label would read: "Jurassic Beer." He would dab the glass shard with a futuristic brush, cultivate the yeast with his mind and brew beer. Into a sensory deprivation chamber he would go, emerging as a proto-human.

No one would ever learn his secret.

Somewhere, in a bit of cracked amber, the prehistoric bee would awake, raise his little hands up in a gesture of sassy innocence and say: "Don't judge me!"

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Blog Rant #2: Unintelligible design

Is there an editor in the house? Yeah, this is long but I think you'll like some of it. The idea of religion is interesting to me. If you find yourself getting bored, go to Chris Diclerico's excellent blog, where he has video of a tiger fighting a crocodile. Seriously, his blog is amazing.

Onto my rant:

Brimstone and Voters, Over in Dover
In an extraordinary show of rational groupthink, citizens in Dover, Pennsylvania voted a school board out of office last week for its endorsement of "intelligent design," a Conservative Christian counterpunch to just about everything science has ever taught us.

This is a hot topic these days. The Christian Right is trying to mandate that biology teachers in high schools across the country read a statement to their students that first introduces intelligent design as an alternative to natural selection and then recommends Of Pandas and People, a book that explains the theory.

The vote to oust the spineless school board shows that people in Dover understand the separation of church and state. Students can get all the Bible theory they want at church -- schools are for learnin', not prayin'. It also suggests that they recognize this seemingly small concession for what it is: yet another attempt by an activist administration to restore our religious fundamentalist heritage.

Sound far fetched? Let's hear one concerned Christian's reaction to the vote:

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city...And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there."

Any guesses who said that? Why, it's none other than one time presidential candidate and resident Torquemada, Pat Robertson, who seems to be calling for a little divine wrath, Bruckheimer style.

Robertson: Making shithouse rats everywhere more secure about their sanity.

Of course, Robertson doesn't represent the views of your average Christian. But he does represent the views of your average Bible, which is full of stats about plagues, murder, hatred and retribution (Sodom had a high Earned Retribution Average). And if the Right has its way, we'll all one day be required to acquaint ourselves with Moses's famous blog, Deuteronomy.

Those crazy Christians just won't give up.

This could become the Scopes Monkey Trial all over again. Only now, instead of trotting out the irrepressibly charming William Jennings Bryan to deliver a hand-fanningly bombastic denunciation of science, the Right is attempting to take on evolution mano a mano in the classroom by turning faith into an academic pursuit. "It's simply an alternative scientific theory," claim vacuously grinning proponents, "and should therefore be taught alongside natural selection."

Actually, intelligent design is nothing more than a 2,500 year-old idea that has been dressed up in a rented lab coat.

Here's why it's dumb.

Intelligent design: What it is and why it's dumb.
Intelligent design is the creationist's argument du jour against Darwin's theory of natural selection and the big bang theory. Not that it's new. The idea started way back in ancient Greece with the Pre-Socratics, was later developed into the teleological argument by Thomas Aquinas and was dusted off and expressed as the watchmaker analogy by 18th Century Christian philosopher William Paley. It has since been resurrected and tweaked by the Christian Right, despite being goofed on by generations of philosophers and scientists. But at its core, the pro-God argument hasn't changed much through the years, and it can be summed up using Paley's definition, which goes like this:

Suppose you are walking through a field and happen upon a watch. After observing it's complexity and function, you would reasonably assume it couldn't have formed by chance -- a watchmaker must have designed it. Similarly, the universe is so complex that it is reasonable to assume that it also has an intelligent designer -- i.e., God.

Any questions? No? Good, now let's all pray to the mighty watchmaker in the sky.

To appreciate the differences in thinking that inform the two ideas, it's worth taking a quick look at how each came about. Here's a quick recap:

Natural selection
1831: Darwin travels to Argentina and the Galapagos Islands, where he studies the resident flora and fauna, interviews natives and unearths fossils. Eventually, he comes to the conclusion that differences in the same species of creature found around the world suggest the idea that organisms adapt to climate, geography and competition. From this he concludes that slowly, over perhaps millions of years, man evolved from a lower life form as a means of survival in an ever changing world. He returns to England and publishes several well-regarded books, earning enough "fuck you money" to take whatever gigs he wants. Then, despite having laid the groundwork for genetics, Darwin marries his cousin and they spend the rest of their lives avoiding awkward family gatherings.

Intelligent design
1802: Paley looks at his watch and comes up with analogy that explains everything in the universe.

Darwin poses for the June 1836 issue of "Great Beards Monthly."

Intelligent design, in all its forms, has been taken on by philosophers, scientists and drunk guys in bars. One obvious problem is that the argument is used by creationists to prove the existence of God as he's known to Christians (White beard, sandals, long robe). Nothing about the argument supports this: it doesn't prove a single god (lots of watches, lots of watchmakers), a being with supernatural powers (when was the last time you saw a watchmaker assail a city with locusts?), a First Cause creator of the universe (someone had to make the watchmaker) and certainly not a being who would want to hang around with guys like Pat Robertson.

A second problem is that natural selection is simply a better argument, since it relies on all that evidence lying around. Where is the evidence to support the claim that watches can't -- given millions of years -- form on their own? Nowhere, that's where, Father.

That should end things: Intelligent design is merely a diverting faith-based brain teaser that has no place in the classroom.

But no. Recently, the Christian Right has adopted the language of science to modernize its argument, introducing the concept of "irreducible complexity." This is supposed to account for the criticism that intelligent design is an argument from ignorance.

The idea is that, even as natural selection attempts to simplify life to a series of naturally occurring causes, at some point you hit a functional biochemical system that cannot be reduced without causing it to cease functioning. Remove one component and the system becomes inert. Add to that the second law of thermodynamics -- that processes tend toward disorder and lower energy -- and you have a problem. How can a jumble of useless gunk assemble and ascend to a state of higher energy on it's own? My mother used to ask me that on Saturdays.

Take a mouse trap, for example, says Christian science guy Michael J. Behe. It has a function: to catch mice. But without all of its parts in place, it's just a piece of wood and some wire. So how could it ever have existed prior to its completed state? How would it have survived? It runs counter to the evolutionist idea that small, successive changes account for increasingly complex life forms.

Kenneth R. Miller has an answer. It might not be a functioning mousetrap in any prior state, but each part could have a workable function: As a paper clip, key chain, fish hook, etc. In other words, as they evolve, organisms change function as well as structure.

Whereas religious fanatics can threaten scientists with God's wrath, scientists have a less effective threat: The wrath of Khan.

There are plenty of other pseudo-scientific claims for irreducible complexity, and an equal amount of superior counterarguments. At the end of the day, irreducible complexity is simply another in a long line of desperate yeah-but-what-abouts from people who want to vote Jesus back onto the island.

And though the argument has taken a more sophisticated turn lately, remember that for every reasonable-sounding creationist proposition, there's a guy who wants to destroy your city if you disagree.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The final countdown

In less than an hour I will have completed the weeklong experiment in gastronomic deprivation known as the Cabbage Soup Diet.

If I never eat another bowl of cabbage soup again in my life, I will have considered my time on earth a success.

From now on, it's corned beef and anything else.

I don't even want to hear, read or speak the word cabbage. The very hint of a dream of a whisper of the word causes my esophagus to make like an epileptic python.

I might not even take cabs from now on. Too close.

But, I have managed to lose some weight. I stepped on Becky's scale last night and registered 198. That's thirteen pounds less than what my doctor clocked me in at a month ago.

And now it's time to gain it all back in the most delicious way possible: The giving for which we give thanks -- Thanksgiving. "Please pass the turkey." How I long to say those words. "Another piece of apple pie?" Yes, yes. Oh God, yes. Sweet potatoes. Stuffing. Gravy. Glazed carrots. Buttered rolls. Mashed potatoes. Beef jerky, fried chicken hearts, this keyboard -- anything but cabbage!

I want to eat everything listed in the song "Food, glorious food." Even saveloys, and I don't know what those are. Who cares? Bring 'em on. Unless they contain cabbage, of course.

I should have a giant bowl of macaroni and cheese under my chin right now as the clock draws toward midnight. And I should be holding a huge wooden spoon.

But I'll probably watch what I eat, at least for a little while. I told my self I'd lose forty pounds. So there are promises to keep.

And pounds to drop before I eat.
And pounds to drop before I eat.

So all that's left now is the obligatory "after" picture. So here it is: Me having a smart vegetarian dinner at Zen Palate.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Thought I'd have caved by now, did you?

"That crazy bastard won't make it through his ridiculous diet," I can hear you saying. Literally. Well, this bastard might be crazy, but he's got perseverance! (Him being me, and you being all smug.)

That's right, buckos and buckettes -- I am more than halfway through my week-long Cabbage Soup Diet!

And now that I've improved my eating habits for nearly four days, allow me to lecture you on the importance of moderation.

Look at you. Bellying up to the all-you-can eat buffet to pluck your Salisbury steak and scoop your glistening piles of cheese-drowned macaroni. Feeling the dull vibrations of panic as an unshaven suburban troglodyte lumbers between you and the half-empty tray of franks and beans. There is more to life than a three pound plate of starches precariously balancing a corn muffin. The sun does not rise and set on your precious bacon double cheeseburger. Have you ever tasted an apple? I mean, really tasted one? It's not that good, but it's good for you. And that's my whole point: Apples aren't that good.

I was once like you. Gluttonous. Slothful. But for the past ninety-one hours I have become temporarily better. Temporarily much better.

So eat your Doritoes and your Hot Pockets. Oh, and be sure to wash it all down with a can of carbonated corn syrup. Meanwhile, I will spend the final days of my diet reveling in the self-righteous universe of the recently converted. And that is all the sustenance I need.

I can't fucking wait until Monday.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fad Diet

Yesterday I started a one week diet that is supposed to help you lose 10-15 lbs. It's called the "Cabbage Soup Diet," and it works by effectively starving you for seven days.

Here's how you do it. First, cook up a giant batch of cabbage soup, using celery, green onions, onion soup mix, diced tomatoes, V8 Juice, bullion and, of course, cabbage. For the next week, the soup constitutes the base of your diet. You are to eat as much cabbage soup as you like, whenever you're hungry.

In addition, the diet prescribes an ever-changing list of daily foods you must eat along with the soup. Day one is all the fruit you can eat, except bananas. Day two is all the vegetables you can handle, minus a few select varieties. Day three is a mix of days one and two. On day four, you eat bananas and drink skim milk. Day five: Steak. Day six: Steak and tomatoes. Day seven: Brown rice and vegetables.

The science behind the madness: While you are stuffing yourself on soup, apples and greens, you are in actuality consuming very few calories. Full stomach + Few calories = Starvation, without those bothersome Stabbing Hunger Pangs. Just seven torturous days of cabbage soup aversion therapy.

This is truly a fad diet.

I am well aware of this.

I am also aware that the cabbage soup diet is scorned by respectable nutritionists (respectable nutritionists being nutritionists who have successfully graduated from college but were still unable to get into med school). That doesn't bother me. The average American is so overfed that he could stop eating for two weeks without doing any lasting damage. An actual doctor said that.

Why the crazy diet? The last time I went to the doctor, I weighed in at 211 lbs. That's a whole lot of Q'ner. The doctor told me I had to lose 40 lbs.

I asked him: "Any suggestions?"

"Exercise your mouth less and your body more."

Thanks, doc. Is a personal check OK?

Q'ner a few years ago: "Hey, good lookin'!"

Q'ner a few weeks ago: "Whatcha got cookin'???!!!"

Anyway, I'm feeling a bit too lazy to get to the gym. Or to start jogging, bicycling or any other "ing" that requires me to break a sweat. So I'm going the quick fix route. My reasoning is that by dropping 10-15 lbs. in a week, I'll have the motivation I need to transition to a more reasonable, long term eating

Let me have my fantasy.

So here I am, finishing off day two. Let's start the exciting, blow-by-blow coverage:

Day One: It's go time!
On Sunday I buy all the ingredients for the soup but fall asleep (with a belly full of Indian food) before I can make up a batch. So on Monday for lunch I order butternut squash soup from Pret and eat some mixed fruit. That night I cook up the soup and eat three bowls. It tastes pretty good. I then eat a bunch of strawberries and hobble to the bathroom as the cabbage tears down my intestinal tract and slams up against the inside of my clenched rectum.

Interesting experiment: Eat a handful of cabbage, then drop another handful of cabbage from shoulder height. See which one hits the floor first.

At midnight, I turn off the light and climb into bed. Then I climb out of bed, turn on the light and funny-walk to the bathroom. This is going to be a challenge.

Day Two: This was still a good idea!
When did I start disliking vegetables? In my mind the directive to "eat as many leafy greens as you'd like today" means eating no leafy greens. That's how many I'd like today. But I have to eat something besides the increasingly unattractive bowl of soup that I tucked in my bag this morning, so I resolve to find some palatable veggies.

At 11:30, I microwave the whole tub of soup and start chowing down. My officemate Nick remarks that the soup smells pretty good.

"Wanna try some?" I ask.


Instead, Nick opts for a delicious sandwich. I scoop up another spoonful of my luke-warm, anemic sludge and tell him that his lunch smells good, too.

After finishing half of the container, I run to the men's room. In the stall I come to the realization that food and poo are the twin obsessions of the fad dieter. You're constantly thinking about various kinds of one while producing various kinds of the other. I finish, stand up and sit back down for round two of a six round bout. At some point I notice an odd, burning odor. Is that the smell of emulsified fat exiting my body? Or am I perhaps already delusional from malnutrition?

I leave work for a smoke and decide to go to the deli, which offers an all-you-can eat buffet. I peruse the isle as hordes of cheerfully plump New Yorkers fill jumbo to-go boxes with fried chicken, braised pork, beef, tuna, sushi rolls, mashed potatoes, tofu triangles and crab salad. What can I eat here? Most of the vegetables are drenched in butter, oil, bacon or all three. I spot a steaming pile of broccoli and cauliflower with nobody around it. "Mmmmm" I think, lying to myself.

At 4:00, I reheat my container of soup and eat another few bowls. I leave at six for Brooklyn. The ride home is long. I feel cold and uncharitable. My intestines are in a constant state of adjustment.

I exit the train and go to the store to get a baked potato. This is the big, day-two indulgence listed in the diet. A single baked potato with butter. I arrive home and toss the potato in the oven and set it to broil. A few minutes later, my apartment fills with smoke and the scent of burning mozzarella. For the past year my oven has served one purpose: to reheat slices of pizza. I've been meaning to clean it.

My potato should be nearly done by now. And most of the smoke has cleared out of my apartment. I opened all my windows and shoved a towel under my front door so the smoke wouldn't alarm the rest of the building. I feel like a kid doing bong hits in his dorm room. I must go now to savor my flavorless potato. I'll provide an update in a few days. Wish me well.

Monday, November 07, 2005

When girlfriends attack.

Well, not so much attack but appropriate the remote control, which to an alpha clicker feels like nothing less than a full on gator roll. My girlfriend, Becky, doesn't watch a lot of TV. I do. But today she got the remote early (during a weak moment, when I was printing pictures on my computer) and wouldn't give it up.

The result? Nearly six hours of medical miracles, malignancies and malpractices courtesy of the Discovery Health Channel. Turns out she's fascinated by elephantine tumors, exploding cysts and third-degree burn victims.

But this isn't about exploring the wonders of modern medicine. I can hear her oohing, awing and ewwing as I surf around on the Internet in my bedroom.

"Look, honey!" she shouts, and I walk in and watch as a group of surgeons cuts a 200 lb benign tumor from a 120 lb woman. The tumor encases the woman like a giant nut sack. It contains, we learn, enough blood to fill five normal adults. Two surgeons slice it away, cauterizing the ropy arteries that connect the mass to her body, then flip her over to finish the job in just under 18 hours. She is a filleted, inert husk wearing an oxygen mask, and will now require, explains the narrator, "several skin grafts" to cover the 40 percent of her that is exposed and oozing. The group wrestles the tumor off the table.

"Gross," Becky says.

I agree and return to my computer, feeling weak.

Next up: Terrifying disfigurement. Becky calls for me again. "Brian, you have to see this." I press pause on my keyboard and the little animated guy in my flash game hangs in midair. I peek around the corner.

"Jesus, what the hell is that?"

The TV explains: A young girl from Afghanistan was pouring lamp oil into a stove when her robe caught on fire.

Ye Gods. The flames turned her skin into something like candle wax, which melted down her ears and face, fusing her chin to her chest and her left arm to her side. When they first show the girl she looks like a monster. Thick scar tissue pulls on her face such that her eyes and lips are stretched downward. For a year after the accident, she couldn't close her eyes to sleep. Her right ear looks like a fist. Afghan doctors wrote her off, but her story got out to an American surgeon, who flew her to the States and is now explaining the procedure.

I'm committed. I have to see the little girl get better. I can't live the rest of my life with that image.

The surgeon goes to work. First he cuts a line straight across the mass of scar tissue under her face, releasing the trapped chin. Next, a dozen skin grafts, reconstructive surgery on her ear and more skin grafts. Then, more skin grafts. I'm amazed at how brave the little girl is. She makes friends with everyone at the hospital and begins learning English.

After a year of painful procedures she looks like a little girl again. I'm relieved. She's staying with the surgeon and his wife and has begun going to school. There is some initial awkwardness as the new students look her over, but soon they accept her and she makes more friends than I ever had at that age.

The surgeon and his wife briefly consider adopting her, but realize she has a family waiting for her back in Afghanistan. So they take her back. The little girl's parents cry when they see how much their daughter has improved. The surgeon hugs her goodbye and boards the plane for home. It's a beautiful, bittersweet story. Roll credits.

"Ugh," says Becky. "After all that, she has to go back to Afghanistan, where women are oppressed and she'll live in poverty."

"She wanted to go back, remember?"

"No, she wanted to see her family. But she looked miserable in those video clips in the village."

"But now she knows English and has people in the US who love her." I'm getting desperate. "Maybe she'll move there to go to college or something."

"Yeah," Becky says skeptically.

It's like we just watched a movie and are arguing over it's genre. I want it to be an inspiring story about the triumph of the human spirit. Becky's going the horror route, one of those movies where everything seems to resolve itself before revealing a final, tragic "Whah-Whah."

I leave to get some shopping done and pick up dinner.

"You're gonna like this next one," Becky promises as I put the takeout bags on the coffee table. She's cuddled up in my Ikea chair. I should have brought her some popcorn and a Coke.

The title comes up on the screen: "When surgical tools are left behind."

Becky laughs. "Don't go by the title."

I'm halfway through my chicken korma when a laconic Hispanic woman begins telling her story. (Bored Hispanic accent): "The doctors, they opened my breast to check for a tumor. It was benign, but later that night my breast grew the size of my head. And the breast, it was purple. I went to the doctor and when he removed the bandages it just exploded." I lower my fork as she clarifies: "The stuff was thick and red, like red Jello. The doctor, he gave me an antibiotic and told me it would be OK. But I awoke that night covered in a thick slime, you know? Like a slimy slime all over my body."

"Alright, turn the channel!" I yell.

Becky fumbles with the remote, giggling.

"C'mon, turn it to anything, I don't care, just turn it. Please. Hurry."

She turns it to a shopping channel. Fine, that's a safe home base. We can watch a platinum-blonde woman hocking fake jewlery in the right-hand corner of the screen while Becky hunts for more appetizing fare.

After dinner, I go back to my room. There is more: Children who age prematurely, a guy whose grapefruit-sized scrotum leaks a "cup to a cup-and-a-half" of pus every day. A fifteen year old girl who screams as she gives birth to her first child. I'm not going back in there, but I can hear it all from my room.

Later, Becky emerges from the living room. "Forget that Freddy Kruger stuff," she says. "Medical procedures -- now that's real horror."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Bushoxofin Chewables!

The following is a paid advertisment from the makers of Bushoxofin®

Ever since Rolling Rivers Pharmaceutical and Cookie Concerns began offering Bushoxofin, millions have been spared the terrible symptoms of outrage and anger caused by contemplating the actions of the Bush Administration.

But with the latest news coming out of the White House, sufferers are finding that they would require a Bushoxofin pill the size of a Twinkie just to keep their mental equilibrium. And that, like the President himself, is a tough pill to swallow.

Fortunately, Rolling Rivers Pharmaceutical and Cookie Concerns has an answer. Introducing Bushoxofin Chewables®, a fun new way to wipe away the crippling despair and verbal tics (Whatthefuckinosis) that can strike while watching or reading the news. Each Bushoxofin Chewable contains twice the patented medication found in original Bushoxofin, and its delicious new flavor makes taking your medicine as easy as it is necessary. Pop as many as you need -- we'll make more!

And that's not all. Bushoxofin Chewables come in five EXTREME flavors, each one formulated to alleviate specific symptoms caused by this complex and misunderestimated disease:
  • Concerned about the rise of corporate greed and wholesale contempt for poor people? Try a Cheney Cherry.

  • Feeling an overall sense of disassociation combined with paranoid feelings that the world is against you? Better pop a Bush Blueberry.

  • Wondering how the administration ever got re-elected in the first place? You'll need a Rove Raspberry.

  • Worried that your thoughts are somehow leaking out of your brain and into the general media? Snap into a Libby Lemon. (No longer available)

Let's hear from some satisfied customers:

Mommy says that I better have fun in the park now, because by the time I'm her age, there won't be any woods left. That made me sad. But the happy pills made me happy. And they taste good too! Thanks Bushoxofis Chewys!
Amanda Johannson, 6

As a father, I was worried that the real root of terrorism was not being properly addressed. In fact, I somehow believed that the Bush Administration was exacerbating matters by invading countries under false pretenses, thereby inflaming the anger of potential allies in the Middle East and the world. A few pills later and suddenly all I care about is whether that crazy woman on Trading Spouses really said what I think she said. Can you pass the peanut butter?
Robert Fullmer, 43

I'm the CEO of a major oil company and a member of Families For America, a Christian Conservative worry group. I once felt that securing the Middle East, a land that contains both the location of Christ's imminent return as well as vast reserves of petroleum, was a win-win situation. Then I took a Bush Blueberry Chewable. Now I feel we should also invade Spain, France, Brasil and Florida. You know, just in case Christ wants a place to vacation before Judgement Day.
Billy Ray Whitman, 63

Please note that Bushoxofin Chewables aren't for everybody. If you already approve of the Bush Administration, it is recommended you not take this medication. Otherwise, you could end up like Billy Ray Whitman or, worse, Tom Delay.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

You might say that his "ass" was "glued" to a "toilet seat."

A few news sources are carrying this story: A man got stuck on a toilet seat in a Kentucky Home Depot after some little bastard smeared the seat with wacky glue. Now he's suing because the head clerk ignored his cries for help for 15 minutes, thinking it was a hoax. The victim's account of the ordeal is so carefully worded, you might almost think he consulted a lawyer before speaking to the press.

Now, one would hope that your typical staff writer would be champing at the bit to relay this story, considering all the fun word-play you could have with it. But I must say, I was let down by the first two accounts.

CNN filed its version under Law. It's handled in a nuts-and-bolts tone. No delicate puns. No bathroom humor. Professional, save for one play on words that the Web site administrator probably couldn't resist: The URL includes the string /toilet.suit.ap/. Get it?

The London Free Press also handles the story professionally, allowing only the following indulgence: "Hardware retailer Home Depot finds itself in a sticky situation..." (Italics mine)

How sad. A story like this deserves something more. But what? I searched around a bit, finally finding this account, on The story is the same as the one on The London Free Press, but the staff included this lovely picture. Thank you, Russian news outlet.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Books and authors I can't get into.

I'm not saying these books and authors suck. I'm just explaining why I can't get into them.

But some of them do suck, though.

In any event, please enjoy my first official blog rant.

A) Authors I won't give a fair chance.

I won't read John Grisham. I don't care about taut courtroom thrillers. I don't need to read insider lingo that could only be written by an ex-lawyer. He might be a good writer for all I know. I won't even spend two hours watching any of his movies.

Tom Clancy loves his military shit, but I don't. I can't even follow the plots in his movies. Was that the same guy from earlier who warned that other guy about the leak? I don't know, both were 50-ish white guys wearing navy baseball caps.

Michael Crichton. I'm probably not even spelling his name right, but I don't want to look it up. I started the book Timeline a while ago, but the writing was just so awful. Martin Amis pegged it: He's not writing books, he's writing book-length screenplays.

That chick that writes that stuff about relationships? I don't like her.

B) What was I thinking?

Stephen King can tell a story. He's good at plot. But that dialogue is some seriously stilted, phony shit. I didn't notice that when I was sixteen. If you once read and enjoyed The Shining, do yourself a favor and don't read it again. Just savor the memory.

I picked up Books of Blood, by Clive Barker, which I last read in 1993. I used to think it was great, literate horror. But now I think it's overwritten, cliched melodrama.

C) Postmodernists

Mason Dixon is a masterpiece. It says so right on the cover in a New York Times quote. I've tried to break the seal, but I can never get past the first thirty pages or so. And then there are like 700 pages after that! And there are only eleven periods in the whole book. Maybe I'm not smart enough for Pynchon. I think I can live with that.

David Foster Wallace can do the tangent like nobody's business. Broom of the System is supposedly more approachable than Infinite Jest, but I can't force myself to pick it up again. It's sitting on my bathroom floor. I'm at the part where a cockatiel starts speaking all this mixed up literate babble. I know it's a metaphor for something -- maybe DFW's writing. I tuned out after a chapter about a guy who wants to eat himself so fat that he takes up more and more of the universe, thereby making everyone else closer to him. This is his prescription for avoiding loneliness. If you find that sort of writing cerebral and cute, read Broom of the System and tell me how it ends.

James Joyce, the grandfather of the postmodernists, was a genius. Dubliners is perfect, written with a "scrupulous meanness." Not a single superfluous word in any of the stories. Then, he lost his Irish mind. Reading Ulysses is like trying to eat a hamper full of laundry. I shouldn't lump him in with guys like David Foster Wallace, though. That's wrong. Maybe I'll try Ulysses one more time.

D) Other heavyweights

The Wind Beneath Her Feet, by Salman Rushdie, rang false. He's writing about a pop star and you get the feeling he's out of his element. It's like a bookish, foreign exchange student explaining his take on Kurt Cobain to you at a party. All the terminology is a little off and his sense of humor edges toward corny nerdiness.

Has Philip Roth lost a little something on his fastball? Portnoy's Complaint was hilarious and dark, but The Human Stain is colorless, mannered and allegorical. I couldn't get into it.

E) New writers

Jonathan Safran Foer starts out Everything is Illuminated with a bang. The narrator is from the Ukraine and he writes in hilariously broken English. That lasts for four genius pages before the story lurches back in time to tell a whole lot of back story. That wouldn't be so bad, but the change in tone is annoying. It goes from being quirky and different to writing that is so self-consciously beautiful, you can almost hear it being applauded by writer's workshops across the country.

I was so excited to read Middlesex after having read the brilliant Virgin Suicides. But get to the point, Eugenides! Talk about back story: this guy presents a brilliant premise -- a hermaphroditic narrator -- then spends over a hundred pages on a romantic telling of his Greek grandparents coming to the new world. I'll try it again. I really want to get to the hermaphrodite's story.

A Million Little Pieces has one of the best cover designs ever. James Frey wants to be the next big thing. He famously dissed Dave Eggers. He boasts about how he got clean of drugs through sheer determination. His prose short, hard and repetitious. But his true story starts to sound bullshitty after a while. The supposedly real-life characters sound like they were heisted from a crime drama. And they all die in the end, meaning no one can contact them to verify Frey's harrowing time spent in a rehab clinic. I didn't buy his story. He sounds like a rich kid talking tough. A much, much better rehab book is "Dry," by Augusten Burroughs. It's funny, dark and truthful. This isn't any of those.

Well, that's my first official blog rant. Hope you enjoyed my bile. I might change my mind about some of these books tomorrow. Just try and stop me. We blog ranters are a fickle bunch, all angry one minute and rabidly fanboyish the next.

My girlfriend says I'm a curmudgeon. Maybe I am. But on the other hand, Bah!!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Forget everything you know about zombie movies

If you know nothing about zombie movies, learn as much as you can, then promptly forget everything you've learned. (The easiest way to forget, as I understand, is to have a friend drop a coconut on your head.)

After completing these steps, go look at the video stills of We Are Going to Eat You, a horror movie with equally horrifying production values, which was shot by my friend Psaur back in, as he notes, 1984 or 1985.

Now that's a zombie movie.

Ah, 1984 or 1985: Reagan had just begun his second term, or was a year into his second term. Pepsi was red-faced after burning Michael Jackson during a commercial shoot, or Coke had just released the disastrous New Coke. Clara Peller asked the nation: "Where's the Beef," or Microsoft released Windows 1.0. You remember 1984 or 1985.

A quick check on reveals no record of We Are Going to Eat You. Was it too controversial? Or is it not there because it was just a video shot by some 15 or 16-year old Long Island kids? Look at the stills and judge for yourself.

UPDATE: As Mo'sh points out in the comments, the film was shot on Super 8 film not video. And Mo'sh was involved, too. I was so transfixed by Psaur's enormous zombie head that I forgot it was an ensemble piece. You can see more stills on Psaur's home page: Don't Parade in My Rain.