September 11, 2008

The Only 9/11 You'll Ever Need

9/11. No matter where we were or what we were doing on that day, none of us can ever forget what it meant. The horror of seeing the World Trade Center in flames, the shock of our newfound vulnerability to those who hate us, our sympathy for the victims and our admiration for those who put their lives on the line to save them...and our undying resolve to move forward together to bring those responsible to justice. Now, on this anniversary, as on all anniversaries future and past, we make the solemn vow -- Never Forget.

Yes, the collective feeling inspired by 9/11 belongs to all Americans, and it will last a lifetime. But that doesn't mean it's "one-9/11-fits-all!" Now, on the seventh anniversary of the most deadly attack on US soil, we bring to you --


My911. With all the power you've come to expect from the 9/11 brand, but now with the flexibility to match even the most 9/11-demanding lifestyle.

Do you appreciate the sense of resolve that the deaths of 3,000 victims gave you and your leaders, but wish the victims themselves had been a little more deserving? My911 is the answer. With one click of the mouse, you can change the full list of 3,000 names -- of stock traders, maintenance staff and first responders -- to be the editorial staff of Mother Jones magazine. Now, when the remaining liberals and east-coast elites carp about the administration's systematic lack of preparedness for 9/11, you can enjoy a shiver of schadenfreude.

As a bonus, New York's first responders need not risk their own lives for fifth columnists such as these. Instead of dying on that day and slowly sickening over the years to follow, as happened on the conventional 9/11 -- these heroes can stay safe in their fire stations and police stations and emergency rooms, secure in the knowledge that a blow has been struck against America's enemies.

As a safety feature, My911 lets you customize all first responders to be immune to airborne toxins. This way, none of them will sicken -- and thus be ungrateful when they are denied medical coverage for their conditions. But this is probably overdoing it. After all, any first responder is welcome in the emergency room at any time. In reality, none of them lack medical coverage.

But not only can you save the lives of those worth saving. For the first time ever, My911 gives you the power to say "I told you so!"

Sure -- just like everyone else, you rallied around the President when he vowed to take down the imminent threat of Saddam Hussein -- before he made an even worse attack on us. You cheered when Baghdad fell, and you cheered when we shipped demonstrators into Baghdad to cheer when we pulled down Saddam's statue.

But then, every claim the President made turned out to be false. Worse, we were stuck in Iraq for years to come, overextended and unable to deal effectively with genuine threats to our security. Oops.

But wait! It's My911, here to rescue you and everyone you love from the crumbling tower of your own hubris!

With My911, there's no need for the mushroom cloud of all that Iraqi hot air to leave a smoking gun of embarrassment in your life. My911 has an embarrassment-removal feature that enables you to go back in time, so you can bury all the WMD you want anyplace you want. Now, when they dig up Saddam's army of atomic Republican Guards, slumbering in burqas of depleted uranium, only awaiting the command "Jihad!" to awake and lay waste to the world -- now you can say "I told you so."

If you want to go all the way, you can even erase the unfinished chemical plant that US firm Bechtel contracted to build in Iraq after the gassing of all those Kurds in 1988. Now, San-Francisco-based Bechtel need never face the shame of having threatened to evade the sanctions against Iraq which Congress was on the point of signing into law -- because none of it ever happened! With a clean slate, Bechtel can now accept all those no-bid Iraq contracts with no doubt as to the purity of its intentions.

Talk about your San Francisco values!

But why reverse-engineer Iraq when you can edit al-Qaeda? My911 is there to help. Prior to 9/11, Osama bin Laden and his cohorts complained of the American presence in Saudi Arabia -- in effect, an army of infidels occupying the Muslim holy land. In fact, al-Qaeda did more than complain -- they vowed to strike back.

But now, you can just waft our pre-9/11 troops out of Saudi Arabia and plop them down in Iraq. Now we win the war on terror before we've even had to fight it! And not least, Osama bin Laden's complaints have been cleansed of any taint of legitimacy. Now, if he ever attacks us again, we can have the comfort of knowing that it's truly because he hates our freedom.

Are you a leader in one of our two major political parties -- at least, the only one of the two parties that counts? Want to hold a convention in St. Paul Minnesota to select a presidential nominee, and want a high level of security -- but worry that having police make warrantless raids on organizations with names like "Food Not Bombs" will send the wrong message? Even if it's generally agreed that terrorists enjoy food?

That's a lot of responsibility, but now you can master it. My911 crashes through the door of political discourse, armed with a concussion grenade of free expression. My911 can create a custom-tailored video of the finest moments of your 9/11 -- moments powerful enough to put the opposition on the ground with its hands behind its head, all in the cause of sound public policy. Because unless you show a montage of suffering and destruction, how will Americans know you're on their side?

In fact, there's nothing that My911 can't do for you. Unhappy that the Afghan regime we've fought to preserve produces ninety percent of the world's heroin? Not to worry -- you're just a few keystrokes away from a joint announcement from the DOE and the FDA that poppies are the revolutionary biofuel of the future -- second only to terrorists themselves. Just imagine -- the freedom of the open road, powered by the corpses of those who hate it!

Unhappy that our troops are stuck in Iraq for tour after tour, enduring merciless heat? Just tell My911 to say "No" to global warming and get the next Ice Age going. Then take that thickening Arctic polar cap and ship it to Iraq, where it can do some good. At last, we can put those transportation biofuels to worthy use -- and our troops can be proud of their new responsibilities, guarding polar bears from extinction!

Irked at the shortsightedness of the bygone British Empire, which drew the Afghanistan/Pakistan border straight through the Pashtun tribal lands -- thus making the border porous and indefensible against modern-day evildoers? My911 can not only change 9/11 -- it can give you a whole new Fourth of July. Now, thanks to My911, instead of just having declared our independence from Britain, we conquered them. In one day. And drew the borders of their empire, and all world's countries, where they should have damn well been drawn in the first place.

My911. The only 9/11 you'll ever need.

July 24, 2007

On the culturally dictated applications of sticking old brains into new skulls

In the future:

Heads will become viewed less as repositories of the soul or consciousness, and more as recycling bins.

Skulls will become hinged, much like foot-operated trash cans. Of course, the skulls will literally be foot-operated.

As a result, slow dancing will become even riskier.

As usual, this development will be motivated by the defense and entertainment industries. The military will fund development of hinged skulls ostensibly to have resilient new bodies for the brains of top commanders -- along with their guts. However, the skulls will be used mainly by hawkish congressmen who desire credit for not exempting their children from war service. Before any brave congresschildren ship out for duty, their cortexes will be secretly rescued -- and the bodies will ship out with the brains of illegal immigrants instead.

As repayment for this generosity, the sons and daughters will work on their parents' home renovations and landscaping projects. Meanwhile, the sudden upsurge in non-English-speaking recruits will have no measurable effect on the ability of officers to communicate with their men.

On the entertainment side, Hollywood superstars will rush to take advantage of hinged skulls. Actors who have been typecast and want a fresh start will exchange brains with drama students who are impatient for a public. And stars who are just plain tired of fame will change brains with housepets.

As a result, acting will much more frequently be described as "uneven".

On the professional-sports end, eager children will sign up to exchange brains with their favorite basketball stars. However, the kids will soon realize that, even though their allowances get bigger, every day is just like PE. Minus the bathroom breaks.

For a while, though, trading cards will display the faces of star kindergarten dribblers. Autographs in flesh-colored crayon will drive auction prices through the roof.

In the end, the demographic with the highest demand for brain-exchange service will be aging bachelors. However, their only takers will be other aging bachelors.

Meanwhile, stem-cell researches will think all this is silly. As far as they're concerned, a brain isn't something you swap out -- it's something you grow into.

July 10, 2007

Mad Science and Other Miracles

Last weekend I got to see Young Frankenstein. I got to see it at the same movie palace I originally saw it in when it first came out, thirty-three years ago.

Yes. I am that old.

After I stopped marveling at the fact that every line of dialogue in that film has been burned into my midbrain for thirty-three years (hey, no wonder I never have room for anything else), and then after I stopped wondering how many people on the screen are now dead (and how many have been reanimated), I started to wonder about Dr. Frankenstein himself.

Whenever the man dies, he leaves exactly one heir. This makes probate a snap, but it could also make for some interesting family dynamics. How, after all, would Frankenstein Junior feel about having no mother, yet suddenly gaining a seven-and-a-half-foot-tall younger brother? And then gaining a six-foot younger sister the younger brother wanted to marry? Whom the Doctor disowned, and then followed all over the world? Junior would gain some interesting assumptions about family values.

He would never be able to make his own real sister. He would never even get one for Christmas. But at least he and Igor could make sweet, sweet heirs together.

Perhaps, ironically, we have to chalk up Dr. Frankenstein's production of a single heir to a failure of imagination. After all, the man could make as many heirs as he wanted.

Imagine a reading of the Frankenstein will, attended by a dozen contentious, squabbling Creatures. Which Creature would get Dr. Frankenstein's brain? Why -- the head of the household, of course. And which Creature would get the hands? Probably whichever one had become a secret criminal mastermind and needed a new set of prints to throw off the CSIs. And so on.

As the will was being read, and each Creature got something it didn't realize it had needed, the Creatures' former rivalries would be forgotten. All scars would be mended in the healing balm of the late Doctor's benevolence. For the first time they would stop squabbling about who gotten the choicest body parts or the most electricity -- and come together, as a family.

Then they would marry each other.

Lately people have been giving me things. This is a great way to remind me I have a mailing address.

My friend Dawn sent me a couple issues of Collier's. These are autobiographical graphic novels in booklet form, written and drawn by David Collier. The booklets contain vignettes about the things you did and the people you knew, if you were on the fringes of the punk scene in early-eighties Toronto.

Oh, the things you didn't know about yourself!

The issues Dawn sent me are homages to people who are now deceased. Each panel is a sort of tableau, containing a title with a narrative point and then a homely little picture to illustrate or foil the point. This is how memory works: you remember a split-second scene or a several-second anecdote, which you then fit into whatever narrative you've decided your life is. If you're lucky, you don't have to work too hard to make things fit.

One of my favorite scenes:

  • Caption: He was a great wellspring of unsolicited advice.

  • Panel: "Never ever draw another picture like that again!"

Good stuff. Thank you, Dawn.

Other things I've been given:

My family talks a lot about what's on HBO. To help me make sense of more than forty percent of their conversations, my parents help me watch some of the HBO series.

The latest offering is John From Cincinnati. So far it's fascinating. It's a sort of Being There for surfer families. It contains possible divine intervention, so it's rated TV-MA.

So far there have been no will-reading scenes of lawyers divvying up the divine intervention to mutually resentful family members, but I remain hopeful. I want to see if the surfer grandson gets the sun to stand still so he can finish his promo video for potential sponsors, thereby avenging himself on the family members who scoffed at his lack of marketability.

Oh -- I started up a MySpace page. For those of you who wonder why this weblog contains no pictures of me, visit MySpace to find out.

Then be my friend, won't you?

For a while, everyone told me that fire was my friend. Then they'd blame me when I'd burn my thumb and go on a rampage. They'd actually wave torches in my face, claiming they were here as allies to help fire confront me about my behavior.

As you can imagine, we weren't able to resolve our differences. I've been blocked from fire's MySpace page, but I've stayed in the loop enough to hear that fire has been blackballed from several national forests.

I bet you're easier to get along with than that.

September 19, 2006

The Future of Eating

People are always saying, Wow, fast food is fast! But how can we make it faster?

Someday, someone really smart will realize that valuable time is lost killing live food before it can be cooked and served on a bun. They will briefly consider serving live food, but then will discard that option in favor of a solution with greater commercial potential. One that will make customers, shareholders and PETA happy. The slogan will be: "Patty Palace. Where we don't kill our patties 'cause they're already dead."

I think you know where this is going.

Zombie cows.

I know it sounds strange, but in the future everything is strange. Just hear me out.

Face it -- you just can't mistreat a zombie cow. You can keep it in the smallest pen imaginable, and it won't care -- or lose muscle tone. You can inject it with all the antibiotics and bovine growth hormone you want, and it will have no effect. But there wouldn't be a point. The cow can't get sick because it's dead.

One thing the cow WILL do is get hungry. Fortunately, like now, you can feed it other ground-up cows. In fact, this is the only food it is likely to eat. But unlike now, the zombie cow has no chance of going mad.

And the taste? Just like dead cow that used to be alive!

There is no downside.

Except, once management has tasted the benefits of an undead food source, they will start to consider the benefits of an undead labor pool as well.

Chained to a dairy-treat dispenser, your average zombie will perform at least as well as your average high-schooler. But instead of being deadened by raging hormones, the zombies will be deadened by raging death.

One benefit of raging death is that it leads to nonexistent turnover among employees, along with low probability of sex in the walk-in freezer.

Unlike teenagers, undead employees don't rebel. Every zombie, no matter how long or lush its hair, is equally willing to wear a hairnet. This will make common health code violations a thing of the past.

If your zombie employees started off as regular teenage employees, they'll even provide their own uniform!

And we won't even mention the pay that zombies are willing to work for. Or the food.

Of course, zombie line cooks will present some small danger to customers. If you're smart, you don't want your customers to accidentally become part of your zombie-food supply chain! At least the customers who have the money to keep coming back.

Here's where a few well-placed campaign contributions can work real magic. Sprinkle a little zombie dust, and soon enough Congress will establish a fund to match medical costs for any millionaire who opts to have his skull replaced with titanium.

Sure, it seems corrupt at first whiff. But don't think of it as pork. Think of it as a way for our nation's most productive citizens to avoid becoming the OTHER white meat.

Or, if you like, think of it as trickle-down health care. The better protected the brains of our nation's best are, the better protected everyone else will be from having to need their own brains.

But the problem remains -- how do you feed your undead workforce? The solution will cost just a few more contributions to your representative's warchest.

Suddenly, bankruptcy reform will become the topic of the day. To prevent abuse of the system, a law will be passed which mandates that anyone filing for bankruptcy must enter a lottery in which they and their immediate family become eligible to feed their brains to undead-American workers. Workers who, unlike the bankruptcy filers, keep this nation functioning.

Really, it's the most humane solution. Those bankruptcy seekers are pretty much going to be denied anyway. If the family breadwinner refuses to straighten up and succeed like a real American, what prospects do his family have? This way they will at least serve a vital cause.

Eventually, US lawmakers will adopt a softer stance, and vote to outsource zombie-food production to China. Since Chinese authorities are currently hard-pressed to enforce the "one child per family" rule, they are likely to welcome the opportunity to ship extraneous newborn citizens overseas. Especially girl citizens. The future of China can only be glorious if eighty percent of the future is male.

But some problems will always be with us. For every hardworking zombie suppurating his "special sauce" onto an almost-completed Bitey Burger, there will be at least ten illegal immigrants looking to steal that job. Like now, the best solution will be to build a wall on the border. A wall to protect our hardworking undead-Americans from the greed and desperation of the living. Especially the living who are different from us.

September 14, 2006

Survey #1

I'm home sick at the moment. So this seems like a good time to invite the first comments ever on this weblog, now that it has a comments feature. Here's a survey for y'all. Enjoy, but don't get too worked up about it.

Question 1: What's the weirdest occupation for someone to be called out of retirement from?

In the movies, some emergency is always causing some rogue physicist or profiler to be called out of retirement, to work grudgingly with the former coworkers who prompted his departure in the first place. But does this ever happen with, say, rogue pet groomers?

Question 2: What emergency would call the ____________ from Question 1 out of retirement?

Question 3: What job would the retired ____________ be leaving to go back to his/her old job? Would they miss him/her?

Question 4: Once back at the old job, would he or she fall in love? Because, really, that's all that matters.

Question 5: Oh, right. The emergency. How'd that work out for everybody?

September 12, 2006

Intrinsic worth

Over on the alt.slack Usenet newsgroup, Reverend Ivan Stang mentioned the possibility of trade with the bottled city of Kandor.

This got me thinking. What kind of currency would a bottled city have?


Because -- really, what else is there?

This isn't as farfetched as it sounds. In some ways, this system is a lot like ours. For example, in the nineties Kandor had a tech bubble too.

Like in our world, Kandorians are usually encouraged to invest in one bubble at a time. After all, a bubble represents a whole New Economy that will only get bigger and bigger! Buy shares now, because the stock will split for sure!

Like for us, this approach works until it doesn't.

Once a bubble has popped, everyone gets on their soapboxes about how silly the whole thing is. Meanwhile, speculators have already started speculating whether or not there'll be another bubble, and how much its presence or absence will be worth.

And then there are always a few sensible folks who claim the popping of the bubble is proof that the world is flat.

It always amazes me what people will consider as having intrinsic worth. For example, gold. You can't eat it, breathe it, or build anything out of it -- except a little protective band for the base of your third left-hand finger. This is apparently what you get in exchange for marriage: reasonable protection for a tiny portion of your anatomy.

Gold has two advantages that I can see: it's shiny, and it's heavy enough that you can't carry very much of it. This way, if you're out jogging and get attacked by bandits, they can only make off with so much of your wealth.

But you know what else has the twin virtues of sheen and weight? A wet whale! Where's your intrinsic worth now, huh? Then again, maybe this explains why whale snot has a fancy name -- ambergris -- and fetches twenty bucks a gram.

June 18, 2005

Will Gnaw Brains For Food

Zombie movies are the new hip thing. Filmmakers from every vault have rushed to join the feeding frenzy. Even the original brain-eater, George Romero, has risen once again.

If you're a burgeoning auteur looking to steal some scraps from this particular meat wagon, but you're stuck for something to distinguish your own cinematic cadaver from the rest of the undead herd, here's an idea. The legend of John Henry makes an excellent beginning for a zombie flick.

Our story opens on John Henry, who has just worked himself to death digging a tunnel faster than a steam shovel. Now he is laid to rest in the tunnel he dug with his own hands.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, the Venus orbiter Steam Shovel V returns to Earth. It crashes, blanketing the atmosphere with strange rays. Soon, John Henry rises from the dead and digs himself out of his tunnel. And this time, no mechanical device can stop him.

Shambling across the countryside, John Henry catches and devours unwitting steam engines. One group of panicked locomotives barricade themselves inside a roundhouse, hoping to wait out the chaos. But they must blow their whistles, which soon attracts more trouble than they can handle.

Alternately, if you're a filmmaker of conscience and want the story to play out against a backdrop of evil corporatism: John Henry could return from the dead as an unstoppable strip miner. Risen from the grave with the strength of ten cadavers, he shears off entire West Virginia mountaintops to get at the ore beneath.

In response, mining firms sue for lost projected revenue, seeking damages equivalent to the profit they would have made if each lost mountaintop had been made of platinum. John Henry makes an abortive attempt to tunnel into the CEOs' skulls, in search for any nuggets of value. But he is caught, tried, and sentenced to dig ore for the CEOs' golden parachutes.

This is cinematic gold, people, strip-mined straight from my brain. Wouldn't you like to own the mineral rights? At the very least, the fact that I came up with it proves that I do have lots and lots of brains. Any takers?

March 29, 2004

The Fog of War

How do you make a zombie? You start with a human being. Then you peel away everything that isn't a zombie.

If it's not too late to discuss the Academy Awards, I must say I'm happy that The Fog of War won the Oscar for best documentary. I'm a longtime fan of John Carpenter's work, and it's great that he's finally getting the recognition he deserves. Albeit twenty-four years too late.

However, despite my familiarity with Carpenter's filmography, I was surprised to learn that The Fog of War is a documentary. That the paralytic malaise which crept over late-seventies America took physical form as a dense wall of fog. And that the fog hid such terrible secrets about our nation's recent past.

I'll never forget the sight of Adrienne Barbeau trapped on the roof of the American embassy, with no hope of escape from her pursuers. And how her eyes bulged as she realized who her pursuers were, and what terrible justice they were about to exact.

Yes -- the members of Lyndon Johnson's cabinet had shambled forth from the grave. And they hungered. They hungered for revenge against the peacemongering, pill-popping, thrill-copping, me-first Americans who had stabbed them in the back and robbed their own country of victory in Vietnam.

I'll never forget how Adrienne grabbed the phone to call for help, only to drop it in horror as she realized that the rotting corpse of J. Edgar Hoover had given her a wiretap -- from Hell!

Great moments indeed. However, if this was all there is to The Fog of War, it would not have deserved the Oscar. But John Carpenter, despite the dark subject matter of his films, has never descended to cheap nihilism. Ultimately, his movie shows us that the long and terrible night of the seventies came to a close, and a shining sun called Reagan rose to purify the land. To roll back the soupy fog of affirmative-action legislation that was choking the life out of our principles. Reagan dispelled that dark nonsense, and taught us that America had never been racist and never would be. That, far from being victims, blacks had taken the lead in defending their country in Vietnam -- while white liberals at home were busy stabbing them in the back.

For showing us the truth, John Carpenter deserves the Academy's Oscar, and the gratitude of all America. After all -- Jesus may have been a carpenter, but John is the Carpenter.

January 04, 2004

Human Interest

Leeza: And now, on the lighter side of today's headlines -- a Cleveland man who's trapped in his own chimney! For more on this story, we go live to Brock Hedlisgoy in Cleveland. Brock?

Brock: Thanks, Leeza. If you think you're regretting the holiday glut, just take a look at the inside of this chimney! It must be having a few holiday regrets right now! Regrets that are heartily shared by its owner, Mr. Gus Gaspasser. Hello, Mr. Gaspasser?

Gus: Just Gus, Mr. Hedlisgoy.

Brock: Ha ha! Of course. Your last name doesn't really apply to the current situation, since your fireplace isn't fed by natural gas.

Gus: No.

Brock: And, in addition, you're not being passed. Is that correct?

Gus: That's correct. I'm completely unable to move up or down.

Brock: Now tell us, Gus. How did you come to be in such a position? Were you creeping down the chimney to delight your gleaming-eyed tots with a visit from Saint Nick?

Gus: No, Mr. Hedlisgoy. Unfortunately, I'm childless.

Brock: Were you creeping down the chimney to delight your spouse with a visit from some consumer-age patron saint of post-holiday bargains?

Gus: Again, no. I'm unmarried.

Brock: Which explains why you're stuck -- but not why you're stuck in a chimney. Can you tell us why?

Gus: Well, Brock, I thought I heard my cat meowing in here, so I went to take a look.

Brock: And was your cat in the chimney?

Gus: I couldn't say. The meowing stopped, and I didn't think to bring a flashlight.

Brock: So, one might say you couldn't find your own cat with two hands and a flashlight?

Gus: I tell you, Brock. I wish my cat did have two hands, so that whereever he is, he might consider my plight and dial 911.

Brock: But then he wouldn't be able to give the emergency responders any specific information.

Gus: No. They would have to trace the call.

Brock: So tell me, Gus. How does your situation affect your employability?

Gus: Not as much as you might think. My iPaq lets me telecommute, but it's hard to write email with my arms pinned. I also have a company cell phone, but I can only use it for business calls.

Brock: So you can't call 911.

Gus: In the meantime, for meetings with clients, I do a conference call and they put me on speakerphone. But it's getting hard to come up with excuses for why I can't give my clients the proper amount of face time. Being stuck in a chimney kind of undercuts the reputation I've cultivated at the office: team player, self-starter, that kind of thing.

Brock: Whereas now you'd need some starter fluid to really get going.

Gus: Exactly. The upshot is, my managers decided I need closer supervision. So periodically someone calls to check my progress on key deals and point out what I'm doing wrong. I'm walking a tightrope.

Brock: It's a long way down.

Gus: For a safety net, I'm trying to close this deal with Monsanto. Instead of your regular chimney sweeps who need special equipment, they're looking to cut overhead by genetically engineering chimney sweeps who come equipped with their own bristles.

Brock: And who live on soot.

Gus: Right. They say my beard shows promise as a new scouring fiber. But they want to make the bristles rotate to give it true scrubbing action.

Brock: On the lighter side, what does a man stuck in a chimney do to pass the time? What thoughts go through his mind?

Gus: I spend a lot of time thinking about gravity, and also the coefficient of friction. I also dwell, perhaps to an unhealthy degree, on those golden days when I had the use of my limbs.

As it gets longer since I showered, and I get more tightly wedged in what's basically a pipe, I think about oil pipelines. You know Bechtel?

Brock: Not personally.

Gus: Back in 1988, after Chemical Ali gassed thousands of Kurds, the US planned to cut political and economic ties to Iraq. At the time, Bechtel was conducting negotiations to build an oil pipeline in Iraq, and they pressured the Reagan administration not to cut ties. And now, Bechtel has been awarded money out of the public coffers to build that pipeline. Really, when it comes down to it, the powers-that-be view us all as natural resources to be bought, piped, and exploited.

Brock: You realize, Mr. Gaspasser, that we'll have to edit that out in post-production.

Gus: I know. I'm sorry.

Brock: So, what else do you think about?

Gus: The Lord of the Rings.

Brock: Oh, LOTR3?

Gus: I think about furnaces and vents and smoke a lot. I wonder if, being stuck here, I've reached the end of a quest to my own personal Mount Doom. I wonder if I must now cast some burden into the fire, but am held back from doing so by my own greed and gluttony.

Brock: Well, it never hurts to lose a few pounds.

Gus: Also, Middle Earth. Why's it called that? What's it in the middle of?

Brock: I see.

Gus: And your co-anchor Leeza. If she was a recording artist instead of a newscaster, would she change her name to Lihz'zaa? And would the name change earn her a Grammy?

Brock: Well, Leeza, there you have it. Will Gus' mind crack under the weight of his predicament? Will he be forced to eat his cat to stay alive -- or will his cat get him first? And will his gut shrink enough for him to pop out in time to catch LOTR3 in theaters? Will the movie whet his anticipation for the hours and hours of extras on the DVD version? And in the meantime, will he try to fill the gap by purchasing any product emblazoned with the film's logo?

Gus: Logo, son of Drogo. Ha!

Brock: Will Gus escape in time to see LOTR3 sweep the Oscars, much like a professional chimney sweep wiping the filth from an average guy's fireplace? Not if Monsanto has anything to say about it! Now back to you, Leeza.

Leeza: Thank you Brock. Next, a man in imminent danger of losing his thumbs! How it happened, and how you can keep your own toes a-tappin' and fingers a-snappin'! Also, Kiwis. It turns out they can make movies, but why do they talk so funny? Stay tuned.

November 30, 2003

Lost Weekends and Other Special Occasions

If you're still looking for that perfect Thanksgiving movie to share with your loved ones, but want to avoid the cliché-ridden dysfunctional families who populate big-studio releases, I wholeheartedly recommend the indie effort Blood Freak.

It's the heartwarming story of a lone biker who, on Thanksgiving Eve, meets some pushers. Though the biker is a stranger, the pushers invite him into their home, and offer him a heaping platter of homemade PCP. But the biker isn't grateful for what he's been given, and refuses to empty his plate -- even though the world is full of starving children who would be happy to take his place.

The biker gets his just desserts when he grows a giant turkey head. Then, as a mutant turkey, he's forced to eat people for Thanksgiving! However, the mutant turkey still has the brain of a lone biker, so he stays literate. Furthermore, he finds redemption when he discovers the true meaning of Thanksgiving, and writes thank-you notes to the families of the victims who have provided his bounty.

No matter who you are, the film has a heartwarming lesson for you. Even if you're a mutant turkey, the movie can show you how not to be a cold turkey.

Many people view Alzheimer's as a disease. I view it as an opportunity.

One symptom of Alzheimer's is the inability to do simple math. This is an excellent reason not to tip your waiter. And it bears the FDA stamp of approval -- as the recommended way to keep pace with the rising cost of prescription drugs.

Another Alzheimer's symptom is the tendency to wander around in the street. This is an excellent opportunity to regain your lost youth. If, back in '23, you were hot enough to stop traffic -- you can do so again! Or, even if you weren't -- you can finally do what your mama told you and go play in traffic. Whether you play Kick The Can, or kick the bucket -- it's all an adventure.

Or, if you always wanted to be a rebel but never figured out how to express your contempt for societal norms, here's your chance. Mama always told you never to accept rides from strangers. But now, thanks to Alzheimer's, everyone is a stranger -- and every destination is unknown. The romance of the road awaits you!

Last and most important -- Alzheimer's is the best reason to stop treating your family members as loved ones, and see them for what they really are: meddling, condescending strangers who want to take everything away from you.

It may be hard to drop the kindly grandmother act. But it's essential that you start screaming and throwing things at people who protest that they love you, that they're your son or daughter or whoever and that they only assumed power of attorney for your own good. You see -- in this new, post-9/11 world, we cannot afford the luxury of innocence. We must face some unpleasant truths. It may hard to accept the fact that your so-called loved ones are terrorists -- but your willingness to give them the benefit of the doubt is precisely what makes them so dangerous.

Luckily, our current administration has recognized this threat and taken firm steps to deal with it. Against all odds, they corralled those flighty fillies in Congress, and made them pass the Patriarch Act into law. They may not realize it, but it was for their own good -- and yours too.

Under the new law, the only man who can assume power of attorney for you is the Attorney General. Anyone else who tries to do so is undermining your homeland security and taking away your freedom of choice. So heed the voice of Papa Ashcroft. Turn your family in. Stand up on your own two walkers and become your own primary caregiver. You literally can't afford not to.

November 13, 2003

Where There's a Landfill, There's a Way

Ask me a question, and I'll give you the right answer. It won't always be the real answer. But trust me. You won't miss a thing.

For all my carrying on and huggermuggery in my last post about Lost In Translation, I forgot to say what really I wanted to say about it. Here it is.

A contemporary of J.S. Bach's, I think, said that Bach could play the pipe organ better with his feet than other organists could play with their hands. You could make the same claim for Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray. They manage to say more with their feet than other actors say with their whole bodies. Watch the movie and you'll see what I mean. (Although having bodies to go along with their feet does add emotional credibility to their performances).

I've ragged too much on Japan. Sure, the Japanese have strange fixations, like the filthiness of feet. If they accidentally throw their socks in the regular clothes washer, it's contaminated and they have to buy a new one. With universally accepted social stigmas like that, it's almost easier just to knit a hair shirt for your feet and walk from town to town, denying the flesh by offering to help people move their furniture and then dropping it on your toes. But me! I have cleanliness issues that put Japanese hoofers to shame.

I realized this during last weekend's total lunar eclipse. As I watched the Earth's shadow creep across the moon, it occurred to me that here was firsthand evidence of Earth doing something I've suspected it of doing all along. Now I know -- Earth leaves a big brown stain on the universe.

You'd think that for the billions of stars in each of the billions of galaxies out there, SETI -- the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence -- would have picked up some signals. Interstellar ultimata for us humans to stop splitting atoms before we split the universe, maybe. But no, nothing. All SETI hears are military satellites chatting up the orbiting remains of Timothy Leary. What went wrong?

Here's my theory. Any broadcasts would be made by technologically advanced societies. By their progressive nature, these societies produce lots of garbage. After just one century of human progress, think of all the landfills choked with now-useless IBM XT computers and Loverboy albums. Now for the aliens, multiply that century of progress by a thousand -- and imagine all that's come and gone. All the fads that were popular just two millennia ago, like putting on the tentacle-warmers and power-flaggellating to Richard Simmons, are out of style. Really, all those self-help books were fine while the Hive-Mind was in its larval stage -- but now they're useless to a perfect group consciousness. Alan Bloom is so much more sophisticated, don't you think? So into the collective wastebasket they go.

It's easy to see that any civilization capable of broadcasting powerful signals across thousands of light-years has already drowned in its own refuse.

Either that, or the alien garbage itself becomes the most successful life-form on the planet. Maybe that's why UFOs only abduct white trash.

October 26, 2003

Lost In Translation

One of her ambitions was to own a watch on which she could change the time whenever she wanted to (which according to her was what Time was meant for in the first place).
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

...God...counts minutes and pennies...
-- Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

An extra hour gained, Daylight Savings Time lost. Not to be found again for five months, along with most of the daylight.

I shouldn't gripe. The extra hour gives me hope for the future. Hope that time isn't as rigid and unforgiving as I think it is. Hope that the hours I sacrifice day after day in defense of the Patrie aren't really sacrificed, but transferred to some kind of Swiss account -- to be withdrawn once I'm wise enough to know how to use them. And most of all -- hope that events like sleep, and reunions, and get-togethers with friends, might happen not just after the appropriate number of hours or weeks or years has passed -- but when I really need them to happen.

As of now, I've seen Lost In Translation three times. None of those times, appropriately, was anywhere near my hometown. I'd drive to a town I knew nothing about, except the directions to the theater. See the movie. Be enchanted. Drive home. Fail to be enchanted. Throw myself into any activity that promised temporary forgetfulness of my lack of enchantment. Repeat.

At first I thought Lost In Translation was sweet-natured. But now I wonder. The film manages to say many things, clearly and forcefully, about how little you can hope for from communication on any level.

Damn near anything can get lost in translation. Like cover tunes. Any one-calorie cover band can take a respected standard, run it through the trash compactor, and claim that the resultant soggy multicolored cube is the same song by the same artist. Just tightened up. Then add alcohol, plus an audience that doesn't realize they have anywhere else to go. Fail to stir vigorously.

Here's something that the movie suggests got lost on the way to Japan: the entire point of Western consumer culture. Here's the deal. In return for hogging the world's resources, we in the West promote progress through competition. This is for the ultimate betterment of humanity. Anyone who works for it can have a higher standard of living, once they finally get a few minutes to go home from work.

But Japan. Man. I don't know. In college Psych class they told us about an experiment where they took some rats and hooked wires directly to their pleasure centers. Then they gave the rats levers to press to send current through the wires. The movie's scenes of downtown Tokyo -- especially of a gambling establishment with row after row of bleeping one-armed bandits and HAL lookalikes, with each patron having the same amount of floor space as a veal calf -- made me think of those rats with wires in their heads. Not eating, not sleeping -- just pushing the levers, pushing and pushing until they collapsed.

The only oasis of placidity was an animated advertisement on the side of a skyscraper: a computer-generated brachiosaur gliding serenely above the heads of city-dwellers too busy to see it.

On a personal scale, the news is equally bad. You can live in the same twenty-four-hour day as everyone else but be totally out of sync. You can be a husband and make the same phone call that gazillions of husbands make to gazillions of wives. You know the one: the phone call where you're held up at work and calling to check in, and your wife says you're daughter's refusing to eat her lunch, and you tell your wife to tell your daughter that Daddy Said Eat Something.

Only when you make this call, you're in a timezone sixteen hours away, sitting in an empty hotel pool at four in the morning. The echoes keeping you closer company than anyone on the other end of the phone ever could. And, really, it doesn't matter where you sit or what timezone you're sitting in: nothing you say into that phone will ever be heard, and nothing that comes out of it will ever reach you.

It's appalling how often life fails the laugh test. This is why they invented gallows humor. Gallows humor gives you a way to laugh at the parts of life that aren't funny.

It's like this. You're a comedian, and they liked your schtick the first time around. But it's gotten old. One time you tried out a new schtick -- and lost most of your core audience. So it's back to the old schtick, with the hope that your audience will forgive you for trying not to be the object of their overfamiliar contempt.

Thank God for strangers. Thank God for Japan, and Scarlett Johansson, and Bill Murray, and hotel bars at two in the morning. Thank God for the hope that while slogging through some extra hour of some extra day, you might find someone to talk to.