Hey, lots of you have been sending me your comments on Facebook. That's fine, but...

... I'd prefer if you embedded the comments below the articles. That way we can see more fights when people disagree!

And besides, I do my best to respond to all your comments, so check back often for what I say about you behind your back... and tell your friends to come along, too!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


That's right, sports fans. I'm moving to a new location. Not that Blogger hasn't been good for me. Just that I've got my own domain, so might as well make use of it. So further posts will be at http://michaelbrentcollings.com/blog2.html and BOY are they gonna be good.

Bookmark accordingly, and see you there!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Taking the Swine Flu Shot is MORE DANGEROUS THAN THE SWINE FLU!!!

It's true.

I got a shot the other day. To avoid the swine flu. They made us fill out some forms that said there might be a "small chance" of side effects. "But hey," I said, "it's the government, right? And they protect us, right?"

This prompted several odd looks in my direction, since I was apparently talking to myself. I'm constantly surprised how often I get that look.

Anywho, I went up and took my shot. So did my wife. My kids took the nasal version, because they're a bunch of babies (plus when I started crying and then fainted after my shot, it might have affected them on some subconscious level).

And then the problems started. First it was itching. On my feet. I did that thing where you are too lazy to take off your shoe so you just try to rub your sole against something hard, then maybe stomp a few times, but it didn't work.

It also prompted more of those weird looks people were giving me. I also noticed several of them edging their fingers towards their cell phones like gunfighters in a saloon that they suspect someone just cheated at cards in.

But this isn't about my dreams of being a cowboy. It's about my feet. Focus, people!

Finally, I gave in and took off my shoes to scratch my feet. But to my amazement, the instant that I did so, the itching stopped. I put my shoes back on. The itching started again. I took them off. No itch.

I went immediately to the most obvious reason for this phenomenon: Voodoo curse. But then I realized something even more obvious: I was wearing leather shoes.

That's right, leather. As in, the skin of a pig. (Yes, I like patent pig-leather shoes. So sue me.)

And so I went and tested a theory: I went to a pickup football game and played a few innings (it's innings in football, right?). I didn't do too well, but I did get to "toss the ol' pigskin around." And guess what? Every time I touched the "pigskin," my hand got all itchy and I dropped the ball!

My teammates didn't believe that explanation, but I didn't care that they tossed me out of the game and told me never to come back or (direct quote) "We'll make sure you don't drop the ball by hot-glue-gunning it to your face."

Where these guys get hot glue guns, I don't know. But it didn't matter. I had found out what I needed from this pig-oriented sport.

Now, the ultimate test. I went to my fridge. I pried open some Farmer John bacon and... well... you know when you try to touch the wrong ends of a magnet together? How they push off each other no matter how hard you try to shove them together? That's what my fingers did with the bacon! No lie!

So I did some research. And guess what? There's no such thing as swine flu. It's all a hoax made up by the government. And after a little more research I discovered that "the government" is actually run by a shadow triumvirate of seven people who are all members of PETA.

And now it was really coming together. Avian virus? Swine flu? Aids from monkeys?

It's all a hoax to get us to take medications which will save animals! They're the ones benefiting from these crazy shots, not us! NOT US! And BTW, "To Serve Man"... is a cookbook. And soylent green is people.

All of which leads me to my real point. No, it's not that I'm crazy.

Actually, it's that some other people are.

Since the swine flu fears have arisen, I've heard a disturbing number of people talk about how dangerous it is to get the vaccine: more dangerous than not taking it would be. And most of the people I've heard saying that have had a kid in the shopping cart or a toddler on his/her hip. Which made me want to run screaming at them, grab the kids, and call Social Services.

Look, folks, the United States is one of the most medicinally anal-retentive countries in the world. I remember when I lived in Paraguay you could go into the equivalent of a Sav-On (albeit a Sav-On with only about 20 choices and flying cockroaches the size of a deck of cards), and just ask for Percocet or Vicodin like they were Pez... and you'd get 'em, no questions asked.

Other nations often have medicines available to them years before we do. Why? Perhaps it's because the biomed companies don't like the French, and so don't mind killing them off as part of a mass test of a product before releasing it in the US. But no, because the Swiss get those meds too, and really, who doesn't like the Swiss?

So the answer has to be that the US does not even allow vaccinations unless their benefit completely outweighs the disadvantages. And not by just a little: by a lot. People point to the polio vaccine as a counter-argument, because that vaccine did have a much higher than usual frequency of side-effects.

But it also a) was much safer than not being vaccinated, and b) wiped polio off the face of the earth.

Job well done, anyone?

So please, do your research. If you're worried about side effects of a vaccine, fine. You should be. But don't run around bragging about how you're saving your life and the lives of your children based on rumors from someone you overheard at the supermarket, or that idiot who blogs periodically and can't seem to stay focused on anything because - ooh, look, a bunny!

What was I saying?

Oh, yes. Get vaccinated. It's highly preferable to the alternative. Plus, if, for example, I was a large-ish guy and I found out that your kid got swine flu because you wouldn't let him/her get the shot, and your kid infected others, and one of those others was my best friend (who is an idiot and didn't get his swine flue shot)... I'd probably have to think about coming after you.

Just like a gunfighter in the old west.

It always comes down to the saloon, don't it, pardner...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Presidential Indoctrination

Okay, I know... when I heard that some people were saying that President Obama was trying to indoctrinate people, I had the same reaction everyone else had: "What the heck? He's already President, why does he need to be a doctor, too?"

Then I took a step back and realized that this wasn't about whether he wants to be the first African-American Doogie Howser, M.D. (yes, I know there have been doctors of color, but have any of them been named Doogie Howser? I don't think so).

Instead, it seems that there is some hoopla going on over the fact that he is addressing our children.

"Egads," methought. "How can he have the unmitigated gall to want to talk to our kids! Next thing you know they'll all be wearing brown shirts and talking about 'our leader' and stuff." Then I added another "Egads" to my thoughts just to drive home the seriousness of what was going on.

First of all, I have to admit that this one just barely misses me. It's like in Indiana Jones when he gets in the refrigerator and the nuclear blast goes off and he flies like three miles through the air 'cause of the blast wave and then gets out and dusts himself off because phew! he didn't get radiation poison. Yeah, I feel like that because my kid starts school tomorrow. That's right, the day after the indoctrination is set to occur.

Still, he does have relatives in other locales, and I'm sure he's going to wonder what happened to them at his next phone call:

MY KID: Hey, Cousin!

COUSIN: Hey, Cousin!

MK: I got some new megablocks for my birthday!

C: Have you thanked Obama?

MK: What?

C: All good things flow from Obama.

MK: What?

C: Have you not heard? Did you not hear THE SPEECH?

MK: What speech?

C: [indistinct muttering in the background] Don't worry. Re-education teams will arrive shortly. When they do, please assume your "I'm having fun" position.

MK: What's that? [sound of choppers in the background]

C: Lay down flat, arms outstretched, fingers spread.

MK: I have to go. Guys in black just crashed through my windows on ziplines.

C: All hail Obama!

I know, you're thinking the above is a little ridiculous: after all, my kid is only five years old. So how the heck would he even know what a zipline is?

But I see the fear that a lot of people have. Because they disagree with the president's views, and they worry that their children will hear something that makes them question the views that Mommy and Daddy want them to have. And I understand that. I really do. It's the reason I don't let my kid watch certain shows.

At the same time, though, I have to wonder if the real reason for so many people's concern isn't the message itself, but rather the fact that so many of us have essentially delegated our parental communication responsibilities to the television. And President Obama will be seen by most kids on a television. So he's coming from the Box of Authority. And therefore what he says must be true.

You see where I'm going here?

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of President Obama's, but nor am I a big "hater," either. I'm still kind of waiting to see if he does anything that actually impresses or disgusts me. But even if I was a "hater," and my kid had to see him at school, I don't think I'd be too worried.

Why not?

Because I believe Truth (capital T on purpose) usually wins out.

Because I believe my kid (no caps, he's only five) is not going to believe everything he hears. In fact, he doesn't understand a lot of things, and so...

He will ask me or my wife about it. Because we've managed to maintain our positions as his primary teachers. The Box of Authority is strictly monitored in our house, and that leaves him with no alternative but to talk to us.

I know, it's horrible how we're raising him to turn to us before all others. What lousy, fascist people we are.

But it keeps my blood-pressure down on days when I worry my kid is going to hear something incorrect, improbable, or just downright stupid. Because I believe that he'll talk to me about it. Before bed, when we have our nightly talk, over the dinner table, when I always ask what he did that day, or in between wrestling matches (the kid can do arm bars like a Cage Fighter!).

To sum up: I have no idea what President Obama is going to tell the kids of the nation. But I do believe it is a good idea for them to have access to the political process, and if that's one way for it to happen I'm all for it. And I do believe that any parent worth their salt should be able to sit down and reason with their kids over things that are said to them, over whether or not they're true.

And I do believe that Truth wins in the end. Every dictator or would-by tyrant falls in the end. Not calling President Obama that, just counseling for a little bit less hand-wringing and a little more sitting down with our kids to talk about what they learned in school today.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The High Cost of Living... and Dying on the Cheap

In an unusually somber tone, I am writing today about a visit that I made to the Museum of Tolerance.

For those of you who don't know, the MOT is a museum in Los Angeles that is dedicated to the survivors and victims of the Holocaust of World War II. There are various exhibits about the effects of intolerance, some fairly nice interactive exhibits, and a number of films and room layouts designed to make a person appreciate the total hell that people went through if they had the misfortune of being the wrong "kind" of people during a time which will always stand as a watermark of horror in our histories.

However, though touched by what I saw, I must admit that I am an avid reader and researcher of that period: World War II is, in many ways, an almost archetypical example of good vs. evil. And it is so extreme that if it had not actually happened, I suspect many of us would have walked out of any movie about it for being too "unrealistic" for the excesses of both cruelty and heroism portrayed. At any rate, as a result of my reading and research, I was perhaps not as overwhelmed by the horrors as some who visit the museum might be. At least for me, they were not "news" or a surprise, but something I went in knowing of.

What did get to me, though was a small moment in one of the exhibits where it talked about the 33 million (yes MILLION) refugees in the world today. It asked what we (the audience) thought the leading cause of death for these people was. I guessed starvation (a no brainer).


The answer was landmines.

What?? Landmines?

Kee-rect. And many - if not most - of the victims are children.

Then the exhibit film went on to explain the cost variables: a landmine can cost as little as $30 to make, as much as $1,000 to defuse, and many times that to care for a human being injured by one.

This really hit home. Not because I've been victimized by a landmine, but because my wife recently had surgery which will cost (when all is said and done) several hundred thousand dollars. And so it occurred to me how very frail we all are in some ways. Think about it. Buy a set of drinking glasses for $5 at Target, shatter one on the ground, pick up a piece, and you have a weapon capable of ending a life. Slash someone with it, and if they survive the costs to keep them alive could be astronomical.

Point being: we have to go to extraordinary extremes to keep ourselves - as individuals, as a culture, as a race - functioning and surviving.

We are such fragile creatures. Easy to break, mentally, physically, emotionally. And yet...

And yet we built the pyramids.

And yet we have written literature that will survive across millennia.

We have learned to live.

What is next, then? Have we conquered our infirmities? Surely not. We have taken steps in the right direction, but as a race we are still babies, taking our first halting steps toward what I hope and pray will be a better future.

Will there ever be another tragedy of pre-planned malice and horror like the Holocaust? Will there ever be another slaughter to compare with the 20 million Russians lost during World War II?

I don't know. It's easy, sometimes, to devalue life. Perhaps because it's so cheap to end it.

But then, wouldn't the expense involved in maintaining it point to its inherent value? Like a Ming vase, like an original draft of the Declaration of Independence, like a symphony page handwritten by Beethoven, we are of inestimable worth. Like those things, when damaged our repair is difficult and sometimes impossible. And so does it not make sense, then, that we treat each other as the priceless objects of value that we are?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Who IS Billy Jones: Building Buzz for an Audiobook

For those of you who have been following the blog and wondering about the Billy Jones stuff that always pops up to the left (and seriously, why haven't you clicked on it yet??), you might find the following interesting.

Who IS Billy Jones: Building Buzz for an Audiobook - Books - Blogcritics

Friday, August 21, 2009

Two Great Acts That Taste Great Together... or Something Like That

So a bit more of a "personal" blog today. Just letting everyone I know know (ha, I said "know know) about a pair of acts that are totally different, and equally great.

Act One: Cary Judd. His website is here.

Who is he? Well: check this out and you'll have your answer. And if you didn't see that, then at least here's a picture:

This guy is GOOD. Here's a list of his upcoming tour dates. CATCH HIM IF YOU CAN.

What makes him so good? Why bother seeing him live?

Well, because quite simply, chances are good you'll never see anything like it again. He's literally a one-man band. Not like the guys who walk around Disney movies with every possible instrument strapped to them. Rather, he creates "loops" for each of his songs live. So the first thing he'll do is lay down a drum line, recording it on the spot, right in front of your eyes. Then he'll bang on his guitar to create a bass drum sound. New loop. Then a rhythm guitar loop. And so on.

So in the space of about 30 seconds, you see someone put together all the background "fill" sounds he'll need for a full-bodied, full-band sound, which he controls and turns on and off, up or down, throughout the song, via a series of foot pedals and hand controls.

It's unreal, amazing, and absolutely worth traveling for.

Now, the second act I saw was a comedy troupe called The Society.

They are an improv group that I caught last night right after seeing Cary, and MAN did they impress. They took a word from the group: "Beachball" and then IMPROV'D AN ENTIRE BROADWAY SHOW around it, INCLUDING MUSIC AND LYRICS.

The ENTIRE GROUP was amazing, though for me the standouts were Kirby Heyborne as the love-struck professional beach ball inflater and Eric Artell as the crotchety rich old man who insists that his daughter only have beach balls for her 17th birthday beach party because (as he sung) "Yeah, you can enjoy lots of frisbees, and lawn darts, and surfboards and have lots of fun, but then what are you really? Just a big fat beach slob..." (message: focus, girl, you gots ta have FOCUS!)

And perhaps most amazing is that, unlike most comedy acts, when they hit a rough patch (as any improv group will... it's impossible for every joke to be a hit), they don't resort to crudity or "F-bombs" as a cheap impersonator of humor.

They're appearing at the IO West on Thursday at 11 pm. Entrance is free, but you better get there early, because it was standing room only when I was there.

And a bit of a warning: though The Society seems to be absolutely family friendly, the other group that I saw was NOT. So be aware. But then, IO West won't let you in unless you're 21 or older, so I guess chances of you packing up the kiddies for an 11 pm show in the middle of Hollywood is pretty slim.

Okay, so this was more of a straight "review," and I promise to return next time to more humorous (i.e., random and borderline incomprehensible) stuff.

But every once in a while you come across true talent, and I think that in that case, you gotta share it.

That's why you're all telling your friends about me.



[sound of crickets chirping...]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

To Die For

Driving to work today (yes, I do have a day job), I heard something both wonderful and appalling. What was it? you ask. Well, I'll tell you.

There's a lady in a posh neighborhood who owes $1 million on her house (which is now probably worth only $42.50, thank you very much bad loan policies). And, surprise surprise, she doesn't have the wherewithal to make the payments.

So she decides to sell an item of value: her dead husband.

GAH! you say?

Okay, I'm exaggerating. She's not selling her dead husband. She's selling her dead husband's grave. On e-Bay. Meaning that if she sells it, she's going to have to move hubby somewhere else.

Well, I'm all for a little sacrifice in time of need (after all, as my wife so often points out, it WAS me who tried putting our son in a bowl and pouring milk all over him during the Great Froot Loops Draught of '08). But REALLY. And what does she think she's going to get for this marvelous piece of treasure.

Well, at last count on eBay: something like $4.5 MILLION dollars.

Now, before all of you go looking for one of your less-liked relatives to dig up and sell off their "final" resting place, you should know that this woman's husband's grave had something a bit unusual about it.

No, it wasn't full of solid gold iguanas.

Rather, it was right next to Marilyn Monroe's grave. In fact, it was part of a two-fer set that MM got with her (then) husband Joe DiMaggio. When they divorced, Joe got rid of "his side of the bed," as it were.

NOW the $4.5 million bid starts to make sense.

Or does it?

I mean, $4.5 million to lay next to this for eternity?

Okay, I can see that appealing to some people.

But the fact is, it's been a while. So $4.5 million to lay next to this?

Less so.

We have all gone crazy. People are trying to push a new health care system that hasn't even been read by most of the people pushing it. People are buying big screen TVs to go in the houses they can't afford. People are pouring milk over their children when they're out of Froot Loops (see, no one is blameless).

And in this time where everyone is hurting (or at least complaining that they're hurting), we still have people who can manage to find $4.5 million to spend in order to be buried next to The Mummy.

Darwin was clearly wrong on some points. Because anyone with any sense at all would put their $4.5 million into something with a little bit better return on investment. Like butter futures or something.

Then again, whenever anyone asks me (as they so often do), "How did we ever get into this mess," I will no longer look at them blankly and go "Wha?"

I will merely say, "Marilyn Monroe's Mummy."

And my conversation partner will nod and leave. For no more, at that point, will need to be said.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thinking About Ignorance

This one is in a bit more serious of a vein than usual. My apologies, but even the best of us gets serious sometimes.

See, I can't even be serious without making a joke about it. Sad, really.

Anywho, I recently went to the Self Realization Center in Malibu (that's the picture). For those of you who don't know what this place is, it's a really lovely place with a lake, full of koi, ducks, and swans. The surrounding areas are plush, smelling richly of the flowers that veritably coat every square inch of the surrounding hills.

The place also has religious significance. There is a shrine to Mahatma Ghandi, which even contains some of his ashes, and some other religious features which I will get to in a moment.

I made the trip a bit of an outing with my children. They thoroughly enjoyed it, as did I. We did a circuit of the lake, stopping at the "feeding area" where you can feed the fish in the lake. I told them they were called Makoto fish and told them a legend of the fish's transformation to a mighty dragon if it could swim to the top of a certain waterfall - particularly cool to them because there was a large waterfall directly across the lake from us.

They were also very impressed when I told them a bit about Ghandi, and how he taught people that you don't always have to fight to win a battle. Conveying his message to a three- and five-year old was a bit trying, but if you ever want a lesson in clarity, try to distill important things down to that level: you really get to the essence and strip away everything that doesn't matter.

We also stopped by the meditation area, and I talked to the kids about the differences between thinking, pondering, meditating, and praying.

Finally, we ended up at an area that was designated to highlight each of the world's five major religions. This was (for me) the most interesting part of our small self-tour. As before, I tried to teach my kids, so I took my children to the symbol that represented each of the religions, and tried to talk to them a bit about what each religion believed, and some of the things that made each different from our own religion.

I emphasized that just because they believe differently does not make them bad, and that if someone is wrong about something, the best way to teach them is not by arguing or yelling, but by being so good they cannot help but admire you and want to emulate you.

The humbling part came when I realized I could only speak in depth about three of the five major religions. I will have to do some more studying, not because I wish to become an acolyte, and certainly not because I wish to remove myself from my own treasured beliefs in any way, but because it is impossible to understand someone when you don't understand their language.

And religion is one of the things that most fundamentally makes up a person's language, coloring his (or her) attitudes, beliefs (obviously), and actions. But more than that it colors their REactions and their INTERactions. And so understanding a person's religion - at least in a broad, basic way - can make the difference between thinking someone is an enemy, and KNOWING that someone is a friend.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

World Peace Through Higher Gasoline Consumption

I just heard on the radio and read on the net that Chevy is coming out with a new vehicle that will get a whopping 230 miles per gallon. And that's city-mileage, baby, so who knows what it can do on the freeway?

Well, that depends on where you're at, I guess. If you live in Idaho, you'll probably get higher mileage - like infinity miles per gallon (I'm rounding); if you live in Los Angeles, where I operate, you might get lower mpg... like 4. Which is still an improvement.

At any rate, hearing that information absolutely floored me. And it led to an obvious question and an obvious danger in my mind: if all cars start getting that kind of fuel efficiency, what are we going to do with all our extra gas?! I mean, we can't just let it sit there in its crude form in the ground, just doing nothing. We're not wasteful like that. "Find a use for it and use it": that's the American Way (the American Way used to be "Work real hard and buy a house for financial security," but we all know how that turned out).

So what to do, what to do?

The obvious answers are always an option: use the extra gas to feed hungry children, or to cure cancer, or to end the worldwide polio epidemic.

What? They already took care of that one? Coolio. So now we're down to even fewer options.

And then, driving to work, it hit me: we can use our extra gas to end global warming! "What?" you say. "End global warming with gas? How is it possible?"

Here's how it works. We all know that the sea levels are rising as a result of the ice caps melting. Or at any rate, we all know that who say we all know that. Some people say we haven't actually proved that, and we respect their opinions, but for now we'll just ignore them and call them "the crazy people."

So all of us (not "the crazy people") get all our gas out of our old cars - which we will immediately throw away* when this new Chevy Volt comes out because we will immediately want to get this fuel-efficient gift from the heavens (or from Olympus - we don't discriminate in this blog). We then take that gas and pour it on the beaches on the major coastlines of the world.

Then we light it all on fire.

I anticipate the heat generated will boil the beach water. This will cause steam to rise, and kick-start the rain-cycle which should drop more water over our polar areas, thus adding to our polar ice caps. Not only that, but the water that is boiled away means an automatic, instantaneous drop in the world's sea level. You can thank me later, Netherlands.

AND when all the gas is burned off, I bet there will be plenty of boiled fish washing up on the shores. We just have UPS standing by for shipment to underdeveloped nations, and WHAMMO! we've also just solved world hunger.

So is this sounding great, or what? I know, I know, there are a few obvious kinks in the process, like: what if people in areas of world hunger don't like fish? But these things iron themselves out, I assure you.

So let's all get ready. 2010 is when the Chevy Volt is scheduled to arrive. The year we all turn fuel economic on the freeway and use the earth's remaining gasoline and oil to solve global warming, world hunger, and I wouldn't be surprised if it accidentally also cures cancer.

* Where will we throw away our old cars? I dunno. You can't expect me to think of everything. But probably just in some big hole somewhere. That way, they won't hurt anything.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

G.I. Jonesing – or – Why I Want to Bear Snake Eyes’ Children

I’ve already made it pretty clear that I don’t think every movie has to be smart to be brilliant. The last movie I talked about in that vein was Transformers 2, a movie produced by Hasbro, and one that I found loud, silly, almost plotless… and totally awesome.

Well, folks, Hasbro is two for two this summer. I saw G.I. Joe last night, and when I went in I just wanted it to do one thing: I wanted it to make me remember why, when I was around 10 or 12 years old, I had to get home in time to watch G.I. Joe. No. Matter. What.

I get detention? I skip it to get home.

Car not working? I run.

Pass a burning bus full of nuns on the way? Sorry, sisters, you gots ta burn.

Because I know that G.I. Joe is coming on. And knowing is half the battle. The other half is watching the show.

Point being, I wanted that feeling, that “YO, JOE!” feeling that I used to get.

And I got it. For six specific reasons:

1) Cool gadgets.

2) Hearing catchphrases like “knowing is half the battle” and “we got a lotta Joes out there.”

3) Snake Eyes.

4) Snake Eyes.

5) Snake Eyes.

6) Snake Eyes.

Sure, there were a couple things that didn’t work for me. The little kid from Third Rock From the Sun as Cobra Commander didn’t work for me. Wayans as the stereotypical black funny guy who has his moment to shine after essentially serving as the village idiot for 95% of the movie… meh.

There were a couple of lines that made my eyes roll so far back I was looking at the person in the seat behind mine (sometimes my brain and skull go transparent, allowing me to do that – a neat but creepy party trick).

I also was a little weirded out by the ethno-cultural changes. It used to be “G.I. Joe… A real American Hero” (and if you can’t actually hear the song being sung when you read that, you’re the wrong demographic for this article, dude).

This was not the case in the movie. In the movie it would have been more like “G.I. Joe… A real cross-cultural mixed-ethnicity inter-national U.N.-sanctioned P.C. hero…” Which I have no problem with as a moral choice or anything, and I get that the folks in charge want to appeal to as many different countries as possible. It was just jarring is all.

But there were a few things – more than a few things – that did work for me.

Scarlett had a frickin’ rad crossbow.

And yes, I did just actually say “frickin’ rad.” And I say frickin’ rad because frickin’ rad was what we said when the Joes were around as cartoons.

But anyway, her crossbow was like something Buffy the Vampire Slayer might have if she had Darth Vader’s tech/weapons guy working for her. It could shoot around corners and hit you in the eye and if that didn’t make you go “Frickin’ rad!” then the fact that it glowed red at the edges and had some sort of LCD video screen would definitely make you go “Frickin’ rad!”

And there were also submarines that looked like amphibious X-wing fighters, helicopters that made Airwolf look like one of those airplanes you wind up with a rubber band, and a whole slew of “wicked kewl” other stuff.

And the catchphrases. Hearing Dennis Quaid say “And knowing is half the battle” was wonderful, if not quite as good as hearing Peter Cullen say “Autobots, roll out.”

And last but not least (times four)… Snake Eyes.

I remember that Snake Eyes was the coolest one when I was a kid. He didn’t say anything, he had a pet wolf, and you had the feeling that he could be the most popular kid at school if he wanted to, but he didn’t: he just wanted to kick the crap out of bad guys and save the day.

And they nailed it in the movie. No wolf, but they got the rest bang-on. I mean totally perfect. So here I am, a happily married man with two kids, and this guy is so frickin’ rad (again, see above re frickin’ rad) that I’m having my heterosexuality challenged. He’s got swords, a gun, and a facemask that is like Geordi LaForge’s on steroids. How cool is he? Again, I’m having trouble maintaining my straightness here.

And why is Snake Eyes so cool (aside from the above-mentioned reasons, as if those weren’t enough)? Well, I think a big part of it is that he is – oddly enough – the most human of the characters. The one who you get the feeling that if you were serious enough and tried hard enough and took a vow of silence, you could end up with the skills Snake Eyes has. Get yourself a black suit and the aforementioned cool facemask, and you are him. You don’t have to be pretty, like Scarlet, or prettier like Channing Tatum as Duke (seriously, I thought the girls in the audience – both of them – were going to die of apoplexy whenever he opened his pretty little mouth). You don’t have to be a big dude, like so many of the other (multi-ethnic) Joes in the movie are.

You just gotta want it. You just gotta work for it. You just gotta be the one who is already moving to do something while everyone else is still scratching their heads and saying, “I don’t know, what do you think we should do about the nuclear warhead speeding towards Washington?”

And no, that’s not a spoiler. There is no nuclear warhead in this movie. I will provide a short spoiler, though.


The Joes win. No major bad guys are actually seen dying. There is a Colliseum-sized opening for a sequel.


So did I like G.I. Joe?

Yeah. It was frickin’ rad.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

And Tat's all There is to it

Heard an interesting piece on the news today about how tattoo removal is projected to become a multi-billion-a-year business in the US alone.

I don’t see how that’s possible. I mean, all you have to do is wait for a while and the tattoo just wears off, right? In fact, usually when I get a tattoo, I forget to hold the cold washcloth on it long enough and then when I peel the paper back my “Superman” tattoo ends up looking like a cross between a dead fish and a llama with dysentery.

I guess maybe they’re talking about more washcloths being needed to scrub the ugly llamas off?

What? You mean they’re talking about THE OTHER KIND of tattoos? And it turns out that it’s even more expensive to get one off than to put it on?

Does this all seem kind of weird to anyone but me? First of all, I have had sharp pointy things poked into me by people who were not my friends. They did it mostly for free. So as a rule I must admit I have no wish to pay a stranger to stick sharp pointy things into me, and leave behind permanent proof that he did it. But that’s just me.

Nonetheless, it does kill me the number of people that are getting “tats” all over at the age of 16 or 18, or even 20 or 22. At some point it stops being about a cool tat and starts being a social statement.

And what’s the statement? Probably something like “I want to be poor.”

See, a rock star can get away with tattoos. He’s rich, and in a field that promotes that kind of activity.

But the majority of us are going to end up wanting to be teachers or architects or doctors or things like that.

And believe me, nothing says “Hire me” to HR at a major law firm like a teardrop tat and “Born to Burn” emblazoned across the back of your head.

Having said all that, then, I guess it isn’t such a surprise that tattoo removal is getting ready for big numbers. At some point, most people realize they have to grow up (my wife is still waiting on me). That means paying the bills. And that usually goes hand in glove with LOOKING like someone who pays the bills.

Which, in turn, implies that tattoos may not be the “wicked cool” thing they’re generally perceived as by the people getting them. Rather, they are more likely “wicked cool today, wicked dumb tomorrow.”

And don’t even get me started on the people who look like they’re trying to turn their earlobes into basketball hoops.

I’d say more (like about the tattoos all the girls are getting on their backs – you know, the ones right above their tooshes – which I suspect are going to look rather odd as they age and the things stretch out to resemble silly putty faces), but I gotta go. I hear University of Phoenix has an online course in tattoo removal, and I want a piece of THAT pie.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I Don't Know Anything About This, but I Know I Have Strong Feelings About it

I was just listening to talk radio (endless fodder there for blog topics), and the commentator started ranting about the California budget process, which as near as I can tell involves a bunch of people cloistered in a room with some accountants, a stapler, lots of paper, and a Magic 8 Ball.

The commentator's rant got my blood pressure up. "Hey," thought I (when I think, I always do it in olde vernacular like "thought I"), "methinks I agree... the budget process in California HAS TO CHANGE!"

Then I realized that I have NO idea how the process works.

Okay, I have SOME idea, but not much. And still I know - I KNOW - that things must change. And if you stuck a gun to my head and made me come up with some, I bet I could even contribute concrete suggestions as to HOW the process should change.

And I could come up with these suggestions even though (as I've already stated) I don't know how the process works in the first place. And how ridiculous is that? It's like me hanging out a sign on my door that says "Michaelbrent - Heart Surgeon" and when asked about my qualifications replying that I eat those Necco hearts each Valentine's Day that say "Be Mine" and "Hot Stuff" and things like that.

Even worse, I think this problem may not be confined just to me. I have a sneaking suspicion that an awful lot of my friends, coworkers, peers, etc., have very strident opinions about important matters that they have not bothered to educate themselves about.


GUY ON THE STREET: We need to get the troops out of Afghanistan.
ME: Why?
GUY ON THE STREET: Because they're not doing anything good over there!
ME: What do you mean by that?
GUY: Just what I said.
ME: Well, you didn't really communicate much. Do you think they could be better utilized elsewhere? Or that the methods they're using are unConstitutional? Or just that fighting in general is immoral?
GUY: [swiftly punches me in the groin then runs]
ME: [gurgle]

See what I mean? I'm not saying anything here about whether or not we should have troops in Afghanistan, or whether or not Prop 8 was a good thing, or if the Cash for Clunkers program is a good one or not (though I have opinions about at least one of them). What I'm saying is that we have all these issues flying around these days, and so many of us care so much about them that we're willing to argue and scream and yell to make our point... but we don't care quite enough to actually research the underlying facts that (in a perfect world) would actually make up our opinions.

It just seems strange to me that we will get into fist- or word-fights over things that are direly important to us, but when asked to explain our opinions in factual, non-argumentative tones, so few of us can.

But maybe that's human nature. After all, I hear that there's a bill pending in Congress that intends to ban use of paisley in clothing. I'm for it. And I'll DIE to defend my beliefs.

Just don't ask me why. It's what I believe. That should be enough, shouldn't it?

Friday, July 31, 2009

WIIIIIIII.... isn't that the sound you make right before you want to get off the merry-go-round?

This one is inspired by a Facebook comment I made in response to a buddy of mine.

I won't go into the back and forth, but as a result of it I looked up the Wii.com website, to see what kind of stuff they offer.

Did you know you can play Wii tennis? Wii yoga? Were you aware (or should I say, aWiire) that you can Wii jog, Wii ski, and even (or should I say, Wiiven) Wii bow-and-arrow?

[Sidenote: Wii bow-and-arrow is a bit lengthy, but what's a blogger to do?]

I'm not sure whether to be thrilled or appalled. On the one hand, there's a bunch of fat little kids (or adults) out there who might be enticed into actually doing something that resembles physical activity based on the idea that they're not REALLY exercising; that it's just a game.

On the other hand, I have a vision of the future, where 30 years from now everyone looks like vampires because no one goes outdoors any more. Why bother, when Wiibeach lets you have all the fun, without the sunburn? And of course, though everyone has insanely developed forearms muscles (even the women look like Popeye in this Wii-topia), no one Wii-ly knows how to ride a bicycle anymore.

Can't you see it?

MOM: Oh, no, little Johnny's cut his arm badly!
DAD: And the car won't start!
MOM: What about the bicycle?
DAD: I don't think the Wii-bike will really carry us anywhere, honey. It's all virtual.
JOHNNY: Glug (death-rattle).

Of course, by then there'll probably be Wii-surgeon, so Johnny might turn out all right after all.

But on that line of thinking, why don't they just save us all some time. I'm waiting for it. The Big One. Sort of the Unifying Theory of all Things Wii.

That's right, I want them to come up with Wii Life. The one where you never have to actually DO anything ever again; all interactions are carried out through an avatar-life interface proprietary to Nintendo. All you need are a Wii, a bed, an IV with enough fluids to keep you alive, and a catheter.

Watch out world, here Wii come!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Shorter than most of my blogs, but I just had to share. I just saw the new trailer for TRON: Legacy.

For those of you who don't know, TRON was a Disney movie that came out about 20 years ago, and was a huge flop... largely because audiences didn't like seeing a bunch of computer-generated images instead of "real" stuff on the screen.

Oh, how we have changed.

But in spite of not doing so well at the box office, it spawned a bunch of highly successful video games and garnered a tremendous cult following.

Oh, and did I mention it has one of the best actors ever in it: Jeff Bridges?

Well, the trailer looks AWESOME. Check it out. I'll be here opening night.

This isn't earth-shattering news. Just me-shattering.

What do YOU think?

Monday, July 27, 2009

HARRY POTTER vs. CUJO vs... HAMLET??? (only on Pay Per View!)

Just kidding. It's not only on PPV. It's right here, on My Little Thoughts, free of charge!

So who would win?

And what the heck do I mean by that title (not that my titles necessarily mean anything other than that I have suffered a massive overdose of Skittles and Dr. Pepper - a mean combo).

What I mean is, I wonder who will be regarded as THE great English-speaking literary master of our age 500 years from now. English teachers and professors all over the US and England would probably respond that it will be James Joyce, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, Maya Angelou, or William Faulkner, or a host of other folks along those lines.

Me, I think J.K. Rowling and Stephen King are running neck and neck in the race for the crowning title of our era's "Shakespeare."

That sound you hear right now is about a thousand heart attacks all over the US as the "really smart" people out there gurgle and mutter "blasphemy" under their breath and look around for a rock to huck at me.

But hear me out. What is it that creates a classic? It is a literary work or a body of literature that speak through the ages, that are passed from hand to hand, heart to heart, and withstand the test of time.

There's a word for that: popular.

Popular is a dirty word for the literate elite. Not for all of them, but I certainly know more than a few English teachers who think that a piece of writing isn't "valuable literature" unless you need the assistance of a cryptographer to decipher what it "really means."

It's kind of like the priesthood of the Middle Ages, when the common folk were forbidden from reading bibles in a lot of places, because that ensured that the priests would always be important. Our modern version: you don't understand the "important" works of literature? That doesn't mean you're stupid. It means that some English teacher has job security.

So I don't think Joyce has a chance. I only know three people that read him for "fun," and I'm pretty sure two of them did it because they thought it gave them a shot at getting a date with the third. Faulkner? Better, but not someone who has endured as much on his own merit (which I actually think is pretty good) as because we have included him in English text books. And Fitzgerald? Forget it. The Great Gatsby was, for me, The Highly Forgettable Gatsby, and would have been The Never Cared Gatsby if it hadn't been forced upon me by my English teachers.

And now, before you go getting opinions about me, let me tell you something: I had read the complete works of William Shakespeare before I was thirteen... and loved them. Ditto Mary Shelley's classic Frankenstein, and Bram Stoker's Dracula, and Little Women, Little Men (anyting Alcott, in fact), and most of Jane Austen. I'm not someone who just reads things that you can find next to the magazines in the supermarket.

I'm just also someone who thinks that, occasionally, those books next to the magazines are pretty dang good.

So, to return to my thesis (smart word alert!), I think that Rowling and King are probably our two top contenders. They have both managed to create worlds (numerous in King's case) that have become, not merely appreciated, not merely loved, but iconized and internalized in our society. Say Harry Potter to ANYONE, and they know what you're talking about. Say Cujo to a 14-year-old, and he knows you're referring to a crazed rabid dog.

The books written by these authors have actually already passed EVERY test required for a book to be a "classic" except for one... the test of time. Great Expectations is still a great book because it still says things that matter today, to the readers of this era. Les Miserables still teaches - beautifully - lessons that every society must grapple with as it tries to balance justice and mercy. Even Dumas, much more of an "action writer" than many of the others on this list (he's the guy who wrote The Three Musketteers and a bunch of others like that), still put into his writing themes that are relatable and important today.

So, in 500 years will the battle between Voldemort and Harry Potter still matter? I think so. Themes of family, of love, of strife, of bigotry and hatred and those who would fight against it... these will all still be relatable and relevant.

Ditto the questions raised in many of King's books. The Stand, and its themes of what makes good worth following (even though as a rule it tends to be a bit less organized than evil), and what it takes to conquer evil (give you a hint... the scene where the bad guys are blown up isn't when the good guys win... it's the scene when one of the good guys is threatened by Satan... and laughs). Or how about The Shining, and its motifs of love vs. abuse, of substance abuse, of isolation and creativity and a thousand other things that will still matter to people in the year 2510.

I DO have an opinion as to which of the two will be judged as the greater writer of our age, but I'm keeping it to myself, for now. But I believe it WILL be one of them.

What do YOU think?

Saturday, July 25, 2009


There are those who say children are the future. If so, I think it's because they're going to knock us off and TAKE the future. I have proof...

If you're still not convinced, I know a guy who knows a guy who knows some child assassins (or "chassassins" as the pros call them) who will be happy to pay you a... visit...

Monday, July 20, 2009

I Hate Movies, Especially Harry Potter

This is why movies are ruining our lives…

I like movies. I really do. In fact, given my ‘druthers, I’d be out there writing, watching, or doing SOMETHING movie-related as often as possible.

Of course, given my ‘druthers, I’d also be covered in solid gold iguanas (see earlier post if you don't get this... it actually means something). So see what that gets me.

But anywho, to return to movies: I like them, but I think they’re killing us. We go to movies as the last great social event available to us: in the old days, people went to the theater; in the old-old days, they went to the Greek Chorus; in the old-old-old days they went to the funeral of the oldest man in the tribe (16 years old) and wept for his 12 year old wife and their six kids. So in that sense, they still serve an important function, binding us together as communities. After all, who out there went and saw Harry Potter?

Who wore a cloak, a weird hat, or drew a lightning bolt somewhere on their body?

But here’s where they’re killing us. Most movies have a set structure with specific parts. Movie experts like to call these things a “beginning,” “middle,” and “end.”

Don’t worry, all those crazy-sounding lingo words are in the dictionary, so you can look them up for pronunciation.

At any rate, the thing about a beginning, middle, and end, is that when you see them happen enough in a two hour period, you start to think just about anything should be resolvable in a similar time frame.

I remember when my son was born. It was EXHAUSTING. I mean, I’m sure my wife was a little tired, too, but I was so pooped I could barely stand it. And then, at last, after all my work and toil, the little kid came out.

“Woohoo!” I thought. “I did it!”

Then the nurses immediately handed the baby (still covered in some kind of substance that I can only assume was a sort of internally prepared tapioca) to my wife. Having seen many a nature show, I naturally assumed that this was so my wife could lick the baby clean.

But no, instead they said, “Feed the baby.”

“What?” my brain shrieked. “We just HAD the silly thing. Isn’t there, like, a grace period, or a hiatus, or… an INTERMISSION or something?”

Because, see, in the movies, after the baby is born, you cut to either a) older baby, b) family in the hall, or c) credits.

NEVER do you move on to “Now feed it.”

Of course my wife did feed the baby, even though it was very tough on me to be working hard like that right after the birth.

I fear that, as a culture, we have become ever more focused on and desirous of quick fixes. We don’t “patch things up” any more, we just throw them out and get a new one. Patches are not cool, after all (unless on jeans with pre-ripped and –patched seems added ahead of time, only $99 on clearance, buy yours today!). Patches are not cool, and taking time is just right out of the question.

I mean, come on, what won the Presidential election? Was it lengthy dissertations of issues? Or was it five-second sound-bites?

Why is divorce on the rise? Is it because people give it their all and it doesn’t work out? Or is it more often because it’s just easier to jump ship?

Why are Bratz dolls becoming more popular than Barbie? (Okay, this last has nothing to do with the topic; I just think it’s a sign of the Apocalypse and we should all be aware of it.)

The movies: beginning, middle, end. Want, work for, get. All in two hours. TV is even worse, because after cutting out commercial time, you have the whole process happen in 22 minutes or 40 minutes.

I’ve been married for seven years now. No beginning, middle, and end. I mean, I know there was a beginning, but I’m not sure if I’m at the middle, or still at the beginning, or what.

I think that’s what’s tough about so many things in life: you don’t see when it will be over. The challenges and tribulations that we face don’t come with expiration dates. There is no point at which we can be assured the credits will roll and we will finally be able to go to the bathroom (I always drink too much soda pop during movies and life).

But we’re not in a movie. We’re in life. It has no end credits (at least, not any we get to stick around and read, being as we’re in some kind of dark box at that point). It has an awful lot of scenes that shouldn’t make the “final cut” – too boring, too mundane, too… lifelike.

But on the upside, there are no four corners that prevent you from jumping right into the action. You can be a part of it. We can all write it as we go along. And if Act Two seems like it’s lagging, that doesn’t mean it’s time to fire the cast and try to find a new leading man or lady, it just means that more time needs to be spent polishing our own lines so that we can become the hero (or heroine) we’ve always dreamt of being.

And, besides, life doesn’t have that sticky floor feeling, either. So bonus.

PS I don't hate Harry Potter. But I bet that title got you curious!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Character, shmaracter

It has been said that the true test of a man's character is what he does when he thinks no one is watching.

Well, that may be true.

It is also true, then, that the true test of a WOMAN's character is what she does after watching her man do what he does when he thinks no one is watching.

Just a thought.

It's all About the Lizards, Baby!

As I was on my way to work today, I was listening to the radio and got the same swift-kick-in-the-gut feeling I get every time I hear that unemployment is still on the rise.

I mean, sure, I have a job. And yes, it allows me to be filthy rich. Or at least mildly dirty and middle class. Or at the very least in need of a good scrubbing while keeping my head barely above water.

But the point I’m trying to make is: where have all the solid gold iguanas gone?

I remember, back in the good old days, when you used to be able to just walk out and grab a few out of your back yard, twist their heads off, then sell them to a pawnshop for good money. And then it was off to the olde candy-shoppe* for some nice licorice whips or maybe even a bag of grape-flavored Big League Chew (raise your hands if you’ve ever tried to stuff a whole bag in your mouth at once).

Nowadays we have it even easier in a way, what with all those places that let you just mail in your gold direct, without having to worry about the pawn shop middle man. Just pop that headless solid gold iguana in a pre-paid envelope, and within 48 hours, you too can have your money!

Again, however, that doesn’t help much when THE IGUANAS ARE GONE!

But here’s what I think about the whole situation: I think the iguanas are just hiding. I think that if we wait long enough, and keep spending money that we don’t have, they’ll take pity on us and come back. Solid gold iguanas are suckers that way.

Some of you – crazy people, mostly – may say you’ve never seen a solid gold iguana. Maybe that you’ve never even heard of one. To you I say: you have ZERO chance of getting into politics. Because every single one of the guys (and gals) in charge of making sure we remain an economically stable force to be reckoned with clearly knows about them. It’s the only rational explanation for what’s going on in California and Washington: they’re just waiting for the return of the SGI’s (that’s solid gold iguanas). Then off with their heads (the iguanas, not the politicians… and yes, I know you probably have mixed feelings about that), and we’re back on easy street.

And the day is coming. So let’s max out our credit cards. Let’s complain when the government tries to tighten its belt. Let’s “solve” our credit problems by passing bond measures that amount to borrowing money we won’t have tomorrow in order to pay off debts we already made today.

Because the SGI’s are coming back. I know it. I can feel it.

In fact, pardon me, but I gotta go. There’s a scratching at my door, and I’m pretty sure I know what’s on the other side.

Here, iguana-wanna-wanna…

* I get bonus points on this one for adding extraneous old fashioned “e”s to the ends of not one, but TWO words.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I'm Too Sexy For Hi-Def...

This blog owes everything to Big Porn.

So I just wanted to acknowledge that fact, to give a shout out to all my naked homies and homie-ettes who make this possible.

Thank you, naked people.

Now, before you family-oriented, morally well-adjusted, god-fearing folk out there get ready to start sending me hate mail, let me explain… and then let me tell you something you might find a bit interesting.

The reason I say that this blog owes everything to porn is the fact that that industry drives a huge amount of the internet, and essentially that industry is the one that first figured out not how to disseminate information on the web, but how to turn a profit doing it. So in a way, much of what we enjoy on the internet is there because of enterprising naked people. Or, at least, because of enterprising people willing to exploit naked people.

It’s the same with the First Amendment. We all know about it, we all hear it bandied about in news reports and lawsuits. But most folks don’t realize that the two groups probably most responsible for “cutting edge” First Amendment law are pornographers and Jehovah’s Witnesses.*

And yes, that’s probably the last time you’ll ever here THOSE two groups talked about in the same sentence.

At any rate, back to my thesis (ooh! A Big Word! “Thesis.” Say it ten times fast and you sound ten times smarter!)…

The point of this is to say that pornography has generally been at the forefront of media technology. They glommed onto moving pictures at the Nickelodeons, they capitalized on cable, they trailblazed the VCR and DVD businesses.

Which makes it funny that… get this… Big Porn (or BP for short) is opposed to a certain new media technology. Any guesses which one? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

All right, I’ll tell you. BP is really digging in its heels and resisting the transition to hi-def.

What? you say. But why? Could it be that (gasp), the “starlets” of BP maybe aren’t so pretty when you actually get a look at them?

I dunno. I’ve never met one. But it does seem to make a certain sense to me. I’ve done some research into the area during my sojourns in law, and it turns out that a huge number of the BP stars die rather young. Either drugs, STD’s, or just good-ol’-fashioned suicide. The type of life they lead (contrary to the average frat boy’s dream) is not only not fun, it’s totally against what we as humans are designed for.

All that is to say, I guess, that I do want to thank BP. Thank you for keeping the internet afloat until I could come along and scatter my seeds of wisdom through the fallow fields of your willing minds, my dear faithful readers.

Thank you, thank you.

But is it all right, my BP patrons, if I thank you from afar? Not only do I not want to catch any weird cooties, but (and I hope I don’t sound shallow here)… I hear you guys just aren’t that easy on the eyes.

* They’re involved in different aspects of First Amendment law, though. One (BP) is more on the freedom of speech side, one (Jehovah’s Witnesses) is more on the freedom of religion side.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Talk Bad. Clubs Good.

I think that language is the single-biggest impediment to human communication that has ever been invented.

I mean, think of it. Take two spouses, for instance. One says, "I love you," to the other. That could mean a lot of things, based on tone, body language, and which direction the gun is being aimed. It could mean "I would do anything for you," or it could mean "you'll be late for work," or it could mean, "I hope you enjoyed Tijuana, honey, because it's the last thing you'll ever do."

See what I mean? You never really know where you stand when people start talking.

It was easier in the olden days. You're out walking, trying to find something to eat and trying to avoid being eaten yourself by a sabertooth tiger or whatnot, and out of the bushes comes another person.

This person does one of several things:

1) Runs. This means, clearly and unequivocally, that he doesn't like and is afraid of you. Either that or there's a T-Rex standing behind you.

2) Offers you some of his dried T-Rex meat, or maybe even some of his magic fire for you to use. This means, without doubt or need for clarification, that he likes you.

3) Hits you on the head with his club and drags you into his cave for a crazy night of cave person reproduction. This means, without room for error, that he finds your hips to be of excellent birthing potential.

See? Clear-cut, impossible to misconstrue, and all of it without words.

But what have words done? They've provided countless opportunities for misunderstandings. They've started wars and launched invasions. They've given the Jonas Brothers a platform for success.

And, yes, sure, they've also created poetry that was like chocolate for the soul, but really, who needs that? Too much of that kind of thing and what do you have? That's right, a fat soul. And we all know about the problem of obesity in America. I submit to you that it has nothing to do with McDonald's or Hershey's, and everything to do with Ralph Waldo Emerson, with Shakespeare, with Keats.

So sad. I bet you can feel your soul getting fatter as you read this. And not only that, but you could have (once again) misunderstood MY WORDS when I talked about fat souls. I'm not being insulting. I like you, I really do. Come on over and I'll prove it by whacking you on the head with my club and... well, we all know how that one's going to end...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What's in a Name?

Just a random thought: when my lovely wife became pregnant with our first child, we started talking, of course, baby names. She had a big list of possibilities. I only wanted one: I wanted the kid to be named “ə.”

That way, when the kid started school, and the teacher looked at our kid and said, “How do you pronounce that?” I could teach our kid to put his/her hands on his/her arms, look vaguely disgusted, and say, “Like it sounds.* Duh.”

I lost this argument.

*For people totally lost at this point, google the word “schwa.”

Death and Cartoons. We Know Drama...

I’ve come to the conclusion that watching children’s television is like going to Disneyland: both of them make me want to put forks in my eyes and end the misery.

At this point, you may be wondering why I don’t like Disneyland. But that’s another story, for another time (though I’ll give you a hint: my family was killed by a rogue Imagineer with a penchant for Imagineering death traps while humming Disney themes… very sad).

Seriously, though, I remember that I actually used to LIKE cartoons. And now I don’t. And I wonder why.

No, don’t give me that guff about “you’re older” or “you’re wiser” or “you’re not smart enough to follow along after getting hit in the head by the Imagineer.” Because I should really restate here: I DO like cartoons. I just don’t like the ones my kids are watching.

And it suddenly dawned on me why: because cartoons today are devoid of drama. In my day, we wondered whether this time, THIS TIME, Wile E. Coyote would finally get to catch, kill, and (presumably) eat the Road Runner. Real stakes. Real drama (now I sound like an ad for a TNT show).

Now, however, we have Curious George wondering if this time, THIS TIME, he’ll be able to properly plant a flower in the next door neighbor’s garden.

In MY day, Pete was Mickey’s arch-nemesis, and to be honest I’m pretty sure he was the embodiment of Satan in all things Disney. Donald had anger management problems that bordered on the psychopathic.

Now, Pete is a big, though curmudgeonly, grump who always learns his lesson at the end of the day. And Donald has clearly been seeing a competent shrink who’s got him on some serious meds, because he rarely has more than a mild flare up.

I get why, I really do. The shows today are more about “values” and “education” (whatever those phrases mean in today’s sinkhole of moral and educational relativism). So rather than teach good story structure and dramatic tension, they teach being “nice” and maybe how to count to ten.

On the face of it, it seems like a good thing, but I wonder sometimes if we aren’t selling our kids short, just a little. Are we teaching them to accept everyone and everything as “good,” and short-circuiting their critical and creative thinking skills? Are we teaching them that everyone is “nice” and “okay,” simply because they’ve never run into someone trying to whack someone else with a nice solid anvil?

Above all, are we stealing from them the knoowledge that a train tunnel drawn into the side of a mountain WILL in fact end up having a train come out of it to squish the bad guy?

I don’t know the answers. I know that my kids watch Mickey Mouse with a look that most resembles a lobotomized cucumber, but when I turn on one of my DVD episodes of Transformers (over mommy’s stern objections, because she is actually a good person, unlike me), they get roused, excited, engaged, involved.

Which all brings me full circle to my beginning thought, and to its ancillary: I hear so many parents complain that their kids are growing up too fast, that they are turning from infants to toddlers to kids to teens in the blink of an eye. And I am forced to ask myself: is it because that’s what kids do naturally? Or is it just because we make them watch more grown-up shows and do more grown-up things because we, as parents, frankly want to kill ourselves occasionally when faced with “just one more” viewing of “Curious George Saves the Man in the Yellow Hat From Being Embarrassed When he Loses his hat”?

Questions for the ages, I guess. But I don’t have time to answer them: the Care Bears are calling.*

* And the Care Bears don’t even have Professor Coldheart any more, for heaven’s sake! Where’s the drama? The Greek playwrights of old are spinning in their graves.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday, USA

It occurs to me that we are at a turning point in our nation’s history. We are a democracy, defined by the values and decisions of the voting majority. This, we have been told since childhood, is a good thing.

And to that I have to categorically agree… to some extent.

I mean, it is a good thing to have freedom, right? After all, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

But here’s the danger of democracy: the majority will most often make decisions that put security in the hands of the most people.

Let me rephrase that to be clear: the majority of people will most often make decisions that will give them the most money possible.

We run the serious risk of having a democracy that spends itself into the ground because people want something for nothing, and are willing to vote for a candidate – any candidate – who will promise them that.

We run the serious risk of having a democracy that votes itself out of existence because, having experienced unprecedented standards of living, we have come to believe that those luxuries are entitlements, not privileges, and so will vote for a candidate – any candidate – who promises to give everything and require nothing in return.

We run the serious risk of having a democracy that dwindles and dies because, having reached the pinnacle of achievement in the world, it thinks it can sit back and remain on top of the hill forever, even though there are others who are climbing up and intend to not only sit on top with us, but push us right over the brink into destruction, and laboring under this misperception we will vote for a candidate – any candidate – who is willing to say that everything will be fine, and we can stay on top without putting forth any effort, or making any sacrifice.

Contrast this to the basic messages that were sent out to the voting public at the time of World War II: sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice. Give your metals so that they can be used for war munitions and supplies. Give up your right to sugar, to meat, to what we now regard as basic entitlements, so that others who need them more can make use of them.

And above all, send your men, your boys, and some of your women, to fight and to die in a faraway land.

Today, we stand at the brink. We are suffering an economic crisis that could spill over and “go global” at the drop of the hat. We are involved in wars and altercations that have divided the public to an extent that few if any foreign wars have ever divided us. We face choices in legislation that will determine how we live our lives and families that have so sharply separated people that the rhetoric being used mirrors – exactly – the rhetoric being used right before the eruption of the Civil War.

And yet, at the same time, because we are a democracy, we find ourselves poised to vote for whoever promises to line our pockets, to give without asking, to provide without receiving anything in return; to vote, in short, for anyone who swears to provide water from a well, though the well has clearly run dry.

It is the two hundred and thirty-third birthday of the United States of America. For a great civilization, this is still young. For a democracy, this is incredibly old.

It is up to us to keep her young.

And so, for our happy birthday to her, may I offer the following thought:

Let us think about others when we vote, and do what is right for our neighbors, as well as for ourselves.

Let us stand up for the things we believe in, but recognize at the same time that our beliefs may not be the same as our neighbors; in that case, may we talk out our differences with calm and good-will, each side seeking to find right instead of to be right, for that is the way to find Truth.

Let us remember that we are at the pinnacle of this world’s civilizations, and so we carry a responsibility to help others climb to the great heights we have found, and together move even higher.

Above all, let us remember that this is her birthday. Amidst the burgers, hot dogs, parties, and fireworks, let us each find some gift to give. Some act to do. Some way to make her great, and keep her young.

Happy Birthday, America.

Friday, July 3, 2009

When I Die...

Way back when I was dating (sorry, ladies, I'm off the market now), I would occasionally have a date that went something like this:

ME: So... what do you like to do?
HER: (long pause) Well, you know... things...
ME: (longer pause) Oh. (even longerer pause) I like things, too...
CRICKETS: Krrr-chrrrp...

In an effort to avoid this problem, I came up with a few things to do that would either provide for better conversation or at the very least allow me to personally amuse myself. If we were at a restaurant, for instance, I would stare deeply into her eyes like a love-struck feeb. I would then grab my drink without looking away. Still staring intensely at her, I would pretend I couldn't get the straw into my mouth, using my tongue like a physically-challenged appendage as I tried futilely to get the straw to go where it was supposed to go.

I gave myself bonus points if I could manage to get the straw to go up my nose and have it look like it was an accident.

Did this particular trick make the date a "success"? Generally, no. But that was okay, because if I was resorting to that kind of thing it was pretty clear that the chances for a second date had already packed its bags and left town for the weekend, and at least this way I got to tell a funny story to my roommates after it was all over.

On other occasions, though, when things were slow but perhaps salvageable, I would ask my date a question:

What would you like to have put on your tombstone and have it be true?

This question provoked a lot of interesting conversations. Most of my dates were caught off-guard, which at least partly the point. I wanted to see them thinking, to hear them discuss their thoughts on a subject which was inherently serious (death), and to get past some of the superficiality that often characterizes a first date (let's be honest, first dates often resemble used car pitches more than anything else: just trying to move a "lightly used" product, and to heck with honesty in the process).

Later, however, this question evolved into a kind of personal status-check for myself. After all, what would I like to be able to put on my headstone, and have it be a true statement of my life? I have my own answer to this, and periodically I will ask myself if, should I die today, people would be able to write that on my tombstone.

No, I'm not going to share my answer with you (who the heck knows what kind of creepy person you are, anyway). But I thought I might share the idea.

Ask yourself: what would I like on my tombstone?

Then ask yourself: if I died today, could someone honestly write such a thing about me?

The first is our aspiration. The second is our reality. The gap between the two is our path to greatness.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (or, Why Brilliance is Allowed to be Dumb)

Lots of complaints about Transformers. That it's too loud, that it doesn't have enough of a story, that it's characters are really caricatures.


It's a movie about giant robots that turn into cars. The main character is a big-rig truck with a gas cap codpiece. What do these people expect from a two and a half hour long commercial that proudly proclaims it is produced by Hasbro two minutes into the thing?

Folks, this is a movie about toys, made for the following groups of people:

1) People who like Transformers. They have the following requirements to vote this a "good" movie: that cool "goo-ga-ga-ga" sound when the robots transform (check), Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime (check), and Megatron griping out Starscream at some point (check). As we see, the movie, judged under these terms, is cinema gold.

2) People who like Michael Bay movies. They need the following: big explosions (check), editing at a speed that makes you think someone was mainlining Mountain Dew during the moviemaking process (check), and babes lit in this weirdly sepia tone (see below, check).

3) People who like Megan Fox. They require: Megan Fox (check, lit weirdly in sepia, see above). If she is draped across a motorcycle like some kind of over the top add for one of those Biker magazines you see at newsstands right above the tattoo magazines and right below the magazines that are always covered in plastic, so much the better for this group.

4) People who like blockbusters. They require: a movie that will be better on a 70-foot screen than on their home TV (check).*

As we can see, from this point of view, Transformers delivers the goods. It is not Shakespeare. Though that could be fun, too. Picture Optimus and Starscream having a covert love affair, knowing that they can never be together because they are from different families, and at the end of it all Starscream pretends to drink anti-Allspark so that everyone will think he's dead, leaving him free to marry Optimus (this, obviously, would only happen in a few states like Massachussetts or Vermont). But when Optimus hears of Starscream's death, he pulls out his super cool mega-swords and plunges them right into his engine block. And then Starscream, informed of Optimus' fate, hurtles himself at the sun, where he dies the death of a Greek hero, except for he's a robot, he's Japanese (I think that's where the toys came from originally), and he's the bad guy (not because he's Japanese, but for totally unrelated reasons).

Okay, come to think of it, maybe Transformers DID miss its mark, after all.

*Yes, I know there ARE some people who like their Blockbusters with plot or character or whatever. But, really, that's just gravy, right?

And now, to balance out the depth of the below...

I think more scholarly journals should use words like "oogy" and "Mr. Poopy-pants." The problem with liberal academia isn't a slavish worship at the altar of orthodox liberal dogma, it's just being too darn uptight. So take that, Mr. Poopy-pants!

Doing the right thing vs. doing things right

"Doing more things right is no substitute for doing the right thing." Stephen R. Covey

Ask yourself the following questions:

* is there a difference between doing the "right thing" and doing things right?
* what is the right thing?
* how will you know if you are doing the right thing?

Here are my responses to the above.

The simplest response to the first question is that is that performance of the latter carries no moral weight.

Many people seek excellence in the sense that they attempt to perfect mechanics: they try to be the "best" at technical performance. An example would be the fireman who learns everything he can about the mechanics of fire and the precise application of water as a means of stopping it. Another example could be a lawyer who has memorized all the rules of civil procedures in the courts in her jurisdiction. Or perhaps the karateka who spends endless hours practicing the "perfect" kick.

All of these are admirable in their way. They represent countless hours in pursuit of a goal, a focus on the ultimately unattainable, and a drive for achievement. However, the fireman who knows everything about fire may not care whether he saves a life. The lawyer may run rings around opposing counsel in a court of law, but use her skills to circumvent instead of to serve justice. And the karateka may use the "perfect" kick to terrorize the innocent or to promote himself instead of serving others.

There are countless examples in our daily lives of people who seek to justify or rationalize their own moral or ethical failures by accruing a list of good acts: the adulterer who prides himself on going to church faithfully; the person who thinks nothing of avoiding payment of taxes because, after all, he gives to the poor; the businessman who bills too much for his services because, after all, his employees depend on him for their livelihoods. All of these people act as though it were somehow possible to cancel out one thing with another. It is not: moral rectitude does not allow for deviation or for barter. Right is right, and each individual act that we engage in is an act that must be judged against itself, not against the other acts that have been engaged in in the past or that may be acted out in the future.

This, then, leads to the answer to our next question: what IS the right thing? The right thing is the thing that can be judged of its own merits, as though in a vacuum, and yet will also ALWAYS add to the accrued integrity of the person who is doing that thing. The right thing is the right thing both now AND in the long run; the right thing both in and of itself AND when judged in conjunction with the entirety of the human life performing that act. Doing things right is no substitute for doing the right thing because one may do many things right, but still fail to improve his existence as a result of those things. Will learning how to kick "right" improve my existence and the existence of others when it is done without an eye to protection of the helpless, to defense of the weak?

And, along with this answer we find ourselves moving inexorably to the last answer: how will you know if you are doing the right thing? Sadly, none of us is gifted with omniscience or with the ability to see the end of time from the beginning. All of us are mortal beings, with finite mentalities and limited perceptions. So knowing what IS the right thing involves a measure of careful thought, of contemplation, and, in the end, some amount of simple faith. As we take our steps through life, we must examine them carefully to see what their true effect will be on those around us, on the communities we are a part of. Will our actions hurt or help? Will they raise up or tear down? We must not only be present in this earth, but AWARE of what it is to be present; to be a thread in the vast interlocking tapestry of life. We are but small weaves in that tapestry, and perhaps can never see what kind of changes our actions will make in the overall patterns, but we can observe those around us, and see what results our actions cause them. Then, as we progress in maturity, we can extrapolate probable results to future actions, allowing us to further perfect our ability to do "the right thing."

Again, however, there is also a place for faith. We all have faith in one thing or another; indeed, no one does ANYTHING without exercising faith. Would we ever tip a pitcher without first believing that water would flow from it? Would we ever plant a seed without believing that it would grow in its season? True, these kinds of faith are often based on repeated experience: I have poured water hundreds of times, and it would be unreason to believe that this time the water will NOT be poured. Nonetheless, that first time, that first experience, we always move forward with faith, not knowing of ourselves, but rather hoping for the best: hoping that what we do will turn out right; will yield a good fruit.

So it is with doing the "right thing": we learn, we grow, we observe the effects our actions have on others and we (hopefully) make changes to ever improve our mark on the world around us. And then, when the ripple of our actions has passed beyond the range of our limited sight, we hope, we perhaps pray, and we exercise our faith that we have done "the right thing."

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