Saturday, March 12, 2005

Toolbox Murders

In 1974, Tobe Hooper changed horror films forever with the release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's one of the most influential, significant, and most importantly horrifying horror films ever conceived. His career hasn't really amounted to much since then. There's the forgettable 1985 vampire riff Lifeforce, most famous for Mathilda May's nude scene. And he began directing Poltergeist before Spielberg kicked him out and took over the reigns. Ever since, he's worked in TV, made shorts for inclusion with anthologies, and watched over a big, dumb Hollywood remake of the film that made him famous.

Now he's trying to recapture some old glory with the release of The Toolbox Murders, a thoroughly dreadful and pointless remake of the 70's grindhouse classic of the same name. He takes the old film's silly plot and penchant for gory death-by-power-tools, but forgets about that whole fun or scary part. What a disappointment.

This movie has so much going for it, I'm surprised at how little it amounts to. Most of the fault lies with the lazy screenplay by Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch. They're working in an incredibly familiar genre, the slasher film, which in and of itself doesn't bother me that much. Wes Craven's Scream basically killed off the genre, turning it in on itself and making it self-aware. Toolbox Murders certainly doesn't share that film's cynicism or wry sense of humor. It's about as straightforward as movies come, using narrative as a mere thread on which to hang a series of grisly but not very creative murder scenes.

Even worse, the movie can't even follow through on its meager set-up. The delightful Angela Bettis, who stars in the best horror movie thus far this decade, May, has nothing at all to do here as unemployed teacher Nell. She has just moved to Los Angeles along with her med student husband Steven (Brent Roam). He's chosen as their first LA apartment a small room in the nightmarishly creepy Lusman Arms, an unlikely Hollywood rathole seemingly so uninhabitable, you wonder why he signed on to the lease in the first place.

Things are obviously not right in the Lusman. For one thing, police are there cleaning up the messy results of an electrical accident even as Nell and Steven arrive. And things just go downhill from there. Nell meets the mysterious old man Chas (veteran character actor Rance Howard) who hints at some dark history of the Lusman. She hears her neighbors fighting violently and nearly dies when the elevator loses power, both on the first night of her stay.

And then people start being murdered by a man in a ski mask weilding a variety of tools, including a hammer, a nail gun and a power drill. That's about all that happens. A few explanations for the bizarre killings are flirted with before being abandoned. In one particularly puzzling subplot, Nell discovers that the founder of the Lusman believed in black magic, and intended the entire building to work "as a spell of some sort." The film does nothing with this concept whatsoever. It's as if Hooper and his writers just threw every half-baked idea they had into this script, hoping one concept would take off enough to satisfy an audience that really just wanted some gory effects.

The problem there is that the effects don't really add up to much, and there aren't nearly enough of them. For every reasonably executed murder scene, we're treated to roughly 20 minutes of dithering. Nell makes friends with a newly-thin neighbor (Julia Landau), who then disappears immediately. She uncovers a secret apartment hidden within the building's walls, but our only glimpse of the space is so dark, it's impossible to even make out what's being seen. And she attempts to solve the mystery of the occult symbols that appear on every floor, but never actually figures them out. Finally, the identity and backstory of the murderer doesn't link up to the rest of the film in any way. Doesn't even remotely try to.

So, that's why the story sucks. Unfortunately, Hooper's direction doesn't fare much better. Chainsaw Massacre had such a unique style, such a creative method of low-budget storytelling, it's unthinkable that Hooper manages to do so little with Toolbox Murders. As I mentioned before, the cinematography is so dark as to be frequently indiscernable. There's the use of darkness and shadows for atmosphere, and then there's just having the lights turned down too low. The direction itself is slack and uncreative for the most part. In truth, the film looks more like a UPN show than a feature film.

And, man, that finale. Hooper tries to get back into his Texas Chainsaw Massacre style, pitting a lone, frightened woman against a saw-wielding maniac in cramped quarters strewn with human body parts. But this time, the staging's incredibly awkward or silly (often, the protagonist turns away from the killer completely, as if there was something more important going on than her imminent grisly slaying), the lighting sucks, no one has any shred of personality, and the set looks more like a messy soundstage than the hideout of a homicidal maniac.

Sword of Doom

Many Americans have trouble watching and enjoying Japanese cinema. Obviously, there are exceptions (anime, Godzilla). But Japanese films tend to unfold very differently from Western, particularly American, movies.

To me, the biggest difference comes down to focus. Americans like their films as direct as possible - we want to know exactly what the film's about within the first 10 minutes. Just about every mainstream American film, in fact, contains a single line of dialogue in its first 15 minutes that explains the entire plot. Often, it's in the trailer. Like, "You mean you're going to steal the Declaration of Independence?" Or "There's an asteroid heading this way that's twice the size of Texas!" Or one of my personal favorites..."You mean there's snakes out there this big?"

Japanese movies, on the other hand, frequently introduce characters and situations, and then riff on them for a while. Rather than one simple narrative with a beginning, middle and end, Japanese films often have several threads that can be picked up or dropped with little advance notice or apparently purpose.

Obviously, these are generalizations. I can think of plenty of extremely straightforward Asian films and many complex, densely constructed American movies. But it's still valid, dammit!

Take Kihachi Okamoto's 1966 samurai classic Sword of Doom, for example. If this were an American film, it would probably be told very simply from a narrative standpoint. A somewhat unhinged roaming samurai (Tatsuya Nakadai) during the last days of the Shogunate kills a sparring partner during a non-fatal kendo match, after which he takes the dead man's wife as a mistress. He earns the vengeance of the dead man's associates, as well as his brother Hyoma (Yuzo Kayama). Eventually, his violent misdeeds catch up with him, driving him to madness.

There you go. 90 minutes, some quick-cut edits and a moody, electronic soundtrack, and you've got yourself a movie. But under the direction of Okamoto, Sword of Doom drifts around, telling the story of not just semi-crazed samurai Ryunosuke, but taking as much of the atmosphere of 1860 Japan as possible.

He takes the time to establish Hyoma as a character, and even show his training under the expert hand of Shimida (the legendary Toshiro Mifune, in a wonderful supporting role). Likewise, he presents the widow Ohama as a complex woman full of contradictions. She offers herself to Ryunosuke before his match with her husband, in some ways causing his eventual death. Afterwards, she begs Ryunosuke to take her along with him on his travels, but soon enough becomes vengeful towards him. Only after she has borne him a son does she realize the error of her decision-making.

This lack of focus enhances the realism and scope of the film, but can also try your patience. Attempting to follow the film's story in any objective way becomes a lost cause on the first few viewings. Complicated political and social situations are often glossed over quickly, and characters appear and then disappear quickly and without much provocation. The best way to watch a film like Sword of Doom is as a collection of stories bound together by a common theme and style. Some are action-packed, others melodramatic and intense, and others slow-building and emotionally draining. By the film's end, you've really heard a complete story, whether or not it all made sense in the telling.

The beautiful black and white cinematography makes up for some narrative incoherence, anyway. This is among the best-looking samurai films of the period (and that's really saying something). The action sequences are well shot, particularly the bloody brothel-set finale. And even Mifune, not famed for his ability with swordplay, gets a punchy, exciting action scene of his own.

This was the second time I've seen Sword of Doom. Upon my initial viewing, I saw Ryunosuke as a complete psychopath, killing scores of people without rhyme or reason. But after this second viewing, I think that judgement may have been a bit rash. Often, the whims of other characters force his hand. He refuses to fight with Shimida out of respect for the man's noble nature. And, after all, he's eventually driven mad by his guilt over the murders he's committed. At the film's opening, Ryunosuke's father disowns his son, citing his extreme distress over the boy's unconventional and deathly fighting style.

As in that sequence, it's precisely Ryunosuke's fantastic abilities with the sword that will be his downfall. The Doom of the title at first seems to refer to those who will die by Ryunosuke's blade, but it comes to refer, I think, to the man's own downfall.

Friday, March 11, 2005

We've Been Had

In a previous post on the abhorrent new bankruptcy bill the Senate couldn't pass fast enough, I cited Paul Krugman citing a Harvard study. According to this study, medical bills were behind half of all bankruptcies in the United States. It's a statistic that, for the most part, makes sense. I mean, why would people likely declare bankruptcy? Loss of a job would be my #1 guess, followed by a medical emergency.

But it turns out, this statistic is totally bogus. Not that this excuses the passage of this idiotic bill, that only serves credit card companies while crippling many middle and lower class citizens, not to mention the elderly and veterans in disproportionate numbers.

But still, it's a faulty stat. According to the National Review Online (NRO from here on), the study uses the term "medical cause" extremely loosely. Specifically, it considers gambling or alcohol addiction to be a "medical problem."

For example, the study classifies "uncontrolled gambling," "drug addiction," "alcohol addiction," and the birth or adoption of a child as "a medical cause," regardless of whether medical bills are involved. Yes, there may be situations in which a researcher might legitimately want to classify those conditions as "medical," but a study that is being used to prove that Americans are going bankrupt as a result of crushing medical bills is not one of them.

I'll concede the point. Even though alcoholism is certainly a disease that should be treated medically, it's not exactly fair to classify bankruptcy caused by excessive drinking as "due to medical expenses." And adopting a kid? Babies are just a financial hardship, whether you adopt them or birth them the old fashioned way.

So that study is blantantly misleading. I thought you should know. I usually like Paul Krugman, and I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he merely glanced at this study too quickly before including it in his column. And it is only one point in a larger column that's highly worthwhile.

Bacon Bacon Bacon, I'm Making the Moves on You!

If you can identify where that quote comes from, you're a huge dork. I mean, massive. Okay, I'll give you a hint.

Anyway, that's not the point of this post. The point is that there's a very funny site you should check out called Bacon Whores.

What they do is, see, they send pseudo-Hooters Girls over to your house by reservation and cook you bacon. That's it. It's not a horrible idea for a service. They don't offer any pricing information on the site, but if the entire service costs less than $20, I can see a lot of lazy college students making late-night calls for bacon delivery.

When I was in college, there was a service called Don't bother checking it out, because it no longer exists. But they were sort of the online Pink Dot, delivering anything you could find in a convenience store to your apartment within an hour or so after you simply placed an order on the Internet. They'd even bring you rental movies! Amazing.

Kozmo went out of business almost immediately. Because, let's face it, that's a shitty business plan. They'd come over to our apartment and deliver, like, two Cokes for $3. How are you supposed to turn a massive profit from sending out a delivery guy to bring Cokes to stoners for next to no money? You're not.

But these Bacon Whore people might be on to something, although I'm not certain if this is a real service. Obviously, I checked if I could get some bacon in my area, and it gives me this message:

Your zip code 90034 is covered by our Los Angeles office. Due to overwhelming demand, there are currently no BaconWhores appointments available in the next two weeks. Check back soon for updated availability!

Now, if this is genuinely an upstart company trying to win over new clients, delaying service by two weeks won't really fly.

But it's certainly an amusing enough website. And they've got the marketing angle down. They even have (possibly photoshopped) pictures of celebrities wearing Bacon Whores gear. For example, here's American Beauty and "Six Feet Under" star Mena Suvari:

She's cute anyway, but with a picture of bacon on her shirt, she's downright irresistable.

So, my thanks to Cory for sending me this wonderful link. How else would I have ever learned vital information about bacon like the following:

Bacon starts its life inside a piglet-shaped cocoon, in which it receives all the nutrients it needs to grow healthy and tasty.

You learn something new every day!

Southern Comfort

Our tour of the forgotten films of 1981 continues with Walter Hill's Southern Comfort. You can't find a review online for this film that doesn't consider the film as a Vietnam metaphor. And of course, it's clearly meant to reflect certain American feelings about that failed military venture, still fresh in everyone's minds in the early 8o's.

First off, the film is set during the height of the conflict, in 1973. And its story of National Guard soldiers lost inside a dense Louisiana swamp, on the run from crazed Cajuns bent on their destruction, contains several obvious references to the war. The soldiers fire blanks, they fight an emeny intimately familiar with the terrain, and they express constant, sometimes violent, disregard for the native inhabitants of the wetlands.

But to see the film exclusively through this interpretation misses a lot of what makes Comfort so successful. As with most cinematic allusions, unearthing the metaphorical threads only gets you so far. Hill's still telling a story, geopolitical references aside, and what he's created here is much more than an intellectual exercize. It's an exciting, pessimistic adventure story, a harrowing vision of humanity at its weakest and most peculiar.

Keith Carradine stars as Spencer, a longtime Private First Class in the Lousiana State National Guard, who's both the most clever and most jaded member of his squad. Powers Boothe plays Corporal Harden, a real nasty piece of work who has just transferred to Louisiana from the Texas National Guard. (Hey, I wonder if he knew the President...yeah, probably not). Along with several other soldiers, they're sent into the forbidding, remote wetlands on an exercize, carrying with them few supplies and rifles loaded with blanks.

It's not long into their misadventure that an incident occurs with a group of local Cajun fishermen. And this is when the Vietnam references become the most immediately apparent. The cavalier, sadistic Reece (an excellent Fred Ward) slices up a Cajun fishing net, ignorant redneck Stuckey (Lewis Smith) fires a round of blanks at some locals as a prank, and the dismissively named "Coach" Bowden starts to crack up under the pressure.

I think the real point here isn't that the Cajuns are similar to the Viet Cong, or that the situation is all that similar to the South Asian conflict. Hill seems most interested in exploring the attitudes of the soldiers, and here is where the Vietnam parallel becomes most salient. These guys don't like the Cajuns, don't understand them and don't want to understand them. After the film becomes violent, obviously the communication falls apart between the two groups, and there's little to no hope for a satisfying, non-violent solution.

By the film's conclusion, when Spencer and Hardin finally reach what appears to be a peaceful Cajun village, this notion has come full-circle. Nothing about these people is what it seems, and the soldiers lack of understanding of this culture has led them right into a trap. A bravura closing sequence intercuts between a traditional Cajun-style hoedown and Hardin meeting a potentially bloody end. For the soldiers, the Cajun people, their town, their culture and their lifestyle has come to represent one thing and one thing only: death.

But as I said, the Vietnam stuff is only part of the story. What keeps the viewer's interest isn't constant references to foreign wars. It's the strength of Hill's direction, Boothe and Carradine's charismatic yet gritty performances and Hill regular Andrew Lazlo's fabulous cinematography, giving us a bayou made up entirely of deep brown water, thick pockets of overgrown trees and foreboding dark shadows.

It's so refreshing as well to see a violent film unafraid to show you real violence. So often today, with studios all clamoring for PG-13 ratings and the additional box office promised by adolescent viewers, films with violent, dark subject matter like Southern Comfort wind up diluted, neutered by the MPAA and an over-sensitive public. This is a movie about a small group soldiers encountering a crafty, angry menace, and it doesn't shy away from demonstrating the cost of their tresspassing. Early on, when Peter Coyote's Sgt. Poole runs afoul of a Cajun sharpshooter, we're alerted that Southern Comfort won't be pulling any punches. The violence ratches up the tension, lets us know these Cajuns mean business, and highlights the film's brooding themes of conflict and misunderstanding.

Hill made this film during the height of his critical and commercial success. Two years earlier, he'd directed the modern classic The Warriors (for which he's currently scripting a remake), the year before he'd directed the excellent The Long Riders with not one, not two but three Carradines (Keith, David and Robert). And the very next year, in 1982, he'd essentially invent the interracial buddy cop genre with 48 Hours. This is action cinema at its most immediate, gripping, shocking and intense. Another excellent film from 1981.

Passion of the Christ: Director's Cut

Yes, Mel Gibson's re-releasing his ode to bloody martyrdom, The Jesus Chainsaw, I mean, The Passion of the Christ in a toned-down unrated version in theaters. Hey, just in time for Easter! This year, after you've enjoyed your chocolate bunnies and your kids have finished their backyard egg hunt, why not head down to the multiplex to watch the excessive, grisly torture and eventual death of the man who made it all possible? Doesn't that sound neat?

Gibson claims he edited the film to make it more appropriate for older viewers, teenagers and those with faith in their hearts but weak stomachs. Also, he took out the scene where one puppet urinates on another puppet. Or was that Team America? I get them so confused.

"Some of you actually said that you wish you could have taken your Aunt Martha, Uncle Harry or your grandmother, some of your older kids, and you thought that perhaps the intensity of the film was prohibitive to those people," Gibson says. "I listened to that, and it inspired me to recut the film to cater to those people that perhaps might not have seen it because of its intensity or brutality."

I wish I could have taken my Aunt Martha, but I don't have an Aunt Martha.

How can you really even cut out the violence and gore from The Passion? That's like the whole movie! It's a 3 minute short film without blood 'n guts. If you get up to use the bathroom or buy a soda, you might miss the whole film! That's why it's so incredibly objectionable.

But here's where the story really gets interesting. Or scary. Mostly scary.

The Rev. John Bartunek, author of the book Inside The Passion, says he has seen the original more than 70 times as he has traveled to speak about the movie and its making. His 71-year-old father, however, hasn't seen it because he was put off by the extreme violence. Now Bartunek says his father is ready to get a ticket.

70 times? That's double Eric Cartman's record, and he's president of the Mel Gibson fan club!

And now he travels the country "to speak about the movie"? What a load of bullshit. This guy's supposed to be a religious leader. Even if the movie is good, there are certainly more pressing issues for a man of the cloth to discuss. A behind-the-scenes look at The Passion sounds more like a DVD special feature than a sermon topic. Methinks the Rev sees The Passion as an opportunity to latch on to a worldwide phenomenon and exploit it for all it's worth.

Dan Marler, pastor of the Church of God in Oak Lawn, Ill., rented a theater for 400 parishioners last year. But this time, he says he might only screen the DVD at church after Good Friday services for those who want to see it again.

The movie "was one of those once-in-a-lifetime occurrences," he says, adding that there's a danger if churches embrace the film too much. This is a nice, good movie. It had a profound impact for many believers, but it's not the Bible; it's not Scripture. You can't miss church on Sunday because you saw The Passion this week."

You've got to love that quote. "This is a nice, good movie." What????????? He calls the movie nice? Nice? It depicts the final moments of Christ's life, when he was in extreme agony! I don't think any movie in which a man is repeatedly whipped, forced to lug a cross up a massive hill while being spat upon and pelted with fruit until he's left hanging on said cross for days, to be pecked apart by birds, eventually dying from exposure could be considered "a nice movie."

Show Boat is a nice movie. The Odd Couple is a nice movie. The Passion of the Christ is a semi-spiritual snuff film. And this guy's a pastor! You think he might know better.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Star Wars: Episode 3: The Search for More Money

Or was that Spaceballs 2? No matter.

As the massive dorks or "OC" fans will know (and those groups ain't exactly mutually exclusive anyway), the new trailer for Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith premiered tonight on Fox. I failed to catch it on television, but managed to download it via the extremely useful BitTorrent fileshare system.

And if you can manage to locate your own copy of this trailer, you absolutely should. It rules! Based only on this brief glimpse, it appears Lucas has finally taken the prequels where I wanted them to go. It's dark, it's troubling, it features a lot of Jedi being attacked and wiped out, and there's actual battles in outer space.

Have you noticed how few outer space battles Episode 1 and 2 contain? The series is called Star Wars, after all, not Seemingly Endless Intergalactic Trade Negotiations. Hopefully, Revenge of the Sith will finally deliver on the initial promise of these movies.

Although you never know...I recall being extremely enthusiastic about the trailers for the other two prequels, and then having my hopes cruelly dashed by movies more interested in gay robot shenanigans and sub-Garden State love stories than adventure or fun. Many have argued that Lucas sought to take the series in a bold, innovative direction, turning them from whiz-bang serial-style adventures into thoughtful polemics on fascism and tyranny. Or some crap like that.

But I don't want thought-provoking political discourse from George Lucas or Star Wars. We've got The Wayans Brothers for that!


Rumors are buzzing around the Net today that Lucas may actually make Episode 3 a PG-13 film! That would be a tremendous step in the right direction as far as I'm concerned. This is the tough, violent part of the story. Can you satisfactorily show me the entire Jedi nation being wiped out and still earn a PG? Unlikely...

Anyway, everything I've seen from Lucasfilm this week has been entirely encouraging. Maybe this prequel thing's gonna work out okay after all.

An Actual Post About Poetry

Let's class things up around here, shall we? The only thing I've posted on the blog all day dealt with porn, and I'm feeling like I should be a bit more highbrow. After all, I've forwarded this blog to professional journalists...I don't want them thinking I'm obsessed with fart jokes, pornography and violent movies. I am, but they don't need to know that!

So let's talk about poetry.

Wait, where are you going? Hold on a second. I'll keep it as interesting as possible.

There's a poet named John Ashbery with whom you may be familiar. His poems are exceedingly difficult, impenetrable some might say. I should know, because one of my best friends, Dave, is a poet himself and a great admirer of Ashbery, so I spent many a lazy evening having some of the man's more bizarre, conceptual verses read aloud to me, often while I was playing "Coolboarders 4" and listening to Beck's "Midnight Vultures" album.

I'll fully admit that, most of the time, I have no clue what the guy is talking about. To be perfectly frank, I usually find Dave's lyrics mystifying to the point of utter incomprehension. He read one at the Armand Hammer Museum a while back called "A Page About the Project" that I kind of think I understand. It was really good, though it could have used a few more fart jokes.

I bring all of this up because Slate currently features an article explaining one method of reading and appreciating Ashbery poems. Cultural critic Meghan O'Rourke assures us that Ashbery's poems aren't really designed for complete understanding, but rather use wordplay, description, suggestion and non-sequitur to impressionistically convey the experience of being alive, what Ashbery calls "the experience of experience." She focuses on Ashbery's background in surrealism to argue that, like a Dali painting, an Ashbery poem collects stray thoughts, feelings, emotions, desires and fears to project an image of the inner workings of the mind.

He is the first poet to achieve something utterly new by completely doubting the possibility—and the value—of capturing what the lyric poem has traditionally tried to capture: a crystallization of a moment in time, an epiphanic realization—what Wordsworth called "spots of time." Ashbery has updated the lyric poem by rejecting this project, finding it fundamentally inauthentic (though he'd never put it in such somber terms).

It sounds good when you're reading the article, but after thinking about her theory for a while, I'm left a bit unsatisfied. I mean, couldn't you say this same thing about almost every famous poet? They're all trying to pick up on verbiage that expresses the unexpressible, ethereal workings of our conscious and unconscious minds. Granted, most Frost poems have a beginning, a middle and an end - they're about something concrete, like taking the road less traveled in life or what have you. But most of the poetry with which I'm familiar, and granted that's not an abundant library of work, feels like it shares this intent, whether or not it's actually anything like Ashbery's poems to read.

Take this O'Rourke-ian observation:

Ashbery becomes a kind of radio transistor through which many different voices, genres, and curious archaeological remains of language filter, so that the poems are like the sound you would hear if you spun through the FM/AM dial without stopping to tune into any one program for long.

That's how I feel about almost all poetry. Okay, not Shel Silverstein, but certainly most of the contemporary poetry with which I'm familiar. I don't feel like the article gets terribly specific about what makes Ashbery himself such a revered figure in modern verse.

Maybe that's because it's basically impossible to describe. That's kind of the point. In simple prose, I can't get to Ashbery's point. If I could, the poems wouldn't exist. He would have just written a small blog entry, if blogs had existed when he first started writing.

It's undeniable the man has a special gift with words. Take this brief excerpt from his poem The Improvement.

We never live long enough in our lives
to know what today is like.

See, that's a terrific insight.

It's buried within a poem that I can't say I understand, but for that one little point, when I'm reading those two lines, it's like...hey, yeah, I get it! And I feel good about myself. And then I get to the part about transparent leopards and ice tea I'm all mixed up again.

I'm sure, if Dave's reading the blog tonight, he's rolling his eyes clear to the back of his head at my primitive, caveman-esque take on his favorite poet. Most likely, I could mash the keyboard with my left palm and come up with equally insightful comments about modern poetry. But, hey, you can't say I didn't try to bring you guys a little culture in between the reviews of 1981 films and the anecdotes about my failure to score in college.

Porn Under a Bad Sign

Republican Senator Sam Brownback is addicted to porn.

Well, not watching porn. I think. Who knows, maybe he is?

But I'm speaking about his receiving campaign contributions from companies that profit from porn. According to a press release from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, their organization is a lost cause. No, wait! The press release actually says that many senators who stridently fight against the porn industry also happen to accept large amounts of money from the porn industry. Nice!

CREW’s executive director Melanie Sloan stated “it is one thing to be silent on the issue and accept porn purveyor’s contributions. However, these Members of Congress attempt to slap pornographers with fines and legislative restrictions with one hand and turn around and accept porn profits with the other. Our report details the hypocrisy of this ‘skin caucus.’”

I like that phrase, "skin caucus." And not just because it would make an excellent band name. Also because it's kind of mean-spirited and duplicitous, exactly like most of these Senators.

According to the report, Republican Senator Brownback accepted $17,000 in campaign contributions from smut peddlers. The money was a welcome change for Brownback, who generally accepts contributions only in the form of ass, gas or grass.

So, okay, maybe Sammy B. just doesn't see a problem with porno, and that's why he feels comfortable taking their money.

Oh, wait, no, he's just a hypocrite. Because way back in November of 2004, he chaired a Senate sub-committee studying, wait for it...the dangers presented by pornography to individual health and the well-being of society. In your face. The San Francisco Chronicle reported at that time:

Internet pornography is corrupting children and hooking adults into an addiction that threatens their jobs and families, a panel of anti-porn advocates told the hearing organized by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., chairman of the Commerce subcommittee on science.

Brownback, a father of five, said when he was a boy, the typical kid's exposure was limited to occasional peeks at dirty magazines illicitly obtained by a buddy.

Now, he said, pornography seems pervasive. Children run across it while researching homework on the Internet. Vulgar ads arrive unexpectedly by e-mail. Some of his middle-age male friends limit their time alone in hotel rooms to avoid the temptation of graphic pay-per-view movies, Brownback said.

Children run across it while researching homework on the Internet? Now, I've done a lot of Internet research myself. Only last year, I conducted all of my research for a Master's thesis online. And not once have I come across pornography online completely by accident. Sure, sometimes you get spam e-mails with boobies in them, but that's not the same as saying that kids are accidentally stumbling upon sick fetish video while searching for Nicaragua's chief export (coffee). If you're looking for multiplication tables and instead you find Larry Flynt's secret stash, you're definitely doing something wrong. I'd go pick up a copy of "The Internets for Dummies" immediately.

And that bit about the graphic pay-per-view movies...his friends are so weak-willed, they can't remain alone in a hotel room without ordering porn on the TV? It's called self-control, Brownie, look into it.

Here's some more political buffoons who criticize adult entertainment while accepting their money on the side.

Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman – who has long campaigned against the growing coarseness of our culture -- along with renown gambling addict William Bennet, handed out “Silver Sewer” awards to those who made immoral videos, and who has criticized MTV for having porn stars on the air, accepted over $16,000.

Cong. Fred Upton, who leads the charge against indecency, accepted over $56,000. Arizona Senator John McCain, who claimed to be the “anti-porn” presidential candidate in ads that ran prior to the South Carolina primary, pocketed $46,000 from corporations and executives who profit from porn.

Oh, not Diamond Joe Lieberman! The guy who claimed "Friends" was inappropriate entertainment takes money from porn producers? Why isn't this being widely reported right now? Oh, right, because all the TV and radio schedules are full up with Michael Jackson diddling young kids. Well, maybe they'll get to this stuff when that blows over.

Look, people, there's nothing wrong with porn, okay? Guys need it. It's just one of those things. It may make you uncomfortable, you may not like it, it may objectify women in a way that appears unseemly. But it's around, it's not going away, so get used to it. This information proves beyond any doubt that these Senators keep bringing it up only as a way to trick you into voting for them. They don't really care about porn availability. If they did, they'd tell these guys who make millions of dollars selling it to take a hike.

But they don't. They cash the checks and hope no one will notice.

My thanks, by the way, to Eschaton for the link.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I Got The Hook-Up

Very funny post over at The Letter D about missed romantic opportunities. He recalls going to a 1-on-1 study session in a girl's dorm room during his formative college days, and not realizing until much later that she was after, let's say, more than his lecture notes. As he puts it:

She was reasonably attractive. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her, but for reasons that I still can't figure out, I was completely clueless about her intentions. I couldn't have come across any gayer if I had redecorated her room while I was there.

This has happened to me more than once. I've been in a variety of situations that clearly should resulted in sex, and yet I always make some crucial misstep early on, rendering all possibility of actual coitus moot right from the start. More often than not, the evening that would lead for most guys to a night of passion leads me to late-night bleary-eyed viewings of The Big Lebowski on DVD.

Once, during my freshman year at UCLA, I was hanging out with a girl (whose name I'll leave out here to spare her crippling, life-ending shame) in her dorm room when she asked if it would bother me to have her "change." I thought she meant taking a break and putting on a sweater or something like that. But instead, she took her top off. And wasn't wearing a bra underneath.

And then, a moment later, she put another shirt on and it was all over.

Now, male and/or lesbian readers, I ask this situation, what would you do? If a girl you were just getting to know, a girl you're attracted to, undressed in a suggestive manner in front of you, would you:

1) Grab her by the arm, pull her close to you and plant one right on her lips
2) Ask her to go out with you that Friday Night or
3) Make up an incredibly lame excuse about needing to leave soon to DJ the campus radio station no one ever listens to, ever

Guess which one I went for! Brilliant, eh? It's this same suave, sophisticated manner with the ladies that allows for my 10 hours of daily blogging.

And you've got to remember, 18 year old UCLA Freshman Lons is one randy individual. He makes present-day jaded 26 year old Lons look like a Viagra-less Bob Dole.

At that point in my life, I'd had about as much action as a Lars von Trier film. As in, not much at all. Sex was on my mind constantly. And yet, there I was, not 3 feet away from a fetching topless woman, and all I can think about is how quickly I could remove myself from the room without actually knocking over any furniture. I can't explain it, folks. It just happened.

And there are more examples. Not too many, as Los Angelinas aren't exactly throwing themselves at me with reckless abandon, but enough to make me sometimes want to bash myself in the head with a hammer as penance for my extreme stupidity.

Herring Farts

The Ig Nobel Prize is awarded each year by Harvard University's Annals of Improbable Research to scientists who make either funny or ponderous discoveries and then write papers on them. Usually, they get actual Nobel Laureates to hand out the prizes. According to the officials

This year's crop of winners made some fascinating discoveries. I thought I'd include a few here for your reading pleasure.

The 2004 Ig Nobel in Medicine went to James Gundlach of Auburn University for his discovery of a link between country music fandom and suicide:

The results of a multiple regression analysis of 49 metropolitan areas show that the greater the airtime devoted to country music, the greater the white suicide rate. The effect is independent of divorce, southernness, poverty, and gun availability. The existence of a country music subculture is thought to reinforce the link between country music and suicide.

Toby Keith certainly makes me want to off myself, that's for sure.

What I like about the Ig Nobel's is that they don't award dumb or offbeat science. They award real scientific discoveries that are just, well, kind of weird.

For example, I have no doubt that Gundlach's right - country music fans very well may kill themselves with greater frequency than, say, polka fans. (It's just all the neighbors of polka fans that dream of Death's sweet embrace). And goths are already "dead," I guess, so they don't really count.

And I don't really recall ever reading another study about the effects of a certain form of music on suicide rates. As Gundlach says himself:

While some research has linked music to criminal behavior ( Singer, Levine & Jou 1990), the relationship between music and suicide remains largely unexplored. Music is not mentioned in reviews of the literature on suicide ( Lester 1983; Stack 1982, 1990b); instead, the impact of art on suicide has been largely restricted to analyses of television movies and soap operas (for a review, see Stack 1990b).

Taking the top award in Engineering this year was Donald and Frank Smith, who in 1967 actually patented the combover as a way of concealing baldness. Well, not a very good way, but a way nonetheless.

The best thing about patenting the combover? You have to write a detailed patent application that's available online. Can you imagine trying to scientifically explain the development of the "combover" technique?

I claim:
1. A method for styling hair to cover bald areas using only the individual's own hair, comprising separating the hair on the head into several substantially equal sections, taking the hair on one section and placing it over the bald area, then taking the hair on another section and placing it over the first section, and finally taking the hair on the remaining sections and placing it over the other sections whereby the bald area will be completely covered.
2. A method as in claim 1 wherein the hair on a person's head is folded over the bald area beginning with the hair from the back of the head, and then from first one side and then the other.
3. A method as in claim 2 wherein after the hair from the back of the head is folded over the bald area, an object is placed over the hair and hair from a first of the sides is brushed over the object, and after the hair from said first side is folded into place the object is placed over the hair and the hair from the second side is folded over the object.
4. A method as in claim 3, wherein said object is a person's hand the hair spray is applied after the hair from said first side is folded into place and again after said second side being folded into place.
5. A method as in claim 3 wherein the hair from said first side and said second side is given a final styling.

Don't even try to tell me you haven't learned a ton browsing around this website! That's a scientific breakdown of the combover, goddamnit!

The youngest winner in Ig Nobel history was Howard U. freshman Jillian Clarke, recognized for her paper "If You Drop It, Should You Eat It: Weigh In On the Five-Second Rule."

The Five Second Rule, of course, stating that if food falls on the floor, it can be eaten so long as it's picked up before five seconds have expired.

I couldn't track down Ms. Clarke's actual paper online, which is a shame, because I have a particular interest in the Five-Second Rule. You see, I recall an incident back in my UCLA days, when my friend Tim was eating a piece of sausage pizza. After a clump of sausage dropped to the pavement, he bent down and cheerily tossed it into his mouth.

This piece of sausage was touching outside-a-dorm-building sidewalk for at least five seconds, if not more. Disgusting. Tim seemed just fine afterwards, not having contracted any horrible diseases apparently, although if he drops dead suddenly at a young age, we'll all know why. Syphillis.

No, no, I'm just kidding. It will be because of sidewalk-borne illnesses!

But the absolute #1 best 2004 Ig Nobel Prize went to the team of Ben Wilson, Lawrence Dill, Robert Batty and Magnus Wahlberg for their remarkable work with herring farts. Seriously!
You see, herrings communicate under the sea by creating burst pulse sounds. Which is a nice way of saying that they fart and listen to other herring farts to figure out what the hell is going on. Awesome. I know some humans who communicate in this same way.

Want to read the whole article? They go on to explain that the "farts" are actually produced by air swallowed by the herring, and not gaseous emissions from their non-existent stomachs, but that kind of spoils the joke. So maybe you want to skip it after all.

By the way, the Annals of Improbable Research (or AIR) have a fairly entertaining blog of their own.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Morally Bankrupt

That sums up my position on all these Senators voting in favor of bringing the new bankruptcy bill to the floor of the Senate. This is the kind of legislation we're seeing a lot of - a direct attempt to deny basic government assistance to the low and middle-income Americans who need it the most while sheltering the richest among us from negative consequences.

I'll let Paul Krugman, NY Times columnist, explain it. He is, after all, an economist, whereas I'm a guy who recently confessed to a total inability to balance my checking account.

Oh, and I'm linking to the column through Free Republic rather than the NYT website because they uncooly require membership just to read a stinking economics commentary.

The bankruptcy bill was written by and for credit card companies, and the industry's political muscle is the reason it seems unstoppable. But the bill also fits into the broader context of what Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at Yale, calls "risk privatization": a steady erosion of the protection the government provides against personal misfortune, even as ordinary families face ever-growing economic insecurity.

The bill would make it much harder for families in distress to write off their debts and make a fresh start. Instead, many debtors would find themselves on an endless treadmill of payments.

This bill makes it much harder for an ordinary, non-wealthy American to declare bankruptcy and absolve unpayable debts. Republicans and credit card companies (odd how they always seem to be on the same sides of these things...) argue that the bill merely tries to prevent fraudulent bankruptcies.

But is that really a huge problem? People take on lots of debt to buy cool stuff and then, when they can't pay the bills, they just throw up their hands, declare bankruptcy and get off scott free without paying a cent? Does that happen?

Oh, right, it doesn't have to. Just by raising the possibility that it could theoretically happen, politicians can pull yet another snowjob on the good people of Dumbfuckistan (the Dumbfuckistani?)

Here's more Krugman:

A vast majority of personal bankruptcies in the United States are the result of severe misfortune. One recent study found that more than half of bankruptcies are the result of medical emergencies. The rest are overwhelmingly the result either of job loss or of divorce.

To the extent that there is significant abuse of the system, it's concentrated among the wealthy - including corporate executives found guilty of misleading investors - who can exploit loopholes in the law to protect their wealth, no matter how ill-gotten.

Now, I don't claim to know for sure who's lying, but someone is. Either the credit card companies are overestimating the damage done by fraudulent bankruptcy claims or Paul Krugman's making up statistics to make Republicans and creditors look bad.

You can probably figure out who I'm willing to believe...I'll give you a hint - it's not Mastercard.

It is kind of a stretch to accept that unnecessary bankruptcies are having a terribly pernicious effect on credit card company profits. According to the ever-reliable Atrios...

The credit card industry raked in $30 billion in profits last year, some of which is clearly being spent to grease the palms of Washington politicians. Bankruptcy hasn't hurt the credit card companies one iota.

Yowza. $30 billion. And yet they want to deny middle-class family men who've been shitcanned so their job can be sent to Bangalore, India's thriving technological sector the ability to rejigger his debt portfolio? Sound fair to you?

Of course not. It's more BS Bush administration nonsense...take away all the governmental programs that help anyone who isn't already super-rich. Create a massive permanant underclass to serve you cheeseburgers, rent you videos, fill up your car with gas and perform all your daughter's back-alley abortions. Cause they don't want that shit to be legal either.

Had enough? Want to get more angry? Here's more Krugman:

Other amendments were aimed at protecting families and individuals who have clearly been forced into bankruptcy by events, or who would face extreme hardship in repaying debts. Ted Kennedy introduced an exemption for cases of medical bankruptcy. Russ Feingold introduced an amendment protecting the homes of the elderly. Dick Durbin asked for protection for armed services members and veterans. All were rejected.

Now, bear in mind, people, this thing hasn't actually passed and become law as of yet. It's obtained what's known as cloture, which would be a good name for an indie rock band. That basically means it will be heard in the House, and if it passes there, will make it to the Senate.

But if you don't get what that means, we currently have one party dominating all three branches of government. So as soon as a piece of legislation like this actually makes it on to the Congressional agenda, it's as good as passed. They're kind of into supporting their own, these right-wing assholes, in case you hadn't noticed.

As if that weren't bad enough, tons of Democrats voted to bring this issue to Congress as well. How ridiculous.

I'll go ahead and say it: I like Democrats because they're not totally evil, but most of them are completely stupid. They have no idea how to sincerely oppose the Bush agenda. Look at all these Democrats voting "yea" on cloture for this insane legislation, courtesy of MaxSpeak:

Biden (D-DE), Yea
Byrd (D-WV), Yea
Carper (D-DE), Yea
Conrad (D-ND), Yea
Johnson (D-SD), Yea
Kohl (D-WI), Yea
Landrieu (D-LA), Yea
Lieberman (D-CT), Yea
Lincoln (D-AR), Yea
Nelson (D-FL), Yea
Nelson (D-NE), Yea
Pryor (D-AR), Yea
Salazar (D-CO), Yea
Stabenow (D-MI), Yea

Is that Abe Linocln from Arkansas? You know, Lindsey Graham don't take too kindly to him, on account of him freeing the slaves and all. (If you missed my post behind this joke, check it here).

And how surprising that Joe Lieberman made the sellout asshole Democrat list! He's usually so progressive. (NOTE: That was sarcasm).

But seriously, folks, if you live in one of these states, no more voting for these guys. They suck.

High Sierra

Spend a year or more in film school, and you'll probably end up at least discussing the 1941 Bogart vehicle High Sierra. It's a very important film, historically speaking.

You get the first team-up of John Huston (who wrote the screenplay) and star Humphrey Bogart. They'd reunite many times after this to create classic films, including The Maltese Falcon later that very same year and Treasure of the Sierra Madre in 1948.

Sierra kind of represents the death of the gangster genre. It follows all the conventions of the other Warner Bros. gangster films like Little Caeser, Roaring Twenties or Public Enemy. Most importantly, because of the Hays Code operating in Hollywood at the time, it was considered improper to lionize or celebrate criminality, so all the gangsters in these movies have to face punishment. In most cases they die, sometimes really abruptly, like Edward G. Robinson in Little Caeser. One minute, he's threatening his enemies and posing for photos at a classy banquet in his honor, the next he's lying in a pool of his own blood wondering if this is the end of Rico.

Similarly, High Sierra tells the story of a criminal watching his life unravel before his eyes. Bogart plays Roy Earle, recently released following a stint in the big house for armed robbery. He'd been sentenced to life, but won an early release following a series of bribes by his old boss, Big Mac (Donald MacBride). Of course, freedom comes with a price, and Big Mac expects Earle to begin work immediately on a new caper along with two fresh-faced crime newbies.

All of this material comes off swimmingly. Bogart had been playing nogoodnicks like Earle for the majority of his career at this point, and he speaks Huston's stylized tough-guy dialogue with just the right mixture of menace and apathy. There's a certain thrill in hearing Bogie scream "Come and get me, coppers!" from his craggy hideout atop Mt. Whitney that's undeniable.

Bogart notably brings a good deal of melancholy to the role, a buried sadness that would become his trademark in films like Casablanca, To Have and Have Not and Dark Passage. Unlike Edward G. Robinson's Rico, who relishes violent criminality, Roy Earle wants only to meet a nice girl and settle down. He even proposes marriage to simple farm girl Velma (Joan Leslie) as a way of escaping his life outside the law, though he's soon enough rejected and sent into the arms of gun moll Marie (Ida Lupino). Perhaps this is why High Sierra is often seen as the death knell of the gangster movie. After this, the gangsters got all depressed, finding the weight of the world bearing down on them, and the genre morphed into film noir.

Actually, now that I think about it, with their next feature The Maltese Falcon, Huston and Bogart essentially created American film noir.

I've been going on and on about his considerable gifts (Huston certainly ranks among my favorite directors), but it was actually legendary director Raoul Walsh who brought his talents to High Sierra. As he did with other notable gangster titles like Roaring Twenties (also featuring Bogart) and White Heat, Walsh overloads the movie with camera tricks and small flourishes, giving it a modern feel other films of the era decidedly lack. In particular, the car chase near conclusion in High Sierra is executed with remarkable flair.

Regrettably, it's not all good news on the High Sierra front. In many ways, the film has aged badly. One character in particular requires mention in any honest review of the film, and that's Willie Best as Algernon. He's the caretaker/handiman for the High Sierra cabin used by Roy Earle and his crew as a hideout, and he happens to be black. And because this was 1941, he's an egregious, embarrassing, ridiculous racial stereotype that threatens to completely derail the movie every time he's on screen. I suppose his antics, like going crosseyed and falling asleep all the time, were considered hilarious upon the release of High Sierra, but now they're beyond offensive. This sort of minstrel, jigaboo stereotype tarnishes so many classic films, but High Sierra is one of the most egregious examples I have ever seen. It's shameful, really.

And this isn't the film's only major misstep. Far too much time is devoted to the family of Velma, the object of Roy's affections. Much of the actual planning and execution of the robbery at the center of the film's plot is left out of the film to make room for endless sequences in which Roy visits Velma's poor family, pays for an operation on her club foot, and eventually meets with the other man whom she agrees to marry.

It's a plot thread crucial to the success of High Sierra's story, for sure. We need to see that Roy sees Velma as an escape, not just from his lifestyle but from himself. In her eyes, and the eyes of her family, he's a dignified, respectable older man. For a guy known in the newspapers as Roy "Mad Dog" Earle, who's hounded by police whenever he shows his face in public, being treated kindly and without suspicion seems like heaven on Earth.

But we understand this concept by the second scene featuring Velma and her grandparents. It didn't require making them main characters.

There's a lot to recommend in High Sierra, from the stark black and white photography to the sharply written dialogue. And the final showdown between Roy and the cops on Mt. Whitney's one of the defining moments in all of gangster-dom. But the other titles released recently by Warner's in the Gangster Box Set, incluidng Public Enemy, Angels with Dirty Faces, Little Caeser and Roaring Twenties outpace it by about a country mile. Those are the classics, this is an interesting transitional moment in film history. All are important, but some are just more entertaining than others.

Free Love on the Free Love Freeway

I love "The Office," Ricky Gervais' completely brilliant sitcom of horrors in which he portrays middle manager David Brent, quite possibly the most awkward, irritating man alive. Brent's such a memorable comic creation, it's hard for me to imagine Gervais in any other capacity - he just is David Brent, and that's all there is to it.

Which makes this picture all the more difficult to wrap my head around:

Yes, that's Ricky Gervais back in the 80's. It seems he was a part of an electronic pop duo called Seona Dancing. There's much more at the unofficial Seona Dancing fan website here. Like this charming snapshot of Gervais with his, um, partner in the group.

They were big fans of David Bowie and Flock of Seagulls, I take it.

Anyway, just couldn't resist posting these photos. Probably a full third of everyone who went through their teens or early 20's has embarrassing pictures of them sitting around somewhere. Just make sure no one gets them on the 'Net!

Oh and my thanks to the seemingly un-retired Andrew Sullivan for the link.

Extra Sensory Deception

Do you sometimes get in your car and start humming a song you haven't heard in a while, and then you flip on the radio and that very same song is playing? Or have you ever been thinking about an old friend you don't talk to much any more, and then later on that very day, they call you for no good reason? Ever feel like you might have psychic powers?

Well, you don't, because that doesn't exist. Sorry to disappoint you.

It's not that I won't allow for the possibility our brains might be capable of sensing future events before they happen. After all, science has determined that we use less than 10% of the total processing power of our brain. What if you could power up the other 90%, even for just a few minutes? You might finally figure out what the hell's going on in those Matrix sequels, for one.

But I doubt it's possible as technology stands right now, because no one's ever verifiably been able to predict anything. Think about it...if ESP existed, and if even a really small sub-set of the world population (say, less than one-tenth of one percent) had it, someone would have made some incredible predictions by now that would have shocked us all. Like, say, a big earthquake, or the lottery numbers for the following day, or even that whole planes-slamming-into-two-buildings thing. But so far, nothing, nada, zero, zip. Not one single prediction we can go back to and say, "that guy was exactly right!"

Did you just say Nostradamus? Don't make me reach through this Internet connection and slap you upside your fool head. He's just a really bad poet, not a psychic of any kind. Don't believe me? Here's the verse many Nostradamus "experts" claim predicts the 9/11 tragedy:

In the year 1999 and seven months
The Great King of Terror will come from the sky,
He will bring back to life the great king of the Mongols.
Before and after the God of war reigns happily.

Wow, it's so amazingly accurate! Except that it gets the year wrong, the 9/11 tragedy was masterminded by a political dissident rather than a king and it had nothing to do with any Mongols (who don't even exist any more in the way Nostradamus clearly meant to invoke them). And let's not even get into that whole God of War thing, cause it's stupid.

You should really check out that Nostradamus-9/11 link. It's remarkably insipid.

I got on to this whole rant in the first place because of a link on the thoroughly amusing blog The Green Lantern. It's run by Gretchen Ross, who has the coolest blogger pseudonym I've encountered in a while. (Don't get it? Watch Donnie Darko immediately!)

The link leads to a series of online tests to determine whether or not you have any psychic ability. Want me to save you some time? You don't. Any answers you get right are purely coincidental.

But it's kind of fun anyway. I like how you can just hit your browser's "back" button and go put in the right answers. Apparently, the site's creator lacked the psychic abilities to close this loophole in advance. Anyway, go check it out.

Oh, and you do have to provide an e-mail address to "register," which I know dissuades a lot of potential visitors. Just do what I do and give a fake address...they don't check or anything. Might I recommend Don't's not a real guy at all. Just a funny name I tend to use whenever I have cause to use a fake name. Which is surprisingly often, as it turns out.

By the way, you should definitely check out this Nostradamus site I linked to. The woman who operates this thing is totally loopy in the best way possible. Check some of this stuff out:

I tend to look for messages in clouds as they speak to me.

The billowing smoke formation [coming out of the Twin Towers after 9/11] appears as the tricksterwho goes by many names: Bin Laden, Hussein, Hitler, Lucifer, Devil, etc

In late August of 2001 - I wrote in my daily column Ellie's World that he came to see me as a clown several times before the attacks. Each time I wasn't sure what he wanted as he doesn't say anything.

How could she tell it was Satan if he was wearing a clown suit, that's what I want to know. Couldn't he have just been some evil clown? Maybe he had a nametag. ("Hi there, I'm Lucifer. Ask me about our Lake of Fire!")

Monday, March 07, 2005

Down at Frugal Rock

I'm very bad with money. Very bad.

I think this has to do with my overall hatred of math. Not just math, but numbers. They make my head hurt. Every time I have to do any sort of calculation, especially if it's in my head, I get all flustered and mixed-up and confused. Like how George Bush must feel whenever he's asked a question by someone other than a pre-briefed male prostitute posing as a reporter.

This is not a terribly big deal working at a video store, when I have a handy little cash register to tell me how much money to return to someone. And most people use credit cards, which requires even less applied arithmatic on my part.

But when you're dealing with your own finances, mathophobia can become a real problem. What happens is, I get some money. Usually it's a paycheck, but I'm not above dropping the occasional organ or two on the black market. You know, if I'm not using it. No use letting it sit there.

And once I have the money, I put it in my checking account. And then I keep a figure in my head. Say, $100. So, I walk around thinking I have $100, and taking money out of the bank or out of my checking account at will. And I'll maybe buy $40 worth of DVD's, fill my car up with gas, and so on.

The problem is, this sort of mental tallying doesn't account for the literally 500,000 expenses that come up in day to day life that aren't the result of direct financial transactions on my part. Like occasional $20 bank fees. Or automatic bill payment. Or this bizarre concept my landlord keeps telling me about called rent.

So I wind up spending that whole initial $100 and then having expenses that need to be paid before I'll get another check (or grow another vital organ). So I have to sell off precious personal belongings (non-biological this time) or go beg my parents for extra funds. When I was 18, this was not so big a deal...just the way an adolescent learns to deal with finances. But now that I'm 26, it's far beyond pathetic. It's downright pathological.

So it's clear I either need a new, high-paying, fast-paced career or I need to just stop spending any money altogether that isn't directly connected to survival. Neither's an appealing option. I'd try to put some ads up on the blog here, but companies would probably pay me more to wear a shirt with their logo on it than plaster some obnoxious pop-up on here. If I sat in Century City Mall for an hour, more people would probably see me than visit Inertia in three months.


In my head, this was a delightfully witty post goofing on one of life's little hurdles we all deal with. But now that I read over it, it's pretty much entirely depressing. I'll have to go scan the 'Net now for something outrageously hilarious just to counter-balance this thing. Oh well, I'm sure someone's done something goofy today.

Oh, wait, I've already got it!

You hear about Republican Senator Lindsey Graham? This is great. He told a gathering of people celebrating Lincoln Day in Tennessee the following:

"We don't do Lincoln Day Dinners in South Carolina. It's nothing personal, but it takes a while to get over things."

Wait a minute...they don't celebrate Abraham Lincoln in South Carolina because they haven't gotten over things? What things?

Does he mean the Civil War here, people? Has Lindsey Graham, a United States Senator, a respected public official, really come out as against his home state remaining a part of America? Does the South still really want to secede? Can the rest of us be that lucky?

Can you imagine if all the Red States broke off and formed their own nation? It might look a little something like this:

Maybe it's just that whole Emancipation Proclaimation thing that's bugging Lindsey. Sure is a lot harder for a good ol' boy like him to get elected in SC now that we actually count every adult's vote and all.

Honestly, I'd love to hear him make a public apology in which he has to explain that comment. Someone needs to ask him, point blank, what it is about Abraham Lincoln that bothers him so. Who knows? Maybe he just really hates top hats. Or maybe he feels that there have been a disproportional number of tall presidents, and Honest Abe represents the vile double-standard for who can hold the nation's highest office.

He does know that Abe didn't actually start the Log Cabin Republicans, right?

You know what? Goofing on a Republican Senator has made me feel better already. I think I'll go make some frivolous purchases...Don't worry, I've got $100 in the bank!

God, Jesus, Tony

Okay, this is kind of funny, but it isn't that funny. Because it's about a completely insane guy, and mental illness on this level is always more sad than funny.

But it's still kind of funny.

A New Zealand man is on trial for murder and attempted murder after attacking two women on the street with a samurai sword. He says that he constantly has heard God talking to him, telling him that he's third in line for the Heavenly crown:

Murder accused Antonie Dixon said he regularly heard God's voice, a psychiatrist called by Dixon's defence told the High Court in Auckland today. "I thought I was the third one down -- God, Jesus, Tony," Dixon had said, Dr Karl Jansen told the court. Dixon had first heard God's voice when he was nine and God had told him what the satellites were up to. He heard God's voice once a week.

I'm perplexed in a way here. Because this happened in New Zealand, and yet it's extremely similar to an incident that happened right near my parent's home in Irvine, California not long ago. A disgruntled supermarket employee showed up at his old place of business with a sword, killing two people and wounding three others.

What gives with the choice of weapon? Rather than arguing about those "Grand Theft Auto" video games and Matrix movies, should we be banning Akira Kurosawa flicks instead? Is Errol Flynn an inspirational figure to a new generation of psychopaths?

Also, while we're on the subject of odd insanity trends, the satellite thing. Crazy people seem to be completely obsessed with satellites. Why? What's the attraction? Wouldn't you think that completely insane people, schizophrenics with bizarre hallucinations, would always come up with different stuff to be worried about? Like, one would fear satellites implanting messages into his brain, but another one would fear that his brain had been replaced by styrofoam peanuts by the World Wildlife Fund in an attempt to silence his revolutionary views about the amazing physical properties of giraffe dung.

You see what I'm saying here? It should be different, is all. I want to hear about the many colors of the whack-job rainbow, not the same BS "satellites are spying on me" nonsense. The Conversation was 30 years ago, fellas. Get some new material!

Oh, and as always, my thanks to FARK, that repository of weird links, for the article. The first one! The second one I found all by myself!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

I am totally rushing them in the Fall...

I wrote about these guys on the blog long, long ago, during its early days. Back then, they were a few guys from University of North Carolina who desperately wanted the right to ban gays and Jews from the frat.

Well, the charming young scamps of UNC's Alpha Iota Omega house have won the legal right to discriminate against gays and non-Christians. And I for one say, it's about time! Our public universities have been hotbeds of racial understanding and diversity for too long!

Over at Pendagon's blog, they've been following this story for a while now. It seems this motley crew of 3 undergrads has been fighting the university for some time now, arguing that because it's charter commits the organization to spreading the teachings of the Bible, they should be allowed to expel anyone whom the Bible, unfit. Like gay people. And Jews. And, you know, all them morons what don't believe in Jesus.

It was founded in 1999 by nine UNC undergrads -- it currently has three members. Per its web site, "The fraternity is designed to equip leaders internally and exteranlly by upholding the Bible's true standard of righteousness." It has told the media that its mission is to lead members of other fraternities to Jesus Christ "through evangelism and mentorship."

AIO has the conservative "free speech" organization FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) fighting for their cause too. Per FIRE, the frat said that last year they suddenly noticed that UNC's student organization recognition agreement requires student leaders to sign UNC's nondiscrimination policy, which requires that membership be open to all student -- including non-Christians and homosexuals. AIO claimed that because their organization is dedicated to spreading Biblical beliefs, this was a problem, they refused to sign the agreement.

Let's take a look at that fraternity website, shall we? This is from the section labeled "Our Vision."

What started with 9 men has joined 38 brothers from all national, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. We stand for the true representation of the Kingdom of Heaven--all nations in one accord.

All nations, yes, as long as you don't want to date other dudes. Oh, and not Israel or any Muslim countries. And a lot of those Scandanavians are atheists, also, so we'd better take them out. But otherwise, just like the Kingdom of Heaven - 65% or so of nations in one accord.

There's also an advertisement of Jesus Awareness Week, from April 19th-23rd. Hmm...that's not quite a week, fellas. That's actually 4 days. Jesus only warrants 4 days of awareness? How else will people remember he exists? It's not like people talk about him constantly every day or anything. Besides, black people get a whole month! What up with that?

But back to the issue at might think it's okay for a fraternity to ban anyone who doesn't agree with the major tenets of the charter. Like preaching the Good News about Jesus. But bear in mind that fraternities are official campus organizations, that receive university funding, host events on university-owned property and so on. That's why they are beholden to the university's anti-discrimination policy, which says you're not allowed to ban people from your organization on the basis of religion or sexual orientation.

If they were an independant organization, like say The Boy Scouts, they'd be allowed to discriminate in this way legally. It would be crummy of them, but they could do it. This way, they have to go around the law, and it appears that they are winning the war thus far.

Pendagon's not done there, though. He turns up evidence that the AIO Fraternity has ties to...wait for it...a creepy cult called Marantha Ministries! Neato!

Per the NC News & Observer, they have ties to King's Park International Church in Durham, where many current and former IOA members worship (and where at least one of IOA's founders is involved with the ministry). However, the church's founding pastor, Ron Lewis, says there is no formal relationship between Alpha Iota Omega and his church ("Students come to our church based on invitation and desire, he said, which apparently means that, yes, IOA members, current and former, attend his church, but nobody is forcing them to).

The News & Observer story indicates that in the 1980s, Pastor Ron was affiliated with Maranatha Christian Church, which the paper calls "a national organization that disbanded after complaints about cult like practices."

I love that line about "students come to our church based on invitation and desire." The word "invitation" in there, it's so telling. This guy feels that you shouldn't be allowed to go to his church unless you're invited. Such a Christ-like attitude. We all know how selective he was about who could pray with him.

Now here's the really funny part. The AIO Fraternity and the Maranatha Ministries have a lot of the same policies. Such as their views on dating. Here's a former Maranatha member describing the group's view on going steady:

The Bible says, "the marriage bed is holy and undefiled." God instituted the family and purposes for us to be married, unless we are a eunuch. ... As you are just getting character worked into your life, and as your just being singlely devoted to God, then God will begin to reveal to you who your wife is going to be or who your husband is to be ... We do not date and 'mess around' in order to find a mate. There are no Scriptures in the Bible on dating because God did not institute it. ... When a person believes that God is speaking marriage, then he/she should submit it to the pastor. "Why talk to your pastor? Because, it needs to be spiritually discerned.

"God instittues the family and purposes for us to be married, unless we are a eunuch." And they say this shit doesn't have relevance to us in modern times! That is one hip, with-it kind of book! Does it come in paperback? I'll need some beach reading this summer.

And now here's the rowdy boys of Alpha House on dating, courtesy once again of Pendagon:

Members shall be above reproach at all times, the handbook says, and they should have "accountability partners or covenant brothers" to encourage them on their Christian journey [..]

The rules say students should not date, though serious courtship and engagement are acceptable. "We reject the notions of casual dating and flirting," the handbook says. "We also discourage any physical activity that stirs up passion that cannot be righteously fulfilled at that time."

Oh, engagement's acceptable? Whew, that's a close one. Otherwise, how would anyone ever get married? All the men would put their business card in a hat and go home with whatever lady picked it out, I suppose.

I don't mean to come down to hard on the frat brothers. I feel bad for them, really. Imagine wasting your collegiate days worrying about keeping Jews out of your frat house...Barely leaves any time for whippets and invite-only couple parties.