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Friday, December 31, 2004

Christianity shouldn't "rise": it's most potent when it's fallen.

Found a piece by John Gleeson in the Winnipeg Sun titled "Christianity rises again in 2004". From the title alone I knew this was going to be headed in the way wrong direction. An excerpt:
Even in Canada, where secular liberalism has ruled for decades, 2004 has seen an unprecedented outpouring of scriptural argument as part of the national debate over same-sex marriage. Never in recent history have so many Canadians publicly stated their unswerving commitment to Christian principles...

Part of this new, vocal Christianity is undoubtedly a reaction to the rhetorical zealotry -- and actual threats -- of Islamic extremists. And part of it has to be a reaction to the increasingly shallow popular culture that surrounds us.
Gleeson is trying to frame Christianity within temporal boundaries... which isn't where it belongs at all. Hence, he continues the sin that many Christians - cogent of it or not - commit: that having a faith in Christ can be a tool to be wielded in this world. For good, no doubt... but inevitably becoming a leverage for power.

Christians aren't supposed to be a "faction" in this world. We are called to be out of it and beyond it, but with hearts sympathetic toward those still within it. Dropping us back into the world can only serve to add our own weaknesses to it, albeit with those weaknesses bolstered by a self-righteousness little seen from any other faith. Why then should we resurrect that which we are called to crucify?

I'm going to keep saying this 'til I'm dead or whatever: Christians aren't called to have power. We are called to serve Christ. And it's way past time that we started doing that.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Most Americans are... well... idiots. And slaves.

Maybe it's because the end of the year usually elicits reflection on the past twelve months that I've been putting the serious thinking into overdrive lately. So here goes one more (probably not the last before 2005 hits).

The American people are idiots. The men, women and children of the United States are too lazy and willing to be led around like they had a chain through their collective noses to deserve freedom at all, for the most part anyway. Actually, they don't want freedom to live and think for themselves: they want someone else to do it for them. So it is that the American people have become a slave race.

For the past several months we saw most of this land's citizenry get whipped-up into a frothing frenzy over two men who wanted the White House. How often did it occur to us that neither one deserved what they wanted? Or that we do not have to be locked into the "two-party" mindset... if we didn't want to, anyway.

Come to think of it, when was the last time someone came out and asked aloud "Did God give the Democrat and Republican parties a monopoly over this country?"

And if they're acting like God did, when the Hell are we going to knock both of them off that high horse and start running this country on our own, per the stewardship that God gave us, as in "we the people"?

Americans like to believe that their government is keeping them safe. Yeah, trusting the same politicians who not only won't secure our borders (a requisite for any nation to maintain its vitality) but openly invite outsiders to storm onto our turf, taking up resources and jobs and other things that we should be keeping to ourselves. That ain't selfishness, folks: America should be jealous of her own resources in a lot of ways. It's the only thing that's made America so productive a nation... not to mention charitable. Think any other country could give as much to the disaster relief following the Southeast Asian tsunami as we are? And we're criticized for not giving enough even. Hey, we're giving to them even after a lot of those countries started getting our good-paying jobs in the high-tech sector: if they wanna complain, they can earn their own relief money. But in the meantime we should do what we can to make sure we can KEEP giving to those who need it (meaning no more blank checks for you to pay Palestinians and other terrorists with, Mr. President) by tightening our borders (on which you're committing treason, Mr. President). Why most Americans don't care about that when it's sapping away at their livelihood... well, I suppose that so long as Wal-Mart has their precious "Friends" DVDs on sale, everything should be hunky-dory.

The American people should not trust government at all to keep them safe. They should first and foremost trust God. Then trust themselves. They should trust themselves with guns and trust God to give them consciences not to use those guns unless absolutely required. That said, they should NOT just "shut up and take it" when corrupt people in government start rolling over them. God gave us freedom, not man. God doesn't take away without reason, but man takes away on the slightest whim. And if any man - be it crooked politicians or abusive cops, from the lowest dogcatcher to the highest office in the land - starts eroding at what God has bestowed upon us, there becomes not just a rationale, but a compelling moral obligation to resist that erosion by whatever means necessary: the soap box ideally, the bullet box if need be. But given that the American people have lost their will to resist that our forefathers had, if they wanna get screwed-over by those who want more power over them... well, so be it. At least some of us have chosen that their own children will be free, at least.

Okay, there's more I can rant about, but I've a full day ahead. More later, no doubt.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Environmentalist kooks take note: Man CANNOT destroy the world!

And the 9.0 earthquake in Southeast Asia two days ago proves it. The biggest quake in 40 years was so strong that it slowed down the Earth's rotation by approximately 3 microseconds. It was a release of more energy than all the nuclear weapons that all the world's nations have ever produced. It might have moved the island of Sumatra 100 feet from where it originally lay. One estimate has the death toll at 60,000 and possibly climbing to 100,000 or more. The Christmas 2004 earthquake will go down as one of the worst disasters in human history...

...and this is supposed to pale in comparison to the threat of undisposed styrofoam cups?

There's no need to go over what's already been said in the wake of this tragedy: our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Southeast Asia that got hit by this thing, and unfortunately that's all that a lot of us can do right now. But in my mind, it reinforced something I started realizing about ten years or so ago: man can't destroy the Earth, because man doesn't possess the power to destroy the Earth. And it's the acme of egotism to think that we can, in light of an event like this. And I'm not aiming this post at ALL environmentalists either, because I do believe that each and every one of us should be good stewards of the Earth, and be responsible with the respect that's due it. But to those claiming that we have the ability - whether intentional or ignorant - to destroy it completely... now, that's some bravura.

Two things I'll throw out there right now, if anyone's interested: first, Dixie Lee Ray (the late former governor of Washington state) wrote two books years ago called Trashing the Planet and Environmental Overkill that should be absolute MUST reading if you want to know more about the relationships between man and the environment. I read both while a college student over ten years ago (on my own time by the way) and Miss Ray's work REALLY propelled my thinking on this subject into what was then taboo ground.

And then there's this: toward the end of Jurassic Park (the novel, not the film version that I've always thought Spielberg completely botched-up apart from the music and sheer special effects) Ian Malcolm gives what's almost a complete monologue about "destroying the world". Years ago Charlton Heston read the novel and called up Rush Limbaugh's radio show, saying that he wanted to read the passage aloud for Limbaugh's radio audience. I managed to record it and played it over and over so many times over the years that I memorized the whole thing. It's adapted very slightly from the original novel, and I wish I could locate a soundfile of this on the 'net, but just imagine Charlton Heston's voice reading the following from Jurassic Park:

You think man can destroy the planet? What intoxicating vanity! Let me tell you something about our planet: Earth is four and a half billion years old. There has been life on it for nearly that long: three-point-eight billion years. Bacteria first, later the first multicellular life, then the first complex creatures in the sea and on the land. Then finally the great sweeping ages of animals: the amphibians, the dinosaurs, at last the mammals. Each one enduring millions on millions of years. Great dynasties of creatures rising, flourishing, dying away... all this against a background of continuous and violent upheaval: mountain ranges thrust up, eroded away. Cometary impacts. Volcanic eruptions. Oceans rising and falling. Whole continents moving in an endless, constant, violent change, colliding, buckling to make mountains over millions of years. Earth has survived everything in its time. And it will certainly survive us.

If all the nuclear weapons in the world went off at once and all the plants, all the animals died and the Earth was sizzling-hot for a hundred thousand years, life would survive, somewhere. Under the soil, frozen the Arctic ice. Sooner or later, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would spread again. The evolutionary process would begin again. Might take a few billion years for life to regain variety and of course it would be very different from what it is now, but the Earth would survive our folly. Only we would not.

If the ozone layer gets thinner, ultraviolet radiation sears the Earth... so what? Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It's powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation. Many others will die out. You think this is the first time that's happened? Think about oxygen. Necessary for life now, but oxygen is actually a metabolic poison. It's a corrosive gas, like fluorine. When oxygen was first produced as waste product by certain plant cells some three billion years ago, it created a crisis for all other life on Earth. Those plants were polluting the environment: exhaling a lethal gas! Earth eventually had an atmosphere incompatible with life. Nevertheless life on Earth took care of itself.

In the thinking of a human being a hundred years is a long time: hundred years ago we didn't have cars, airplanes, computers, or vaccines. It was a whole different world. But to the Earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can't imagine its slow and powerful rhythms... and we haven't got the humility to try. We've been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we were gone tomorrow, the Earth would not miss us.

In that context, the Indonesia earthquake is almost a blessing: how often is it that we become privy to the life-pulse of this Earth on so grand a scale?

The Trail of Tears began on my front doorstep... literally.

Oh yeah, one last note before I head out the door: I've blogged several times from the road, though I don't usually make a note of where I am. But from where I'm sitting right now if I look to my left and out through the window of Lisa's old bedroom, I can see the site of where the Vann House stood a few hundred yards away. That - and the land that Lisa's family lives on - used to be part of New Echota, the capital of the Cherokee Nation. Her family wound up owning most of this, though most of it got sold off over the years. But that already came a long time after one of the most notorious events of American history...

It will be 169 years ago tomorrow, on December 29th 1835, that at the Vann House - which I can see from the keyboard that I'm sitting at now - that the Treaty of New Echota was signed by representatives of the Cherokee Nation and the United States government. The Cherokee leaders agreed, in an effort to stave off more militant removal, to give up all their lands east of the Mississippi. In return they got $5 million and forced relocation of the Cherokee people - courtesy of the United States army - to a large tract of land in distant Oklahoma. A little bit further away from the Vann House (it's at New Echota State Historic Site near Calhoun, Georgia) was the first "relocation camp" (really an armed fort) that the Cherokee were rounded up at before being shipped off.

The Trail of Tears had begun. 169 years ago tomorrow. And within clear eyeshot of where I type these words from.

That's not all that New Echota is remembered for. The Cherokee government was based very much on the United States Constitution: you can even visit the reconstructions of their capitol and supreme court buildings at the site. And there is also the building where the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper was printed in both English and Cherokee. Oh yeah, I also gotta mention that the Cherokee were the only nation of Native Americans to have their own written language. They owed that feat to the wise and noble Sequoia, who also made his home on the very land where I'm writing this from.

As an American, a follower of Christ, a historian, and being part-Cherokee myself, this spot can be a pretty humbling place to consider some things.

It's really confusing me why self-professed "liberals" are so upset about Christians taking over America...

...because I just took what has become for me a rare peek inside Free Republic and Liberty Post. I'm not going to "name names" but I did happen to notice the attitude of any number of posters on either site.

"Liberals", don't worry: Christians did not take over America's political establishment this past November. Because they aren't really Christian to begin with, at all. Or really "Christ-like" anyway. I mean, would a REAL Christian suggest mass-slaughter of registered Democrats? And yet that's just ONE thing that I saw mentioned on both sites, from people who claim to be on "the right side of things" and don't hesitate to gloat that "they won"... whatever the hell it is that they are supposed to have won. Whatever it is, I'd sure love to know what exactly it is that they plan to do with it, now that they've "won" it.

This is pointing toward something that I'm going to be writing about soon that God has been leading me to think about a lot lately: remember when Jesus said that not everyone who claimed Him would enter into the kingdom of Heaven? Except we are also taught that anyone who professes with his tongue that Christ is Lord is saved... so how are these two reconciled with each other?

It's like this, I'm coming to believe...

- All Democrats are going to Hell.

- All Republicans are going to Hell.

- All liberals are going to Hell.

- All conservatives are going to Hell.

- All who are not part of the Christian religion are going to Hell.

- While all those who are proud to be of the Christian religion are DEFINITELY going to Hell, buddy!

All of these people and more are going to Hell, because Hell is all that's left for them. It's a mercy that God would have given them that much provision, because in His love for them He couldn't let them enter into Heaven... where they would only be more miserable.

You see, I'm coming to understand that Heaven is for those who really want to live life. And the only way that life can really be had to the fullest is to yield over one's life to God and let Him make of it what He will. You can't avoid that prerequisite by grafting yourself onto a group of your fellow men and claim strength in numbers to overcome that which only leads to spiritual death.

Heaven is meant for individuals who can die so that they will live. It is not intended for collective masses who would just as soon kill others so that they might not die.

All of this has some tremendous ramifications on everything in our culture, including the political spheres of influence here in America. But I'm not going to dwell on Heaven and Hell too much today: it's a beautiful day outside. My wife and brother-in-law are in the living room playing Halo on our Xbox and blowing each other to smithereens. "Mom", my mother-in-law (who I love as much as my own Mom) is baking cookies. "Dad" is down in the basement doing Lord knows what with his tools and that crazy imagination of his. And I'm gonna grab the new MP3 player that Lisa's parents got us for Christmas and plug it into the car stereo while I take the B-52s advice and go "Headin' down the Atlanta highway..."

Like I said, it's a beautiful day. I'll save the weighty theological discussions for later :-)

Monday, December 27, 2004

Naughty, not nice... so Dad sells kids' Christmas presents on eBay

In the old days if a kid misbehaved his mom would throw out his comic books. Today she sells them on the Internet and buys a fur coat with the profit! Just heard that GoldenPalace.com, the online gambling outfit known for its crazy promo stunts, had the winning bid of $5,300 and plans to donate the toys to a needy family. So at least some kids who'll prolly appreciate it will have a Merry Christmas. Not so for these brats, who learned the hard way that Santa is making a list and checking it twice...
Dad tries to sell Christmas gifts on eBay


HOUSTON (AP) - The kids were naughty, Dad put the presents on eBay instead of under the tree - and Mom's been crying ever since. Now, even the tree's down.

Saturday morning was sure not to be very jolly for three brothers - 9, 11 and 15 - who didn't straighten up when their father told them Santa wasn't too pleased with their fighting, cuss words and obscene gestures.

Dad and Mom had warned their sons that the Nintendo DS video system - and the three games that go with it - were headed for the auction block if they didn't get their act together.

"No kidding. Three undeserving boys have crossed the line. Tonight we sat down and showed them what they WILL NOT get for Christmas this year. I'll be taking the tree down tomorrow," the man announced in his eBay posting.

"If you don't buy them, we'll return them to the store," the seller known online as magumbo-2000 reported on the site.

Thursday night, the auction wound down with bidding at $465.01 - below the price the man had set. He said he would probably list the items again.

A single day of particularly bad behavior set the Christmas crackdown in motion.

"These are normally really good kids," said Dad, who asked the Houston Chronicle not to reveal his name. Dad even admits he and Mom are partly to blame for being too lax at times.

But enough was enough. The warning of an impending sale came earlier in the week at a sit-down between offspring and parents.

"We told them they were destroying each other and the calm and peace in the household. It had to stop," said the man, who did tell the paper that he works as an information technology specialist and lives in Pasadena.

The boys pledged to be nice, but were back to their old ways the next morning.

That night, Dad announced that he would indeed be putting $700 in video games up for sale on eBay. The oldest boy double-dared his dad to make good on his word.

Dad said Mom has been in tears since the showdown.

"I don't do it outwardly," he said, "but I'm crying on the inside."

Culture, Christianity, and Clay Aiken

We kinda "spread out" the Christmas gifts in our family instead of unloading them all in one shot: everyone gets something Christmas Eve night (usually the more thoughtful stuff). Then next morning the REAL toys - like Dad's new recliner, or my LEGO Star Wars Millennium Falcon set, or the Xbox that "Weird" Ed and I tore Greensboro all to pieces inside-out trying to find for Lisa - get doled out. That's when Lisa found the new Clay Aiken "Merry Christmas with Love" CD in her stocking.

And the night before, prior to us turning in for a long winter's nap (among other things) she received my first gift to her for the season: Clay Aiken's book (co-written with Allison Glock) Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life. Yeah, she's been an Aiken-aholic since that first night he showed up looking like Opie Taylor's illegit son on "American Idol" but I must admit: I've a lot of admiration for the guy too. So it was that yesterday morning while resting from the long drive to her parents' house (I may not have gotten Lisa back home for Christmas... but I came within a half-hour of it ;-) I wound up perusing through Aiken's book. Then started reading. Then got hooked and ended up finishing a few hours later.

And to the surprise of some who might consider it a mere "puff piece" or some other schlock meant to capitalize on Aiken's moment of glory, it's definitely not an ego-trip by any stretch. In fact, it's a darned good read that I've no problem whatsoever recommending to anyone.

Oh sure, Aiken fills most of the book with accounts of his life from childhood up through "American Idol" and beyond... but wasn't that the point of doing this book anyway? Except that in Learning to Sing Aiken uses vignettes from his life to pass along the many lessons that he's picked up along the way. But where the book REALLY stands out is that Aiken does so with an objective eye cast upon himself that is candid to the point of brutal. He admits to making mistakes: like when he was 15 and he "borrowed" his step-dad's car to drive around with a girl he was trying to impress... among many other acts that he's up-front about. The relationship he had with his natural father is delved into with a lot of detail, which is certain to interest Aiken's fans who have wondered about the mystery between father and son. Before reading this book I had no idea that Clay Aiken had known so much turmoil and heartache prior to "American Idol". Some of it (hint: it's the chapter about what happened between Aiken and his half-sister) went further than bringing me just damned nearly to tears, if you catch my drift. But Aiken weathered it all, for two reasons: his simple yet profound faith, and his mother... toward whom he proudly confesses on the first page to being a "mama's boy". After reading the book, you'll understand why.

Jim Valvano - the legendary N.C. State basketball coach - told a crowd of fans shortly before he died of bone cancer that every day "you should laugh, you should think, and you should cry... that's a helluva good day!" That's what I went through in 240-some short pages of Aiken's book: it'll make you laugh. It'll make you cry. And it'll make you think: Aiken shares some profound thoughts on the society that we life in, and its focus on celebrity in particular. He wants his fame to contribute toward something useful to everyone instead of his own fame for fame's sake, which he writes he will gladly surrender when God ordains it and finally lets him become a teacher. And though it only comes toward the end of the book, all of this - including his life's lessons - are made to point toward his faith in and journey with Jesus Christ. Which is what led me to write this review to begin with: Clay Aiken takes a stance that runs against the grain of what passes for "Christian culture" in America today. "There was a church south of town that posted a neon sign every week that said things like 'Twenty-nine people saved on Sunday!'", Aiken says before asking "Are we keeping score now? Has church become McDonald's - billions and billions served?" Instead of preaching hellfire-and-brimstone or using his talent to browbeat his faith onto others - as some have suggested - Aiken believes that showing more love and less aggression is the key to showing the world that Christ is real. But he also makes no bones about being a believer - however flawed - who will talk about his faith whenever the opportunity arises.

After reading this, I'm led to think that Clay Aiken is not only a great singer with a genuine heart toward helping people: he's also - and I may be going out on a limb here but here goes anyway - going to be on the forefront of what I seriously believe is THE revolution of modern Christianity. There is coming up to be a generation that looks at the falsehoods and illusions of their elders and they've decided that they're tired of that. They want something real, something that fills a void in the spirit and they're going to seek it out. But they will also adamantly refuse to let themselves be exploited - by political grandstanders and the "Talibornagain"-types - for wanting that satiation. There is arising a new breed of Christians in America and they want nothing less than to yield their lives - all of it - to God instead of man. And it's going to be people like Clay Aiken, I'm really inclined to believe, that God will use to serve Him this way.

Well, what else can be said: I came away from this book with a lot more appreciation for Clay Aiken than I had before (and I had plenty already). Also a lot more faith about some things, which don't have to be gone into here. So if you want a lil' refreshing reading that is both culturally relevant (read as: "hip") and some thoughtful theology that can be taken in during a single afternoon, reach for the money that Aunt Tilly from Akron put in that Christmas card and go spring for Learning to Sing.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

It's a major holiday. Family's having a big dinner. What the heck did you THINK that I'd be doing?!

Just as with every Thanksgiving and Christmas (and a few times in between) for the past two years, last night I hauled out the propane burner and stainless-steel pot, and played around with 350-degree hot peanut oil and a turkey all pumped-up with garlic butter...
The finished product:
Given that I didn't get to marinade this one as soon as I would have wished, it came out very tender and juicy. Hey it went fast so I guess that's the highest compliment a cook can receive, right? :-)


It was 60 years ago today, on Christmas 1944, that one of the more amusing incidents in military history took place. General Tony McAullife of the 101st Airborne, U.S. Army was approached by Nazi envoys. A few weeks earlier Hitler had thrown the full weight of what remained of the German army into the Ardennes... his last great gamble to win the war. What would become known to history as "the Battle of the Bulge".

McAullife's forces, based in Bastogne, Belgium, were almost completely surrounded. The Nazis seemed certain to overrun them without mercy. Nonetheless the Germans thought the polite thing to do would be to ask McAullife to surrender. That's what they suggested they do after the envoys arrived in camp.

McAullife's terse reply: "Nuts."

The two envoys looked at each other, confused and not sure what this was supposed to mean.

"What, you want me to write it out for you?" McAullife barked. He reached over for a sheet of paper and a pen, and wrote what is considered to be history's briefest-ever communique between enemy forces...
TO: The German Commander


From: The American Commander

Why is it that wars just don't have the great characters in them like they used to?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

At last: A chance to use the "Dead Parrot" sketch!

From GOPUSA...
Congressman Mocks Parrot Arrests
By Bobby Eberle
Talon News
December 22, 2004

WASHINGTON (Talon News) -- Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) issued a statement on Tuesday contrasting the government's zeal in preventing parrots from Mexico from illegally entering the country with their efforts to stop illegal immigration in general.

Under the headline "Apparently There Are No Jobs Available That American Parrots Won't Do," Tancredo said he was surprised to learn of the "incredible success that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers enjoyed in apprehending smugglers attempting to illegally smuggle 150 Lilac Crowned and Mexican Redhead Amazon Parrots into the United States."

The statement points out that ICE, however, has not had the same luck in preventing an estimated 3 million illegal alien human beings from swarming into the U.S. annually unchecked.

"It's nice to see that ICE has their priorities in order," quipped Tancredo, head of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus. "Now that we appear able to successfully identify and apprehend parrots attempting to enter the U.S. illegally, perhaps doing the same with people is just around the corner."

A customer enters a pet shop.

Mr. Praline: 'Ello, I wish to register a complaint.

(The owner does not respond.)

Mr. Praline: 'Ello, Miss?

Owner: What do you mean "miss"?

Mr. Praline: I'm sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint!

Owner: We're closin' for lunch.

Mr. Praline: Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.

Owner: Oh yes, the, uh, the Norwegian Blue...What's,uh...What's wrong with it?

Mr. Praline: I'll tell you what's wrong with it, my lad. 'E's dead, that's what's wrong with it!

Owner: No, no, 'e's uh,...he's resting.

Mr. Praline: Look, matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now.

Owner: No no he's not dead, he's, he's restin'! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, idn'it, ay? Beautiful plumage!

Mr. Praline: The plumage don't enter into it. It's stone dead.

Owner: Nononono, no, no! 'E's resting!

Mr. Praline: All right then, if he's restin', I'll wake him up! (shouting at the cage) 'Ello, Mister Polly Parrot! I've got a lovely fresh cuttle fish for you if you

(owner hits the cage)

Owner: There, he moved!

Mr. Praline: No, he didn't, that was you hitting the cage!

Owner: I never!!

Mr. Praline: Yes, you did!

Owner: I never, never did anything...

Mr. Praline: (yelling and hitting the cage repeatedly) 'ELLO POLLY!!!!! Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing! This is your nine o'clock alarm call!

(Takes parrot out of the cage and thumps its head on the counter. Throws it up in the air and watches it plummet to the floor.)

Mr. Praline: Now that's what I call a dead parrot.

Owner: No, no.....No, 'e's stunned!

Mr. Praline: STUNNED?!?

Owner: Yeah! You stunned him, just as he was wakin' up! Norwegian Blues stun easily, major.
Click here, as if you don't know how the rest of this thing goes.

Celebrating the Christmas season means celebrating the memories

The following is something that I wrote in December 1998 while an op-ed columnist on my college newspaper. A little while ago I found the original file of it that I'd saved to disk from the paper's website when it got published. Thought it might be a neat thing to bring back six years later since Christmas is a few days off.

Originally published in The Pendulum, Elon University, 12/03/1998

Celebrating the Christmas season means celebrating the memories
Chris Knight

     Some of the best memories that we take through life are about the times we cherish the most. And sometimes, it doesn’t take much to bring back the joy.
     Last Friday as I was driving around Greensboro, the all-time coolest Christmas song ever came over the speakers.
     Who knows what this genius recording artist’s name is? Does it really matter? Whoever he is, he’ll forever be remembered as giving us the immortal sound of “Dogs Singing Jingle Bells”:

Arf arf arf,
Arf arf arf,
Arf Arf Whoof Whoof Whuf…

     Ahh... you know how it goes.
     And there’s the ever-beuh-beuh-beauh-beautiful rendition of Porky Pig singing “Blue Christmas” and the Chipmunks and of course “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Christmas at Ground Zero,” but hearing those dogs singing “Jingle Bells...” ahhhhh.
     It brought me back to the very first time I heard that: on the radio coming back from school just before Christmas in 1982. I was in third grade at the time. And it brought back memories of the Christmas we had.
     It was cold and very cloudy. I remember that because Santa had brought me a telescope and I didn’t get to use it that night. Which wasn’t too big a worry, ‘cause me and my sister had our brand-new Atari 2600 to play with!
     Another Christmas memory: To this day, I’ll never forgive Anita for the pounding she gave me in “Combat.” I don’t care how fancy Sega or the Playstation get... they’ll never touch the 4-bit pleasures of the Atari!
     There have been many a Christmas since then, and I remember each one well, for all the little things they had with them.
     I’ll never forget Mom and Dad taking me and my sister to see Santa Claus at the mall in ‘84. That morning Dad asked if I’d come with him to cut firewood, so we rode the tractor into the woods. There had been snow earlier in the week, which lay around us in the crisp, cold morning.
     Dad also brought his 30-30 rifle, why I still don’t know. After we had the wood loaded, Dad asked if I wanted to try shootin’ the gun.
     There I was, a ten-year old kid, holding what looked like an anti-aircraft cannon in my tiny hands. Well, I aimed at this tree like Dad told me to, and pulled the trigger.
     To this day I cannot describe the colors that flashed before my eyes, or the sound in my ears. When my existence finally returned, I was flat on my back in the snow, and blood was gushing from between my eyes where the scope had hit my nose from the backfire.
     That night Santa saw the bandages and said “Ho ho hoooo, and what happened to you, little fellow?”
     “I got shot, Santa,” was the only thing I knew to say.
     Hey, was I gonna lie to the Big Man? Uh-uh, no way was I gonna lose all that loot!
     The following year’s Christmas I remember for many things, but especially feeding the young calves on our farm. It would be the last year our family would be running a dairy farm, and I had started helping with some of the work around the barn.
     Dad set up a Christmas tree in the milking room, with wrapped-up boxes beneath it.
     Tinsel hung from the front doors of the barn. And there was something about the feel of the place there, that has always held a special place in my heart, as if we knew that there would not be another Christmas like this one.
     I wish there had been another Christmas on the farm, because there’s something I wish I could have seen. And as silly as some people might find this, I really believe that it happens.
     You see, if you go out at midnight on Christmas Eve, you will see all the animals in the farmyard, and in the fields, and in the forests, and wherever else they may be, stop where they are.
     And then they kneel.
     They kneel in remembrance for another night, long ago. It was Christmas, but how many people could know it then?
     Nothing remarkable, to be sure: Caesar had decreed a census through the land, and each man went with his family to his town.
     One man in particular took his wife, a young woman quick with child. But there was no room for them at the inn. So that night, in a dirty and filthy stable and surrounded by animals, a child was born.
     You see, it’s easy for us to forget. At this time of the year, we are too overwhelmed by the consumption and the material and the glitter /and all the customs that come with Christmas.
     And it’s too easy for us to forget that Christmas is, before everything else, a birthday.
     But the animals, who watched over Him as He lay as a newborn babe, two millenia ago... the animals have not forgotten.
     And so they kneel every Christmas and give glory to the newborn king, and in awe that God would send His Son to live among us in the greatest act of love.
     And to teach us many things, but especially to “love one another”. And to bridge the gap between man and God.
     The birth of Jesus Christ: the greatest Christmas present there will ever be. His birth, which would give mankind the greatest present it could ever ask for.
     Who in the world on that night could know the price that this present would someday have?
     Heaven and Earth sang praises to His glory on that night. The animals have always remembered that night. And Heaven and Earth still praise and sing unto Him.
     And if you only take a little time out from how busy things become at this part of the year, you can hear the singing, too. And it is a great temptation to join in that chorus.
     And perhaps in hearing, we will not forget the real meaning of Christmas, either.
     This Christmas Eve night I plan to be outside, with the same telescope that I got for Christmas all those years ago, and trying to envision a bright star over Bethlehem. Around midnight, I’m going to take a walk over to my aunt’s farm.
     Merry Christmas. Peace on Earth, and goodwill toward men.

Dedicated to the memory of W.C. “Mutt” Burton, for whom Christmas was always “In My Bones.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Ron Paul on why it CAN happen here (maybe it won't if politicians feared getting shot)

U.S. Representative Ron Paul from Texas has posted a great piece titled "It Can't Happen Here". It's aimed squarely at those who believe that government can do no wrong so long as "their guys" are in power. Brilliant read and it's worth taking the time to digest.

I'm going to write more about this later, but I've been doing some thinking lately about freedom and what is required to guarantee freedom in a country like America, because it's NOT going to be guaranteed or even well-regarded by this present government. And here's what I've come to realize: a people will remain a free people when (A) they make their individual consciences answerable to a higher authority than man's, (B) they regard their fellow man's right to life, liberty and right to own property and to pursue God as their own consciences lead them, (C) hold individual life to be of the highest sanctity, (D) will NEVER take another life unless it becomes absolutely necessary, but (E) if they are compelled to take a life, they will have both the means and the mind to do so.

There is a reason why the founding fathers included the Second Amendment into the Constitution: so that we the people might shoot and kill our politicians before they can shoot and kill us. Which IS NOT saying that we start assassinating elected officials just yet... but elected officials and their government SHOULD have a healthy fear of the people all the same. Hey, we've lived in fear of government officials for too long, why not make THEM afraid of US?

Therein lies the balance between the individual and the state. And if one is favored more than the other, there cannot possibly be a free people. So, I'm going to agree with Ron Paul bigtime on this, with this caveat: that things have come to the point when the American people should NOT allow a police state to come into being, by resisting the rise of such a state by any means necessary. The soap box if at all possible. The bullet box if all else fails. And we shouldn't have to make apologies for it if/when it happens.

Like I said, I'll write more about this later.

Am running a contest... sorta.

Will have to wait a few days to see how this turns out ('cause it might not yield much of anything) but here's the setup: I'm an avid player of the Star Wars Galaxies online role-playing game and lately I've been winding up with WAY more loot inside the game than I know what to do with. Good loot, we're talking. Stuff that people pay a fortune both in-game (and out-of-game) to possess. I had to get rid of it 'cuz I'm running out of room to hold it all, but I'm too nice a guy to exploit anyone in giving it to 'em and charging an outrageous price.

So I posted a notice on the message board for the server I play on, telling everyone that between now and Thursday morning I'm taking 200-words or less written contributions about the funniest thing they've experienced during the Christmas holidays, with the intent of rewarding those who submit with some of this good merchandise. They get it for free and I'm going to post the funnier ones here on The Knight Shift. I get nothing in return except the satisfaction of helping a fellow player out. I know, it ain't much to really boast about in the greater scheme of things... but big things start with little ones, right? :-) Anyway, will hopefully post some hilarious entries here later this week.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

"The Christian right's 2 masters"

That's the title of Kyle Williams' article on WorldNetDaily this week. And it just might very well be the most powerful thing that this incredible young man has written yet.

Go read it. Now.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Something funny I noticed about the poster for Spielberg's War of the Worlds...

...check this out:
Dear Lord, the last thing we want is a movie where Tom Cruise and Tim Robbins do nothing but scream their lines. Some channel was showing 1941 a few nights ago and it has to be said: no other movie in history has so much yelling going on.

Gotta wonder if this was coincidental, 'cuz they do look way too much alike. Maybe it's Spielberg's way of grinning at the critics who said he was ruined for making 1941 (which isn't a bad movie per se, it's just... odd).

Saturday, December 11, 2004

WorldNetDaily trying to hide Kyle Williams? Teen writer proves vapidity of Jerry Falwell and Ph.D scientist.

Curious thing: that Kyle Williams' lovable mug isn't atop the WorldNetDaily website today like it usually is on Saturdays. Any other time that happens it indicates that Kyle took the week off from writing (like any good writer needs to sometimes)... 'cept that I knew that he had a column coming today. But he's nowhere on the front page: you have to scroll waaaaaay down to the bottom and click the Commentary link or wade through several other WND writers to find his piece this week.

Any other Saturday, Kyle's graphic link would be set between those of Dr. Kelly Hollowell and Rev. Jerry Falwell. Today Kyle was bumped off so that WND could provide a link to "VideoNetDaily", featuring such stellar content as outdated movie trailers and a cartoon called "God's Ugly Children". Makes ya wonder why it is that they'd hawk this tripe instead of one of their own book authors, don't it?

Without knowing anything else about the situation, this probably wasn't an oversight by the WND editors at all. In fact, it looks too much like they're trying to purposely sequester Kyle away from the table. They had to shut down this teenage know-it-all from thinking he could possibly stand alongside the wisdom of the "grownups": Kelly Hollowell has "Leftist Grinches will not steal Christmas!" and Jerry Falwell posts about "The impending death of Christmas?". You really don't have to bother reading both: either one is saying the same thing, about how evil liberals are trying to ruin your Christmas so you'd damned-well better not let them, praise be Jesus and God bless America!

Then this young punk Kyle Williams comes along with his piece "Christian outrage at Christmas snubs – why bother?"... and tears apart all the tired, empty rhetoric that Hollowell and Falwell wasted their time and my bandwidth to publish. Kyle tells them and all the other Christians - that are led around by this lot like they've got a chain through their noses - that it's not a Christ-like attitude to get honked off at Target or Barnes & Noble just 'cuz they won't use the word "Christmas" in their advertising. Check this out from the man himself...

Sure, you're right about what's true on Dec. 25, but do people deserve such scorn when they don't endorse religious rhetoric? Because that's all it really is: rhetoric. It's just lip service and slogans; it's not going to change anyone's heart. "We've got to stand up for the truth and stop this liberal meltdown of Christmas!" But, in the process of "standing up for the truth" we're turning into those relatives no one likes. You know the kind. The people you dread seeing at family reunions because they're stuck up about their own righteousness and how you don't live up to it.

And if we want to look at this whole Christianized political movement objectively, that's our only job: to criticize. We've got FCC fines everywhere, we're attacking the entertainment industry any way we can, we're making sure the Ten Commandments are where they should be, and we're going nuts when the word "God" is stripped away – and rightfully so in some places. However, a lot of this discussion is silly – "under God" in the pledge, "God Bless America" on school signs – it's not that important. Overall, what's taking place here is not really that radical, either. It's simply an ongoing shift in America's national identity.

I dunno about you, but Kyle's writing is a helluva lot more refreshing to read than the crap that gets churned out by people like Falwell and Hollowell practically nonstop. Thank God this country will soon be going to people like Kyle and not to them. That is, provided they don't wreck America before Kyle and his bunch have their fair crack at it. And if WND doesn't realize that, well... all I got to say is, they haven't earned someone of Kyle Williams' caliber being called one of their own. And Kyle Williams has a much bigger role to play in this world than at a website that censors (*gasp!*) original thinking.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


I swear, editing a movie together has gotta be only slightly less enjoyable than receiving a Coca-Cola enema.

Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I doing this to good people that I know and love who didn't deserve being subjected to the kind of tortures that I asked of them?

Sunday night I drove out to Krispey Kreme and got two boxes of the dozen regular glazed donuts. The last one went a little while ago. Between then and now I've had prolly six hours sleep. Thank the Lord that I got blessed/cursed with a metablism that keeps me from getting fat at all (yeah it can be a curse sometimes, 'specially when you're trying to bulk up during weight-training) else I'd more than likely be doing a spot-on Marlon Brando impersonation.

But, it's almost done. And then the temptation to reach for a glass of whiskey, a gun and two bullets should dissipate. And, hopefully it will make a lot of people laugh when they see it.

Hey, each of us wants to leave a little mark on the world in their time here. Might as well be something that everyone can take something good from :-)

Friday, December 03, 2004

God is killing American Christianity... and we GODDAMN well DESERVE it!

There. Always wanted to paraphrase Stanley Hauerwas. Today I finally get my chance... which ain't the easiest thing to do considering that Hauerwas' language can be salty enough to restock a brine factory.

Hauerwas actually said "God is killing the church, and we goddamn well deserve it!" but I've been thinking lately about how God is letting one of the larger shoots of this vine wither and die on its own. I wouldn't have understood that except for discovering Stanley Hauerwas years ago: it was in a college class on modern Christian thinkers that I read his books Resident Aliens and Unleashing the Scripture. I'd only been a Christian for a little less than a year at that point, after a lifetime of being told what Christianity was by people who didn't understand what it was about at all. Hauerwas and other theologians forced me to reconsider everything that I'd come to to accept about this faith, compelling me to take nothing at face value, especially if it was something that man insisted upon. From that time on my growth in Christ has depended upon actively crucifying my own understanding of things so that His truth, whatever it may be and regardless of how I desire to accept it, might take precedence in my life. I want to progress as a Christian according to His will, not my own. Certainly not what any number of "Christians" who make spectacles of themselves would have me become.

To wit: Christians in America are a decadent and lazy lot that - with very few exceptions - have no notion whatsoever about what it means to REALLY surrender all to God's will. I know: no one can do that perfectly. I sure as Hell can't. But most Christians in the "civilized" world and America in particular don't even give a flying rat's butt about yielding anything to Christ at all! The institution of the church in America is a flaccid, useless organ that does little about the malignancy beneath this country's boastful veneer: heck, if anything complacent Christians are helping to spread it.

You know what scares me? That so many Christians in America don't give a damn about the freedom that Christ died to give them. They don't want to think for themselves. They fear being apart from the comfortable patterns of this world. Fercryinoutloud, most "evangelicals" can't even THINK on their own enough to NOT vote for whoever it is that their "Christian leaders" and the Republican party put before them. These people aren't worthy of being considered American citizens... and much less bold witnesses for Christ. You don't show much boldness by letting your personal character get raped without lubricant while Jerry Falwell tells you to lay back and enjoy it 'cuz yer assailant can be forgiven since he's got an "R" or a "W" stamped on his forehead.

The church institution dying in America? Let it die. Let this country die with it too. It was only really alive so long as it had a humbleness before God fueling her vitality: minus that, it's as when Jesus said that salt which loses its taste is useless. Why should we keep propping it up with desperate measures that trash the Constitution and destroy our freedoms? I mean how the Hell do I, as a Christian and a patriot, dare be persuaded that this nation's current state is anything comparable to what our fathers fought and died for?

I can't because it ain't. I'd rather see America die an honest death than let her linger in indignity on life support. Come to think of it, now's as good a time as any - I'd even say it's downright obligatory - for a Christian guy who's been labelled a "conservative" by most to take an American flag and burn it to cinders. Hey, why not? It's just a piece of cloth, after all. It doesn't really stand for anything. Not anything worth putting into routine practice, anyway.

Don't think that the thought of publically burning the American flag hasn't crossed my mind lately. 'Twould be my own protest against nationalism. That's not protesting "patriotism" folks, and we need to differentiate here. Real patriots are children who are too ashamed to simply do nothing while an alcoholic parent drinks himself and his family to ruin: they're gonna tell that parent how bad he's become, no matter how much it hurts doing so. Nationalists are the kids who help themselves to Daddy's bottle while he's passed out in a stupor. They don't CARE if he gets better, or even WANT him to: it's their way of controlling and exploiting him.

Nationalists are the ones who've created a bastardized Christianity where both God and State demand our unquestioning loyalty. And unfortunately, it's this damnable syncresis that "has the reins" of American government right now. Patriots - the true patriots - will be the ones who contest this. They will condemn the dogma that the President of the United States, the Congress and the courts are divinely anointed to be over the people, as though they were priests acting on our behalf. Bullcrap to that: God gave authority over this country to We the People, not to a would-be Caesar and his court of patricians. And the common citizen owes not any man, or political party, or judicial decree any allegiance or respect in the slightest, when those things violate the authority that God has set.

Ya see, we as Christians in America used to understand that. Back when we were a free country. Back when we were free because we generally did let God have sovereignty over our individual lives. Then we chose to let the state have the sovereignty instead. We relegated God to second place or no place at all... and incrementally found ourselves a slave race for benefit of contemptible men.

This is why I have come to hate so much of American Christianity. Because it got trusted with a LOT of responsibility by God Himself... and it Screwed. It. All. Up. We were once the freest nation in history by the grace of God. Today many of our "Christian" leaders use the name of God to shackle us all the more. They distract us from our bondage by giving us idolatry: the images of the Strong Leader, the Powerful Missile, the Waving Flag... all of them tin gods that we have allowed to take the homage due the Lord Above All. They have converted the meaningless deaths of our soldiers during dubious conflict into a kind of sacrament: they are a blood offering on the altar of the dual figurehead of God and America.

To be blunt: American Christians, a whole sorry lot of 'em anyway, are a bunch of spiritual whores. And I defy any of 'em to declare that I'm being a "bad Christian" or a "traitor to my country" for pointing out their own wretched apathy. THEY are the ones who have let both God and this country down, and not all the bowing before the burning Bush in the world will tender that seared conscience into anything redeemable.

Lot of this stuff has been on my mind already since the start of this week. It was Kyle Williams' blog entry discussing Rick Mercier's article "If you read the Gospels, the Religious Right is most often wrong" in the Fredricksburg Free-Lance Star that prompted me to lay these thoughts out. And Mercier referenced Stanley Hauerwas in the piece... which REALLY got my theological juices pumping!

So for whatever it's worth, here's the thoughts that have been dwelling upon my mind lately. I hadn't posted serious stuff in the past week or so 'cuz I needed to "suss things out" a bit. I haven't quite finished that yet... but, here ya go.

By the way, I've met Stanley Hauerwas before: very, very interesting fella. You walk away with no doubt that this guy takes his Christianity dead serious. You also leave him with your own conceptions assaulted and flayed to the bone. Go listen to him speak sometime if he ever comes to town. Like I said, very neat guy. He even autographed my copy of Unleashing the Scripture when we met :-)

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Ken Jennings misses question on taxes: no question taxes won't be missing HIM!

Engrave the name of Nancy Zerg alongside those of King David, Luke Skywalker, the 1983 N.C. State basketball team, and anyone else who's ever toppled the reputedly invincible. Seventy-five consecutive nights - equal to three and a half regular seasons of the average sitcom - came to an end this evening on "Jeopardy" as Ken Jennings proved he was flesh and blood after all. But at least he gets to walk away with a cool $2,520,700 before Uncle Sugar comes knocking for his share of the loot.

Incidentally, it was something related to the IRS that dealt the deathblow to Jennings' insane streak. "Most of this firm's 70,000 seasonal, white-collar employees work only four months a year," Alex Trebek read aloud during the Final Jeopardy round. Jennings' answer in the form of a question: "What is FedEx?" (it was actually "H&R Block"). Zerg, a realtor from California, succeeded where Jennings failed and no doubt will get to do a Top Ten List on David Letterman's show. I guess all good things must come to an end but look at the bright side: Jennings held his own longer than anyone, he's donating a huge chunk of the money to his church, and Trebek gets a long-earned respite after having to come up with so many clever comments about one contestant!

But you wanna know why it is that Ken Jennings' accomplishment is REALLY mind-boggling? Moreso even that he did so well for so long, I'm stunned that someone like him got onto the show to begin with. I tried out for "Jeopardy" this past May in Nashville and lemme tell ya: it's very tough to make it all the way to a taping in Hollywood. First you have to take a 50-question timed exam with questions much more difficult than get asked on the show. Make 35 or better and you get asked to stay with everyone else who scored high (which I didn't, by the way: admittedly, I'm not all that keen on 17th-century Italian opera) for a brief interview and a mockup round of the game. Then you go back home. If you're lucky you'll get notified a few months later that you've been asked to fly to Los Angeles (on your own nickle) to be a contestant on "Jeopardy". But even THEN you're not guaranteed anything: out of all the folks that show up at Sony Pictures Studios, only a fraction will be selected (by an independent third-party group) to go before the cameras. If you don't score a chance then, you can always retake the exam the next time the "Jeopardy" crew comes to town but again, it's never a surefire thing. I met a guy who'd aced the exam four times, wound up passing the one that I took with him also, and so far as I know he might still be waiting for that coveted invitation from Merv Griffin Entertainment. So for someone like Ken Jennings to slip through ALL those cracks and get on the show and then stay there... well, you can sorta appreciate how the odds got licked bigtime.

Anyway, congrats Nancy Zerg and congrats to Ken Jennings on an awesome run!

A truth so simple that it didn't hit me until tonight...

Liberals don't have any damned idea whatsoever about what conservatives really are.

Conservatives don't have any damned idea whatsoever about what liberals really are.

Why then should I give a damn about conservatives or liberals at all?

The next person who tells me that I should blame something on "conservatives" or "liberals" will be notified that before I can do so, that he/she must tell me the exact reason why it is that I should think that "those people" are so despicable. And if they can't give a sensible answer, they will quietly and politely be ordered to shut the Hell up. It'll be pretty obvious to me by that point that it's going to be a waste of my time to subject myself to the "persuasions" of someone who hasn't bothered enough to exercise the mind God gave him to even think for himself.

Just needed to make that clear. Anyone wants to discuss something with me, I'm gonna hold him (or her) up to high enough a standard as I like to think they'd expect of me also.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Wanna go ape over six minutes of Middle-earth porn? Return Of The King: Extended Edition trailer is online NOW!!

The day before Christmas Eve last year Lisa and I decided that for our next holiday season together, we would begin a family tradition. Being only two years or so into this gig we don't have many traditions to call our own... but this one is really special and it kinda suggested itself. So starting this year - and continuing every year from now on a week or so before each Christmas - we are going to spend an entire day watching the complete The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy as a family.

We want this to be our way of keeping alive a little of the magic that figured so greatly in the first few years of our life together, because The Lord of the Rings has been a part of our relationship almost since the beginning. Lisa had never read the books until the fall of 2000 when we started dating: by the time December '01 rolled around she was a real Tolkienphile. The soundtrack CD for The Fellowship of the Ring got released the day we were engaged, so that morning I bought two copies: one with Frodo on the cover, the other with Gandalf. I was going to let Lisa choose which one she wanted so I dared not listen to it that entire day while waiting for her to arrive (she picked Frodo, as I figured). Leaving Asheville that night for the 3-hour drive to my parents' home we popped that CD in and musta played "Considering Hobbits" at least five times. A few weeks later we did the midnight first showing of Fellowship: another new experience for Lisa. Several months afterward at our wedding, I held up my ring-adorned hand for the videographer and uttered this stanza...

One Ring to rule him all
One Ring to bind him
One Ring bought at the mall
And now she'll ball and chain him
Those are just a few things, 'cuz between both of us there's countless little ways that this story got insinuated into our story. And we want to keep it part of our story... especially as we look forward to sharing it with our own children someday so they might enjoy it as we have.

But in the meantime, we do have at least one more holiday season of fresh Middle-earth goodness from Peter Jackson and the boys at WETA. A little while ago TheLordOfTheRings.net released a six-minute trailer for next month's release on DVD of The Return of the King: Extended Edition. This bad mutha is gonna weigh in with an extra fifty minutes of footage added to the original. Looks like lots and lots of stuff that didn't make the initial cut and Tolkienmongers everywhere are going to absolutely bathe in this. F'rinstance, take a gander at this ugly mug...

That new scene on the left is Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli confronting the Corsairs from Umbar as they're about to invade Gondor. But check out those teeth on the Mouth of Sauron! Bruce Spence must feel like the luckiest actor in the history of anything after this: he was in two Mad Max movies, played the Trainman in The Matrix saga, has landed a crucial part in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and he gets the nastiest human role in the entire Rings trilogy! That's most of the big movie epics that he'll have made his mark on when all's said and done... and ironically both the Star Wars and LOTR roles cursed him with the most atrocious dental hygiene ever.

Awright, 'nuff jawin': slash here for the ROTK:EE trailer! And while we're on the subject of Peter Jackson and what he's working on next with the rest of those stalwart crazy Kiwis, there's this bit of concept art...

...from Jackson's remake of King Kong (still shaking my head about Jack Black getting cast to play Carl Denham, but Jackson knows what he's doing) due out next Christmas. See that tiny woman in the corner? That's going to be Naomi Watts. It's gonna be all black and white or something, Jackson's said: classy move there. Anyway if you wanna read more about Kong head over to MSNBC's story about the production.

Honked-off Muppet threatens Israelis with AK-47 rifle

Now this scares me. We were safe when the Muppets could only beat you over the head with foam-rubber letters and numbers, but now they've upgraded their arsenal. From NewsMax...

Palestinian 'Sesame Street' Urges AK-47 Massacre

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2004 10:15 a.m. EST

In a recent episode of the Palestinian version of "Sesame Street," a furry chick character threatens to get an AK-47 and massacre people who have torn down his olive trees, a common complaint by Palestinians against Israeli Defense Forces in the region.

In a scene rebroadcast Saturday by the Fox News Channel, a little girl asks the talking chick, "What would you do if someone cut down your olive tree?"

"I'll fight them and make a big riot," the chick replies. "I'll call the whole world. I'll bring AK-47 assault rifles and commit a massacre in front of my house."


I heard a story years ago that Yasser Arafat almost made a guest appearance on the original "Sesame Street" made here in America (guess he was jealous of Koffi Annan and Hillary Clinton hogging all the fun with Elmo). I guess it could all be just a coincidence.

'Course, I always figured that Bert would be the one who turned rotten. But that wouldn't be the first time that the felted freaks of Sesame Street have hooked up with radical Islamic terrorists, is it? Remember THIS photo that showed up during Mid-East rallies supporting Bin Laden right after 9/11? Yup, it's becoming obvious that we're through the looking-glass here, people: Children's Television Workshop is a front organization for radical terrorism. I don't think EVERYONE there is a raving mad jihadist though: Kermit the Frog always struck me as being the rational one. He'll no doubt be set up as the patsy when this whole thing blows up.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Blazing Saddles is showing on AMC right now

Yeah, I got it on DVD ('twas the very first one I bought after getting the player) but it's too much fun to watch all the edits for television done to it. Not to mention that the TV version usually shows the scenes deleted from the original, like the baptism scene ("Praise the Lord! Pass the chicken!") This ain't just Mel Brooks' best movie ever: it's probably one of the best movies made, ever at all!

By the way, this movie came out like the week before I was born. It's also the very first movie that I remember seeing (when CBS aired it, I was probably 3 years old and was with my Dad as he watched it). Yup, one of my earliest memories is watching Blazing Saddles.

There's a lesson in there somewhere, I'm sure of it.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Thanksgiving 2004: Hellfire, Hot Oil, and Turkey Hunger

The most dangerous form of cooking known to man is widely considered to be cutting and cleaning the fugu blowfish. It takes a chef ten years to finish the training required to be certified to serve the dish. The final exam is easy: the initiate prepares a fugu and eats it himself. If he can skillfully slice it up without exposing the delicious meat to the deadly tetrodotoxin in the rest of the fish, he gets his license. If he screws up he dies a horrible death by drowning without water as his brain loses the ability to command the lungs to breathe and the master fugu chef announces a new opening for an apprentice.

Preparing fugu is the most deadly culinary art around. Deep-frying turkey is said to be the second most deadly.

What else can be said about a procedure involving flame and hot oil that propels even professional firefighters into the emergency room with horrid burns? That sends panicked family into the streets as it engulfs their house in smoke and ruin? That uses equipment that has been know to explode minus simple precautions, sending searing-hot contents outward like so much Cajun napalm?

And yet... I'm madly in love with this!

It was two years ago, beginning with a trial-run the week before Thanksgiving, that I deep-fried my first turkey. That one came out great, save for being more than a little burned on the outside. Maybe 15 birds later and I've gotten pretty darned good at both marinading it, then bathing it in Perdition's flame. 'Course, it took me three years after first hearing about it, and then a TON of study into how to do this - what to do and what NOT to do - before finally getting up the courage to take a stab at it. I'll never go back to basted turkey again if I can help it: fried turkey is so amazingly juicy - and with a REAL taste finally, which I never knew turkey even really had - that in my book it's the ONLY way to prepare turkey. Despite the risk of injury and destruction that comes with it. But if you don't mind taking a few common-sense precautions and be patient throughout the process, it's really a very simple and relatively safe thing to do. Just don't approach it as a routine means of cooking: treat each bird as a unique work of art. That's all there really is to it.

Two full-sized turkeys this year. I started marinading them early morning the day before yesterday. For REAL good ideally you wanna try to start juicin' 'em up 36 hours before frying. If that's not possible, at least somewhere around 24 hours. It yields a lot better bird than doing it a few hours before.
The first turkey - a 21-pounder - was the biggest that I've done to date. Even despite my little trick of how you can figure out how much oil to put in the pot, it was enough displacement to send some overflowing and into the propane flame below. I took it extra slow on this one, giving the oil enough time to fill the internal cavity so as to take up some slack. The picture doesn't do it justice but we had a hella good flame going around the pot for awhile there...
350-degree Fahrenheit peanut oil. I've done many turkeys since starting to deep-fry them two years ago and this was the first time I ever came close to injury but only 'cuz the sheer size of the bird played havoc with the setup. It did get in there and the oil level brought down to a safe level, but while lowering it in some oil splattered up and onto my hand. There's a darn good reason why you wear stuff like heavy gloves and eye protection when you do this, kids.
A little over an hour later (figure 3 1/2 minutes of frying time per pound) and here's the result...
Lately some models of turkey fryers have been hitting the market claiming to be safe enough to use by anyone because they're electric, not propane. Some are even supposed to be used indoors (?!?). Blasphemy and sacrilege, I say: turkey-frying is an outdoor sport, done with propane and without any fancy computer to monitor the temperature for you. This is power cooking. This is a man's way of cooking: women and children should be confined to the house while it's going on. I'd even suggest parking all cars and trucks away so that the tires don't melt. It's NOT something for the faint-of-heart or the remotely skittish. You have to WANT to do this enough that even knowing what's at risk, you judge that it's worth getting a turkey this delicious out of it. Come to think of it, you have to be positively crazy on some level to even think of doing this.I mean, people have been killed doing this. I myself would have received horrific third-degree burns on my hand yesterday were it not for the heavy gloves. A lot worse than that could have happened too.

I can't wait to do it again come Christmas!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Civil war looms after election of "Weird Al" Yankovic

Yankovic apparently "fixed" the polls during Ukraine's presidential election and public protests threaten to spiral the country into chaos. News agencies are reporting that although a nationwide general strike has been called by opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, Yankovic is already assembling his governing council: earlier this afternoon Doctor Demento was appointed Minister of Health.

Okay, so that wasn't very funny. But every time Yanukovich's name has come up I'm reminded of this guy:

Beware the Flying Shrimp Platter of DEATH!

If this story is accurate, it means that Forrest Gump possesses the world's largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. From the AP via Ohio News Network...

Family sues Japanese restaurant for tossing shrimp

MINEOLA, N.Y. A New York family has filed a ten (M) million-dollar lawsuit, claiming a Japanese chef who tossed cooked shrimp at a man caused him to die ten months later.

The family of the Long Island man (Jerry Colaitis) says he ducked away from the flying shrimp, wrenched his neck and died from complications caused by the surgery he had on his neck.

The family is suing the Benihana Restaurant in Munsey Park, Long Island. The restaurant is known for having its hibachi chefs slice, dice and toss food when cooking the meal in front of customers.

In the lawsuit, the man's wife says her husband was healthy until he went to the restaurant. She says the chain of events that led to his death began with the shrimp.

So a tiny little shrimp caused THAT much grief? Maybe the Benihana chefs were throwing lobsters around that night and everyone in this family was too nearsighted to tell the difference. That's the only credible explanation (which ain't saying much) that backs up what they're claiming. Otherwise, although it's sad they've lost a loved one, this smells too much like a frivolous lawsuit and it'll probably get tossed out of court.

Spike Lee, I owe you an apology

So I'm gonna be up all night: have two turkeys to prepare for deep-frying about 36 hours from now, and in-between injections of marinade (once every 4-6 hours usually) I'm putting the trailer for Forcery together in Premiere Pro. Hopefully the trailer will be online come late Thursday or Friday. And I needed some background noise...

There's only two movies on teevee right now that even remotely interest me. HBO is running Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, which if you can ignore the time years later when Pee-Wee's wee-wee got over-exposed, it's still a really good movie. It launched the career of Tim Burton and it has what might be one of THE few legitimately scary scenes in movie history: when Pee-Wee is riding in Large Marge's truck. Classic film that I've seen at least a bajillion times over the years. It's something that I can trust.

The other movie is Malcolm X on AMC.

Malcolm X came out when I was a senior in high school. There was a lot of interest in it back then, but I never saw it. In fact, I've never seen at all, period, as in anything more than a 3-second clip, until tonight. This was the unknown quantity competing for my peripheral attention.

In the end, Malcolm Little won out over Paul Reubens. It's now about two hours into this four-hour-plus monster of a biography... and I'm really, really regretting not having seen this before.

I said that I was working on Thanksgiving dinner and a promo for our film. Since my attention started gravitating toward Malcolm X those projects have still barely started. Just about everything is working in this movie: Denzel Washington's acting, the editing, the pacing... and the directing. I wish that I'd taken the time to watch this before literally almost running into Spike Lee years ago, when he came to our college to film He Got Game. I didn't know who he was at first (I knew about his movies, just not what he looked like) but after finding out, I thought that Lee was too wired, like he'd taken an overdose of No-Doz. He seemed like someone who was too frenetic for their own good. Haven't watched He Got Game yet either (though friends swear that I'm seen walking around in the background in one scene) but I've seen a few other Lee movies. And though Do The Right Thing is still pretty unique, nothing else by Spike Lee has really piqued my curiosity. In my mind he seemed like a director who could only work with variations on the theme of Black American/White American. And after awhile, that gets boring.

But so far Malcolm X is... well, perfect.

No small feat this, considering that its subject was a man possessing so intense a complex character that Malcolm X - I think anyway - became one of the most enigmatic figures of 20th century American history. I wish that I'd caught this in previous years, because so far it's completely changing my views on Spike Lee. Before tonight he seemed too much a hack filmmaker driven by agenda to me. But while yet in the middle of Malcolm X, I'm coming to realize that he's a very talented director with a rare grasp of historical narrative.

Lee should make more movies like Malcolm X and steer away from the angst-ridden projects of his earlier career. This is real art. You don't get something this good by making it come out of a sense of anger or frustration. If Lee ever does something this high-caliber again, I'll gladly pay money hand-over-fist at the box office to catch it opening day.

Gonna go watch the rest of it now whilst I be shootin' up some turkeys with garlic butter.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Turning on comments again

Last week I turned off the comment feature. In retrospect I wish that I hadn't.

For awhile it looked like this blog was attracting more than its fair share of (a) 14-year old hormone machines calling themselves "Lance" who get their jollies by pretending to be Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket, (b) chronically unemployable beefcakes who vent their rage at the rest of humanity by hacking out inane statements at their keyboards while under the influence of 190 proof Everclear, and (c) garden-variety losers who use pledge-drive time at PBS to phone bomb threats into local stations as dread harbingers of death and destruction unless the network brings back "Red Dwarf". A few people even sent such threats to me.

My initial decision to remove commenting stems from the fact that although I have time to post to my blog when the Muse so leads, I have neither the time or desire to actively police the comments. I'd rather comments be used for serious discussion: meaning that I'm really not that welcoming toward anyone who'll try to convince me that all my worries will disappear... if I only subscribe to one political party or another. One person even said that I was "traitorous" in regards to some of the things I was saying, which had to do with the fact that America has become a self-shamed mockery of her former glory. Well, I'll note this: when you really love a person, how can you possibly live with yourself if you do nothing while that person destroys his own with alcohol or drugs or addiction to porn? Answer: you can't. It works the same between citizens and their countries too... and no amount of blind nationalism can change that.

I got fed-up with the people who insisted that it could. Enough to the point that even though I enjoyed reading the thoughts and comments of most of my readers, it seemed more necessary to keep it a REAL discussion, hard as that became with all the trolls that started showing up. But as a friend told me tonight: "Why should you stop doing something because some idiots can't understand what you're doing? Why should you let them take away your fun from this?" He was right, too.

So, for the time being anyway, I'm going to open up the comments to everyone, including anonymous posters. If abuse begins again, I'll keep the comments going but will find other ways to direct the comments toward meaningful discussion. And if anyone sends in or posts a threat, either to me or another commenter...

...well, guess I'll get to use the IP numbers (that are attached to ALL comments) to track down the person responsible, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.

In the meantime, to those of you who may have sincerely enjoyed this lil' site and the fresh content that I'm trying to provide here and were enjoying the commenting for all the right reasons, welcome back! And to those who have just discovered this place: sit a spell, take your shoes off, and y'all come back now ya hear? And feel free to post if your own Muse, or heart, or Holy Spirit leads you to do so. And to those few who were trying to ruin things for other people: take a hike. Or post anyway and reveal yourselves to be the mental munchkins that you are. Or make a threat, so that I can post your lovely mugshot on this blog after you're dragged to the cooler.

(I mentioned "nationalism" earlier. Will write soon about the difference between nationalism and patriotism, and how there is actually very little real patriotism in America today.)

Monday, November 22, 2004

Your laser printer is sending hardcopy to Big Brother

It used to be standard policy in the Soviet Union that if you - whether as a private individual or one of the few small businesses allowed during perestroika - wanted to purchase anything that produced printed material, the party wouldn't let you play with it right out of the box. Instead you first had to take your typewriter, printer, fax machine or copier down to the local KGB office where you would "register" it with the state: by submitting typewritten or printed samples created with the machine. The samples would be kept on file with the KGB so they would have a unique "fingerprint" of your particular device.

If you were ever suspected of circulating any "subversive literature" around, the offending leaflet could be compared to the samples of your machine. If they matched... well, it usually meant you'd won an express ticket straight to beautiful Dzerzhinsky Square in downtown Moscow, of which your hosts made sure that you'd get to tour "the basement". Hey, beats what would happen if you were found with an unregistered printing machine: those were usually dealt with by summary execution.

I mention all of this 'cuz since America is now well into the phase where we've gone beyond laughing at the Soviets and are now determined to actively imitate them, this next story is totally apropos. But think of the bright side: at least this way you don't have to burn gas money trudging your new printer down to the CIA... not when they've got its serial number tagged with the credit card that you bought it with. Convenient, no? Awright, just read this from PC World via Yahoo!...

Government Uses Color Laser Printer Technology to Track Documents

Mon Nov 22, 4:00 AM ET
Jason Tuohey, Medill News Service

WASHINGTON--Next time you make a printout from your color laser printer, shine an LED flashlight beam on it and examine it closely with a magnifying glass. You might be able to see the small, scattered yellow dots printer there that could be used to trace the document back to you.

According to experts, several printer companies quietly encode the serial number and the manufacturing code of their color laser printers and color copiers on every document those machines produce. Governments, including the United States, already use the hidden markings to track counterfeiters.

Peter Crean, a senior research fellow at Xerox, says his company's laser printers, copiers and multifunction workstations, such as its WorkCentre Pro series, put the "serial number of each machine coded in little yellow dots" in every printout. The millimeter-sized dots appear about every inch on a page, nestled within the printed words and margins.

"It's a trail back to you, like a license plate," Crean says.

The dots' minuscule size, covering less than one-thousandth of the page, along with their color combination of yellow on white, makes them invisible to the naked eye, Crean says. One way to determine if your color laser is applying this tracking process is to shine a blue LED light--say, from a keychain laser flashlight--on your page and use a magnifier.


If the practice disturbs you, don't bother trying to disable the encoding mechanism--you'll probably just break your printer.

Crean describes the device as a chip located "way in the machine, right near the laser" that embeds the dots when the document "is about 20 billionths of a second" from printing.

"Standard mischief won't get you around it," Crean adds.

Neither Crean nor Pagano has an estimate of how many laser printers, copiers, and multifunction devices track documents, but they say that the practice is commonplace among major printer companies.

"The industry absolutely has been extraordinarily helpful [to law enforcement]," Pagano says.

According to Pagano, counterfeiting cases are brought to the Secret Service, which checks the documents, determines the brand and serial number of the printer, and contacts the company. Some, like Xerox, have a customer database, and they share the information with the government.

Crean says Xerox and the government have a good relationship. "The U.S. government had been on board all along--they would actually come out to our labs," Crean says.


For the rest of the story punch here.

So... if we're not just following the same procedure that the Soviets used in controlling the spread of printed material, but have instead improved upon it, that's not necessarily a good thing for the people of this country, right?


"Despicable" computer game reloads the JFK assassination

Nope, Electronic Arts didn't roll out The Sims Lone Gunman Expansion Pack while we weren't looking. It ain't a joke either: this is an actual screenshot that I took from JFK Reloaded a short while ago.

Available for download starting today - the 41st anniversary of the JFK assassination - the computer game from British software outfit Traffic puts you in the role of Lee Harvey Oswald at the infamous sixth-floor window of the Texas Schoolbook Depository. The left mouse button toggles the sniper scope, while hitting the right one rains down virtual bullets from your Mannlicher-Carcano. Score points by sticking to the "findings" of the Warren Commission, but they’re deducted if you accidentally put a round through First Lady Jackie. Apart from the absence of the cheering crowds (sorry: no "Umbrella Man" or "Babushka Lady" here) you're opening fire on a VERY realistic 3D-rendered simulacrum of Dealey Plaza that Traffic assembled from the most studied motion picture footage in history: the Abraham Zapruder film. Watch the scene unfold in first-person mode, in third-person overlooking Oswald's perch, or from the "Grassy Knoll". You can download a demo of the game that's fully-functional minus being able to actually shoot (thus letting Kennedy safely ride off) or pay $9.99 online to unlock the full game so you can get "JFK blown away, what else do I have to say?"

Well, for starters paying ten bucks to register the game makes you eligible for a $100,000 prize if you're the one who comes closest to replicating Oswald's ummm... "accomplishment". And Traffic is assuming that it was Oswald and no other: "We've created the game with the belief that Oswald was the only person that fired the shots on that day," Traffic's managing editor Kirk Ewing said, "although this recreation proves how immensely difficult his task was."

Having a big cash payout for best imitation of the murder of the century is a pretty cold thing to do, in my opinion. JFK's younger brother Senator Ted Kennedy released a statement calling the game "despicable"... something that's maybe the first thing I've ever agreed 100% with him on. And thinking that a videogame like JFK Reloaded will encourage young people to become more interested in history – which Traffic claims was one of their motives in producing it - is pretty condescending. But I've got to admit: after downloading the demo and installing the optional high-resolution patch, it must be said that JFK Reloaded is an amazing marriage of historical events with modern gaming technology. Simply put, the game looks stunning, though I couldn't possibly shell out money for the full version with a clear conscience.

Meanwhile, unsubstantiated rumors persist that two days from now Traffic will be publishing an add-on pack to JFK Reloaded, tentatively-titled Jail Basement Transfer. Players can either act as Jack Ruby or witness his lunge forward from the perspective of "the Man in the White Hat".

Sunday, November 21, 2004

ATTENTION LADIES: Kyle Williams is officially an eligible bachelor!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to wunderkind writer and teenage theological revolutionary (and great guy to have as a friend) Kyle Williams, who hits SWEET SIXTEEN today. This day holds special meaning for Kyle: he can now drive a car, he can now date his female admirers (of which one has told me that "Kyle looks HOT!") and never again can someone dismiss his thoughts and claim that "he's too young a pundit" out of desperation!

Internet history - and other kinds - got made three years ago this weekend

Would have remembered to post about this yesterday, 'cept at the time I'd been going on 7 hours sleep total across the past four days (most of that time spent working on this film). Anyhoo...

It was November 20 in 2001 that six months of planning, starting from the moment this bizarre plot was first hatched, culminated in a single keystroke. My friend Joshua Griffin did the honors: as Editor of TheForce.net he was the one who had first brought me aboard the site. And more than just a co-worker, he became an awesome friend and brother in the Lord... and a great counselor in all things about love between a guy and his girl. I couldn't bring myself to do this so I asked if he would. How much did I trust Josh? Enough to put the entire rest of my life into his hands... literally!

"It's away!" Josh yelled over the phone as his finger went down on the "Post Article" button. Lisa didn't arrive at my apartment for another hour and a half. By the time she did the entire free world had come to know that she had to be something very special if her boyfriend was crazy in love with her (or just plain crazy) enough to announce just HOW much it was that he loved her!

It was after I had read her a passage of scripture from Ephesians, and then removed her boots and sock to wash her feet in a basin of warm water as a sign of how I wanted to serve her, that Lisa got to see that. I was kneeling beside her by then, wearing the same outfit and holding out the REAL ring (but no lightsaber this time :-) She said "yes" in less than a second.

A few people have told me since that so far as anyone's been able to figure out, this was the very first time ever that a major website like this was used to do a marriage proposal, and possibly even done on the Internet at all. That's neat that TheForce.net got to make history like that... 'cuz it sure did for me and Lisa :-)

Saturday, November 20, 2004

"...Because there were no more worlds to conquer."

CNN is reporting on several angry Greeks threatening to sue Warner Brothers over the upcoming film Alexander. The contention is whether or not Alexander the Great was bisexual.

If this movie is based on the script I read parts of years ago, it would not only be a great flick but the issue might be a legit one for polite discussion. But it so happens that the addition of a single factor should poison the well of historical debate as much as it leads me to weigh against plunking my money down at the box office to see it at all...

Alexander is directed by Oliver Stone.

After what he did with JFK and Nixon, I can only surmise that Alexander of Macedonia was a safe target 'cuz so far as major world leaders go, there are no more for Stone to conquer... errr, I mean "to obfuscate".

Friday, November 19, 2004

A thought that came to me a few days ago...

No minority is so despised and ignored as the individual.

Thoughts and prayers with Condi Rice this afternoon

It's being reported today that Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's now-National Security Advisor and soon-Secretary of State, underwent surgery this morning to remove non-malignant growths in her uterus. The procedure is called a "uterine fibroid embolization" and word from the surgeons who performed the task is that Rice came through very well.

I'm led to keep Doctor Rice in prayer this afternoon, and wish her a speedy recover so that she'll soon be back in action and none the worse for wear. Yes, I know: she's one of Bush's innermost cabal and I've made it quite clear - and with very good reasons - why he can't be trusted. How he's deluded a lot of Christians into believing he's the embodiment of saintly righteousness when his real character shows him to be a very bitter, angry, vindictive and hateful man attempting to hide an evil nature behind the Bible. How he and a lot of other people in his administration are making America a far more socialist - and I don't mind saying "fascist" also - state than it's ever been before. And I don't agree with a lot of things that she's said previously...

...but Condi Rice has always been my very favorite person in this White House. Easily the smartest brain in there. On top of the Doctorate in Political Science she's fluent in French, Russian and Spanish. She helped engineer the reunification of Germany. She plays concert cello and her biggest dream is to someday be running the National Football League. And she's the one I'm inclined to find more trustworthy than most of the others in this administration. In a sane world, she'd be living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue right now instead of working there. Say what one will of the people around her, she's the kind of lady you just gotta admire despite all that.