Saturday, October 14, 2006

The First Rule of French Club Is...

Pop quiz:

Middle and high-school students in the suburban town of Burleson are being taught to attack school-invading gunmen on sight. In what state is Burleson located?

(a) The State of Texas
(b) The State of Florida
(c) A State of Confusion
(d) No Fit State
(e) The Stater Bros. off I-71 in beautiful rustic Gaptooth County (Pop. 322, all half-brothers)

Obviously it's (a), shit-kicking stupid Texas because the Texan solution to every problem, from school shootings to lactose intolerance, involves over-the-top, poorly-planned, aggressive and violent behavior.

Youngsters in a suburban Fort Worth school district are being taught not to sit there like good boys and girls with their hands folded if a gunman invades the classroom, but to rush him and hit him with everything they got — books, pencils, legs and arms.


I always thought the DARE Program was a stupid idea...Send a cop into a classroom to give kids a boring lecture about why drugs are bad. That reinforces two ideas - drugs are taboo, and therefore fascinating, and cops are full of shit. Both of those things happen to be true, but 15 year olds don't neccessarily need a leg-up on obtaining that vital information. Better to slowly realize the truth over the course of your late teens and early 20's.

But stupid though the DARE Program was, it's nowhere near as retarded as instructing children to attack large men with guns by chucking pencils. That's a good way to get yourself noticed, which is pretty much the last thing you want to do mid-school shooting. Besides, what happens if all the other kids panic and hide under their desks, and you're the lone douchebag tossing school supplies at a guy on a triple-dose of PCP gripping a semi-automatic weapon loaded with hollow points.

"Getting under desks and praying for rescue from professionals is not a recipe for success," said Robin Browne, a major in the British Army reserve and an instructor for Response Options, the company providing the training to the Burleson schools.

Folks, I'm telling you...Anarchy is looking better and better all the time. Not pure anarchy, I suppose. More a kind of anarcho-syndicalism, in which citizens form into communities of solidarity, looking out for the common welfare. Because the local, state and federal governemnts are basically trying to tell us that we're on our own.

"Yeah, your 14 year old daughter can crouch under her desk like a pussy on the off chance that some cops are going to show up to save her life, or she can bum rush a 200 pound assailant and stab him repeatedly in the eyeballs with her compass. Or, if she is not good enough at math to have reached geometry at that point, the sharp end of her three-ring binder."

If the Burlseon school district is so concerned about gun-toting maniacs showing up during 4th period, why don't they just hire Response Options to guard the school instead of teaching the children how to fashion a shiv from common protractors? Oh, right, cause that would cost money. Yeah, better to turn the nation's young people into vigilante trainees. Good thinking.

That kind of fight-back advice is all but unheard of among schools, and some fear it will get children killed.

Isn't that just a bit paranoid? I mean, just because a grown man walks into a school with a loaded gun, that doesn't mean he neccessarily wants to shoot children. Let's be reasonable, folks. If a few 7th graders come at him making a mean face, he'll probably just shoot himself in the head from panic and save everyone a lot of time and worry.

But school officials in Burleson said they are drawing on the lessons learned from a string of disasters such as Columbine in 1999 and the Amish schoolhouse attack in Pennsylvania last week.

This illustrates the problem with trying to draw meaningful lessons from every random tragedy that occurs. What makes the sudden, unthinkable horrors of Columbine and the Amish school house so immensely tragic and frightening is that they are unpredictable anomalies. For every "Trenchcoat Mafia," there are literally thousands of peaceful nerdy, alienated cliques of high school students who will never turn violent. There's no way to extract some sort of moral from that story.

Everything we "learned" from Columbine can be summed up thusly:

(1) It's wise to have at least one friendly conversation with all the creepy, quiet kids in your class at school. That way, if one of them ever turns into a kill-crazy psychopath, you're unlikely to make his or her Hit List.

(2) Michael Moore really is considerably overweight and does not appear to do laundry with any sort of frequency.

(3) To avoid being killed during nerd-related violence, it's best to not be a minority, if at all possible.

At Burleson — which has 10 schools and about 8,500 students — the training covers various emergencies, such as tornadoes, fires and situations where first aid is required. Among the lessons: Use a belt as a sling for broken bones, and shoelaces make good tourniquets.

All this is fine, I suppose, although teaching kids how to fashion tourniquets seems a bit extreme. I hope they still make time for actual learning in between all the merit badge exercizes. Perhaps this is why our school system consistantly hovers near the very top of the International Dumbass Index (the IDI). Last I checked, we were actually between Uruguay and Paraguay.

Students are also instructed not to comply with a gunman's orders, and to take him down.

Browne recommends students and teachers "react immediately to the sight of a gun by picking up anything and everything and throwing it at the head and body of the attacker and making as much noise as possible. Go toward him as fast as we can and bring them down."

I seriously can't believe this is real. First of all, I can't believe we have any in-school training for what to do in case a maniac with a gun shows up. The chances of that actually happening are still incredibly slim, despite what your local talking head of choice would have you believe. Incredibly, incredibly slim. If you're going to train your kids for Columbine II: The Quickening, you might as well start training them for what to do in case a chunk of SkyLab crushes the girls' locker room or how to fend off a horny, Net savvy Congressman.

But even more importantly, if a gunman ever does show up in a Burleson school, unlikely though that may be, this policy is going to get some poor kid killed. Even if a mob of children manage to take down an armed evildoer, couldn't he get a few shots off before he's out for the count? I mean, are these children going to get an adrenaline rush and suddenly transform into Green Berets? I don't care how much Metal Gear: Solid they've played, it's unlikely that middle school children, surprised by a sudden intruder into their classroom, will be to completely incapacitate the foe before a single shot can be fired.

Yes, having a hostage situation involving school kids is less than optimal, and having children murdered is the worst possible scenario, but there's clearly a chance that a hypothetical nutjob might not actually go through with any kind of actual violence, or that police could talk him out of the classroom while keeping everyone alive. Having the children attack such a person on sight pretty much guarantees that the situation will escalate. I mean, right? Obviously?

Most of the freshman class at Burleson's high school underwent instruction during orientation, and eventually all Burleson students will receive some training, even the elementary school children.

"We want them to know if Miss Valley says to run out of the room screaming, that is exactly what they need to do," said Jeanie Gilbert, district director of emergency management. She said students and teachers should have "a fighting chance in every situation."

"It's terribly sad that when I get up in the morning that I have to wonder what may happen today either in our area or in the nation," Gilbert said. "Something that happens in Pennsylvania has that ripple effect across the country."

Isn't it amazing when people let the truth slip out without even realizing it? Nothing changed in Jeanie Gilbert's community. It's still the same suburban town, the same school with the same students. They are all exactly as safe from violence as they were a month ago.

She says it herself..."I have to wonder what may happen today in our area or in the nation. Something that happens in Pennsylvania has that ripple effect across the country."

Wasn't she listening to herself? The ripple effect is just panic, not any real threat. It's not like there's an actual band of school shooters who struck in Pennsylvania and are now cutting a bloody path across the country towards Burleson, Texas. (Although this would make a terrific film...What's Rob Zombie working on now?) It's just that, this thing was on the news, so nwo Jeanie and her friends are freaked out, so they're teaching their kids lunacy in a desperate, somewhat pathetic and woefully misguided attempt to feel empowered against imaginary gunmen.

It's a really horrifying case of children being traumatized by clueless adults. They are going to teach elementary school kids how to fight against random murderers in school. What a terrific message.

"Welcome to school! You're going to learn a lot and it's going to be great fun! You're going to make lots of friends and...HOLY SHIT, KID, LOOK OUT, THERE'S A CRAZY PSYCHO KILLER SNEAKING UP BEHIND YOU! No, I'm just role playing. But if there was a crazy psycho killer sneaking up behind you, you're better off just flailing against him with all the strength in your puny 80 pound frame than waiting for some authority figure like a teacher or school administrator or police officer to save you. They're only here to boss you around. Even though you're just a kid, it makes them feel big and important to harass you and generally give you a hard time. Not unlike that crazy psycho killer who's sneaking up behind you! No, no, that's just more role playing. But, seriously, when you attack the crazy psycho killer who wants to fashion a vest out of your skin, try to injure his genitals, so he's not tempted to rape your corpse after he's done strangling you with the large intestine of his previous victim. Just a tip."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Two Relative Disappointments

Art School Confidential

Terry Zwigoff makes comedies set in the places he'd least like to go. A bland faceless flat cityscape populated exclusively by billboards and convenience stores. A mall on Christmas Eve. Art school. Bitter and cynical though they may be, Ghost World and Bad Santa work by inviting the audience inside the perspective of a mean-spirited misanthrope who spends his time judging the bulk of humanity. Perhaps we can only laugh at our faults when they projected on to fictional characters.

Art School Confidential doesn't really change much of this formula, yet those other two films are funny and it is not. The only real difference I could see, in terms of storytelling or stlye, was the total absence of a sympathetic "above the fray" character. Ghost World had two - Thora Birch's Enid and Steve Buscemi's Seymour. That film's bittersweet conclusion comes when Seymour gives up his cranky outsiderism and agrees to conform, while Enid escapes into the unknown. Bad Santa had one - Billy Bob Thornton's boozy criminal, the only person throughout the film who truly has his priorities straight.

Everyone in Art School Confidential is a lame, self-obsessed, pathetic poseur. In order to prepare students for the hideously superficial, navel-gazing and juvenile world of professional artists, Zwigoff seems to argue, Art School itself teaches meaningless platitudes while praising that which is easy and popular. Rather than viewing the urge to conform from an outsider's perspectivge, Zwigoff and Ghost World screenwriter Daniel Clowes step right into the midst of a swirling ego vortex so dense, no matter could ever possibly escape its grasp.

Writing a comedy with next to no plot, populated exclusively by the hateful and stupid, is no easy task, and Clowes can't really keep it going on the strength of his mild, unsurprising observations about campus life. (Alexander Payne pretty much does it in Election, although Matthew Broderick's character is still sympathetic despite his awkward scumminess and misplaced anger). There just aren't enough jokes to make it worth sitting through all the bile.

Strathmore Academy invites its most celebrated recent graduate, Marvin Bushmiller (Adam Scott), to speak on campus about his success. "The only thing you have to do to be a great artist," he explains, "is to be a great artist." Making art is all about getting paid lots of money just to be yourself, apparently, which would then make enrolling a school to teach you about art a hopelessly misguided experiment in futility. If being an artist is about being yourself, then learning how to imitate other artists is inherently self-defeating.

Naive incoming freshman Jerome Platz (Max Minghella) really takes this advice to heart, abandoning his hopes of being the Greatest Artist of the 21st Century and focusing on the more narrow and achievable goal of having hot sex with the beautiful model from his drawing class (Sophia Myles).

Clowes and Zwigoff get off the predicable jabs at smug art student types, but the targets are all pretty obvious and most of the jokes come off as kind of easy and straight-forward. (It's kind of amusing to open a film with a barefoot hippie chick stepping on a broken bottle, but also a little cheap for the first actual joke in the film.) A lot of the writing is, and it pains me to say this, just kind of lazy.

Jerome tends to just sit down next to people who then pontificate for the viewer at home's benefit, "explaining" all the facets of art school that we may not be able to appreciate from the comfort of our couches. Matt Keesler's role as the hapless stoner Jonah is particularly expository. He exists in the film solely to to inform us about the various types of art school students and why they are all insane.

A few other supporting characters fare a bit better. Jim Broadbent has two great scenes as a former Strathmore student who now lives in abject drunken poverty across town. Zwigoff wastes John Malkovich in an underwritten role as a shallow instructor, who withholds priase from his students because his own work (triangles!) languishes without praise.

Several scenes indicate that he's going to make a sexual advance on Jerome, but this never actually happens and the whole character eventually fades into the background. Everything in the movie, really, is set aside in the third act to make way for a tacked-on subplot about a serial murderer stalking the students of Strathmore. It works out in a clever, if predictable, manner, but doesn't really fit in with the rest of the movie, which has been more like Porky's with easels.

Prairie Home Companion


Robert Altman's still such a vital, creative force in filmmaking, it's easy to forget that he's also a really, really old man. But only a guy who's knocking around that 80 year old mark would be attracted to Prairie Home Companion, a tribute to Garrison Keillor's Po-Mo hick radio show about the fictional town of Lake Wobegon and the moderately amusing weirdos therein.

This is more Garrison Keillor's show than Altman's anyway. Keillor wrote the movie, based on the long-running Public Radio show he's been taping live in Minnesota since the '70s, plus he appears in pretty much every scene. He sings a lot, which is something I didn't realize that he did, and also didn't need to see for near 2 hours straight.

A quick primer: The radio show "Prairie Home Companion" is a put-on. Keillor plays a variety of bumpkin characters, as well as himself, and narrates made-up stories about the made-up town of Lake Wobegon. He also makes up fake "silly" commercials for products like Roo-be-doop Rhubarb Pie. (Seriously.)

The movie, set on the night of the (fictitious) last PHC broadcast, casts BIG HOLLYWOOD STARS as all of Keillor's characters. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly portray singing cowboys Dusty and Lefty (oh Lord), who do sub-"Hee Haw" sketches and sing (I swear to God) "Git Along Little Doggies." Kevin Kline narrates as Keillor's private eye character Guy Noir, who spends the night searching the theater for a mysterious lady in white played by Virginia Madsen. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin are the singing Johnson Sisters, who bring along Streep's suicide-obsessed poet daughter (Lindsay Lohan).

I guess it's all supposed to be nostalgic and funny, but it plays more like a lame vaudeville routine than an urbane, witty Altman film. Keillor's got a very dry sense of humor - so much so that, often, his "amusing" anecdotes just sound like tossed-off and ridiculous little stories. He does a bit about finding a nude man hanging from a kite that keeps seeming like it's about to hit a punchline but never does. The joke is just that the concept of a naked man hanging from a kite is kind of funny, and would certainly be a funny thing to mention on the radio. Also, I guess, that Keillor deadpans the story and pretends that it's true.

It might work as a short film, I guess, or a retrospective made exclusively for long-time fans of the television show. As a feature, it's like being told a long inside joke. I don't know the show, so I didn't get the references, and the bits and pieces that I could catch were just lame and folksy. Take the Lohan character (added to the film late because the studio insisted a part be found for the eager young actress). She's a disgruntled teen, she's disaffected because of having to travel around with her dumb singing mother and aunt...So of course she writes poems about committing suicide. It's just so obvious. Would it have killed Keillor to take it in another direction? Maybe she writes poems about...I don't know, ANYTHING ELSE?

I know, I know...This movie isn't designed with me in mind. It's for old people, who actually remember radio variety shows of the kind that PHC imitates. They'll hear Keillor's goofy fake commercial for biscuit powder and recall actual biscuit powder commercials and feel all misty for a second, and I guess I can't begrudge them that. Maybe when I'm an old fart, I'll find movies hazily recollecting the glory days of the Howard Stern Show appealing.

But, Altman's typically acute technical sensibilities aside, this is a movie for Keillor fans EXCLUSIVELY. I found it an altogether painful experience.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Channel 67: Death Metal Memories

My roommate Joe has Sirius satellite radio in his car, and because they just had some sort of promotional deal for customers who already have one radio installed, we were able to get one of the boomboxes for our apartment cheap.

I'm not really a big radio listener because regular "terrestrial" radio sucks. Every channel is essentially the same - 20 minutes of commercials per hour of music, obnoxious disc jockeys blathering endlessly between songs, censored bleep-filled versions of recognizable tracks.

Not to mention the extraordinarily bland playlists. The only things that change from station to station are the specific, terrible songs broadcasting on repeat every hour on the hour. (And there's not even a high degree of variability on that any more. How many different radio stations have been playing the shit out of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy"?)

Sirius is somewhat different. Most of the channels have no commercials at all. The Howard Stern channel does, which strikes me as extremely lame considering how much of the marketing has been based on "no more commercials." The music stations unique to Sirius, in my limited experience thus far, don't have disc jockeys. You occasionally get station identification breaks, but it's pretty much wall-to-wall music.

There are a few stations that just repeat a lot of the same songs. I've checked in with "Classic Vinyl" three times since we hooked up the boombox three days ago, and each time I've heard a Led Zeppelin song. (Today it was "Communication Breakdown.") Plus there are whole stations dedicated to the Rolling Stones and The Who, which has got to get old after a little while. They don't even play a lot of rare B-sides or live tracks or anything to liven things up...I tuned in to The Who channel today and heard "Substitute." How many times can they just repeat popular Who singles? Is there anyone, even a Sirius employee, who has this station on in the background for more than a few hours at a time?

The repetition patterns are kind of strange, actually. I mainly listen to "Left of Center" (station #26 for Sirius subscribers), the indie/college rock station, and not only do I tend to hear the same songs a bunch, but they come in the same order sometimes. Last night, I was doing some writing and I heard Beirut's "Postcards from Italy" lead right into The Rapture's latest single, "Get Myself Into It," and then I just heard these two songs play back-to-back as I started writing this blog post.

Could be a coincidence, I guess, but I'd expect a bit more variation considering that I'm actually paying to subscribe to a medium that has been provided free of charge to Americans for nearly 100 years now. Still, I'm not going to complain. For the $12 or so this costs a month, I now have a radio that occasionally features Guided by Voices AND Neutral Milk Hotel songs. "Holland, 1945" on the goddamn radio...That shit ain't bad.

I must admit, though, I'm a bit unsettled by the uncanny ability ot "Left of Center" to appeal specifically to my music tastes. I didn't really think of my musical preferences in rock music as being quite so predictable, and yet damned if I don't approve wholeheartedly of about 98% of the channel's actual song line-up. In the past three days, I've heard selections from at least 3/4 of my favorite 2006 albums. Plus, not only did I hear a Jason Molina song, but it was "Farewell Transmission," the first track from my favorite Songs: Ohia album. It's cool that there's now a radio station I can leave on in my room all day, but it sucks to feel so homogenized, obvious and easily categorized. I need to start listen to some Lithuanian death metal or something just to even shit out.

Guest Sibling Review: Beck's "The Information"

My brother sent me his view of Beck's new CD, and it was really good, so I thought I'd post it here. I hope he keeps reviewing music for the blog here, because he's a lot better at it than I am. He's got more than 4 adjectives to describe the sonic qualities of rock songs, for starters. Anyway, here's Jon...

When Beck was my age, he had just scored his first big U.S. hit, and with its play on Top 40 radio, exposed to mainstream America exactly what was so "alternative" about Alternative Rock. Twelve years down the line, we forget that Beck achieved fame with a song that blended old-school hip-hop, grunge, and the most generic of late 80s drum beats. It was a kitsch song, a radio surprise, the "She Don't Use Jelly" or "Tubthumping" of its moment in time. This, of course, was before he introduced the dance party and the freak-folk mixing into rock and roll, several years before O.K. Computer, mind you.

Now, we all know what to expect from Beck, which may be his Achilles heel. Guero, while pleasant enough, was essentially the adult contemporary version of Odelay. It was the first album in his career not to surprise his audience with a new sonic direction.

Thankfully, he has now given us The Information. More than a small step, but less than a giant leap, The Information boasts fifteen new songs, providing the best of his middle-aged sensibilities, and still keeping enough ambition to claim a seat at the modern electronic round table.

Opener "Elevator Music" sets the tone high with significant bleeps and blorps, and an acoustic guitar hammering in the background that will make any 90s Beck-ite yearn nostalgically for "Lord Only Knows".

It's effective though, and Nigel Godrich's lush production is used for even better purpose here than on Sea Change, taking full advantage of Beck's dance grooves, which ultimately suits him better than the metacognitive drifter of 2002.

In "Elevator Music", he seems to have absorbed the mediocre response to Guero and references his middle-aged persona. "I shake a leg on the ground/Like an epileptic battery man/I'm making my move/Lettin' loose like a belt/Little worse for wear/But I'm wearing it well".

He fires on all cylindars with "Cellphone's Dead", an infectious dance/rap freak-out that comes about as close to mixin bizness with leather as we can expect from Beck in 2006. It hits exactly where it needs to, and although he doesn't quite turn the amps up to 11, "Cellphone's Dead" is easily his most purely danceable track since "Pressure Zone".

"1000 Bpm" is the biggest surprise here. The kitchen sink itself gets thrown into the mix as Beck finally verbalizes his long-standing grudge against "electronic actors" and "digital food malls". Who says the man can't get political? Another album highlight, "We Dance Alone," picks things up after the moderate drone of "Dark Star", which doesn't really achieve its potential until the old-school harmonica solo two minutes in. "We Dance Alone" combines danceable beats with a pretty smooth, melodic chorus, and brings out some career reflection as well.

With "Thought I saw a ghost/But it might have been me/Might have been the world/That was moving too fast/Caught up in the future/That was coming to pass," Beck accepts his place in the modern experimental canon. He might not be able to write his will on a three-dollar bill or break his face on the sweet sunshine anymore, but he can still make the youngins groove with aplomb.

"The Horrible Fanfare/Landslide/Exoskeleton" closes the album on notes both familiar and foreign. The opening two formations are a respectable six minutes of mega-produced electronica with a chorus that sounds like it was fed through the Calexico Machine. The Exoskeleton formation involves Beck, Spike Jonze, and Dave Eggers talking about how music changes depending on your mood and what a perfect album in a spaceship might sound like.

Mmkay. Is it very profound? Not really. However, as unexpected a denouement as it is, it isn't exactly an experimental blunder, nor does it tarnish what is otherwise Beck's most solid album since the 1990s. He's not my age anymore, but after hearing "The Information", I'll wager Beck is still as "with it", culturally, as ever, and might still have several worthwhile groove boxes up his sleeve, along with the maggot and the parking violation.

A Good Name for a Documentary Film, a Bad Name for a Potential Theme Park


For the last several months, my friends Dave and Tim and a few close friends and colleagues have been working on a documentary film about immigrant labor. They've been up and down California shooting interviews, protests, you name it. I'm told they have about 60 hours of footage thus far.

I knew all that, yet I had no idea of the massive scope of this project. Tim's just cut together a first trailer of the film, which will be called Laborland, and these guys have done incredible work. I'm floored. I can't wait to see this thing all put together. I figured it would be interesting, because I've met all the filmmakers and they're a smart bunch, but this looks like a much more compelling, emotional journey than I had imagined. I've been hanging out with these guys sporadically during the production thus far, but didn't realize how busy they had been putting all this together.

Anyway, check out this trailer and you tell me if this isn't the sort of movie you'd want to watch. I'll try to keep my scant few readers updated as the film edges ever closer to completion.

The Ventriloquists

I've been meaning to update everyone about this dynamite local rock/ska/funk/hip-hop combo for some time now. (Full disclosure: They are my friends.) I went to see the Ventriloquists a few weeks back at the Rainbow Room on Sunset, where they played in this peculiar upstairs attic-type performance space.

I've never seen a show in a room quite like this one. It was like a normal, albeit kind of small, bar, with some tables and booths arranged against the walls. But the stage was actually in a separate room, set 6 or so feet below the bar area. I ended up sitting on the steps going down to be able to actually see the band. It sounds awkward, and it was for a minute, but the band is so high-energy, they managed to get the crowd into it regardless of the design flaws.

I was thinking, while up there, about whether any interesting moments in rock history went down in that room. Back in the '60s and '70s, before the Sunset Strip was a theme park (one with homeless guys and junkies), the Rainbow Room was a focal point of the (awesome) local rock scene.

Who knows the people that might have passed through that tiny room? What was its original function? Practice space? Green room? Second stage? Coat check? I have no idea.

Anyway, the band! I've always thought they were funny and good musicians, but these guys have really progressed since their formation a few years ago. For the first time, they seemed to play as a cohesive unit, not to mention their newfound enthusiasm for stretching out songs with improvisation. (These are Phish-esque 20 minute jams or anything, but the songs were kind of opened up and explored in a looser way than I'd heard before.)

It's strange and cool to hear a band actually progress like this. I'm unaccustomed to getting on board a group's bandwagon early enough to hear these sorts of changes. (If the Ventriloquists ever take off, I'm going to have massive Music Nerd points for a while, until they have been successful for a little while and are therefore totally uncool. Then I'll be right back in Douchetown where I started...)

Check out the Ventriloquists on MySpace here. (I highly highly recommend the song "PSA 13.")And purchase their debut album, Safety Meeting while you're over there. Go on. Do it. Do it. Dooooooooo it...

Arec Bardrin

So, Kim Jong Il has gone ahead and done the thing he promises not to do, he has made some nuclear weapons. Naturally, we're shocked. I mean, he said he wanted to make nuclear weapons, and we specifically said not to! Doesn't he listen?

I mean, our President declared his country evil, along with two other countries. One of those other countries has nuclear weapons, and the other doesn't. Then we went and laid waste to the country that didn't have the weapons, turning it into an unceasing hell on earth. Also, we refused to talk to him. And we tied up all of our armed forces in the middle of a chaotic desert nation. And he somehow bizarrely took that as an impetus to try and get nuclear weapons. What a nutjob!

Anyway, I think Alec Baldwin and the other members of the Film Actors Guild ought to get over there right away and set this whole thing right. They can have some kind of star-studded international peace effort. It certainly hasn't been tried before!

I guess Alec's busy these days, what with kicking ass in The Departed and starring in the new sitcom "30 Rock" and writing sarcastic rants on Huffington Post. It's a fairly amusing post, but the headline is woefully miscalculated - "The Embarrassed Republicans."

Alec...Can I call you Alec? These Republicans are incapable of embarrassment. You could walk in on them violently fucking your cat on your bed and they would respond that once, in 1976, a Democratic city councilman from Bozeman, Montana was alleged to have sexually molested a calico kitten with a pair of tongs, some latex gloves, a broken Heineken bottle, a large container of bacon grease and a spatula.

At this point, there is absolutely nothing you could reveal about them that would be surprising or humiliating in any way. It is now well-documented that Republicans in the House and Senate are torture-loving racist hypocritical warmongers openly calling for bribes when they're not busy spying on their own citizenry, raiding the treasury, racketeering and molesting their underage pages. I mean...what more could you even begin to add on top of that?

I guess it hasn't (yet) come out that any members of the House Ethics Committee regularly ingest human flesh. So that's something.

Anyway, I agree with most of the Eldest of the Baldwins' points, but that headline is just plain misleading.

My Work Has Been Described as Distinctly Vaginal

Someone made it to my blog by performing this search today.

That's right - someone Googled "vaginal wetness constant." And it brought them to my blog. I'm so proud.

The post in question discussed a remarkable new invention, Absorbshun, that actually dries out overly-moist vaginas! It's a miracle!

By the way, if you were the reader who got here via that query, and if you're a woman, feel free to drop me a line. With a photo attached. I think I may be able to help you out...

Scientoliology Today

I watched this intensely mediocre horror film from the Ukraine this week called Dark Waters. It's "inspired" by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, which means it includes sea creatures and candles, I guess, but what stands out about the film are the repeated and elongated re-enactments of Satanic rituals.

This got me thinking about Satanism in the grander sense. It doesn't really make sense to me, as a religion. I mean, no religions really make sense to me, but at least I can begin to understand most of them on their own terms. If you really really believe that there's a personified God who came down and impregnated some virgin who then gave birth to a half-God/half-man hybrid who proceeded to give a series of invigorating lectures before being ruthlessly tortured and then killed by The Jew, you'd logically become a Christian.

Also, if you happen to think homos is grody. I think it's a silly, delusional position to take - akin to believing in Snow White, Boo Radley, Captain America and other popular fictional characters taken from world literature - but it's a position.

But Satanism, to my mind, has two specific problems:

(1) Satan didn't really like us.

The whole reason he started a war in Heaven back in the day (seriously...all the way back...) was that he felt the Big Man preferred humans to angels. So why would he want us to pray for him? He thinks we suck. He'd want us to hate him. I mean, that's kind of ol' Jack Scratch's raison d'ĂȘtre. Torturing humans and making us suffer.

Therefore, if you truly loved The Devil and wanted to please him, the only way to do so would hate him. Which means that the only true Satanists are the hardcore Christians!

(2) Satanism needs Catholicism as a counterpoint.

Catholicism can exist without Satanism. It has its own rituals and rites that have nothing to do with any kind of Satanic belief. I suppose, to be a strict dogmatic Catholic, one must believe in Satan on some level, but one need not even be aware of Satanic worship on any level in order to attend a Mass or confess your sins or transsubstantiate or any of the other crap those idiots do.

But the entire notion of, say, a Black Mass is predicated upon the existance of regular Mass. Think of Bizarro Superman or Evil Spock from "Star Trek" (easily identified by his goatee). Superman isn't called Normal-o Superman, nor is Spock generally referred to as Good Spock. They exist as their own entities. The anti-heroes exist only in reference to the originals.

It's the same with Satanism. All their rituals recreate Catholic rituals, only reversed. Instead of white hats, everyone wears black hats. The crosses are upside down (and occasionally aflame). I think in the movie, they're even speaking backwards some of the time. It's clearly a bullshit subservient religion - basically accepting the validity of Catholicism by taking up the alternative view.

Say what you will about Wiccans but at least they've got their own uniquely stupid bullshit going on. Not bullshit based on doing the opposite of what Zoroastrians do or whatever.

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that I have wanted to start up an anti-Scientology religion for some time now (Scientoliology), only I can't figure out a way to avoid the pitfall of Satanism. If I go ahead and base everything on the opposite of real Scientology, it's like admitting that L. Ron Hubbard's retarded cult has some kind of actual merit.

To start an anti-religion, you implicitly concede that there's something interesting about the original religion that is worth responding to, and I don't feel that way at all about Scientology. I just think it's irritating and want it to go away.

I'm not sure why Scientology in principle bothers me more than other religions. In my humble opinion, there's no way a religion could be less true than Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or Shintoism or any of the other religions. (I've said it before on this blog but I'll repeat myself for emphasis - Buddhism gets no love around here because of the reincarnation thing. The "life is suffering" part sounds pretty accurate to me.)

Yet something about the faith of Cruise and Travolta unsettles me. When I detect Scientological (Scientologist?) beliefs in a piece of media or entertainment, it strikes me as excessively ignorant, whereas professions of more traditional religious faith don't really affect me one way or the other. (This is definitely the reason noted Scientologist Paul Haggis' Crash bothered me more than a garden-variety treacly Hollywood "message" picture.)

I suppose it's possible that it's just the stigma on Scientology or the fact that it's a newer religion than the others. (This might also explain why so many people think Mormonism is creepy. That or the fact that a lot of Mormons are creeps.) But I think it's some fundamental aspects of the religion that really get under my skin. (I'm feeling very list-y in this post for some reason!):

(1) Its emphasis on celebrity-themed marketing

I hate the fact that Scientology has become well-known because it purposefully appeals to celebrities. (Ditto Kabballah.) Now, I know that this is simply a smart marketing strategy. If you want to interest people in your product, just get Jessica Alba to talk about it once, and you're set for life. So it makes sense to court famous people and get them talking about Scientology, if you wanted Scientology to take off.

But that doesn't make it any more acceptable or classy. We're talking about a core belief system here, not a new cologne. This is important. Even if you can sway particularly impressionable idiots with the help of Beck, Giovanni Ribisi and Jenna Elfman, that doesn't mean you should. To me, it speaks volumes about the corporate attitudes of the people behind Scientology. They see it as a product to be sold to the masses. They're trying to "move units" of religious belief. That's just gross.

(2) The fact that they get such shitty celebrities

Let's face it. If you were serious about trying to get me to embrace your twisted worldview, you'd hire more convincing celebrities than John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Kirstie fucking Alley. I wouldn't listen to their recommendations on anything. If Kirstie Alley suggested that I enjoy a deliciou ssteak at Outback, I'd make a beeline for Black Angus, is what I'm saying. Have you ever seen her being interviewed? She's half-retarded!

(Need an example? Kirstie was the only "Cheers" cast member to refuse to appear on the spin-off show "Frasier." Why? She felt that it made psychiatrists and psychotherapy appear correct, honest and heroic, whereas Scientologists hate and distrust psychiatrists. Apparently, it did not occur to Kirstie that, for all those years she appeared on "Cheers," Kelsey Grammar was actually standing right next to her playing a friendly and sympathetic psychiatrist. Perhaps she only read her lines in the script and ignored everyone else around her.)

I'm just saying - Catholicism has Mel Gibson, Judiasm has Ron Silver, Witchcraft has Stevie Nicks, Latvian Orthodoxy has George Costanza and Snake Handling has Moe Szyslak. Scientology needs to class up its celeb roster if it wants to compete. Seriously.

(3) Scientologists have a weird, somewhat perverse and largely inaccurate view of the world that they try to insist upon other, more sensible people

First of all, I hate how Scientologists refer to their faith as "tech" and refer to practicing their faith as "learning" or "reading" or even "researching" Scientology. You're not doing any fucking research. You're reading a bunch of books written by a science-fiction writer. Yes, other religions do this, too. You go to a "school" to "learn" how to be a priest, even though that involves reading a whole lot of made-up stuff as well. (But at least in seminary, you get some philosophy mixed in with all the flying and magic.)

It makes it sound like they are smarter than everyone else, but in fact they just know more about one crazy guy's wacked out philosophy of life. Like when Tom Cruise was calling out Brooke Shields publicly for taking anti-depressants. He actually believes he's more knowledgable about the effects of and uses for prescription medications than a doctor. Because he's taken classes in Scientology.

That's one of the most pernicious effects of organized religion - they substitute made-up lunacy for real knowledge and then convince you that you know more than the people who have dedicated their lives to studying reality.

This is how you get Museums dedicated to Creationism where guys ride around on top of dinosaurs. (Oh, I wish this didn't exist...but it totally does...) It's not just stupid to proclaim, with no genuine scientific background, that you know more than expert scientists in their own field. It's willfully ignorant. This kind of psychosis affects a relatively small sub-set of Christians and other religious Americans, but it affects pretty much every Scientologists whom I've ever heard speak.

Here's Scientologist Jenna Elfman in an interview in the Scientology magazine.

Hey, guess what the Scientology magazine is called? Celebrity!:

“Dianetics is the modern science of mental health…psychiatry...that's incorrect technology,” says the former sitcom star.

What is Ms. Elfman planning for her future?

To be “absolutely relentless and unreasonable about grasping [Scientology technology] and owning it,” she says. “That way, I can have complete KSW (Keeping Scientology Working)…[and] forge ahead with a very high speed of particle flow.”


“If we want to clear this planet, we've got to know and apply this tech. It's just a rule. It just is…I can't even emphasize it enough. It's just truth. You can't go beyond truth, it just is…if you want to Keep Scientology Working, you need to do the PTS/SP Course. Either that or you could be dead. You pick.”

I like! You are good! If I join Church of Scientology, can I put camera in ladies' washroom?

(4) It's really just about money

All organized religion on some level is about money, but Scientology is really explicitly about money. You can't progress in the religion without paying. It's so expensive to progress in Scientology, in fact, that many church followers have to switch careers or start their own businesses in the hopes of earning enough just to move forward in the church.

This is part of the reason the church focuses heavily on celebrities. If you're trying to get people to shell out thousands of dollars to hang around in your compound, it helps if they think they might get a chance to hang out with Isaac Hayes. Sound like a worthwhile faith so far?

See, it all boils down to OT levels, what Jenna Elfman was bragging about in that insane article. For a complete rundown on the concept of OT, this is a great resource. I don't want to get all technical here and actually delve into the guts of Scientology, because it's stupid and pointless, but OT stands for "Operating Thetan."

As you move up OT levels, you begin to "clear" your mind of harmful thetans, which are actually trapped alien souls but which function very much like psychological neuroses in a practical sense. They are hang-ups that keep you from reaching your mind's full potential.

But the only way to move up OT levels, to advance in Scientology and begin the process of clearing out all the thetans that are holding you back and making you sad, is to pay them lots of money. Then you do course work with an E-meter, which involves loopy science-fiction babble like this:

"Be three feet in back of your head. Whatever you are looking at, copy it a dozen times, put it into you. Find the two back comers of the room and hold onto them without thinking for two minutes."
"Find two corners of the planet Earth, hold onto them for two minutes."
"Find a place where you are not."
"Spot three spots in your body."
"Spot three spots in the room."
"Be in the following places: The room, the sky, the moon, the sun."
"Locate an animal. Postulate him moving from one spot to another. Observe him doing this."
"Find a man walking. Postulate his walking faster. Do this with 20 people."

They think that, if you move up OT levels, you actually gain powers. The highest OT level is OT VIII, which makes an individual for all intents and purposes a God. Tom Cruise is OT VII, indicating that he believes he can move things with his mind. He should really start postulating a man going to the theater to see Mission Impossible 3, because things aren't really going that well for Tom on the box office front.

Like any scam, it's about fooling the mark by showing him confidence. In House of Games, Joe Mantegna has a brilliant speech (written by David Mamet) explaining how confidence games work. It's not called a confidence game because people place their confidence in you, but the other way around. A con man (or woman) puts his or her trust in a stranger, who according to the social code feels that he or she must then reciprocate and be trusting in return. And that's how a con artist gets away with your money.

So Scientologists tell you that they're going to let you in on this huge and important secret, and that this secret is going to give you all kinds of crazy weird superhuman powers. And all you have to do for them in return is give them all your credit card numbers.

That's why Scientoliology will be 100% free. Here's some of the tenets I'm considering for my new faith:

- No one is to read any book written by L. Ron Hubbard. Instead, we gain knowledge (known as "nano-tech") by reading actual books written by worthwhile writers with an actual background in the subjects about which they write. For example, Jared Diamond's "Guns Germs and Steel" would be an entirely appopriate choice for a Scientoliologist. Stephen King's "On Writing" represents the height of blasphemy.)

- Every time you come up with another reason Scientology is stupid, you earn an additional TO point. These TO points can eventually be redeemed for prescription pain medication.

- No celebrities will be admitted to the Church of Scientoliology. Exceptions will be made only if that celebrity is a former Scientologist, because they probably have a whole lot of funny stories I'd personally like to hear. Except Paul Haggis, that guy can go suck a fat one, he's not allowed in my church.

- Because I've never been a fan of psychotherapy or mood-altering drugs myself, psychiatrists are still considered evil. But not as evil as those Ear Nose and Throat specialists. No good bastards.

- Instead of an evil alien overlord named Xenu ruining all of our lives via interstellar genocide, we believe that the shallow emptiness of our everyday life coupled with frequently crippling loneliness and tendencies towards vapid consumerism and nervous anxiety are what makes Americans miserable. Americans, in turn, make everyone else in the world miserable. So that's why everyone's miserable. Call this the Lons Doctrine. It's the first of the 10 Essential Teachings of Scientoliology, or as I'm going to call them:


(1) Americans are miserable because they are shallow consumerist sheep. They, in turn, make everyone else in the world miserable.

(2) All religions say that sex is bad, even though people really like to have sex. So they religion that would be easiest to market would be actively pro-sex. Therefore, I'm going to go ahead and be the first World Religious Leader to declare the Cincinnati Bowtie a holy sacrament.

(3) Jam bands sound really cool when you're high, but not so much when you aren't. When you aren't high and you listen to a jam band for a little while, you begin to wonder how you pay attention to this music when you're high.

(4) I like how Judiasm and Christianity have all their rituals intertwined with alcohol. The light buzz I'd get off that cough syrup the Jews pass off as wine was the only way I survived those annual torments known as the "Passover Seder." So I'd like to open up the sacred Scientoliological beverage to the highest bidder. If your alcoholic beverage has its own personified mascot - a Captain Morgan, say, or Jim Beam, or even a St. Pauli Girl - that person immediately becomes a saint. Done.

(5) From this moment forth, Scientoliology is officially at War with Christmas. Fuck Christmas. Santa's going down harder than Rush Limbaugh and Dennis Hastert in a broken elevator. Do your worst, Culture Warrior O'Reilly! This shit is on!

(6) No work or school on Hunter Thompson's birthday, July 18th.

(7) There is no God. Try to learn to deal.

(8) There is no Heaven or Hell, but there is a Limbo. Weird, huh?

(9) The Legend of Zelda for Nintendo is the greatest video game of all time.

(10) Only I know the secrets of the only ritual in Scientoliology, and I'm never going to tell anyone or actually enact it myself. Unless you give me $2 million.

I just realized that last part kind of resembles my rival religion, Scientology, so I might have to amend it later. That can be the Scientoliological version of the Reformation. (So long as one of you leaves 95 theses in the comments about why TRUTH #10 is wrong.)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Holy Crap!

Fans of rock history or Gilliam-esque animation will enjoy the following clip immensely: