Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Least Favorite Profane Phrase

As you may know, I'm a huge fan of Penn from Penn & Teller. (I'm a huge fan of Teller too, but that guy, he just don't say nothin').

In today's entry in his Vlog, Penn Says, Penn talks about a flame war he had with some random guy who was a friend of a guy he didn't really like, but called a friend anyway. The politics of what he said wasn't really what struck me (although I agree with what he says). What struck me was his use of my least favorite profane phrase: "Fuck You In The Neck."

"Fuck You" is one thing, "Fuck You In The Neck" is something you'd see in a slasher film. For some reason it's the most violent, most visceral, most unpleasant thing I can imagine. Whenever I hear anyone use that phrase, it just gives me the heebie jeebies.

It reminds me of H.R. Geiger's Alien, with that mouth inside the mouth thing that punches through Veronica Cartwright's skull in the original film.

If you ever really want me to leave you alone, just say "Fuck You In The Neck" and I'm gone!

Link: YouTube

Melton Says He's Not A Pimp in Photos

Some of you may remember these controversial photos of Jackson Mayor Frank Melton.

It turns out he has an explanation why he had his picture taken with these women. According to WLBT "

"That was very innocent. I was having lunch at Peaches Restaurant on Farish Street and they were shooting a film across the street and I was so excited to have someone on Farish Street shooting a commercial; so I came out; the young ladies; it was a commercial about antique cars and they asked me to take a picture with them and I accommodated them and that was the extent of it," said Melton.


I would have felt better had WLBT tracked down the people shooting the commercial and confirmed the story with them, but we'll take Frank at his word for now.

Honestly, with everything that's gone on around Melton, the only way these pictures could be really shocking is if it turned out the women with him were actually some of the boys living in Franks house dressed in drag.

WAPT (link) reports they found the guy who took the picture. It's Daren Gray, of Atlanta, and he he was involved in a photo shoot for Spare Dime Magazine. Spare Dime has a website, (http://sparedime.com) but there's nothing on it. It looks like Spare Dime is some sort of car magazine from a black perspective. I did find the website for Daren Gray (link) and he seems to specialize in black women dressed like this in urban settings.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hot New Ventrilloquist

I have to confess, I'm a junkie for ventriloquism. When I was a kid, I saw Edgar Bergen in an old movie and it hooked me on ventriloquism for life.

Like bad singing, bad acting and bad painting, bad ventriloquism is almost unbearable, but good ventriloquism is fucking amazing. The performer becomes his own straight-man and some of their puppet performers become that most memorable comedians you ever saw.

Nina Conti
I'd like to introduce you to a fairly new ventriloquist act that you'll probably see a lot more of.

Her name is Nina Conti. She's from the UK and her dad is actor Tom Conti.

Conti's act is unusual for a number of reasons. She's a really striking woman to look at, and not at all afraid to be beautiful and sexy in her performance. Her act is perversely funny, but also intellectual and well-read. While most ventriloquists stick to their prepared material, Conti is an accomplished improv. Her improvisational skills were such that Christopher Guest included her in his film: For Your Consideration.

Bitch Got Skillz
One of the technical skills required in ventriloquism is what ventriloquists call the "near voice" and the rest of the world calls "throwing your voice." The skill is actually neither "near" nor "throwing" anything. It's the act of talking without moving your lips, giving the impression that you're not talking at all, but your puppet is.

Some sounds are very difficult to make using the near voice technique. Among them are the letters B, F, M, and P. Try it. It's almost impossible to make these sounds without bringing your lips together.

When they have to use them, there are substitute sounds ventriloquists use which, if done well, make it harder to notice you're not saying the word correctly. For instance: instead of the B sound you can use G or N instead of M. "Box" becomes "Gox" and "Moon" becomes "Noon".

Most vent artists combat this by writing their material using words with these sounds as rarely as possible. One of the things I like about Conti, she just says "screw it" and uses these sounds anyway. Her puppet is named "m"onkey and it lives in a "b"ag and so on. When the substitution comes out sounding funny, she'll make fun of it and challenge her puppet to say it properly.

Deconstruct My Monkey
The other illusion vital to ventriloquism is the concept that these funny voices come from puppets. Most ventriloquists make fun of the obvious deception here, but Conti takes it a step further and deconstructs the entire process before your eyes and closes her act transferring the voice of monkey from the puppet to herself with unexpected results.

Nina's Act on YouTube

Link: YouTube
Link: Nina Conti Home Page

A Perfect 9.999

When I was a kid, Nadia Comaneci amazed the world when the judges gave her gymnastic performances seven perfect scores at the 1976 summer Olympics, introducing the phrase "perfect ten" into the English vernacular.

Even as a kid, I saw that, even though she did something really amazing, it still wasn't perfect. Thirty years later, I still haven't seen anything perfect. Perfection just isn't possible in anything human.

At the 1980 Olympics, there was a huge amount of pressure on the then seventeen year old Comaneci because of the "perfect" scores she received four years before. Although considerably stronger, her longer and heavier seventeen year old body just couldn't do what her thirteen year old body could, and even though she still won two gold and two silver medals she didn't get even one perfect so, before the eyes of the world, she was labeled a failure.

I'll never forget the look on her face when she failed to plant her landing on a tumbling run in the floor exercise. She knew the world wanted her perfect and she wanted it for herself, but in that moment she hit the impenetrable wall of human limitations and you could tell it really, really hurt her.

Sports is and should be an area where it's obvious perfection isn't possible, where there's always a way to do it a little better, yet you see the word "perfect" used a lot in sports from the "pefect pitch" in baseball to the "hat trick" in hockey. There's even a "perfect score" in bowling.

I think we cling to this idea of human perfection because it gives us a sense of security in an imperfect world. If we could just put our hands one something perfect, then it might give us a way to recalibrate all the imperfect things and put the world in a better order.

We might as well chase fairies though, because perfection simply can't exist. Ironically, sometimes the people who get the closest to this impossible goal suffer the most because nothing in their life seems to really amount to much after that.

After the 1980 Olympics, Comaneci defected from her native Romania. The press hounded her and reported everything from eating disorders to drug and sex addictions, none of which was true, but the human mob turned on her because she was no longer "perfect".

I think it's better if we accept and constantly remind ourselves that perfection is just a concept and although we should always reach for it, we can never actually grasp it, and that's OK because it was never attainable in the first place.

Probably my favorite quote about the human condition comes from Robert Browning:
"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hangin' With Pee Wee Herman On Facebook

I just befriended Paul Reubens on Facebook. Facebook suggested him, which is kind of cool because usually Facebook suggests people I never heard of. I've never actually met Rubens, but I'm a big fan, so I clicked "why the fuck not" and now we're connected on Facebook.

Most of you remember him as Pee Wee Herman of movies and saturday morning TV fame. Some of you might remember him as the guy who was arrested at a gay adult movie theatre and then arrested again for having a child pornography collection that later turned out to be not actually children and not particularly pornographic. To be specific: they were muscle magazines from the 50's and 60's and the people who brought the charges got into a fair amount of trouble for it, but the damage was already done to Rubens' career. Apparently, people could handle his fuckin' weird TV personality, but not the fact that in real life he was shockingly gay.

Despite these issues, I'm still a huge Rubens fan and was even before his television show or movies. The first time I saw his character "Pee Wee" was a taped performance of the Pee Wee stage show for HBO. Ironically, it was basically the same format he would later use for his Saturday morning show, but with really funny and decidedly adult double entendre for everything.

After his fall from grace, I was thrilled to see Rubens working again as the Penguin's father in "Batman Returns" and later as Oscar Vibenius who could smell death on the perversely funny, but now sadly canceled "Pushing Daisies".

What shocked me about finding Rubens on facebook was his profile picture. Now that he's fifty-seven years old, Paul looks like you'd imagine Alfred E Newman if he grew up and became an accountant. He did a really funny bit on Jimmy Kimmel a few months ago so I know he's still the brilliant conceptual comedian he always was, but seeing Rubens as a real, live, middle age man was far more shocking than hearing he went to gay porno theaters when he was younger.

Rubens on Jimmy Kimmell Link: YouTube

Trying the Twitter Ticker Tape

I've been experimenting with Twitter.

As best I can tell, the experience is similar to the old days when people watched ticker tape machines, only the data is about your friends' lives, rather than stock prices.

The process is similar. It starts with a symbol (user name) followed by a brief update (140 characters or less). It's somewhat interesting to watch any live data feed, but it doesn't take too long before you realize it's a fairly stupid waste of time.

Back when I was a kid, First National Bank (now Trustmark) had a ticker tape machine in their lobby. It was pretty interesting to watch the machine work, but even as a kid I noticed that most of the people watching it were old men who were probably retired and didn't have a lot else to do.

I suspect the benefit most people get from Twitter is not the reading of other posts, but whatever psychological boost they get from entering their own posts.

People are social animals. We spend our entire lives trying to create and maintain our desired position in society. Since Twitter only allows you to post short bursts of data, I suspected people might use it to try and broadcast their social status, and after watching it for a few weeks, that's exactly what I found.

Mary is a Mommy. Tom is a politician. Alecia is a struggling actress. Bob is a sports fan. I follow them on Twitter and when I read their posts, they're almost entirely devoted to broadcasting and maintaining these memes. Mary is picking up the boys at soccer. Tom is driving to Biloxi for a speech. Alecia is getting dressed for an audition. Bob is excited about the Yankee's new short-stop.

So great is this need to maintain the illusion of status, that we probably really do derive some benefit from broadcasting our status out into cyberspace, even if nobody ever reads it. If you ever do take the time to read the posts, it seems pretty natural because we've spent our whole lives receiving this exact type of information in a thousand different ways.

We create a kind of social map in our heads and we use this data to locate our friends and acquaintances on the map so we'll always know where they are in relation to us. It's particularly helpful for competitive types who use the map to determine their social position amongst the other people competing for similar spots.

Another interesting thing I discovered about Twitter is that nobody seems to know how they do now or how they plan on making money in the future. Since their site has no ads and it's a free service, they appear to have no income, and when bloggers and other writers speculate on how they might be making money, they're pretty quick to deny the speculation.

It may be that at this stage of the game, Twitter has no plan to make money. A common business model on the web seems to be coming up with a neat idea and building a large user base, then trying to figure out how to make money off it. That's exactly what Facebook and Google did.

That's how newspapers started too. In the beginning they didn't charge for the papers or take advertising. After people got used to reading newspapers and desiring more of them, the people printing the papers realized they had to make some money off them to continue so they began selling advertising space and charging subscription fees.

If you're thinking of trying Twitter, let me warn you about using it with your handheld devices. Most services charge a fee for data transfers and a lot of new Twitter users report some sticker shock when they get their first month's bill for using twitter on their Iphone or Crackberry. Twitter swears they're not getting a piece of that money, and they're probably telling the truth, but, boy, you gotta think Verision and Cingular and the other cellular services are loving twitter since the rates they charge for data transfers amounts to something like 5000% percent gross profit.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Gold Insanity

I know a guy who's something of a conspiracy theory aficionado. One of his favorites is how the Illuminati and the Freemasons and the Jews conspired to take us off the gold standard to enslave us and how it's the true meaning behind "The Wizard of Oz".

The Gold Standard
There's actually a really good reason why we got off the gold standard: there simply wasn't enough of it to meet our needs. The industrial revolution increased the world's economic productivity exponentially as it spread from country to country. All this growth came with massive increases in capital needs, but there was a problem because currencies were locked into gold and there was a finite amount of gold in the world and only so much new gold we could get out of the ground.

When the need for currency outstrips the available supply, its value goes through the roof, not only limiting economic growth but also causing pretty serious deflation. Countries tried to combat the problem by adding metals to their currency system, first silver, then copper, but even that could only slow the pending disaster.

Eventually, people began to realize there were really few practical uses for gold or silver. They are only valuable because we think they are, so money really is just a concept and not based in anything tangible. One by one, countries began switching from gold based currencies to currency based on debt which allowed us to meet the needs of a still growing economy without deflation.

The Value Of Gold
Nobody really knows why people think gold is so valuable. It has a few practical applications in electronics, but since we can only find a fraction of the amount we'd need to meet those applications, it's essentially worthless. For thousands of years, our only real application for gold has been as useless ornamentation.

My guess is that people find gold valuable because everybody has a neighbor with more of it than they do. Envy is a powerful motivating factor. Other than that, it's gaudy, useless and structurally weak. Gold has few beneficial aspects. It's easily mailable and it has a relatively low melting point so it's a useful medium to make jewelry, and it doesn't oxidize so it virtually never corrodes. Steel is infinitely more valuable. We could easily run the modern world without gold, but without steel we'd be in real trouble.

More Craziness
Since our desire for gold doesn't make much sense, there are a lot of crazy theories about it out there. One of my favorites has extra-terrestrials needing gold to run the atmospheric machines that keep their dying planet going, so they came to earth millions of years ago and genetically engineered humans with a desire for gold so we would mine it for them and every couple thousand years, they'd return to earth and harvest the gold we unwittingly collected for them.

If you ever saw the internet movie "Zeitgeist" and thought it was kind of cool, keep in mind this theory about gold hungry aliens is the real philosophy behind the film. Even scientlogists think these people are crazy.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Southpark Economy

The Last Pizza Supper by Leonardo DaVinci

Is it any wonder I love South Park?

Episode 1303, Margaritaville riffs on just about every aspect of the current economic mire in their own unique way.

When the Southpark Bank loses Stan's birthday money from his grandma, Stan's Dad becomes the prophet of doom who convinces everyone to stop spending to show the economy how much we respect it, so the whole town gives up their cars for llamas and wearing bedsheets to save money on clothes and laundry.

Frustrated at having no money, Stan goes from town to town to New York to Washington to try and get money back for the stupid Margaritavillle frozen drink maker his dad bought on a payment plan.

Meanwhile, Kyle adopts the role of Jesus (since he's the only Jewish kid, I guess) with Butters as Thomas and Cartman as Judas (no surprise there).

Kyle sacrifices himself to save the town and Stan learns the awful truth about how the government decides to fix the economy. There's even a great cameo of Cartman as Quint from Jaws (Judas and Quint in the same episode. What an actor!).

There's so much great stuff you really have to watch it. The end result is the best reporting and commentary on the economic crisis I've seen yet.

Watch The Full Episode Online: Southpark Episode Player

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Sinking Democratic Party

For a hundred years, the only real priority the Mississippi Democratic Party had was making sure black people never amassed any real power. Considering their tragic history, it's not hard to see why some black Mississippians today want to make sure white people have little if any power in the party, which is exactly what prompted Barbara Blackmon's palace coup last Saturday.

Blackmon and her supporters forget a very important thing though. Keeping the party all white was a really bad idea and it kept Mississippi down for many years, making the party all black now is just as bad an idea and can only work to weaken the state in the future. Allowing Ike Brown to remain in the party, let alone giving him any power, sends a powerful message about the party's real agenda.

If you sow bad seeds, you get bad fruit, and I suppose what's happening now is the fruit of a hundred years of bad seeds. It's pretty easy for somebody like me to say "this is a bad idea" or "you're headed in the wrong direction", but it probably won't do any good.

It's not a good idea to have one party of one race and another party of the other race, but that's where we are, and I really don't know how to change it. The Democrats may be on the rise nationally, but it'll be a while before anything changes in Mississippi. Since Blackmon and her lackey's decided to draw a line in the sand, it'll probably be even longer.

I've met her, I've seen her TV show (a very small audience), and I've watched her career for years and while she has a lot of energy and knows how to build a support base, but she's about as sharp as a bag of wet mice. Sadly, Mississippi has a long history of putting imbeciles in power who know only how to demagogue, but not how to lead.

The only solution is to change the seeds we sow. It's not enough to switch from sowing green poison apples to sowing red poison apples, we have to stop growing poison apples all together.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Do Drunk Gorillas Look Like?

Wildlife photographer Andy Rouse made a series of photographs showing Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda who had been eating the fermented sap from bamboo shoots.

"It was not exactly Gorillas In The Mist, more like gorillas who were pissed," said Rouse.

"Some were running round cackling to each other, others were going mad swinging through the trees, some were just lying on the ground in an inebriated state."

Gorillas eat bamboo all year and can tolerate a lot of it before getting intoxicated; usually they eat it with a handful of other greenery to water it down. Sometimes however they over-indulge, a habit they share with chimps and elephants.

"When I went back the next day," says Andy, "it was all very quiet, as if they were nursing gorilla-sized hangovers"

Link: Photo Set at Telegraph.co.uk

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What is the Trinity

Before the Roman move to unify Christianity, many followers saw the trinity not as father, son and holy ghost, but father, mother and child. Some say they re-labeled the elements of the trinity to make the church more masculine. Maybe they did. It doesn't really matter what you label the elements though, the concept remains the same.

Calling it Father, Mother and Child may help us to understand what the trinity is. The father and the mother combine and form the child which unifies the three. If you want to remove gender from the equation, it could be creator, universe and life.

With this model, you can perhaps see why God made Eve from Adam's rib in Genesis. God made the Universe from himself to be his companion and together they made man, just as Eve came from Adam's body and together they made mankind.

It's a mathematical progression. One form begets another and the two beget a third. They are all separate, yet since they each came from the other, they are all one. The cycle becomes complete when you consider whether or not God and the Universe would exist as they are now if there were no sentient forms like humans to experience them.

The first unit splits. It becomes Father and Mother, or Father and Holy Ghost, or Ying and Yang, Order and Chaos, Life and Death, Light and Dark, Night and Day, Good and Evil, High and Low, Front and Back, Left and Right, creator and created, it is all the duplicities we know and more.

There are philosophies satisfied with just the duality, but there is a third step, the reunion of the two, creating a third. Consider the process of evolution from asexual to sexual reproduction. The first generation splits creating not identical copies but opposites. Here reproduction ends unless the opposites, male and female, come together to create a third.

The trinity is not just an aspect of God but of us. Each of us had a mother and father and each of our children will have a mother and father. We are made in God's image so we mirror this trinity of creation.

If the universe were only chaos, nothing could come together and form life. If the universe were only order, nothing could come apart and form life. Without order, our bodies couldn't hold together or continue its functions so there could be no life, yet without chaos we would have no food to eat or air to breathe or water to drink and there could be no life. It's the balance of creation and destruction that allows life: hence the trinity.

Is There Free Will

Christians argue over free will a lot. Some say free will is absolute because we make our own choices, but others say God already knows what choices we'll make in life so free will is really an illusion. The answer is a matter of perspective and time.

Free will exists in a universe ruled by linear time. We make a decision at point A, at point B, we act on that decision and at point C, we experience the consequences of the decision. Free will exists because these things must happen in their correct sequence. You can't have the consequences of a decision before you make the decision. There are divergent paths at each point A decision, and our free will is a matter of choosing which path we'll follow and God doesn't make the decision for us.

Suppose God doesn't experience time the way we do though. Suppose God exists beyond the restraints of linear time. This is logical if you believe God made the universe. Time is an element of space and it's part of the universe God made, therefore God is beyond time.

From God's perspective, he can see points A,B and C all at once. He doesn't have to experience A then B then C as we do. From our perspective, God sees our decisions and the consequences before we make them, but the concept of "before" and "after" only exist in our perspective, from God's perspective, outside of linear time, it's all the same.

So, yes, there is free will, but also, from our perspective, God already knows what we'll do before we do it.

What the Hell is a Sweet Potato Queen?

It's March and it's sweet potato queen time again and I have to admit: I've never gotten it.

The ladies have given their all for over twenty years now and I've seen the parade and read the books and I'm really happy for them and their followers, but I look at it and it's just like "what the fuck...?"

Little girls start out with pig-tails and tea parties but when they turn forty it's fake boobs, wigs, fake eyelashes and fake bondage wear on parade in Jackson. They'll even fly from Guam and Australia and Puerto Rico to Jackson Mississippi to do all this. Why?

Part of it is a simple process of elimination I guess. In Rio, to get in the parade you have to look good in a rhinestone G-string and know how to mambo, In New Orleans you have to be a sixth generation resident and put up thousands of dollars to get in the parade, in Jackson, you just have to show up with a t-shirt and a wig and you're in. Yes, it's true, we get all the people in the world who couldn't get in the parade anywhere else.

I should be grateful I guess. When men write books on how to be an asshole, it becomes a full-time philosophy and they end up with a show on Fox News. For the sweet potato queens it's a once a year deal, and most of them carry out their assholery in Jackson so they spare the folks back home. Plus, it's the only really successful tourist event in the whole state so I probably shouldn't look a gift-horse in the mouth.

I worry that people think we're like this all the time though, sort of like the Japanese tourist who throws beads at women in New Orleans hoping they'll show their tits in November. For the record, this is not how we act all year. It's not even how the sweet potato queens themselves act all year. Most of them you'd never recognize out of costume.

I guess the answer is that men are from Mars, but some women are secretly from Uranus.

Friday, March 20, 2009

How Not to Saw a Woman In Half

A 27 year old Maryland woman landed in the hospital after an experimental sex toy her husband made failed miserably.

Apparently his idea was to fit the blade of an electric saber saw inside a sex toy and use it on his wife. The couple realized this maybe wasn't such a great idea when the blade cut through the plastic sex toy and began cutting through the woman.

No word yet on whether or not the couple wore safety glasses as you always should when using a power tool.


Image: That's not the woman from the story. I stole that image from a web page about a hippie building her own kayak to give people an idea of what a saber saw looks like. You'll notice she IS wearing safety glasses. Also, considering the topic of this story, I thought her perverse little smile would be really, really funny.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Atlas Shrugged, Then He Dropped the Ball Entirely

People are funny, and sometimes stupid.

This past summer, two things became pretty clear: first, Obama would probably win the election and second, the economy was in trouble. I don't know if it was one or both of these factors that caused it, but sales of Ayn Rand's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged went through the roof and it's spiked several times since then, usually in response to bailout or bad economic news.

Rand's Laissez-faire philosophy was closely associated with Ronald Reagan's trickle-down economic plan and has been closely associated with conservative politics ever since, and I suppose the current sales of Rand's book have to do with efforts to reinvent the republican party after two disastrous election cycles.

Several conservatives have come out saying the spike in sales of Atlas Shrugged shows how they were right all along and people believe Rand's philosophy is coming to life. The people who say that are idiots.

Considering the business news the last six months, I'm amazed more people aren't beginning to see how much bullshit Rand wrote into the philosophy of Atlas Shrugged. If John Galt were a real person, I have no doubt you'd see him before Congress begging for a billion dollar bailout made necessary by his own greedy philosophy.

For thirty years, Rand's objectivist philosophy held sway in conservative U.S. and World politics in an effort to save us from a producers' strike depicted in Atlas Shrugged, and for the second time now, it's lead to a huge stock-market bubble and corresponding crash. For years, we've followed a policy of removing the financial regulations that protected us and you see where it's gotten us. Galt's Gulch was on Wall Street, not some desert hide-away.

My most vivid memory of reading Atlas Shrugged the first time, over twenty years ago now, was how much I laughed when it struck me how John Galt's invention reminded me of all the bullshit perpetual motion machines huckster's had been pushing since the oil embargo in the 1970's. There was even a guy from Mississippi in the news at the time who claimed to have a motor that could run just on water, but could never get it to work when the press was around. For me Galt's Motor became a metaphor for the whole book: an interesting idea, but ultimately unworkable due to basic physics and how the people who tried to sell it anyway were liars and assholes.

I'm not sure what it's going to take to ultimately discredit Atlas Shrugged. It's an enormously difficult read, so I'm guessing many of the people who bought the book recently, either haven't finished it, haven't started or gave up on it already so they may never know whether they really agree with her or not. The language and length and redundancy of Galt's speech can mesmerize people and keep them from realizing how stupid it would be to try and apply it to the way people really behave. Her philosophy is an interesting mental exercise, but ultimately, it's not all that different from the philosophy found on pirate ships, only without the parrots and eye patches. To borrow from Gordon Gecko: Greed is not good.

Conservatives are going to have to come to grips with the fact that their philosophy failed us and quit trying to say we never really did what they wanted and the liberals are still really responsible for all the world's problems. If anything, they're the ones who can't reconcile their social and economic agendas. If they really wanted objectivism in America, then why did they fight so hard for a war on drugs or a ban on stem-cell research?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sephen Baldwin Sort Of Debates Ron Paul About Drugs

I'm all for legalizing drugs, but this is kind of bullshit. Joy Behar of ABC's The View sits in for Larry King and hosts a mini debate on the legalization of marijuana between Ron Paul and Stephen Baldwin.

Ron Paul is a great thinker and a great choice to debate the anti war on drugs position, but Stephen Baldwin? Really?

This happens a lot on television. They'll invite people to discuss some important issue, but the person they choose to represent one side of the argument is completely weak and ineffective. Why not have Ron Paul debate a trained seal?

I'm not blaming Behar here. I'm sure she showed up to fill in for Larry King and the producers had the whole show already set up, including the guests. The producers really did us no favors by having such a lop-sided debate.

Link: YouTube

Weird News Day in Jackson

It's been a weird news day in Jackson

Dump Truck Bandit
A creative minded burglar stole a dump truck and used it to commit two robberies early this morning before the truck's owners even knew it was stolen.

Story :WLBT

The Mayor Doesn't Live In Jackson
The Jackson Democratic Municipal Executive Committee said today that Jackson Mayor Frank Melton wasn't qualified to run for a second term as a democrat because he filed his homestead exemption in Texas rather than Jackson. Melton says he'll challenge the ruling in court. You'd think he'd be tired of court by now.

Story: Clarion Ledger

Canton Police Officer Shoots Dog
Not surprisingly the pooch in question was a pit bull terrier that attacked the Canton Copper. The owner swears it would never hurt a fly.

Story: WLBT

Monday, March 16, 2009

Power is an Illusion

We get so caught up in this idea of power: who has it, what they do with it, who wants it, where they're leading us... but, I came to know that power really is just an illusion.

I remember a time when someone kidnapped one of my dad's friend's wife. You wouldn't think this sort of thing happened very often in Mississippi, but this was actually the second time my dad went through it. About ten years before, someone kidnapped a teller at a bank he worked with. In both cases, the women involved died at the hands of their kidnapper. Both men were caught and tried and convicted of their crimes.

For about a day, this crime was a secret. The husband of the kidnapped woman was a powerful man. The FBI thought it was best to keep the story out of the press initially while they set up a search for her. When it was all over, we learned this man kidnapped her to punish her husband and try to get money from him, money lost in a business deal gone sour.

The husband's friends knew about the kidnapping and my dad was one of them. They were all powerful men. When terrible things happen, people come together, even if there's nothing they can do to help. My dad came home very late that night. Sometimes he talked to me about things he didn't talk with anyone else about. A lot of it, even now, I've never told anyone.

He told me about the kidnapping. He'd been meeting with men who were all friend's of the man whose wife was kidnapped. I knew the men he was talking about. They were among the most powerful people in the state. He told me how each of them could command five hundred people to go out and search for the missing woman, to help their friend they'd do it gladly, but they knew, as much power as they each had, there was nothing they could do to help, that she was probably already dead and she was.

As powerful as he was, there were many times I watched my dad completely helpless to prevent something terrible happening to something or someone he really cared about. I suppose it was never so clear as the day I watched him die on the floor of his office, powerless even to keep his own heart beating.

We all seek power. We hoard it like dragon's gold to give us the courage to face an uncertain world, but I can tell you, I've seen men much more powerful than my dad utterly humbled when they faced the reality that their power means nothing.

In these uncertain times, many of us have come to face the reality that power and wealth and ability are all illusions, and all we really have on our side is hope and faith and love. Power is an illusion, but love is real.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Power of Prayer

For those who still don't believe...

Consider this story of how God answered Salma Hayek's prayers.

Link: YouTube

Who Watches The Watchmen?

Alan Moore's The Watchmen is a precautionary tale about the fallacy of heroes. It came out at a time when the United States was obsessed with the hero Ronald Reagan and Britain was obsessed with the hero Margaret Thatcher. By asking "Who Watches the Watchmen", Moore challenges us to consider whether our heroes really help us or not.

The series didn't have much impact on Reagan or Thatcher. At the time, its audience was pretty small and its readers were more concerned with what it said about Batman and Superman than any real world application. Since 1986 though, the audience for The Watchmen has expanded considerably. Time magazine included it as one of the one hundred most important books.

I've written before how people's reception of Barack Obama reminds me of the way people responded to Ronald Reagan. Without question, he is the first super man of the twenty-first century. It's Ironic how, not two months after Obama's inauguration, the first film adaptation of Moore's novel opens around the world, to a considerably larger audience than it had the first time.

Considering the state of the world, Moore's question: "Who Watches the Watchmen" is as important now as it ever was. I voted for Obama and I believe he'll be a good president. Watching the Watchmen isn't so much about our heroes as it is about how we respond to them, how we turn responsibility for our lives over to them rather than doing it ourselves, and that begs the question: "are we better off without them?"

I can't answer this. I've followed heroes my whole life and it's only now that I've learned to question it. Maybe this is how it's supposed to be. Maybe we can't function in life without heroes, but I open the question to you: "Who Watches the Watchmen?", not in a paranoid, conspiracy theory sort of way, but in a more fundamental way: can our heroes do for us what we won't do for ourselves?

When you see The Watchmen, consider this: who best serves the people of that world? Is it Rorschach, The Night Owl, or is it really Ozymandias?

Pop Stars Sing Puccini

Turandot is the fairy tale of a princess who riddles her suitors and if they fail, she beheads them. Calaf uses the power of true love to answer her riddles, but Princess Turandot still rejects him so he offers her a second chance: if she can guess his name by dawn she may still behead him, but if she cannot then she must marry him.

While Calaf waits for Turandot to guess his name, he sings Nessun Dorma, which translates to "None shall sleep tonight" and it is one of the most famous tenor arias ever.
Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma! Tu pure, o Principessa, nella tua fredda stanza, guardi le stelle che tremano d'amore, e di speranza!
None shall sleep! None shall sleep! Even you, O Princess, in your cold bedroom, watch the stars that tremble with love and with hope!

Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me; il nome mio nessun saprà! No, No! Sulla tua bocca lo dirò quando la luce splenderà!
But my secret is hidden within me; none will know my name! No, no! On your mouth I will say it when the light shines!

Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio che ti fa mia!
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!

Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! Tramontate, stelle! All'alba vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!
Vanish, o night! Set, stars! Set, stars! At daybreak I shall win! I shall win! I shall win!
Consider the following recordings of people singing Nessun Dorma. Some we know as opera singers, but others are more famous for other kinds of singing.

Mario Lanza

Link: YouTube

Luciano Pavarotti

Link: YouTube

Aretha Franklin

Link: YouTube

Michael Bolton

Link: YouTube

3 Redneck Tenors

Link: YouTube

Deep Purple (in English)

Link: YouTube

Manowar (Heavy Metal Band)

Link YouTube

Enrico Caruso

Link YouTube

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Bible Isn't Fiction

Atheists often try to discredit faith and belittle the believers by calling the bible a work of fiction. They're wrong, of course. Fiction implies writers who know they're writing something false or inaccurate. In the bible, we see just the opposite. These are writers fully aware they're writing something fantastic, but also fully convinced their story is both true and accurate.

It's not just the writers either. If you look at the process and the people involved in compiling the New Testament, you'll see they too were deeply concerned with making sure the finished work was as credible as possible. They discarded as much work as they included for that very reason. Some of the work they discarded still exists and you can compare it to the work that made it into the New Testament to see why they might have rejected it.

I can't make any claim about the credibility and reliability of the finished bible, because there are parts which seem exaggerated or inaccurate, but it's pretty clear that the people involved were trying to get it as right as they possibly could.

Calling the bible "fiction" attempts to dismiss it, only you can't dismiss it that easily. There were too many people involved, over too long a period of time to just dismiss it. We don't always know what the bible is or means, but, clearly there's a lot more going on here than just fiction.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Amazing Things Done With Scissors

Paper Forest reviews the work of artist Aoyama Hina who makes the most amazing things using only regular paper and a pair of scissors.

Link: Paper Forest

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Penn And I Want To Legalize Drugs

Although we disagree on religion, I usually find myself agreeing with Penn Jillette most of the time.

Penn says he never tried drugs. Considering the wide range of things he freely admits to, I see no reason he would lie about that. Despite never using drugs, he supports the legalization of all drugs, not just marijuana and I agree with him.

Unlike Penn, I did try several different recreational drugs. I never found them very recreational though so most of my experiments were very short lived. I stuck with alcohol for a while because it was such a part of my culture, but by the time I was thirty it was pretty much out of my repertoire. Tobacco I still stick with because it's the mildest of all stimulants except chocolate.

Penn's main reason for ending the prohibition on drugs is an issue of freedom. While I agree with him there, my main reason for wanting to end drug prohibition is that it's so grossly ineffective and is the main motivation for organized crime, not only in this country, but worldwide. If we ended the war on drugs, organized crime would all but dissapear in one generation or less.

Penn Says on YouTube

Link: You Tube

Barbie and the Death of Tattoos

Every style and trend has a life span, and for some time now, I've been wondering what would signal the end of the tattoo trend in western cultures. This might be it.

Barbie, still the best selling girl's toy (now that they've eliminated those pesky Bratz dolls with fancy legal footwork) turns 50 this year and to celebrate Mattel introduces the Totally Stylin' Tattoos Barbie, which features both tattoo stickers and washable ink tattoos girls can apply to their dolls.

Most fashion trends last about a generation, then they're verboten for a while before they have a brief revival as "retro". It's been about 20 years for tattoos so they're probably headed for the Elysian fields with poodle skirts and flat-top hair cuts.

Nothing kills an edgy fashion statement like seeing it show up on a barbie doll.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More Amazing Elephant Info

Asian and African Elephants (image source: wikipedia)
It's Not A Nose
An elephants trunk is really its upper lip. It's tusks are teeth. Scientist believe elephants are so amazingly intelligent because of the hundreds of muscles and thousands of nerves it takes to operate their trunk, all connected to parts of their really large brain.

Although still wild animals, many scientist believe Asian elephants are really semi-domesticated since humans have trained them for work for thousands of years. The only thing that keeps them from being fully domesticated is the size and unpredictability of the males makes domestic breeding so difficult.

Horton Hears a What?
Using their remarkable large ears and low frequency vocal sounds, inaudible to humans, elephants communicate with each over many miles.

World Travelers
Although their range is now limited to small areas of Asia and Africa, elephants once lived all over Africa, Europe, Asia and North America and their yearly migration routes stretched from Greenland to Equatorial Africa.

Prehistoric man used to follow the elephant herds, much like Native Americans used to follow the buffalo herds, hunting them for food, skins and even using their bones and tusks to build their homes. Some scientists suggest following the elephant herds explains how humans migrated from Africa to Europe, Asia and North America.

Girl Power
Elephant herds are all females and juvenile males. The lead elephant is called the "matriarch" and the secondary elephants under her are called "aunties".

Adult male elephants live solitary lives and only seek out females when they enter their musth stage. The musth cycle begins when male elephants pick up the scent of ovulating females using their amazing trunks. The smell triggers a massive injection of testosterone into their blood stream, making them much, much more aggressive. A bull elephant in musth emits a thick, sticky, fluid from their temporal lobes leaving a dark stain.

No Good Reason to Kill an Elephant
Although poaching is still the leading cause of death among elephants, the only commercially viable parts of the elephant are their tusks (which are carved into useless decorative items) and the hairs on their tails (which are woven into bracelets and rings, said to bring good luck). The rest of the elephant's massive body is left to rot after poachers take the tusks and tail hairs.

More Information about Elephants at Wikipedia
More Information about Elephant Preservation at the World Wildlife Fund

Amazing Elephant and Dog Friendship

This is one of the most remarkable stories I've seen in a while.

Link: You Tube

Tarra the elephant's page at the Elephant Sanctuary website.

Besides her unusual friendship with a dog, Tarra is also an accomplished painter

Read more about the relationship between Tarra and Bella: Link

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I'm as Mad as Hell and I'm Not Going To Take This Anymore!

This is one of my favorite performances in the history of cinema. If you've never seen Network, I encourage you to see it as soon as you can. I'm not kidding. Many people consider it the greatest film of that decade, better than the Godfather films.

Peter Finch won an oscar for this performance, probably for this very scene, and he deserved it.

Howard Beale: I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job.

The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it.

We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be.

We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.

Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad!

I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad.

You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!

So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!

I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!'

Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!

You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!
Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it:


Jon Stewart Vs CNBC

Much has been made of the battle between the staff at CNBC and Jon Stewart over a bit Stewart did criticizing CNBC for their bullish comments before the bear market kicked in.

Business news makers, commentators and journalists are used to operating in their own little sphere, hardly noticed by the rest of the world, but when the economy became the biggest story in the world, they found themselves suddenly thrust into a much larger spotlight and they're not at all comfortable there.

These guys are just going to have to butch up about it though, because the market crash and the credit freeze and the housing bubble happened on their watch. It was their job to warn us about this disaster before it hit and most of them didn't.

There's going to be a lot more uncomfortable comments thrown their way in the days ahead, so they'd better get used to it.

Jon Stewart's initial Volly

Jim Cramer at CNBC Responds

Stewart responds to Cramer's Response

Oh yeah, by the way, Cramer's advice to sell everything at the bottom of a Bear Market? Not a good idea.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Google Knows I'm Bald

As you've probably noticed, I've been experimenting with advertising on my blog.

It's not making much money, but that wasn't the point. I wanted to experiment and educate myself on this business of online advertising since I believe that's where the web and the world is headed.

The ads that interest me the most are the Google AdWords. The premise is that it reads your blog and then presents the most appropriate ads based on your content. That idea fascinates me. If I write a blog entry about two-headed zebras, then AdWords will pick ads for people who are interested in two-headed zebras (if there are any).

I've been monitoring the ads and so far it's been pretty cool. It's not always perfectly accurate though. Sometimes I might write an article about how the lawyers involved in the Dickie Scruggs scandal all suck, and AdWords will serve ads for people looking for cheap lawyers in Mississippi or I'll write about the president dealing with the economic crisis and it'll serve ads for schemes on how you can get in on all this stimulus money.

A couple of weeks ago, I started noticing AdWords serving more and more ads about hair loss and baldness cures. Now, I am bald, but I've never actually written about being bald. I looked over my old posts just to make sure.

Where were these ads coming from? At first it was a real mystery, then I started to look over the whole site and I noticed that, even though I've never written about being bald, on every page was my little profile picture that, sure enough, showed my shiny head in all its glory.

I can't find any confirmation that google is using images to gather information for their AdWords program, but it's the only way I can figure they would serve these ads. Google does have technology where computers can read images though. If you use google image search, it has a program that can look at pictures and filter out the ones that might be nude or depicting sex acts, so maybe they can read my picture and tell I'm bald.

It's a little intimidating to think computers might be that sophisticated, but it's pretty cool too. It's not artificial intelligence yet, but it gives you an idea of how people might use artificial intelligence in the future.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The MBA Generation

In college I studied business, but I never did very well. After graduation, I started twice to get my MBA, but dropped out both times.

The problem was that it just always seemed like bullshit to me. The only way to make money was by making something else that was valuable. This business of trying to get rich off the margins or skimming money off the system and mechanics of making things, in my heart I felt like that was wrong. I always felt like an outsider among people who were really excited about making a place for themselves in this scheme and felt like a traitor for not having the confidence in the system they had.

This was the beginning of what I call my derailment. I never knew my true path, only that I wasn't on it, and the more I tried, the more I failed. There were really important parts of my life that wanted me to go down that path, they thought it was best for me and best for everyone, but I could never make it happen because I never believed in it.

If you read the business news, it's pretty clear that all these structures the MBA generation built are now collapsing in on themselves. Many millions of people trusted them and now they're really suffering and wondering, what's to become of us.

It would be easy for me to gloat because I felt the wrongness of what we were doing long before my contemporaries, but I don't have it in me because I never came up with a viable alternative. These people didn't betray us, they were just wrong in their assumptions.

What I do know is this: America is the greatest creative force on the history of the planet. If we can rebuild ourselves based on that, based on building things of real value, then we should not only survive, but prosper again. We can't make it by skimming dollars out of the system or betting on the margins. Maybe you can for a while, but that philosophy is always doomed to fail in the end.

Friday, March 6, 2009

James Randi and Anti-Religion

Recently James Randi posted a video questioning the validity of some archaeological research currently going on in Nazareth with regards to sites mentioned in the bible. Randi uses this as a platform to call the whole bible into question. While I agree with him that a lot of this "archeology" into biblical sites is questionable, I can't agree with making the jump from that to a general dismissal of religion.

In the video, Randi demonstrates a pretty developed knowledge of the bible, a knowledge greater than what you see in most Christians, yet he strongly maintains he doesn't believe any of it, so much so, that the wants you not to believe it either.

What would motivate someone to learn so much about something they don't believe in? James Randi professes he has no religion, but I would suggest his religion is anti-religion. He is both priest and evangelist for anti-religion and that's what motivates him to learn so much about the bible.

People have such a strong desire for religion that they maintain it, even if their religion is anti-religion and whatever human trait motivates Christians to try and gain converts also motivates Randi to seek converts to his belief system.

This desire to convert people to our own point of view isn't limited to religion. You see it in sports, politics, art and pretty much every other aspect of human activity. It is ubiquitous. We say it doesn't matter if other people think the way we think, but clearly it does, even if it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Historically, a great deal of suffering has gone into this idea of making people believe what we believe. We'll fight wars to push our beliefs and gladly torture those who disagree with us. Atheists like Randi claim to be enlightened and advanced, but really they're doing exactly the same thing they criticize believers for.

I worry that atheists like Randi are motivated by the belief that we know everything and what we don't know isn't worth believing in. The fallacy of that philosophy is actually much more evident than the fallacies they want to point out about religion, but they'll never see it.

If we can't trust the religious not to make unfounded archeological claims to support their beliefs, can we really be all that sure to trust the anti-religious won't do the same? If so, who can we trust for a genuinely objective opinion on these matters?

Video of Nadya Suleman, (Octomom) Giving Birth

Video of Nadya Suleman, (Octomom) Giving Birth

Link: You Tube

Putting off Melton's Re-Trial

It's probably not possible, but part of me would like federal authorities to put off Frank Melton's retrial until after we elect a new mayor.

The city's been through so much the past few years, it might help if we put off the turmoil of a new trial until a time when Melton's no longer mayor. Of course, that assumes he won't win re-election, and with a field of as many as fifteen candidates anything is possible.

A lot of people were upset when Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon to spare the country the damage of a presidential trial and conviction, but I've always thought his decision was wise. As much as I despise the crap Melton pulled while in office, a re-trial, conviction, and the turmoil of pulling him out of office leaving us with a gap of six months or more with no mayor or an acting mayor might be worse.

If possible, it might be better to see him somehow constrained from further illegal acts, but still in office until the natural end of his term, and once he's no longer mayor, I don't much care what happens to him.

The Next Mayor
So far I don't see a really outstanding choice among the contenders for Melton's seat. There's still time before the election for one of these guys to really distinguish himself though, so I'm holding out hope.

Whoever becomes our next mayor faces all the same challenges in place when Melton was elected, plus having to deal with the gang-like management structure Melton put in power. It's going to take some time and a lot of effort for the new mayor to clean that particular mess up and get some of these jokers out of power in the city's systems.

Jackson's next mayor will probably be black, but it could be a different experience than before. Electing a third black mayor is a very different from the first or second. For one thing, his race isn't nearly as big a deal as it once was and there won't be as many people who cast their vote or lend their support based just on the candidates race. There should be a feeling among the voters that getting the job done is now more important than race.

I'm holding out hope that the Obama presidency can provide a model to cities like Jackson of what a black-lead administration can be like. At the very least, a successful black president should give any newly-elected black mayor confidence none of his predecessors had.

There will still be conflicts over whether to spend money on the white side of town or the black side of town, but those definitions are changing to be more about class and income than race, and, although that's still not an ideal situation, it is improvement.

The nation is changing and Jackson is changing. I, for one, am hopeful, but we still have to shed ourselves of some of the mistakes of the past, and that's going to be difficult.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Amazing African Pole Dancers

In America, strippers dance on poles to show off their acrobatic skills and their tramp-tattoos. I've seen some girls do pretty amazing things on poles, but these guys in Africa make American pole dancers look like sorority girls trying to do the solja boy dance after nine beers. For one thing, their poles aren't attached to anything! They never had an act like this at Danny's.

link: You Tube

How to Smoke a Cat

For many years, scientists have argued whether or not marijuana smoking has any detrimental effects on the brain, particularly in the areas of logic and cognitive functions. Recently a story out of Nebraska provided evidence to support the argument that pot can really fuck up your mind.

Police sought Twenty-year-old Acea Schomaker of Lincoln Nebraska on marijuana charges. When they found him, he was smoking a home-made bong made of plexiglas and rubber tubing, with a six-month-old kitten duct-taped inside.

Schomaker said he put the kitten inside the bong because it was high-strung and needed the marijuana smoke to calm down. Police incarcerated Schomaker, seized the bong and took custody of the cat who was turned over to an animal shelter to be checked out by a vet to see if the experience damaged its health.

Schomaker said he had smoked the cat several times before. Police charged him with animal cruelty and possession of marijuana. So far, the kitten seems to be recovering.

Link: KETV Omaha Nebraska

Gay Spider Man and His Tiny Sidekick

I really have no adequate explanation for this.

It's a lap dancing spider man with red bikini bottoms entertaining office workers which is strange enough on its own, but when mini gay spider man joins in, who is either a child or a little person also in a spider man costume (without red bikini bottoms) the whole video becomes something one might expect if Salvador Dali's retarded little brother had a YouTube account.

Link: YouTube