Sunday, July 29, 2007

It's not monkeys typing Shakespeare, but...

...for sheer awesome randomness, you can't beat Christopher Walken.

Here's a guy I grew up knowing as disturbed and sadistic characters, like the Bond villain Max Zorin. Then he was on Saturday Night Live, seducing a formal-gloved cameraman. Then he did a music video where he dances all over a hotel lobby. He's now appearing in the "Hairspray" remake as the husband of John Travolta.

How do you add to a career filled with such variety? Show that you're a regular guy. And regular guys use YouTube.

Actually, this isn't YouTube, but "I'm Cooked", which is a video sharing community for recipes. And here's Christopher Walken in his own kitchen, showing how to make quick chicken with baked pears. SOURCE

{Embedded Video Removed because of automatic play. Can't stand that.}

Special cameo appearance by one of his cats.

I don't know if he posted this himself, or if instead of sex tapes appearing on the Internet, Mr. Walken has unapproved cooking videos stolen and posted.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Irreconcilable Differences

An old friend of mine is getting a divorce. He was my first friend, being born at the same hospital as me in the same month. We hung out for 10 years or so, our friendship surviving both our families moving and being in different schools the entire time. His family was Catholic, and I was educated in public school. I never understood why that mattered, but after my parents explained that it cost money to go to Catholic school, I was content.

I haven't spoken to him in many years, and I don't really *know* him any longer. Which is to say that I don't know where he went to college, or what he majored in, or what he thought about the last presidential election. I did see him 4 years ago, while I was working at a store in St. Louis. He came into the St. Louis Bread Company in his policeman's uniform.

I would never have recognized his face. I noticed his name tag and the familiar last name. Could this be the same boy who watched "C.H.I.Ps" with me when we were seven? We had one of those friendly but restrained meetings, where we both recognize each other by reputation. It's strange seeing someone who your life used to revolve around every day, but seeing them years after breaking off all contact. We had no falling out. Just a last sleepover that never turned into a next-day play date.

Our parents are friends, so the indirect flow of news moves through them. A couple of years ago, he got married. This information brought a smile, along with a bit of regret that I hadn't kept better contact.

Then came the various news reports that spoke of troubles in the marriage. Not necessarily between the husband and wife, but certainly between the wife and my friend's mom. Ingratitude, snubbing, refusal to meet in the same places. General family strife, which culminated at the nadir with the son not even seeing his mother.

My mother wrote me to say they were seperated this month, and heading for divorce. My friend seems relieved.

I wish I knew the details. Something that might help me to see how the whole thing fits together. How could this happen? Why would someone marry a person who was so hostile to the family? Was she just super-sweet in all OTHER categories? Or maybe her personality changed once she wore the ring? Does marriage change some people THAT much?

Whatever the story, I chalk up another friend in the divorced column. This is the second person my age born inside of this month who's now divorced. It really helps in putting me into their shoes to know that we've had the same amount of time to get to the present day.

So, we all know about "better to have loved and lost", but is it also better to "have been married and move on"?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Mortis Veritas

I searched for a figure of the cumulative population of the Earth in order to augment this entry. According to one estimate, the total cumulative human population has been 96 trillion people.

Even though this is a very rough guess, let's run with it. The industry of the world is the result of 96 trillion lives. Life comes in unending variation; each of those 96 trillion people had a completely individual life, unlike every other. 96 trillion snowflakes.

The spectrum of all humankind has two metaphysical commonalities; each human was born, and each human will die. All else is variation. As Shakespeare says, we are born to die.

Since death is universal, it's everywhere and nowhere in our culture. Many people make extensive plans for it, but it still retains the aura of a taboo, best mentioned in passing and forgotten. Few people look forward to the end of our term.

Research says that by the time the average U.S. child starts elementary school, he or she will have seen 8,000 murders and 100,00 acts of violence on TV. That's an awful lot of death. Except that the vast majority, if not the totality, are fake. Every one is a fictitious murder on a TV show.

In Britain, a documentary is getting ready to air about a man suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The film contains the actual moment of his death, as he is being comforted by his wife. It has touched off an ideological dispute between the filmmaker, who is trying to take some of the fear out of death, and a group for television standards.

Are we ready to see real death on screen? In this case, it's not violent. The man dies, cradled in his wife's arms, with her saying "You can let go." How many thousands or hundreds of thousands of times has this occurred?

I've been trying to decide why I recoil from this broadcast idea. My logical brain says that this is nothing but the process of life. It's not explicitly exploitative or done for shock value, at least, I don't THINK so. My cool and detached logic has no issues with seeing the peaceful expiration of a life.

But the empathic center of my brain revolts! To see real death is to be forced to acknowledge it. To see real death is to invade on the privacy of what should be an intimate occasion for grief.

For years, I've been obsessed with the mythos and meaning of the Breath of Life. Breathing is the most obvious and apparent sign of life. At death, that cycle is broken. One last exhalation; the breath of life escapes.

Being close enough to hear the breath of life is an intimacy. Think of all the times of being close enough and quiet enough to hear someone else breathing. Every time that comes to mind in my experience is a moment of serious closeness (not just physical proximity).

That's why I'm sure that I don't need to see it on TV. I don't think anyone should. The moment of death changes the world, because of the loss of a single person. Doesn't it seem strange, after the deaths of 96 trillion others, to still be concerned about the death of one? Not strange at all. That one person will never again effect the world, except by phantom proxy through books or memories.

Death should be communicated, I'm certain; it often moves through conversation or hometown obituaries. But the actual experience of the death -- the loss of the breath -- never needs to be available to the masses.

Most of us do feel trepidation towards death. But seeing someone with no emotional connection to you die is not the way to alleviate the fear. Some things just can't be learned from watching TV.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Red flags at night, singles take flight.

A couple of weeks ago, after an invigorating neighborhood walk that reminded me why I shouldn't wear sandals for neighborhood walks, I sat down with a friend to talk. I don't remember how the conversation arrived at relationships, but the pregnant pause question was, "what actions send up red flags for me when looking at relationships?"

Just to be clear, I think a "red flag" is something that disturbs an otherwise "good" connection. Something that makes you metaphorically doubletake and say, "Did that just happen? I thought I had a good feel for this."

I thought for a while, and about every five minutes for the next hour would interrupt myself with some new "red flag" that had just come to mind. I don't really remember any of the specific ones I brought up, but I thought it was an interesting question to ponder. What puts us each individually on edge?

In the interest of sharing and provoking thoughts, I'll share five. These may not be the top five, but they're definitely important enough for me to place (possibly undue) emphasis upon them.

1. No sense of humor OR the wrong sense of humor. Meeting new people is an experience that makes most people nervous. Meeting people on a pronounced date is even more nerve-wracking. When people get nervous, some turn to humor to find connections or lighten the mood. I'm always aware of the "wrong" kind of vibe from attempts at humor. I love to laugh. I spend most of my life being amused. It's amazing how fake some people are when trying to approximate being funny.

I'm not looking for stand-up comediennes. I'm not looking down on people who get so nervous they can't crack a smile. I'm talking about people who are faking it, at their core. It's one thing to smile in an effort to smooth things over. It's completely different to put a smile where it doesn't belong.

A related issue is laughing at everything I do. I'm not a comic genius. I say wonderfully timed and appropriate things sometimes. I say woefully over-thought and rehearsed things at other times, when I'm nervous or feel compelled to perform. Laughing indiscriminately at all things I say that may vaguely be amusing is distracting.

2. Focusing too much on my clothes. I only tangentially care about how I'm attired. If the occasion is fancy, I make an effort to dress up. If someone can't stop talking about what I'm wearing, that's a red flag. I only care if I look nice. If a lady says to me, casually, "You look nice tonight. I like that shirt," I'm set for the evening. That's a compliment I can accept. My effort was noticed, and rewarded with a smile.

If we talk too much about brands or fabrics or colors or stores, that's bordering on boring. I don't care about any of these things. I have only the vaguest idea whether my tie is from Lord and Taylor or Target. I choose them because they feel nice, have a cool pattern, or have pretty colors. Any more thought given to "how much it accents my eyes" or whether or not the herringbone pattern is in my jacket is embarrassing. Why embarrassing? Because it's an accident. I don't notice these things, and having them pointed out and praised is embarrassing.

3. Too much of the past. If we've only just met, it's really strange to hear about ex-boyfriends and old loves and relationship problems. Yes, it's probably on your mind. Yes, it may effect present day situations. It isn't good conversation, however. Talking about bad things in the past provokes sympathy and psychology degrees. It paints the picture of someone mired in their own past.

The last breakup may have been devastating. It may have crushed your heart, left you vulnerable and extremely self-conscious, and made you uncomfortable. But it's not part of "getting to know you". There is a time and a place for this: it comes later. I don't know when later is, but we'll start talking about personality and hurt eventually. Unless you have a kid with one of my brothers, the information can wait.

4. Not Listening. We talked about how everyone is nervous. Nervousness does not excuse you from needing to listen to the other person talking. When you ask a question, and I begin to answer, I'm not killing time until dessert comes. I'm showing respect by putting thought into what you just asked. In a related circumstance, when I ask a question, it's not because I'm hunting for information. I'm not trying to crack the nut of your psyche by asking the "final Jenga" question that will bring the rickety defenses crashing down. I WANT TO KNOW AN ANSWER. Any answer that communicates something.

That answer can be, "I don't want to talk about it." It can be "That was a completely unimportant phase of my life where I was trying to decide what I wanted to do". It can be "I got hurt and it sucked but now I understand." It cannot be "You don't want to hear about that." It cannot be "La! What a silly question!"

5. Smoking. This one isn't quite like the others, but I felt I should include it. I'm surprised at my own immediate reaction to seeing someone smoke. It's like a light switch in my brain: smoke ON, attraction OFF. I don't know if this is overly simplistic, or needlessly judgmental, or missing a great forest because of all the trees, but I just can't stop the reflex.

I have no problems with people who used to smoke. My aversion only concerns active smokers. It's just damn unappetizing! In fact, it caused me a bit of trouble watching through "Sex in the City", because for three seasons, the "main" heroine is a smoker. I couldn't connect well with her at all, which is difficult since the series is designed to show things mostly from her view.

Many times I'll see women who momentarily catch my eye as being attractive, only to shrug my shoulders when they have cigarettes in their fingers. It's just so completely unhealthy! I saw the smoker's lungs in high school biology. Nasty. Absolutely no use for it. This may make me "smokist" or some other clever neologism, but I can't get around it.

This is not a complete list, and is even subject to chance in three weeks or three months. So much depends on the individual, that we have to be able to make a ruling on the field of play on whether or not to let something continue based on our gut in the moment. It doesn't benefit anyone to have a prospective mate theorized down to the atoms, only to let someone slip by just because they are wearing a different fabric.

So, what makes you halt on an otherwise straightforward date? What traits cause you to say, "Gee, maybe I need to rethink getting involved with this person?"

Friday, July 20, 2007

"Mr. Rogers is an evil man."

From Fox News:

I don't think that this video is saying what people in the YouTube comments think it's saying. They think Fox News is hating on Mr. Rogers. I think Fox News is using excessive comic overstatement. Whether or not a "news program" should be engaging in extreme sarcasm is a question left for other entries, but I will say that if you're trying to be "fair and balanced", this isn't it.

The commentators seem to be under the effects of a logical fallacy. They know that today's youth and adults have a large sense of entitlement. They see footage of Mr. Rogers telling each kid that they are special and unique. The commentators conclude that American children have been taught by Mr. Rogers to believe that everything should be handed to them on a silver platter. Quod erat demonstrandum! Or perhaps post hoc ergo propter hoc.

If Fox News is going to convince me that Mr. Rogers is the root of a pervasive sense of no obligations, they're going to have to do better than a poorly-formed straw man attack. No doubt, my doubt is as a result of my liberal bias.

Or perhaps, for balance's sake, they should mention that the Bible has the same problems. All this business about being "wonderfully made" and "before your birth, God knew and loved you": all that sounds like exactly the same thing Mr. Rogers is saying. Which makes sense, seeing as Mr. Rogers was a minister. The Bible reaches many more hundreds of thousands of people than Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood ever will.

So maybe the more appropriate and fundamental question is: does teaching the Bible make children have an over-inflated sense of entitlement?

Home again, home again, Jiggity-jigg.

I'm back in St. Louis to visit the family. I arrived yesterday just after lunch, and hit the ground running. As the members of my family came home in sequence, each commented on my red-white striped shirt. The shirt was a recent purchase for my 4th of July Holy Experience. All seemed surprised that they'd never seen the shirt on me before. I eagerly awaited my father's opinion, since he's never one to let something new slide without some comment upon it.

Sitting at the dinner table, he made no remarks. I eventually laughed and said to my mom, "Gosh, I guess dad didn't notice my new shirt." My father smiled and said, "Oh, I noticed..." and raised his eyebrows. Curse you, father! Out maneuvered again!

Then my youngest brother said he though I was being stalked by a girl. I felt that contacting me two separate times over six years probably didn't classify as stalking. He said, "Hmph. Maybe she's just really slow."

This morning, reading the hometown news papers, I found myself staring at the man who grew out of a little hellion. Young William was always a strange kid, come from a strange family. I can recall (sometime around 4th grade) being at a friend's house when my friend's mother wanted us to take some books back to a local neighbor. While talking with the neighbor in his driveway, I felt a sharp pain in my thigh.

Looking down, I saw the neighbor's diminutive son grinning like a devil and retreating around the nearby corner of the house. "William," his father said. "Don't do that." Conversation continued, until I was again stabbed: same leg. Kid still laughing. "William!" his father roared. "Do you want me to get the Spanking Stick?!" William started to cry in discomfort and retreated around the house, never to be seen again. At least, that day.

A couple of years later at a local park, during soccer season, I was sitting on a ball watching my brother practice. I heard a scuffling and scraping sound coming from behind me, along with occasional suppressed laughter. Turning, I realized that it was Young William approaching me from behind with a large tree branch about half again as long as his body. He had his mischevious face on, and was clearly planning to hit me. I pretended not to notice until he very close, then I ducked away as he was about to swing. Then his face got angry, as though I had deprived him of the release of all the work of dragging this branch across the field to brain me.

Now that I've assassinated his character as a younger child, imagine my surprise to see him posed amidst some Grecian ruins. Apparently he's studying archeology abroad. The funny thing is, he's still got the same heavy-browed grin. Instead of "poking legs for fun", I guess the grin now means "Poking dirt for fun."

After my dad came in from walking the cat (yes, you read that right), he asked if a particular kid from a perennial Webster Schools family was in my grade. "Yeah, he was." Dad then showed me an announcement indicating he was part of a band who recently performed on David Letterman's show, after returning from a performance in England, and before going on an American tour to places like California and Wisconsin. Solid.

What else will this brief excursion bring, if this is the first 24 hours?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

MMmm! That's good satire.

Content Orignated with the "Onion News Network".

Like all good satire, most of this seems completely possible and understandable.

Tourette Syndrome

From an HBO special on Tourette Syndrome

Complete documentary is entitled "I have Tourette's, but Tourette's doesn't have me".

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Political Theatre? It must be David Mamet...

DATELINE: U.S. Senate Floor

Democrats are attempting to pass an amendment to bring the troops home from Iraq. Republicans oppose. Democrats control the Senate. What's a minority party to do?

FILIBUSTER! Yes, that's right: it's time for C-SPAN to become high art yet again, as senators talk about whatever they feel or read the phone book to prevent losing the role of recognized speaker, thus preventing any further lawmaking.

It's the parliamentary procedure version of using three seat belts to tie yourself into your mother's car so she can't make you go to school ... only you're actually the teacher.

Usually the filibuster gets threatened, the other side acknowledges that it doesn't have the 60 votes to interrupt, and everyone grudgingly moves on. Not this time. This is going to be a serious filibuster. How serious?

It's super-sized.

Controlling Democrats have indicated that the Senate will be meeting for an "expanded session" today, meaning debate will continue into Wednesday morning. Something like 30 hours of debate. They're going to set up cots for people to sleep on! Basically, if your opponent is going to filibuster, then you make him pay for it.

You might be saying to yourself, "Filibuster! Hmmm, wasn't there some big news about a filibuster a few years ago?" And you'd be right. During the Supreme Court nominees of 2005, when Democrats used filibustering for votes on what they perceived as unacceptable candidates, the Republicans threatened the so-called "nuclear option" (Wikipedia), which decreases the votes required to end a filibuster to 50. This doesn't sound like much, but it then establishes 50 votes as precedent, making all minority filibusters effectively impossible. The crisis in 2005 was averted and the "nuclear" choice never used.

So, really, the Majority Republicans of 2005 are to blame for ... the Minority Republicans of 2007 being able to filibuster this current appointment. If the Republicans of 2005 had used the nuclear option, the current filibuster on Iraq would not be possible. It's a good thing they didn't actually prevent the thing they were angry about then OR they wouldn't be able to currently do the thing they used to be angry about AND they wouldn't be able to do it back at the people who were doing the angry thing earlier. Say what? Do you think they're secretly arguing about which decision was more important?

I guess you can't posses an entire political cake, while also being able to eat it. In other words, it's a good thing they didn't shoot that leg in 2005 because now they need it to stand on.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Quick, corporal: hand me that trashy fantasy novel!


I guess all that regular war correspondence isn't winning any Pulitzer Prizes, so it's time for Fox News caption editors to bring the purple prose!

You know, "sea of hell" sounds like one of those phrases a 15-year-old puts onto their writing assignments to sound troubled and tortured. I happen to have such an example from MySpace, which my crack research staff creat.... I mean, found.

What a gas!

Here's Jay Leno playing around with a denser-than-air gas. It's been identified as sulfur hexafloride. This is how you teach science to kids.

Andy and the DMV

I headed off to the Missouri Department of Revenue to renew my car license today. I live in Kansas, but my car and plates are still Missouri. The DOR had helpfully sent me registration papers along with the ability to renew over the Web. Super!

Only it didn't work. Part of the problem was that my car insurance is through State Farm, and there was no State Farm on the online list. Swell. This means doing what every American practices long and hard: waiting in line.

I determined that the closest Missouri DOR was in Lee's Summit, a town approximately 12 miles east of where I live. All interstate highway literally to the door of the DOR. Of course, there was road construction. And street sweepers. And accidents. And pulled-over speeders. So it took a while.

Stepping into the DOR, which on the outside resembles a free clinic, I was pleased to find not one but THREE wait-number dispensers. White tickets for new permits, green for renewals, and yellow for boat registrations. I took my green ticket, number 22, and saw that the board for green tickets says "Now Serving 22". How neat is that?

But there's no employees to show. They're all in a different room, and no one seems to be going anywhere. Has the beautiful system broken down? After 10 minutes of standing and watching Fox News report on the president's speech, a fire at a strip mall, and a dangerous driver in Florida, a woman emerges and says, "Anyone with green tickets follow me". Off we go.

She's a somewhat friendly lady, who was polite and smiled a little. "What do you need first," I asked, my hands filled with inspection slips and registration receipts. "I need for it to not be so hot," she responds. I laugh, because it's always a good idea to laugh at the person who has the stickers you need. "What do you need from the papers I have?" I respond.

"Geeze," she says. "I want the humidity to go down. It's all *bleccch* outside," she says while moving her arms and making an unsatisfied sound. I laugh again, even though that wasn't an answer to my question. Again, stickers needed.

As a result of her arms moving, I notice that her right hand is withered past the elbow. She has four fingers on that hand, with the most prominent being a thumb with a large french tip on the nail. She's relatively adept at using that hand for carrying papers and files, though it's too short to use the computer keyboard.

She certainly seemed to be adept at this particular brand of work. I thought about how that would effect my life. For starters, I'd have to completely relearn how to play the trombone, including altering the actual horn construction.

Into the DMV and out again inside of 45 minutes. I didn't have to find other forms, come back later, or even bargain. That, my friends, is why you always take care of your DMV business before the last week of the month. If not, be prepared to wait.

P.S. Quickly saying "Andy and the DMV" from the title is fun.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Being Ruled by "The Rules", Part I

As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I've read the book called "The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right", hereafter known as "The Rules". It was a book I had heard of, in that I had heard some commotion about the publication a few years ago. Something about them being a source of conflict between different ideas of how to date. I'd basically forgotten about them until I stumbled on them while browsing through the shelves at the library.

Well, secrets for capturing hearts! That sounds like rollicking good reading material, for laughs if not for actual useful knowledge. Sounds kind of strict, though. I mean, rules doesn't sound like you get much flexibility, and flexibility is sort of my own personal relationship "guiding star". Can't hurt me if I'm prepared, though. Roll up my sleeves and dive into ink.

"The Rules" begins with a staple declaration of the genre of "relationship self-help" books: it disavows anything that's ever been tried before as unhelpful at best, while trumpeting all the success stories of people who follow the plan. I say "people" who follow the plan, but in actuality, The Rules are only for women. As with other books like this I've read, there is absolutely no acknowledgment whatsoever that a man may pick up this book and read it. This is probably called "focused authoring" or something, but in reality, it really drives a wall down between men and women. This is ameliorated somewhat because a man CANNOT follow these guidelines; the Rules are definitely NOT gender neutral. I'll touch on this in another entry, but know that these Rules have a serious dark side which I feel is not fully cautioned against.

Now that it's just us (ahem) women, it's time to work through the book's main ideas. Page 5 says, "Ever wonder why women who are not so pretty or smart attract men almost effortlessly?" Gosh, I'd never really noticed. Without thinking about it too hard, I would have said that men do go after women who are either pretty or smart. But according to the authors, there's this plain, average streak of ladies who are getting all the good men! I know that's what I want, someone who's neither smart nor pretty and completely median. Yep, sounds like an exceptional girl!

While I'm thinking of it, I should mention that the authors purpose for this book is to get people married. People looking for anything other than marriage-prospects need not read this book. So keep in mind that everything that's said is with an eye towards getting a good husband.

"If you follow The Rules, you can rest assured that your husband will treat you like a queen--even when he's angry with you. Why? Because he spent so much time trying to get you."

One of the basic concepts of The Rules is that men like to be ignored, because then they are forced to engage their hunting reflexes and pursue. The book goes over and over on the fact that women should never return calls, always hang up the phone first, never make the plans, etc. In short, don't ever make it easy for the man, because when things are easy, men will stop pursuing because they love the chase so much.

"In a relationship, the man must take charge. [...] We are not making this up -- biologically, he's the aggressor." There's something quaintly Freudian in this sort of anthropological statement. The authors are referring to that time long ago when Cro-magnon man was a hunter. Somehow, that genetic history is still encoded in men today! I'm not sure what Cro-magnon woman was doing, but if The Rules are any indication, she was telling the man she really didn't LIKE mastadon meat, and that she had plans for the next 5 campfires.

The whole point is that as long as man is pursuing woman, then the relationship works. In today's times, that leads to marriage. I'm not sure what happens after the man "gets" you into marriage, but the book just suggests you continue using the rules, switching the focus from "getting" to "keeping". Easy, right?

What's the great fear of The Rules? What's the motivating drive behind why a woman should do these things? Because you don't want to be alone. When you break The Rules, "you could easily end up alone. [...] Imagine a husband you love, beautiful sex, children, companionship, and growing old with someone else who thinks you're a great catch. Think about never having to be alone on a Saturday night." So it's fear that should drive women. Fear of being an old maid.

Their first example Rules girl is Melanie. (Hi, Melanie!) Melanie is not pretty or smart or special, but she followed the Rules: she wore makeup and clothes well and acted elusive. She was always "happy and busy" when interacting with men. Can't be too available. Eventually her boyfriend proposed because, the authors say, she was the girl he couldn't get! Easy, right?

Apparently, Melanie is a friend of the authors, because after her proposal, the authors said, "Gosh, why all the men, when you are so plain, with no wit or individuality?" Actually, they probably didn't say THAT, but something slightly nicer. And lo, didst Melanie hand the down from on high, saying Go forth and be stingy bitches with thy nookie, verily. But the Rules were shocking to the authors, as their story goes. "This will set the feminists back twenty years!" the authors pined (and opined). But the siren call of having a husband was too great.

There are 35 rules. Some are just common sense:
#16 - Don't tell him what to do.
#23 - Don't date married men.

Some have good thoughts behind them that need a little help to understand:
#11 - Always End the Date First.
#13 - Don't see him more than once or twice a week.

But some just seem strange right off the bat:
#31 - Don't discuss The Rules with your therapist.
#12 - Stop dating him if he doesn't buy you a romantic gift for your birthday or Valentine's Day.

There's some good advice here. The best of it comes with the idea behind Rule #1 - Be a creature unlike any other. It encourages women to embrace that which makes them unique. Further on, the authors also direct that women should act cool and distant in the beginning in part to prevent them from latching all their hopes and dreams onto a single date, which may turn sour and lead to depression. They encourage women to have power and be picky over who to allow to take them out. All good stuff.

But as a man, I object to the part I'm supposed to play. Women are encouraged to allow men to be in charge of asking for further dates, planning dates, rearranging their own schedules to meet with women, and proposing; all this in the name of giving men the chance to pursue. It also reinforces the stereotype that men are simple and one dimensional. And possibly the greatest threat of all, it's all about playing power games. Women are directed to make the men believe they have the deciding impulses and that the men can feel free to exercise the power in the relationship. But in reality, it is the women who GRANT the men the power. Secretly. Jealously guarded power.

If you read my blog, you know I'm sensitive to any hint of furtive manipulation of other people. I abhor it coming from my own person. This book sets off my alarm bells. It's all about women manipulating the uncomplicated and direct-action men into chasing after the carrot, intimacy: a carrot, I might add, which women are encouraged to keep mostly out of reach, at least until after the wedding. By intimacy, I don't specifically mean anything sexual. I'm referring to interpersonal intimacy, with the component parts of honesty, communication, and commiseration.

In another entry, I'll talk about the dark side to all this relationship manipulation. What happens when you get a man who embodies what the Rules girls are seeking, and he saves you from loneliness on a Saturday night?

What happens when you get what you get all the "togetherness" you hoped for, plus a whole heap more?

The Dowager Bride internet services have an amazing set of "then and now" photos for most of the recognizable cast from "The Princess Bride", which is now 20 (!) years old.

See it HERE.

Amazing how much some people have changed, and others haven't. And it's not even the youngest who have "grown up" since then. Fred Savage still pretty much looks like Fred Savage. People like Wallace Shawn and Christopher Guest haven't changed at all. People like Cary Elwes, however... well, watch the slideshow.

I still remember when I first heard about "The Princess Bride". A friend was talking about it while we were jumping on his trampoline. We jumped around the yard and the basement talking about "dreaming of large women," even though we had no idea what we were talking about. Especially me, since I hadn't seen the movie. But it was the hot idea of the moment, so what could be done? Basically the only purpose of children is to imitate, and I could not deny my nature.

A thought occurs: funny how when it's a silly movie, no one pays any attention to shameless repetition. I probably called everyone I knew a warthog-faced buffoon in the subsequent months and years and staged massive sword fights over living room furniture. No one cared much, since it was just a silly movie.

But what if I'd gotten hooked on passages from the Bible? Would I be called a child preacher, destined for the pulpit, and saved at the age of 9? Or would I be just another boy who was imitating somebody I liked, without really knowing what I was saying?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Tour de Who?

Did anyone realize the Tour de France is currently underway? I sure didn't.

In contrast to previous years, when the news is all about Lance Armstrong or another American with a chance to do well, I'm betting there are no such contenders this year.

What happened to all the sports sites "stage by stage" updated statistics?


It's the new Old fad that's sweeping the nation!

Perhaps we live in a geocentric universe. That is, the entirety of the observable universe revolves around the earth, which does not move from its prescribed location. It doesn't even turn! It's just always still.

Apparently 20% of Americans believe this is true (SOURCE). One in five. What's more amazing to me is that I don't know anyone who believes this, which means the percentage in the rest of the country is just that much higher.

I guess NASA scientists just make it hard for themselves trying to calculate all those geosynchronous orbits for satellites. Anything we put up around the Earth should stay there, like hanging it on a skyhook! Isn't it amazing to think that the entire known cosmos, billions and billions of galaxies like our own, are actually spinning through the heavens. That the stars in the night sky, even the extremely distant ones that have been spotted by telescopes, are all wickedly spinning around us.

And out of everything, we don't move! Aren't we lucky? Isn't Earth special?

The international space station must have gigantic secret engines to propel it around the earth in its current 15.7 orbits per day. It's moving at 17,000 miles per hour, but due to almost no acceleration, it feels as if it is not moving at all.

WAIT! If it feels like it's not moving, but we know it is.... does that mean the Earth is....

Incredible! Whenever people are in the Space Station, watching the Earth rotate and not feeling the motion of the station, that must mean that they actually cause the Earth to start rotating! What power those three scientists on-board have!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Surrogate Son

This past week I've been involved with a music clinic for conductors. One of the participants was an unlikely friend: a local high school band director who has never passed a single student on to me for lessons, and whose grand plans of having me give master classes to her students are always incomplete. We don't socialize on any occasion other than music conferences. She's a good person, though, and fun to have as an acquaintance.

I was introduced to this director by an old girlfriend; they had been long friends, and while I was dating her we were often in the same location. During these visits, I got to know the director's husband. As one might expect of someone married to a band director who needs to direct people around all day, the husband is quiet and reserved. Very soft spoken. In our time together with the two couples, the women would talk about what they knew, leaving me to talk to the husband.

He and I formed a ready friendship, which lasted longer than the relationship did. Again, I don't see much of the husband and wife, on the order of once a year or less. But the husband and I always seem to slip right back into the easy talking, or more commonly the easy "not talking". I smile every time I think about the women talking and arguing about something, with the husband and I quietly talking in the background about boats or woodworking.

It was always nice to go to the bustling music educators conferences, filled with people I don't know, and find these two friendly faces. The husband especially always seemed happy to see me, as a friendly face in a sea of people who basically know his wife. It means a lot to me that he's so friendly to me. I guess when someone is that reserved with their feelings, it's a big deal to get even a small gesture.

Last year (I think), he was diagnosed with cancer. It was not a ferociously deadly variety, though he entered into treatment immediately. Speaking to his wife today, she mentioned she had just dropped him off at a hospital for an experimental drug treatment to make sure that it hadn't transfered to any other lymph nodes.

She told me that when she mentioned to her husband that she was spending all week with me at the clinic, her husband's response was, "Is there anything from around here we can give him?" Reflecting on this later, I wondered why someone I hadn't seen in a year, and with whom I've met, in total, probably less than 10 or 15 times, would be worrying about getting me something. It's not my birthday yet, and I'm fairly certain they don't even know when my birthday is.

And the more I thought about it, the more I got the feeling like they are proud of me. They're about the age of my parents, but have no children of their own. They always like hearing about what I'm doing. They're interested in seeing me do well. They're always telling me I don't spend enough time in contact with them. It's like having a tertiary set of parents.

In a strange way, it feels similar to when someone finds me romantically attractive. It's nice to be able to see how appealing I am through someone else's eyes. It's nice to know that people appreciate me for who I am and how I behave; a kind of validation, I suppose. It's also nice when those people aren't in my immediate family, and have no particularly pressing reason to show me anything other than simple friendliness.

And it's nice to have a friend who appreciates when you sit next to them and feel comfortable in the silence.

No God But God

This morning, the Senate opened the session with a prayer. This is not unusual; a prayer usually opens every session. What makes this different was that it was a Hindu prayer. Say, Doctor Andy, were there Christian protesters, interrupting the prayer? Of course there were!

Here is a portion of the prayer: "We meditate on the transcendental glory of the Deity Supreme, who is inside the heart of the Earth, inside the life of the sky and inside the soul of the heaven. May He stimulate and illuminate our minds."

I like it. It's very poetic. It may not be a Christian prayer, but I think it could apply to a Christian God. But what do I know about such things? The Hindu clergyman closed with saying "Peace, peace, peace be unto all." If only people would listen.

But they don't. Even before the Hindu started speaking, voices interrupted from the visitor's gallery. Two men and a women kept interrupting the prayer, shouting "this is an abomination" and "there is no God but Jesus Christ". They were eventually arrested, and as they were led away, one of the men said, "We are Christians and patriots."

Just religious fervor of the moment, right? Three people overcome by being surprised with a differing religion's prayer in place of a normal Christian one, surely. Actually, this particular prayer has been the target of a campaign of opposition. Here's the page from the American Family Organization (SOURCE). This organization, formed in Mississippi, issued an "Action Alert" to start a letter-writing campaign to senators to oppose the Hindu prayer.

Why are they opposed? It's probably because of all the radical Hindu terrorists attacking our freedoms and liberties abroad, right? Oh, no wait... that's someone else. The AFA petition questions why the Senate would deliberately allow a non-monotheistic prayer. The president of some organization called WallBuilders says, "since Hindus worship multiple gods, the prayer will be completely outside the American paradigm, flying in the face of the American motto 'One Nation Under God'."

This "Christian historian" goes on to give a brief description of Hinduism. It's so hilarious and childish that I almost can't understand what point he thinks he's trying to make.

"In Hindu, you have not one God, but many, many, many, many, many gods," the Christian historian explains. "And certainly that was never in the minds of those who did the Constitution, did the Declaration [of Independence] when they talked about Creator -- that's not one that fits here because we don't know which creator we're talking about within the Hindu religion."

The historian points out that Hinduism is not a religion that has "produced great things in the world," referring to the general socio-economical status of India and Nepal, two primarily Hindu countries. I'm not really clear what he's describing as a "great thing". It seems to be primarily about countries that can't take care of their own people, in which case, well.... we'd better not throw any stones while we debate health insurance. I'm reminded of a line from the first Harry Potter book, where a character describes the villain as doing "great things. Terrible, but great."

Aren't you glad that we live in a society that prevents the establishment of a religion by the government? Aren't you happy we have religious freedom? Aren't you happy that no one gets taxed more or receives less Social Security based on whether or not people pick the "right" religion? These protesters aren't.

The United States is a Christian nation, they say. We want to reclaim America for Christ, they say. There is no god but our god, they say. Another minister denounced the Senate as "caving to multiculturalism and diversity".

Please compare for yourselves two perspectives on this issue, then think about whether the media is liberal, or the alternative press is conservative. Maybe both are true?

HERE is the news story as reported by the Associated Press.

And HERE is a news story from the American Family News Network on this prayer. Please read a few of the comments on the news story for further public opinions.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Schism on, you crazy diamond!

This just in... Pope Benedict XVI releases statement. Tells Protestants they're not good Catholics. Protestants say, "Perhaps you met our friend Martin Luther?"

I've got to hand it to the Pope. He's the butt of a lot of jokes. He wears funny hats, talks a lot, and is a social conservative. In fact, he may be THE social conservative. That's a tough act to sell, especially to a billion Catholics.

And while I'm positive he's NOT Jewish, he does have a lot of chutzpah. He recently issued a statement (SOURCE) which tells all the sects who are AWOL from the Catholic church that they are not true churches of Jesus. This document basically says that Catholics and Protestants have different ideas about the doctrine of the church. Holy faith crisis! Did I step back into 1517? Do you smell that? Quick, everyone check their shoes for Theses!

Who is this document for? Catholics? They already believe the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, the primary intercessor. Is it for Protestants? I don't think they're going to take the Pope's word on how Jesus thinks. For Eastern Orthodox? I doubt they're going to be receptive, either.

Is this a "pat yourself on the back if you're Catholic" statement? I have no idea, but it's really a fantastic "nose tweak" to other Christian faiths.

"Guess what, apostates? I say you're wrong about Jesus. And my religion says I'm infallible. Ergo... you suck!"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Power Slap

Let me sketch out a hypothetical situation.

You're eating dinner in a restaurant. Two or three tables away is a couple, deep in conversation. Halfway through your entree, the woman stands up, slaps the man across the face, and leaves the restaurant.

Obviously, there's been a confrontation. Make a snap judgment of the situation. Quick! Who's to blame?

If you assumed "the man", then I agree with you. So do the other ten people I asked. I have a hunch that most people would agree. After all, it's a typical scene that everyone knows: the guy says something hurtful and the woman gets disgusted. She then gives him a slap to try to impress upon him the torture of whatever he just said.

I was thinking about this situation in the shower the other day, and I reached a startling thought: the woman has control of the situation, absolutely and totally. When she makes the decision to slap the man and leave, she has control of the sentiments of the entire room. Everyone immediately knows the man is guilty of something. Why else would she slap him?

Why else, indeed? I conceived of a situation where a woman is eating calmly with her date. Then, because of a psychological defect or a need for attention, she slaps her date (completely unprovoked). She has control of every other diner's thoughts at that moment. And after she leaves, the man can sputter and exclaim how he didn't do anything; it would only make him appear more guilty.

Following this bizarre train of thought, I tried to conceive of a circumstance where a man could do the same thing. Could a man slap a woman in public? I don't think so. No matter how justified, a man cannot slap a woman in public. He loses all credibility and instantly becomes a pariah. It doesn't seem to have anything to do with the relative size or musculature of the couple; it's still just not acceptable under any circumstances.

A man can yell. He can swear. He can throw glassware. He can overturn chairs and table. He can throw money at her to fulfill a scene from "La Traviata". But he cannot hit her. No matter how she deserves it. No matter how justified in a reverse-gender situation. It just can't be done and be publically acknowledged as correct behavior. And possibly more importantly, it can't be done without assuming the mantle of an "evil person", and forfeiting a legitimate position.

So the big question is this: is this leverage, that still reflects an unequal power structure between women and men, that the women need resort to physical violence because they feel powerless in other areas? Or are we equal enough (and mature enough!) that nobody should be hitting anybody, the first step being that women need to "disarm"?

Should slapping from either gender ever be acceptable in today's society?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Yay for the Internet?

A few months ago, a friend mentioned his upcoming summer wedding. I remembered this morning and went searching online. I knew nothing more than the groom's name and the first name of his intended.

Where to begin? Why, Target, of course! This is not an exaggeration to say that every wedding I have been invited to since my friends started marrying has had a registry at Target. I suppose Target is the wonderful in-between from K-Mart and Lord & Taylor. One can feel confident that people won't sneer at you for cheapness, since you aren't at the absolute cheap end. Neither will they balk because you have $600 sheet sets and Waterford Crystal cereal bowls. All hail Target.

Acting on a well-reasoned hunch, I searched the gift registry. Behold! There they were. Groom's full name, bride's full name, date of ceremony, and the fact that they want an alarm clock and kitchen trash can. Of course, I can't stop there, since I don't know anything about the bride. I can't be bothered to actually ASK her, since we've never met. Instead, we can meet virtually; except that I do it anonymously and without her knowledge, and she has no idea who I am or what I'll find. Creepy, but educational. So once again to the search engines I go!

After combing through search results, I found her current place of employment, job description, and a photograph. Not a bad day's work. Now I can judge her from the privacy of my own computer room, and decide whether or not she's good enough (and pretty enough) for MY friend. Good news for her: she passes. Though if she wants to stay out of the gray area, she should do something more interesting with her hair. The German Milkmaid thing is SO over.

In all seriousness, I'm glad I was able to find all this information. My friend had spoken in glowing terms of his prospective bride, but it's hard for me to put together the knowledge of a person if I don't have a face to stimulate accretion. At least now, when I meet them in seven more years, I'll have a name and a face to stimulate recognition.

And I suppose that, at least in this case, there was no embarrassment. A search for her name didn't show her to be part of the Illinois Nazi Party (blond and blue-eyed though she may be). She's a coordinator with the special education department of a school district involving 8 high schools. That's the sort of thing one can be proud to have people stumble across on the internet.

Of course, had I searched for her dominatrix name, Scar-mistress Gretchen, then the results might not have been so prosaic.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Service Interruption

On July 3rd, I noticed a phone company van outside my window. "Huh!" I thought. At around 1:00 PM, my phone signal died along with my internet connection. I figured it would come back soon; after all, the phone guys were still here! But they drove away, and at 9:30pm, I called to report my continuing service outage. "We can send a repair crew on Friday." Swell.

The called my cell phone to confirm the "appointment": the crew would arrive sometime between 9 AM and 6 PM on Friday. I guess that's what you get for free service. Good thing I just got a pile of DVDs from the library. It turned out it must have been a simple fix, because sometime between noon and one, the service was restored. I never saw a single person, no one knocked on my door, and no one called.

Even though all worked out for the best, it was still frustrating.

*** *** ***

On Wednesday (July 4th), I performed at a local church. I'm not familiar with Independence Day being a church holiday, but they decided to have a musical spectacular. This church was one of the larger churches that crowed at the top of their lungs that they were having services on Christmas Day, when apparently many churches only have services on Christmas Eve. They made mention to this fact during the Independence celebration, which drew applause from the audience. To me, this extra service seems like a thinly-obscured "more pious than you" statement. However, I don't understand these things.

The church itself doesn't look like the sort of church I'm familiar with. No stained glass. In fact, no windows at all in the sanctuary, giving the impression of a 60-foot ceilinged movie theater. Unpacking my trombone in the hallway, I noticed that the back doors to the sanctuary are marked "Stage". I laughed at this, wondering if they really thought it was like a playhouse.

The joke was on me, however. It is indeed a play house. Never have I attended such an insincere display of faith, towards any religion. Eight Klieg lights illuminate the stage. TV cameras in the middle aisle. Cameras at the corners. Cameras on "Tonight Show"-style cranes, swooping over the audience. Cameras being jockeyed into position by on-foot guys. A sound and light board at the rear. Large projection screens on three walls. Everyone standing on stage has a microphone (or sometimes two).

Before the service started, the screens were showing slides of the upcoming guests and lectures. Summer camp in July! Stephen Baldwin in August! And Pat Robertson in September.

Pat. Robertson. I ground my teeth together to stop from barking with laughter.

By itself, the sanctuary is almost unremarkable. It has no cross that I noticed. No copies of the Ten Commandments. No "authentic" scripture with a token verse hung on the walls. The room is relatively austere (for a television studio). It wasn't what I was expecting from a church, but it wasn't offensive or disturbing. I know many denominations remove the focus from iconography and the other "trappings" of religion.

And yet, something did disturb me. To be honest, this church is well known to me. They're evangelical, and the pastor has had my scorn since the first time I heard him speak, when he emphatically argued that gay marriage was a bigger threat to America than terrorism or global warming. So going into this performance, I was steeled against ideas I would find abhorrent.

But it wasn't just the ideas. It was the people. The head minister's son (also a pastor! Go figure) came through our hallway, shaking hands and smiling at everyone. He approached me. Smiling without using his eyes. "Welcome, brother. We're so pleased you could worship with us today." Now, perhaps I'm just a prickly fish, but I get weirded out even when my OWN brother calls me "brother." This guy doesn't know me from the pool boy. I took his hand and said all the things one says when being paid. He even shakes hands strangely, although I can't put my finger on what the problem was. Too much curl in the fingers, perhaps.

Ahh, the people. The pastor felt like a used car salesman. My only mental picture as he talked was him assuring people that the fibro-carbon undercoating is an ESSENTIAL component of the used car. There's just no getting around it. Halfway through, a kid got up to discuss how going to Bible camp made him want to be a minister, and to encourage all the young people to go. The audience murmured and clapped their approval to what he said. Watching him talk, then look at the pastor, I was struck with what a supportive environment he was in. He could have said anything remotely positive about Jesus and the choir and audience would have shouted "amen". No wonder he wants to become a minister; the positive feedback loop. By the way, he was saved at seven.

So why was I disturbed? As I said, I expected ideas I don't agree with. But I couldn't shake the notion that the people in charge didn't believe. The whole calculated "made for TV" atmosphere just made the whole thing...fake. As I sat there playing, I couldn't help but think I had wondered into a studio where they film a reality show set in a church. And watching a preacher play to the crowd just rubbed me the wrong way.

Then again, perhaps that's just the way a skeptic (me) relates to people of faith. I honestly don't know. I only know that I'm not as impressed and respectful as I was to the ministers in my family's church when we were growing up. I may not have agreed with their words, but I could respect them as people.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Independence Insomnia?

Here I am, still up. Dark and early in the morning. Time for some random thoughts.

We spend an awful lot of time being nervous around our own friends.

I'll never forget the day that a woman I thought was too gorgeous to have any brains spoke to me about Hawking's "Brief History of Time". Rarely have I been so soundly humbled.

I thanked my grocery bag boy today, and he was thrilled. He made eye contact and said to enjoy the 4th.

I can feel my own stubborn pride (very) gradually leaking away, month by month.

Can you feel glad for a friend, and never want to see them again? Or have they ceased to be a friend at that point?

Is talking about your family like describing nightmares? When you attempt to describe the details, do they just sound more silly and more inconsequential?

It's really nice to feel like there are people out there in the dark that love you.

I've been thinking about old faces. Not friends, but faces that bubble to the top randomly. My 3rd grade music teacher. My first grade teacher. A girl who had a crush on me in high school. Familiar faces dead in car accidents. A high school kid speaking at the funeral of his mother and brother.

So many people could be happy if they gave themselves the opportunity.

Telling people I'm not interested in them is one of the most uncomfortable things I've ever done.

Something I never expected about getting older and wiser is that I'm not as willing to settle for less than I really want.

Man, do I like lemon meringue pie.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Throughout my life, I've gone through periods of fiery activity with my library cards. Every place I've ever lived, I've had ready access to a library, whether the result of a childishly signed card back when bar codes were new, or access to academic libraries from paying thousands of dollars in tuition.

Right now, I have accounts at two libraries. Well, two libraries in Kansas City; I also have two accounts in St. Louis, but those have long since lapsed into inactivity, I'd suspect. The first library is the university library on the UM-KC campus. It's an imposing edifice to knowledge and an architectural style that has left us. Home to many musical score and textbooks, I go there for all my paper-writing tasks.

The second library is my local county library. One of 10 or 12 such libraries in the system, it satisfies my "less academic" reading desires. I'm currently working my way gradually through the DVD collections of the various seasons of "Sex and the City", for example, since I'm too poor and oblivious to ever subscribe to HBO. Over the years, it has provided me with very interesting reading and viewing material, especially in the realm of things I would never spend money to view.

When I had questions about intelligent design, I was able to obtain "Of Pandas and People" through my local library. Intended to be a classroom textbook for a biology course favorable to ID, it was a very engaging book. I have never read a textbook that ate its own tail in such a fashion. Half the book seemed dedicated to using the scientific method, while the other seemed dedicated to putting it aside. Fascinating.

When I heard a Texas preacher interviewed on the radio, I was able to find his latest book on the shelves. "Jerusalem Countdown", by John Hagee, reads like a very boring Tom Clancy novel. It's full of secrets and spies and imminent destruction. Coating the whole non-fiction book is a cloud of the Zionist ideas that he preaches when not writing books. So, I could never quite work out when he's telling us that "Jerusalem" is in danger of attack from extremists, if he was against the attacks (because of human decency), or for them (because he believes it would be a harbinger to the Second Coming).

I love the library. It embodies one of my highest ideals for information. The library is a place where a vast array of ideas can be presented. Want to read what Hitler wrote? Stalin? Ghandi? Various popes? Saint Augustine? "Weird Al"? Carol Spinney (who performs Big Bird)? Plato? They're all here. Old ideas share shelf space next to new. Good ideas next to bad. Influential ideas next to misunderstood ones. It's rather like the Internet, but with a better classification system. Thanks, Dewey!

I love wandering amongst the shelves. Here's the haul from my latest jaunt to the library, in no particular order:

1). Discovering Your Personality Type (Featuring the latest Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator), by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.

I picked this up because I was intrigued what the aformentioned Enneagram Type Indicator actually meant. Plus, I've always been fascinated by personality types ever since my freshman year biology course. Thanks, Mr. Horak!

2). The Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For?, by Rick Warren.

I've heard this book's title before in various places. That's what got me to take it off the shelf. It was the beginning of the dedication, however, that got it into my home.

This book is dedicated to you. Before you were born, God planned this moment in your life. It is no accident that you are holding this book. God longs for you to discover the life he created you to live-- here on earth, and forever in eternity.

Well, damn! Seems like God went to an awful lot of trouble to have me wander through the library on this specific day just to pick this book up, just so I could scoff at it in my own narrow-minded way. I wouldn't want to disappoint God and the author by putting it back on the shelf.

3). Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps: How We're Different and What to Do About It, by Barbara and Allan Pease.

Flipping through the book, it seemed like it covered a lot of ground. Besides, it has two chimpanzees on the cover. What's not to like?

4). The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right, by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider.

Another book whose title I have heard mentioned. People who've read it seemed to feel it sends a burning lance of truth to the center of their souls, or that it is complete crap and should only be used to stem the flow of nasal mucus during a bad head cold. I'm determined to make my own opinion. I'm about fifteen chapters in (out of 50-some odd), and I've felt compelled to take notes on the more striking passages. I'm sure they'll be an entry about this from me after I finish.

5). Cosmos, by Carl Sagan.

I'm two chapters in to this one, and I'm not surprised to find that he doesn't write nearly as "sexy" a book as some of these other authors. If he doesn't get to the point soon, I don't think he'll have enough space left to tell me how to find the man of my dreams!

6). Jeeves and the Tie That Binds, by P.G. Wodehouse.

Pure cotton candy for an Anglophile like myself. A 200-page book where nothing of consequence happens, and in the end everyone marries who they're supposed to. Oh, and Jeeves continues to be awesome.

7). Funerals Are Fatal, by Agatha Christie.

A mystery involving Hercule Poirot. Not one of Christie's spectacular plots that ends up on a literary pedestal, but a very pleasing who-dun-it. I didn't know who was the culprit was, so I consider that the gift the book gave me. Just so you know, the butler may or may not be involved.

8). The Civil War, by Ken Burns (DVD).

Historical comfort food. The only item on this list I've ever seen before. Can't get enough. Every time I watch it, it sends me scurrying to the history books for biographies or other books. Something motivating me to learn on my own? Unnatural. Possibly witchcraft.

9). Intuitive Eating: A Recovery Book for the Chronic Dieter, by Evelyn Tribole.

Recommended by a friend, on multiple occasions. Halfway though, and (pardon the expression) it's taking some time to digest. Contains a lot of that "common sense but we're telling you again" information. Also making me think about eating and food in ways that seem totally foreign to me.