Wednesday, January 30, 2002

taxes

Around here, we call You Know Who the 1040 Bandit. I usually threaten to secede from the Union every April. Irony is probably best defined as the excitement we feel over getting a refund when the truth is that it's our money in the first place.

naps

Yesterday my foster son refused to take a nap at all, despite three hours of trying on my part, making him an absolute bugbear all day yesterday and today. I had to try for an hour to get him to take a nap today.

And of course Evangeline desperately needed a nap today, but wouldn't take one.

Perhaps I should be a Hindu; at least the notion of karma would explain this whole thing.

prepositions

The nonexistent rule that always has driven me insane is the insistence that sentences cannot end in prepositions. I'm aware of no grammar textbook that claims that rule, nor of any style manual that does, but as a teacher and a newspaperman I continually ran afoul of idiots who insist that we follow that rule.

Fine, if I speak Latin, I'll be sure to observe it. Otherwise, don't be ridiculous. It makes sentence structure too pain-in-the-neck and ruins the smooth flow of a thought.

book of revelation

In a discussion about the Rapture, a friend of mine argued that the book of Revelation is a book of prophecy concerning the events that lead up to the Second Coming. This is an interpretation I'm familiar with; it essentially holds that the letters to the seven churches each refer to a different period in the church age, Laodicea being the church of the Last Days. After that letter, there is no more mention of the church, just one judgment or act of God after another. So clearly, the church is Raptured or removed from the world, and everyone else is left to face the wrath of God.

The problem is that this assumes that many of the events in Revelation are not already fulfilled, as at least one school of thought claims. (Mr. 666 would be Nero Caesar, using a form of letters-for-numbers familiar to Jews of the day; Babylon was a codeword for Rome, as supported textually in one of Peter's epistles, and so on.) In this reading, it was a book written primarily to Christians experiencing persecution in the first century.

Another view is that Revelation is a recap of God's actions throughout biblical history when his people were persecuted, hence the parallels with writings by other prophets, major and minor, and various other O.T. Scriptures.

In either case, the verses of Revelation stand to support a belief in the supremacy of Christ and the triumph of his kingdom over adversity and affliction, no matter the source. So as I think we're all agreeing, the actual foretelling significance of the book is less important to our daily living than its revelation of Christ through apocalyptic imagery.

(It's rather ironic, isn't it, that "apokalypsis" means "unveiling," but many Christians view the book's meaning as veiled?)

I think the "apocalypse" of the book's title is the unveiling of our hope in Christ, within that book; i.e., the book's main themes are quite plain and evident.

Nearly everyone concedes that some of the events described in the book of Revelation have not yet been fulfilled, although I'm aware of one school of thought -- which I do not subscribe to, incidentally -- that holds that Revelation 19 refers to the triumph of Christianity over the paganism of Rome, with chapters 20-22 being the only unfulfilled prophecy. And those, of course, are waiting for the church to accomplish its purpose.

peace candle

About ten years ago in Easton, Pa., the mayor decided it was time to do something to put the city back on the map. Like the entire Lehigh Valley, Easton had been in an economic downturn ever since the steel industry was hit by the recession in the early 1980s. (A situation popularized by Billy Joel's "Allentown.")

What better way to boost Easton's image than to enter the Guiness Book of World Records and bring in tourism? The city for each year had been erecting a large, hollow plastic peace candle in the middle of its traffic circle at the heart of town, over its war memorial. The mayor decided that by spending several thousands of dollars, he could get an even bigger candle, and beat the current record.

Getting into the Guiness book is no easy feat. It also requires money, and a lot of work, and as I said, the city had been low on cash for ages. He still managed to get it done.

The Guiness man came out, took one look at the candle, and said, "That's not real wax, is it? Doesn't count."

The mayor, amazingly enough, was replaced at the next election.

the rapture

Can't speak for the others, but I make wisecracks about the Rapture precisely because it's been used to justify all sorts of self-indulgent behavior, because it fuels people's escapist interpretations of Christianity, and because the more I understand Scripture and the history of eschatology, the less I believe in a Rapture occurring at any point in church history.

The principal verses for the doctrine of the Rapture are in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, where the dead and the living meet Christ in the clouds; and in Matthew 24:36-41, where Jesus speaks about some being taken and others left. Of course, Jesus never says that believers are taken and unbelievers are left behind, nor does Paul give any timeframe in reference to the rest of his eschatology when the Parousia was to occur.

Historically, the doctrine of the Rapture is fairly recent, coming out of a revival in Scotland in the 19th century, making it just a decade or so older than the "We will usher in a reign of peace, and then Christ will come" teaching. The relative newness of such teachings, while by no means disproving them, does make them a *little* suspect, I think.

In any event, it's a pretty silly doctrine to base (or wreck) one's whole life on. As you say, Christ is more concerned with what we do with the times we are given.

Saturday, January 26, 2002

vocabulary

My brother Ward was helping his son Caleb work on new vocabulary some time ago. One troublesome word was "elaborate." Caleb defined it as "something you need to survive," so Ward used it in a sentence for him: "The plane was going down over the South American jungle. I though that even if I survived the crash, I would surely die. Thank God I had brought my trusty elaborate!"

m*a*s*h

My wife and I were given the new release of the first season of M*A*S*H for Christmas. I can't think of a funnier gift. I've long remembered the series as one of the few shows worth watching on TV, but I had forgotten just how hilarious the early episodes are. (As well as sad. I don't think I'll ever forget the closing line in the Henry-Blake-goes-home episode.)

In the second episode, Henry is transferred to Tokyo. Burns is given command of the unit, and proceeds to drive everyone crazy. He gives Radar a list of changes to post, and the dialogue goes like this:

Radar: They're not going to like this, sir.
Burns: I didn't join the Army to be liked, corporal. Radar: Yes sir. Well, you've certainly come to the right place, sir.

In truth, I had forgotten what a great actor Gary Burghoff is/was. Radar was so underplayed he honestly steals the scene from the others quite a lot.

By the time I started watching M*A*S*H, it was around 1980 or 1981, with the result that it was nearly over, and I was watching new (to me) episodes in syndication at the same time I was watching the actually new episodes.

It's only with the release of the series on videotape that I'm starting get a clearer sense of the early chronology and seeing some of the character interplay begin that bore fruit later on. Even in the first season there were signs of stress fracture in Hot Lips and Frank's relationship, though I never would have known that before.

To the best of my knowledge, the series finale is the only episode I haven't seen. Of course, I said that before we watched the entire first season straight through and I discovered three other episodes I had no recollection of.

Of course, I haven't seen it, but plenty of people have ruined it for me by telling me about the chicken that wouldn't stop making noise while Hawkeye and the others were trying to hide from the North Koreans. Rather like the time I was working in the newsroom and someone said, "You know, I had no idea that he [Bruce Willis' character in The Sixth Sense] was a ghost." Gee, thanks, Vic.

a poem

There is a note on my brother's refigerator from about one year ago. It is a handwritten poem to his wife from their son. It reads:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
I hope you will forgive me,
You did not deserve that.

Friday, January 25, 2002

mousetraps

The cruelest mouse traps I have ever heard about supposedly work but are very painful and inhumane. I do not recommend using them, even though I read about them in one of Cecil Adams' first Straight Dope books.

The first: Plug up extant mouse holes with steel wool. The mice will eat through the steel wool to get back into the house, and in the process swallow tiny bits of steel that will slice their insides to ribbons.

The second: Leave out bait -- ground up cereal or something similar -- thoroughly mixed with cement powder. The mouse eats both, and in the course of the next day, begins to experience severe abdominal pains as its intestines turn to concrete.

Those, I think, match the criterion "diabolical."

Also cruel and unusual punishment: Catch the mice in a cage and read them "Jane Eyre." This one has the drawback that if the mice don't die, they might team up to plot your destruction.

Another possibility: Acquire an atom bomb, connect it to a circuit that prevents the bomb from detonating as long as it remains intact. Coat the circuit with peanut butter. The ensuing explosion will end your mouse problem for some time.

Lastly, might I suggest an important first step? Don't let geneticists make the mice smarter.

Monday, January 21, 2002

tragic antichrist

Of course, the Antichrist could be a tragic figure, not wanting to rule the earth, trample God's people beneath his feet, and drink the blood of infants, but the situation could force his hand. The entire role could be thrust upon him.

Sunday, January 20, 2002

elmo, bane of sesame street

I'm not alone. According to a popular web site, more and more of the public agrees that Elmo has caused Sesame Street to jump the shark.

Admittedly, one poster in particular has it right: A lot of us don't like Elmo because he wasn't on the show when we were kids and we don't want to accept that the show has evolved over the past 30 years. Some of the Elmo routines I've seen are quite good, though I'm afraid many of the Elmo videos are tedious. That, at least, is due more to the quality of the writing rather than Elmo himself. (One of the comments might have been correct in its comment that the genius of Sesame Street died, or at least took a serious beating, with the death of Jim Henson.)

The Onion had an unforgettable infographic on "The NEW Sesame Street." It includes changes like "More of that f****** Elmo's 'Elmo like this!' and 'Elmo like that!'" and my own favorite, "In sensitive segment, Bob, Susan, and Maria explain why change is good to distraught 30-year-old viewers."

Friday, January 18, 2002

barking to wake the dead

It is 4:09 p.m., and our dog barks at anything and everything. She's a great dog, and very patient with the kids, but her barking is enough to drive me batty.

Sandy barks at pretty much anything and anyone outside. Since we live inside the city limits, not far from a university, and with a sidewalk fewer than 15 feet from our front door, she gets provoked into barking quite a lot.

A Chien melange by pedigree, she looks like a cross between a Siberian husky and a German shepherd, and has a tremendously loud bark, with the result that she can be very intimidating to people who don't know what a friendly pooch she is. This is all very good since we bought her as a burglar deterrent, but it does get annoying when the kids are taking their naps.

I should add that another nice thing about Sandy is that she puts some teeth into our "Beware of Dog" sign.

children and religion

We had our 2-year-old daughter at the hospital a couple days ago after her temperature hit 105 degrees. After we had been checked in and after the initial round of professional poking and prodding, an administrative type asked, "What religion is she?" My response: "I don't think she's decided anything yet, but we're Christians."

i believe in miracles

How else would I be able to get two 2-year-olds to sleep within 30 minutes of each other?

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

looking back at the times

I used to work at The Times of Trenton, until Oct. 2, 2001, as a copy editor. I enjoyed working with the others on the copy desk, as well as the editors and reporters I got to know during my time there, I enjoyed the pay -- a $10K jump from my previous job -- and the medical benefits were fantastic. From those standpoints, I have nothing bad to say about The Times.

I did think the condition of the building and our equipment was subpar. The news department was using the ATEC system, a fairly antiquated system that predates PCs. No joke. From what I remember, it was installed back in the 1970s when The Washington Post bought the newspaper. The physical appearance of the building on the inside wasn't much better, which gets demoralizing after a while.

I also thought the newspaper did too much to make advertisers happy and didn't engage in enough hardline journalism. That unfortunately seems to be par for the course these days for many newspapers, but it shouldn't be.

Overall, I would say the newspaper is one in decline, despite the often tremendous things accomplished by staff like Joe Dee, Mark Perkiss and various other reporters.

My biggest problem, though, was my own doing: I took a job as a copy editor, which took me a step further from the reasons I had become a journalist in the first place. No writing, no meeting the people on the street, no giving a voice to the little guy. (I know some people disagree with me on this one, but I think it's an admirable goal for a jorunalist to leave the world a better place than the way he found it; while it can lead to other problems when your perspective gets skewed, it's the heart and the motivation that matter most.)

Monday, January 14, 2002

off to siberia

When I rule the world, I shall begin exiling undesirable populations to Siberia, there to pass out the remainder of their natural lives without offending me with their presence further. I was giving this some thought, and here are some of the people I would exile:

  • Everyone responsible for the XFL or its predecessor, the USFL
  • Bill Gates
  • Michael Eisner
  • People who like Cheez Whiz
  • People who think plastic flamingos make nice lawn ornaments
  • N'Sync
  • Britney Spears
  • The contemporary Christian recording industry (a few individual artists, like Mike Card, will be granted immunity owing to their talent, integrity and legitimacy, but I expect most artists and recording executives will be enjoying the snow for a long time)
  • Advertising writers who create commercials that don't say a thing about what they're trying to sell you
  • New Jersey
Journalists will be among the best-respected professionals during my regime. Lazy journalists and those who don't bother actually to research something before they write, or who aren't willing to consider multiple sides to the same issue, will not be exiled to Siberia. They will get to be the vanguard of the new space program and will help to launch the colonization of space.

global domination agenda: names

In order to prevent unnecessary overuse of given names, as one of my first acts as World Ruler, I will order a global database of names created. This database -- I think I'll keep it Belgium -- will keep an exhaustive directory of all the first names in use, and will check all new entries against that list.

That way, if a parent picks a name that already is in use, the computer will spot the overuse and suggest an alternative, viz., "We're sorry, but that name is already in use. Can we suggest Dave3124?"

After all, what's the point in ruling the world if you can't be petty every now and then?

I think I also will institute a fine on parents who give their child a perfectly acceptable name only to always call the child by a derivative of that name, and then complain when the child refuses to go by the proper name. Such is the situation with my wife, whose birth name was "Anastasha" She has never been called "Anastasha" in her life -- not by anyone left alive, anyway -- and when we married, she had her married name set as "Natasha," since that's what she's always been called.

Upon reflection, I think I'll also have to mandate penalties on parents who don't consider the ramifications of initials when they name their children. Quick example: A friend of mine has a foster son named Christian Antonio Jones. Take his first two initials and his last name, and he could start signing things C.A. Jones. Very bad in areas with large Hispanic populations.

Addendum: There will be a $1,000 cash stipend awarded to people who name their children after adverbs, in honor of our trusted minister, Respectfully Brian P. If there is a new global currency, the payout will be one thousand of those units.

Friday, January 11, 2002

drawing monsters

I'm not an artist, but I can imagine the monsters in my mythology books must have posed some challenges for the artists. Take the hydra. How easy can it be to place nine heads on a single creature and have it appear to be natural? How do you find space for nine necks on the same piece of paper?

And yet a nine-headed hydra must be easy compared to some of the monsters the Greeks came up with. Remember Typhon? He was one of the creatures who opposed Zeus when the gods overthrew the Titans. If I remember correctly, he had 100 heads, and some of his siblings had even more.

I wonder how the heads reached an agreement. Did they argue back and forth like the three-headed knight in "Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail," was it a simple majority rules, or did each head control a different part of the body?

Then there was hundred-eyed Argus. I can only imagine the headaches he got with that many eyes. And can you imagine what would happen if he were cross-eyed or some of his eyes got glaucoma? His optometrist must have loved sending *him* bills.

(I would wager he was available to watch Io for Hera because he never had a girlfriend. After all, would you want to date someone who poked you in the eye every time they hugged you?)

when i rule the world

When I rule the world, everyone with a yard will be required to grow a garden therein. There will be some freedom on what people grow -- flowers and shrubberies (nice ones, but not too expensive) will be permitted, as long as vegetables are consistently raised and harvested -- but the garden itself will be mandatory.

Apartment-, condo- and townhouse-dwellers will be permitted to settle for window planters, but I expect the landlord or owners association to maintain regular gardens for everyone to enjoy. Perhaps sharecropping arrangements could be worked out. Actually, they will be, on penalty of having to watch Ralph Bakshi's 1978 "Lord of the Rings" movie until the situation is remedied.

Businesses with spacious, sprawling lawns will have to lease part of their land to local farmers and agricultural co-ops, and will have to have their landscaping done by someone who knows how to do it in a way that helps to recreate the natural ecology that was present before the developers came in and built everything.

Moreover, all gardens and farms will have to be kept in strict adherence to the principles of organic gardening. No pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Everything will be done through natural means, to rekindle humanity's ties to the earth, to keep the soil healthy and vibrant, to reduce the incidence of chemical pollution in the waterways and food chain, and to give farmer's co-ops lots of business.

The air will be fresher, the produce better-tasting, and all this fine real estate will not be wasted on foolish grass. A much larger portion of it will be put into fighting hunger and helping people stretch their paychecks further, since their grocery bills will drop.

All this shall be done when I rule the world.

Addendum: I suppose when I rule the world I might allow farmers to cultivate cannabis, but it would have to be the nonmarijuana variety, since marijuana addles people's wits and makes them look and act like morons and has few merits.

Regular cannabis -- the kind that gives people severe headaches when they smoke it -- has many useful qualities. It is good for the soil, provides a cheaper and sturdier paper than wood fiber, can provide a healthy cooking oil when its seeds are pressed, and can even be made into clothing. And if you don't want to use it for any of those things, you can always compost it and help it aid the soil that way.

Unfortunately, both strains of cannabis belong to the same species. The difference lies in the cultivation, but both strains are outlawed under existing federal law. (Similar problems exist with the opium poppy, which actually produces a rather beautiful flower, but not worth risking having the authorities seize your property.) Leave it to the potheads to ruin a perfectly good plant.

Tuesday, January 08, 2002

zombies

The only zombie I've ever met was too brain-fried to be considered bad -- he just walked up and down the road, day in and day out. I understand he used to be a singer with a promising career ahead of him until a rival musician arranged to have the bokor curse him with a powder on his microphone.

Saturday, January 05, 2002

golden compass again

We have about 50 pages to go in "The Golden Compass." Natasha has given up on glaring when I read the name of Lyra's mother as "Ann Coulter." We have concluded that Lucy Pevensie from "Narnia" would not have made it even half as far as Lyra has, and while we do see some similarities between Lyra and our children, I don't think either of them is capable of the wholesale devastation Lyra wrought at the Arctic facility.
The panserbjorne king, Iofur Raknison, seems pretty unlikely and hastily thrown-together as a character, but aside from that, the story has been incredible.

I suspect the reason for my disquiet over Raknison is that he is a bear who wants to a human, when Pullman is merely using the bears as a representation of one Icelandic race or another in a pagan state that is crossing over to Christendom for political reasons, as surely was the case for some courts as the Catholic Church expanded into predominantly pagan areas in Northern Europe.