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!


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.
MOM: WHAT?
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

Who the heck IS Billy Jones?

Curious???

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

HOLY COMPUTER GENERATED GUACAMOLE!!!

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

FOR THOSE WHO SAY CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE LIKE IT'S A GOOD THING

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...


video

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.

DUH.

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."

And That, my Children, is how Flowers Came to be - a Fairie Tale

And That, My Children,

is how Flowers Came to be



What? A story? But I just told you one! And here you are asking for more. Very well. But only one, or Mother will accuse me of spoiling you. And she’d be right, too.


But now, my children, listen closely, and I’ll spin you a tale… the story of how flowers came to be. And it’s true, mind you, though some people find it hard to believe, for…


… this is a story of magic.


It’s a story of clouds, of rainbows, of love and – most of all – it is the story of a little girl.


The story took place many, many lifetimes ago in a world that was very young. It was a world without many of the terrible things that we have today. Murder was unknown. Sickness was rare, and not the cause for alarm that it often is today.


Unfortunately, many of the beautiful things that we have today had not come into being, either. There were no snowflakes; no candy canes; no gingerbread sweets; and perhaps saddest of all, no flowers.


The world was new, and had not been finished yet, so these things – some good, some bad – were still missing.


There were rainbows, though: great, beautiful things that would dwarf the small, less vivid arcs of today’s world.


It was on these great ‘bows of old that little Kari loved to play.


Kari was an elemental: a being formed of the very stuff with which God had fashioned the earth in the not-so-distant past. As such, she could fly through the depths of the sea, and lie on cool currents of air… and above all, she could play on the rainbows.


Kari was at one with Mother Nature: a friend to all, and beloved by all in return.


Now, I say that Kari was a friend to Nature, and surely she was, but her favorite things, the things she loved most, were the rainbows. Each morning she would wake and rise, then ask the sun where she might find her friends. She would travel on whisping currents of air until she saw a ‘bow in the distance, her friend Wind kissing and caressing her as she flew. Kari would then climb with delight up the huge, many-colored spectrum that was so beautiful to her.


Once at the top, she would sit and admire the view. She looked at forests, at rivers, at mountains, at plains.


These were her happiest moments. The only unhappiness came when her gaze occasionally fell upon a meadow. She was unhappy because there was so little there. Only grass. And grass didn’t look as nice back then, because the sun was still learning to be bright, and the grass looked… well… a bit odd in that pale light.


At these times, Kari would tell the ‘bows of her sadness, and because she was an elemental and a friend, the rainbows would murmur sympathetically, speaking in sad tones of blue and green, whispering the pale red of sympathy, touching her with mauve waves that said, “We are sorry. But we love you, and so be happy, sweet one.”


All in all, though, Kari was happy, and at peace, and at the end of the day, as the sun began to fade and the rainbow with it, Kari would slide down the gentle slope to the ground, pat her friend as it faded, and then sleep.


It was a very nearly perfect life.


The only things that kept it from being truly perfect were the colorless meadows, which were trivial; and the clouds, which were not.


Now, my children, you must understand something. The clouds were mean-spirited back then. They were the baddest of Creation, the worst of the evil elementals, and lived only to cause mischief. Often they would overpower the weak sun and blanket parts of the young world with shadow. They loved ugliness and fear, and everyone hated or felt sad for them.


The worst thing about them, though, was that they were the enemies of the rainbows. Theirs’ was a hatred born of jealousy, for the clouds saw that the rainbows were bold, and colorful, and beautiful, while the clouds remained ever dark, and silent, and ominous.


So one day the clouds called all of the evil elementals together for a meeting. There were dragons and manticores, witches and specters. All came, and it was to these creatures of horror that the clouds spoke.


What?


Well, yes, my lovelies, you’re right. There are no more of those creatures. They are gone, like many things of that time. And how did they disappear?


Why, the clouds had a plan. They wished to cloak, not just a part of the world, but the entire earth in darkness. It was an evil, horrible plan designed to destroy the earth’s most beautiful things, and most specifically to destroy the rainbows.


The evil elementals all agreed to the clouds’ wicked plan. They gave up their very essence to the clouds, trading their lives for power, and as each empty husk of a body fell to the earth and disappeared, the clouds grew stronger.


Finally the clouds were ready, and they spread over the whole of the earth, cutting off the feeble sun and chuckling bright spats of lightning as they contemplated the rainbows’ destruction.


Kari woke that day to the sound of a feeble moaning. It was the rainbows, and they were all dying.


She looked around in horror and saw immediately what was going on. “Stop!” she shouted at the black, angry clouds. “Please, you’re hurting them!”


The only answer she received was an evil chuckle that thundered out through the dark, roiling sky. The clouds were completely in control for the first time, and they knew it.


“Help!” screamed Kari, panicked with fright. “Sun! Burn away the clouds! They’re killing the rainbows!”


“I can’t,” whispered the muffled reply from behind the largest and darkest thunderhead. “They are too strong.”


“Try!” cried Kari. “Please, please try!”


There was a pause, and then the sun said, “Very well,” in fearful, fatigued tones.


And try it did, but the tiny orb was no match for the gigantic clouds. At last, exhausted, the sun wheezed, “I can’t. Their essence is too strong. Their power is too great for mine.”


Kari stood still for a moment, and for that moment it was as though time stood still with her. All seemed to stop as she looked around her, seeing the beautiful world as though for the first time, though it would be her last.


When she moved, it was to look at the sky as she said, “All right. Then I… I will help you, Sun.”


The fading rainbows, suddenly understanding, cried out to stop her, but it was too late. Kari’s physical body fell slowly to the ground, dead.


But her life! Her essence! It floated up through the clouds, which cried out in tempestuous rage as they saw their defeat. Up, up, up, until it reached the sun, and became one with it. It wasn’t much, for Kari was only one elemental, and a small one at that, but it sufficed.


Instantly the sun grew as it received the new power. And as it grew, the clouds were pushed back or destroyed, becoming pale shadows of what they had been.


For a moment, silence reigned. Then, rejoicing enveloped the land as the rainbows exalted in their salvation. Red cheers and yellow whistles, green giggles and indigo shouts rang out and filled the clean, newly pure air.


Soon, however, the ‘bows began to weep as they remembered their playmate: their friend who was no more. They wept, and their colored tears fell to the earth in bright splashes of hue and tone. And where the tears fell, there they remained, and took root, and lived, and flourished.


And, perhaps coincidentally, many fell to the meadows of the world. The rainbows cried, and were sad, but the tears took root in the ground and gave rise to happiness…


And that, my children, my loves, is how flowers came to be, and why they always reach toward the sun. The small parts of the rainbows remember their wonderful playmate, you see, and so they reach out to her – or that part of the sun that she is now – and she kisses each petal with her light and with her love…

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