Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Night of the Lepus

Holy crap! That's a big bunny! And it's not a Photoshop job either. Check it out.

A German pensioner who won a prize and worldwide fame for breeding his country’s largest rabbit — Robert, a 10.5kg (23lb) bruiser the size of a dog — has been offered an unusual opportunity to exploit his talents overseas.

Karl Szmolinsky has been given a contract by North Korea to supply giant rabbits to help to boost meat production in the reclusive Communist country, which is suffering severe food shortages.

More about these giant bunnies at the link above, plus a bonus recipe for Korean Spicy Rabbit and Potatoes! (Just make sure that your main course's larger relatives don't find out.)


Still a lot of clean-up around here due to being AFB (away from blog) for 18 months. I think I've weeded out all the dead blogs from the blogroll, leaving a few "mostly dead" in the hopes that they'll resurrect at some point. At some point I'll probably weed out more and add new ones.

As I try to reconnect with the blogosphere I'm finding that a lot of the blogs I used to enjoy are now slow to load, (probably because they're) cluttered with ads, (and as a result are) poorly laid out, and have a high noise-to-signal ratio (due to ads and other crap) making them very difficult to read.

Folks: Less is more.

Are you really making anything off those ads you have cluttering up your site? Or do you put them up there in the vain hope that someday, someday your blog will be a cash cow?

I think many formerly excellent blogs are coasting on reputation now. The standard for excellence seems to be dropping. (Not that I'm helping any.)

Also, folks: sans serif for screen; serif for print. That's the standard rule. Break it at your own peril.

(Man, what got into me all of a sudden?)

When the wind is southerly, I know a sink from a urinal.

In a story tangentially-related to the one below, here's an indication that Western cultures do make accomodations when they can.

No stoning please, we're Canadian

Immigrants wishing to move to the town of Herouxville, Quebec have been warned: the town council has created an ordinance against the stoning, burning, or circumcising of women. Furthermore . . .

We consider that men and women are of the same value. Having said this, we consider that a woman can; drive a car, vote, sign checks, dance, decide for herself, speak her peace, dress as she sees fit respecting of course the democratic decency, walk alone in public places, study, have a job, have her own belongings and anything else that a man can do. These are our standards and our way of life.

However, we consider that killing women in public beatings, or burning them alive are not part of our standards of life.

Other sections of the new "Standards" document inform immigrants that in Herouxville, there are no laws preventing female medical professionals from treating men, or male medical professionals from treating women. Likewise, members of emergency services, such as police officers or firefighters may also help members of both genders.

You wouldn't think such a statement would be considered controversial, would you? But apparently it is.

[T]he president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, Salam Elmenyawi, condemned the council, saying it had set back race relations decades.

He told Reuters news agency: "I was shocked and insulted to see these kinds of false stereotypes and ignorance about Islam and our religion."

The new community standards say nothing about Muslims or Islam at all. It mentions religion in two sections: one on education where it states that schools do not have places set aside for prayer or incantation, and another on "fesitivities," which reads in part:

We listen to music, we drink alcoholic beverages in public or private places, we dance and at the end of every year we decorate a tree with balls and tinsel and some lights. This is normally called “Christmas Decorations” or also “Christmas Tree” letting us rejoice in the notion of our national heritage and not necessarily a religious holiday. These festivities are authorized in public, schools, and institutions and also in private.

The Standards document closes by informing prospective immigrants that the document is intended to help them decide whether or not they wish to make the decision to move there, while making it clear that if anyone does wish to modify their habits and customs, there is a referendum process.

So what is Elmenyawi's concern? The document makes no specific reference to Islam or any ethnic or religious group, and covers much more territory than just the treatment of women. So if it's true that Islam does not mistreat women, then Elmenyawi should feel right at home in Herouxville.

Perhaps if there was not already concern about Canadian Muslims attempting to establish Shari'a courts in Canada, community regulations like the ones in Herouxville might never have had to be written.

Download a copy of Herouxville's "controversial" document here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tracking the Urban Amish

Hey, remember Troy Benham? That guy from Sarona, Wisconsin who auditioned for American Idol in Minneapolis, referring to himself as "Urban Amish"? (Those of you who know where Sarona is -- or was before the DOT paved it over with Highway 53 -- you know there's nothing "urban" about it.) The Spooner Advocate has a story on him. Turns out he's not Amish after all. (No kidding?) He's Mennonite. But whatever, the story is an interesting look into how the audition process works as well as a nice profile of someone who seems like a nice guy.

Oh, say can you sing?

Ladies and gentlemen . . . your next American Idol!

Monday, January 29, 2007

(Bleep) save the Queen!

You might think it was the work of an insidious anti-God censor in the entertainment industry. But it's not as bad as it sounds. An inexperienced employee at a company that censors films for in-flight showings mistakenly bleeped out every single utterance of the word "God" in the Oscar-nominated film The Queen.

The censor was told to edit out all profanities -- including any blasphemy -- for the version of the movie distributed to Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, Air New Zealand, and other carriers.

So the new censor mistakenly bleeped out each time a character said "God," instead of just when it was used as part of a profanity, said Jeff Klein, president of Jaguar Distribution, the company that distributed the movie to airlines this month.

"A reference to God is not taboo in any culture that I know of," Klein said. "We excise foul language, excessive violence and nudity."

In-flight viewers of the film at one point heard "(Bleep) bless you, ma'am," as one character spoke to the queen. In all, the word "God" is bleeped seven times in the version.

Hat tip: Muzzy at Blogizdat

So who's the focus of worship here anyway?

With approval by the Church of England, a congregation in central England will stage a "U2-charist" -- a communion service featuring songs by the group U2 instead of the usual hymns.

"Rock music can be a vehicle of immense spirituality," said Bishop of Grantham Timothy Ellis, announcing plans for the unique service in the central English town of Lincoln in May.

A live band is to play U2 classics like "Beautiful Day" and "Mysterious Ways" with special singalong lyrics displayed on a giant screen. Seating for the 500-strong congregation is to be re-arranged so everyone can dance and wave their hands.

As crazy as it might sound to some, it's really not at all unusual. Many Protestant churches in America have replaced the hymnbook with simple worship songs projected on a screen. It would not even surprise me to learn that some church somewhere in America has U2's "40" among their worship music repertoire.

American Evangelicals also have their own "supergroups" from which they freely borrow worship music, and worship leaders have become "rock stars" in their own right.

It's this last bit that I find somewhat troubling. I appreciate it when worship leaders can effectively lead the congregation in corporate worship, but there seems to be a fine line between "worship" and "musical performance" and for a few months I attended a church where it was often unclear if I was at a church service or a concert.

Having a cover band doing U2 songs before a group of dancing and swaying U2 fans seems to step over that invisible line.

Battling Bush Fatigue

Back during Clinton's second term when the 2000 elections were in full swing, there was much talk about Clinton fatigue.

WASHINGTON (May 27, 1999) -- From bimbo eruptions to draft dodging to pot smoking to Whitewater to the Lincoln Bedroom to Monica Lewinsky, Clinton's personal life has drained the country.

Sure, Clinton's agenda remains popular. Most people continue to think President Clinton is doing a good job, although the war in Kosovo is beginning to create some doubts. But the president's personal behavior? Americans have long since tired of that soap opera.

The message is, enough already and it's showing up politically in the form of Clinton fatigue. Ask the public, 'What if Clinton actively supports Al Gore and campaigns for him -- would that make you more or less likely to vote for Gore?' Most voters say Clinton hurts Gore and only 29 percent say Clinton helps him. If voting for Gore seems like giving Clinton a third term, people really don't want to do that, even though times are good -- enough of Clinton already.

Right now the Republicans are probably feeling the effect of Bush fatigue. And if Clinton fatigue was a problem for Al Gore back then, Bush fatigue is going to be an even bigger problem for any Republican candidate in 2008, given that President Bush hasn't got (and never really had) the bedrock popularity, charisma, and "celebrity" of President Clinton.

Following the President's State of the Union Address, Newsweek reports a new poll that indicates the country is just plain tired of President Bush.

President George W. Bush concluded his annual State of the Union address this week with the words “the State of our Union is strong . . . our cause in the world is right . . . and tonight that cause goes on.” Maybe so, but the state of the Bush administration is at its worst yet, according to the latest NEWSWEEK Poll. The president’s approval ratings are at their lowest point in the poll’s history—30 percent—and more than half the country (58 percent) say they wish the Bush presidency were simply over, a sentiment that is almost unanimous among Democrats (86 percent), and is shared by a clear majority (59 percent) of independents and even one in five (21 percent) Republicans. Half (49 percent) of all registered voters would rather see a Democrat elected president in 2008, compared to just 28 percent who’d prefer the GOP to remain in the White House.

Fifty-eight percent is quite a vote of no confidence, although this poll is hardly official. But if the public sees another Republican administration as simply a continuation of the Bush presidency and its policies, then the going just got even rougher for the Republican candidates. We will surely see a scramble by likely candidates to distance themselves from the President (which shouldn't be too hard for John McCain, having already had much practice at it). Republicans will have to assure voters that they differ from both the President and any Democratic candidates.

Political triangulation was Clinton's specialty. Can Republicans adopt it as a winning strategy?

By the way, only four Presidents have gone lower than Bush's 30% approval rating since Gallup began doing these polls when FDR was president: George Bush, Sr. at 29% in a poll taken in August, 1992; Carter at 28% in July of 79; Nixon at 23% in a poll taken the first week of 1974; and Truman at 22% in a poll taken in February of 1952. Does anyone know what accounted for Truman's low approval in 1952?

The Newsweek poll also had good news for Republicans.

[T]he new poll, which examined the preferences of registered Democrats for their party’s presidential nomination in 2008, shows that Sen. Hillary Clinton, an initial supporter of the war, has a 20-point lead over junior Sen. Barack Obama (55 percent to 35 percent) and a 34-point lead over former Sen. John Edwards (63 percent to 29 percent).

If Hillary got the nomination, Republicans could rest a bit. After all, there is still a whiff of Clinton fatigue in the air.

More poll results here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dental PTSD

I don't like going to the dentist. Never have, and I can't imagine that I ever will.

My wife, on the other hand, loves it.


"Don't you just love how it makes your teeth feel?" she gushes.

She says it's like going to the spa or having a manicure, and she feels all pampered and pretty when she comes out. I, on the other hand, feel all poked and prodded and in pain.

I brush my teeth. I even floss. But I don't like having someone with Very Sharp Torture Instruments digging around inside my oral cavity.

Part of this stems from a horrible dentist I had as a child. An "old school" dentist, his solution was to drill-n-fill at the first sign of decay. I received a mouthful of silver fillings from that man, and I have a suspicion that few of them were necessary. But the worst part about it was that he never offered Novacaine or any other sort of anesthetic. He'd just pin you down and get that drill a-spinnin' while your legs would be kicking futilely in the air and your screams were scaring the other children sitting in the waiting room.

I once remarked to my mother that it was really painful to go to the dentist, and devout Catholic that she was, she said "Yes, but then I remember that Jesus endured a much more painful agony on the cross, and if he could endure that, then the least I could do was put up with the drilling."

Well, how can you answer that without sounding like a pansy? By telling her that Jesus' agony ended in death?

Dr. Evil Dentist also once cemented a strange block-like device onto my front teeth in order to correct the angle of an upper incisor. If you thought braces were bad, imagine a huge metal blob protruding from your mouth. (And remember, this was before the days that people began regularly adoring their faces and mouths with bits of metal. Today this would be consider "alternative" and cool. But back then . . . ) Take a middle-school kid with thick glasses who already has a low self-esteem and then uglify him with a huge and hideous dental device, one that also causes a slight speech impediment, . . . and then watch the fun.

For what it's worth, the device didn't work, but not a single dentist since has ever mentioned this supposed "problem" that Evil Dentist, DDS was trying to correct. I suspect ED, DDS had payments on a yacht or something.

Anyway, the trauma of my childhood dentist means that I cannot fully embrace the cheery abandon which marks my wife's regular dental check-ups. But my wife makes appointments for me anyway with joyful gusto. Thanks, honey.

Last week I went in for my regular check-up, and the dental hygienist expressed "concern" over an area between two of my upper molars where a larger than usual gap meant that more food was able to get down below the gumline, become trapped, and cause some problems. I knew this was a problem area; the problem was created by another former dentist who got sloppy with a filling that ended up irritating the gum for years. And then yet another former dentist attempted to fix that problem, but apparently didn't fix it well enough. And now my wife's dentist (I cannot call her my dentist for I refuse to claim any) is having a go at it.

So today I had to go back in so the hygienist (who, we must admit, is the one who wields the Very Sharp Torture Instruments) could really scrap and poke and prod up in there and try to get it all healthy again. At least I got Novacaine.

I was a bit surprised to discover that they've now started taking blood pressure at the dentist with each visit. When mine was taken, the hygienist expressed "concern" at how high it was. "I'm at the dentist!" I told her. "What were you expecting!?"

One thing I don't like about dental hygienists are the lectures. "Are you flossing?" she asked. I said yes. "How often" "Hourly, I deadpanned." "Show me how you do it," she instructed. So I had to perform the floss maneuver for her. Then I had to show her my brushing technique so she could judge my worthiness some more. She wasn't particularly pleased.

She gave me some dye to put in my mouth. Remember those little red tablets they made you chew in elementary school? They were supposed to show you where the plaque was. The red coloring would stick to the plaque, and the school nurse would then determine whether you were a good brusher or not. Gold stars for the good ones.

The dye the hygienist gave me was sort of like that, but no gold stars. After swishing it around my mouth for a bit, the hygienist handed me a mirror.

Oh. My. Lord.

My lips, my tongue, my gums, . . . everything was livid purple. I looked like I'd just snacked on Barney the Dinosaur for breakfast, his purple blood still dripping from my mouth. (In fact, I secretly hoped the dye would last until I got home so I could tell my kids exactly that.)

After the Novacaine kicked in, the hygienist got down to business of scraping and poking while the overhead speaker played annoying hits of the 70s. As if going to the dentist wasn't suffering enough, I had to listen to "Hotel California," "Piano Man," and "Benny and the Jets."

When did they stop letting patients spit in the little sink? Instead, the dentist sprays water in your mouth, and then invites you to suck it all out with a powerful vacuum tube. The hygienist kept making fun of me because I could not operate the suction tube properly. "Little kids know how to do it," she snarked. But I couldn't get the hang of it, and it would either suck air directly out of my lungs, causing me to gulp like a fish, or it threatened to pull my esophagus inside out.

Just let me sip from a cup and spit in the sink, already! Even Dr. Evil Dentist let me do that!

When it was over, my mouth still numb, and she was done haranguing me about oral hygiene, she started talking about all the follow-up visits. Excuse me? There's going to be follow-up? Several visits?

And the sad part is, my wife is envious of me.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tommy in 2008?

I guess I was busy herding children when former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson announced he was exploring a run for the presidency in 2008. Sorry. Here's my tardy slip.

I don't know if Tommy was a good fit for Washington. When he was Sec. of Health and Human Services, he always seemed uncomfortable, and he didn't last long. But when he was Governor he wore it like a second skin.

Today I decided to poke around on the Interweb, just out of curiosity, to see if he'd set up a website. Yep. But maybe this is just the sort of thing people do about this time in the election cycle. For all I know, I have aunts and uncles and cousins setting up exploratory committees.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The View From Today

One of the curious side effects of being away from this blog (and the whole blogosphere) for 18 months is the urge to go back and delete some rather embarassing older entries that do not accurately reflect where my head is at today.

When I started up this blog, it was about five weeks before the 2004 election, and the divisiveness of that campaign felt like the climax of the divisiveness that has afflicted our nation since the 2000 election. (And before that, I'm sure.)

In the aftermath, I found myself becoming gradually apolitical, something that I've noticed happening after previous presidential elections, too. After spending months talking about nothing but politics, it seems that some time away from that is necessary. One thing I find completely irresponsible about the heated political rhetoric that issues from both sides of the aisle is that after whipping up their constituencies into believing that their opponents aren't merely wrong for the job, but evil or criminal or a minion of Satan himself, on the day after election day they move on (either to Washington or back home to Podunk) and act as if all that rhetoric was just part of the show, and now it's Act 2.

Meanwhile, the constituents who they've whipped into a frenzy are still frothing at the mouth about the opposition party and aren't able to set it aside so quickly.

In other words, in order to get themselves elected, they get us to hate the other guy, and then they wonder why we all hate each other afterwards and why political discourse is at an all-time low. They cannot see that the consequences of poisonous election-year rhetoric is a poisoning of our entire system of governance.

Having jumped into blogging and having positioned myself on the right side of the blogosphere through the positions I took and the viewpoints I advocated, it was a bit difficult to disconnect from politics. The blogs I read (and quoted) regularly were still in "heated rhetoric" mode, and I wanted to get over it and move on.

At the same time, the power of this thing that I'd tapped into -- the "blogosphere" as they called it back then -- was starting to frighten me. You can see the beginnings of this discomfort here.

My blogging dropped off after that for a variety of factors, but my desire to withdraw from political debate, combined with the discomfort I was feeling about political blogging in general was certainly part of the reason.

Jump ahead 18 months and what's changed?

Politically, I find my support of George W. Bush, whom I voted for twice and supported on these pages, to be flagging. I haven't quite been able to nail down the reasons for this feeling, but I think Doug at Bogus Gold has neatly articulated what I've been feeling in his post here, and then again later here. I'll quote from the second post:

We conservatives have to be brave enough to acknowledge reality, even when it's uncomfortable. I'm willing to admit it: I thought George Bush was more capable than he has turned out to be. I don't think the idea of invasion was wrong. I think he is personally not up to the challenge of executing it.

This doesn't mean I suddenly support the Democrats either. They want to pull us out, damned be the consequences. I find that notion somewhere between insanely naive and damnably politically expedient. I think a leader and communicator like Rudy Giuliani would be succeeding where President Bush is failing; to whit: Keeping the American people supportive of the war effort.

Face it fellow conservatives, we saw President Bush's resolve to stay on course, even in the face of crumbling public opinion, as a sign of his integrity and principled belief in the importance of victory. I see no reason to question that even now. But we failed to appreciate that there were other qualities just as important to victory that he lacks. He lacks the ability to gain and hold the trust of the American people. Blame the people rather than him if you like. Blame the media if you like. But it's time to acknowledge that this is the situation we now face. We're fighting a counter-insurgency war in which our commander in chief is incapable of accomplishing the most important strategic objective: holding the support of the American people.

That's pretty sobering, but I think it's spot-on. Like Doug, I'm no longer sure whose side I'm on, if any. I supported the invasion of Iraq for what I felt was a good reason -- deposing Saddam Hussein. I thought the insurgency would dwindle eventually as the people of Iraq tasted more freedom. They would now stand up for themselves and create a thriving democracy that would make all the despots of the region pale.

Except it didn't happen. And we're still over there and it's still a mess. Earlier this month I read this, and got very depressed.

Iraq's massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.

The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972.

I spent months -- years -- telling people that this war was not about oil, and then I read that perhaps it was. Thanks, guys. Now I feel like a real fool.

I'm not ready to jump ship to the Democrats yet. I haven't voted for a Democrat in the Presidental Election since 1984 (when, God help me, I voted for Walter Mondale, an action I blame completely on my youth), but for the first time in a long time I will seriously consider what Democratic candidates have to bring to the table. How could we do any worse?

Hillary's in!

She's made it official.

Now go enjoy this Darn Flashback.

Today is the most depressing day of the year.

January 22nd is Blue Monday. At least according to "happiness and motivation expert," Dr. Cliff Arnall. Today is the beginning of the final week of January when, supposedly, a series of combined depressive effects is lined up to knock us right off the wagon.

Arnall even developed a mathematical equation to prove that this is the most wrist-slittingest day of the year. It looks like this:

The model was broken down using 6 immediately identifiable factors; weather (W), debt (d), time since Christmas (T), time since failing our new year’s resolutions (Q), low motivational levels (M) and the feeling of a need to take action (Na).The equation calculates that Monday 22nd January 2007 is officially the worst day of the year, when the Christmas glow has faded away, New Year’s resolutions have been broken, cold Winter weather has set in and credit card bills will be landing on doormats across the land - whilst the January pay-check is still one week away.

So if you were thinking about shuffling off this mortal coil, the math proves it. This is the day to do it.

I think one of the factors he's missing is the relative sunlessness of January. If you work in a windowless office like me, you're a prime target for Seasonal Affective Disorder, so appropriately abbreviated "SAD," I can't help but wonder which came first: the diagnosis or the acronym. (I'm betting on the latter.)

Here's my cure: Seed Catalogs.

Yep, just order up some seed catalogs and start planning for the garden. And hurry! Spring is only 4 months away!

Okay, . . . I think I just depressed myself.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

American Idol

I love American Idol and I'm not ashamed to say it.

(Okay, maybe a little.)

But it's nice to have this back as part of our weekly schedule since there's very little television we watch these days. But something has changed: Simon wasn't nearly as acerbic as he could have been, Randy actually had useful comments, and Paula had very little to say at all.

These audition rounds are usually very painful to watch, but last night's was painfully dull. Even the awful people weren't awful in an entertaining way, like we expect from these vocal train wrecks. And whoever edited the show let some of the train wrecks go on for far too long, by which time any entertainment value became pathos and pity. Although I did enjoy the irony of the kid singing a cheesy Michael W. Smith song, and then letting loose a string of bleeped obscenities when he didn't make it.

Of those who moved ahead to the Hollywood round, the best of the lot was probably Our Fair City's own Sarah Krueger.

Brief article in the local paper here.

More AI tonight, and more painful cringing from us viewers. But it's back, and that makes me happy. I am so shallow.

Barack Obama makes it official

End the speculation. Barack Obama has officially thrown his hat into the 2008 Presidential ring. And that sound you heard was Hilary Clinton cracking three molars.

The linked article suggests that having less experience in Washington means "fewer ties to the political polarization of the past two decades there," and that is to his credit. But his inexperience is a double-edged sword. On one hand, I agree that a newbie outsider might be a better choice for the Democrats than a career politician like the dismal John Kerry. On the other hand, Washington chews up and spits out newbies like a threshing machine. Unless he has the sort of fortitude to withstand it, Washington is more likely to change Obama than the other way around.

Barack Obama has had only two years in the Senate. If I had voted for him, I'm not sure how I'd feel about the guy spending two-thirds of his Senate term running for president. That wasn't the job the voters hired him for.

I like what I've seen and heard from Barack Obama. He's a Democrat I might actually be able to vote for. But would it have hurt him to wait until 2012 or 2016? Apparently it would. Obama is hot right now. His star is on the rise. If he's ever going to run for president, now is the time, inexperience or not. Such is the state of American politics.

Cognitive Dissonance

Oh my Lord! What have they done to Bridge to Terabithia!?

Just before I signed off for 18 months, I mentioned that Walden Media was picking some excellent properties for feature films, relying on smart children's literature instead of the dumb snotty-kids-and-booger-jokes that usually accounts for kids' movies. So the Newbery Award-winning Bridge to Terabithia is a great choice. But to look at the trailer, it seems they've turned the book into a Narnia-style fantasy. (Perhaps not entirely unexpected, since there is a very slim Narnia connection in the story.) If you watched American Idol last night, the TV spot seemed to highlight the fantasy elements even more.

But if you've ever read the book, you know that there's not a bit of fantasy anywhere in it. Sure, the two main characters create a make-believe land out in the woods, but it's clearly pretend play like all kids do, and it's a minor part of the story. They certainly do not enter a magical land like Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.

(Spoilers ahead, so turn back now if you wish . . . )

The book, by prolific children's author Katherine Paterson, very sensitively addresses the issue of death as the boy, Jess, copes with the loss of his new friend, Leslie. Paterson even touches on the issue of salvation and eternal life as Jess worries about whether Leslie will go to heaven.

That's pretty much the meat of the story right there. It's not a Narnia-style fantasy at all. Which means that either Walden has drastically altered the story, or the trailers are very misleading. I am hoping it's the latter, because a faithful film adaptation of Bridge to Terabithia should be a winner.

(But if they changed anything about the story, let's hope they changed the time period from the 70s to something a bit less hippie-influenced.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Zombies are here! And they've got . . . popcorn?

Orville Redenbacher is back from the dead. Sort of. He's been resurrected to once again sell popcorn. But unlike other ads that use computer wizardry to lift dead celebrities from film clips and insert them into commericals, this new Orville Redenbacher was created digitally. (A short clip is available at the link.) If no one had told me, I wouldn't have known. (At least, not given the resolution of the tiny streaming video on my monitor) But now that I know . . . I'm a bit unsettled.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Finally, Snow!

The kids were excited to see snow falling this morning when they woke up (before the crack of dawn). I snapped this picture of Mimi with her face to the window, and I like the way it turned out.

Click here for a larger version.

Here's what Mimi was looking at in the photo above: the snow-covered Spirea with Christmas lights shining from within.

Outside later to shovel . . . the light a little bluer.

Liatris in the garden with snow on the seed-heads.

My other blog for 2007

Our church is encouraging the entire congregation to read through the New Testament this year with a daily reading schedule that puts us all on the same passages on the same day. As part of that, we've also started a blog with reflections on the daily reading. Yours truly has been tapped to join the bloggers, and today I wrote my first entry. Of course, it would be a passage where Jesus is saying crazy stuff that sounds very unJesus-y. I think I did okay.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Heh. Regarding the previous mention of the "Bible Faith Handkerchief," I guess someone's done the homework on these people. The connection to Robert Tilton is quite amusing, and confirms my suspicion that there isn't anyone on the other end but someone opening envelopes looking for cash.

Friday, January 05, 2007

It's just so crazy it might work!

This how all great scams pull you in: an awesome envelope!

And so it was that one arrived yesterday at Stately Darn Floor Manor. In lieu of a return address, the envelope featured these words:

God's Holy Spirit instructed us to loan you this to start turning things around for you. So here it is. Use it and be blessed.

Given our increasingly bleak financial situation (the result of my decision to become entirely self-employed about 18 months ago) this sort of come-on is exactly the kind of thing that's going to pique my interest. I have no use for get-rich-quick schemes, I distrust multi-level marketing, and Robert Tilton is for entertainment purposes only. But this little piece of bulk mail hit me right in the sweet spot: challenging my faith while provoking my cynicism. That sort of thing can make your head explode.

It's wording like this that makes the cynic in me run around happily with a silly grin on his face:

Heavenly Father, we pray that this one who needs this divine help will write their needs on page two of this letter and will place this blessed, biblical, Acts 19:11, 12, Handkerchief and this sealed --

WHOA! This what? This "blessed, biblical, Acts 19:11, 12 Handkerchief"? The cynic grins.

-- and this sealed Bible prophecy under their side of the bed as they sleep tonight. Let Thy power from heaven descend upon this home tonight and tomorrow night, after this one has mailed their most pressing needs back to the 56-year-old church ministry. We pray that they will break open this sealed prophecy after sunset tomorrow. Amen.

Ignoring for a moment the mixed use of single and plural pronouns (a pet peeve) the whole sealed prophecy thing is intriguing. A sealed prophecy for me? Like one of those scrolls from the book of Revelation? What if I open it and it rains frogs in my kitchen?

Well, we'll worry about that later.

For now, you know these people are serious because although most of this message (and this is still on the envelope itself -- we haven't even opened it yet) is in a pleasant Garamond typeface, the "Amen" is in a heavy calligraphic typeface, suggesting not only that these people have a nice collection of fonts, but that they mean for you to see this "Amen" as if it were being sung by heavenly choirs on golden harps. A perfectly harmonious chord full of grandeur.

But back to the biblical handkerchief. Inside, the message continues. "I've read and reread in the Holy Bible how God instructs ministers to send Bible faith handkerchiefs to people's homes, and as a result, miracles of blessings occur." And then in large friendly letters are the words "Here, I loan you, in Jesus' holy name, this paper, bible faith handkerchief for something good to happen to you." This is tagged with Acts 19:11, 12.

For those as curious as I was, this passage does say that "God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them." So although it's a bit of a stretch to say that "God instructs ministers to send Bible faith handkerchiefs to people's homes," it's not entirely false. Just mostly.

The "handkerchief," by the way, was a piece of paper designed to look like a piece of cloth. The letter instructed me to print my name in the middle of the handkerchief along with my most pressing problem and the name of someone I loved who needs God's help. I am presuming that the loved one is not also the most pressing problem. Then I was told that I had to open my bible to Acts 19: 11, 12, place the paper handkerchief on it, and put it under my bed so I could "sleep on it."

Now that part's kind of weird, but I took this as a battle between cynicism and faith, and went ahead and did it anyway, smirking cynically all the while. Maybe that's the reason I had a horrible night's sleep -- that this bible faith handkerchief acted as the pea under the mattress of my cynicism upon which I have been known to recline with some regularity. Or maybe it was because the toddler woke at 3 am and decided it was the perfect hour for crawling out of her crib, running to the foot of our bed, and crying her head off.

Whatever the reason, I woke up grumpy.

The instructions for the next day were to mail the paper handkerchief back to the sender, along with a little form. "Pray for my family and me for . . . " the form started off, followed by a series of statements to check off. "A closer walk with Jesus." Sure, I checked that. "To be saved." Got that covered. "Our family member's health." I couldn't think of anyone ailing in our family, so I left that blank. "Confusion in my home." No, I didn't think I wanted that, so I left that blank, too. But I checked off "A better job," "A new car," "A money blessing." (Amen in fancy type to that!) There was also a separate spot that read: "Pray for God to bless me with this amount of money: _____________" Throwing caution (but not all my cynicism) to the wind I wrote: $1,000,000. What the heck. There's a faith journey I'm willing to take!

And of course, as you might guess, there was the suggestion that I also "sow a biblical seed offering unto the Lord" which we all know means "send us money." Perhaps this letter was from Robert Tilton after all.

But nowhere did it appear that God was going to withhold his blessings if I didn't give "Saint Matthew's Churches" of Tulsa, Oklahoma a bit of seed money. So I put the paper handkerchief back in an envelope and sent it back without a "seed offering." The letter instructed me to use the pre-paid envelope, but that had my address printed on it, and I felt that if this was really going to be a test of faith, God's blessings would have to find me without the help of the post office.

And then I opened the prophecy.

And really, it was just a lengthy bit of encouragement, and I really couldn't find anything unscriptural about it. No plague of frogs either. My cynicism was left unfed. I guess this is a good thing.

I have a suspicion that whoever opens this letter will look around for the seed offering, and finding nothing, toss it in the trash. (There goes the cynic again.) But what does it matter? Even if this mailing was just an unscrupulous method used to get money, for a few minutes it made me aware of how cynicism chips away at faith. I doubt that's what the sender had intended, but if it means that I will begin choosing faith over cynicism, this is a good thing, right?

And if a million dollars happens to come my way? Well, . . . I'll let you know how that goes.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Man, what a mess. I go away for a few months and the comment SPAM blooms like dandelions on a fresh spring lawn. I've turned on comment approval while I try to delete all this excess garbage. Please forgive the inconvenience.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Pat Robertson predicts doom, gets publicity.

I hate seeing stuff like this in the news.

In what has become an annual tradition of prognostications, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson predicted Tuesday that a terrorist attack on the United States would result in “mass killing” late in 2007.

“I’m not necessarily saying it’s going to be nuclear,” he said during his news-and-talk television show “The 700 Club” on the Christian Broadcasting Network. “The Lord didn’t say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that.”

Robertson said God told him during a recent prayer retreat that major cities and possibly millions of people will be affected by the attack, which should take place sometime after September.

I hate this sort of stuff because it reflects poorly on Christians. And I sometimes think the media loves to report on the babblings of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and other embarassing evangelicalsbecause they know it reflects poorly on Christians. Honestly, I don't know a single Christian that pays any attention to Pat Robertson, but the media treats him like the Evangelical Pope, upon whose words all of Christendom hangs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There's a particular subculture of Christianity that gives these people some power, but in my experience, most American evangelicals ignore them. Unfortunately, they have their own TeeVee shows and lots of media exposure from people willing to quote them.

But let's look at the dire prediction itself. There really are only three possibilities (and if this sounds a little like C.S. Lewis's famous trilemma, it's on purpose).

First is the possibility that God really did speak to Pat Robertson and tell him this prediction. If this is true, why did he only tell Pat Robertson? Is Pat the only Christian who God talks to about these things? And what would be the point of telling us at all, unless there was a way to avoid it? When God warned Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed, at least Abraham pleaded with God to spare those cities, and God gave him five chances to find enough people to fill the "righteousnes quotient." Will Pat Robertson intercede for us? Or does this sound like he's a bit prideful of his predictions:

Robertson suggested in January 2006 that God punished then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a stroke for ceding Israeli-controlled land to the Palestinians.

The broadcaster predicted in January 2004 that President Bush would easily win re-election. Bush won 51 percent of the vote that fall, beating Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. He also predicted Bush’s victory for a second term in 2005.

“I have a relatively good track record,” he said. “Sometimes I miss.”

In May, Robertson said God told him that storms and possibly a tsunami were to crash into America’s coastline in 2006. Even though the U.S. was not hit with a tsunami, Robertson on Tuesday cited last spring’s heavy rains and flooding in New England as partly fulfilling the prediction.

Second is the possibility that Pat Robertson really didn't hear God tell him anything of the sort, and he's a big fat liar.

And third is the possibility that Pat Robertson only thinks he heard God give him this little piece of prophecy. And I think this is the most likely.

What Pat Robertson should find most troubling is the fact that some of his earlier predictions haven't come true. Does he recall what the Old Testament instructs about what should be done to false prophets? Hint: it involves rocks.


18 months later . . .

So here's what's changed in the 18 months since I've posted last:

First: Daughter number two arrived a couple weeks after my last blog posting. If you think there might be some connection between lack of blogging and having a second young child around, you're exactly right!

Second: I quit my job about a month after my last blog posting so I could work from home. This is often a good thing, although it's not nearly as lucrative as we'd like, and I will probably be looking for a different job quite soon. Being one's own boss is nice. But being poor is not.

Third: The children destroyed my brain cells, and it's taken quite awhile for me to build up immunity to their mind-control rays. With the help of this hat made of aluminum foil (tin really doesn't work) I should be able to write again regularly.

But really, I just hope to be able to cultivate the discipline of daily writing again. And I've sat around for weeks wondering how I should jump back into the blogging fray, seein' as how I don't even read blogs daily anymore.

So I thought I'd just do it.

Here I go again.