Inauguration Day

01/20/2009, 11:30 am -- by | 3 Comments

Sixteen years ago today, I was sitting at a lab bench, half-listening to a chemistry lecture as I watched the clock. At the stroke of noon, I dramatically lowered my head to my desk in a gesture of resignation. For the first time in my brief life, we had a Democratic president — and while a few of my more liberal friends tittered at my open, campy despair, there was a part of me that truly mourned.

Now, for only the second time in my less-brief life, another Democrat will be sworn in, the first winner I have ever voted against. His supporters are infinitely more optimistic than Clinton’s ever were. They have written some of the worst poetry in human history to honor the historic inauguration. They have lined up for miles around to catch a glimpse, as the train of Obama’s robe fills the temple. They make me want to mute CNN.

It seems that some of my friends are as shaken as I was at 11, worrying about the survival of the republic, making plans to move out West in a pre-emptive attempt to protect themselves from their new government. But as I watch the scene on the Mall and think about the four years to come, I don’t feel the way I did in 1992. I did not vote for this man, and I worry about the effect of some of his policies — but with the benefit of perspective, I remain supremely confident in the future of our country.

I am happy that Obama’s election has made the poor and the outcast feel welcome and included. I am pleased that our nation has, at least in some small way, overcome the terrible stain of its institutional racism. I am eager to watch President Bush’s reputation rise over the rest of my life. And frankly, I am thrilled to have the chance to watch my ideological opponents be disappointed by one of their own for a while. You know I feel more at home with low expectations anyway.

On my way to work today, I took a step off the sidewalk and felt my right foot slide on some hidden ice. Instantly, my left arm flew into the air to maintain my equilibrium; I didn’t have to think about it. It just happened. And I kept moving forward.

One Hundred Words (39)

01/16/2009, 12:00 am -- by | 2 Comments

My parents’ bathroom, where I’ve been bathing since the early ’80s, has a new light bulb. It’s one of those fancy numbers that doesn’t turn on all at once, to save the polar bears or somesuch.

Flip the switch, and suddenly I’m in a groggy, dusky shadowland, belonging neither to light nor dark. Sometimes I drop my toothbrush. Eventually the bulb warms, and slowly its light grows brighter and brighter, harsher and harsher, until everything around is too garishly revealed — like a game of Wheel of Fortune, with every puzzle ripped from your diary.

I’m learning to brush in the dark.

–sm

What DID It Take in the ’90s to Burn the Charts?

01/15/2009, 11:39 pm -- by | No Comments

If only Hammer had known…

1990 — Nepotism

1991 — Exaggerated, Schmaltzy Boasts
“There’s no love, like your love. And no other could give more love.”
It takes a special kind of man to rhyme “love” with “love” — then immediately do it again.

1992 — Ripping Off The Temptations
“Girl, I know you really love me. You just don’t realize. You’ve never been there before.”
Also, you dig that I look like Urkel in these enormous glasses.

1993 — Ripping Off Dolly Parton

1994 — A Deal With the Swedish Devil

1995 — Growing Up in Compton

1996 — Rump-Shaking Rhythm
“Heyyyyy, Macarena! Aiyee!”
There were people who needed a computerized lesson to learn this dance?!

1997 — Shameless Exploitation of Tragedy

1998 — Filthy Grinding
“Baby, us dancing so close — ain’t a good idea.”
Singing about it? Also not such a good idea. The musical equivalent of a trenchcoat flasher.

1999 — A Truly Stunning Amount of Botox

Source: The Billboard Hot 100

The $2.99 Gas Guarantee

01/15/2009, 1:02 am -- by | No Comments

Not everyone is entirely thrilled about today’s lower gas prices, I bet. Watching a taped episode of Lost tonight, I saw a long-forgotten commercial for Chrysler’s summer ’08 gimmick, the $2.99 gas guarantee. Remember? They promised to subsidize gas purchases for those who bought their new cars, so that the buyers would never have to pay more than $2.99 per gallon.

Back then, when the average price for gas was over $4 per gallon, this probably seemed like a great idea. But that didn’t last long — soon the price of gas began its freefall. And these days, those people probably feel a little cheated. After all, they gave up as much as $2,000 in incentives in exchange for three years of three-dollar
gas
, only to see the whole world get it twice as cheap by November. Now some part of them has to be secretly rooting for a burst pipeline, a natural disaster, trouble in the Middle East — anything to get them back on the right side of this deal!

Three Links (Vol. 17)

01/14/2009, 12:42 pm -- by | No Comments

— Have you ever noticed that Andy Rooney turned 90 today? A comedian invented the Andy Rooney Game, where his commentaries are edited down to their barest essentials — the first and last sentences. Brilliant!

— This is a little old, but I just saw it: an etymological map of the world that uses the modern English translation of every place name. You can see a slice of America here — or as the map puts it, the United States of the Home Ruler, home of the proud state of New Wild Boar.

— Both presidential candidates loved the scapegoat idea of closing Guantanamo, but they never said much about what we’d do with all those nasty terrorist suspects we’ve been holding there. No surprise, though, that the alternative is moving them onto US soil, filling up our military bases and granting them constitutional rights. Great idea.

Best of Steve — Human Nature

01/9/2009, 12:00 am -- by | No Comments

Originally printed January 10, 2008.

I like a lot more people than I trust.

Part of this is because I know myself. I’m aware of what I think about and what I have thought about. I remember the things that I have done, wanted to do, could be capable of doing.

Much of it is because I know other people, generally. How they lie. Why they lie. What motivates them. People, in the flesh, in the mind, are not really very different from one another; it’s just a matter of which flaws they possess. One woman can handle huge sums of money faithfully, yet fly into a violent rage when angry at her children. One man might remain untempted to stray from his wife, but struggle with the desire for mind-altering substances.

I get paid to read about people now, sometimes, and the terrible things they have done, to help determine whether their punishment was fair. It would be nice to imagine, as Solzhenitsyn wished, that the solution to evil is simply finding all the bad people and destroying them. Unfortunately, that won’t work — or better put, it works only if done most thoroughly. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

And so I find it can be true that a man guilty of heinous crimes against some children can nonetheless be beloved by others, can be hailed, perhaps rightfully, as a pillar of his church and community. It seems incongruent, it seems wrong. How can a person do both? How can, for instance, a successful and married evangelical pastor purchase (at least) methamphetamine and, in all likelihood, carry on a homosexual affair?

Life is easier and less threatening for us if we can divide people into well-defined, recognizable groups — the inhuman monsters who rape and murder, the unwashed dissolute who “live in sin,” and then the nice people, whether Christians or not, who pretty much get along with everyone and try to do their best.

But by pretending that what drives the ‘worst’ among us is somehow different from the evil that still exists in our own heart, we set ourselves up for a grand disappointment — by ourselves, and by our heroes. And when this self-deception leads us to marginalize our own sinfulness (after all, we’re not beating children or taking meth, right?), we skip happily down the path of slow and steady compromise, the broad way that leads to destruction, an evil anesthesia that scars the heart and leaves us less and less convicted with every sin we rationalize.

Chick Tracts: Something For Everyone!

01/8/2009, 9:00 am -- by | No Comments

What were these guys hiding?




 
If you picked any of these answers you’re a winner!! Chick believes them all!

Yes or no, turkey?!

©1984-2008 Chick Publications, Inc. Reprinted without permission as fair use (parody).

A New Year, A New Chick Tract

01/5/2009, 12:40 am -- by | No Comments

 

©1984-2008 Chick Publications, Inc. Reprinted without permission as fair use (parody).

What are these guys hiding?
View Results

The Hum of its Parts

01/5/2009, 12:15 am -- by | 1 Comment

The frighteningly homogenized specter that is American popular music is laid bare in this video, an astounding and technically brilliant mashup of 2008’s top 25 singles, created by the aptly dubbed DJ Earworm.

Over the orchestral fullness of backing track “Viva La Vida,” the piece holds up musically — in truth, vastly outshining most of its ingredients. But the true measure of its genius comes not from the seamless integration of the songs, but from their respective spliced videos, which serve as a virtual laboratory report on our cultural fixations.

Row after row of gyrating, underclothed women, blurring what remains of the line between empowerment and objectification. Preening, posing men in dollar store sunglasses, their caps perfectly askew. Money. Diamonds. Exclusive nightclubs. If it weren’t for Sara Bareilles’ nose and Coldplay constantly banging on stuff, I’m not sure I’d be able to tell anyone apart.

In the end, the concept is so successful because, with rare exception, these already ARE one song, certainly one video. By editing away much of what identified the individual artists, DJ Earworm not only created a catchy mix of radio-ready hooks; he also exposed the underlying superficiality of popular music and American culture, in a Trojan horse of a tune that satirizes as it showcases. And the fact that most viewers won’t even give it a second thought simply reinforces the truth of the message.

Is it a news flash that popular culture is shallow, base, repetitive, and perverse? No. But any reminder is a good one. Don’t tell me you’re sorry, music industry — ’cause you’re not.

The Hum of its Parts (With Video)

01/5/2009, 12:00 am -- by | No Comments

The frighteningly homogenized specter that is American popular music is laid bare in this video, an astounding and technically brilliant mashup of 2008’s top 25 singles, created by the aptly dubbed DJ Earworm.

Over the orchestral fullness of backing track “Viva La Vida,” the piece holds up musically — in truth, vastly outshining most of its ingredients. But the true measure of its genius comes not from the seamless integration of the songs, but from their respective spliced videos, which serve as a virtual laboratory report on our cultural fixations.

Row after row of gyrating, underclothed women, blurring what remains of the line between empowerment and objectification. Preening, posing men in dollar store sunglasses, their caps perfectly askew. Money. Diamonds. Exclusive nightclubs. If it weren’t for Sara Bareilles’ nose and Coldplay constantly banging on stuff, I’m not sure I’d be able to tell anyone apart.

In the end, the concept is so successful because, with rare exception, these already ARE one song, certainly one video. By editing away much of what identified the individual artists, DJ Earworm not only created a catchy mix of radio-ready hooks; he also exposed the underlying superficiality of popular music and American culture, in a Trojan horse of a tune that satirizes as it showcases. And the fact that most viewers won’t even give it a second thought simply reinforces the truth of the message.

Is it a news flash that popular culture is shallow, base, repetitive, and perverse? No. But any reminder is a good one. Don’t tell me you’re sorry, music industry — ’cause you’re not.

Pirate Ships Would Lower Their Flags

12/28/2008, 8:07 pm -- by | No Comments

I don’t have any strong feelings about this story, where an RNC chairman candidate distributed a CD with a potentially offensive song about the president-elect, a satirized version of Puff the Magic Dragon. I’ve heard the song; it’s not particularly funny, and since it requires a rather labored explanation of how it’s not racially offensive, it’s not a good idea to send it around when you’re seeking any national office. Yawn. Hardly worth a click.

By far the most interesting thing in the article was at the bottom, a comment by Puff‘s original author, Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul & Mary): “It is almost unimaginable to me [that Saltsman] would seriously be considered for the top post of the Republican National Committee. Puff, himself, if asked, would certainly agree.”

Puff would certainly agree? If asked?? What are we waiting for? Somebody grab a handful of strings and sealing wax and go get a pull quote from the dragon!

Three Links (Vol. 16)

12/22/2008, 12:03 pm -- by | 2 Comments

Obviously these’ll be a light next few weeks…

— Here’s a weird news quiz, recapping some of the odder stories from 2008. I got 19 out of 23 right, which scares me. I guessed on a bunch, honest!

— I love this Joseph Bottum piece from First Things, reprinted from Christmas 2006, about (to varying degrees) guilt, cell phones, winter, Manhattan, and the human condition. “What would genuine innocence look like if it ever came into the world? I know the answer my faith calls me to believe: like a child born in a cattle shed. But to understand why that is an answer, to see it clearly, we are also compelled to know our guilt for the world, to feel it all the way to the bottom.”

— And just in time for the procrastinating Christmas shopper: ornate, hand-crafted, floral URINALS??

Quote of the Day, 12/22/08

12/22/2008, 7:00 am -- by | No Comments

“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.” — S. Temple

A List of Lists

12/18/2008, 11:05 am -- by | No Comments

It’s that time for end-of-the-year lists! But I’m not interested in the 200,000 identical lists of albums (“lol chineese democracy rocks dude, axls still got it”), movies, and “hunks.” It’s the more unique lists that I look for.

For example, National Geographic has released their top ten photos of 2008. My favorite was only #2.

If it’s quantity you crave, Time has gone overboard with the thing with the “Top 10 Everything.” I’m not going to click all those links to test that claim, but it certainly appears to be quite thorough.

If you like ads, you’ll probably enjoy the top 10 viral advertisements and worst ads of the year.

Assuming you’re really bored and really interested in projectors, there’s even a top 10 projectors of the year! What’s that? A native XGA resolution, 2500 ANSI lumens, and an 1800:1 contrast ratio? Be still, my heart!

Oh, and how could we forget the top cricketers of the year, a pantheon which includes the delightfully named Michael Hussey? “Hussey combines his easiness on the eye with a basic and compact technique, something which makes his wicket particularly difficult to claim.”

You can’t make that stuff up.

One Hundred Words (38)

12/16/2008, 1:53 am -- by | 2 Comments

Every season has its own walk.

Spring is life, a barefoot romp, all pirouettes and ronds de jambe through chartreuse grass and soft, fresh mud.

Summer treads too lightly — sandals along a beach, tracks soon wiped clean by the trailing tide. Silent, calm, and consistent.

Autumn clomps: through leaves and sticks in hiking boots, loose gravel scattering, a hearty give-and-take with the earth.

But winter. Winter is a shuffling stagger, bent into a harsh gale, clinging to equilibrium. A prisoner’s gait, condemned, pained, proud. Craving contact. Each step could start the slip. Every stride presages the fall.

–sm

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