Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Notes

Happy Friday, my lovelies.

It's a short week next week - I'm taking Monday off so that I can go home to the ol' Mitten and help my sister move home and Friday is the Fourth of July - so I figure if I can get through today it should be pretty smooth sailing for a at least a week and a half. I can put up with pretty much anything for three days. Even work!

I'm hoping that moving my sister's stuff out of her apartment will be easier than putting stuff into it. She's at the top of an old creepy Victorian ghost-house. Getting the futon up the rickety narrow stairwells was a particular pain in the ass.

This time, though, I figure I can push that kind of stuff down the stairs and let gravity do the work for me. Hope Ness isn't reading this....

As part of our cultural outreach program, Katie and I went to see the new play at Steppenwolf on Wednesday. It's called Superior Donuts, and was written by Tracy Letts.

Evidently Tracy Letts swept the Tony awards for his play August: Osage County. I hear it was life changing and that Tracy Letts is one of the greatest living American playwrights, etc. etc. Since I didn't actually see August: Osage County, I can't speak to that. Superior Donuts was solidly written, though, and pretty funny so I can see why people like him.

Michael McKean is in it too, which is a bonus. You know, the guy from This Is Spinal Tap. I hate to say it, but I was actually surprised at how good he was. I think my perception of the guy has always been colored by his stint on Saturday Night Live, where I wasn't too impressed, and though the Christopher Guest movies have gone a long way to roll that perception back, I guess I just never considered him to be a good grounded serious actor. But his performance in this was very nicely layered, funny but sweet.

Anyway, I would recommend seeing it if you get the chance.

Have a good weekend, friends.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Robo-Bloggers in Dinotopia!

To atone for writing such a huge freaking post yesterday, I will keep it short today:

Robot Vs. Dinosaur - Chicago has invaded the interweb. That's right, ladies and gents, our little sketch-theatre company has started a blog.

We will be posting group information, upcoming show information, old show pictures and all sorts of other stuff. If you get the chance, go ahead and check it out.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Obama = Mass Murderer? Seriously?

This is going to be a long post, so if you have the time go make a sandwich and come sit down with me for a moment and let me tell you something:

Friends, not everything on the Internet is true.

I know this may come as a shock to some people. But I mean hell, if an asshole like me can get a blog then anyone can do it. So when you read certain emails or stumble across certain sites, you need to take what they have to say with a grain of salt.

Recently, I received an email forward imploring me to take a look at a certain video before I make up my mind on who to vote for in the upcoming Presidential election.

It's a video made by one 'Lorne Baxter' as a means of exposing the 'real Barack Hussein Obama.' Here is the video clip.

The person who sent me this forward asked me what I thought. I found the clip so intellectually offensive (that's right, I'm a nerd, deal with it) that I wrote a very lengthy response email. It is long and relates directly back to the video clip, but I thought I owed it to the Internet to post some sort of response so here it is:

"Honestly, I think this video is a load of crap.

This is the kind of home-made Internet sludge that throws together a bunch of half-truths, misquoted statements and lies in the hopes that something is going to stick in the audience's mind and cast false doubts on a candidate for public office. It is intellectually dishonest and really insults my intelligence as a voter and as a reasonable American citizen.

This actually has me so indignant that I'm going to take a moment to tear some of this apart to show you what I mean.

(I) First, let's consider our source: who the hell is Lorne Baxter? As it turns out, Lorne Baxter doesn't actually exist; he is a pseudonym for some dude names Jason Mitchell, who is a 28 year old former wedding videographer turned fundamentalist Christian television producer from North Carolina. Here is a website explaining who this guy is.

Not exactly the Wall Street Journal, is he? This is a guy who won't even use his real name when he's making wild accusations and he expect you to trust him?

(II) The name "issue:" Mr. Fake-Baxter claims that 'while we are at war with Islamic terrorism, can America elect a man with not one, not two, but three Islamic names?"

Here is the first clue that you're dealing with an idiot because he's trying to claim that Obama is both somehow a Muslim extremist and a Black Liberation Christian. Except, you can't really be both since Christianity and Islam prohibit the worship of other Gods as a requirement of the faith. Mr. Fake-Baxter tries to have it both ways when logically he can't.

Also, the names "Barack" and "Obama" are actually Kenyan names, not Islamic names so the guy really only has one Islamic name. They are all exotic names, though, so Fake-Baxter thinks he can get away with it. Obama was given the name Hussein 18 years before Saddam Hussein even came to power. Also, Barack Hussein Obama was his father's name, who was a non-practicing Muslim (note: non-practicing) at the time of his son's birth, who was only part of young Obama's life for 2 years and who had no part in his upbringing. (By the way, all of this information can be found with a simple wikipedia search for Barack Obama)

(a) Claiming that Obama is a Muslim because his father was once a Muslim and they share the same name is like claiming that my brother must be from Missouri because my father, who shares the same name, was born in Missouri. (b) Claiming that Obama is a Muslim because his middle name is a Muslim name is like claiming that I, Nathaniel, am Jewish because Nathaniel is a Hebrew name.

Of course, if he's even remotely related to someone who may have at one time been Muslim, then he is most certainly a threat to America because, of course, all Muslims are evil. Except for Cat Stevens, who still makes nice music. And, of course, King Abdullah II al Hussein (Hussein! There's that name again!), who is an American ally in the Middle East. Also, the guys at Zad on Broadway St. in Chicago make a mean falaffel. But I digress.

The point is that these are logical fallacies that Mr. Fake-Baxter exploits to drum up doubt and fear where logical there is none.

(III) National Journal's Most Liberal Member of Congress: No kidding; the guys a Democrat. Is anyone surprised by this? Hey, I have an idea: let's have a political debate about liberal policies versus conservative values and make a reasonable decision based on that conversation, right Mr. Fake-Baxter?

Wait, no, the video is moving on to more character assassination. I'm afraid that substantive debate will have to wait.

(IV) The First Set of Facts: Mr. Fake-Baxter throws these around really quickly in the hope that we won't sit down and actually research whether or not they are true. All of these responses can be found with a quick look through the Internet.

Fact A: Barack's dad is a Muslim (was a Muslim, was not practicing at time of Barack's birth, already talked about that) and his mother was a white woman from Kansas (so? What's Fake-Baxter's point? Are all Kansans terrorists too?)

Fact B: Obama attended a Muslim school. Not true, he attended Suki Elementary in Indonesia, which is and has always been a secular public school.

In fact, here is a link to a site Obama's campaign put up, featuring a CNN report (a credible news service) on Obama's school.

Fact C: Vague voting record. You will notice in this clip that Mr. Fake-Baxter cuts this debate clip such that you never hear Obama's response. So the guy never gets a chance to defend himself. You also never hear that Obama's voting 'present' is actually something he did while in the Illinois Legislature, not the U.S. Senate.

In Illinois, 'present' is a valid vote. Here is an explanation from an Illinois state rep:

"The 'present' vote in Illinois is sometimes cast by state lawmakers with a conflict of interest who would rather not weigh in on an issue. Other times, members use the option to object to certain parts of a bill, even though they may agree with its overall purpose.

"The 'present' vote is used, especially by more thoughtful legislators, not as a means of avoiding taking a position on an issue, but as a means of signaling concerns about an issue," said state Rep. John Fritchey (D), an Obama supporter." Full article.

Fact D: Che Guevara flag = Obama is a mass murderer? Seriously? This is a damning fact - that some people in one campaign office in Texas put up picture of Che? Really? I knew people in college with Che posters and t-shirts. Most of those people, to the best of my knowledge, are neither Communists or mass murderers. BUT I COULD BE WRONG.

Fact E: Obama Refuses to Wear a Flag Pin: this is actually not true at all. Obama has been photographed many times wearing a flag pin ever since people made such a huge freaking deal about the fact that Obama - per the clip in this video - would rather show his patriotism by helping America than by wearing a stupid piece of painted tin. As a Christian producer, Mr. Fake-Baxter should be able to recite to you a parable about pharisees praying the loudest in temple yet being the biggest hypocrites, but I guess we've forgotten that little lesson, haven't we?

By the way, I have personally never worn a flag pin. I can assure you that I am not an islamo-fascist black panther terrorist.

Fact F: Obama refuses to respect the national anthem. We're supposed to base this on one picture of Obama respectfully folding his hands during the national anthem. Did anyone see him spitting, gnashing his teeth, or screaming and howling in agony? No. You didn't.

I've been to many a sporting event where people won't even put their beer down during the national anthem. But, just in case, here's another link from the Obama campaign with video proof showing him leading the Pledge of Allegiance in the Senate.

Fact G: Obama attended a church with a controversial pastor. Finally, an actual real fact! Let's talk more about this in a couple of paragraphs, though, as it will account for nearly half of Mr. Fake-Baxter's argument.

Fact H: Michelle Obama one time said once in front of an audience once that she finally feels proud of her country. Ripped out of context, of course, but then the President's approval ratings are at an all time low, so I don't think anyone can fault someone for being pissed off about an unpopular government. Besides, she has since clarified her statement on many different occasions. Here's just one quote:

"What I was clearly talking about was that I'm proud in how Americans are engaging in the political process," she said.

"For the first time in my lifetime, I'm seeing people rolling up their sleeves in a way that I haven't seen and really trying to figure this out — and that's the source of pride that I was talking about," she added.

Good lord this is getting exhausting.

(V) Reverend Wright / Religion: Seriously, the next 8 minutes are all clips of Reverend Wright, Mr. Fake-Baxter telling us what 'liberation theology' and 'black liberation theology' are, and Mr. Fake-Baxter tying Obama to him and all of this dirty, evil footage.

Never mind the fact that Obama has since renounced Reverend Wright, quit the church in question, etc. Never mind that John McCain actively sought the endorsement of Reverend John Hagee despite the fact that he calls Roman Catholicism the great whore of Babylon and thinks that the Holocaust was God's will. Instead, let's just accuse Obama of radical Christian blackness based on five minutes or so of some other guy talking to Sean Hannity, who is an irritating person anyway.

Of course, anyone who has actually been following the race would know that Obama has since given a 30 minute long speech about all of this that is actually quite a good, intelligent, reasonable speech. If you have a chance, you should watch this. Alas, Mr. Fake-Baxter only uses a tiny clip of it to prove that Obama somehow hates his grandmother. But then, Mr. Fake-Baxter probably doesn't want you to hear the whole speech because it is actually intelligent.

But I digress again. Let's look at Mr. Fake-Baxter's logic quickly.

Barack Obama = Reverend Wright = Black Liberation Theology = Liberation Theology = Latin American Communism (all Democrats are Communists, remember?) = Che Guevara = Mass Murderer. Ah ha! There's that face again! The same one that was hanging on a wall in that one small campaign office somewhere (and on my barrista's t-shirt)! It must be true! Barack Obama = Mass Murderer!

Even discounting the fact that Obama is not the same person as Reverend Wright, you have to admit that this is a pretty big logical stretch Fake-Baxter wants us to stomach.

If I called McCain a Nazi because of his (former) spiritual advisor Hagee's endorsement, wouldn't they call me crazy? They would because it's a stupid argument and that it's blatantly not true.

(VI) Lifting the Ban on Meeting With Terrorists: As much as I dislike Ahmadhinejad, he is actually an elected official. Obama has not offered to meet with Bin Laden or Hamas, which are recognized as terrorist leaders of terrorist organizations. Obama is talking about meeting with world leaders (Kim Jong-Il of North Korea, who has agreed to cooperate on dismantling their nuclear capabilities, and Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya, who isn't even part of the Axis of Evil) that we don't like.

This is the closest that Fake-Baxter comes to making an argument based on actual policy. But instead of doing that (a conversation that reasonable voting Americans should have) he insinuates that Obama will meet with terrorists by saying his name while showing pictures of heads-of-state who actually aren't really terrorists.

Fake-Baxter, of course, forgets that Nixon met with Nikita Khrushchev in 1959, yet nobody accused Nixon of being a Communist.

Now we come to the video's big conclusion. The conclusion where Mr. Fake-Baxter doesn't actual accuse Obama of anything substantive. The conclusion where he parades the previously noted half-truths, lies, etc. in front of us in a cascade of bullshit that we can't possible defend against. He asks if we can ignore the evidence. Evidence of what? Mr. Fake-Baxter never outright says what the charge is. Instead, he leaves that for you to decide because (a) he is too chicken-shit to actually say what he means (b) he can't prove any such assertion because there is no direct, concrete, real, empirical evidence that Obama is a mass murder or that he is trying to destroy America, and finally (c) he doesn't want to be accused of slander (which is probably why he refuses to use his real name).

So fine, let's take a step back, meet him half way and take a look at the big picture: Some guy who won't even give you his real name expects you to believe that a current U.S. Senator, that a former Illinois State Senator, that a graduate of Harvard Law School, that a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, that a United States Citizen, that a man who has devoted over a year and countless hours and dollars to running for President, that Barack Obama hates America and wants to destroy the country because his middle name is Muslim, once refused to wear a flag pin and knows a guy who said controversial things once.


The goal of this piece is to cast doubt, not provide proof. The irony is that the very Internet that makes this kind of viral-bullshit slander possible is the same Internet that provided all of the information that I needed to decide that this is, indeed, viral-bullshit slander.

And of course, the sad thing is that there really are policy differences that could be used to make a decision on who gets our vote. As an independent voter, I would prefer to make my decision (whether it be Obama, McCain, or possibly even Bob Barr) based on real policies, real facts and real issues. This is not high school, after all.

You will also notice that John McCain rejects all of Mr Fake-Baxter aka Jason Mitchell's assertions for what they are - bullshit. And why? Because the race for Presidency is not about who gets slandered the most or who is the most American or who is least likely to possibly be a closeted islamo-facist. The race for Presidency is about deciding which direction the country should go over the next four years. This is what people should be discussing and researching and contemplating.

So that's what I think."

Yeah, that took the better part of a morning to put together, but it just pisses me off that ridiculous shit gets passed around the Internet from person to person without anyone stopping to think, 'Wait, is this bullshit? Maybe I should double check before I send it to everyone I know.'

I bet that'll make you think twice before you send me a forward, won't it?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Almost Social

This weekend, I attended not one but two festivals.

Chicago loves their summer festivals. They have a ton of them every year and every year I've promised myself that I'll go to at least one. But every year I've ended up in my apartment watching DVDs of the first season of Soap instead, only to vow (again) at the end of the summer to make next year different.

This year, fortune placed a festival literally one block away from where I work - the Taste of Randolph festival. With Katie taking classes at UIC over the summer, which is in the area, it was the ideal time to actually make good on that vow and finally be social.

We ate and drank and listened to live music and milled about with the other Chicagoans and all around had a good time. And I went home proud that, after living in this city for nearly three years now, I had finally done something authentically Chicagoie.

Then this weekend we went out to the suburbs and on Sunday we decided to go take a walk around Geneva, one of the far far west suburbs of Chicago. We take these little health walks because I'm a lazy, lazy bastard and Katie is desperately trying to help me correct this.

As it turned out, Geneva was finishing up their "Swedish Days" festival. It had never occured to me before that Swedishness is something to celebrate, much less for several days, but lo and behold the town was more or less shut down for a nice long Swedish Day parade.

They really went all out too. There were little folky booths everywhere, a little carnival with a tiny ferris wheel, and a funnel cake place too. Because it's not a party without funnel cake, ladies and gents.

It was a cute small-towny deal, and it reminded me a lot of growing up in Clarkston and the Labor Day parades and festivities.

My only knock against Swedish Days was that I could have used a little more Swede. I was expecting more tall blond people, maybe some meatball booths. Lingonberries, etc. I was also hoping that everyone would have either a viking helmet of a chef's hat. Alas, there were only a handful of nordic looking persons, and none of them were wearing helmets.

But it was still fun, and I feel like I've fullfilled my summer obligation to go out amongst other people to act like a real human being. Now I can go back to my usual summer ritual: Katie begging me to go on health walks while I watch DVDs of the first season of Soap.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I Poo Oil

I found this article fascinating.

For all of you too lazy to read the article (Greg, I'm looking at you), it's about a company in California that has figured out a way to genetically modify bacteria so that they feed on agricultural waste and then excrete crude oil.

The answer to the impending energy crisis is not offshore drilling, nuclear power or some other renewable energy source. The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is bug shit.

I love it.

As I was reading the article, I was thinking two things:

(1) I was thinking about possible Hollywood-style disaster movies hinging on genetically-altered mutant bugs, kind of like a science gone horribly wrong thing or a futuristic big brothery thing.

(2) I was trying to decide what useful natural resource I would like to poo if given the choice.

So I'll open up the comments section. If you, reader, could excrete any useful substance, what would it be?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Bus Ride Home

Detroit does not have public transportation.

When I say that, what I mean is that they do not have a form of public transportation that any reasonable person could feasibly use. They have the People Mover, which goes in only one direction and stops at approximately three places. They also have buses but who in their right mind would ride the bus in Detroit?

So, one of the exciting things I discovered upon moving to Chicago is that they do in fact have several forms of public transportation here that reasonable people can feasibly use.

Since my employer moved the office down to the West Loop area, I have been taking the Halsted bus to work every morning.

When you ride the same bus in every morning, you get to know the usual cast of characters. Obviously, you don't ever get to know their names - speaking to other passengers is strictly forbidden on the CTA - but I've developed nicknames for some of my favorites.

There's "Stumbly," the lady who trips while trying to board the bus about 40% of the time and who always loses her footing as soon as the bus starts moving and has to use other people's shoulders to keep herself from falling over.

There's "Captain Crossword" who sits towards the back and does the morning puzzle every morning on the way to work.

And then there's "Amazon Lady," who gets on about five stops before mine. She is olive skinned, dark haired, and huge. Not overweight or anything, just tall. Really tall. Taller than me, and I'm 6'3."

That's in the morning. For the afternoon ride home it's luck of the draw as to what percent 'crazy' you get from your fellow passengers.

An episode of crazy from last week:

I'm heading back home from work and I'm sitting at the back of the bus. It's crowded, like always in the afternoon, and has been raining. The lady at the very back of the bus (we will call her "crazy lady") has her wet umbrella sitting in the seat next to her.

The bus stops to pick up more passengers, and up walks a young woman (let's call her "snooty lady") in her late 20's, early 30's. Real Lincoln Park type. Snooty Lady goes to sit down at the back of the bus and sees the wet umbrella sitting kind of hanging over from one empty seat onto the one she wanted. So, Snooty Lady moves Crazy Lady's umbrella without asking.

CTA Cardinal Rule #1: Never Touch a Crazy Lady's Stuff.

Crazy Lady starts shouting, "What the hell do you think you're doing? Don't touch my stuff! Who do you think you are?"

Snooty Lady is taken aback, but only for a moment, before she starts in on Crazy Lady: "Your umbrella is on an empty seat. You shouldn't do that. There are people who want to sit down."

And it goes on like this for a while, with Snooty Lady lecturing Crazy Lady on the finer points of bus etiquette while Crazy Lady tells Snooty Lady not to touch her stuff. And it is a loud little spat. The back half of the bus is just transfixed by this, watching this with a mix of amusement and terror, until finally Snooty Lady gives up and refuses to talk back.

Silence. Awkward silence. For about five stops. You can feel them both quietly smoldering. Finally, Snooty Lady looks over and sees that Crazy Lady has not stopped staring at her.

"What are you looking at?"

"I'm looking at you."

Another quick spat of shouting follows until some more passengers board. Snooty Lady moves down one seat away from Crazy Lady so a couple of nice college-aged ladies (or 'nice ladies') can sit down. The Nice Ladies chat back and forth with each other, going over what they both bought at Victoria's Secret. Crazy Lady and Snooty Lady are silent for a good ten to fifteen minutes, but those of us who have been on the bus from the start know that this isn't over.

Finally, we reach the North Avenue stop, which apparently is Crazy Lady's stop. Crazy Lady gathers up her umbrella, stands up and grabs one of the overhead loops to steady herself as the bus slows. She turns to Snooty Lady and, interrupting the nice conversation that the Nice Ladies are having, points to the Bus ceiling and shouts, "You're lucky them cameras are there. You're lucky. That's all I got to say."

The tempers flare back up immediately. Snooty Lady throws out every insult she knows, disparaging Crazy Lady's clothes (she's wearing a jacket market 'SECURITY') and presumed educational background, while Crazy Lady threatens Snooty Lady. It is the classic battle between the stuck up and the mentally imballanced.

Finally, Snooty Lady shouts, "I hate you!"

Crazy Lady shouts back, "I hate you too, bitch!"

I'm sitting there thinking, "Jesus Christ, these two women don't even know each other and they're shouting 'I hate you' at each other!" And I'm struck by the sheer simple anger, the power and the strangeness of actually hearing a grown-up say, "I hate you!" to another grown-up.

And the Nice Ladies look like they just saw Big Foot mauling their grandmothers.

With the mutual hatred established in no uncertain terms, Crazy Lady has nothing left but to get off the bus, so she does, and Snooty Lady sits quietly for a moment while everyone digests what just happened. Finally, the Nice Ladies break the silence and ask Snooty Lady, "What was that about?"

Snooty Lady gives a quick history of the fight, casting herself as the hero: 'I was just looking out for my fellow passengers / trying to protect us all from a wet umbrella / anyone would have done the same,' never mentioning of course that she never broke the cardinal rule of "Never Touch a Crazy Lady's Stuff," or that she neglected to ask permission, and finishing with a self-administered pat on the back, "I think I landed a couple of pretty good hits with some of my insults."

Oh yes, Snooty Lady. Because "I hate you" is simply too clever.

Now that's entertainment.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Frivolous Thought of the Day

Frivolous Thought:

I used to joke around with dining mates and pretend their food was alive by giving the food voices.

They go to eat their Chicken McNugget, I say in a falsetto voice 'cluck cluck no no please don't eat me cluck cluck no!'

I thought it was funny in a sadistic sort of way. But then I stopped to think, what if that really was the case and your food could talk to you? Like, all of it? Normally whenever I did the falsetto food voice it was only for one food item. If it were real life, I could probably power through eating just the one talking chicken nugget. If I was hungry enough.

But what if every piece of food on your place had a voice?

Imagine eating a salad and every stick of carrot, every leaf of lettuce or slice of radish had a voice and they were all imploring you not to eat them? Imagine a chorus of little food voices begging you not to eat them. How fucked up is that?

I don't know if I could still eat. Or, if I could, I don't think I would enjoy it as much.

I wonder if that's how Godzilla feels?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Congratulations Nessie

My little sister Vanessa graduates from Kalamazoo College this weekend.

My older brother Don (Gibby), my sister and I went to the same small Grade School and Middle School when we were growing up. I was a grade behind my brother. My sister, who is four years younger than me, was in the fourth grade when it came time for me to 'graduate' from Middle School and move on.

On one of the days leading up to my last day there, our tiny little school held a school assembly as kind of a send off for those of us about to head out into the scarringly painful world that is High School. I can't remember too much of what all happened, but I remember that there was a portion of the send off where the kids in the lower grades were allowed to ask questions or to say something to us, their older friends. So my sister stood up and one of the teachers introduced her as my sister and asked her what she wanted to say.

She looked me dead in the eye and told me, in front of everyone, "You're not as funny as you think you are."

It's one of the great moments from our collective Topping childhood.

Because of our four year age difference, whenever Vanessa has hit one of those big educational milestones I've always been distracted by my own. When she left Grade School for High School, I was graduating High School and going to college. When she graduated from High School to go to college, I was graduating from college. But now I don't have anything to distract me so I can really concentrate on my sister's big day.

I wonder what her graduation ceremony will be like. I wonder if there is a question/statement/roast portion to it. I wonder what I would say. Would I look her straight in the eye and say, "Get a job" or will I think of something worse to say between now and then?

Yes, now I can really concentrate on my sister's big day.

And how to ruin it.

Seriously, though, congratulations Nessie! I'm proud of you.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I Missed You!

Hi Everyone,

Sorry I haven't written for a couple of days. Internet access has been a bit spotty at home lately and work has been kind of busy so far this week, so I haven't really had the time to sit down and write anything.

I hope all is well with you, my three faithful readers.

I've got a pretty busy week going for me. Tomorrow is my birthday and on Friday I'm driving out to Kalamazoo with Katie to spend the weekend with my family. My sister is graduating from college.

Which means that, since I am four years older than her, I have been out of college for four years. And this week is my birthday. So, spending some time thinking about age this week.

Always a good time.

But, hey, nothing lifts you out of the self-reflecting duldrums quite like the magical internet. This site is courtesy of Geoff Crump. Enjoy!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Telecom Magic

The longer that I work at my current employer and the more I learn about telecommunications and the way it works, the more I become convinced that our internet and phone systems are held together by magic and probably duct tape.

I wonder if there's a rule in that somewhere. "The more intricate a system becomes, the more miraculous it is that it functions at all."

Something like that. It's been that kind of day today.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

An Emerging Pattern - Sports Curse #1

I am beginning to see a pattern. Observe:

EXHIBIT A: On Saturday, August 25, 2007, I posted an entry on my blog expressing my support for the Detroit Lions and included an image of their logo. They went on to have an unimpressive season, capped off by yet again not making the playoffs. This annual disappointment has become a Detroit Lions tradition, so it ultimately did not come as a surprise to me.

EXHIBIT B: On Friday, August 31, 2007, I posted an entry on my blog expressing my excitement for the University of Michigan's football program and included an image of their logo. Shortly after, Michigan loses it's home opener to Appalachian State in quite possibly the biggest upset ever in the history of college football. Curious, isn't it, how Michigan never loses their opening game except when I post a blog entry?

EXHIBIT C: On Tuesday, May 20, 2008, I posted an entry on my blog expressing my excitement for the Detroit Pistons and their prospects in the Eastern Conference Finals. I also included an image of their logo in the post. Detroit went down in a ball of flames to the Boston Celtics, their head coach has since been fired with the promise of Pistons starters being traded as well.

EXHIBIT D: On Wednesday, June 4, 2008, a certain Detroit hockey team closed out the NHL finals with a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, thereby winning the Stanley Cup. They did this despite the fact that I did not post a blog entry announcing my excitement and including their organization's logo. This is the one major Detroit-area sports team to actually win a championship and I did not post anything on them prior to their victory.

CONCLUSION: This blog is cursed.

I evidently cannot express my support for a team on this blog without causing irreparable damage to their season.

RESOLUTION: Instead of posting entries expressing my support and enthusiasm for a team I actually like, I will henceforth only use this blog for sports evil, to spread sports mischief and to curse those teams that I either do not like or do not want to win for one reason or another. I will also include a 'statement of support' to solidify the curse.

SPORTS CURSE #1 - The Boston Red Sox

"Sure, the 'BoSox' have won two of the last four World Series Titles, but Boston fans still had to suffer through an Eighty-some years title drought under Babe Ruth's curse. Don't you think they deserve at least one more title this year?"


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Vote Nat 2040 - VP Announcement From the Future

June 4th, 2039 (The Future)
My Fellow Americans,

Well, it's been a long and gruelling race. I thought for sure that they had me after the whole nun-orgy scandal came out, or when it was revealed that I was actively selling children to the Chinese for hard cash (Euros). But you have made your choice and, inexplicably, you decided to go with me for this party's nominee for President of the United States in 2040.

Might I just say you all have great taste in candidates.

I wanted to take this opportunity, now that I've won enough popularity points that I can now feign graciousness, to congratulate my opponent on a well-fought campaign.

You have truly offered the American people much through your continued service, and I salute you.

That's why, in the interest of uniting this party behind a ticket of strength and resolve, I have decided to include my opponent on this ticket.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. I would officially like to invite "Giant Flesh-Eating Bacterium" to be my running mate.

I believe that Giant Flesh-Eating Bacterium has proved the kind of mettle and resolve necessary for making a prime Vice Presidential contender. Whether it be fighting a long primary battle against yours truly, overcoming an unfairly restrictive interpretation of what "human" means to qualify for the race in the first place, or bearing the standard of it's chosen issue (the constant on-going battle against anti-bacterial soap), Giant Flesh-Eating Bacterium has shown the kind of resilience and stick-to-itiveness that proves it will never die. At least, as far as scientists can tell.

Of course, the primary season was a long and hard road for us to travel and, sure, we've had our differences. Who can forget the time when I accused the Giant Flesh-Eating Bacterium of pandering to special interests, or the time it literally tried to eat me during the South Carolina debates? And sure, some names may have been thrown around. Names like "Diabolical," or "Life-threatening," or "Bluberous and Amorphous Sack of Death." Hell, I may have even accused my colleague, in a fit of ill-advised rage, of ignoring my impending numerical victory and continuing the race out of an "unhuman lust for human flesh." Often times in the heat of a charged battle like this past primary season some poor word choices occur and I regret anything that may have offended my colleague or any other flesh-eating bacterium.

So, I want to put the voter's mind at ease. Giant Flesh-Eating Bacterium and I will present a unified front with one goal in mind: the destruction of our common enemy and victory in the White House for 2040.

And you can rest assured that despite it's tendencies to consume human flesh at a ravenous pace and despite the previous destructive animosity between us, I am confident that Giant Flesh-Eating Bacterium and I can work together for a better future. I am also confident that Giant Flesh-Eating Bacterium will probably not try to eat me while I am President. Call it a hunch.

God Bless You, God Bless America, and God Bless Giant Flesh-Eating Bacterium

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Advice for the Young Writer (an Old Essay)

I wrote this for an essay writing class from my senior year in college. I've been saving it for a rainy day (which is actually the case today). I think it provides a good peek into my formative writing years and, also, I think it's funny.

So you’ve decided that you want to write fiction. Delightful! Writing fiction can be a very rewarding experience. Believe me, I should know; I’ve written a fair amount of it in my day (of course, a fair amount of that it is atrocious crap, but I normally don’t talk about such things). You have decided to take up the pen, a worthy and noble cause, and I would like to welcome you to the club – the club for those gifted and talented geniuses known as writers.

Now, I realize that you haven’t done much serious writing thus far, and so, before you get cracking, I would like to offer you some guidelines on how to go about becoming a fiction writer. These guidelines are based on my experiences as a young fiction writer in university writing classes, and I hope that you will benefit from what I’ve learned.

First, you must learn that there are three types of fiction awaiting the gentle caresses of your pen. Those types are: poetry, prose, and drama.

Poetry, or as I like to call it, “The Ever-So-Glorious Art of Verse” is a very special form for the beginning writer. On the grand continuum of bullshit to non-bullshit, poetry sits closer to the former. Thus, if you are a good bullshitter, you will also be a good poet. It is one of the easiest forms of expression known to the artistic-minded person.

Now, this ease was not always the case. Back in the olden times, when dinosaurs like Shakespeare and Pope ruled the earth, poetry required rhyme, meter, and, above all else, skill. Poetry used to involve that sort of hogwash and hokum. Thankfully, we know now that, in the modern era, skill is not necessarily required. In fact, writing poetry is so simple, I’ll write an impromptu poem for you right now:

Fast Food-Religion
My bosom, like fire grows
Backwards into
Steaming heaps of crabs.
Oh mommy!
Love knows no bounds
No bound knowing knows love
There is only my
And some rotting fruit.

See? Look how easy that is! Even now, I dream of all the possible interpretations for this little gem. “Oh mommy!” Ha! Freud must be pissing his pants right now, dead or no. What symbolism; what diction; what style; what allusions! Now all I have to do is sit back and wait for the literary critic to come tell you what the hell I mean.

Of course, truly good poets actually do employ skill in the crafting of their verse (these are the poets whose works sit close to non-bullshit). These people tend to take pride in the way their poems are crafted. They will also likely be, for the most part, ignored in their time. How incredibly lucky they are.

Onward we move to prose. Prose is considered by many to be the absolute perfect expression of the creative writer’s art. It sits proudly atop the greatest pedestal of written art, looks down upon the lowly masses of people, and scoffs haughtily at the futility of life, love, laughter, and any number of other L-words. Of course you’re interested in writing prose. You’re only human; how can you resist?

Your first impulse will be to try and write something creative, imaginative, and fresh. Ignore that impulse. If you are thinking about writing something in the vein of mystery, science fiction, fantasy, or comedy, then don’t bother. Writing fiction is clearly not for you: at least, not if you plan on writing artful fiction. Not if you want people to sit around in coffee shops discussing how brilliant you are. Not if you are writing in a classroom setting. No no no, my friend.

Now, let’s say that you are a young writing student in a prose-fiction workshop. Let’s say you are, for the sake of argument, a young man of nineteen, with brown hair, blue eyes, and glasses, and your name is Nat Topping. You’ve written a story about a young man who, waking up one morning, finds that an unknown and mysterious roommate has, without an invitation, moved into the living room over night. This stranger, who will not vacate the premises, sacrifices goats nightly as a matter of principle. Would you submit this story to your writing class and hope for a constructive response from your peers?

Of course you wouldn’t, you silly bastard.

You would be mocked, scorned, and derided by your peers and instructor. You would be dismissed as an “okey dokey” writer for conceiving something that people could laugh at and enjoy. You would be pelted with fruit, buried beneath piles of rotting papayas and moldy kiwi. And, once you had been properly tarred and feathered, they would run you out of the classroom on a rail, shouting and taunting you all the way out of the building and into the streets where they would leave you, sticky and covered in goose feathers, to think about what you’ve done.

You wouldn’t submit that story because you know that nobody writes stories that contain improbable events. Nobody writes stories that are intended to entertain people. Nobody writes stories about goat sacrifices.

At least, not anymore they don’t. Not in the modern age. Doing so labels you as a charlatan, a hack, a producer of trash and tomfoolery unfit for the title of “writer.” And believe you me, your instructor and peers will tell you so. You can count on that. No, my friend, you don’t want to write as Nat did.

Instead of writing like Nat, your instructor will tell you about a magical movement called Existentialism.

In case you don’t know (I understand, oh novice writer; you’re young yet) Existentialism is a literary movement that was invented on one gloomy morning in France. On this particular morning, a young man awoke from a particularly restless sleep, and, his head being clouded by the dull pain and thick mental fog of a hangover, he decided that his life was less impressive than he would have liked. However, instead of just dealing with it, as countless generations of people had done before him, he decided it would be far better to complain incessantly about his disillusionment in the form of fiction writing. At that very moment, Existentialism was born. It was then wrapped in swaddling clothing, placed in a manger, loved, cherished, and ultimately proclaimed to be the savior of all art. And to think, this wonderful movement is thanks to the disgruntled scrawling of a pissed off European.

Every two months, the literary community gets together and sacrifices a goat in this man’s honor.

Once you’ve discovered Existentialism, your next task as a young writer is finding your voice. Everyone has a way of writing particular to his or her own style. If your writing instructors are worth their proverbial salt, they will help you find your voice, isolate it, and alter it such that it is more conducive to narration. In short, they will take your personal voice and make it sound more like Poe’s, or Salinger’s. In fact, it may simply be best to abandon your voice immediately and go straight to using Poe’s. After that, you can proceed, as everyone else does, to writing the quintessential American novel.

By limiting the writer’s conception of genre, theme, and voice, your instructor will draw a volume of work from his or her students in which, for whatever reason, each story is remarkably similar to the last. It’s a spectacular sight to behold. Imagine page after page of stories about the horrors of life! Characters running around, unloved by their parents or significant others, always subject to some form of discrimination or abuse, and constantly thinking about suicide or running away. If only we could find a way of regulating detail, imagery, metaphor, and setting as well. What a wonderful world that would be.

As for drama, the third genre in the pantheon of creative writing, I must advise you to turn away from that field (solely for selfish reasons, naturally). It is my field of choice, and competition is tough enough as it is – so tough. I was here first.

With these quick notes, you already have a head start for your education in a fiction-writing class. Pretty soon, you too will be writing pieces of work that are marginally creative and entirely morose.

Of course, there will be the occasional writer among the new flock who will throw the advice of countless writing instructors to the winds, who will simply say, “They don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m just going to write on my own, and if they don’t like it, they can go fuck themselves.” And, believe me, there are alternative means of writing. Some of them involve not being indoctrinated by a failed-writer-turned-begrudging-teacher. Some of them involve writing simply for the love of writing. Some, using wild creativity and active imagination.

Please ignore those routes.

I hope that these precious few words have been helpful to you on your quest towards a writing career. If you are interested in exploring topics such as what your future might hold as a fiction writer, then I suggest reading my follow-up essays entitled They May Be Rich, but at Least I’m Smarter, and Frustration: A Guide to Coping with Bitterness and Marginal Success.

Good luck, and good writing, my friend.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Nat Topping, Karaokeist

I have found my calling and it is Karaoke.

Last Friday, we held an office party to celebrate the opening of out new offices. The company went all out, providing a catered meal, alcoholic beverages and even an Elvis impersonator. That's right, an Elvis impersonator - because nothing says Telecommunications Reseller quite like a middle aged man dressed in a sequined jump-suit doing a medley of hits from two generations ago. Whatever, it beat the hell out of real work.

After the meal was over and the Elvis impersonator had awkwardly spoken with everyone at the party, the company offered us the opportunity to "win fantastic prizes" through a Karaoke contest.

I won one of those fantastic prizes.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Karaoke, it is an ancient art that dates back to late 16th Century Feudal Japan when the Shogun, in an alcohol-induced fit, would force local musicians to play popular songs but, instead of letting trained singers sing the words, would caterwaul and shout insults at the other partiers who were, for all intents and purposes, help captive. Despite developments in technology, the basic crux of Karaoke remains the same today, as evidenced by many modern corporate functions.

In our instance, the company offered their employees the opportunity to compete for prizes before the boss took over and started singing slurred versions of hits from the 1960's and reminding us that we were paid to be there and listen. I seldom ever win anything in competitions. This time, though, I managed to pick up a gift card and a printed certificate from the company promising me two round trip tickets on Southwest Airlines. Whether or not that certificate actually amounts to real round trip tickets remains to be seen, but the sentiment is nice.

So now I'm mulling over the possibility of going pro - not as a professional singer but as a professional Karaokeist. It sure would beat the hell out of telecomm and I've already proven that I can win at least giftcards. Who knows? If I quit and devote my life to refining the art of Karaoke, I might be able to win some cash. Are there places that offer cash prizes? I'll have to look into that.

Forget comedy writing and performing! Karaoke is the wave of the future. Maybe, if I become successful enough, I can write a book offering tips on the biz and then retire and live off the royalties.


For now, I'm just excited to have finally found my calling.