God says the darndest things

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m not much of a believer in a deity, at least not the kind of deity that most people pray to. I believe in the abstract deity, one wholly indifferent to my personal sufferings, maybe because it has bigger fish to fry. If you are the praying type, you sort of assume God is listening when you pray, and that’s God with a capital G, the big one, not some intercessor like an angel or Sylvia Browne. God is, after all, omnipotent so, sure, God can listen to billions of people’s prayers at once, sort through all of it and channel back some sort of catharsis to all those prayees. God does it without working up a sweat.

God rarely replies back personally when you pray, although God apparently spoke directly to Moses and mostly some very ancient Old Testament dudes. It would be nice if God spoke in words but the best you can hope for is some feelings that can maybe will help direct your life through the nebulous and often painful reality that it is. If you like messages direct from God with no ambiguity, you will be happy to know that God does Twitter.

It turns out that God, or rather @TheTweetOfGod, is a compelling reason to use Twitter. On a typical day God has a half dozen or so tweets of enlightenment for us sinners to absorb, but they may primarily stimulate your laugh reflex. God’s tweets are also sometimes quite insightful, or actually point to a larger thought. If the Bible could be funny and sarcastic maybe it would be like following @TheTweetOfGod.

Sadly, there is evidence that this Twitter God may not be that God because God is supposed to be all spiritual and not materialistic. But this God apparently mostly uses an iPhone, but sometimes tweets come just from the web. But hey, if you are God then by inference you are omnipotent, so you can conjure up an iPhone, tweet with it and broadcast your omniscient message. Or maybe God has a Swiss bank account to pay for his iPhone; I am sure his credit is good. But, no, there is strong circumstantial evidence that God is really David Javerbaum, who apparently has been writing material for Jon Stewart for a very long time. If Javerbaum is the second coming of Christ, be prepared to laugh. Or to do a second take:

If ignorance is bliss, why is the world so unhappy?

A lot of what God says actually makes a lot of sense, if you ponder it for a while.

Am I pro-life? Yes, but if you’re familiar with My work you know I’m not exactly anti-death, either.

But God does can have something of an attitude:

I am watching you read this. And I know your inmost thoughts about it. And I control your life. And I love you. #notcreepythough

God also has 730,000-some followers, and rising. This is a peculiar way to spread enlightenment, but if so consider me a devout follower.

Reading is fundamental but misreading is fundamentalism.

God can even be self-deprecating:

Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I’m omnipotent. Do the math.

God can give us some insight into dying:

Your life flashes before your eyes right before you die. It takes an average of 70-80 years.

God, of course is white. Whites are the master race, right? And of course, God is a he because men were created before women — it’s in the Bible, just look it up! Which gives chase to thoughts about God’s anatomy. Doubtless he is blessed way beyond all mortal men with his equipment between his thighs. No wonder women swoon in his presence. And God has a recent book out, The Last Testament, apparently dictated to apostle David Javerbaum. I wonder what God does with the royalties? What can you give God that he doesn’t already have or can instantly conjure up? Maybe his real gift is humanity. For it is our weirdness and unpredictability that God seems to find endlessly amusing. It keeps him entertained for an eternity. You got to admit that we give him plenty of good source material:

The problem with government of the people, by the people and for the people is the people.

To err is human, to refuse to acknowledge it even more so.

To conclude: just do what Jesus would do. Especially on Mothers Day:

What would Jesus do? Today, take Mary out to Olive Garden.

The joy of giving badly

The Thinker by Rodin

What do you do when you have a good portion of your extended family over for Christmas, they have largely everything they need but there is plenty of extra room under your Christmas tree? You could skip giving them any gifts, of course, which would save everyone a lot of money. Or you could do what me and a number of my siblings do on Christmas: give the gift of the bad.

Bad gift giving is not for every family. If there is a lot of sibling rivalry that still manifests itself in your adult years, it is probably not for your family. The joy of giving badly does not come from offending your family. It comes from finding that special something that (a) you know they would not like (b) is tacky and (c) costs about as much as warm spit.

If you can do a bad gift exchange right, it can be a lot of fun. Particularly if you and your siblings are competitive creatures, finding the baddest bad gift of them all is something of a minor triumph (but probably not something to highlight on your college application). In our house, the procurer of the baddest bad gift wins the trophy. Well, it’s not an actual trophy. It’s a set of slippers, with each slipper shaped like a fish. The fish slippers look, well, dreadful, not because they are old and ragged (they look almost new) but because they are so incredibly tacky. No one in their right mind would want to use them, let alone own them, although the contest winner will sometimes do a celebratory dance in the fish slippers with cameras clicking away.

In theory, the person who gets the fish slippers can hold on to them for one year. The next year they are awarded to the next person to wins the next bad gift contest. In practice, the fish slippers sit at the top of my closet, since invariably the bad gifts are exchanged at our house, generally on Christmas afternoon when remnants of our family in the area descend on our house for conversation and (probably more importantly) gobs of delicious, fattening food courtesy of my spouse.

This custom began sometimes in the early 1990s. Our memories of how it started are rather hazy, but it was likely my sister Mary’s idea (as her sense of humor is particularly skewed). The bad gift exchange neatly solved a number of problems. First, it took care of the problem of finding real gifts for my siblings. Second, it allows us to indulge our competitive spirit. Third, it gives us a great reason to look forward to getting together. Otherwise, the conversation devolves into football (for those few of us into it) and politics. Fourth and perhaps most importantly, giving bad gifts is a lot of fun, both for the giver and the receiver. A truly spectacularly bad gift needs to be singularly inappropriate, hard to find, lacking in taste and dirt-cheap.

If you want to play the game with your family, here are some tips. Here are examples of bad gifts that are not funny: a lump of coal for your stocking, imitation doggy doo doo, fake vomit or political bumper stickers for a party the receiver is not aligned with. Your job as the bad gift giver is to find something much more spectacularly inappropriate. Ideally, the recipient should both laugh hysterically and feel repulsed at the same time.

Where to find bad gifts? The mall is a way too expensive a place to buy a bad gift. $5 per gift should be an upper limit, which is important because most bad gifts tend to end up in the trash later in the evening. I get most of my bad gifts at dollar stores, but thrift stores of any type work as well (try Salvation Army or Goodwill). eBay is great for the eccentric gift, but with shipping it is hard to keep the cost low. Stores like Spencer Gifts are also full of bad gifts, but they tend to be pricey.

The highly competitive bad gift giver keeps a constant watch for bad gifts all year long, and is always ready to buy. This describes my brother Tom who is highly competitive and feels compelled to excel in everything, including bad gifts. His bad gift radar is on all the time. Consequently, he tends to win many of these contests.

You will need some sort of process for determining a winner. We usually do it by paper votes with each person ranking the bad gifts from baddest to least bad, with one being the baddest. You are not supposed to vote for gifts you have given, to keep out the bias. The giver of the worst “gift” with the lowest point score wins possession of the fish slippers, and many hearty congratulations.

This year we invented a new process where we paired two gifts and took a majority vote on each pair to determine the badder gift. This elongated the process considerably, as there were many gifts, hence many rounds to go through and plenty of opportunities for voters to argue why one gift was worse than the other. The winning gift this year came from my nephew Ryan, who is proving to be a genius at bad gift giving. It was a football jersey for his sister Margo. Margo is a skinny little thing who can’t be more than a hundred pounds soaking wet. This jersey from a Goodwill store for some no name team would probably be roomy for a beefy defensive lineman with his protective gear on. Both Ryan and Margo got inside the shirt at the same time and it was still way too large. It also helps that Margo is not particularly into football or jocks so it was not a welcome gift, yet it didn’t offend. Consequently, it was a terrific bad gift. Get it?

My bad gifts were not as good as usual as I was pressed for time. They included: some plastic cockroaches for my sister Mary (she used to live in Florida, where cockroaches are everywhere); a Sylvia Brown book (used of course) taking about the feminine God for my brother Tom (who happens to be an atheist); a Hannah Montana CD for my 21-year old daughter; a pint-sized glow in the dark plastic “lightsaber” for my wife (a Star Wars fan) that turned out to be missing its glow; and a tiny little Hula girl figurine for my brother Mike (who is unlikely ever to get to Hawaii or ever try on a flowered shirt).

What these bad gifts do is provide a central event on an important day, and stimulate laughter and competition. Surprisingly enough, this event that has gone on most years for twenty years, is an effective way to bond at least some of my siblings and I together as we age. (We do have a sourpuss or two who when they show up won’t play.) With my nieces and nephews getting the hang of the game, I suspect the game will outlive us. It may even pass into family lore.

Try it next Christmas. I think you will find that it is way more entertaining than watching the Detroit Lions lose again.

Rockit Man

The Thinker by Rodin

Ever have a guilty pleasure? Actually, I have quite a few, and one of them is reading the comic strip Brewster Rockit.

There is no reason to like this comic strip. Yes, there is no reason at all, except it appeals to those of us with a juvenile sense of humor, which I must have acquired somewhere in my life and never succeeded in shedding in adulthood. So I am coming out of the closet. I may try to be witty and sophisticated on this blog, but I still am a fan of grade school humor. Truly, this is a comic for the barely prepubescent, and yet I still like it. In fact, in getting my daily Brewster Rockit fix, I often laugh aloud, sometimes with tears running down my face.

Why do I like Brewster Rockit? Probably for the same reason I enjoyed Looney Tunes and Bullwinkle when I was a kid. I did not have to think too much to laugh at it. I never have to worry about whether the “plot” makes sense or not. It never will. Take today’s “plot”. Brewster Rocket, the titular commander of the R. U. Sirius space station, has been on humanitarian mission to rescue The Doughnut People. These walking, talking sugary snacks are apparently marooned on some planet and have begun to cannibalize each other. I tell you, humor rarely gets more sophomoric than one donut taking a bite out of each other. This humor is so middle school that I should not laugh at it at all. Yet I do. Frequently.

Things never make much sense on the space station R. U. Sirius. Trying to make sense of the strip is ultimately self-defeating, but the frame of the story (such as it is) is that the R. U. Sirius orbits the earth both to welcome aliens (presumably the friendly kind) and guard the earth from evil aliens, all while keeping us on the earth ignorant of all the aliens out there. Putting the empty-headed Brewster Rockit in charge of this space station is like electing George W. Bush to be President of the United States, in other words, not a good idea, but sort of fun seeing the village idiot trying to manage an impossible job.

Not to worry too much though, because there are signs of intelligence on the space station. It comes complete with an evil mad scientist Dr. Mel Practice, whose sadism seems unbounded. Perhaps not coincidentally, he looks a lot like Dick Cheney. The only sane person on the station seems to be Lieutenant Pamela Mae Snap. Her job seems to be to correct Brewster before he accidentally does something disastrously wrong, which turns out to be a full time job for the curvaceous Pam. Not that Brewster is capable of deliberately doing anything bad. He is always empty-headed and jovial and is usually capable of putting one foot in front of the other. I picture him a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger, only without the Austrian accent. Apparently, he used to have a real brain, but all those alien abductions took their toll. He now lives in his own special Twilight Zone.

Cliff Clewless, the station’s engineer, is sort of like Montgomery Scott had he flunked out of engineering school. Although he sports a large belly, he thinks he has a way with women, despite the omnipresent sunglasses and sports cap. The station even comes complete with children. Mostly we see Winky, a young boy who is regularly about to be devoured by some alien experiment concocted by Dr. Mel. About once a month or so, you know some alien or monster will try to slice into the boy, and he will yell, “Ahhh!! My spleen!!!”

There are a number of other lesser-seen ancillary characters. These include Dirk Raider (a sort of medieval Darth Vader), Bucky the Robot (just a bucket on a coat rack), a PAL 9000 computer (that must be built on the same circuitry as HAL), Oldbot (a robot who has seen better days and destined for the scrap heap) and Ensign Kenny (whose job is to be the station’s red shirt and die repeatedly in evil ways).

The artist and creator Tim Rickard draws heavily on old and not so old science fiction comics, movies and TV shows, as well as, I suspect the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show. Bullwinkle and Brewster have almost identical intelligence levels and seem capable of saying funny things, which they have no idea sound funny. Like in Star Wars and Star Trek, Brewster’s spacecraft seems unaffected by distance and relativity. He can be on the planet of doughnut people one day and back on the R. U. Sirius the next. Brewster Rockit is simply out for cheap pedestrian laughs, the cheaper and more inane the better.

I feel better now that I have confessed my sin. I guess I am more human than I thought. Whether Brewster is still with the doughnut people tomorrow or not, I know I will be reading the strip and probably chuckling, particularly when Winky is caught by another evil experiment of Dr. Mel’s, and is yelling about his punctured spleen.

If this keeps up, I will be chuckling at The Family Circus next. If I do, please kill me.

The Human Blastocyst: My Friend, My Dependent

The Thinker by Rodin

I am reading Scott Adams’ book Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain! Scott of course is the very successful artist behind the Dilbert comic strip. He has also written a number of legitimate non-comic books including some bestsellers like The Dilbert Principle. I bought his latest Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain! for my wife as a Christmas present. Thus far, she has merely scanned it. I have been the one actively reading it. One must read something (while also scratching my cat’s belly) during the half an hour between slipping under the bed covers and actually turning off the light.

Thus far the book is a lot like my blog just (and I say this with complete sincerity) not as good. Scott’s book is essentially a collection of musing sent to members of his online fan club. If a book could be like the TV show Seinfeld, this would be it. It has no central theme or subject. It amounts to somewhat structured ramblings that escaped Scott’s brain. I am about a quarter through his book. Occasionally though Scott does have a topic that I find interesting or humorous. That it has no general categorization is actually something of a virtue. If you get bored with the current essay then since for the most part they fit on a page or a page and a half, you know you will soon be onto the next topic.

One ramble of his that I was reading last night titled “Adopting” stimulated today’s post. Scott is thinking of adopting some embryonic stem cells. He does not seem to have the patience to adopt a real child, but he does care about children so why not adopt some fertilized human eggs? He wants to keep them in his refrigerator. If they need to be fed, he figures it should work the same way it works with goldfish: shake something from a little can into their Petri dishes and forget about them for a day.

I had a similar idea years ago. I just forgot to blog about it. Scott’s little tongue in cheek essay though does neatly render absurd the whole argument of when human life begins. I try to have respect for the people who believe that life begins at conception. While I have respect for them as individuals, some part of me wants to call them a word that Scott Adams coined: induhviduals. I keep thinking, were they even awake during those human biology lectures in high school?

I am sorry but if you believe that a fertilized human egg is life (as in alive) you might as well also believe in the tooth fairy. Are those dozen eggs in your refrigerator alive? Granted in most cases they are not fertilized but occasionally a fertilized egg does make it into the food supply and ends up in your refrigerator. (Not to squick you out or anything but when this happens you basically cannot tell so you fry it up anyhow.) In any event, I think we would all agree that a fertilized chicken egg is not alive. If we revered chickens way the Hindus revered cows then perhaps we could keep excess eggs in cold storage until a spare hen was available.

What is clear is that a fertilized chicken egg is inert. Like every other form of life, to move from being a potential chicken into an actual chicken it needs something. Basically, it needs the right kind of energy and some time. When the egg absorbs sufficient warmth, it begins to grow. It is when something is growing that we know it is alive. The eggs in my refrigerator are not alive. Similarly, a human embryo is not alive either. It is inert.

As proof, go to the dictionary. My online dictionary defines life thus: “the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body”. There is nothing vital nor functional about a human embryo. Therefore, quite clearly a human embryo is not alive. Arguably, the sperm is alive until the moment it fertilizes the ovum. Then, like the male praying mantis after mating, it ingloriously dies. It carries with it some tiny amount of energy that is apparently sufficient to create the human zygote. The energy must be enough to cause the zygote to divide a few times until it becomes a blastocyst (human embryo). Once formed though the blastocyst is completely inert. It takes a lot of good luck for the blastocyst to become implanted in the uterine wall. At that point, if it is enriched by the energy in the uterine wall it can continue to multiply and divide. Perhaps at that point you can say technically that the blastocyst is alive. Anyhow, with luck nine months later a baby emerges.

It just so happens that my daughter is now of legal age. I will not be able to claim her as a tax dependent much longer. I have grown used to claiming our costs of supporting her on our income taxes. As our dependent, we get a tax break. Our taxes will go up when she is no longer our dependent.

However, perhaps I should go with Scott’s suggestion and get us a human embryo. I hope that it will remain inert. I am sure it will be just fine buried in the bottom of our freezer. It seems to me, as many moralists claim, that if this inert blastocyst is truly a human life and I am responsible for its expenses (our freezer probably costs a hundred dollars or more a year to operate) then I am entitled to claim him/her as a dependent. (It is hard to determine gender at this point.) Heck, I want a whole freezer full of human embryos. Perhaps instead of paying taxes, with all those dependents, Uncle Sam would pay me.

To claim them as dependents though, the IRS requires that I get each blastocyst a social security number. On the application, I must give the blastocyst a name. That should be easy enough to do with a baby names book, though to be safe the names should be gender neutral. One problem is that I will not have any actual birth certificate to show the Social Security Administration. This can be solved if the laboratory provides me with dated adoption certificates. The Social Security Administration will accept adoption certificates. I promise I will be a good parent to my blastocysts. Heck, I raised my daughter and she has not gone to jail or gotten pregnant out of wedlock. If necessary, to be a good blastocyst parent I will even ensure my freezer has a redundant power back up.

Since our president believes that as soon as we have a zygote we have a human life, and all human life must be protected, I am sure the IRS (as well as all fundamentalists) will stand with me when I claim my blastocysts as dependents. According to these people, there is nothing more important than protecting human life, unless you mean the time after they are born when we reserve the right to kill people if they do things the state does not like.

Anyhow, this is my plan to show I support the traditional family values this country stands for. And, oh yeah, it will also reduce my taxes. I am so overcome with patriotism at the moment that it is hard to keep from crying.

God Bless America.

A Rant: Stupid Street Names

The Thinker by Rodin

If my blog is a collection of essays then this essay will likely fall into the “trivial” category. I should probably start out 2005 on a light note anyhow. But just for the record this particular topic is something that irks me. I’ll feel better getting it off my chest. Probably no one else in the world cares about this but me. But I would like to propose a grand crusade to replace really stupid and illogical street names. It’s a better use of our tax money than fighting wars in Iraq anyhow.

I don’t know what it is about Fairfax County but we seem to have stupid street names all over the place. It’s hard to know where to start. The one that comes immediately to mind is a road in Reston that connects Reston Parkway with North Shore Drive. What is the name of this street? Temporary Road. What’s that you are thinking? Maybe it’s some sort of gravel road or something? I wish. It’s not a long road, perhaps a quarter mile. But it is hardly temporary and has been resurfaced many times. It’s been around as long as I’ve lived in the area, and that’s at least 20 years. I am sure there is a story behind it but given that there are really no addresses on this road can’t we just rename the road? The obvious choice: Permanent Road. At least this one would be accurate.

A couple blocks away from Temporary Road, bordering the south side of the Reston Town Center is another one of these roads obviously named by a marketer: Bluemont Drive. What the hell is a bluemont? There actually is a town called Bluemont between Reston and Winchester but this road is certainly not the way to get there. I think whatever developer was creating street names was just randomly putting things together. “Hmm, the Blue Ridge Mountains are a hundred miles west of here. But Blue Ridge Mountains Drive is too long. Bluemont Drive it is!” What was he thinking? Didn’t he know I would cringe every time I saw that street sign? Surely I am not alone!

Driving to dinner last night with friends a street name caught my eye off Burke Centre Parkway: Oak Leather Drive. Of course I did a double take, but I don’t know why I was surprised. But Hello: Oak trees do not produce leather, and last time I looked cows weren’t growing oak trees out their tailpipes.

Also in Reston we have parallel roads on both sides of the Dulles Access and Toll Roads: Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Road. Cute: they are sort of opposites of each other. But there is no valley on Sunrise Valley Drive, and no hill of note on Sunset Hills Road. This is false marketing. But they do go east and west so perhaps on a good day you can at least see a sunrise or a sunset on them.

I live on Emerald Chase Drive. It’s a nice neighborhood but it’s another one of these street names that make no sense. Presumably the usage of “chase” here is old English, where a chase meant, “A privately owned, unenclosed game preserve”. Fair enough. I guess there used to be farms where my neighborhood now sits, and perhaps there were foxes living there and occasionally a hunter on horseback would chase them for sport. But I doubt my neighborhood was ever a private game preserve. And there are no emeralds in our soil, nor do the grass or the leaves give off that particular shade of green.

Emerald Chase feeds into West Ox Road. I realize Ox Road is one of the oldest roads in Fairfax County, basically a paved over cattle cart track. But one thing is for sure: there are no oxen in Fairfax County. Oxen are native to Africa and Asia. Hello! Maybe the pioneers mistook bison for oxen. But bison, while native to North American, never lived anywhere near Fairfax County either, except possibly in the Reston Animal Park. Maybe they meant steer? Anyhow, if I had an ox, what part of the ox would be its west side? Are oxen supposed to point in one direction all their lives? And why is there no East Ox Road?

Other misnamed streets in my neighborhood: Rover Glen Court (a dog gets a whole glen?), Lazy Glen Lane (how is that possible?), Ruby Lace Court (sorry, you can’t make lace out of rubies) and Ladybank Lane. Also in Reston: North Shore Drive (which comes no closer than 1000 feet to Lake Anne, which is shoreless), Spyglass Cove and Yellowwood Court (show me some yellow trees please).

I am sure Fairfax County must have a process for approving street names. Presumably they must all be unique, but there should be some sanity check on the process. To start out with, how about calling the same road the same name instead of changing its name every couple miles? Consider Centreville Road which if you follow it south becomes Walney Road, then Westfields Boulevard, then Popular Tree Road, then Stone Road. And if you follow it north it turns into Elden Street, then Baron Cameron Drive and finally Springvale Road. I mean, if you get on it going south guess where it goes: straight to Centreville! Why not call the whole thing Centreville Road? But Centreville Road is hardly unique. There is also Route 123, which has names from Dolley Madison Boulevard, to Chain Bridge Road, to Maple Avenue, to Chain Bridge Road again to — you guessed it — Ox Road! Because you see Ox Road and West Ox Road aren’t actually allowed to connect anywhere.

And what about towns and cities? Do they have to suffer too? Some of them should be shot and put out of their misery. Here in the DC area we have some outstanding badly named places. A couple make me cringe whenever I hear them. Dumfries, Virginia comes to mind. Can you imagine anyone boasting, “I’m from Dumfries!” Across the Potomac we have Beltsville, Maryland. Perhaps as a result neither are places where you would want to live.

I understand it is hard to come up with good street names. “Oak Leather Drive” may make me cringe but is perhaps more marketable than “Cow Dropping Court”, which might be more descriptive of its predevelopment status. All the good variants of upscale trees, minerals, flowers and animals have been taken. Desperate real estate developers have to start randomly throwing classy sounding names together and hope for the best. I’m just glad that Oak Leather Drive is near Burke, and not in Dumfries.

What Level of Hell will you go to?

The Thinker by Rodin

Well, here is my score. I am proud to note that I qualify for multiple levels of hell.

The Dante’s Inferno Test has banished you to the Second Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Level Score
Purgatory (Repenting Believers) Very Low
Level 1 – Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers) Moderate
Level 2 (Lustful) Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous) High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious) Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy) Low
Level 6 – The City of Dis (Heretics) Low
Level 7 (Violent) High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers) High
Level 9 – Cocytus (Treacherous) Moderate

Take the Dante’s Divine Comedy Inferno Test