Friday, December 29, 2006

Rudie's Resolutions

As the pitifully absurd year known as the Year of our Douchebag Who Thought He Was God Incarnate 2006 winds down to a whimpering close, we find ourselves, collectively, desperately trying to suck the marrow out of what's left of this puckered sphincter of an annum. However, it seems that the Dead Poet Society got there first. Hopefully, they choked on the bone.

With just under 54 hours to go before some shithead you know and detest gets carted away to the hospital due to alcohol poisoning and people desperately try and fail to remember the second verse to Auld Lang Syne, it is time, once again to engage in that most vile and insipid of traditional rituals: the making of the list of things we say we're going to do for the new year, but ostensibly and predictably don't once we realize that January 1 is just another day, and we're the same pinheaded douchedroids we were on December 31.

Since we have no interest in meeting our inebriated little self-help goals beyond indulging them just to say we tried to improve as people, Rudie thought it'd be more practical, and dare he say more fun, to not worry so much about the overarching philosophy of self-betterment, and just jot down those things he knows he will do and is looking forward to with slavering sharpened canines. Rudie advises you to do the same, although your mileage can, and likely will, vary.

1. Learn to drive a stick shift.

This one Rudie knows he will do because he has little choice in the matter. Long frustrated with foiled attempts to run down pedestrians in his due to the throttle lag necessarily introduced by the physics inherent in the torque converter, he has ordered a vehicle which requires that he do something else with his right hand while driving other than drinking coffee, smoking, or jerking himself off. More work, but infinitely more fun and satisfaction.

2. Quit smoking.

This one Rudie's been putting off for a while, but he finally has made enough peace with the people in his life... such that what used to stress him out and cause him to inhale carcinogenic vapor now brings a smile to his face. The fact that Rudie has taken to throttling the (sadly) everlasting soul out of people who attempt to get under his carapace might have something to do with the reduced stress levels. This phenomenon is still under investigation.

3. Drink more.

Life's just better under the fucking influence. Fat girls become svelte goddesses. Ugly girls become beautiful. Boring girls become interesting. And the jackasses that keep trying to engage you with what you invariably find to be the mental musings of undiagnosed remedial fuckwits become somehow tolerable. Sure you lose brain cells, but thankfully, Rudie's got farther to go than most to become a dribbling catatonic. Why not take advantage when one is so blessed?

4. Watch more TV just to piss off militant intellectuals.

Rudie already despises militant intellectuals, but you can really never go too far with these retreads. Rudie's got no problem with people who throw out their TV for good reasons, such as there being positively dick on it of any value. No, Rudie refers to those nattering feebs that have made a mission out of taking you off your pleasant addiction to the idiot box.

These are the ones that keep telling you how much more fulfilling your life will be if you'd just throw out your TV and immerse yourself in literature, buy a cat and a few ferns, and take a spinning class.

Gee, Einstein, what a brilliant notion. You're asking Rudie to read the moldy oldies and get cats and plants knowing full well he hates most living things. Did it ever occur to you that of the two people in this conversation, only one of them thinks you have to take a class to ride a stationary bike? We're going up a hill... now we're going down... now breathe. Whoops, you're still an idiot.

They tell you how much more work they get done.

Well there, genius, the problem with work isn't that there's not enough time to do it, it's that it's fucking work and you just don't want to fucking do it.

They keep telling you about this latest book they read and how it's in the process of changing their lives. All fine and good if you're into that sort of thing... except they keep trying to get you to read the fucking pap smear of a waste of wood pulp so that you can be transformed as well.

Thanks, Dr. Phil, but the reason why you feel you have the need to have your life changed is because your life is an unending series of boring tasks you undertake just to prove that you're somehow more enlightened than the rest of us. So when you get done with that ghastly paperback copy of Silas Marner, just let it sit on the bathroom floor instead of giving it to me. That way, the next time you invite me over to extol one of your lovely, brilliant child's many accomplishments (kids should probably be walking by age 7, just saying) I can relieve my bladder all over it. Don't assume that Rudie's life sucks out loud just because yours does by your own hand.

Rudie's advisory capacity knows no equal.

5. Use the word 'celebutard' in idle conversation.

What can Rudie say. This one's just fucking priceless. And with Paris Hilton still walking around looking like a malnourished, deformed whooping crane and surrounding herself with an entourage of pudgy nippledicks looking to bum rides in her new diamond-encrusted Aston-Martin, Rudie thinks he should have this knocked off by three minutes into the new year.

So that's about all Rudie has the resolve to accomplish. Everything else shall, as they say, be gravy (with lumps).

Gratuitous football post...

Man, for an Eagles fan, it doesn't get much better than beating the Cowboys on Christmas Day to take the lead in the NFC East in a nationaly televised game while Parcells and TO fume on the sidelines. Would have been even better if T.O. went into full-on tantrum mode.

And the Eagles certainly look like the "why not us?" team of this playoff year, like the baseball Cardinals and Steelers last year. The Bears are critically flawed on offense. I don't completely buy the Saints, and they needed a 60 yard last second field goal to beat the Eagles at home early in the year. The Eagles big flaw early in the year was an inability to stop the run, and they seem to have corrected that now, at least against Dallas.

And the Rams are still alive! It seems the offensive linemen finally realized that if they don't pick up their game, they're not goint to remain in the NFL very long. I actually kind of like their chances, since the Giants and Panthers seem determined to miss the playoffs, and the Falcons are playing the Eagles with the Eagles needing the win to clinch the division.

And what the hell happened to the Giants, anyway? That offense is an absolute wreck. Troy Aikman was running out of ways to say how much they suck.

Enjoy the weekend -- the bowl game I'm most looking forward to is Monday's classic Rose Bowl match-up. Happy New Year!

Borrowed Time

On ghost’s question regarding the origin of the (social) perception as evil those who attempt to extend life beyond its natural span:
My answer: "D) Social conflict. Lotsa transhumanists (etc) and other such becoming more popular (or perhaps better organized anomalies in a large world). Who are their enemies, exactly?"

The enemies of transhumanists would likely be those with whom the unnaturally extended (do cosmetic surgery and Viagra count?) are in competition for resources and viable mates.

I once tossed out a tongue-in-cheek theory that there’s some sort of programmed attrition in forty-something women, but I wasn’t altogether kidding:

Subject: My other theory:
From: DawnCoyote
Date: Nov 21 2005 4:24AM

There's a natural attrition of our romantic and familial connections that hits women in the early 40's. It's programmed into our genes, and serves several purposes:

1) It allows the male to find a younger, more fertile mate and produce more offspring.

2) The female might train younger males in how to pleasure their future mates. The sexual prowess young males learn from the older females allows them to keep their mates happy, thereby creating a positive and nurturing environment that supports survival of their offspring.

3) Once the female is past the age where she is a useful trainer, her lack of connections make it easy for the tribe to deny her resources necessary to her survival, thereby ridding the group of a non-contributing member, and preserving resources for the rest of teh tribe. The fact that her connections have atrophied allows the group to do this with little psychological distress. Call it the "Harridan Factor."
#2 was a joke, but it might be accurate to say that women experiencing that crisis might seek opportunities to be care-givers, thereby returning value to the tribe in exchange for the resources they consume. I suspect that the mid-life crisis is an adaptive event that urges both males and females to pursue new opportunities for reproduction and/or nurturing of dependant children, or to withdraw from competition for resources. Perhaps the will to live atrophies to facilitate this.

There’s some speculation that during the Inquisitions, older women executed as witches were targeted because they were no longer productive and thus were a drain on a community’s resources. I’m also thinking of Lester Burnham in American Beauty, and both Nate Fischer and his father in Six Feet Under (all creations of Alan Ball), and how each of the main characters dies during a mid-life crisis. “You’re lucky to be dead,” Claire says to the ghost of her father. “No more responsibilities . . . No more waiting to die.”

In literature and film, the effort to preserve life beyond a natural span is often characterized as parasitic or exploitative of individuals or the community (Dracula, for example). Those who successfully extend life without a concomitant contribution to the survival or expansion of the tribe would be a drain on its resources, and therefore parasitic, and therefore easily vilified.

As to "2) I have dreamed of dying in my sleep perhaps thousands of times with great variability and realism (only comparably realistic dream of flying is a rarity for me, though its a fair trade). Probably correct interpretation is simply I think about death a fair bit, but I'd be interested in any thoughts on offer."

I dunno. It's hard to say without knowing how you felt about the dreams. Maybe a preoccupation with transformation, or maybe something like this.

Apologies for answering in a different locale, but I'm self-exiled from the fray, and I'm fond of my little theory.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I see dead people

This morning, sleeping in with a pillow over my head to muffle the noise of the cats clamoring at the door for me to get up and feed them, I had one of the worst dreams of my life. I dreamed that my mother brought me news of my brother’s death. I spun into the surreal terrain of acute grief — that breathtaking anguish, that sense of unreality — which fits so closely with dream-logic that it followed me into waking, its tendrils clinging to me like vapours from the crypt.

As in waking life, my head played the game of trying to un-know the thing that was causing it such terrible distress: I woke up in the dream and wondered, Have I only dreamed this? Is he still alive? and, just as in waking life, my memory of the calamity came flooding back and I was again overcome by waves of rage and sorrow. In the midst of it came the thought, “It’s what he wanted. Why be so upset when it’s what he wanted?” I paused there for a moment until the next upswell came and blotted it out.

When my father telephoned me in Dawson City in 1988 to tell me that he’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had been given six to twelve months to live, my first thought was, “I always knew you’d do this.” It wasn’t hard to deduce — he’d been warned at nineteen that if he kept smoking he’d go the same way as his own father, with lung cancer in his forties.

My stepmother’s death was predictable, as well. I was on the phone with my sister-in-law one day and she mentioned that she didn’t think L. was going to live very long, given her lifestyle. I agreed. ”How long do you think?” I asked. “Two years,” she said, which was my thought exactly. Though she didn’t have a thing wrong with her at the time, L. lived just 27 months. It was cancer that took her, the same one that had taken my father — a “lifestyle cancer”, the oncologist called it. She was fifty-four.

Before L., there was D. I met him three weeks after my dad died. It was a self-destructive time for me, and I gravitated toward people with similar proclivities. I drank a lot, and took whatever drugs came my way. One night, just a few weeks after D. and I met, we were high on MDA and he let me see it: the death urge, Thanatos. It was in his eyes, plain as anything. I recoiled, cursing him. You’re going to die, you bastard, aren’t you? And you’re not going to do a fucking thing to stop it.” He laughed at me, treating it as a joke, but I knew what I’d seen. For a year I tried to stop it. I discovered that it’s dangerous to get in the way of someone who’s dedicated to his own destruction. He died a year after we broke up, OD’d on heroin in the bathroom of an after-hours joint. He was twenty-seven years old.

Am I psychic? A little, perhaps, but that’s not what I believe this is. What I believe it is is an ability to recognize in others — others to whom I’m close — a deep ambivalence toward their own existence. I believe I recognize it in them because it’s also in me. It’s not like it’s all that rare or anything — I’m beginning to suspect that we learn it from our parents, like some sort of dark family value that we internalize along with ideas about right and wrong and how good or bad life is going to be and how to manage.

I know that my brother has been somewhat unattached to life since he had a fall off a mountain six years ago. With a snapped ankle, he wasn’t seriously injured, but he told me later that in those moments when he was falling, he knew he might die, and he welcomed it. He said that imagining his son and his wife looking down on him in his coffin made him want to live for their sake, but it seems to me that he’s been courting death ever since.

He’s doing well at the moment. He’s in his fourth treatment centre — a good one, this time. He’s almost four months clean and he’s returning to himself in recognizable ways. He offered to help with Christmas dinner — something that wouldn't have occurred to him even a month ago. That I see him getting better doesn’t change the fact that I know what I know: he wants to die. Maybe not whole-heartedly, and maybe not all the time, but he wants it from somewhere deep inside himself and it doesn’t go away. Perhaps he can back away from it. I do this consciously now, anchoring myself to people and animals, to responsibilities, to plans and commitments, to joys and satisfactions. I find there are many reasons to stick around, not least of which is the unmitigated suffering of those I'd leave behind. I hope he’ll find his own reasons to stay.

People tell us everything, if we’re paying attention. Somewhere down in the basement our dreaming mind puts the pieces together and we call it intuition or precognition, but it’s really just an unconscious form of deduction. We get to know things we wish we didn’t know. After waking up choking on my tears this morning, I wish I didn't anticipate the loss of those I love, but I treat people better when I take their plight seriously, so there’s that, anyway.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Keifus's essay on masks reminded me: I like the person I want to be. I'm dashing, funny, loving, clean. There's an inner august with a purity about him, a better husband, a renaissance man. My doppelganger answers his emails, keeps up with his friends, consoles with kind words and baked goods.

I aspire to a kind of truth – that those around me could bank on what I say.

I aspire to know the difference between good and evil. To lose weight. To no longer move through the world with such phobias (car accidents, tidal waves, terrorism). To write.

I aspire to connections, like the other night when standing on the northbound platform, I looked into the lit windows of a southbound train. The people inside all looked familiar to me, as if I recognized them, as if there were a limited number of souls in the world and I had gotten to know most of them. The brakes put off an electric smell, the taste of a battery. It was cold, and I realized I was wrong. I don't have a guardian angel, and I don't have an illuminating angle on life. I just want to.

In 1960 the French philosopher E. M. Cioran wrote, "Whenever I happen to be in a city of any size, I marvel that riots do not break out every day: massacres, unspeakable carnage, a doomsday chaos. How can so many human beings coexist in a space so confined without destroying each other, without hating each other to death? As a matter of fact they do hate each other, but they are not equal to their hatred. And it is this mediocrity, this impotence, that saves society, that assures its continuance, its stability." He was talking about utopias. That people could imagine a better world allowed them to tolerate this one.

I would not put myself in a camp with Cioran. But I do think many of the decisions I make (most notably marriage) are attempts to challenge myself to try to live up to the me I wish were possible, and failure seems a constant danger. Still, I like it about myself that I aspire. It's a part of me I can relate to.

Place your bets now...

For Gerald Ford's death, will Slate go with an anti-obituary by Christopher Hitchens, master of the genre, or an over-the-top obit, like they ran for James Brown?

I'm guessing both... If you held a gun to my head and made me guess one, I'd take the anti-obit by Hitchens.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Barack Obama -- Mystery Man

Mickey Kaus writes of Barack Obama:

It's not the same thing as confronting deeper, bigger, less easily addressed problems: How to structure the health care system, how to pay for entitlements, how to confront the terror threat, the rise of China, the problems of trade and immigration, the increase in income inequality at the top.

Hmmm... makes you kind of wish Obama had written a book outlining his thoughts on these very issues.

Yes, some of those thoughts are a bit sketchy along the lines of, "Republicans are not entirely incorrect when they say X, but that does not change the fundamental truth of Y." And he does seem to come around to the same conclusions that Democrats have been comming to for the past several years. But it is apparent that he has given these issues a good deal of thought that extends beyond his own autobiography.

With Obama, it seems that the music has changed, but the words remain the same. It's liberalism without the mean-spiritedness. We should do these things because they're the right thing to do, not because we have to stop those "powerful forces standing in your way."

Maybe a change of music is enough...

Monday, December 25, 2006

Order of Bah Humbug

Someone please tell Run that I've not been able to log into the Fray. No matter what I do. I'm so sorry. I guess I really have a reason to Bah Humbug!

I feel awful. I wish I hadn't brought it up at all now.

If you're wondering what particular marble of the many I've lost this last week or so I'm feeling around under the couch trying to find, see here.

I haven't been able to log into the Fray since I posted that. I've been at it off and on all day. I've tried all the tricks I know. I got another account and tried them with that one. I've got a program trying them repeatedly, even. Still no joy.

I'm starting to wonder at what point this will become risible. I mean, at what point do give in? Other people manage multiple nics and stuff all over, but I can't even get one to connect.

If I could post, it'd look something like this.

Bah Humbug! We finally got our servers fixed from the damage from the big power outage and we're back up at work. I had a grand total of a day and a half to get ready for Christmas once we got our power back, but it's come together far better than I had dared hope.

The Pagan Horde is all snug in their beds waiting semi-impatiently for 8 am to arrive for the last time, I imagine. This next year is going to be full of changes and I don't think it's going to be the same next year and from here on out.

I hope you all are having a safe and merry night. Here's to absent friends, both electronically absent and physically so. I've got an espresso and a batch of cookies cooling and I have to get back at it.

Happy Holidays from MsZilla and the Pagan Horde!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Masks of Gold and Stone (Merry Christmas)

Many of you here use this place as a mask, using that intemperate interface to peek out through orange and blue glasses at personalities represented by letters on a screen. All those characters dashed about, turning people into characters, and, in the brains of the reader, back into people again, at least some of the time.

Even though this place (the Fray) is particularly well-suited to masquerade--there's an infinitude of off-screen changing rooms--there is no shortage of masks in walking life. We show ourselves to our family one way, represent to friends, coworkers another. We show toothy visages to our enemies, and roll our bellies at people we trust, sometimes on faith. Some few show fiery masks of passion: dangerous items, apt to consume the wearer (I also fear they're lonely down beneath--as for me, I prefer to smolder), but most others see only the armor we put before ourselves to protect from the inevitable spears and pricks that people lurk to jam into any chink.

I find them all ill-fitting and cumbersome.

Of course we mask ourselves to ourselves as well, to varying degrees. I'd find it nice to be free to open them all to reveal just me, whatever the hell that is. Even if I think it makes a silly quasi-quantitative modelI know that Keifus, whoever he is, is in truth a multitude of faces, and even if these are, by definition, also false--bullshit upon bullshit upon nothingness--then at least they are form-fitting to whatever it is I might be. As someone who wishes he could write, I find it a satisfying exercise to go spelunking through the wrinkled avenues of my gray matter* for avatars. I'm not too afraid of my darker corners (more disappointed in them, actually), but many of the weaker ones I'd rather not see. For all this, however, there's a small ensemble of legitimate Keifuses with which I identify as me.

Even though this is by nature a place of masks, it's also a place where I let the essential ones shine with their most unfiltered light. So many of you don the things to even walk in the door. I find it a relief to shuck the fucking things off.

Letting me out is all about projecting my reactions on things--my opinions, my thoughts. It's not the same as revealing the facts of my life. I find these a burden too, truth be told. As a rule, I don't talk about my marriage here (partly because doing so is inherently unfair, partly because it's sneaky, partly because I consider it low class, and partly because I'd love my wife to be part of any hypothetical hugfest I'm finally allowed to attend), even if it consumes a great deal of my mental energy. But I'm dying to tell you that it's the heaviest mask I wear: asexual and orthogonal to the grain of my humor. Bulletproof. It weighs a goddamn ton. That you folks tend to find me decent is a total riot.

It's exactly the wrong time to complain about this of course, in the middle of a seasonal lull in the long ice, a midwinter thaw that's as welcome as a desert oasis. But melting lets out all those frozen-in flaws and impurities, all at once. (It's how, incidentally, you purify silicon ingots.) Hopefully this post does makes these thoughts go away.

The masks I wear in front of my kids is are closer to my internal selves. But to the tykes, I can't, of course, show all of the inner Keifuses, only the ones they are ready to understand. My work mask is me to an even smaller extent. That me is mostly about business and intellectual thought (although I don't think anyone's fooled by my preferred distractions). I decline to wear my business mask here unless it informs a more universal or relevant experience. I think that posturing my work knowledge only to impress (sorry, Geoff) is pretty unclassy too--there's a fine line. (But on the other hand, those guys in explainer are getting checks for showing off, so maybe I'm a fool. I'll live.)

I've got some close friends too that only see my masks. These are the guys I grew up with and I positively cherish their continued company. But there's no denying we grew apart--these fellows have a spark of the intellectual married with a spark of the eternal childish (otherwise we'd never likely have found one another), but their minds all took different paths than mine over the years. More closed, less honest. Sorry guys.

I've said it before: you jokers, even if those of you who're faking it--most of you--are the closest thing I've got to real friends. What you see here is the closest thing to Keifus that I'll admit to, even to myself.

I won't lie to you. My Christmas is going to be wonderful. It's the closest time of the year when I can let it out at home and still be approved of. There will be fabulous food, good wine, terrible family jug-band music, and just a good--no, a great--loving time had by all. It's the best week of the year by a long shot.

I don't know why I find so much in common with you people. I'm hopelessly mundane. I've never done hard drugs, don’t suffer from alcoholism (probably) or other addictions, don't smoke, never had a tumultuous relationship, am boringly straight, never had soul-scrubbing sex, I've figured little of it out, no light shines beatifically from my forehead, don't know the right things to say, have no deviant preferences (but could probably find them if I tried), never been homeless, have no debilitating maladies (except bad knees), no psycological afflictions, I may be melancholy but I'm not clinically anything, never fought in a war, never sacrificed myself for others (except in wimpy moderation for my family), never cheated on my wife, never been divorced, never committed rhetorical sins, had no close loved ones suffer (not that close), never lied in a substantive way, wasn't abused as a child, and, I'm happy to say, have abused no one other than by being my pathetic self.

But just the same, you people are my brothers, and I love every crazy, fucked-up, lying one of you. Yup, even you. I'll be needing you for the other 51 weeks. Take care.

Merry Christmas.


*This phrase sounds familiar to me: will research to see if I accidentally cribbed it, I promise

2006/2007 New Year Fraysolutions

2006 New Year Fraysolutions

1.) Trick The_Bell into using the phrase "fucktarded thundercunt" in 1 of his topposts.

Okay, okay. But I've still got a couple days. Come on, Bell, help a brother out.

2.) Use less motherfucking profanity. [ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha]

I think I did.

3.) Revive the TV Club board, with angcho's, Splendid's, cristofurio's, rundeep's, lucabrasi's and Kevin's help.

Well, this did happen. But it was just because of those self-important The Wire freaks, so technically it shouldn't count. But I'm counting it anyway because I think they stole my idea. It's just that they, well, did it better. (Or did they?)

4.) Be less of an anti-Semitic Nazi sympathizer, but just on The Fray.

I think many of you will be surprised to learn that I've been much more anti-Semitic here than in real life. Much, much more. And racist.

5.) Finish "the basement". (I think all y'all know what I mean by "the basement" [i.e., "the fraysement"])

Yeah, uh, I really don't know what I meant by this one either.

6.) Post less. [chortle chortle chortle]

Ka-ching! (What?)

7.) Go to Waco and take andkathleen out for drinks at The Barnhills Buffet, appetizers at The Golden Corral, a nice dinner at Ryan's Steak House, and dessert at (The) Shoney's. If they don't have any of these fine eating establishments in Waco, drive back to The 'Ham, because we sure as shit do.

As soon as I crossed over the Alabama border, this ankle bracelet thingie just started going nuts – flashing, making a loud Whoop! Whoop! sound. And I think at one point my testicles were slightly numbed. So, no.

8.) Learn how to do links and italics and bold and interesting formatting and various icons like "trademark", &c., and so forth. Wait. Strike that. I'd lose my super powers.

Fuck super powers. Linking is way cool.

9.) Do many more movie reviews where I get the name of the movie wrong and the names of the actors mixed up, all while never having actually seen the movie itself.

I don't know. What do y'all think?

10.) Think about other posters' fraylings for a change. [single cricket chirp here]

Good news: That cricket's still a'chirpin'!

11.) Don't get banned. Again.

Unless you count dailykos, of course.

12.) Flame chummers and spam trawlers.

That got real old real quick, if all y'all recall.

13.) Do more posts about food, especially toast.

That worked out fine, but it was about food only insofar as it pertained to bodily orifices.

14.) Trick Betty_the_Crow into topposting about The O.C.

I don't know. The jury's still out.

15.) Convince Dana Stevens that Not In My Backyard is a new reality tv show about poor, uneducated black people displaced by an inadequate levee system in order to clear the way for the gentrification (i.e., "the white-trification") of New Orleans, when in actuality it's not a reality tv show; it's just reality.

Wouldn't you know it, but just as I was laying the groundwork for this gem of a scheme, they promoted (Promoted? Hmm…) Dana up to movie reviewer status when Dave E. left, and brought on Troy Patterson, who would never have fallen for something like that. Rats. Sorry, all.

2007 Fraysolutions

1.) Get Adam to change his frayeditor05 nic to either TheFlusher, please_shut_up, or Androgynator7.

2.) Get my very own column at Slate.

3.) Get Ender to come back.

4.) Get T to like me. (Again.)

5.) Get IOZ to come back.

6.) Get Kevin to start fraying on a regular basis.

7.) Convince Geoff to put my movie reviews side by side with Dana Stevens'.

8.) Trick Publius into using the phrase "insane retard".

9.) Leave the house more. (Good one!)

10.) Brood less.

11.) Ask C to marry me. Again.

12.) Cover the deck, add a wood burning stove, build another deck, finish the kitchen, paint the hall and guest bedroom, plant 15 tomato plants, and get back into swimming 1000 meters a day, at least 5 days a week, when the stupid fucking gym is actually fucking open.

13.) Spend less time here. (Good one!)

14.) Write.

15.) Be a little bit nicer to myself. (Good one!)

Wish me luck. See all y'all January 2, 2007, unless I see you first. Or I'm dead.

All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.
-Sally Brown

Exploiting the Rules

I was reading the Sports Illustrated Year in Review edition (which thankfully did not name "you" as Sportsman of the Year), and in the college football section, they referred to this episode as "brilliant." It may be brilliant, but it's awful sportsmanship.

To recap, in an attempt to speed up the game, they put in a rule this year that on kick-offs, the clock starts when the ball is kicked rather than when the receiving team touches it. (I don't recall many complaints that college football games took too long, or that logging the time when a kick-off is in flight would have that great an impact, but whatever...)

Anyway, in a game against Penn State, Wisoncsin scores a touchdown with 30 seconds left in the half, then purposely jumps offside twice on kickoffs to burn that time off the clock.

And for this, the Wisconsin coaches are lauded as "brilliant."

But what does such a strategy have to do with determining who was the better football team that day?

I understand that strategy and gamesmanship are part of sports, and people exploit oddities in the rules all the time. The four corners offense, calling time-out when falling out of bounds (or throwing the ball off an opponents leg), or even fouling a player who an uncontested lay-up or giving an intentional walk to a great hitter are all ways of turning a contest from an athletic competition into a contest of who can use the rules to his greatest advantage. And, of course, the end of any close basketball game includes the trailing team commiting fouls when the opposing team has the ball to force them to make free throws.

But I wonder what impact the celebration of these "clever" strategies has on the culture.

For example, I am pro-life. Since Roe vs. Wade, the pro-life movement has had an almost single-minded obsession with overturning it. This entails electing presidents who would nominate judges inclined to overturn the decision, and get them confirmed by the Senate.

Since many Senators could not vote to confirm a justice they know would overturn the decision, this involves an odd dance where the nominees try to reveal as little as possible.

During the Harriet Miers debate, some conservative commentators thought she was a good "stealth" nominee. -- she didn't have a paper trail of opposition to Roe, so maybe she could be confirmed. (My thoughts at the timeon that are here.

Then there was the "nuclear option" -- it turns out we could change the rules of the Senate so that fillibusters could be ended with a simple majority vote. Why not do that to get some of these justices confirmed?

No and No.

I do not dispute the necessity of overturning Roe. In addition to the abortions themselves, I feel it has coarsened our culture, and poisoned our politics. It cannot end soon enough.

But it must be defeated squarely and fairly, not by sneaking through "stealth" nominees, or exploting undiscovered loopholes in the Senate rules. A victory won that way would not be a victory at all. It would not prove that we had the superior arguments, any more than if Wisonsin winning by their little stunt would prove they were the superior football team.

We need to commit to not take short-cuts, to do the hard work of persuasion and cultural transformation to win public debates, rather than think we can be more clever at manipulating the intricacies of the political system.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mitt Romney's Concession Speech.

Should he withdraw from the race he hasn't officially entered yet.

Mitt: Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life. and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don't care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this country might think that's stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, America, but you're so high and mighty you couldn't look past my religion and just be my friend back. You've got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.

[turns around and walks off. All four boys just look at him in wonder, even Weisberg.]

Weisberg: Damn, that kid is cool, huh?

Wiesberg’s column is way off. For the most complete, entertaining, yet surprisingly even-handed treatment of the controversial Joseph Smith story, look here. [The episode, not the site, which I haven't bothered to look at.]

Mitt is the man to beat, this election. He’s smart, he’s good looking in a most presidential kind’ve way, he’s a business-oriented conservative who can play nice with liberals, his values appeal to Southern Christian conservatives, he's a Northeast governer with ties to the West, and he’s going to impress the hell out of the voting public (if perhaps not the political pundits) once the debates get underway. It’s foolish and arrogant to underestimate this man because of his religion. “Let he who is without sin…” and all that.


Shifting lanes on the New Jersey Turnpike, I'm knocked out of gear by a 747 landing at Newark airport directly in front of me. The landscape blinks like a Pachinko machine as I maneuver the gearshift back into place, drafting off of an 18 wheeler. Manhattan is on the right, the Moulin Rouge of cities. On the left: oil refineries, closed factories, and then… swamp. The landscape darkens and I know that I'm just a bridge away from home.

My apartment gets direct sunlight for about 4 hours each day (it slips in between the cracks of skyscrapers, riding a serenade of the electric sanders of roofers. We have been growing a bulb in a glass bowl, a Christmas present that is blooming on cue, pink fading to white. I have put it in our sliver of light, and rotate the bowl every once in a while to make sure it grows straight, but in fact the effect is the opposite. The two stalks bend this way and that on their way up to the blooms. I feel like a snake charmer.

In the city, I have discovered a neighborhood bar that is not crowded where I can get beers for $3.00 (thus allowing me to go out for a drink without arranging financing beforehand). Unfortunately, the local video store closed. They delivered to my door: Altman, Melville, Marx, Allen, Polanski, Renoir, and Godard. Now it's gone. No wonder I'm drinking.

Overheard: "It's not like I want to sleep with you every night." "I don't need you to tell me you're despicable. I can see it through your ways and actions." "Four inch margins, you're such a fucking princess. Grow up."

I'm reading Shopgirl, by Steve Martin. It's engrossing, and I'm lost at a glove counter, and remember the particular bite of loneliness. My wife stirs me, makes me talk about Christmas shopping. I'm to buy mixing bowls today.

On the fucking turnpike again. Southbound, we are jammed into two lanes with no margins, no room in front or behind. Lewis Thomas says we are more like ants than artists, that all this crap about the individual pales before the regularities of our collective behavior. The New Jersey Turnpike is just one part of the colony, and I am a worker, returning with my crumb. I worry that my tires are bald and may be about to blow. I worry that the truck driver in front of me is on speed. I worry that the kids in the car on my right will start laughing too hard to concentrate. I worry that the moments, the pieces, the cars add up to something totally banal, as wasteful and useless as a bad dictator. But I am breathless in this motion, the acceleration and deceleration and danger.

It's just so hard to pay attention.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

When to pay attention

Over on, guest-blogger Alex describes an egregious case of eminent domain and wonders what the Supreme Court will do about it.

Well, I don't know. And, as much as I didn't like the result of the Kelo ruling, I can't say with confidence that it was the wrong ruling.

I think the real problem is that people don't pay attention to these things until they get to the Supreme Court. Yes, the Supreme Court should act as a check against tyrannical governments, but if I'm counting on the Supreme Court to keep my local municipality from taking my house, I'm not doing my job as a citizen.

But we don't. And when something like Kelo happens, we blame the Supreme Court, rather than the local government that thought this was a good idea in the first place. And then Supreme Court openings become ultimate high stakes contests, and everyone digs in their heels.

Also on, Alex compares the primary season with two methods of evaluating presidential candidates -- power rankings vs. resume.

Of course the key difference is that regardless of the early season power rankings, every team plays their full schedule, and can build up a resume to be used when that takes precendence. In the primary season, candidates who do poorly in the early power rankings drop out and don't get to build a resume.

Sports Commentary Made Easy

It can be hard to fill column space with sports news. Fortunately modern sports offers several templates you can use to fill out the year:

  • The "Preview Column"
    Here, you predict final standings and playoff results just before the season begins. Even better, you can repeat this before each round of the playoffs. The accuracy of the predictions doesn't matter -- nobody remembers this stuff anyway.

    If you want to maximize your appearances on sports talk radio and ESPN shouting heads shows, predict an utterly implausible finish for your local team. For example, if you are a writer in New York, predict a fourth place finish for the Yankees. Then, when asked to defend it, make vague statements about the "chemistry" of the team, and leave open the possibility that it could be corrected, to cover yourself.

  • The "Year in Review" Column
    There's two flavors of this -- you can do this now and recap all the events of the previous year, which applies to any area of news.

    Then there's the "report card" at the end of the year, where you assign a letter grade to every player, coach, and the front office for their performance of the year. My personal favorites are the new players, or players whom you thought should have gotten more playing time, who get "Incomplete"(s). If you're hurting, you can do a mid-season report card, too.

    The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has gone a step further and included a a report card for the Rams after every game.

    You can probably squeeze another column or two by bestowing your personal end of year awards. Start with the standard MVP, Coach of the Year, etc., and then pick some of your own. If a local athlete is in the running for one of the awards, you can break that race out into its own column.

  • Other lists
    Other times will produce lists you can evaluate -- this year's crop of free agents, this recruiting class, etc.

  • The "Snub" Column
    This is really shooting fish in a barrel. Whenever a major sports announces an All-Star or All-America team, put together a list of those who narrowly missed and call it the "All-Snub" team. If you can work in the sentence, "I'll take my guys over the bozos on the All-Star team any day of the week, and twice on Sunday," all the better. Another good one to work in is, "Those on the All-Star team might have better statistics, but statistics don't measure heart."

    Another variant of this can come out after the NCAA tournament seedings are announced. If they went heavy on power conferences, compare the records of the small conference schools that were left out of the tournament with the worst record of a major conference school that got an at large bid. If they went with more schools from smaller conferences, than read off the weakest sounding schools on thier schedules, and compare it to the conference schedules. This should be easy.

  • The BCS "Mess" Column
    The timing on this one is tricky, because sometimes, like last year, there are two obvious candidates who face each other at the end of the year in the championship game, and the system works. So, you need to pick a time when there is some ambiguity about the top two teams, but the later in the season you write this column, the more effective it is.

    This consists of lamenting that some poor team will not get a chance to play for the national championships despite its stellar accomplishments. Gloss over whatever blemishes exist on this team's record. Wonder aloud when oh when college football will come to the same realization that other sports have come to that championships should be decided "on the field," rather than by a bunch of computers. Bonus points if you can sarcastically refer to this as a novel concept. Extra bonus points if you write that money is the reason for this injustice, and ignore the logical improbability that a superior system would generate less money.

    Another easy column in this family is to attack the rankings. Invariably, at some point in the season a team will have only one loss, and that loss will be to a team that has, say, three losses. If the one loss team is ranked ahead of the team it lost to, you can call the rankers idiots since the three-loss team had obviously proven it was superior by beating the one loss team. Wonder aloud why they even bother playing the games if they're not going to impact the rankings. If the three-loss team is ranked ahead, then look at its worst loss, compared to the one-loss team's best victory, and again call those doing the rankings idiots. You can't go wrong, either way.

  • Hall of Fame Votes
    Every Hall of Fame ballot you receive in the mail (or one of your colleagues receives) gives you another column or two. Run down the list of candidates and say you're putting in and leaving out. Ideally, you can back a somewhat obscure candidate so you can be associated with his cause. If there's a high-profile or controversial candidate, you can break that out into another column.

    If you've been employing any kind filter to prevent your columns from having a sanctimonious tone, then this is the time to turn it off. This is about legacy and history, not just about who was best in a particular year. As much as you can, spin your vote as one that is for truth, justice, and the American way, and against lying, cheating, and hypocrisy. Like this.

  • Incidents
    Things like the Pacers-Knicks brawl provide easy column fodder. First, you can assess blame to the coaches, players, or cultural trends. Then, when the punshments are meted out, you can compare them to punishments on previous incidents, and say they're being too hard or too soft. This column should include a "what about..." paragraph compaining that some culpable party that it would be impossible to punish was not punished. So, for the brawl, you can ask why George Karl isn't being punished for playing his starters with a 20 point lead, even though that is not a punishable offense.

    T.O. alone should be good for a few columns like this. Even if he doesn't cause controversey himself, you can make stuff up. So, if he hurt his hand, you can talk about how many balls he's dropped this year, and how that makes him a liability on the field despite him leading the league in touchdown catches.

  • Defending the Pioneer
    This is a real good one.

    Once a year or so, someone will break some sports barrier -- Danica Patrick will finish fourth in the Indy 500, or Annika Sorenstam will play in a men's golf tournament. And so forth.

    It might be tempting to write a column celebrating these achievements, but there's an even easier target. See, reporters will bug the other players about this developement. And they'll do it over and over again until one of them finally gets annoyed and says something stupid.

    Then, you've got your column. Ideally, the athlete who does this will be a past-his prime guy who's barely hanging on. Then you can take the easy shot that he should worry more about his game than about whom should be excluded from competition. Leave aside questions about why anyone should care what the third string catcher on the Pirates has to say about social policy. He's the Bad Guy. He's the one standing in the way of progress. And he must pay.

  • Sports Nut
    Writing an column for the Sports Nut feature in Slate is slightly different but not any more difficult. Just do the opposite of the above, so you can claim the mantle of contratrian:

    • Defend the BCS.
    • Say the All-Star Selections are just fine.
    • Write that the player who said he would never accept an openly gay teammate, while crude, has a point.
    • Write that brawls are a neccesary part of basketball, and efforts to curtail them will result in an inferior product.

With these in mind, you should be able to get a year's worth of columns without breaking a sweat. And that's assuming you won't have any debates about whether some coach should get fired.

The Office Christmas Party

God but I hate office Christmas parties. Lame, lame, lame. Mine was last night. I didn’t go, of course. But that certainly wasn't going to stop people from harassing me. First I get a call from a young friend I haven't talked to in months because of the fallout. Then I get a call from "the one that got away" who's there for whatever reason.

"Why aren't you at the party?"
"Oh, I don't know. I guess it's because I have to spend all day with those retards, and I'm not exactly inclined to give up a hard-earned evening away from them. Call me selfish, but watching my coworkers get plowed knee-walking drunk while fighting over a Craftsman tool set during Dirty Santa isn't really my idea of having a good time celebrating the birth of a dude who's ultimately going to off himself via his virgin-birthed son. Bye." [click]

Office Christmas parties are inherently flawed, as The Office's Christmas episode brilliantly pointed out last week. Did you see it? That's the most awkward 1 hour of television I've seen in years. The last time I was that uncomfortable watching a show, the whole family sat down to enjoy Buddy Hackett live on HBO in 1982. Who knew The Love Bug veteran had a mouth on him? If I'm not mistaken, mom remarked, "Why don't you just drag a garbage can into the living room and watch it?" Ouch.

Anyways, office Christmas parties are doomed from the start. Why? Well…

It's the one night of the year in the south when teetotalers (closet drinkers) and hardcore drinkers (closet Baptists) finally meet. It's hard to describe. It's sort of like a combination of The Days Of Wine And Roses and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. "Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring ting tingling too…"

It's the one night of the year when the south reverts to Montgomery, Alabama circa 1845, complete with black servants wearing white and white people wearing down black servants.

It's the one night of the year when employees try to eat and drink their yearly salary in food and adult beverages in an effort to get back at "the man". Inevitably that ends with a headache and beaucoup resentment.

It's the one night of the year when spouses and significant others get to see their spouses and significant others get a little tipsy and hit on the chesty receptionist. Again.

Last year I heard someone giving advice on NPR's Sound Money about how to handle the office Christmas party, which was, essentially, to cover the room in a circle, saying hello to everyone, chatting briefly, limiting oneself to 2 drinks maximum, staying only as long as it takes to visit with each person in attendance.

That's insane. 2 drinks? Call me old fashioned, but 2 drinks is the alcoholic equivalent of foreplay without the actual sex part. Blueball Fest 2006. And if I had to chat with everyone in the room, I'm going to need to do a couple lines in the men's room. Because talking to some of these people is like being paired with a midget in the 3-legged race at the church picnic. Someone's gonna get his feelings hurt.

In past gatherings, I've usually had the unfortunate luck of getting trapped in a corner with some divorced, under-sexed ad exec lady who for Christmas really needs to get a T-shirt that says "I [heart] self-medication" and who wants to talk about work.

"Great party."
"I thought that project turned out great."
"Uh… Which one?"
"The one with the little kids and the guy in the wheelchair."
"Yeah, I didn't work on that one."
"Oh. Right. Did you know I haven't had sex in 5 years?"
"Is that more Krab dip!? Excuse me. I love that stuff…"

Then there's the unavoidable play-by-play the next day.

"Oh man. You should've been there. Steve's wife broke a bottle over her head, squeezed Heather's ass, and then threw up all over the boss's daughter! It was awesome!"
"Yeah, sorry I missed that. Although that would explain why Steve's secretly gay, wouldn't it?"

And let's not forget the half-dozen or so 45-minutes-late-to-work Walks Of Shame past the front desk. Sweet.

You know, Christmas is bad enough as it is. The last thing I need to ram that point home is a bunch of hypocrites pretending not to loathe each other for 3 hours. And that's just the married couples.

Happy Holidays!
Happy Holidays!
Let the merry bells keep ringing.
Happy Holidays to you!


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Jesus Problem and Christ the Thing

Reposted from Best of the Fray

In this two-year old conversation, Fritz Gerlich questions how, through the ancient and contradictory accounts of his life and work, one can know Jesus. Montfort responds with a poem about the omnipresent Christ. They continue back and forth and they come back, as always, to the Fray.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Subject: My Jesus problem
From: Fritz_Gerlich
Date: Dec 18 2004 6:48PM

It never ceases to astonish me how little feeling committed Christians have for the texts upon which their faith is allegedly founded. It seems obvious to me, and always has, that the man portrayed in the four canonical gospels is either (a) mad, (b) a Zen roshi, or (c) an incomplete and possibly scrambled portrait. (This perception is enhanced, by the way, if you turn to uncanonical gospels, like that of Thomas. The Jesus of Thomas actually does sound amazingly Zen.) It is very hard to connect one thing to another in this jagged, abrupt personality full of brilliantly-lit prominences and shadowy clefts and craters. He constantly makes enigmatic statements he refuses to explain. It is even said that he intends to baffle his listeners. If so, he succeeded brilliantly with me.

He rails against colleagues of his own tradition, seeming to invite their antagonism. When they question him, he gives answers that are flippant or trivial--or refuses to answer. He several times seems indifferent to his own family, if not hostile. He commands the impossible, like making mountains throw themselves into the sea, or forgiving someone 490 times. (Seriously, now, if somebody let you down 489 times, would you really feel able to give him another chance?) He commands the gruesome, like putting out your eye or cutting off your hand or eating his flesh. He believes the end of the world is coming, and very soon; he seems almost to relish the violence and terror that event will loose upon the world. In our time, such empirically unfounded obsessions are considered amusingly eccentric if not symptomatic of mental disturbance.

Yet side by side with these dark extremes are bright flashes of someone very different: a man who seeks out the lowly and despised and treats them with respect, a man who enjoys the company of children and calls for their protection, a man who demands justice and mercy in place of empty words and rituals. The Beatitudes alone earn this man a permanent place in religious history.

Christians resolve this fundamental contradiction in Jesus by saying, in effect, "Well what do you expect? He was not an ordinary man. He was the Son of God." Since Tertullian, in fact, Christians have exploited the deep chasm running down the middle of their founder by arguing that either he was mad, or he was exactly who he said he was--no other possibility. They're betting that since you know they believe in Jesus, and they're not mad, you'll feel reluctant to conclude he was a madman, and therefore feel compelled to admit the truth of his claims (as interpreted by Christians). Since it doesn't fit their apologetic needs, Christians never suggest you consider the possibility that he was neither or both. And, of course, they don't admit the possibility that we simply can't know who Jesus actually was, historically or theologically.

Whatever Christians say theologically, as a practical, devotional matter, they in fact treat Jesus as someone who can be known personally, like a best friend. This is a common "witnessing"-type statement, which I certainly have heard, and you probably have, too: "I came to know a man named Jesus." Similar statements have been multiplied ad infinitum in various ministries and popular publications, especially in America. Everybody in the world has a standing invitation to come up, shake Jesus' hand, and get to know him. The implication is that, at some level, you can relate to him as you would to another human being.

I was raised in a devout Roman Catholic home, and never questioned my faith until late adolescence. But the disturbing contrasts in the character of Jesus were evident to me as a child. (Contrary to a persistent Protestant myth--current even today, I find--Catholics do read the Bible. I had to memorize long passages throughout elementary school.) I addressed my prayers to God the Father, God up in Heaven, who was safely abstract. I could imagine him as benign, understanding and consistent. (I was, of course, ignoring all those Old Testament episodes of Yahweh raining fire and destruction on various peoples for no reason other than that they were in the Jews' way.) I could not imagine Jesus in terms like "consistent." The textual evidence proved he was the very opposite. Jesus looked to me like a flake. I couldn't understand where he was coming from, as we said in those days, and I did not feel safe with him.

My reading of the gospels, of course, was not the view sponsored by my church. When I was growing up, the Catholic church tended to portray Jesus in two predominant ways--and then turned selectively to the Bible for passages to support those portraits. Where I went wrong was in thinking that the texts as a whole were meant to inform us about the personality of Jesus. According to the church, that was the church's job.

The first favored Catholic modality for Jesus in those times was "Christ the King," the glorified risen Christ awe-ing the world with his resplendent majesty. Such a Christ was left deliberately ambiguous. Was he benign or dangerous? Was he going to judge the world (the same world that crucified him) in a merciful or a just manner? According to theology, both, depending on one's works--but that was no help to a child, or anybody else, since to feel assured of one's salvation was presumption. This Jesus (or "Christ," as Catholics, at least then, preferred to call him) was a sphinx--somewhat like the Jesus of the gospels, actually, but far less damaging from the PR standpoint, since this Christ didn't go around saying bizarre stuff, but just stood there looking majestic. Problem was, this Christ also got a tad boring (especially in the rather threadbare Catholic iconography of the time), once you tired of wondering about the Last Judgment. At least Jesus in the gospels worked miracles and told stories.

The other image of Jesus then current in the Catholic church was the Italianate suffering Christ whose image still decorated a great many older churches and was still churned out on a great many holy cards. This Jesus was generally shown either kneeling in the garden of Gethsemane or hanging in extremis on the cross. In either pose, his face was twisted into an expression of great suffering and his eyeballs were grotesquely pointed at the sky. (Ever wonder where Mel Gibson's idea of Jesus originally came from? Now you know.) This suffering Jesus was much more popular with women than men, and with older women rather than younger women. There was little in it to appeal to a feisty lad about to make his way in a competitive world. And although he is still very much in vogue in Latin countries, he seems to have faded gracefully away in the United States. Even Gibson's resurrection of Suffering Christ is careful to keep him away from pathos and weakness. He suffers manfully, like an action hero should.

Which causes me to reflect that one kind of Jesus was not common among American Catholics in my youth: the one I came later to call "team-captain Jesus," the hale, hearty, handsome Jesus, good-naturedly calling one and all to join him in the Kingdom, which appeared to be some kind of especially neat parish social at which everybody wears gospel-type robes. This is the Jesus who puts his hand on your shoulder, or tells a joke, or even plays a game with children. There is more than a hint of the athlete about him. This Jesus struck us--or me, anyway--as a Protestant image. Catholics of that time didn't by any means despise Protestants--"ecumenism" was very much in vogue--but we did think that their team-captain Jesus lacked dignity. Catholics did sometimes portray Jesus as a young, healthy man--but with more reserve. He was not given features and gestures that would make him seem too familiar. Usually, he was shown with his right hand raised, to signify authority. Because, to Catholics, he was always first and foremost "Christ Our Lord," the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. He was man, all right, but since he was not cursed with original sin, and since he also possessed a divine nature, we should understand that his humanity wasn't anything we could aspire to. He was more unlike us than he was like us.

I'm wandering from my point: none of these various Jesuses stands up to the entirety of the disturbingly enigmatic individual of the texts. Now, it was to be many years after I left the Catholic church (and all other organized religion) that I realized that the discontinuities and contradictions of the gospel personality might be, at least in part, textual artifacts. They might result from different traditions descending from the contemporaries of Jesus, haphazard borrowing between traditions, bad translation and careless copying. Even later, I came to understand, from writers like Elaine Pagels and Geza Vermes, that the early church was in fact riven with doctrinal and organizational differences, in which the embryonic scriptures probably became a weapon. This means that they were written to advance a particular view or interpretation of Jesus against a competing one (particularly true, in Pagels' opinion, of the gospel of "John"). All of these factors interacting could have produced the disturbing atonality of our present texts.

A great many Jesus scholars start from exactly the premises summarized in my preceding paragraph. They take the texts (all of them, not just the canonical ones) as primary evidence, supplement them with whatever other historical or archeological knowledge they have, and try in that fashion to limn the "historical Jesus." Geza Vermes' The Changing Faces of Jesus is an excellent example, from the perspective of a scholar superbly equipped to see Jesus in the setting of the Judaism of his time.

Yet Vermes, like all other such scholars, finds that the textual evidence simply cannot be harmonized. To produce anything approaching a coherent picture of a single individual in a known historical setting, you find you have no choice but to throw out parts of texts in order to base your conclusions on others. You can make very persuasive arguments sometimes. Some gospel passages, like the famous concluding verses of Matthew ("go and teach all nations") can be proved to be much later textual additions. But the emendations can't be limited to a handful of obvious cases. Vermes treats the Fourth Gospel as theological speculation, not history, and he repeatedly casts doubt on the reliability of passages in the other gospels, often on the grounds that they are inconsistent with other evidence of Jewish belief or practice in Jesus' time. Other New Testament scholars do something similar, except that they tend not to agree with Vermes or with each other on which passages are reliable vs. unreliable.

It seems to me that there is an insuperable methodological problem in trying to construct a picture of the man Jesus. If you simply take the textual evidence as it is, all on one level so to speak, then you end up with my childhood problem: either no coherent picture, or a coherent picture of a bizarre if not mad personality. But if you start with an assumption that Jesus had a coherent personality, one that would have made intuitive sense to us if we had known him, then you have got to start throwing textual evidence out. And while there can be stronger and weaker reasons for each such emendation, the fact that most scholars weight these choices differently suggests that no set of them will ever be widely persuasive, leaving nonspecialists with the suspicion that they are being presented with Jesuses who simply fit different researchers' preconceptions about who he must have been or should have been. As great and honest a scholar as Vermes is, his book left me with exactly that feeling--Jesus was a badly misunderstood hasid, because that is the kind of Jesus Vermes is equipped to relate to. Jesus was indeed a hasid. But he seems to have been an unusual one, and it is more likely than Vermes admits that he looked beyond the boundaries of the Judaism of his time.

Theologically derived pictures of Jesus, such as those I sketched above, claim to be faithful to the textual evidence while presenting a coherent personality. Such claims, as far as I am concerned, are fraudulent. Theology proliferates many inconsistent images of Jesus and simply says you have to believe in all of them, or at least not expressly disbelieve in any your church happens to favor. If the resulting Jesus appears to you to be refracted through an hallucinogenic lens, well, that's where faith comes in. You aren't supposed to understand, just believe.

In recent years I have grown closer to Jesus. I read the gospels often, still perplexed by much, but unwilling to reject anything. This is not, heaven knows, for reasons of faith, but simply because I don't have any qualifications to make such decisions and I fear any I made would be arbitrary. The game, for me, is to understand Jesus as the gospels--uncanonical as well as canonical--portray him.

This seemingly hopeless effort, though never successful, turns out to be strangely un-Sisyphean. I don't ever think I understand Jesus, but I sometimes think I see him as a faint figure far ahead on a road I also walk. I get glimpses of who he could have been, what he might have seen that I cannot see. He (or the textual accidents that created him--it doesn't matter to me which, since I'm certainly not expecting Jesus to "save" me) intrigues me rather than frightens me now. He repeatedly challenges me to question my assumptions about life and people, about good and evil, about what it means to live and die. Since I realized many years ago that the universe is about questions not answers, I feel at home with Jesus in the same way I feel at home in the wilderness: it's my home precisely because it's not familiar.

* * * * *

Subject: If you meet Jesus on the road, kill him
From: Montfort
Date: Dec 19 2004 12:53AM

Your problem isn't with Jesus but with your perception (you and I and everyone else, we're Buddies in Misperception). And you're relying too much for your perception on your reading of these self-contradictory texts (forgive me if I restate something you already stated -- I confess, I scanned...). Those pesky Gospels -- written by people who lived after The Fact, handed down and translated and interpreted and edited to suit the times and circumstances, until finally there's precious little illumination left.

Well, actually that's all the illumination there ever was; everything else is chaff and dross and flotsam and jetsam and bagasse (yeah, I know -- redundant and meaningless, like most of the Bible, if what you're looking for is illumination).

Jesus isn't a personality; he's a fully realized human being. And you're just like him, only you don't realize it. That's what he's telling you, only you don't realize it. You're on the right track in your recognition of the Zen in him. Besides the Beatitudes, which (along with the Golden Rule) I've always held to be the fundamental tenet not just of Christianity but of all religion, all Jesus ever really said was things like I am the way (holy moly! He's the Tao Te Ching, too?), I am the life, I am the truth -- stuff like that. The crucial core of the human galaxy, the simple basic truthwaylife that, if you realize it for yourself, relieves you of the tiresome burden of having to make yourself live by the Beatitudes, because then the Beatitudes become like...


Another thing he said: You know where I'm going, and you know the way. -- John 14:4. He's not imparting knowledge. He's trying to wake you up! You're also the way, the life and the truth; you're just too befogged to realize it.

The Zen master would conk you on the head with his staff, then ask you an unanswerable nonsense question, and conk you again when you get it wrong. Koan -- it even sounds like a conk on the head, doesn't it? Jesus was a little kinder, I suppose, but we don't really know, do we, because the Gospelizers all had agendas -- spin doctors without borders.

Jesus doesn't want you to look at him as if he were outside you and you outside him; he wants you to look through him, with his eyes. There's no meaning to him -- ascribe meaning to him and you've already pulled the blinds down. Don't look at him in the context of biblical bagasse -- this-that-this, walker on water, scourge of the money-lenders, raiser of the dead, loaves and fishes, foot-washer, crucifyee -- but at what he says he is: the way, the truth, the life. No wonder you see him as the Fool on the Hill -- all that wack stuff you correctly posit and intuit is right on the money, and all of it is misperception. There is so much he could possibly be:

Red Jesus Green Jesus (ver1.6):
a Chr[ist}-Mass P{oem]
by Solipsis

Green Jesus
Red Jesus
Christ with glistening forehead eye
Christ the lord-robot of infinity
Christ the flea
Christ, the vine
Jesus, the abstraction
Jesus, the visible
Jesus, the symbol of turmoil
Christ, the symbol of completion
Jesus, the Ankh
Christ, the Swastika
Jesus, the tetraskelion
Christ, the luminous orb
Jesus, the Knot
Christ, the Soliton
Green Jesus
Red Jesus
Christ the tower of Babel
Christ with anti-grav boots
Christ the teleology salesman
Christ, the Movie
Christ, the forgotten
Jesus, Lucifer's arch-enemy
Christ, the great lucifer
Christ, the man
Jesus, the woman
Skeleton Jesus
Cigarette smoking Jesus
Whiskey drinking Jesus
Jesus, the beer
Mutant Jesus
Black Jesus
Black Panther Jesus
Jesus, the X-man
Christ's Mass = 47nanograms
Christ's Mass = 47billion terragrams
Jesus, the feather bearer
Christ, the Dove
Jesus, the bird man of Easter island
Christ, the bird man of Alcatraz
Christ, of Christmas Island
Jesus, the bird language of Easter Island
Jesus Atahualpa
Jesus of X-mas
Christ of X-tian
Jesus, son of X
Triple X Christ
softcore jesus
soft-shelled jesus
Crustacean Christ
Devil-fish Jesus
Green Jesus
Red Jesus
Psychedelic Jesus
Mushroom Jesus
Acid Christ
Sci-fi Jesus
Grey epileptic Jesus clones
in pentecostal orgy
electrodes on their nipples
heads shaved
gene-sequence series #'s
tattooed like holocaust victims
on their wrists
nurses videotape the event
for blasphemy-porn enthusiasts
in tight black rubber nun's habits
wearing crystalline thorn-crowns
and ice-pick sharp
stainless steel crucifixes
dipped in tetrodotoxin
Bondage Christ
Whipping boy Jesus
Christ with pierced tongue
Prince Albert Jesus
green jesus
red jesus
Christ hangers for your cashmere sweaters
for your new sportscoat
for your FILA sweat jacket
plastic Jesus
supermarket Jesus
Christ in a bottle
little Jesus abandoned in a shopping cart
cartoon Jesus
Christ-sticker on a blood-red lava-lamp
big fat tattooed Jesus
Jesus, the mexican wrestler
Christ, the ladder of abstraction
Eesa, the dishdash wearing savior
Jesu, the green alien baby fetish
green Jesus
red Jesus
Giant Christ knocking on the U.N. building
Jesus Manson locked up in heaven/prison
God staring teary-eyed at dead "indians"
Ghosts like cheese in the fridge
packed and fermented
Jesus the Psycho
Jesus the Madman
Jesus the Criminal
Christ the misapprehended
Christ the misunderstood
Dead Christ
Undead Christ
Christ the Vampire, by J.G. Eccarius
Christ the Zombi
Christ who would not die
Corpse Christ
Rotten Jesus wind
Jesus, the Lycanthropic divinomorph
Jesus, the tomb dweller
Jesus, the fermented
Jesus, the leavened
Christ, the foot
Jesus, the head
Christ, the arisen Necromancer
Jesus, the critic-hero
Christ, the revolutionary
green Jesus
red Jesus
Christ of Arvo Part
Christ of Penderecki
Christ I love to listen too
Christ the great Satan of Tonalism
Dissonant Christ
Christ, The Composer
Christ the bloody one
Christ the blood letter
Christ the Mayan Royal
Christ the Android
Christ the Heavy Metal Star
Christ the extreme athlete
Christ the Guitar God
Jesus, The Slayer
Jesus Harquebusier
Christ, The Knight
Christ, the Decomposer
Christ, the electric savior
Jesus, the typewriter
Christ, a form of technological innovation
green Jesus
red Jesus
Santa Jesus Claus Satan Christ Mary
transgendered Jesus
homosexual Jesus
big-breasted Jesus
anal-sex Jesus
stripper Jesus
Christ, the cock-ring
Christ, the pornostar
Gay Jesus
Lesbian Jesus
Long-dong Jesus
Double-dong Jesus
Heterosexual Christ
Jesus, the Lover
Jesus, the ladies' man
Casanova Jesus
Supernova Christ
Gentleman Jesus
Sir Jesus of Christhamshire commons
Neighborhood Jesus
Jesus the city
Metropolitan Jesus
Christ, the Cannon
Christ, the Canon
Christ, the Artillery
Jesus, the bullet
Christ the child of sweet grace
Christ the Indian Saint
Christ the Mormon
Christ the beloved
Christ, the transcendent
WW1 Jesus
WW2 Christ
Viet Cong Jesus
WarChrist, Jesu of angry blood screams
Attila, the HunChrist
meditating Jesus
Jesus Pbuh
Yeshua Christ
Jesus, Sixth Ray of Devotion and Idealism
Christ, the Jew
Christ, the Aramaic controversy
Christ, the planetary Avatar
Christ, the penniless bum
Jesus, the King of the 79,000 heavens
Christ, the Jedi
hungry Jesus
BBQ Jesus ribs
Christ the icon of failed dreams
Christ the irony
Christ the beauty of fragile human understanding
Christ the mistake
Christ the gentle unreasoning of the mad animal
Christ the poor
Jesus the little man of the poor
Jesus the savior
Jesus, the long-haired buddha of the Levant
Christ, the glowing monkey
Jesus, the wishing well
Kissing Jesus
on the mouth
tasting the red wine
he speaking Aramaic
over you
you see his woolen robe
his scarred feet
you feel love
like a diamond bullet
through your skull
you hear a faint Hindi cinema
sweet and high-pitched
you realize
Jesus is a Hindu
and has his fierce aspect
like any other god
he takes you by the hand
Let's go
an ocean of milk
opens before you
you are walking with Jesus
across the ocean of milk
and you can hear nothing
but Lata and Mukesh
Jesus has warm hands
the milk is calm and vast

merry Christ-mass..


If you meet Jesus on the road, kill him, because meeting him means you're seeing him as separate and distinct from you. The biblical Jesus, the historical Buddha, I don't care -- you see him on the road, whack the sucker. He's not real. He can't be hurt, and you can only wake up.

What he is, you are; that's what he's being trying to tell everybody for 2,000 years. He's no savior; he's an alarm clock. What do you do when the alarm clock finally wakes you up? Whack that summabitch, toss it out the window, you don't need it anymore, from now on you can wake up on your own.

You know the way.

* * * * *

Subject: Litany of Christ the Thing
From: Fritz_Gerlich
Date: Dec 19 2004 5:07PM

Neat poem. locdog would like it.

But you're addressing a problem I didn't raise and don't have. I'm not looking to Jesus as savior, buddha, prophet, gate, or anything like that. He's not my "alarm clock." I don't think I'm asleep. I'm as awake as you are.

Jesus was a man whose life & death, from what little we can know about them, puzzle me. I find I often like to say things, think of things, in his words--in part, I admit, because those words so clearly refute the legion of imposters who claim to speak for him.

You're presented me with a Hinduized Jesus who has no visible link to the strange hasid who led his little band around Lake Genesseret and eventually to Jerusalem. He may have seen something most men don't, but if he did, he had trouble spitting it out (and that, of course, was compounded by men & history), so all we have are a few tantalizing clues. It's that very specific, historical figure who interests me--not Krishna coming on a cloud.

I think he saw something like what you say in your post, but I also think he saw that men are as they are, must live and die where and as they find themselves. (Did it ever occur to you nobody asks to be himself?) Since that is the stuff of my daily thoughts, I seek the company of those who seem also to have known it.

* * * * *

Subject: RE: Litany of Christ the Thing
From: Montfort
Date: Dec 19 2004 6:29PM

Sorry if I misread you. Your references to Thomas (who journeyed to India, supposedly) and Zen and "enigmatic statements" got me going in that direction. You also said that although he was a Hasid, he seems to have been an unusual one, and it is more likely than Vermes admits that he looked beyond the boundaries of the Judaism of his time. So how is my rendition, which you say bears more resemblance to a "Hinduized" Jesus, so very different from yours? (I don't know where the Hindu stuff came in; I wrote mainly with the Zen Buddhist slant you yourself introduced.)

For me, your main "problem" (your word) was this: If you simply take the textual evidence as it is, all on one level so to speak, then you end up with my childhood problem: either no coherent picture, or a coherent picture of a bizarre if not mad personality. But if you start with an assumption that Jesus had a coherent personality, one that would have made intuitive sense to us if we had known him, then you have got to start throwing textual evidence out.

Now since you announced this as your Jesus "problem" I thought I'd weigh in with the perception problem. (BTW, note that I included myself among the misperceiving, and did not mean to imply that I'm "awake" while you're not; if you're only as awake as I, you do indeed have a problem).

I also said I think you're on the right track given your references to Zen and such. And you yourself say that Jesus challenges your assumptions -- i.e., your perceptions -- about reality and conduct. I said the same thing in a different way. I think maybe you interpreted my reply as a put-down; I didn't mean it that way at all.

In fact, we have much more in common than you may think. Leaving out the Jesus reference (simply because I don't include historical figures in my cosmology), I could have written this myself: Since I realized many years ago that the universe is about questions not answers, I feel at home with Jesus in the same way I feel at home in the wilderness: it's my home precisely because it's not familiar.

Exactly. That is indeed our home, but I think we see it as unfamiliar because our perceptions are limited, by religious and cultural conditioning, and by choice, sometimes because we don't know there is another choice. If someone asks me about my religious beliefs, all I can say is, "I guess I'm a mystic. For me, reality is a glorious, miraculous mystery." From all those engimatic, badly translated, contradictory texts I've had to take a few precepts that I find can stand scrutiny, and what I'm left with is indeed something very Zen-like and Tao-like -- the epitome of mystery.

You might not define yourself this way, but then I'd say you're defining yourself as a mystic without the word "mystic."

Where I think you do go off the track is with this statement in your reply to me: I also think he saw that men are as they are, must live and die where and as they find themselves.

I'm not Catholic; is this the Catholicism talking or something? Because it seems overly passive and fatalistic, not to mention grim, hopeless. I think this view is the polar opposite of what Jesus taught.

But then, maybe I've misread you again.

* * * * *

Subject: RE: Litany of Christ the Thing
From: Fritz_Gerlich
Date: Dec 20 2004 12:26PM

I read over my response to you and realize that it came out much more curt & critcal than I intended.

First, I was (like others) kind of bowled over by your post. I'm not just saying that to make amends; the thought really did cross my mind at the time that it was a much better piece of work than my own toppost, and well worth reading on its own merits, whether it was responsive to me or not.

My references to Thomas and Zen were meant to indicate my openness to different ways of looking at Jesus as a man. In other words, if he had similarities to a roshi, we shouldn't feel shy about pursuing that thought (ignore the rising chorus of the Damned In Christ you hear in the background).

But I, at any rate, am not ready to vault into mysticism, at least in the mode you present. I have my own version of such things, but as you can see it's austere to the point of being contentless. I realize that Hinduism and like traditions hyperproliferate images in the hope of transcending all of them, but the method is so foreign to me that I suppose I react negatively to it.

So I wanted to make clear that my own perception of Jesus is not as any kind of mystical gateway (whether I kill him or not--I get the allusion), but as a human and historical puzzle. But I didn't mean to devalue your views or your writing, which greatly repay reading completely apart from what I was trying to express.

Whatever similarities may exist between Jesus and other traditions and methods, I feel I must always remember that he was a first century Jew whose main aim was to do something within his own tradition. Exactly what is the mystery.

I really did enjoy the poem. I've given a lot of thought to the need for blasphemy to stay in touch with what the blasphemed symbols are supposed to point toward. This poem was a very neat exercise in blasphemy. I copied it and will sooner or later find somebody else who will enjoy it. I was only being half-ironic in saying locdog would like it. I think he would be able to appreciate it, but maybe that's not the same as liking.

* * * * *

Subject: there is so very much about you to like
From: Montfort
Date: Dec 20 2004 2:36PM

* * * * *

Subject: Not what some people say. I live alone
From: Fritz_Gerlich
Date: Dec 20 2004 3:12PM

for a reason.

* * * * *

Subject: I've said the exact same thing
From: Montfort
Date: Dec 20 2004 9:22PM

about myself, in exactly those words -- I live alone for a reason -- for the past 35 years, I dare say considerably longer than you and in a more barren way. And the reason is the same, too. And so I'm at a total loss to explain the very recent upheaval in my life, which I thought was more or less finished and I was just marking time and occupying space until I got brave enough or substance-crazed enough -- and I was working diligently on both, and sometimes I actually have the temerity to miss that.

Odd, how what's happened to me so beautifully matches my world view. Odd, and because it's odd, it's logical -- it's fun being a mystic, kind of like strolling through the hall of mirrors in the Crazy House on the Santa Cruz boardwalk. You just never know, and it's an enthralling ignorance. Whether a circumstance is bad or good, planetary or utterly personal, I find myself having the same reaction: WTF?

Odd, too, that because I write, and I write what I feel, and I write on the Fray, that this etherlife is where I would meet a few people who somehow found ways to reach me, whether intentionally or not -- I'm thinking in particular of Shiva, whom I haven't seen lately, and Judah Ben-Hur (also MIA), you, Juno, Ferlinghetti, Paul Guest, Joshua Hanson, Michael Zbigley, Ted Burke, MsZilla, and some others whose posts as well as their responses to mine got right into me -- and that one of them would actually end up entering my life in a way I can only describe as grace. And this grace could depart my life at any time with no help from me.

You know, I'm not a believer in an ultimate anything but the mystery (and since it's a mystery, what kind of belief is that?), but I say this with every ounce of feeling and truth in my being: God bless you, Fritz.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

This is probably my favorite BOTF conversation — one of the first I read there. I remember happening upon it when it was more than a week old and wondering if I'd stumbled onto hallowed ground. Not because of the subject matter, exactly, but because people were having this conversation at all. It seemed that I'd found something vital, something essential to my being, and I hadn't even known I was looking for it.

I've reposted it here without permission. If anyone objects, I’ll remove it.

Today's Peeves

(0. Page-pushing assholes who just have to draw attention to themselves by top-posting trivia.

...and yes, the other nine are just this brilliant. Cheers!)

1. Nothing can happen at my job without having a meeting about it. I made some progress in the lab this lunatic week. I inform collaborators and boss of success, get back to work. Boss convenes an hour meeting so I can inform them again.

2. 12 oz. sodas (that's pop for you midwestern folk) are a rarity these days. Instead, you have these 20+ monsters, in screw-top plastic. To consume them, you need to lug around your warm backwash all afternoon, constantly screwing and unscrewing, or else slug down the reflux-inducing obesity juice all at once and then spend the next hour belching it all back up. If you're resourceful, you can still get Coke and Pepsi in cans, hidden in the shadows of the cooler, but for those rare times I drink soda, I prefer Ginger Ale or Dr. Pepper. Nuh-uh, no such luck.

3. Walking 3 abreast on the indoor track at the gym. Folks, you're walking, meaning people who can and do move faster must stumble their way around you on every lap. I don't care which side you pick, but pick one please. (And a bonus: I'm running at all because of the immense people crowding up the pool lanes as they walk up and down waist-deep in teh water.)

4. Waking up late and having to commute in with the buffoonish "BBC America" instead of my usual "Morning Edition."

5. A general inability to say what I mean, at least when I mean to say what I mean. Know what I mean?

6. The DMV, which normally needs no elaboration, but I'm additionally annoyed that in Massachusetts they insist on calling it "the Registry" which is dumb. While I'm at it, forty bucks here, sixty bucks there is a good chink in the monthly budget. And needless to say, it's a peeve that the monthly budget doesn't really have a hudred dollar cushion. Looks like creative accounting again. 'Tis the season.

7. That solution is supposed to be clear by now. What the fuck?

8. Proposals. Normally I love science fiction, but...

9. 34

Why I Have a Headache

At 11:00 Sunday morning (Sunday a week ago), I got a phone call from my advisor telling me that my doctoral thesis was "unacceptable."

It was, she said, too full of dangling modifiers, typos, poorly spelled words, bad footnotes, inconsistent style, and poor translations. "Are you ready to defend?"

And then, in the next breath, the part that I had been most anxious about: "But it reads well, and the argument is convincing."

So I've been squinting at a computer screen all week, trying to make sure I had the right spacing, the right references, the correct spelling, the proper margin size, and that my head would not explode.

It was due Friday. Thursday morning I called and got it pushed back to Monday. Advisor says if it's not in her box by 4:30 Mon. I won't defend. I finished writing Monday morning at 5, having pretty much stayed up all weekend. "Proofread" the Works Cited until 8. Went to copy shop, printed out the whole thing. Dropped it off. Got call from copy shop informing me of pagination error. So Fixed error. Printed out again. It's now 2:00, and I am a two hour drive from my advisor's office. Drink coffee. Drink more coffee. Do some jumping jacks. Get in car and find some decent music, bite my lip to stay alert -- drive, drive, drive -- (I've only been working on this thing ten years, or really a lifeime, if only I can stay alive long enought to get it ...)

into her mailbox at 3:55.

When I was a kid, my father was working on a family geneaology. He took me to county courthouses around Virginia to look at records. He also showed me battlefields, told me stories (ask me about Bacon's Rebellion) and made timelines to put up on my wall: THE DARK AGES...THE MIDDLE AGES...THE RENAISSANCE. I've always wanted to be a historian.

And now I will be.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Football Roundup

Yes, once again, it's the weekly JohnMcG football round-up post. Hey, it's shorter than Easterbrook!

Eagles Not Dead

The Eagles now have the inside track for a wild card spot, and are set up for a huge game on Christmas Day in Dallas.

In the wide-open NFC, I'd say they have a chance.

NFC Front-Runners Falter

Yeah, the Bears found a way to beat the Bucs, but that's not how a dominant team plays. And lost in the hubbub over their drubbing of the Rams last week, is that the two kick-off returns amounted to the margin of victory over a 5-7 team on what was essentially a neutral field.

In other words, they're vulnerable. They are far too reliant on a QB who is prone to stinkers.

The Cowboys won, but they had looked bad against the Saints the previous week. The Saints lost in what was a let-down game, but they still don't scare anybody. The Seahawks lost at home to the 49ers.

I predict the NFC Champion will be one of the wild cards.

Steelers defeat Panthers

The shocking thing to me is that, with both teams having equally disappointing seasons (and because of the conferences, the Steelers' season being lost before the Panthers'), it was a mostly pro-Steelers crowd in Charlotte yesterday.

I can see Bears fans making the trip to St. Louis for a game. I can see fans of cold-weather teams making a snowbird trip to places like San Diego, Miami, Tampa, or Phoenix for a November-December game. But Pittsburgh to Charlotte?

And the Panthers have to be the most disappointing team this year. The NFC is eminently winnable (see above), and they kept losing and now seem to have packed it in (unlike my Eagles).

Your Super Bowl Favorites -- the San Diego Chargers

There's a damn good team.

But wait -- don't they have the same problem the Bears do -- relying on a shaky inexperienced QB?

Not exactly, because the Chargers can get offense even if Phillip Rivers is shaky, because they have the best player in the NFL running the ball for them -- LaDanian Tomlinson. Man, he's fun to watch. And the Bears don't have anythging like him. They have Hester running back kicks, and a smart playoff team won't let him hurt them.

Which leaves Mart Schottenheimer's playoff record as their most glaring weak spot, but as Bill Simmons wrote:

Just look at everything that happened this decade so far. Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, Larry Brown, Tony LaRussa and Bill Cowher won championships. The Patriots won three Super Bowls. The Red Sox and White Sox won World Series in back-to-back years. Phil Mickelson won a couple of majors. The Pistons won a championship without a franchise player. Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson won Super Bowls. Steve Nash won back-to-back MVPs. The Diamondbacks and Marlins both beat the Yankees to win the World Series. Pete Carroll won back-to-back national titles.

Seriously, you're telling me that San Diego can't win a Super Bowl?

Amen -- I don't think Schottenheimer's going to stop them.

Tonight's Game

I think tonight's game is even bigger for the Colts than the one in Foxboro. They absolutely must demonstrate they can stop the run and end the tailspin. If they don't I think the fallout will include Tony Dungy's job.

And I really don't think they will.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Following Rainbows, Sun Dogs & Shadows

[Some thoughts on the unacknowledged world and shadow self, banged out Friday, on my pda/phone, on a plane]

There were low-hanging, thin clouds over O'hare airport this morning. After we broke through the cloud cover, I looked down and saw the shadow of our airplane, surrounded by a lovely rainbow hued nimbus. The colors were quite intense, with three visible bands of fading saturation. I watched the shadow of our plane throughout our ascent, as our shadow became smaller, and the refraction, though visible, gradually less evident. The effect persisted for a surprisingly long time, and even as the clouds thinned, and our shadow became a speck, then disappearing, I could see a hint of rose pacing our progress. Just as the clouds were reduced to small clots, we passed over something highly reflective on the ground - a thin, narrow band, though of what I can't say (a steel barrier of some sort? It seemed too bright for water). There, again, that rainbow hue became visible again - no longer a hint of rose, but the divided, visible spectrum. I've no doubt it follows still, though I can't see it.

I'm sure this is a natural phenomenon; a product of the light bending around the skin of our aircraft in the moist air. We turned at one point, casting the surface of our wings more directly against the oncoming sunlight, and the effect intensified. I don't know why I've never seen it before. Perhaps it takes a unique set of conditions, and angle. It reminded me, once, of a day I was driving to a conference in the Utah mountains, north of Morgan. It was a clear, cold, sunny day, with the light intensified by the reflective snow. I looked up, and saw an intense, vertical band of rainbow (a sun dog), as the light passed through what must have been suspended ice crystals. I'd never seen one before, and I haven't seen one since. It was an unexpected wonder.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of an early morning drive on highway three, along the Saranac River. I come from a mixed desert and alpine climate, and it’s a rare joy to drive through wisps of fog so thick you feel as though you could catch hold of them. There are rock faces along that road where small natural springs make their tiny contribution to that lovely waterway, and though its unseasonably warm there now, they'd become frozen miniature sculptures, under the shadow of night.

I have reverence for the gifts afforded by shadows. There is an underbelly to the world - a place where terrible things happen that almost never see the light of day. But it’s a gift to understand there are two sides, not one; a gift that fosters kinship between poets, artists, therapists and drunks. Though the disparity can be shocking, attempts to reconcile the worlds within a unified view, particularly those involving the creation of an externalized construct, result in objects with the power to convey the solution attempted, with varying degrees of success, by its creator.

So out of the shadows of genocide, the work of Victor Frankl emerges, or from madness, Van Gogh. Childhood alienation and failure produces an Edison, or an Einstein, while wasting disease produces a withered, luminescent Hawking. Out of the bitter shadows of subjugation and murder comes Martin Luther King jr., Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. From the ravages of addiction: Dylan, Jerry Garcia, or any number of modern artists (though I dearly wish they weren't using self-destructive substances as a substitute for transformative experience).

But there are grave risks, and a terrible price that is only mitigated, not absolved, by reconciliations between the two halves of things. To the extent that transformative experiences with the unacknowledged prompt a broader consideration and view of the universe, they facilitate wisdom, innovation, and art. To the extent they encourage increasingly frantic efforts to deny the unacknowledged, they stifle internal development and foster conditions that make unspeakable acts possible. This, for better or worse, appears to be an integral aspect of being human that supersedes philosophical assertions about moral relativism; intentionally keeping one eye closed narrows view, and limits the universe of potential solutions.

Despite what is characteristically promulgated, the world is not threatened, now or at any other time, by evil persons. The world faces grave threats from concrete thinkers - literalists who find virtue in the certainty afforded by closing one eye. To the extent we encourage this in our culture, we are cultivating the elements of our own destruction - no matter how virtuous we convince ourselves, or noble our cause. Evangelical Christianity, fundamentalist Islam, or blind adherence to political, economic or philosophical ideology all require us to shut off our precious cognitive faculties, selectively limit our field of vision, and preclude consideration of, or reconciliation with, the unacknowledged. Self-blinded narcissists have worked more destruction than all the sociopaths who ever walked the face of the earth.

So, while I don't love my shadow, I acknowledge its importance, and value its gifts. It keeps me humble, and forces me to acknowledge my own divided nature.

I’d much rather be complete, and conflicted, than at peace in my blinders.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.