Thursday, May 31, 2007

Confronting Personal Demons

I just watched Jesus Camp. It's a documentary about a summer camp for Evangelical Christian families. I've referenced it in my own blog in November and again in February. Based on information from the film trailer, the website, and some commentary about the film, I worked myself into a knot over it. I found the film online, and couldn't make it through the first five minutes. I was up and pacing the room like a football coach. I could almost feel the walls closing in.

I decided to put the DVD in my hold list at the local library. That was in early April, when there was a bunch of stuff going on. I expected to forget about it, and I did. The video arrived at the library this morning. Tonight was the night. I steeled myself with alcohol and Valium. Let the crusade commence!

So I watched.

And when it was over, I thought about what I had just seen. I thought about how it effected me.

I was numb. Not the sort of "desensitized to violence" numb that comes after watching Schwarzenegger blow the heads off not one but THREE terrorists. Not the "I feel like swearing like Ozzy Osbourne, but my mouth won't move" numb. Just numb. Disconnected. Quiet. Rather like after the opening act at a rock concert whips the crowd into a frenzy, shouting, "Are you ready to rock?" Then they admit the real band is stuck in traffic at the airport, 45 minutes away. Ahem. Cough. Cough.

I was prepared to be outraged. I was prepared to force my couch pillows into my mouth to prevent from jabbering like a mental patient. I was prepared to swear my allegiance to the Devil I don't believe in, just to try to spite the smug ladies on screen.

But none of that happened. The movie ended, and I just got up to get some more water. Pillows intact. Devil unworshipped. (Interestingly, "unworshipped" isn't a word. One can only "not worship".)

Then I felt sad. I felt a sort of -- magnanimous pity. These are children. I watch them dancing in their rooms, playing with sticks, poking at creepy bugs in caves, and they feel like me. But then, they scrunch up their faces in concentration and an approximation of adult seriousness. In the totally serious tone of voice I used to use on my parents when I was arguing for immediate implementation of "ice-cream only" meals, they talk about being "saved" at five years old, because of a search for something "more" to life.

What do we know at age five? Do we know anything that our parents haven't told us? Do we even comprehend that life can change? I seem to remember just assuming that life simply "is", because I didn't even know that something could be other than "as it is". Maybe that's just me.

Just children. I cried when a little girl chastises herself for her love of dance. She does spiritual dancing, yes, but she admits sometimes dances "for the flesh", which in context means dancing for fun. "I really need to stop that," she says with downcast eyes. I was moved when a little boy admits that sometimes he doesn't believe in God, in part because God can't be seen or heard. He may be the only person in the entire film who admits even a shred of doubt. The only person who isn't 100% sure about everything and who isn't eager to witness to everyone else.

It's a difficult movie to watch. Every minute, my brain screams at me. Surely, my brain says, surely they'll realize how weird they seem. Surely they'll realize they've gone too far. Surely they'll realize that children aren't wind-up toys. Surely they'll realize the ....

But they never realize. The parents don't feel the discomfort I feel, when their child can recite the amount of temperature increase due to global warming in the past few years, then say it doesn't matter (since it's less than a degree). How can people be deaf to the words coming out of their mouths? Their words are like a reflex action; when someone challenges a belief, the knee-jerk answer gets recited word for word. You can barely even see the strings...

Shortly before the end of the film, in walks Ted Haggard. He's on stage at his church, talking about how much the kids like the evangelical message, because it makes them feel special, as opposed to just being "an animal" like the science textbooks say. He talks about what a great time it is for their movement; how when they vote, they determine the elections.

I paused the film and looked into his eyes. I searched his face. I'm not being facetious - I was searching for some indication of his actual life. I wanted to see what a man looks like who lives a lie, and then swears by it. How can this man who semi-jokingly addresses the camera and says "Repent," how could he be currently disgraced and the very thing he condemns? Was he aware as he was filmed that his life was two separate parts? Was he hiding it deep in his soul, where he hoped not even God could find it?

This is a film where almost everyone is motivated by paranoia and persecution. The Christians feel the government is stamping them out. The liberal radio show host thinks the Christians are taking over. The children are convinced the Devil is actively working against them in everything. The organizers of the "Kids on Fire" camp bless the chairs, the sound equipment, the electrical power substation, and the Power Point projector and slides because they fear Satan's interference with the message. The homeschooling parents fear what kids might learn in public school. The camp organizer fears that the Muslims have more children willing to give up their lives for God.

In the end, it's just the organizer alone at home, watching video tape of everything we just saw in the movie. Is it a positive or a negative feedback loop?

More importantly, is God a choice or an obligation?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Graduating to a bigger bra size

via Is Plastic Surgery a Good Gift for Grads?

The linked article is about the rising number of high school kids who receive plastic surgery. The article states that in 2006, 244,124 cosmetic surgery procedures were performed on kids aged 13-19 in the United States. The lead case in the article is of a high school girl who, after graduating, went from a A-cup bra to a D-cup.

The article makes interesting arguments on both sides. If the surgery does make the person more confident and satisfied in their appearance, isn't that helpful? On the other hand, does one plastic surgery act as a "gateway" procedure, making it much more likely to get other, less significant alterations made? Is there a negative suggestion that academic achievements need to be reinforced with physical changes?

I was talking to my brother, and I feel that the rise in plastic surgery fights against the precepts taught by Mr. Rogers (of the eponymous neighborhood). His mantra was "I like you just the way you are." To me, that always encouraged me to accept what I looked like, since Mister Rogers (and my parents, among others) valued everything about me, "as is".

But is that relevant any more? Our entire physical appearance can be changed; do we need to be content with anything? Skin too dark? Lighten. Skin too light? Tanning booth. Nose wrong shape? Rhinoplasty. Cheeks not prominent? Implants. Lips not full enough? Collagen. Eyebrows just plain? Brow lift. Chin not cute? Chin tuck. Too much fat? Liposuction. Breasts not imposing enough? Implants. Feet too big? Bindings. Too many wrinkles? Botox.

Surgery is the answer.

Then I thought about my hand. I had a spot that was developing, so I wondered if it was becoming a wart. It turns out it was just a small, irritated section, but it made me think: is cosmetic surgery like getting a wart removed from a hand completely different? It's still a serious appearance alteration, but somehow it being on a HAND makes it less sensational. In the same category as people who remove birthmarks from behind their knees or the outside of their elbows.

And what if the surgery runs counter to the perceived culture? Breast reductions, for example. There doesn't seem to be as much collective social reaction to a breast reduction, even though it can sometimes be more invasive and "surgical" than an augmentation. Do plastic surgery watchdogs take these women to task for sizing down large breasts, when they should just be happy with who they are?

Can we compare the physical anguish of over-boobed back pain to the mental anguish of under-boobed bikini days at the beach? Probably not. But can we compare the mental sensitivity of women always treated like bouncing sex objects at the gym to the mental sensitivity of women who feel that no one notices them because their body is too flat? Both women seek may plastic surgery to make them more comfortable.

Does it make a difference in the worthiness of the surgery that one woman wants IN to the current "sexy" archetype, while the other wants OUT?

10,000 calories is 9 Big Mac Value Meals

This entry is about a child who is extremely obese. It is disturbing. I am anguished by the life of this child. I am horrified at the attitude of the parents. This entry is not funny and contains no commentary (other than the appropriate tag). I originally intended to excoriate this little girl's parents, but nothing I can say can amplify the facts.

This is about Jessica. She's seven years old. She weighs approximately 490 pounds. When she was five, she weighed 200 pounds. Her typical daily diet consists of 5 liters of soda, 15 burgers with fries, and more than 2 pounds of chocolate. She regularly eats 10,000 calories a day. Her breakfast consists of white bread, chips, and a liter of soda.

Her mother says that when Jessica was a baby, she would cry, so the parents would give her a bottle. She'd keep crying, so they'd give her another. And another.

Her mother has been informed that her child is morbidly obese, and there is a significant chance Jessica will die before her next birthday. Her parents have been informed how to begin Jessica's weight loss, but her mother finds it difficult because her child is always hungry.

All information for this entry was gathered from a news report (in Dutch) or an accompanying video report (in German). All errors in translation are my responsibility.

Original story is here. Page contains video news segment.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

How important are looks, anyway?

This is amazing. But if you're offended by the type of attire found in a Victoria Secret catalog, don't watch the video, since it's basically staring at a photo of one woman in a negligee for 5 minutes.

Sort of a follow-up to a movie I had up last October here. Today's video is someone altering a picture of an overweight person. By the end of a session of PhotoShop, the woman has more hair, and has lost approximately 80 pounds. It's quite something.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Seventy Questions, minus a few (including #70)

1. Are your parents married or divorced? My parents are married. To each other.

2. Are you a vegetarian? No. I enjoy meat too much.

3. Do you believe in Heaven? No. Of course, if you believe the worst will happen, then anything better is a pleasant surprise.

4. Have you ever come close to dying? Not that I can recall. However, I have the sort of personality that may have come close to dying several times, and not really put too much thought into it.

5. What jewelry do you wear 24/7? I wear no jewelry. Years ago, I wore a Celtic rune as a necklace, and the only metal I currently carry around with me are my fillings.

6. Favorite time of day? I don't really have a favorite time. I say this not because I don't have the inclination to look for an answer, but because I can equally imagine any moment of the day having some special feeling associated with it. I like the quality of light in the early morning, the business of the noon, the relaxing of the evening, and the quiet of the night.

7. Do you eat the stems of broccoli? I do. In fact, I prefer them to the flowers. It must have something to do with the texture.

8. Do you wear makeup? No, unless aftershave counts. I don't even use chapstick. In fact, the only time I think I ever had makeup on was being on stage for some play. I remember the lady saying, as she rouged my cheeks, "If you don't wear it, you'll wash out on stage under the lights." Oh, and I've had lipstick transfer over after kissing.

9. Ever have plastic surgery? No. There's very little about my body that I'd wish to change. Anything I'd change, I could do through my own stubbornness (like losing weight or gaining muscle). I have no desire to change my look to anything other; if I did want to change, it would be do-able without using knives.

10. Ever colored your hair? I haven't used anything that brings new pigment to my hair. I recall my mother once using a spray on me that lightened my hair with exposure to sunlight, but I don't remember if it worked or not.

11. What do you wear to bed? Underwear. I always sleep warm, but occasionally during the winter, a night will come where I am freezing and go to bed wearing socks, pajama bottoms, and a sweatshirt.

12. Have you ever done anything illegal? I make illegal copies of sheet music sometimes. And I once described the actions at a football game without the expressed written permission of the National Football League.

13. Can you roll your tongue? Yes. Changing shape and rolling "R's".

14. Do you tweeze your eyebrows? No. Judging by how much pain is involved when I accidentally have a hair torn out from my head, I can't imagine doing that over and over. On purpose. That being said, I'd definitely do something if I had to avoid the UniBrow.

15. What kind of sneakers? I have no idea without looking at them. NewBalance, maybe? They're white and size 14, that's all that matters.

16. Do you believe in abortions? I assume this is not the "is Santa Claus real" sort of belief. I support the option of abortion. In my opinion, it is a sometimes-medically necessary procedure. They should be safe, legal, and infrequent.

17. What is your hair color? Blond, I suppose. Although I did get called a red-head by a woman this year.

18. Future child’s name? I've been mulling over "Rio" as a girl's name. I think I like it. Having said that, I have no idea how to decide upon this before actually seeing the baby. I believe I was scheduled to be named "John", but upon consideration of my face, my parents felt I didn't "look like a John".

19. Do you snore? Fiercely, though it depends on the angle of my head.

20. If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be? I'd like to see Egypt, with all those ancient ruins. One of many places I'd like to go.

21. Do you sleep with stuffed animals? No. I remember having a bear as a kid, but I'm not sure when I gave it up.

22. If you won the lottery, what would you do first? Have a fancy dinner to celebrate my good fortune.

23. Gold or silver? I've always preferred the look of silver.

24. Hamburger or hot dog? Hamburger, definitely. Sorry, Chicago.

25. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? I never liked these questions, because I couldn't imagine a life of eating one thing without getting sick of it.

26. City, beach or country? Gosh. Since I've won the lottery, I'd like a house in all three areas.

27. What was the last thing you touched? Other than the computer keyboard, I suppose it would be the bathroom faucet. This is one of those questions where there may be two or three good answers, but most people don't have anything interesting.

28. Where did you eat last? I had cereal at my table.

29. When’s the last time you cried? Last night, watching a movie.

30. Do you read blogs? Naturally.

31. Would you ever go out dressed like the opposite sex? Whee! I get to write my answer in the future subjunctive tense. If I were to ever dress as the opposite sex, I'm sure there would be a very good reason.

32. Ever been involved with the police? Well, I did reaaaally like their album... oh, police with a small "p". I got a ticket for speeding. And pulled over for no license plate.

And once, driving home at night after a symphony concert, I pulled over to the side of a street in order to better engage in a serious conversation. The neighborhood watch called the police because a suspicious car was stopped in front of someone's house. The police came, lights flashing. I demonstrated that I wasn't a burgler, showed the ticket stubs and the fact I lived not far away, and the policewoman thanked me and left. The suspicious people continued to watch me out of their upstairs window.

33. What’s your favorite shampoo conditioner and soap? Whatever is on sale. That said, I have memories associated with many different shampoo fragrances. Some of those memories can be quite distracting when I smell them.

34. Do you talk in your sleep? Once, while relaxing, eyes closed, by the fire with my girlfriend (and being 7/8ths asleep), I earnestly explained to her how she needed to watch out for the helicopters and especially sharks.

35. Ocean or pool? I've had little experience with the ocean, but I prefer pools to lakes. I do like swimming in rivers, but only because I can usually see the bottom.

[two missing numbers]

38. Window seat or aisle? Aisle! Please! Leg room needed! Although window is preferable to the seat in the middle.

39. Ever met anyone famous? I once bumped into Julia Roberts, literally.

40. Do you feel that you’ve had a truly successful life? Doing good so far.

41. Do you twirl your spaghetti or cut it? I didn't realize it until this question, but I haven't eaten spaghetti in YEARS. And I suppose I twirl.

42. Ricki Lake or Oprah Winfrey? I don't think I've seen the shows of either one.

43. Basketball or Football? Football, I suppose. Being in Chicago to see Michael Jordan's days with the Bulls has diminished all subsequent basketball experiences.

44. How long do your showers last? About 10 minutes, but if I'm not careful to avoid ruminating, it can turn to 20 or 30.

45. Automatic or do you drive a stick? My '93 Honda is automatic.

46. Cake or ice cream? Cake. Unless it's really hot outside.

47. Are you self-conscious? I am extremely conscious of my body and other people's space. Witness me trying to maintain an even eye line with someone two feet short than I am.

48. Have you ever drank so much you threw up? No.

49. Have you ever given money to a beggar? Yep. Chicago. Sometimes got a Streetwise (the newspaper) out of it.

50. Have you been in love? I have.

51. Where do you wish you were? Gosh, I don't have an answer to this.

52. Are you wearing socks? No, barefoot.

53. Have you ever ridden in an ambulance? Not that I recall.

54. Can you tango? No.

55. Last gift you received? I had a nice present of a plate of cookies recently, in reward for just being a nice person. Positive reinforcement definitely works, as I felt compelled to do lots of nice things for more cookies.

56. Last sport you played? I can't recall. It was probably an epic lightsaber duel between myself and a seven-year old.

57. Things you spend a lot of money on? Music CDs, DVD's (in batches), electronic doohickeys

58. Where do you live? In a condo just on the Kansas side of the state line.

59. Where were you born? St. Joseph Hospital in Kirkwood, Missouri.

60. Last wedding attended? Gosh. I suppose that would be a certain wedding at Disney World. Hmm, that seems like a while ago. I went to a wedding *reception* for a Mormon couple, but I don't recall if that was before or after.

[two more missing numbers]

63. Most hated food(s)? Any animal with intact eyes. Black licorice, anice, and ouzo.

65. Can you sing? I can.

66. Last person you instant messaged? My youngest brother, probably.

67. Last place you went on holiday? I went back to St. Louis to visit my family at the beginning of May. If I consider actually going on vacation..... gosh. It might be that same wedding trip to Disney World, in October of 2003.

68. Favorite regular drink? I don't know what they consider a regular drink (non-alcoholic?), but I'll say a nice cup of mulled cider, but only when the weather is cold.

69. Current Song? "Five O'clock World" by the Vogues. I'm off to teach.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Maybe it takes a while....

So, if giant disasters like hurricanes are punishment from God towards places like Florida and the Gulf Coast for allowing homosexuals into Disney World and living in a nation that allows abortion...

What does it mean when... well....

Lightning Strikes, Damages Jesus Statue

Maybe he finally got mad about that whole "no graven images" thing. Or maybe (since it's in Colorado) it's to decry the sins of... umm... skiing. They don't talk about skiing in the Bible, do they? Those people better watch out.

Or maybe it's just the highest point in the surrounding area, serving as a focal point for the collection of positive ions.

But that just sounds silly.

Blinded me with science!

Boy, do I love me some completely unintelligible but awesome science!

I have no idea what a Bose-Einstein Condensate is, but it's a fifth state of matter! And they make it using vacuums and powerful lasers that cool (?) things to a few micro-Kelvins. But the lasers aren't enough, so they cool it even further with magnets! Imagine being able to science some assorted science with science! Science!

Wow. Now that is some awesome science. The video does a great job at making me think I might have a chance at understanding this.

Otago scientists: "We use powerful and focused lasers to cool the precipitate of the target to temperatures 1,000 times cooler than anywhere else in the universe. The laser is similar to your CD player, only much stronger."

Me: "Woo! I've got a CD player. I don't know how it works, but I use it all the time. I totally get this stuff. Send me in, coach; I'm ready to stop warming the bench!"

Scientists: "Using microscopes, we can photograph this new state of matter that exhibits the wave-like properties of matter that were theorized 80 years ago."

Me: "Hey, I know what matter is. And I've heard of waves. I bet I could call these guys up and collaborate with them, or something. Maybe I could offer some fresh insight into this..."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Age of Others

A quick and vastly incomplete set of facts about my life which I calculated:

Based on the profiles of 35 acquaintances (including myself), the average age is 24.87 years.

The younger the person, the more likely that person will be female. The youngest five are all women, and four of the top five are men.

People born on the 23rd of a month are most common. 5 of the group were born on the 23rd. My birthday is the 23. This scares and confuses me. In second place is the 10th of any month, with 3.

March has the most birthdays, 5. May has the fewest, 1.

Three dates have two birthdays. Those three days are all in the last four months of the year.

Of the 35, 18 are male. Naturally, 17 are female. 2 are married (not to each other). 2 are openly homosexual; both are men.

Seven have a first name beginning with "M". Five begin with "J".

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"I'd like some dental floss, some shampoo....

....and one of those holy books with the naughty centerfold. And some soap."


Hundreds of people in Hong Kong are attempting to get the Bible classified as pornographic literature.

Apparently, a newspaper column from a university asked whether anyone ever fantasized about incest or bestiality. In response, the Obscene Articles Tribunal (which sounds like a scary group) declared the column "obscene".

In response, 800 people filed a complaint to the appropriate overwatch group that the Bible contained many disturbing descriptions of rape , violence, and incest. If the authorities classify the Bible as "indecent", then it has to be sold in a paper wrapper to people over 18 and sealed with a warning label.

The most interesting part to me is the quote from the Chinese presbyterian minister. He says that just because the Bible has objectionable content, it doesn't mean that it endorses said content.

It seems to me that the flip of this situation has been played out before, by authors defending their own works from religiously-motivated content warnings. I wonder if the Bible proponents studied the defense arguments of English teachers protecting "The Catcher in the Rye" before using them on the angry mob.

Next step: "The Bible doesn't rape people; people rape people!"

Monday, May 14, 2007

Maturity and Respect Amongst Adults

I live in a condo. As part of living in this condo, I have to deal with and react to the Home Owner's Association (HOA), which is the organization that insures that people follow agreed rules and get along. This is important because condominiums usually share "public" spaces with other people, in addition to "private" spaces. By "private" space, I mean that my unit shares walls (or floor/ceiling) with three other units. My bedroom shares walls with someone else's bedroom and a third person's kitchen. I can't practice in there at 3 AM because it may interfere with neighbor A's sleep and neighbor B's ... late night snack preparation.

While it works well most of the time, I've seen several spectacular incidents float to the top over the last three years. These are most often conflicts between a small group of condo-owners and the HOA. It's been discouraging to me to see people behave so childishly and transparently in meetings and correspondence. It's one thing to be upset about the switch from free-for-all parking to assigned slots. It's a completely different level to circulate nasty letters slid under people's front doors, attacking the HOA board personally.

After seeing this nasty behavior small scale in this community, I guess it must be large scale as well. Perhaps it helps me to associate some other (believed unconnected) behaviors I've noticed along the way.

The first is that there are a certain number of people who always believe "The Man" is out to get them. Even if The Man is not a corporate entity (like the HOA), but is comprised of other owners. In the latest bru-ha-ha (emerging in the last week or so), accusations have even been thrown around of fellow residents having *connections* (cue ominious music) to other corporate entitites, and thus being evil.

The second thing I've noticed is that there are some people who are ready to claim they're not receiving enough respect at the drop of a hat. It's a response that flies out of their mouths so quickly after slight adversity that I start to wonder if it's not just as much a problem. The latest scandal involves the board fighting against one of their own members. The "marked" board member is accused of visiting the other board members' places of employment to discredit them, sending accusing and nasty emails on public record, and crying wolf because they feel they are being mistreated because they are military veterans.

It's tough for me to take seriously. The disgraced member's emails attacking the board were disclosed as evidence, and they're pretty wacky. The disgraced person was caterwauling about not receiving due respect, possibly because of the comparatively young age of the person. On a separate argument, the person felt that because they had lead Green Beret and Delta Force soldiers on operations in and around Iraq (including an order from the President to move Saddam to a different facility), they deserved and commanded a great deal more respect than the rest of the board was exhibiting. In almost the same breath, the person calls the office workers "bitches" and liars, and accuses them of conspiring to oust the person because "of the TRUTH I tell." And despite the presence of another military veteran on the board, the person seems unshakable from the notion that the board is biased against this person's military status.

It seems to me that someone who led soldiers into combat has a great deal of leadership experience, but I'm not necessarily going to value their input on the cost of repainting units, at least not to the exclusion of the board member who did paint contracting for 30 years. Now, that's just my opinion, and you can judge for yourselves whether or not I'm suffering from a "military bias".

I have this weird theory about respect: we have to earn it. In my way of thinking, no one is going to respect anyone who keeps talking about how everyone needs to respect them. Rules and societal pressures that demand respect be given are not workable. I respect most police officers. This is because I've known many over the years, and they are usually good people trying hard to do good things. I do not necessarily respect the friends of my parents, just because they're older than I am. If they do deplorable and petty things, I'm just not going to be able to respect them.

One of the things that builds respect is maturity. Being able to handle adversity in a mature and adult fashion is a hallmark of a person worthy of respect.

And if you can't act with integrity when confronted by the fact that some people may not like all of your ideas, you probably aren't going to gain any ground concerning respect.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

So much negativity!

To break up all the dour entries, here's a funny animation made by an Italian, showing the differences between Italy and the rest of Europe.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Anything China can do, Hamas can do better!

Last week, I wrote about the Disney corporate symbols being used in a Chinese theme park, for the purposes of monetary gain. Today, I found the next level.

Introducing Mickey Mouse, the Hamas childhood indoctrinator!

The clip is taken from several shows of a children's series put on by Al-Aqsa TV. It features kids and "Mickey" instructing kids about Islam taking over the world, fighting the honorable struggle against Israel, and coming into Jerusalem with an AK-47. I especially like when they yell at and chastise a 12-year old for using "surrender" in a song. Makes you feel all "warm and fuzzy". No, not really.

Actually, more like "cold and nauseous".

Monday, May 07, 2007

Don't weep for me, for I am already dead.

I'm not sure what to say about Paris Hilton. She's a uniquely American "Frankenstein's monster". All of her popularity and notoriety stems from one thing: she's rich. That's it. Rather like Donald Trump, she's famous primarily because she has a lot of money. Consider all of her other endeavors: she's tried being an actress (cue "The Simple Life" collage. Remember that show? Fox Television sure doesn't).

She's tried being a businesswoman, having recently launched her own perfume, called "Paris Hilton Perfume by Paris Hilton". You, dear reader, can insert your own joke about what it must smell like. I'm intrigued to smell this product, because the website lists the scent as including overtones of "Frozen Apple, Peach Nectar, Wet Ozone, Sparkling Muguet, Freesia, Mimosa, Jasmine, Tuberose, Skin Musk, Sandalwood, Ylang Ylang, Oakmoss, Pheromone". Sounds like a lot of weird stuff fighting to gain your attention. Sounds like... nevermind. (Too easy.) Also, it only lists "pheromone" as an ingredient, without specifying which species or even (in the case of humans) which sex. Use with caution. $20 for 0.5 oz.

She's tried being a singer. I'm not really qualified to analyze pop music, since it's often done with pitch and tone modulation. I did have an interesting time in the recording booth being shown that my voice could be modulated to sing in tune, even when I was trying hard not to. After that demonstration, I'm convinced anyone can sing for MTV.

She's also listed variously as a "supermodel". I don't think she's at all alluring, and the fact that she has bedroom eyes even at 8:30 in the morning at a charity function bothers me. She's skinny, I suppose, and that's usually enough to be considered a model. Oh, and she has a very prominent jawline (also apparently important in a model), but that might just be a side effect of low weight.

Anyway, she's back in the news! Actually, she never LEFT the news, because people forget about you if you step out of the public light. And I'm sure she doesn't want that. She's in the news now because she was arrested for drunk driving in January. Her license was suspended for three years. In February, she was driving without headlights, pulled over, and (when it was discovered that she lacked a legal license) her car impounded. She drives a Bentley, by the way. I looked at a Bentley dealership, and I can buy a used 2001 Bentley sedan for $127,000. A used 2007 sedan goes for $269,000. Cup holders and power windows are probably extra.

The district attorney pressed charges, and she was arraigned. During the hearing, she testified that her publicist had told her that the terms of her suspension allowed her to drive to work-related activities. She also does not read her own mail, so legal notices and agreements went unseen by her. She also said she didn't have time to meet with her attorneys to discuss the terms of the original license suspension. That argument didn't fly with the judge, so she blamed her publicist and fired him. To make a long story short (too late!), she was convicted and must spend 45 days in jail. She has called her forthcoming imprisonment "cruel and unwarranted." SOURCE

Fanatics I mean.. fans are already filling her MySpace page with support. But it's all useless. I mean, once she goes to jail, that will be it. We'll never hear from her again. I mean, whatever happened to Martha Stewart? Nobody knows!

I think the reason why this whole thing bothers me goes back to my fascination with superheroes. That sound you hear is my readers collectively tilting their head to the side and thinking, "What?" but stick with me.

When a person has superpowers, they are expected to manage them wisely. Even though Superman can have supersonic wind whenever he exhales, if he's whistling on the street corner, the building across the street doesn't tear loose and land in New Jersey. And when he's fighting giant lizards, he doesn't just pick up people's cars to use as weapons because they're handy. Responsibility!

In today's society, having a smaktillion dollars is rather like having a superpower. People possessed of that kind of money can do lots of things that no one else can do. But with that power comes responsibility. For example, if you can spend $200,000+ to purchase an automobile, then I bet you can spend $40,000 a year to HIRE A DRIVER to drive you around WHEN YOUR LICENSE IS SUSPENDED.

It's this lack of common sense and a certain tendency to replace humility with pride that worries me about some people. I mean, if she thought she could drive anywhere that was "work related", and she currently works at music, fragrance development, handbag design, wearing strange clothes, and lifting champagne glasses, then I suppose it does make some sense that she could drive just about whenever she feels like. But that's a lot of "if's", and one would hope that her parents would have instilled in her the ability to understand responsibility and encourage their daughter to show a little composure.

Although, Paris' mother Kathy was at the court session, and when the verdict was handed down, she spoke to the lead prosecutor, saying "I want your autograph. This is pathetic." SOURCE

So maybe Mom isn't the one to give finishing school lessons.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Chinese Intellectual Piracy: Not Just for Back Alley DVDs Anymore

Source Article HERE

Sometimes you just have to stand in awe of China's "in your face, capitalist societies!" world view. Here's Shijingshan Amusement Park, near Beijing.

You know, for an amusement park, it looks remarkably like...nah. Couldn't be. But who's this cheery lady, with a hole carved into her skirt? I think I saw her in a film once...

Wait a minute!

Oh my gosh! It's Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck. Well, actually, these are characters at the Shijingshan Amusement Park, whose slogan is (I swear) "Disneyland is too far." Park officials insist that that's not Minnie Mouse. Not at all. That's a cat with very large ears. (I really can't make this stuff up.)

I'm not sure who they think they're fooling. I mean, if you lie about something, but the party you're speaking to KNOWS you're lying, and even you are aware that you're not being believed, is it even *called* lying at that point? We may need to invent some new term for sad, pathetic, and utterly transparent attempts at lying. A new verb is required! Perhaps we can use "dum", as in "she dummed about washing her hair last night, just to avoid our date."

dum: verb. intransitive.
1. to prevaricate in a situation in spite of the knowledge that the fallacious statement will not be accepted as true by any of the participating parties.

I think we can all agree that this is now the new benchmark for dumming. It may not be the epitome of this new verb (since I've only just coined the use), but we can all agree this is an excellent exemplar.

I mean, doesn't this look familiar?

And this is definitely not whomever you think it is...

Here's the telling point in this craziness. It's from an article on the park, found HERE.

But 31-year-old housewife Zhang Li betrays a typical Chinese attitude on the issue while chasing her young son around the park.

“I don’t understand why that is such a big problem. Shouldn’t others be able to use those characters besides [Disney]?” she asks.

I can't help thinking that whenever China starts producing something original for global consumption that it wants to control the profits on, watch how fast their stance changes. Maybe it's a cultural thing. When people are raised in a culture where a significant portion of the commerce is stealing ideas and products from other countries, they just don't have the same rights of "ownership" that you and I have.

Or at least, the same ideas I *thought* we had. There's been a big stink in the world of web-based comics lately with the revelation that a designer who makes t-shirts for mall stores may have stolen art from a web artist, and reproduced it for profit without permission. Shots of the original and the mass-produced copy are at this link. Looks pretty conclusive to me.

But anyway, consumerism is about the free exchange and sale of other people's ideas, right?

Apparently Haute Couture Crashed Into Dadaism

And poor designer John Galliano couldn't get out of the way fast enough.

"Alas, poor YorRAKE. I knew him, Horatio."

"That's specious reasoning, dad."

"Thank you, honey!"
-- The Simpsons

(Click on image for easier reading)

Originally from the Kensai Peninsula Clarion, published in Alaska.

Meanwhile, at a secret marketing meeting...

Executive One: We're not selling enough of the domain names. That's where all our profit comes from!

Executive Two: We've lowered the price as much as we can. $1.99 for a year! It's practically giving them away. What else can we do? We even put pictures of cute puppies by the ad! Puppies! That doesn't even make sense! [breaks down in tears]

Executive Three: Don't worry, we've called in a consulting firm, and (at the cost of more than $100,000) they've given us a fantastic, new, and fail-proof way to sell more internet domain name registrations!

Executive One: Proceed with the plan!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Finally, after three weeks: today was my weekend

I woke up at the usual time. I ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner at regular hours. I had nowhere to be; no one to see; nothing important to take care of. So tonight I cooked a proper dinner, which I haven't been able to do for weeks.

I've had things going on every day and every night. Always rehearsals to attend, lessons to schedule, recitals to hear, concerts to give. Today I finally had time to go to the grocery, pick my way casually through the aisles selecting ingredients, compose a menu in my head, and prepare it at home while music plays in the background. I teach lessons tomorrow, and the stuff that could wait from today will be one day more urgent. Still, it was a good day.

And yet...

There is something missing. Maybe several somethings! Since it's "missing", you'll understand that I don't have a good idea about what exactly it is. I feel it, though. I feel it when I'm practicing. I feel it when I'm brushing my teeth. I feel it when I pick up my mail. I feel it when my mind is quiet.

This must be the wanderlust that sends people jetting around, trying to fill some hole in themselves. They quit their jobs, leave their loved ones, and take to the winds, trying to satisfy a longing in themselves. Except that, if they're like me, then the longing isn't understood. So we try to satisfy the unknown by throwing lots of different kinds of things at it, to see if anything appeases it.

So many people are keenly aware of the "missing" in their lives. They're not clear on how to fix it, though, so it creates tension and anxiety. We have this tendency to view each "big decision" as having spectacular impacts on our own individual personalities. When we come to a fork in the road, we evaluate the decision meticulously. We try to predict what's going to happen, event after event, in a giant chain leading away from the present.

A friend is trying to decide between two romantic partners. One offers safety, stability, and a spirit which loves unconditionally. The other offers excitement, challenges, and emotional honesty and realism. Each has appealing qualities, and not-so-good things. My friend is transfixed by the idea that their entire life will revolve around this choice.

There are geographical regions associated with each of these prospective partners, different choices of higher education, and different housing issues. So my friend can be allowed to think it's a significant decision. But in a lot of ways, they don't care about of that. They're more focused on which partner will provide the best and greatest route to happiness: boring and predictable love, or a frustrating, passionate partner who is as likely to be in an argument as a romantic dinner. My friend is agonizing over the decision, convinced that terrible unhappiness awaits them if they choose poorly.

I certainly don't envy having to make a decision like this. However, I feel that taking either choice is preferable to the position my friend is currently in: sitting in between two choices, spending their life wobbling back and forth instead of making a choice. Paralyzed by the fear of making an unfortunate choice, and stuck in a life filled with stress because of this "non choice".

My friend is trying to fill a void with one of these partners. So much has been laid to rest on this choice, I'm worried that either choice (at this point) will lead to some disappointment. This disappointment I can certainly see as leading to doubt about the decided course (the other grass appearing to be green).

So, is the answer to make decisions before you have too much chance to think about them? Before we have too much time to create an elaborate lattice of causality that blocks us in? I don't know. Making hard decisions is (brace yourself).... hard. We are right to consider carefully, when some decisions aren't easily undone. But we can't let the fear of bad things prevent us from making any decision at all.

After all, only experience teaches us what's missing from our lives. And we only get experience from looking outside ourselves.