Friday, December 28, 2007

President Bush's End of 2007 Remarks

My fellow Americans, 2007 is quickly coming to an end, and all I can say is 'thank you, Jesus.' It has been a long, and trying year for Laura and I. It seems like almost nothing has gone right. Why even on the way here to Crawford the presidential limo broke down and we had to get out and push. Laura mumbled something about 'typical' and I tried to improve her spirits with some of my unfounded optimism when I suddenly realized she was right. 2007 sucked. In-fact, the last five or six years have sucked. The presidency has been the worst time of my life. There, I've said it.

We were both glad to be here at the ranch, relaxing, and waiting out the final days of the year. I took the phone off the hook and we watched "Animal House." I cracked open an ice-old Coca-Cola when an aide busted into the room and said something about Benazir Butto being assassinated in Pakistan. Then, I was told I was going to have to give an address to the nation about it. The only peace and quiet I ever get is in the men's room, and even that has a phone in it. The only thing I'm looking forward to is getting out of the White House.

I started off 2007 cautiously optimistic about Iraq. I had appointed General Petraeus to head up my new victory plan, which the media nicknamed 'the surge.' I like that. Surge. It sounds like an energy drink. Anyway, now my very own advisors can't make heads or tails of what is going on in Iraq and I have tried to stop making sense of it all. Oh, and I'm done making rah-rah speeches about it too. Between you and me, I have no idea how things will turn out in Iraq. Nobody does. But 2007 was so bad in other ways that Iraq has almost fallen off the national conscious, and I suppose that is as much as I ever could have hoped for.

Last spring a madman killed 32 students at Virginia Tech because he had some kind of social anxiety disorder. I do too, but I'm not getting all violent about it. Then, of course, there is the looming mortgage crisis. I saw all of my land holdings in California, Florida, and Nevada lose money and I can see why the average American is losing faith in the economy. Oil prices are somewhere near $100 a barrel which isn't necessarily a bad thing for me, but Laura and I do get a lot of hate mail about it. A major bridge collapsed in Minnesota, the polar caps are melting, immigrants are running around undocumented all over the country, and even our children's toys are found to be covered in led paint. It's enough to make you want to hang up your hat and call it a day.

Do I see brighter things in 2008? Well, of course my speech writers came up with all kinds of hyperbole and rhetoric in a transparent and pathetic attempt to lift the American spirit, but you and I both know by now that it's just a bunch of crap. Anything I say to you now will be viewed with suspicion. 2007 became the year you folks really fell out of love with me. I can no longer fool you or even scare you like I used to. When I talk about Iran's nuclear program even members of the White House Press Corps, fine people who were all but on the executive payroll a few years ago, just roll their eyes and snicker. They don't pass on what I say sign unseen anymore. I tell you, dissenting misinformation isn't as easy as it was back in 2003. You guys aren't the fastest learners, but you do learn.

And so, my fellow Americans, I say to you: good game. We have had our little dance. And now, like jilted lovers, we joust and toss drinks on each other. We share stone-cold dinners with no conversation, the tension hanging thick in the air. Was it Osama that came between us? Was it the elite media? Or was it my own ineptitude? Let's agree to let historians sort it all out. We have one year left together before I recede into the background to write my memoirs and build my library. Let's make 2008 a year to remember, shall we? Before we leave this country to the liberals, let's vow to make the best of it. A bombing campaign in Iran, perhaps?

Surely you will grant me one last indulgence for the road, right? After all the memories I have given you? I promise, you wont see much of me in 2008. My work here, which was an exhausting amount, and will take years to unwind, is done. My domestic policy is in traction, and around the world democracy is in decline, but I have stocked the judiciary, stifled congress, and changed the presidency forever. And I couldn't have done it without your vote. So don't act all indignant now. Don't be so surprised. You knew what you were getting in 2004, and, out of sheer guilt, you'll give me 2008 and all that comes. And, what's more, you'll miss me when I'm gone.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Minnesota Resident Already Sick of Winter

Eagan, MN - Friends and family are reporting that Jerry Konstantin, a forty-three year old computer programmer living in Minnesota, has already started declaring that he is sick of winter. Jerry's mom, who now lives in Florida, reported getting a complaint filled e-mail at approximately 10:37 AM December 26, the day after Christmas.

"Jerry never really liked the cold weather," Mrs. Konstantin said. "I think he was a little jealous when I retired and moved to Florida a few years ago. But it seems like with each winter his comments start earlier and earlier. At first I thought he was just joking around, but I think he's serious."

In the past Jerry would begin complaining about winter sometime in mid-February. But with each successive year his complaints have began in earnest earlier and earlier.

"I suppose December 26 is about as soon as you can really begin to complain about a Minnesota winter," Mrs. Konstantin said. "The holidays will usually keep your spirits up until then. After that you really have to fortify yourself with a lot of hot chocolate."

Jerry's disgust with the harsh Minnesota winters is often carefully concealed behind a thin veil of humor.

"It must be nice to live someplace warm," Jerry writes to his friends in California. "I suppose you don't even need a jacket most of the time! haha. It was 15 degrees here. What's the weather like there? No, wait, I don't want to know!"

Although he has lived in Minnesota his entire life, he says he's just damn tired of the cold winters.

"When I go out to shovel my driveway," Jerry writes, "It's like something out of the Space Program. I have to put on my parka, my moon boots, three layers of clothing. Then, when I open that garage door to go shovel, it's like opening the airlock from a remote moon base or something. What ever warm air remains in the garage rushes out into the cold, empty vacuum of Minnesota. And there I am, shovel in-hand, ready for my excursion."

Jerry has tried various activities to break the winter blues but nothing seems to work.

"I've tried snowmobiling but some winters you just don't get much snow," Jerry writes. "And besides, it's not really the snow that bothers me, it's the overcast skies, which last for months and months. It's the sun setting at 4:30, and the darkness, and wind which strips all the leaves from the trees and gets right down into the marrow of your bones, rattling your windows at night. Sometimes I feel like I'm surrounded by cold, bleak, nothingness. And it's at least twelve weeks before the ground will begin to thaw and I'll see flowers again."

After forty-three long, cold Minnesota winters, Jerry has resigned himself to his fate.

"This is my home, I guess," he writes. "All my friends are here and my wife's friends and family. I've made it through this many winters and I'll probably see as many more." Then he added, "Damnit."

This morning Jerry unearthed his driveway underneath a foot of snow. He then went inside to shower and change, and drove off to work.

Monday, December 17, 2007

This Day in History: Simpsons Debut, 1989

On this day in 1989 The Simpsons made it's television debut. It has gone on to become the most popular animated TV shows in US history and has earned its spot in pop culture history through its parodies of the "Middle American" lifestyle. The show, created by Matt Groening, is a spin-off of a series of animated shorts originally aired on The Tracey Ullman Show. and is currently both the longest-running American sitcom and the longest-running American animated program. Since I've based my life on Krusty's teachings, here are my top 10 Simpsons episodes.

10. Rosebud.
Yearning for his lost youth and innocence, Mr. Burns searches for his beloved childhood teddy bear, Bobo, in Citizen Kane-like fashion. When Maggie comes across the bear, she claims it as her own. Mr. Burns tries to get his Bobo back by any means necessary.
Smithers: Here are several fine young men who I'm sure are gonna go far.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Ramones!
Burns: Ah, these minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves.
Ramone 1: I'd just like to say this gig sucks!
Ramone 2: Hey, up yours, Springfield.
Ramone 1: One, two, three, four!
[Abrasive guitar music begins]
Happy Birthday to you! (Happy Birthday!)
Happy Birthday to you! (Happy Birthday!)
Happy Birthday, Burnsey,
Happy Birthday to you!
Ramone 3: Go to hell, you old bastard.
[The curtain falls]
Ramone 4: Hey, I think they liked us!
Burns: [toward the Ramones] Have the Rolling Stones killed.
Smithers: Sir, those aren't --
Burns: Do as I say!

9. Cape Feare. An anonymous letter writer makes ominous threats to Bart. The Simpsons discover they were sent by Sideshow Bob who, when released from prison, harasses the Simpsons and then attempts to kill Bart with a machete. But Bob's vanity foils him yet again.

Agent: Tell you what, sir. From now on, you'll be, uh, Homer Thompson at Terror Lake. Let's just practice a bit, hmm? When I say, "Hello, Mr. Thompson," you'll say, "Hi."
Homer: Check.
Hello, Mr. Thompson.
Homer: [stares blankly]
Remember now, your name is Homer Thompson.
Homer: I gotcha.
Agent: Hello, Mr. Thompson.
Homer: [stares blankly]

[A long time later]
Agent: [sighs in frustration] Now, when I say, "Hello, Mr. Thompson,"
and press down on your foot, you smile and nod.
Homer: No problem.
Agent: Hello, Mr. Thompson! [stomps on Homer's foot a few times]
Homer: [stares blankly]
[to other agent] I think he's talking to you.

8. $pringfield. During a town meeting, Principal Skinner pitches the idea of opening a casino. Mr. Burns adopts this notion and builds the "Mr. Burns' Casino." Homer takes a job as a blackjack dealer and Marge takes up gambling. At home, Lisa is having difficulties with her school project and Bart opens a treehouse casino.

Sir, you haven't slept since the casino opened five days ago.
Burns: Yeah, well, I've discovered the perfect business: people swarm
in, empty their pockets, and scuttle off. Nothing can stop me now -- [paranoid] except microscopic germs. But we won't let that happen, will we, Smithers?
Smithers: Uh, no sir.

7. Simpson and Delilah. Homer lies on a medical insurance form to buy a "miracle" hair-restoring drug which also revitalizes his career. Bart decides to use the drug to grow a goa-t, spilling it all over the floor when Homer catches him in the act.

Homer: Okay, I'm not going to kill you, but I'm going to tell you three things that are gonna haunt you for the rest of your days. You've ruined your father, you've crippled your family, and baldness is hereditary!

6. You Only Move Twice. In the eight season opener, Homer's new job moves the Simpsons to an idyllic planned community. But his new, easygoing supervillian boss, Hank Scorpio (voice of Albert Brooks), has some trouble with the government.

Hank: Ingenious, isn't it, Mr. Bont?
Scorpio, you're totally mad.
Heh, I wouldn't point fingers, you jerk.
So, do you expect me to talk?
I don't expect anything from you except to die and be a very cheap


5. Homer the Great. Homer joins the ancient mystical order known as the Stonecutters. The group then discovers that he is actually the chosen one to lead them to glory.

Who controls the British crown?
Who keeps the metric system down?
We do! We do.

Who leaves the Atlantis off the maps?
Who keeps the Martians under wraps?
We do! We do.

Who holds back the electric car?
Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star?
We do! We do.
Who robs cave fish of their sight?

Who rigs every Oscar night?
We do! We do.

4. 22 Short Films about Springfield. Interconnecting vignettes in Pulp Fiction style depict various moments in the lives of Springfield residents, including Apu's partying activities; Smithers' allergic reaction to a bee sting; and Dr. Nick Riviera's appearance before a medical review board.

Dr. Nick: Hi everybody. Now, tell Dr. Nick where is the trouble.
Abe: I'm itchy! I've got ants in my pants! I'm discombobulated! Give me a calmative!
Dr. Nick: Slow down sir! You're going to give yourself skin failure!

3. Treehouse of Horror V. This one features three short episodes. The family becomes caretakers of an estate in the mountains owned by Mr. Burns, where he cuts the cable and takes out all beer, which leads Homer to insanity. Homer fixes a toaster and it becomes a time machine. Principal Skinner finds a solution to his overcrowding problem and the quality of meat in the cafeteria: eating the students.

Homer: Aah! OK, don't panic -- remember the advice your father gave you on your wedding day. [remembers dad, Abe, with hair and a tuxedo]
Abe: If you ever travel back in time, don't step on anything because
even the tiniest change can alter the future in ways you can't imagine.
Homer: Fine. As long as I stand perfectly still and don't touch
anything, I won't destroy the future.
[a mosquito flies in]

Stupid bug! You go squish now!
[swats it]

2. Kamp Krusty. The fourth-season opener finds Bart and Lisa headed for six fun-filled weeks at Kamp Krusty, the brochure having failed to mention counselor-thugs, imitation gruel, slave labor and no Krusty. The camp is run by the bland Mr. Black (who managed Euro-Disney until it blew up) and the real Krusty is replaced by a whino in a clown suit (who later chants with the kids 'We want Crunchy.'). The kids revolt and take over the camp in a-la Apocalypse Now. Krusty flies in and makes it up to the children by taking them to Tijuana.

Krusty: Kamp Krusty is built on an ancient Indian burial ground. We've got archery, wallet-making, the whole megillah! And for all you fat kids, my exclusive program of diet and ridicule will really get results!

1. Marge vs The Monorail. This gem, written by Conan O'Brien, features a fast-talking charmer (Phil Hartman) who sells Springfield a monorail of dubious necessity and, Marge learns, highly dubious quality. Homer quits his job to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a monorail driver (later saying, "I'm the best monothingy guy there ever was"). Leonard Nimoy, in a brilliant cameo, is aboard for the maiden trip, with Homer at the controls.

Nimoy: My job here is done.
Barney: What do you mean? You didn't do anything.
Nimoy: [chuckles] Didn't I? [gets "beamed" away, a la "Star Trek"]


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Rocket Flame Out

Today is the day that the Mitchell Report gets released. The report is the exhaustive findings of George J. Mitchell's 20 month investigation into drug use in Major League Baseball. Let me tell you this thing has taken on a life of it's own. The internet tubes are popping and sizzling, buzzing with leaks and speculations, hints and allegations. It's sweeping across the sports blogs like a prairie fire. It's as if George Mitchell threw a party and everyone in baseball was invited. But the guest of honor seems to be none other than the mighty Roger Clemens whose lawyers are, at this very moment, no doubt trying to mitigate the damage being done by having their client fingered in the investigation.

Clemens, the surly, megalomaniacal, fire-balling New York Yankees pitcher, nicknamed "The Rocket," has been a singularly unlikeable figure for some time. One could start just about anywhere with him, from his churlish attitude to his penchant for throwing at batters and being labeled as a headhunter. But for me, his problem is he just wont go away. He retires after every season and then, around spring time, he begins his diva-like dance where he begins to murmur about coming out of retirement, causing a stir among teams. Picture Roger with a fruit basket on his head, shaking some maracas, and you'll have an idea of how distasteful this all is. He then fields offers and by May he is once again pitching for a contender. He always signs huge one-year deals so that he can do the dance again the next season. Plus, the deals he gets entitle him to special treatment. (For example, when pitching for the Houston Astros he did not have to travel with the team for road games.) Roger doesn't have to travel with the team. The other teams travel to him.

On the baseball field, Clemens trajectory seems to have mirrored Barry Bonds's in many ways. By 1996 his career was faltering, having gone 10-13 with the Boston Red Sox. Notoriously, Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette said Clemens was in the "twilight of his career" following four consecutive seasons, 1993-96, in which the pitcher was a mediocre 40-39 with few of the eye-popping statistics that had become his norm.

Duquette traded the ailing Clemens to the Toronto Blue Jays and things magically turned around. Well, most of that "magic" came in the form of enhancing drugs which were injected into Clemen's ass via personal trainer Brian McNamee. Clemens career turned around from that point and he averaged 17 wins and 6 losses over the next ten seasons, capped off with a 2005 in-which he went 13-8 with a godlike 1.87 ERA, at the age of 42. Like Bonds, as Clemens got older he got better. But, like Bonds, he also got larger. Gone are the early days of his career when he clocked in at 190 lbs. Now he packs on 220 lbs and throws bats at people who upset him. He once threw at a batter during an All-Star game. And once threw at his son during a minor league game after his son homered off him in a previous at-bat.

Clemens has always loved the attention. From his awkward re-signings to his patented post season flame outs. Most recently, in the 2007 ALDS game three, he gave up two runs on four hits in the first two innings and by the third inning he pulled up lame and had to leave the game. Clemens put in similar post-season antics in 2005, 2004, 2003, 2001, 1999, and got himself ejected in 1990. He's the Barbara Streisand of pitchers.

Well now Clemens will receive all the attention he desires. The Rocket was singled out in nearly nine pages of the Mitchell Report, with much of the information on the seven-time Cy Young Award winner coming from McNamee himself. More than a dozen Yankees, past and present, were among the 75-plus players identified.

"According to McNamee, from the time that McNamee injected Clemens with Winstrol through the end of the 1998 season, Clemens' performance showed remarkable improvement," the report said. "During this period of improved performance, Clemens told McNamee that the steroids 'had a pretty good effect' on him."

McNamee also told investigators that "during the middle of the 2000 season, Clemens made it clear that he was ready to use steroids again. During the latter part of the regular season, McNamee injected Clemens in the buttocks four to six times with testosterone from a bottle labeled either Sustanon 250 or Deca-Durabolin."

And, incredibly enough, ex-baseball player turned hatchet-man Jose Canseco was right all along. In his book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big Canseco alleges that Roger Clemens had expert knowledge about steroids and suggested that he probably used steroids, based on the improvement in his performance after leaving the Red Sox. While not addressing the allegations directly, Clemens was dismissive of Canseco stating "I could care less" and "I've talked to some friends of his and I've teased them that when you're under house arrest and have ankle bracelets on, you have a lot of time to write a book."

Good one, Roger.

Update: By the way I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't predict that Sport's Illustrated's steroids-in-baseball watchdog Tom Verducci is no-doubt currently churning the froth on his latest venom filled anti-doping article for the magazine. Verducci relentlessly dogged Barry Bonds for well over a year during his pursuit of Hank Arron's home run title. He seems to have turned a blind eye to the obvious in Roger Clemens of whom he wrote in 2003, "Clemens' feats in the late stage of his career are remarkable."

Almost magical, isn't it Tom? If you can stomach the whole article it's here.

Which brings me to this, an excellent piece by Jeff Pearlman of Slate, written in 2006.

Likewise, when I look at Roger Clemens, I wonder: Where's the investigative digging? Like Bonds, Clemens is a larger-than-life athletic specimen. Like Bonds, Clemens is producing at an age when most of his peers are knitting. Unlike Bonds, Clemens does not have journalists breathing down his neck. Instead, the hometown Houston Chronicle has covered his recent re-signing with the Astros as a time for unmitigated celebration. Forget combing through his garbage for vials—I just want the Chronicle to ask Clemens whether he's used. Is the Rocket cheating? Again, I don't know. But doesn't someone have to at least try and find out?

"A lot of baseball writers are drunks or cheat on their wives," says Jose de Jesus Ortiz, the Chronicle's Astros beat writer. "I would never question anybody unless I have evidence. It's unfair to feel that just because of Bonds now we're required to question everyone about their methods."

Is it unfair to pester individual athletes about steroids? Maybe. Is it the right thing to do journalistically? Without a doubt.
My sentiments exactly. Now all the writers, like Verducci, who butter their bread with anti-doping columns, who ridiculed Canseco and his book, can act stunned about the great Roger Clemens.

And, finally, I dug this quote up from Hank Aaron himself. "A guy can take steroids, drugs, whatever. He still has to be able to hit that Roger Clemens 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Steroids don't help you hit that fastball."

No one imagined the fastball could be hopped up on 'roids too?

How to be like Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris' tears cure cancer. Too bad Chuck Norris has never cried. Ever.

Chuck Norris hasn't made a real movie since 1990 and that movie was Delta Force 2: the Columbian Connection. His TV show Walker, Texas Ranger was canceled in 2001. And yet here he is today, a pop culture phenomenon. His legend has grown and now he has taken the form of an irate, all-powerful superbeing, a job which, no doubt, consumes at least a few hours of his leisure time. We all have to model ourselves after somebody, so why not make the world's greatest bad ass your own personal Jesus? Here's how.

1. Learn how to do a roundhouse kick. You never know when you're going to need to unleash this kind of fury. You may be trying to bust POWs out of Vietnam (Missing in Action), dealing with terrorists (The Delta Force), or trying to track down an ancient Aztec/Mayan/Egyptian/Apache horde of gold (Firewalker). It's also useful in social settings. Is your boss giving you a hard time? Stuck in traffic? Can't speak French? The roundhouse kick is a potent finishing move no matter what situation you're facing.

2. Grow lots of body hair. If you're one of those hairless Chihuahua types consider yourself out of luck. You may be on Chuck's list. In fact you may already be dead. Anyone wanting to be like Chuck Norris has to have needs a ton of body hair, including a full grown beard. If you can't grow a full beard like a real man you best model yourself after Jean-Claude Van Damme or some other European action star and then prepare thyself for Chuck.

3. Be able to divide by zero. It is now a commonly held fact that Chuck Norris can indeed divide by zero. Work on it.

4. Wear Stetson.

5. Create your own martial art form. Don't be a follower. Chuck Norris doesn't follow. The world follows him. He invented his own martial art, known as Chun Kuk Do, which includes forms of every martial art he knows. That means all of them, even the ones that haven't been created yet. What have you invented lately?

6. Join the military. Chuck Norris is the real deal and unlike so many other action heroes or leaders he actually does have bona-fide military experience. So, when he pulls a man's beating heart out of his chest you can bet your ass that comes with the official seal of approval from the U.S. government. Oh, and keep the change.

7. Get one of those big ten gallon hats. Wear it all over the place.

8. Get off your ass and avenge your defeats. Chuck Norris started his karate career with two tournament losses. He then found his resolve and started owning people, holding the Professional Middleweight Karate title for six consecutive years, and in 1969 was named "fighter of the year" (yes, "fighter of the year") by Black Belt Magazine. Along the way he went on to defeat all the opponents who defeated him.

9. Get on your own commercial with Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

10. Decide who lives and who dies, and make it so. It's a well known fact that Chuck Norris doesn't believe in the theory of evolution. This is because there is no evolution, only a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live. Go and do likewise.

Do these things and you'll be well on your way to Norris-like stature which has been proven to help you in bar fights and defend the free world. And when in doubt, ask yourself: What Would Chuck Do? Maybe someday people will be writing "facts" about you. Until then, here is a list of my favorite Chuck Norris "facts" found on the web page Chuck Norris Facts.

  • Contrary to popular belief, America is not a democracy, it is a Chucktatorship.
  • Chuck Norris can slam a revolving door.
  • Chuck Norris doesn’t wear a watch, HE decides what time it is.
  • Chuck Norris’ hand is the only hand that can beat a Royal Flush.
  • When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he isn’t lifting himself up, he’s pushing the Earth down.
  • There is no chin behind Chuck Norris’ beard. There is only another fist.
  • Chuck Norris is the reason why Waldo is hiding.
  • Chuck Norris is currently suing NBC, claiming Law and Order are trademarked names for his left and right legs.
  • Outer space exists because it's afraid to be on the same planet with Chuck Norris.
  • Chuck Norris doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.
  • When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Supreme Court Decides Bush v Gore (a tribute)

It did not escape my attention that today is the seventh anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision to end Florida's state-wide ballot recount, which allowed George W. Bush to be certified as the winner of the 2000 election. Much has already been said about this historical event--the fact that Al Gore lost even though he won the popular vote, and the inability of Floridians to properly punch their voting cards leading to a confusing re-count. In my humble opinion all of this speaks to the fact that the Founding Fathers weren't that smart, and neither are we.

I've never been much of a conspiracy theorist. My belief that large entities are behind all of our current woes went the same way as my theism. (It turns out they had a lot in common.) I don't really believe that the Supreme Court "stole" the election for Bush. I don't really think there was a massive cover-up going on. I do think, however, that the electoral college is an antiquated idea whose time has come.

The electoral college was a necessity 200 years ago when people rode their horses to delegate meetings and cast their votes in secret rooms, signaling the victor with a plume of smoke from the chimney behind locked doors. Oh it was a high time at those gatherings, let me tell you, with all those delegates dressed up in colorful robes, burning incense and offering prayers to Artemis for light and wisdom. But those days went out with the Eisenhower administration.

First of all, direct election would give everyone's vote the same weight. What's the point of even voting Republican in a state like New York or California other than to exercise your right in a hallow gesture? Since most states operate on a winner-take-all system there's no reason to even pander to Texas or Georgia. It's a foregone conclusion those states will vote Republican anyway. Candidates know this and so they simply focus on a handful of swing states. If you're lucky enough to live in one of those states your vote counts a great deal. If not, get bent.

Secondly, it has now happened four times that the winner of the popular vote did not receive election. You would be inclined to believe that once the electoral college's efficiency trumps the will of the people its value should be questioned. But still we cling to it like an old blanket. Arguments for the continuation of the electoral college usually focus around crusty ideals like the "continuation of the federal character of the nation" or "national stability through a two party system." Yawn. I don't know about you, but I don't find these to be particularly compelling.

Maybe the saddest thing about the 2000 recount is that so many people couldn't figure out how to punch their ballot cards, and the term "hanging chad" was introduced into the lexicon. Maybe this is a microcosm of our problems? Listen, people, punching a hole in your card isn't that hard, is it? And if it is, shouldn't your vote then be negated? Seriously. We're electing the leader of the executive branch, exercising the ancient human right of freedom and representation, in the most powerful country in the world. Your collective wisdom decides the fate of so many innocent people around the world. And all the gods ask is that you follow simple voting instructions.

This is why I think issues like stem cell research and gay marriage should be left off the ballot. Haven't we proven unequivocally that we have no idea what we're doing? Not only did someone like George W. Bush slip through the cracks to take the helm of our great nation, but the man was re-elected after beaching it on a sandbar. The same group of people who opted for that guy should also weigh in on when life begins, and whom can legally marry whom? That sounds like trouble. Maybe we should have less responsibility and not more. Then, if we thought less about what was going on in other people's bedrooms, we'd have more energy to devote to punching that voting card properly. Just a thought.

But I'm not unsympathetic. I can see how all of this gets confusing. The average person has a ton of stuff to think about. I mean mundane stuff like is Bobby catching a cold? And don't forget to pick up the milk after work. That, plus the piles of responsibility we each have at work trying to stay one step ahead of unemployment or outsourcing while engaging in continuing education and re-branding. It's exhausting isn't it? How am I supposed to know about stem cells? How am I supposed to know how to vote? Can't we just leave it all up to those high-powered, super-intellectual commissions that form every time our elected leaders are found in dereliction of duty? Back when delegates road horses to super-secret meetings to elect the President such governmental oversights weren't even a wild dream. That shows how far we've come in seven years. Yes, it does.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

MST3K Resurfaces as Cinematic Titanic

It was sometime around 1989 and I was about fourteen. My mom and sister had discovered this nutty show where a guy and his robot friends watch and riff on really bad movies for two hours. The show was "Mystery Science Theater 3000." I watched as my mom and sister never missed an episode and even made their pilgrimages to Minneapolis for MST3K conventions. One year my sister dressed up as a giant leech. Another year my mom went as the brain that wouldn't die. It's funny to think back on those days when a campy TV show brought the whole family together. (Well, except my dad who was usually out in the garage.)

For fans, MST3K was more than a show, it provided a family identity. Like the Partridge Family, except with no Susan Dey, no music, just a crapload of terrible B-movies. What was really enjoyable about the show was its low production values, and one-take skits. It had a very immersive quality. It didn't try to please everyone, and that was why the people who liked it loved it so much.

It turns out a lot of other people felt the same way my mom and sister did. The fans became known affectionately as "MSties," MST3K turned into a cult classic, and Time Magazine later named it one of the 100 greatest TV shows ever. Even after it's cancellation in 1999 an underground following remained. Revived by the DVD format, fans can now get old episodes through NetFlix and other outlets.

But now it looks like the original spirit is back. MST3K creator Joel Hodgson has launched a new internet-based project called "Cinematic Titanic" which he describes as "a new movie-riffing delivery system." Along with Joel will be the original writers from MSTK: Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis Weinstein. They will, as in the original show, riff on terrible movies, and the end product will be available via download, web stream, or DVD delivery on a monthly basis.

I received word of this when my sister alerted me (of course). When she explained to me the premise I said, "Wait, isn't Mike Nelson doing something similar with "RiffTrax?"

"This is different," she said. And then, in a voice like Dave from 2010, in full MST3K mode she said, "It's something wonderful."

Here's a link to the Cinematic Titanic homepage where you can join their newsletter and get alerts on new movies coming out.'

And, if you have no idea what MST3K is all about, here:

And, if you think I'm crazy, here's the word on the street:

SFist: MST3K Returns!
Slashdot: Joel and Original Cast of MST3K Riding the Cinematic Titanic
Wired: Cinematic Titanic Steams Into Mystery Science Theater Waters

Friday, December 07, 2007

Honey Calms Children's Coughs, Tastes Ohh So Good

According to a new report, honey, that sweet, delicious substance produced by honey bees, seems to calm children's coughs and help them sleep better.

The AP writes:

For the study, researchers recruited 105 children with upper respiratory infections from a clinic in Pennsylvania. Parents were given a paper bag with a dosing device inside. Some were empty. Some contained an age-appropriate dose of honey-flavored cough medicine containing dextromethorphan. And some contained a similar dose of honey.

The parents were asked about their children's sleep and cough symptoms, once before the bedtime treatment and once after. They rated the symptoms on a seven-point scale.

All of the children got better, but honey consistently scored best in parents' rating of their children's cough symptoms.
It looks like honey, that luscious, gooey substance derived from the nectar of flowers, has dealt a major blow to the pediatrics field. The study, funded by the National Honey Board, comes after an expert panel of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has called for a complete ban on all over-the-counter remedies aimed at children under the age of 6. And many leading doctors agree that if used incorrectly, the cough syrups have the potential to do serious harm.

"This is a huge victory for honey and honey lovers everywhere," said Ed Reed, spokesman for the National Honey Board. "It turns out your grandma was right all along."

Honey is a rich source of antioxidant and antimicrobial compounds that may aid healing. Lead researcher Ian Paul of Pennsylvania State University in Hershey also suspects much of the benefit might come from the "soothing effect of the thick, syrup-like liquid [honey] on the back of the throat." It seems to "calm the irritation that leads to cough."

While scientists and researchers were surprised at the findings, lovers of honey, that irresistibly wonderful nectar of the gods, relished their long over-due vindication.

"Everyone always called me crazy," said Winnie-the-Pooh from his home in the Hundred Acre Wood. "Who's laughing now?"

In other news a tractor-trailer carrying honey buns overturned on I-77 in Charlotte Thursday morning. The truck collided with another vehicle but no one was seriously hurt. Investigators say the sweet, chewy honey buns deployed on impact creating a soft, almost air-like cushion around the vehicles. The driver of the big rig was taken to the hospital with non life threatening injuries.

Honey, is there anything it can't do?

Happy Pearl Harbor Day

Today, on December 7th, a day that would live in infamy, we remember the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the movies which made it famous.

Sixty-six years ago (my God, has it been that long??) the dastardly Empire of Japan launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, a United States Naval base in Hawaii. At the time Hawaii was just a far flung American colonial interest. But the Japanese, eying the pristine and halcyon islands as a possible vacationing spot for weary troops, sailors, and airmen, attacked on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941.

The attack which caught the sunbathing, surfing, and beach-lovemaking Americans unawares destroyed two battleships, two destroyers, 188 aircraft, along with 2,333 killed and 1,139 wounded. The attack also forever ruined the torrid love-affair between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr (meow!) as seen in the 1953 movie From Here to Eternity.

The only thing which prevented the complete destruction of America's entire Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor was the timely arrival of the U.S.S. Nimitz from the year 1980, captained by Kirk Douglas, as seen in the classic film The Final Countdown.

A monster cast, including Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, John Voight, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Dan Ackroyd, and Jennifer Garner all joined with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay, to help stave off the Japanese attack, documented accurately in their 2001 summer blockbuster film Pearl Habor.

The movie boasted a production budget of 132 million dollars, far more than the actual Japanese cost to attack Pearl Harbor. "We're going to do it right this time," Bay announced.

Although they were ultimately successful, critic Roger Ebert called the affair "a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on December 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle." He then added, "The filmmakers seem to have aimed the film at an audience that may not have heard of Pearl Harbor, or perhaps even of World War Two." Bay, incensed at the criticism, which he called the worst of his career, had Ebert's house bombed into the ground with dramatic flair.

The film did go on to win one academy award, and also was nominated for six Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Screen Couple, Worst Actor (Affleck), Worst Remake of a Sequel (of "Tora, Tora, Tora"); but lost to Tom Green's truly awful "Freddy Got Fingered" on all cards.

The spirit of the movie was later immortalized in the Team America World Police song "The End of an Act."

I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark
When he made Pearl Harbor

I miss you more than that movie missed the point
And that’s an awful lot
And now, now you've gone away

And all I'm trying to say

Is Pearl Harbor sucked and I miss you

The successful attack lulled the Japanese Empire into a sense of self confidence and soon it turned its power towards making giant-monster-movies. America seized the initiative and struck back. In less than four years the Pacific had been re-secured and the war culminated in Bay-like flair with the total incineration of two Japanese cities by the A-bomb.

And that's the story of how the good ol' US-of-A won World War Two. The Big One. W-W-I-I. Even after being sucker-punched America went on to become the richest, most powerful country in the world, with the movies to prove it. And today Japan provides her with cars, cell phones, and robotic vacuum cleaners, in a tight-knight symbiotic relationship. But it all started with Pearl Harbor.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Happy Hanukkah from President Bush

I send greetings to all those celebrating Hanukkah, the festival of lights.

Hanukkah commemorates a victory for freedom and the courage and faith that made it possible. More than 2,000 years ago, the land of ancient Israel was conquered, its sacred Temple was desecrated, and the Jewish people were forbidden to practice their faith. A patriot named Judah Maccabee and his followers rose up against their oppressors to take back Jerusalem.

He did this because this is what patriots do. They rise up against tyranny and oppression where ever it may be found, no matter what form it takes. We fight our war on terror because we're patriots, patriots who have been desecrated. Desecrated patriots who have come to kick ass and spin the dradle, and we're all out of dradles.

I just got a dradle the other day. I thought I should practice a little bit since I'm wishing so many a Happy Hanukkah. Spinning the dradle is a game. The dradle is a four sided toy. On each side is a letter which correspond to instructions. You spin it and it tells you what to do.

I have a litle dradle
I made it out of clay
And when its dry and ready
With dradle i shall play

You see? It's a lot like how I make decisions here in the Oval Office. Sometimes I flip a coin. Sometimes I play rock-paper-scissors. Sometimes I consult the Magic 8 ball. Most of the time I just ask Cheney. heh-heh-heh.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, when the Maccabees returned to reclaim and purify their Holy Temple, the oil used for dedication should have lasted only one day but burned for eight. Every year since then, Jews have celebrated this victory of light over darkness and given thanks for the presence of a just and loving God.

You see, oil was important even way back then. It's just as important today. That's why we're in Iraq. No, not for the oil, to preserve freedom. But did you really want all of that oil in Saddam's hands? I figured while we were there introducing democracy we should at least secure the oil. I know through extensive data mining and NSA wiretapping that most of my supporters drive big, beefy Texas sized SUVs. Well now your oil is in safe hands and it will burn for a thousand years or more at least. By then American automakers should have some of those newfangled Lithium-Ion powered cars for sale. And maybe in a thousand years those cars will fly. Flying cars. That's crazy.

Anyway, as Jewish Americans prepare to light the Hanukkah candles, we are reminded of the many blessings in our lives. The candles' glow has the power to lift our souls, put hope in our hearts, and make our Nation a more compassionable and peaceful place. We pray that those who still live in the darkness of tyranny will someday see the light of freedom. We're certainly going to do all we can to bring that light to you. Have you ever seen a cruise missile drop down a ventilation shaft from 200 miles out after being launched from an AEGIS destroyer? That's the light I'm talking about. We're ready to bring that kind of light to our friends over in Iran if they don't come clean. That will put a nice glow into their night sky. The rubble burns for days.

We ask for God's continued guidance and boundless love and His protection of all those in need during this holiday season.

Laura and I wish all people of the Jewish faith a Happy Hanukkah. And for the rest of you, be patient, Christmas is coming.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Repeal Day

Today, December 5, is known as Repeal Day in drinking circles. On this day lovers of alcohol toast the anniversary of the Twenty-first Amendment's ratification in 1933, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment's prohibition on alcohol.

Prohibition began in 1920 and quickly sank the country into a pit of sin and debauchery. Awakened, America never looked back. Prohibition lasted for thirteen years and is widely seen as a failed social and political experiment and an example of what happens when the government attempts to legislate private behavior. But, in fairness, how much can you really expect from a movement that had the enthusiastic backing of the Klu Klux Klan?

Society in the 1920s was divided up into two camps: dries and wets. Dries would march home after work, tense and stressed out, while wets would stumble out of speakeasies after a night of jazz music and dancing. Word got around. Soon even the dries were begging to get wet, screaming at FDR to repeal the damned Eighteenth amendment. Meanwhile, gangsters such as Al Capone, lived in opulence above the law, presiding over a complex distributing network, laying the foundations for modern day organized crime.

The main problem with Prohibition was that it was extremely hard to enforce in the private lives of people. The desire to have a drink was never addressed, and suppliers found a way to meet it. In the end hard working citizens grew tired of having to sneak around for a a nip here and there. But the movement was not without it's positives. Had we never attempted to outlaw drinking we never would have had the Roaring Twenties, the rise of gangsters, rum running, hooch making, and, of course, the super cool speakeasy.

Speakeasies were underground bars that discreetly served patrons liquor, along with food and music. The term speakeasy originated from bartenders telling patrons to “speak easy” when ordering so as not to be overheard. Speakeasies were often unmarked establishments. Sometimes they were behind or underneath other businesses. Often the only way you could get in the door was with a secret password. How cool is that? On top of this, speakeasies were often funded by organized crime and could be very elaborate and upscale. By the end of the 1920s Al Capone controlled every speakeasy in Chicago.

Prohibition was repealed with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5, 1933. The amendment clearly stated that 1) the Eighteenth Amendment was hereby repealed and 2) happy hour hereby begins at 5:00 and runs until 8:00, closing time will be 2:00 am and not 2:05.

Today Repeal Day is gaining popularity among the drinking public, not just as a celebration of the right to drink but as a toast to freedom. Those who don't like it can just stay home. Soon Repeal Day will take its rightful place among other great American drinking days: St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Halloween. So, if you'll be out tonight, toast one for Repeal Day and freedom of choice.

Stay wet, people!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Stuck in the Past

My first real job was working as a dishwasher at Robin's Restaurant in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I was sixteen and they paid in cash. I hated every moment of that job. The busboys, who back then they were called busboys, now they're called buspersons, or food reduction engineers, would place trays on a conveyor belt and I would grab the plates of half-eaten food, wipe them down, and run them through the dishwasher. Then I would move down to the end of the line and grab a clean batch coming out. This went on at a maddening pace for hours. It was my first taste of the maniacal, Orwellian, clock-punching world awaiting me after high school graduation. I forged two decisions next to that dishwashing machine. One, I would quit this job by faking a broken leg. Two, I promised to go to college.

Oh, but I remember my first pay day. It came from the manager's very own hand, a wad of cash wrapped in an envelope with my name on it. I knew just what I was going to do with it too. I rode the bus downtown to the now defunct Park Plaza Mall, went to the computer game store, and bought Sid Meier's Civilization for $40. It would go on to become one of the greatest computer games of all time. I was riding high. Later that week I went down to The Exclusive Company, a discount electronics store on main street, and bought a pair of floor standing speakers for $80. At home I coupled these speakers with an old turntable receiver I had unearthed in the basement and I ran audio inputs to a five disk CD changer. I joined one of those CD clubs (remember those?) and soon had eight CDs in the mail for only a penny.

Those CDs were:

Billy Joel - Greatest Hits
The Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Tom Cochran - Life is a Highway
Pearl Jam - Ten
Mr. Big - Lean Into It
Blind Melon - Blind Melon
Nirvana - Nevermind
Bryan Adams - So Far So Good

My God, what a mix! Those CDs started, in earnest, an inauspicious, winding, complex love affair with rock music. Soon I was borrowing every album my friends had. I listened to Metallica's Enter Sandman and Megadeth's Countdown to Extinction. I bought Simon and Garfunkel and pilfered my dad's tape collection. Then I found The Beatles.

Two of my friends seemed to own every Beatles album between them. I sampled each one and then went out and bought them all, one at a time. I remember how odd Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sounded to me the first time I listened to it. John Lennon's voice sounded like he had inhaled far too much circus balloon helium. All of the songs were ludicrous. The album was disconcerting and daring and made no sense. But then I re-visted it months later and I realized that was the point of it all, and I loved it. My musical mind was expanding.

That feeling was recreated when I listened to Abbey Road. I can still remember listening to the opening track, "Come Together," as the Ringo tumbled his way around the drum kit, Paul's bass poured through the speakers, and John clapped and hissed an inaudible message ("shoot me") into the microphone.

Here come old flat-top he come grooving up slowly
He got joo-joo eyeball he one holy roller
He got hair down to his knee
Got to be a joker he just do what he please

And then Paul's last bass note just hangs in thin air...

He wear no shoeshine he got toe-jam football
He got monkey finger he shoot coca-cola

He say "I know you, you know me"

One thing I can tell you is you got to be free

Come together
Right now
Over me

It was that chorus that floored me: with the rhythm guitar playing a B minor chord, crashing in through the speakers, moving down to a G and then ending on an A only to vanish into the haze, leaving John all alone to sing "over me." It was amazing. I listened to that song over and over. I can still remember how those notes sounded through those speakers. The song felt smoky, it crept around the room, it boomed into the chorus only to pull back. Like a joker, it did what it pleased. I'd never heard anything like that before.

Fifteen years later I decided to try to re-create this experience in my living room. I wanted a new stereo, but I wanted that old-school sound, none of this five bookshelf speaker plus subwoofer crap. In my day we listened to our rock music through two giant kick ass speakers, the windows rattled, and we liked it. And so on I plunked down $300 for a Harmon/Kardon receiver and $150 for two large Sony floorstanding speakers. They arrived at my door in days. Admittedly, it was not quite as romantic as stuffing the equipment into the back of my 1983 Monte Carlo, driving home, and building the stereo from leftover parts in the basement, but it would have to do.

The box the speakers showed up in was laughably huge. It looked like a coffin. It reminded me of that scene in "A Christmas Story" where they lug a giant crate into the living room which contained a "major award" -- the old man's leg lamp. I unpacked the speakers, which stand four feet high. Like the ones I had in high school they are called "three-ways," which means they have a separate speaker for the tweeter, midrange, and woofer. These new speakers actually had two mid-range drivers. I hooked them into the receiver and then connected my CD/DVD player. I calibrated the speakers, selected the digital encoding to use, and popped in a test CD. To start, I opted for Dire Straits.

With a snap of Pick Wither's snare drum "Sultans of Swing" entered my living room. On the next beat he was joined by the Knopfler brothers on guitar, and John Illsey on bass. Mark began to sing:

You get a shiver in the dark
Its been raining in the park but meantime

It sounded glorious. I sat on my couch and closed my eyes. I tried every CD I could find. Eric Clapton, Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, all sounded fantastic. I was moving back in time. I found my original Counting Crows CD and popped it in. The opening G chord and bass drum thump on "Mr. Jones" was deep and moving. The guitar picking on "Round Here" was crisp. I found my Blind Melon CD and "No Rain" sounded amazing.

All I can say is that my life is pretty plain
I like watchin' the puddles gather rain

Suddenly, all the songs that I once knew, I re-learned through the light of adulthood. The amazing thing about music may be it's ability to move you one way and then another over a distance separated by years.

I just want some one to say to me
I'll always be there when you wake
Ya know I'd like to keep my cheeks dry today
So stay with me and I'll have it made

Everything I threw at the speakers came out the other side wonderfully rich and textured. The shaker on "Billy Jean" came alive. Stewart Copeland's snare cracks on "Wrapped Around your Finger" rang through the room like rifle shots. Third Eye Blind's "How's it Going to be" sounded heart wrenching.

Then it was time for the final test: the Beatles.

I put in Love, George Martin's Beatles compilation soundtrack album which was released last year. The first song on the album is "Because," the magnificent track from the B-side of Abbey Road. This time I could hear the subtle chirp of birds in the background, the fluttering of wings, which I had not heard on this version before on Love. Then the Beatles came in with their incredibly harmony:

Because the world is round
It turns me on

I was floored.

I went ahead to track 18, "Here Comes the Sun," also from Abbey Road. On Love it starts with a subtle intro but then George's now infamous opening guitar picking enters the left speaker and instantly you are back on familiar ground with a chill going down your spine.

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun and I say
It's all right

And then the bass and drums tumble into the song and you are carried off on one of the most incredible musical experiences of the last forty years. How that song can fail to move anyone is beyond me but all of this was not to be outdone by "Come Together." It sounded just as seductive and serpentine as it had fifteen years ago from my $80 speakers. I sat in the middle of the living room and let the whole song wash over me. I could feel every kick on Ringo's bass drum, I could follow Paul's winding bass line, and the chorus was as powerful and troubling as it was on that first listen from my little bedroom.

In my advancing age I tend to romanticize the Beatles, a group which certainly needs no extra heralding. I did not grow up in the 60s, a time of revolution and questioning, a time which the Beatles lent their considerable talents to transforming. I discovered the Beatles on an old cassette tape my dad had stashed away in the garage. But they started a type of revolution for me. Their songs formed a backdrop for my own confusing years, and for my own journey. I am consistently amazed that a group writing in a specific time can reverberate as clearly as they did in their original context.

Sitting down for one last song I popped in my old Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band CD. I skipped to track 13. The subtle strumming of a rhythm guitar. The introduction of a piano, bass, and drums. John's ethereal vocals echoing through the room.

I read the news today oh, boy...
About a lucky man who made the grade

There was a time when everything was a first--your first kiss, your first car, the first time you ever really loved an album. The innocence ushers them in, and you are ushered out. There is a simple pleasure in re-creating, just for a moment, how that all felt. Every morning I try a few new songs, and check out before hauling myself off to work. It is no stretch to say that I have come a long way since sitting in my room at sixteen. I may have changed but those songs haven't. When I dwell in their energy, their joy and sorrow, without apology, like I did years ago, even time has to take a seat and wait.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Poem of the Day

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Skeptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act or rest,
In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast,
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such
Whether he thinks too little or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

-- Alexander Pope

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cheney found to have irregular heartbeat, heart

Washington - Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a history of health problems, was found to have an irregular heartbeat during a doctor's visit on Monday morning, his office said. The diagnosis also led to the discovery of a living, beating, four-chambered heart inside Cheney's chest cavity.

Cheney visited his doctors because of a lingering cough from a cold and during the examination he was found to have an irregular heartbeat, which on further testing was determined to be "atrial fibrillation, an abnormal rhythm involving the upper chambers of the heart," said Megan Mitchell, spokeswoman for Cheney.

"What this means is that the Vice President does indeed have a working, beating heart which pumps warm blood throughout his circulatory system, carrying oxygen to his brain, other vital organs, and cells, just like every human being," Mitchell said. "Everyone can now stop speculating."

Cheney will undergo further evaluation on Monday and if required he will have an electric impulse to the heart delivered, which is standard treatment for this diagnosis, Mitchell said. He would be put under sedation. Doctors are also speculating how Cheney's heart has managed to survive for so long inside Cheney's body.

"Honestly, we're a little curious," said Melinda Fawley, a cardiac surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "It's been well documented that Cheney's central nervous system has, for some time now, been going to great lengths to destroy his heart, or to at least marginalize it. Yet there is his heart, still beating, albeit irregularly, after repeated attempts at arrest."

All of the Vice President's medical procedures are performed under top secret conditions for security reasons. Since the time of his last operation many experts assumed Cheney's heart had simply been removed.

"I can't believe it's still in there, and still beating," said Lou Dubose author of the book Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency. "We were told that his heart had stopped beating years ago and was just taking up space and the Vice President had requested it removed for national security reasons; one less thing for him to worry about health-wise while also eradicating of any trace of a nagging conscious."

The discovery of Cheney's heart has led to troubling philisophical questions for political experts who are now wondering how Cheney could be fully human while slaying the very things that make humans unique--emotion, love, justice, and culture.

"If he has a real heart I have no idea how he did it," Dubose admits. "I guess we have to label him human in a technical sense, but that's about it. And if it's possible to be human without even really needing the heart, well, what's the point of it?"

Review: Raising Sand

Who would have thought the pairing of rock and bluegrass legends would have produced an album so subtly evocative? That's what you end up with on Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's new work "Raising Sand."

Plant, the one-time Led Zeppelin front-man whose fire-alarm vocals launched a thousand imitators (Foreigner, Bad Company, Boston, Def Leppard, AC/DC...) re-invents himself on this album as a wise specter, bringing his formative blues and rock experience to the table with the venerable Krauss, a twenty-time Grammy award winning luminary from the bluegrass-country side of the tracks. But perhaps the real genius behind the album is producer T-Bone Burnett who conceived the pairing of the two singers in the first place. All of it comes together wonderfully well, even for a country/bluegrass ignoramus like myself.

Krauss's characteristic breathy vibrato-less singing is featured on the album. Her vocals come across as angelic, but Plant, once a devil, is right there with her to offer up air-tight harmonies which float in and out of your head like a fall breeze, precisely the emotion the album wishes to create. Their voices run together through your finger tips like the sand in the album's name. Everything is put together in a low-key, almost dreamlike mosaic of western, Celtic, and bluegrass influences and although I am no long-lived fan of any of those genres it is not difficult to appreciate their brilliance on this album.

One of my favorite songs is track two, "Killing the Blues," which rolls across your mind like a lose tumbleweed. Plant and Krauss's harmonies are so soft, so unobtrusive, all you have to do is close your eyes and the images pop to life all on their own.

Leaves were falling / Just like embers
In colors red and gold / they set us on fire
Burning just like a moonbeam / in our eyes
Somebody said they saw me
Swinging the world by the tail
Bouncing over a white cloud
Killing the Blues

The brilliant "Stick with me, Baby" also features a suburb set of vocals from both singers.

Everbody's been talking / they say our love wasn't real
That it would soon be over / that's not the way I feel
But I don't worry, honey / let them say what they may
Come on and stick with me baby
We'll find a way
Yes we'll find a way

And if those words sound familiar to you then maybe you once heard that song on an old Everly Brothers album. That's right.

There are few up-beat numbers on the album, but one of them is track five, "Gone, Gone, Gone" which was released as a single. There is also "Let your Loss be your Lesson" a rockabilly tune that is simply too much fun to deny.

Most of the songs are, of course, about lost love and longing. Krauss herself once said about her song selection that "if they make you feel like crap, you oughta do 'em." If she wants to select songs that everyone can relate to, this album has them but they are displayed here in hues many typical music listeners will never be exposed to. This album does not beat you over the head, but takes you down into the heartache one sublime song at a time and when it's over you want to take the trip all over again, this time with some Southern Comfort in-hand.

I could not help but think of the amusing juxtaposition between Plant, a rock icon, and Krauss, a Dolly Parton-esque belle from Decatur, Illinois. Krauss began studying classical violin when she was five years old. Plant was on his way to becoming an accountant when he became engrossed in the blues. When you put these disparate characters together what they create is an amazing display of intonation and imagery. It is almost enough to make you believe in the all-transforming power of love itself, to bridge the wide gap between an old blues rocker from England, and a fiddle playing beauty from middle America. If they can do it together, it would seem anything is possible. And that is their genius.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Brief History of Thanksgiving

Hello internet friends! It is once again that solemn time of year when we gather with loved ones and offer a thanksgiving for a bountiful year. Or, if you're like me, you can sidetrack the boring parts, stuff your face, and watch Detroit host Green Bay (-3.5) and the Jets march into Dallas (-15) for the late game. You think I'm kidding, Myles Standish? The only funny thing about Thanksgiving is all people don't know about it. I will now attempt to set the record straight.

The first Thanksgiving was not invoked by those bastard New England Pilgrims in 1620 but by settlers at Berkeley Hundred, Virginia on December 4, 1619. Upon arrival to the New World they were ordered by their proprietors to immediately give thanks when they landed. The Pilgrims thought this was such a fabulous idea that they stole it as their own, much the same way the Patriots stole Randy Moss from the lowly Oakland Raiders for a 4th round draft pick. 

Today most school kids are taught that those New Englanders were the first to celebrate Thanksgiving with Squanto and his buddies, all eating turkey with yams and cranberry sauce out of a horn of plenty. But no, my friends! This is at best a public relations stunt and at worst a blatant lie. Those who survived the year ate venison right off the bone like a bunch of half-starved wild dogs, and elderly males of high standing were given a bowl of forged berries on the side, but no potatoes, which the Europeans considered poisonous.

The celebration was a success, becoming a boon to the fledgling greeting card industry. It continued in various forms for the next 150 years until politicians laid their grubby hands on it. Each new president proclaimed a Thanksgiving or Thanksgivings for various events. President Washington declared Thanksgiving for independence from England, President Adams for seizure of the East Coast from the savage native Americans, and President Jackson for the arrival of indoor plumbing to America. However Thanksgiving did not become an official holiday until 1863 when President Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

In the words of our 16th President:

The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. That is, of course, if one chooses to overlook the incredible and incalculable slaughter from this Great Civil War. No doubt the heavenly hosts are still welcoming the honored dead from the fields of Gettysburg to the foot of the Almighty's eternal throne. May they rejoice at the alter of God forever, and be thankful. But I have foreseen a better day, a day in which families will gather and participate in a gluttonous ritual of massive consumption and wanton spectating. And then on the next day, their stomachs bloated from the harvest of the previous year, they will shop until they drop. God bless us all.

And so it went on this way until President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the second-to-last Thursday in November. With the country still in the throes of the Great Depression Roosevelt thought it would give merchants an extra week to sell their goods before Christmas since it was considered bad form to advertise for Christmas before Thanksgiving. 23 states adopted the new policy, while 22 did not, and Texas decided to take both Thursdays as holidays off. In 1941 congress finally settled the matter, declaring that Thanksgiving should be on the fourth Thursday of November, which is usually the last Thursday of the month but less frequently the second-to-last. Roosevelt signed the new bill into law on November 26, 1941.

"Our great national nightmare is over," Roosevelt triumphantly declared. "Thanks to the the brave leadership of congress we can now put this entire Thanksgiving issue to rest. I see nothing but good times ahead. The year 1941 is almost out and we will surely get through December unscathed. I think we have much to be thankful for."

After World War Two the National Turkey Federation began presenting the President with one live turkey. The President would don a blue ceremonial robe with gold bells arranged around a tremendous hem, and, using a sacrificial knife, would slit the live turkey's throat upon the Rose Garden alter. This was to atone for the nation's sins from the previous year. Wiping the bloody knife down the President would then rejoice and declare Thanksgiving Day open to all!

In more recent times the live Turkey has been simply pardoned in accordance with executive powers. President George W. Bush found he enjoyed pardoning so much that in 2003 he began pardoning two turkeys. Both were then flown first class from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles to serve as Grand Marshals in Disney's annual Thanksgiving Day parade. This practice was abandoned a year later when one of the turkeys ran wild through downtown Anaheim and destroyed most of the city.

Even though its more pious observers would deny the validity of such a theory, it is indisputable that Thanksgiving has been constantly evolving over the last 400 years. Now every year we are introduced to a new mutation to include in our celebration. Today we happily incorporate not only the traditional assemblage with family and giving thanks over a meal with turkey but radical modern concepts like Black Friday, the NFL's Thanksgiving Classic, and John Madden's diabolical turducken animal. In the spirit of the original Thanksgiving, multi-culturalism and diversity remains, and each one is welcome to incorporate as many of the practices as he or she sees fit.

For me, it's all about the Tryptophan.

A happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

How I lived to be 405 - by Ming the Clam

A clam dredged up off the coast of Iceland is thought to have been the longest-lived animal discovered. Scientists said the mollusk, an ocean quahog clam, was aged between 405 and 410 years and could offer insights into the secrets of longevity.” -- BBC News

People want to know how I lived so long. Was it good genes? Was it luck? Well, I’ll get to that in a second. But first I’d just like to thank Simon & Schuster for their very generous book deal. The book will have to be published posthumously, of course, but I wanted to tell my story. Hopefully--and Oprah, I hope you are listening—it will be a source of inspiration to many readers.

OK. Living to 405 years old is extremely hard work. And by that I mean you have to learn to blend-in and keep your mouth shut. Believe me, that is much more difficult than it sounds. You live to be 405 by keeping steady under pressure and shunning extremes. That also means avoiding religion. I'm I’m just trying to help. And you don’t want to stick your neck out too far because a fish or some other predator may saw it off. I got to 405 and I crushed the previous known age record, which was 220 years, so I know what I’m talking about here, and what we’re not talking about is how to live an interesting or memorable life. Those things are overrated anyway, as far as I am concerned. I’m a clam. What do you want?

I was four hundred and five years old. Just think about that for a second. They named me Ming after the Chinese dynasty in power when I was born. So, I am Ming the Clam, a mollusk who gained fame in death, not in life. Alright. I can live with that. When I was born Shakespeare was writing plays and New York City didn’t even exist. Internal combustion, steel, and plastics were still hundreds of years off. People sailed around in wooden ships, died from plague, and, when they weren’t dying, generally wished they were dead. I’m not sure if things have improved all that much but for some reason you want to live longer and longer. OK, fine. That’s what I’m here for.

If I may be truthful, things were better back then. I mean for clams, not for people. Oh, sure, I know what you’re thinking: here’s another old clam railing against modern society. Fair enough, but my words also carry a certain weight. I made it to 405. How old are you? I spent many a decade hearkening back to when the water was as clean as the newborn sky. There was no oil and hardly a whiff of refuse. But today? Things have gotten so bad I’m glad they dredged me up and killed me by sectioning off my shell and examining me. It was time. I had a good run. I’m not bitter.

But how do you live to be 405? It’s not about the money. Clams don’t care about money. My book deal isn’t about the money. What would I do with it anyway? I’m dead. All of the proceeds are going to Help the Aged, a UK based charity, dedicated to studying quahog longevity. I guess you could say they want to know what made me tick. Or, how I was able to keep ticking for so long. Well, I’d still be ticking if I hadn’t been dredged up and sectioned off. Maybe there’s a lesson there: don’t get dredged. Ah, but the point I was trying to make is this: there’s more to life than money. Believe me, I heard every cliché in the book. I know them all. But that one was around before me and I think it’s true.

I had a nice life down there on the seabed. I had my friends, my family and my health. What else could I ask for? That’s how you live to be 405: enjoy what you have. It’s another cliché but it’s true. We clams never venture very far. Everything we need is right there. You can’t live to be 405 by worrying about everything all the time. What ever is going to happen is going to happen and you can’t control it. One day I was a clam at the bottom of the ocean. The next I was dredged and now I am dead. You just have to roll with it.

It’s not so bad being dead. Truthfully, I was a little bored after 405 years. I had been eating the same food since Guy Fawkes and there was no end in sight. I’m not bitter. I’m here to help. Just read my book, and heed my warnings. All glory is fleeting. Beware the ides of March. And you can, really, have too much of a good thing. Take frosting for example. It’s a good thing, but if you eat a whole can you’ll wish you were dead. Sometimes I wished I was dead, and now I am. Beware what you wish for. But I’m not bitter. I’m dead, but not bitter. I’ll be honest, you do a lot of thinking when you spend 405 years on the bottom of the ocean. I’ve got a lot to say and it’ll all be in my book, I promise, but I’ll tell you this much: I never thought I’d end up here. Life is a crazy thing.

OK, I'm just about out of time, but remember: it’s hard not to be cynical, but try your best. And relax. OK? You only get so many heartbeats in a lifetime. Try not to waste them on things you don’t really understand or can’t control. Why is everyone worried about God, anyway? How much trouble has that caused? I don’t know what He wants, but I’ll bet He wants you to be kind. And, anyway, you don’t live to be 405 by guessing someone else’s plans. That much I know for sure. Just do the best you can, and let life come to you. You have to do that when you’re a clam, and I lived to be 405. There’s a lesson there. We have a saying back where I come from: pondering divine intentions is a good way to get your neck sawed off by a fish. Think about it. And be kind.