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Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Who's Got the Time?

Mondays are hell. Wednesday is hump day. Thank god it’s Friday. Everybody is working for the weekend. Two weeks paid vacation a year. Does that routine sound familiar to you? You have to live every day as if it were as precious as the weekend or a vacation. Do the math, folks. Two weeks off a year means you get one year off every 26 years. That sounds like the house has the odds stacked against you.

As I write this I’m sitting in a café watching a pair of crows build a nest in a fir tree across the street. If the business people around me knew what I was doing they would probably say to each other, “Now there’s a guy with too much free time on his hands.” They are probably right.

I constantly hear people complaining that they don’t have the time to do the things they would like to do. I suspect that these people are like me and that they have the time but they are mostly too lazy to do the things they dream about. You just need to decide what it is you really want and then just tear into it. Want to learn French? Go buy a book and get started. Want to play music? Go down to the music store and pick out an instrument. It is really that easy. Sure, this stuff takes time but time is all that you really need. Most of the things in life that make you a more interesting person don’t cost money, they just take time. Books are free at the library.

I waste as much time as the next guy but I never say that I’m too busy to become a more interesting person and I don’t believe you when you say that you don’t have enough time. Time is all about choices. You can either read or go to the mall. Watch a rerun or practice playing the violin. Study Spanish or page through People magazine, it’s your call. If you have time to do all of those things then that’s great, too.

By the way, if you’ve never watched crows build a nest you are really missing something. I should write a piano sonata about it. Lord knows I have enough time.

Sunday, April 28, 2002

What's Your Sign?

What’s you sign? What’s my sign? What is this, the middle ages? My sign is astronomy, my sign is physics, and all that is science. My sign isn’t some leftover claptrap from pagan Rome arbitrarily tacked on to a perfectly good calendar. A nice bit of science, that calendar. My sign has not one shred of hocus-pocus or anything that can’t be explained by the laws of science, laws that we think remain constant with time and space.

As much as we have explained the universe that surrounds us there are still plenty of people who think of themselves as educated that choose to believe in astrology, UFO’s, ghosts, telepathy, God, and all sorts of paranormal phenomena.

I realize that man has been grappling with creation myths and divinity since he could think. Here I am, a guy who writes quips about kitschy Whoopee Goldberg movies and parodies of MTV, and now I’m suppose to be giving out the secret of man’s existence in this very same forum? Somebody’s got to break the news to you. All of that stuff I mentioned before, it’s all make believe, folks.

Why is it that we live in a country that supposedly separates church and state yet no one in a public position could ever claim to be an atheist? Athletes and other entertainers are constantly thanking god for their success but what if a celebrity stated publicly that she didn’t believe in god? My guess is that they wouldn’t have much of an income after that got out. Who is more persecuted in our culture: religious people or atheists? I think it is hilarious that these Muslim extremists view America as a godless nation. If they only knew how many people in this country are as close-minded and intolerant as they are they’d all move here and join the PTL club.

It is easy and fun to believe in stuff that doesn’t exist. The idea of ghosts and UFO’s is cool but the fact is that I have never seen or experienced anything in my life that could not be explained by the laws of nature as we know them. Tell me your bullshit paranormal story and I’m sure I can debunk it faster than it would take me to switch the channel from the X-Files to a baseball game.

You had a dream and it came true. Perhaps, but you had about ten million dreams that didn't come true. You saw a ghost. You were stoned. You can tell me what my sign is just becuase you"know" my personality. Good guess, and it only took you ten tries. Our 'spirits' have to go some place when we die. They go to the same place they were before you had memory. Does that make you feel better.

This life is all we have so whether it is heaven or hell is mostly up to us. Some of us have more power over matters than others--a peasant in Guatemala has less control over his destiny than a middle class American--but we all have choices. I choose to side with human beings and not with the gods.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

My Warblog Can Kick Your Warblog's Ass

I think that I have been doing this a LITTLE bit longer than most of the pansies out there calling themselves warbloggers. I started warblogging back in 1972 on a Texas Instruments pocket calculator. I described the U.S. incursion into Cambodia using only the cardinal numbers and the # sign. I did it all from my bunker in the basement of my mom’s house in Absolute Zero, North Dakota (the REAL Dakota).

Some skeptics out there are probably asking, “If you’re so tough why weren’t you in the ‘shit’ over in Nam?” Not in the shit? Look at a map, people. What if the VC had turned north, crossed the Bering Sea, and took on Alaska? Those drunken lumberjacks wouldn't put up a fight. The military now has goggles that make all carbon-based life forms look like baby harp seals but that technology wasn't available back then to strenghten the fighting spirit of our 49th state. After Alaska the Cong would have headed south again where they’d run right smack into North Dakota. I was practically on the front line. Rest easy America, I’ve got your back. During the entire Viet Nam conflict I had a snow fort in my front yard that was directly in the path of the VC--except those two or three days in late July when it’s too warm for it. You can bet I didn’t sleep too well on those nights.

I did some terrific blogging during the U.S. Freedom of Navigation Ops against Libya in the mid 1980’s. Back then I was using only a Sega-genesis golf program and a reconfigured Ms. Packman machine. Any sissy can use a computer to generate one-sided views of U.S. world domination. I have finally given in to technology. I am writing today’s post using only the keypad of my cell phone (I started sometime during last year’s NFL playoffs).

Another technological advancement that I would recommend to all warbloggers is the new MS word processing program that automatically corrects your text to increase jingoism and xenophobia. Example: When you type ‘Palestinian’ you are given a choice of ‘terrorist,’ ‘racist,’ or ‘murderer.’ It is really quite handy and now I can write my opinions without thinking at all. The one thing that is bothersome about the program…U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A…is that it starts chanting at will.

I’ll admit that a lot of my sarcasm is born out of jealousy; I would love to have the sort of traffic that the war people generate. I’m not interested in their demographics as I’m sure that the people that frequent those types of pages are just passing through as they search for Rush Limbaugh’s blog. Mega dittos and good night.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Trouble With Blogger

The people of the Blogger Tenants Association have informed me that my lease on Blogger (the host of this web page) underwent an evaluation. It seems that I am in violation of several of their bylaws. The lease for LEFTBANKER is under probation until I make the necessary changes so as to comply with strict Blogger protocol. Below I have listed the laws violated and my attempts to rectify the discrepancies.

1)Thou shalt bore the living shit out of readers with your ill-informed views on global politics and/or TV shows.

I will try to kill two birds with one stone with this synopsis of what I watched on TV last night. On MTV’s Real World Ramallah, the West Bank: Jen thinks Samir is way cute but he’s too busy being tortured in prison to notice her. To get his attention she is torn between getting a tattoo and blowing herself up at an Israeli checkpoint. She can’t figure out what color lip gloss goes with C-4.

2)There is absolutely nothing in your silly personal life that is too mundane to write about in your web log.

OK, I’ll try to put something personal in here for a change. I went to the doctor yesterday to have a mole in the middle of my back removed. Before the dermatologist began the procedure I asked him, “So, do you really think this will make me look ten years younger?” Don't worry, he didn’t get it either. I guess you have to read all of the bullshit pamphlets he has in his waiting room about the wonders of medical science.

3)Try to give helpful advice like Ann Landers or Oprah.

Etiquette in the City: Are you made uncomfortable by repeated requests for money from street addicts? Are you sometimes at a loss for words and find yourself mumbling something incoherent about needing to go to a cash machine or some other lame-ass excuse. Try my stock response to street begging: “I can’t, I’m saving up to buy a pony.” Caution: May piss off addicts of certain anti-social drugs. If this occurs suggest to them that they stick with marijuana.

I hope this satisfies the requirements for my continued presence on this fine web hosting service.

Sunday, April 21, 2002

Get a Life

Get a life! That’s a very cool sort of MTV thing to say. What kind of life am I supposed to get? Do you mean one like yours? How do you define a life and where do you get one? Do they come in nacho cheese flavor? Can you interchange them like the front plates of cell phones? Do people who care about what the fuck their cell phones look like have a life?

I think what people, the MTV-90201 people mean when they say “get a life” is a life like Hollywood people must have. A cool life endorsing products and posing for magazine covers. A life of dating movie stars and TV personalities until you break up and talk about how painful it all was on Oprah. A life of uncontrolled substance abuse and repeated failures at rehab. Did Jim Morrison have a life right before he stopped having a life? Does an Academy Award winner have more of a life than the losers? In their acceptance speeches do they say ‘get a fucking life’ to the runners up? I would. I think that if I had a life I’d be fairly smug about it.

Is it improper to tell the guest of honor at a funeral to get a life? Is it vulgar to shout ‘get a life’ at the top of your lungs while driving by a cemetery? Those things are a lot of fun, especially when combined with drinking, but I wasn’t too familiar with the new ‘get a life’ etiquette so I stopped doing them. I don't mind; it gives me more time for prayer.

Is driving your kids to soccer practice every night a life? Is working 9 to 5 every day until you retire and then fighting off life-threatening illnesses like a kid playing Space Invaders until one finally gets you, it that a life?

Does the fact that you have read this far indicate a lack of a life on your part? If that is true it certainly doesn’t say much for the author, because unless this is being read by a third grade class I probably have spent more time writing this no life project than you have reading it.

I read someone question their ‘life’ because they were on the internet with many windows going at once. My “life’ has about ten windows open at this minute. At least dorking-out on the internet isn’t dangerous to you and the other fifty people who live in your building. At this moment I am writing this piece, listening to the Mariners on the radio, pecking a few notes on the piano, and (the danger) using three gas burners on my stove to cook everything in my refrigerator. That’s kind of like juggling with a tennis ball, a live weasel, an apple, and a running chainsaw.

If you can buy a life can I get anything on a trade-in for the one I have?

Saturday, April 20, 2002

What if There Was a Mall and Nobody Came?

Is there life beyond consumerism?

It’s not that I don’t like “stuff.” I am writing this on my new Sony Vaio laptop. My apartment is cluttered with boy toys: a racing and a mountain bike, a heap of hiking, camping, and climbing gear, a shit load of books, and tons of CD’s. I’m not really anti “stuff” but I just don’t think a perpetual pursuit of “stuff” has ever made anyone happy or made them feel satisfied. Does Donald Trump look like a happy guy or a douche bag to you?

I can go weeks without ever buying anything besides food and booze, you know, the essentials. I like clothes. I like to look good but I find that I don’t have the energy to shop and would much rather spend my time doing other things. When I do break down and go to Nordstrom’s for clothing I spend about as much time inside as I can swim under water in one breath.

When I see dudes that dress extremely fashionably I secretly laugh at their willingness to waste countless hours shopping. Today’s fashion usually means stuff we will be laughing at tomorrow. I prefer clothes that wouldn’t have been noticeably out of place (nor hip either) for the past sixty years or so. Women and shopping is a whole other thing that I don’t understand at all. I’ll leave that for the women to sort out.

You would think that there must come a point for every person when he decides he has enough stuff. Perhaps many people never reach this point because financial restrictions prevent their acquiring all of the stuff they covet. I am talking about people with limitless resources. Surely people like rock stars, professional athletes, and movie stars must get sick of buying shit. They have enough money to buy everything and anything. Even a kid let loose in a candy store will get sick and throw up eventually.

I don’t have limitless resources but I decided a long time ago that I have plenty of stuff and buying more, simply for the sake of buying it, was a losing proposition. This isn’t to say that I don’t ever buy new stuff; I just look long and hard at anything before buying it. I ask myself several times if I really need it or can I live without it? Usually I decide on the latter and that ends it.

Unfortunately, most of the things in life that I most want cannot be purchased. It would be easier if learning to play the piano or being a better writer could be purchased with U.S. currency. These things certainly aren’t free, they just can’t be bought.

So I suppose we are all materialistic to one degree or another, somewhere between a shaolin monk and the rapper du jour (I was going to give the name of a specific rapper but realized that I don’t know one). From what little I have seen of the current rap, or hip hop culture, they represent the polar opposite of moderation: not just jewelry but pounds of gold hanging from their necks, not just a hot woman but scores of 'bitches(?)', a parking lot full of cars, not a house but a palace. Their message seems to be a simple one: if you are going to go overboard on capitalism then go really overboard. If you are going in for conspicuous consumption then you may as well go all the way.

Are there any rappers out there that preach minimalism? What a great message that would be to youth. They could show the rapper driving around in one of those little Primus electric cars taking his recyclable garbage to the recycling center with just one woman in the seat next to him and no gold. A rapper with good taste? Impossible? Stranger things have happened.

I certainly don't mean to single out rappers; I see no evidence of rich people showing anything resembling restraint or simply saying, "I have enough." I can already hear someone telling me, "You're just jealous because you ain't (sic) rich." I got news for you: I already make more than I can spend. This doesn't mean that I am rich or that I wouldn't want to have more money. Money can mean a sort of freedom. Not freedom from work. You have to work, that is as essential as eating and sleeping. To me it simply means freedom from compromise.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

On a Clear Day You Can See Applebee's


Walk out your door and take a look around. Is there anything, natural or man-made, that is pleasing to the eye? If you live in America, especially suburban America, the view is probably one of an endless string of strip-malls and franchise businesses. For the past 30 years it has become increasingly more difficult, if not impossible, to tell the difference between Des Moines and Duluth.

People talk as if these Weblogs are the new journalism, a heroic new forum for ideas. I see them as the moral equivalent of bumper stickers. I can write a little bit more than the average bumper sticker but if I write too much I will lose the reader raised on the short staccato bursts of information portioned out by TV. This theme of franchise America is a large one best addressed in book form so I will focus on a single point. This is today’s bumper sticker. I would actually reach more people with a sticker but at least I don’t have to worry about somebody disagreeing with me and keying my car.

Take a look at the artwork inside of franchise businesses. They try so hard to be inoffensive that they are highly offensive. At their best franchises display reproductions of impressionist masterpieces, as if Van Gough’s Café de Nuit is somehow appropriate for the décor of a Jack in the Box. At their worst corporations hang robotic, machine-made, computer-generated abstractions on the walls. They seem as uncomfortable with bare walls as they are of inspiring thought or eliciting any remotely human response. The horror of these wall fillers is that it isn’t a result of corporate bad taste. Taste is subjective and what anyone considers bad is at least excusable. This is a deliberate anti-aesthetic policy .

Franchise corporations deliberately remove any semblance of charm from their businesses for the same reason that TV removes any sort of real controversy from the content of their programming. The anti-aesthetic and the anti-intellectual bias of big business is part of a process to ritualize every aspect of our lives. Ritual is devoid of thought and the absence of thought means the absence of dissent. I grew up catholic and I couldn’t tell you what any of the prayers meant that I recited every week. There was no thought, thought was not only unwelcomed but strongly discouraged. Your responsibilty was to learn your place and remain there. The creation of ritual is like arranging the furniture in a familiar manner so that the blind can navigate that geography without seeing. Move things around and all hell breaks loose.

MacDonald’s et al could just as easily have original art on the walls of their burger joints. There are thousands of artists in Seattle dying to sell their work. They could probably do this at less cost than the current system of using pseudo-art. Would it adversely affect business? I couldn’t say and I don’t think anyone could. The very thought of unleashing the public’s imagination must scare the shit out of the guys in the stockholders’ meeting. If we let them have their way every facet of life will be copyrighted and trademarked.

The fact that the music of Mozart and Bach, the novels of Dickens, and the poetry of Homer are public property must keep a lot of corporate lawyers awake at night with worry and dread. "Miss Jenkins, get this Mozart fellow on the phone. I have an idea for a Dorritos ad." If they can’t copyright it for themselves I’m sure they would prefer it to be destroyed. They already use this stuff to sell their products but they can’t own it. Where's the fun in not owning something? It's positively un-American, it's communist.

I'm sure people will say that I just don't understand big business. They would be right, 100% right. I don't understand why anyone would actively, with hearty ambition, work towards building a world that isn't worth living in.

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Behind the Tortilla Curtain

Now that we don't talk about the iron curtain (for you post-communist era folks that's what we called the invisible barrier between the West and communist Europe and the USSR, now Russia—I suddenly feel old)). I guess people no longer use the phrase 'tortilla curtain' when referring to the invisible barrier that separates us from our neighbors to the South.

For those of you who have never been to Mexico let me say that they do eat a load of tortillas. They eat tortillas at every meal. They eat tortillas with everything. They eat tortillas by themselves. Got it? I’ll move on.

Since we don't have much in the way of a national cuisine in America we have the luxury of picking and choosing amongst those of lots of other nations. It would be hard to imagine us saying, "Honey, do you feel like Mexican food tonight?" every night but nobody seems to mind down here.

I like the way they bring out a bunch of bowls of condiments for your meal: at least two types of salsa, chopped onions, cilantro, fresh oregano, and limes--lots of limes. I saw this kid take a lime press and squeeze the juice of two limes on his bag of potato chips and then splash on about two shot glasses of Tabasco sauce. My kind of kid. They put lime in beer, of course, another thing we already knew about the cool people here. They also put lime juice on most meats and on all antiojitos or tortilla dishes.

Eating is really fun here and, even though you eat Mexican food every fucking night, there are a lot of choices. I find it hard to decide between having a meal in a rather formal restaurant and trying some of the stuff being sold around the market. I will settle on a restaurant if they have pozole on the menu. Pozole is a soup or stew of hominy and whatever else they want to throw in.

This dish can be found all over Mexico. Pozole is the chili of Mexico. That is exactly what it is. It can be good or bad, it can be terrible or fantastic. That is just one of those questions you have to be ready to answer. You have to be willing to walk into five or six restaurants and just order Pozole and a bottle of Carte Blanca. I was going to put this into parenthesis but it is too big a point. In the previous sentence I mentioned Carta Blanca, which is a Mexican beer. I take for granted that almost all adult Americans recognize this aspect of popular Mexican culture. We know much more about our neighbors to the south than we think. It is never too late to learn more.

In honor of Hugo Huesca, from Veracruz Mexico, who has taught me so much about the cooking of his country.

2 16 oz cans of hominy
1 16 oz can of tomatoes
1 chayote squash (peeled and diced)
1 small can chipotle peppers in adobo
1 onion (diced)
2 fresh jalapeño peppers (stems removed and diced)
1 small garlic clove (pressed and diced)
1 12oz can of chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
A few sprigs of fresh cilantro
Some sort of dead animal, either a pig or a cow . Kill it somehow and tear off its skin and then call Martha Stewart for the rest of the gory details. She actually made it look like fun on her show. (for vegetarians either use both meats or skip).

Add tomato, half of the onion, jalapeños, and garlic to a food processor. The chipotle peppers usually come in a small can but just add a couple peppers and some of the adobo sauce as too much will make the dish too smoky. Liquefy this and put it in a soup pan. Add the stock or water and simmer with the chayote pieces.

Brown the meat in oil and add to the pot along with a bit of the cilantro and the rest of the onion. When the chayote is tender (about 15 minutes) add the hominy and simmer a few more minutes. I use a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper. Garnish with cilantro and tortilla chips.

Go crazy from there. About the only rules to this dish, if they were going to have a big international Chili/Pozole cook-off, would be that you must make it with hominy. I’m sure there is some yuppie restaurant up in el Norte that serves pozole with seared ahi and kiwi relish. I don’t mean to trash yuppie restaurants. Criticize them all you want but without them we’d still be eating weenies and beans.

more thoughts on trying to be funny in a foreign language and culture

Just before I sat down to write today I stopped off at a little café, as has been my habit the past three days, to get a cup of coffee to go. As I was waiting for them to make it three clowns walked by the place (clowns are everywhere here, some sort of festival). I told the young girls working there that I was afraid of clowns. When they asked why I told them that when I was little I went to the circus and one killed my family. An old joke, I know. Not only didn’t they get it but I think I frightened them. I had to tell them it was a joke, which sort of took the fun out of it. Maybe they find it funny now. Dark humor isn't very big here so if you want to make it in the world of Mexican stand-up stick with hitting people in the head with coal shovels, dropping your pants, and other Benny Hill stuff.

My joke when I go to a restaurant is to ask the server in a very conspiratorial tone, as if I were asking for whiskey during prohibition, if at all possible, if it's not too much trouble, could I get tortillas with whatever it is I am ordering. That is about as obvious as asking for your meal to be served on a plate. I’m the only one who gets my joke, which is pretty much the story of my life.

Saturday, April 13, 2002

Mexican Like Me


I once dated a girl who became critical of me and my life plans (imagine that). She said something like, “Why is your biggest goal in life to be a spic?” She was right to a certain degree; I would like to be Mexican when I grow up. I hurled a worse epithet at her, much viler than spic. I said that her biggest goal in life was to be a soccer mom. She is probably sitting in her mini-van listening to Neil Diamond and waiting to pick up her 2.3 (a farm accident?) kids. She’ll probably meet her hubby at Chili’s© for dinner. They will probably stop by Blockbuster© to pick up a video. They’ll probably rent their favorite movie to see again, Sister Act (sorry, but that is one horse that can’t be too dead or beaten too much, that goes for Miss Goldberg, as well).

If you did a search on GOOGLE for ‘white woman’ her name would probably pop up first. I’m sure being white isn’t the worst way to spend your entire life but you don’t have to rub it in by buying a mini-van and going to fucking Chili’s. I have been white almost my entire life and I just get really, really bored with it sometimes.

I went to see the excellent Mexican film Y Tu Mamá También yesterday and I was feeling nostalgic for that country. There are a couple scenes in the movie in which the central characters are having beers in these crappy Mexican cantinas. I have been in hundreds of Mexican cantinas but I was envious of their ability to blend in, the way I suppose I blend in when I walk into a bar here in Seattle. I want to be like the Mexicans in the movie. Although I speak Spanish well I have light skin and light brown hair and no matter how much I work to extinguish my gringo accent I still look like a gringo. I will always be the gringo who thinks he’s Mexican. People get a kick when I say, “Tengo alma latina.” (My soul is latin)

It is hard for me to be funny in Spanish because I am not completely bilingual. Something that gives me a tremendous sense of achievement is when I can make a joke in Spanish to my Mexican friends. The jokes that get the biggest laughs for me generally concern “La Migra” or some other law enforcement entity. For many Mexican immigrants this is a factor of everyday life, so humor is as good a way to deal with it as any. A guy we know named Ramón had a little run-in with the law (immigration papers) and for weeks afterward I got big laughs with this play on words, “¿Donde está Ramón, en la casa o la cárcel?” (Where’s Ramon, at his pad or the pokey?) I guess you had to be there with a gut full of Negra Modelo’s to laugh, but I made a funny in Spanish.

I lack a fluency in popular Mexican culture to be really funny in Spanish. I try to keep up. I also read several French publications in an effort to stay up on that culture that I love even more. It is funny that I do my best to avoid popular culture here in the USA but I seek it out in other countries. I like the Algerian Raï singer Cheb Mami and I spend a lot of time on kazaa.com downloading popular Greek music. In the immortal words of JFK “Ich bin ein fuzzy little foreigner.”

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Whoopie Doodle Do

I had a very curious experience this morning; something that rocked the very foundations of my intellectual being. I went to the gym to spend some time on the exercise bike, as this is Seattle, and it was raining. As I was walking up the steps to the aerobics room I could hear the televisions blaring. Then I heard that voice.

To my horror I discovered that all three of the TV’s were tuned to HBO and the Whoopee Goldberg classic Sister Act. I’ve never actually seen the movie but I could only imagine that it was completely terrible and unfit for adult male viewers. There were a lot of people in the room cranking on the fitness machines so I felt too self-conscious to change the channel on any of the sets. I had a book to read so I thought I could just tune out the unpleasantness.

And then something odd happened, something wonderful. I started actually watching the movie, really watching it. It is truly a damn good film in every aspect. I was mesmerized by the acting and the terrific musical numbers. Two thumbs up for Sister Act. I decided then and there that immediately after I finished my work-out I would walk, hell, I would run to the video rental joint and pick-up Sister Act II. Sure, I loved Sister Act but I wanted more. A more eagerly anticipated sequel hasn’t been on the horizon since The Godfather. I’ve been humming the songs all day long.

April Fools. If you believed me let’s go watch Police Academy IV together. As I tried to tune out the movie I looked around the gym. I seriously thought that I had died because I have always imagined that the flight to hell would show this movie. Pre-flight on this trip would mean a cavity search by a Catholic preist. What would the in-flight meal be on the Hell shuttle? The nutritional equivalent to Sister Act wouldn’t be a small foil bag of peanuts but a small foil bag of peanut shells. I would imagine a very long holding pattern on that flight. You would be seated next to a woman with two screaming infants. A kid behind you kicks the seat the entire trip. The only thing to drink is warm white zinfandel.

I don't think that I like hell any more. It always sounded glamorous because all the hip people went there. A couple viewings of Sister Act and Jean Paul Sartre would have the cool kicked out of him. He would renounce his godless beliefs before the opening credits had ended.

You're Busted

That’s right, folks. The gig is up. Les jeux sont fait. No more slacking off, no more cutting class. With the assistance of a team of experts from the National Security Agency I have installed a super-sophisticated counting and tracking device on this website. Reading this website is now mandatory and I can keep track of who is visiting and who isn’t.

The NSA guys are actually living in my apartment until all of the work on my site is finished. There are five of them. Nerdy looking guys who all wear Dockers, boat shoes, and pocket protectors. From what I can tell they live entirely on Pringles and Spaghetti-O's. There is another guy with a big moustache and a sombrero who keeps shooting holes in the ceiling with his pistols. I don’t think he is from NSA but he brought enough tequila for everybody so he stays. He also has a wonderful singing voice.

The NSA people have been able to track every single website that you people have visited. No wonder this country is going down the drain. Look at how you are wasting your time:

67% www.theonion.com
13% www.thesimpsons.com
10% www.mlb.com
10% www.naughtybritneypictures.com

Is this all you losers can find to do with your time? I find it shocking that with the vast resources available on the internet people waste their time browsing this sort of garbage. Wait a minute. What’s that? Those are the sites I’ve looked at? I thought they sounded vaguely familiar. Carry on.

file name:

Posted on the door of the sauna at my gym is a list of rules. The last one states adamantly NO PETS! I went to the front desk to ask a few questions concerning this rather Draconian measure. Was this rule in response to a particular incident? Perhaps we are finally getting closer to the root of the apocryphal “gerbil” affair. It seemed preposterous that simply because a group of sweaty men had taken "liberties" with an unspecified rodent the gym management was now forbiding sauna access to all domesticated animals kept for companionship. No one had any answers, at least none they were willing to make public. Surely a well-behaved ferret would be allowed inside. How about a goldfish in its bowl? Their tyranny couldn’t face up to my inquiry and I was asked to leave.

Sunday, April 07, 2002

How to be Funny

For the very low price of $99.95 I can make you funny, the life of the party, the class clown. Yes, before you know it you’ll be headlining in the Catskills, you’ll be bigger than Gallagher, getting more laughs than that “Hey Vern” guy, funnier than ‘Friends,’ Jerry Seinfeld will be opening for YOU.

Guys, allow me to let you in on something: chicks dig funny guys. Trust me on this one. I get so much action I have had to take drastic measures to avoid women when I go out in public. I actually have to dress in disguise. I wear a Lord of the Rings t-shirt that repels even the most sex-starved females. Sometimes I just have to wait until the throng outside my door loses hope and heads for the Back Street Boys concert as a desperate consolation.

I know what you’re saying to yourself. You’re saying, “I can’t ever be funny. I’m the most tedious fucking human being that has ever spent an entire weekend watching televised golf. I think that kid on the Dell commercials is funny. How could I ever get a sense of humor?” I didn’t say it was going to be easy in your case but if you buy my series of books and tapes, and follow the simple instructions, I guarantee that you will have your friends peeing themselves with laughter.

My instructional series for the humor-impaired has helped thousands of people just like you. People who wouldn’t know a punch line from a clothes line. People who wouldn’t recognize irony if it moved into the spare bedroom and used the last of the toilet paper without replacing it. If you suffer from this crippling ailment don’t hesitate; send a check today. Here is a preview of what you will learn.

What is the secret to comedy you ask? Ronald Reagan knew the secret. Walt Disney knew it. Do you want to know what the secret is, do you? The secret to comedy: monkeys. Monkeys are just plain funny. The expression “more fun than a barrel of monkeys” comes from the 17th century. The intrepid English explorer, Sir Francis Drake, brought a barrel of monkeys back to England as a present for Queen Elizabeth I. By the time he finished his circumnavigation of the globe most of the monkeys were dead from scurvy but that just made it funnier. The Virgin Queen really got a kick out of that one. The actual expression is “more fun than a barrel of dead monkeys” but the people from PETA lobbied to have the word ‘dead’ removed.

Take something that you think is funny, like the time your friend Abe wore a dress and sang Over the Rainbow at the office Christmas party two years ago. Yeah, that was pretty funny. We all laughed about that one for weeks. Now just imagine a monkey doing that. Now it’s at least twice as funny. Conan O’Brien has a big fat monkey as a sidekick and look at him. Conan is bigger than the Pope. Johnny Carson had a fat ape sidekick and he ruled late night TV for a quarter century.

It isn’t always convenient to have a chimpanzee at your beck and call 24 hours a day. If it were that easy every dork in boat shoes and a pager clipped to his belt would be knocking the ladies dead at the local bar. The truth is that you can’t always have a monkey around to do the work for you. They are filthy little creatures that shit everywhere and sometimes they can become excedingly violent. Don’t despair; I have other things to teach you.

Another key to being funny is this: DO NOT, under any circumstances, tell a joke. Jokes are generally devoid of all humor. If the joke was funny that is because someone else came up with it. If you repeat it that doesn’t make you funny. I can read Shakespeare but that doesn’t mean I can write plays. If you absolutely must tell a joke make sure that it is completely tasteless and sick. Example: any joke that starts out like this “This pedophile serial killer is walking into the woods at night with this little boy…”* If you can’t make people laugh, at least you can offend them, which is almost as good. Most humor is completely tasteles and offensive. Why do you think fart jokes have been the bread and butter of comedians since Aristophanes?

*Thoroughly tasteless punch line available upon e-mail request

City Life Bliss

This section of Seattle is referred to, rather prosaically, as lower Queen Anne. Queen Anne is a big hill overlooking downtown Seattle. We live at the bottom of that hill. A couple of businesses in my neighborhood use the name uptown in their titles but that designation has never really caught on and we remain lower Queen Anne. There is nothing to distinguish this area; it is just a lot of commerce, a bunch of apartment buildings, and a few free-standing homes--which they can’t tear down fast enough, as far as I am concerned. Most of the houses are complete eyesores and the real estate could be better used—like for a bar or something.

The one architectural distinction of this area is the Space Needle, which looms over the Seattle Center. Cool people are supposed to hate the Space Needle but I don’t know why because I'm not cool and they won't tell me. To me, it gives Seattle’s skyline a defining stamp. When you look at pictures of Seattle it looks unlike other places( of copurse, Mt. Raineer helps), which is more than you can say about most American cities. I have never actually been to the top of the needle but that is only because I don’t want to pay the $11 fee. I had never been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris until my last trip and that turned out to be a minor disaster. I wrote about that painful episode somewhere else. Now I have this thing about not going to the top of the needle. I like looking at it, though.

The surrounding Seattle Center is a big park fringed by the opera, the repertory theater, the science center, the basketball arena, and the Center House. The Center House is a big open building that is like a mall food court without the annoying mall part. Several of my posts have been inspired by what appears onstage at the Center House. It is a block or so from my apartment so I go there quite often to get a cup of coffee but mostly just to get out of my apartment.

My apartment is in one of the more charming buildings in the area, a five story brick affair constructed in 1926. From my kitchen window I can see the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains and from my living room I have a nice view of the Puget Sound. I can sit on my couch and watch the inter-island ferries running back and forth—it’s better than TV. On the down side there is a night club behind my building and late at night I am often rocked out of bed by car alarms and the teeth-loosening bass of kids blaring rap on their car stereos. Note to self: purchase sniper rifle.

The greatest thing about this neighborhood is its total self-containment. Here is a very partial list of the things within a four block radius of my front door: an art house movie theater, three live theater houses, two (soon to be three) grocery stores, a post office and postal center, two copy places, a drug store, five coffee shops, a video rental joint, an office supply store, a used bookstore, two record stores, and at least 20 restaurants of every make and ethnicity.

What my neighborhood lacks are strip malls, malls, 4 lane highways with median strips, franchise places (there is a KFC and a Mac’ on the fringe—unavoidable I suppose) and other charmless landmarks that make up so much of the American landscape.

All of this is in the modest enclave of lower Queen Anne. If I walk south one block from my apartment I enter the more trendy and urbane neighborhood known as Belltown. The boundaries are pretty arbitrary and I don’t need a passport or anything to go to Belltown but there isn’t much reason for me to go there for anything other than entertainment (the bars and restaurants are better there). Almost all of my day-to-day needs can be met without venturing out of my neighborhood. My car is parked on the street in front of my building; a veneer of dust so thoroughly covers the windows that I’ll have to wash them before I drive it. That won’t be today as there is nothing calling me away from this four block sanctuary.

If I do leave this area my car isn’t my first choice of transportation. To go downtown I usually take the monorail—a curiosity from the 1962 World’s Fair that actually works as mass transit if you live where I do. For lots of other trips I ride one of my bikes. I have paid enough in traffic tickets to pay for a trip to Paris so I avoid driving at all costs.

Very few people in the USA know what it is to live in a city, to live without the automobile. I don’t get road rage, I don’t get stuck in rush hour traffic, I don’t have a car payment, I buy gas once every two months or so. This sort of lifestyle is possible because I live in an area of relatively high population density. What I give up to live this way I give up without regret. My apartment is small but big enough for my needs, everyone I know goes out almost every night, anyway. Privacy is sometimes an issue if you live in an apartment (see my post of Feb 23 when the cops raided my place) but this sort of living beats the suburbs all to hell.

Check out the blog of the day.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Technology = Democracy

Cassius: And why should Caesar be a tyrant then?
Poor man! I know he would not be a wolf
But that he sees the Romans as sheep.

-Julius Caesar

As long as a populace has access to the internet, government is unable to completely control the press. Web publishing, although underutilized now in its infancy, is a powerful tool in the hands of the people. Weblogs, as we know them, are generally a waste of time but there is a booming backlash to the standard press in the opinions posted daily on the web. The need for a truly alternative press seems to be a low priority in this American sea of affluence that washes in the 21rst century. Let’s hope that the web will be around when we need it.

Not many people know this, and fewer people care, but the airwaves are owned by the public in the USA. The networks are allowed to use them. This is all in theory, and in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Even public TV and NPR rely heavily on corporate funding that dictates content. The closest thing we have to democracy on the airwaves is public access TV, if you call cable the airwaves, and nobody does. This medium remains extremely marginalized and poses no threat to the corporate status quo.

For too long consumers have been sheep, willing to be sheared. We’ve been paying $17 for cd’s and $8 and upwards for movie tickets. Blockbuster has monopolized the video rental industry. These producers dictate not only how much we will pay but, more importantly, the content of what we purchase. They edit movies for content, sap TV of any true controversy, and basically rule over us like some sort of benevolent dictatorship. This wasn’t the democracy I signed up for.

Thanks to Napster, and now its progeny (kazaa.com, sharebear.com etc.), the metaphor is changing. Instead of the sheep we are becoming the fox that raids the chicken coop of ‘intellectual property.’ File sharing, or internet piracy—depending on who you talk to—has not affected sales in any meaningful way. The music industry reported that sales were down 3% last year. They blame file sharing for their woes. They don’t consider that they have simply put out a bad product. What have they put on the market for anyone too old for Britney, rap, and boy bands? The truth is that studies on the subject suggest that people who use file sharing are the ones buying the most cd’s. Blaming file sharing for revenue loss will be the argument industry will use to limit the freedoms of the internet.

I hate to use such a monolithic label but 'Corporate America' would sell our 1rst Amendment rights to the highest bidder faster than you can say 1984. It looks to me like the cat is out of the bag as far as file sharing sites go. They have sprouted up like mushrooms. The record companies should be looking for a means to cash in on this and stop trying to fight it. They make us believe that they are only looking out for the interests of the artists when in fact artists see very little of total cd sales. Only the top names in the industry make anything more than pennies on the sale of a $17 cd. They are looking to preserve their own feudal duchies they have ruled for decades.

The initial promise of Napster was the democratization of the music industry. They were offering a distribution vehicle for musicians who had been denied access to the hallowed chambers of the recording industry. This never really panned out because Napster was immediately besieged by lawsuits by an industry that feared they would soon be irrelevant.

With the leaps digital video technology has made in recent years, along with its growing popularity in the file sharing domain, the movie industry will also be joining the fight against internet freedom. It is hard to think of an industry as incestual and monopolistic as Hollywood. Hollywood will undoubtedly remain the only manufacturer of the big scale movies but, as people are slowly beginning to realize, big does not mean good.

The idea that small, character driven films, shot on digital video, and distributed world-wide via the web must scare the living hell out of the schlockmeisters of Hollywood who try to tell us that a piece of shit like A Beautiful Mind was the ‘best’ movie last year. I was tricked into seeing that turd and my money was much better spent on the digital Italian for Beginners which probably cost less to make than one day’s catering on Ron Howard’s dud.

As this controversy over file sharing gains momentum just remember that the argument isn’t about big business maintaining the integrity of its ‘intellectual property.’
The issue at stake is whether or not we maintain the status quo in which we are the sheep and they remain the wolf.

Blog of the day comes to us from Jerusalem. I wish that this guy would write ten times as much from his vantage point on the front lines. Good war reporting is a lost art.

P.S. I volunteered to review a blog. I can't even remember what this review thing was all about but here is a link to it. Make your own opinion.