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 Year in Review (Part Four)

12/29/2008, 11:00 am -- by | No Comments

Read part one, part two, and part three!

October brought the worst stock market crash since the Great Depression, as the Dow plummeted 1,874 points while the S&P 500 fell 20%, plunging world markets into turmoil. The only solace I had during this dark time were the cherished resurfacing memories of the August wedding of my favorite niece (Rose) and her wonderful husband (MCB). This ceremony, performed in the same church where my wife and I were married 27 years before, was so touching that it took me a full two months to overcome the emotions and begin writing about it.

Bweinh! was caught up in the financial turmoil when it was revealed that the corporate retirement account was invested in a subprime baseball card collection belonging to Djere, which was mistakenly thrown out by his mother back in April. Djere was also forced to admit he was operating a “Fonzi Scheme,” which involved dressing up like the Happy Days character and hoodwinking people into making contributions to a nonexistent charity, the Free and Genial Society of Walrus Keepers.

In entertainment news, the A-Rod/Madonna story took a tragic turn when Madonna left her husband for her new beau, only to learn what Yankee fans already knew: A-Rod always disappears at the beginning of October. In sports, Joe Torre took the Dodgers to the NLCS, while the Yankees missed the playoffs. The Syracuse football team started 1-6, with the win coming against the Radcliffe School for the Blind, whose mascot, a middle-aged man in a bat costume, still managed to rack up 108 yards on 7 carries, with 2 touchdowns.

In politics, the nation celebrated as Barack Obama won the presidency, inspiring millions of other Americans born with Silly Ear Syndrome with hope that they too coiuld aspire to the nation\’s highest office. Meanwhile, the Big Three automakers made an urgent appeal to Congress for bailout money, but were rebuked for flying to the meeting in three corporate jets. The legislators advised them to take taxis home and leave the corporate jets in Washington, so they can be used to fly congressmen to a fact-finding mission at a resort in Fiji.

On a positive note, gasoline prices began dropping around the nation, eventually bottoming out here at about $1.399 per gallon. This was especially helpful to all those people who lost their jobs when the stinking oil companies raised gas prices to outrageous price-gouging levels for the second straight year, almost singlehandedly destroying the US (and eventually the world’s) economy, because now they were all driving around, looking for new jobs that don’t exist.

The only personal note worth mentioning from November was our disastrous decision to ruin yet another holiday break by gutting our master bathroom, in a “quick remodeling job” that dragged into 2009.

Syracuse started 8-0 in basketball, with upset wins against Florida and defending national champion Kansas to win the CBE Classic — and after a win against Virginia, they could boast wins over teams from the ACC, Big 12, and SEC. Even better, football coach Greg Robinson was finally fired after winning a total of 3 Big East games in 4 seasons.

In the economic world, the bad news continued to fall like a winter storm as Santa Claus announced that he was laying off 14,000 elves — 26% of his total work force — and selling off the naming rights to Christmas in a sealed bid. When the process was completed, Christmas 2008 was officially renamed the Poulin Weed Eater Christmas, and “I\’m Dreaming of a White Poulin Weed Eater Christmas” became the theme song for the ad campaign rolling out the change.

In national politics, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was suspected of wrongdoing when his PayPal account was linked to a vacant Senate seat being offered at auction on eBay. He later elicited some sympathy when he revealed his only motivation was to raise enough money for a hair transplant. In international politics, the Somali Pirate crisis — which began in August, although no pirate commented on the lack of coverage here on Bweinh! — took a turn for the worst when it was confirmed that their numbers were bolstered by unemployed elves, vowing to “paint the skies red with the blood of ”˜The Great Santa,\’” should he attempt to deliver toys in the Middle East.

In sports, SU named a new football coach, and the basketball squad lost its first game of the year on a 60-foot buzzer-beating jumper. After a big win against Memphis on the road, they achieved a promising 12-1 start — but then junior guard Eric Devendorf was suspended for apparently slapping a female student on campus during a late-night argument. “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

In personal news, Bweinh! finally received some good news — included in the government bailout plan, the site obtained some Borders gift cards and merchandise, which were liberally distributed among the remaining employees at a scaled-down Christmas party at Trump Tower in NYC. Due to Congressional restrictions, we were not allowed to use the corporate jet to ferry Bweinh!tributors to the party, but a deal was worked out with Poulin to reimburse our airfare as long as we agreed to make the appropriate changes to any greetings extended during the holiday season.

So in that case, may I be the first to say: “Merry Poulin Weed Eater Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Christmas Auld Lang Syne

12/23/2008, 4:00 pm -- by | 1 Comment

The last in the series from Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas.

From More Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins:

Auld Lang Syne is one of the most familiar songs in the world. But this traditional New Year\’s Eve anthem wasn\’t even considered a holiday song until Dec 31, 1929. That night Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians played it at a huge celebration at NYC\’s Waldorf Astoria, complete with a radio link that beamed them across the nation. Just before ringing out the old year, he picked up his baton and launched into this number, and suddenly millions of Americans had the mistaken impression that Scottish poet Robert Burns had penned it just to welcome in the New Year.

It was probably chosen as the lead-up to the countdown because of the nation\’s dark mood. The stock market had crashed and the economy was in a shambles. Fortunes had been lost, people were out of work, and no one seemed able to stop the country\’s descent into a great depression. For Lombardo, a song that embraced the value and importance of friendships over worldly possessions seemed a perfect way to look back and find good things in a very bad year, while looking forward to the new decade that offered more hope. Sounds too familiar, doesn\’t it?

Elements of the original poem can be traced back to the 1500s, and a 1694 publication called Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence Display\’d, which quoted a sermon. In this Sunday morning homily, God said: “Jonah, now billy Jonah, wilt thou go to Nineveh, for Auld lang syne (old kindness).” Its subsequent reworking kept it mostly in the pubs for the next few hundred years, but about 30 years after Lombardo’s performance, Frank Military took another look at the song and took it in another direction — something that expressed the birth of Christ as a “yuletide valentine.” He built on the theme of ultimate love and told a story not just of trees and toys, but of answered prayers. In this version, cheer was not found in a drink, but in the spirit of those who knew the real meaning of the holiday.

More than 200 years ago, Robert Burns reworked an old Scottish poem about love and friendship into a song that evoked a longing for days gone by. A century and a half later, Guy Lombardo took that song and through its lucky placement on a set list, made it into a New Year\’s Eve tradition. But it would be Frank Military who would rework the lyrics again, shaping them back into a love song. Not earthly love this time, but rather a spiritual love that started before time began, was realized in a manger, and will live on forever.

When mistletoe and tinsel glow
Paint a yuletide valentine
Back home I go to those I know
For a Christmas auld lang syne

And as we gather ’round the tree
Our voices all combine
In sweet accord to thank our Lord
For a Christmas auld lang syne

When sleigh bells ring and choirs sing
And the children’s faces shine
With each new toy we share their joy
With a Christmas auld lang syne

We sing His praise this day of days
And pray next year this time
We’ll all be near to share the cheer
Of a Christmas auld lang syne

In sweet accord to thank our Lord
For a Christmas auld lang syne

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??

The Year in Review (Part Three)

12/19/2008, 10:00 am -- by | 6 Comments

Read part one and part two!

In politics, the fireworks got started when Jesse Jackson was caught articulating his desire to emasculate Barack Obama for “speaking down to black people,” after Obama espoused personal responsibility in raising children. Perhaps Rev. Jackson’s desire for sterilization was just misplaced?

With the Democratic primary finally resolved, Obama began his heads-up match with John McCain by touring Europe, speaking to 200,000+ in Germany and wowing the various characters inhabiting the nation of France. Meanwhile, John McCain responded with lunch at a German restaurant in Berlin, Pennsylvania. A good indicator of things to come.

In entertainment news, the summer movie hits were Wall-E, a dark cartoon exploring the forbidden world of robot love, and the latest Batman movie (The Dark Knight), hyped to an epic level of anticipation after the accidental death of star Heath Ledger from a drug overdose. In the wrold of celebrities, baseball star Alex Rodriguez split with his wife after being romantically linked to himself — as well as rapidly fading pop diva Madonna — and star blogger Tom was involved in a late-night scuffle at an Arby\’s in Ithaca, New York, the first of many troubles during his sophomore season with Bweinh!

In personal news, Bweinh! CEO Steve Maxon and his entourage visited the Opelika office, as part of his whirlwind tour of all his U.S. facilities. Our grandkids came for two weeks and our kids all visited for the 4th — giving us a record 14 visitors in the month of July. Good times.

In sports news, Brett Favre un-retired again, and signed a sponsorship deal to promote The Mummy III. In baseball, Tampa Bay\’s Evan Longoria became the first rookie to be named All-Star MVP while starring in a TV series (Desperate Housewives) — and the WNBA has its first brawl, when Lisa Leslie of the L.A. Sparks shows up wearing the same earrings as an opposing player.

As the dog days of August rolled in, the Republican party saw its first glimmer of hope in a dismal presidential race when Joe Biden was announced as Obama\’s running mate. He raised fresh questions about plagiarism when he began his nomination acceptance speech: “I am honored that Senator Kerry would choose me to be his running mate.”

In a further display of Russia\’s new friendliness, they invaded Georgia. Prime Minister Putin appeared at a press conference with President Dmitry “Winky” Medvedev, declaring that the rapid move to democracy has now progressed beyond the Russian border. In other news, John Edwards confessed to an affair, giving me yet another reason to dislike a man I never liked anyway.

At the movies, we watched The Mummy III and Indiana Jones IV on the same day — I am still confused about which special effects, lame dialogue, and ridiculous plot twists go with which one. The prospect that I may have watched National Treasure III just adds to the confusion. These types of movies are attractive for only one reason: as an excuse to consume an entire tub of popcorn and a barrel of Coke for the low, low price of $55.

Hurricane season got off to a roaring start in Alabama, as our neighbors boarded up their windows and stocked up on emergency supplies three times in a month — once for Eduardo, once for Faye, and once when they heard Russia had invaded Georgia.

In sports, Michael Phelps won a record eight gold medals in Olympic competition, the Yankees faded from contention, and three Syracuse Orangemen finally get the team in the news — for sexual assault charges.

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike wrought devastation on the Southeast and Gulf Coast, but paled in comparison to Hurricane Sarah from Alaska, who stormed onto the national scene: annihilating the Democratic convention, reviving the floundering McCain campaign, and single-handedly turning around the dying SNL franchise.

A financial meltdown began, as Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Lehmann Bros., AIG, and Washington Mutual Bank all began to fail, while economists continued to debate whether we were in a recession. In a sign of the times, Canadian currency actually surpassed the U,S. dollar in value for the first time, and Americans are caught sneaking over the border into Mexico.

In entertainment news, Bweinh! blogger Tom injured his finger and became addicted to painkillers; he was caught at 2 AM in a bad section of Rochester trying to buy prescription-strength ibuprofen from an undercover DEA agent. The Syracuse football team started its season 0-2, including a home loss to the mighty Akron Zips. Clearly it\’s going to be a long season.

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.

It Wasn’t His Child

12/17/2008, 2:30 pm -- by | No Comments

The next in the series from Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas.

In 1987, Skip Ewing was living in Nashville, trying to make a name for himself, when he found himself home for Christmas, despondent over his imperfect family situation. He thought about the first Christmas family, and specifically Joseph\’s role, and realized that it hadn’t been the perfect family situation either.

Joseph had to watch Jesus’ birth and raise Him as his own son, even though He wasn’t. In a way, this was even more significant than if Jesus had been Joseph’s own child. Joseph was a role model for Jesus — love and acceptance flowed to Him from this man. “Even though Jesus was as spiritual as He was, He still must have grown and been given such wonderful gifts from both of his earthly parents.”

The song Ewing wrote as a result became one of only two legitimate country Christmas classics (the other is Rudolph). And he used an unresolved chord at the end of the song to signify that this story goes on, a never-ending pursuit for all of us. “It is what Jesus brought to earth, what God revealed in Him, and what Joseph stood for as both a husband and a father.”

Give a listen to this song. Don\’t get caught up in thoughts about how “perfect” your family should be this Christmas. Look to God for your contentment and satisfaction; maybe you\’ll write the next classic.

He was her man and she was his wife
And late one winter night
He knelt by her as she gave birth
But it wasn’t his child, it wasn’t his child

Yet still he took Him as his own
And as he watched Him grow
It brought him joy, he loved that boy
But it wasn’t his child, it wasn’t his child

And like a father, he was strong and kind and good
And I believe he did his best
It wasn’t easy for him, but he did all he could
His son was different from the rest
It wasn’t his child, it wasn’t his child

And when the boy became a man
He took his father’s hand
And soon the world would all know why
It wasn’t his child, it wasn’t his child

And like His father, He was strong and kind and good
And I believe He did His best
It wasn’t easy for Him, but He did all He could
He grew up with His hands in wood
And He died with His hands in wood
He was God’s child, He was God’s child

He was her man, she was his wife
And late one winter night
He knelt by her as she gave birth
But it wasn’t his child; it was God’s child


The Year in Review (Part Two)

12/12/2008, 12:00 pm -- by | 2 Comments

Read part one here!

In politics, one of the largest April Fool’s Day hoaxes in history is pulled off, when an American negotiator suggests beginning a trial placement of Patriot missiles in Poland, then ships a half-dozen missiles with instructions to place them in a corner of each round silo. Chaos ensues as teams work around the clock for several days to accomplish the impossible. President Bush later apologizes, admitting privately that he completely understood the confusion.

In other news, the international space station was rocked by a gust of wind from Earth after Britney Spears’ 16-year-old sister Jamie Lynn is found to be pregnant, and the entire population of the United States screams, “SHE HAS A SISTER?!?!?”

In more entertainment news, world-renowned artist Robert Indiana, famous for his LOVE sculpture that first appeared in 1966, returned to the public eye. His original sculpture — described at the time as groundbreaking — consisted of the letter L, followed by an O canted to the right, standing over a VE. In April 2008 he followed up that success with a HOPE sculpture, consisting of an H, followed by an O canted to the right, standing over the letters PE.

It only took him 22 years to come up with this brilliant follow-up. I hope he had a part-time job or something. Meanwhile, “Hannah Montana” caused a stir when she appeared in a photo shoot, wearing only a blanket, canted to the right, standing over nothing at all.

In the world of sports, the NHL playoffs got underway; the Philadelphia Flyers beat Washington in the first round on the strength of Danny Brière’s offense and the stellar goaltending of Marty Biron. Go Flyers!

The Presidential primaries continued to drag on, and Barack Obama\’s campaign took another hit when his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, released a new book: The Racially Tinged Rantings of Jabez. Obama vowed to stick by him. Only a few days later, however, Pastor Wright referred to Obama as a “politician” in a TV interview, causing Obama to denounce him and completely disassociate himself from the church. Hillary Clinton won Pennsylvania and lost North Carolina, but stayed in the race, claiming that she could “galvanize the white vote.”

In personal news, my family attends our nephew’s wedding in New York in a beautiful stone church built in the 1800s, with a reception at the historic Carriage House restaurant. It is a beautiful ceremony with the groom and all his groomsmen wearing tuxedos and flip-flops. For me, the highpoint was still when several of us discovered the letters on the sign outside the reception hall could be rearranged to read “Pirate Lion & Oxen Camp.” And they were.

In sports it was disclosed that Roger Clemens apparently carried on a decade-long affair with country singer Mindy McCready, starting when she was still in her teens. I detest this guy more and more every time I hear his name. Meanwhile, my beloved Flyers closed out their second-round series against the Montreal Canadiens on the strength of eight goals from forward R.J. Umberger. Every long-time fan knows what this means: Umberger will be the first player traded in the offseason.

Meanwhile, in the NBA, Carmelo Anthony was arrested for DUI and the Nuggets flamed out in their series against the Los Angeles Lakers. In baseball, the Yankees’ first season in a dozen years without Joe Torre at the helm began with a slump, while Torre’s new team, the Dodgers, stood five games over .500.

Summer 2008 began with a nationwide scare reminiscent of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, as people all over the country were sickened by salmonella poisoning purported to be from fast-food tomatoes. The outbreak was later traced to Mexican jalapeno peppers, but somehow Attack of the Killer Jalapenos! doesn\’t roll off the tongue as well, and never got the press coverage it rightly deserved.

Other than that, it was business as usual across the nation; gasoline climbed to over $4 per gallon, the big auto companies suffered devastating losses, the West Coast raged with wildfires, and the Midwest dealt with massive flooding again — all of which, of course, was President Bush\’s fault. Meanwhile, Obama captured enough delegates to claim victory in the Democratic primary, but Hilary Clinton refused to concede until a deal was worked out to include delegates from Michigan and Florida. Eventually, she still lost and had to go home — to Bill Clinton.

In entertainment news, the nation mourned the passing of Tim Russert and George Carlin. Carlin\’s death reminded me of one of his early routines, where he talked about what a great thing the two-minute warning is in football. He went on to say how nice it would be if life worked that way. In his fantasy, an angel would come down just before you die, blow a whistle, and give you two minutes to get everything right. I guess he knows now that it doesn\’t work that way. In sports, the Flyers were eliminated in the conference finals by Pittsburgh, who then lost to Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals. The Boston Celtics won the NBA Championship.

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies — Four Christmases

12/11/2008, 2:00 pm -- by | 1 Comment

I went to the movies with my girls last week over Thanksgiving break, and we saw Four Christmases, the latest (with Fred Claus) in the ongoing series of Vince Vaughn holiday movies. Maybe he\’s trying to corner Christmas the way Will Smith has hijacked the Fourth of July.

Anyway, I was hoping to like it — really, I was — but there was just something off. I sensed no onscreen chemistry between the two stars; as a matter of fact, they did not appear to fit together at all. Maybe it\’s that I just don\’t care for Vaughn, but imagine Bob Hope and Lucille Ball in It\’s a Wonderful Life, and you might get a sense of how uncomfortable I felt.

The plot was sadly relevant and timely, I suppose. I like to enjoy holiday movies, though; having to watch the protagonists visit four sets of parents, the aftermath of two divorces and remarriages, is not exactly something to warm the heart. And then! To have them ALL be completely dysfunctional, even dangerous, was just too much to swallow.

And the story? Predictable and boring. Slapstick has never appealed to me; I prefer depth and an actual storyline for my characters to explore. These two looked like they were just counting down the minutes until they could get to the end of the movie and go home. Funny, I know exactly how they felt…

It gets a 3 out of 7 on the Bweinh! scale: a hearty Eh!

Here Comes Santa Claus

12/10/2008, 9:30 am -- by | No Comments

For those of you fed up with Christmas commercialism, I\’d like to take you back to a simpler time, a nicer time — when songwriters knew how to keep things in perspective.

I recently ordered a book on the stories behind the songs of Christmas. While I was perusing the titles, I was shocked by some of them. But after all, the cover did promise I\’d discover a “deeper appreciation for these melodic messages of peace, hope and joy that celebrate THE BIRTH OF JESUS.”

And so I present Here Comes Santa Claus (w/m Autry/Haldeman):

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,
Riding down Santa Claus Lane.
He doesn’t care if you’re a rich or poor boy,
He loves you just the same.
Santa knows that we’re God’s children,
That makes everything right.
Fill your hearts with Christmas cheer,
’cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

Well, here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,
Riding down Santa Claus Lane.
He’ll come around when the chimes ring out,
It’s Christmas morn again.
Peace on earth will come to all
If we just follow the light
Lets give thanks to the Lord above,
’cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

The Year In Review

12/5/2008, 4:00 pm -- by | No Comments

Note: Dave Barry again refused to write a year in review article for us, so I am once again filling in.

The new year opened with a bang politically, as Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee opened their presidential primary campaigns with big wins in Iowa. Hillary Clinton climbed back into the race with a win in New Hampshire, based mainly on the strength of a tearful moment captured on camera and televised nationwide. Terrell Owens teared up after the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff loss and quickly became the favorite in the upcoming South Carolina primary. In international politics, Iran attempted to attack the US Navy in the Persian Gulf with five rowboats, providing an apt analogy for Ron Paul\’s assault on the Republican front-runners.

In entertainment news, Britney Spears dominated the headlines by suffering a breakdown, losing her children, and facing criticism from Dr. Phil, who told the nation, “She needs help.” She attempted a comeback in a much-panned live appearance at the Grammys. Not only was she fiercely criticized for her physical appearance, but she was further humiliated when a Sea World spokesman noted that much of her routine was eerily similar to their killer whale show. “Other than eating live fish and splashing the crowd, everything she did can be seen every day at the 10:20, 2:20, or 4:20 shows.”

In sports, the unsinkable Jose Canseco floated to the surface again with new charges against Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, and Sen. Henry Waxman of California. The confusing charges involved an alleged Clemens appearance at a Canseco cookout, and a confirmed Clemens appearance at a congressional hearing — where he brought in his nanny, who later confirmed, under oath, that Waxman, chairman of the hearing, was in fact the ugliest man she had ever seen.

In politics, the primary season was in full swing, and John McCain solidified his place at the head of the Republican pack, while Mitt Romney ducked out to allow the administration to focus on the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. Huckabee vowed to stay in until the bitter end, running on a shoestring budget. Although the decision was initially praised, his campaign soon suffered bad press when, at a rally in Texas, a man holding a “We Need Change” sign turned out to be his budget director, panhandling for the campaign.

In entertainment news, the writers’ strike finally came to an end, and no one noticed the difference.

In sports news, baseball’s spring training began, with 63-year-old Roger Clemens bench-pressing a Greyhound bus while denying that he ever took any performance-enhancing substances. In football, Eli Manning led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl win, marking the first time in league history that back-to-back Super Bowls were won by goofy-looking guys with big ears.

In the world of politics, Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York was caught by a wiretap (which he approved) ordering and consorting with prostitutes. It is reported that he spent more than $80,000 on the service, suggesting “multiple occurrences.” If not, the sum would certainly explain his trouble balancing the state’s budget. He was immediately replaced by the lieutenant governor, who is legally blind — explaining why he made such a good sidekick for Spitzer in the first place.

In a further sign of Russia\’s rapid democratization, Russia’s Vladimir Putin appeared at a press conference wearing a sock puppet named “Winky,” and nominated him to replace Putin as president. The sock puppet accepted (while Putin drank a glass of water, spilling much of it on his shirt) under one condition: that Putin assume the title of prime minister. Winky was then shifted to Putin\’s right hand, where he quickly signed a bill giving the prime minister all powers formerly assigned to the president.

In election news, Hilary Clinton angered Barack Obama by offering him a part-time job stuffing envelopes for her campaign, though she still trailed him in the delegate count. She quickly changed the offer to the role of vice-president, however, calling it the “dream ticket.” Obama quickly told her to dream on. Meanwhile, Obama\’s campaign took a hit when his pastor released a series of motivational videos, including: “Death to White America,” “The Nation You\’ve Always Hated in Flames in 15 Days,” and “Your Best Revolution Now.”

In sports, the baseball season opened with games between Boston and Oakland in Japan. The series nearly ended in disaster when David Ortiz visited a beach and became the center of Greenpeace protests over whether he should be left alone or returned to sea. In the entertainment world, Al Gore admitted that he was originally cast in the title role for Brokeback Mountain. The deal fell through when he could not lose weight fast enough to meet production schedules, leaving the role of the mountain for America’s sweetheart, William Shatner.

The Second Thanksgiving

11/25/2008, 10:30 am -- by | No Comments

So much has been written about the First Thanksgiving in 1621 that the follow-up celebration in 1622 has been all but forgotten, by historians and citizens alike. At this time of year, I think it would be helpful to look back at that second celebration, to glean what we can from the complex Pilgrim-Indian interplay that helped found this great institution.

Everyone knows that Thanksgiving originated with the feast held in the autumn of 1621 by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag to celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest. It was well-attended by over 90 Wampanoag braves, the great Indian king Massasoit, and his daughter, Princess Pocahontas, who had recently married Cpt. John Smith, precipitating her invitation by Gov. Miles Standish.

The second year was a little different. To begin with, when John Smith informed Pocahontas of the upcoming celebration — and the expected attendance of her relatives — he was rebuffed by her argument that they had “spent every Thanksgiving with his people,” so this year they would spend it with her parents in the Wampanoag encampment. Miles Standish was informed of the change, and after much discussion, he decided that the colonists would make the trek to the Wampanoag Casino Resort Hotel (located near present-day Piscataway, New Jersey) and celebrate by partaking in ancient American rituals including blackjack, roulette and three-card Monte.

Although many colonists were skeptical, they soon took to the ceremonial tents with fervor. Especially intriguing were the “One-Armed Totems,” which allowed a user to deposit a small coin for a chance to receive a small measure of parched corn; the amount varied depending on the alignment of certain mystical figures that spun on three sticks. The bar, the cherry, and the lemon, among other powerful symbols, could produce anywhere from 5 to 500 kernels of corn on a single turn. Many colonists soon found that a simple sack of coins could win them several pockets full of meal. Consider that the “All-You Can-Eat Buffet” was complimentary for anyone who spent the equivalent of five gold sovereigns, and you can see why this should have been the ideal celebration.

But, as everyone knows, the original celebration was three days long, and that’s where the real trouble started. On day two of the second feast, while some of the men were still deeply engaged in ritual wagering, some others had assembled on a green to watch the Redskins play the Pilgrims in a friendly game of touch football (this game, of course, took place before the Pilgrims moved to Dallas and became the Cowboys under Tom Landry). Many female colonists — including Pocahontas — rebelled, announcing that they would not spend the first shopping day of the Christmas season watching football. The women stormed off, in search of a mall rumored to be under development by the Massapequa Indian tribe to the north.

In the fourth quarter, with the Redskins trailing by 2 points, the Pilgrims were expecting an upset. They appeared to hold the home team to a three-and-out with under three minutes remaining, but the Redskins elected to go for it on fourth down. The ensuing play-action pass resulted in an incompletion to the left side, but an Iroquois official threw a late flag and whistled pass interference on the Pilgrims. This put the Indians in field goal range and they nailed a 43-yard kick to win the game.

Needless to say, the colonists were not happy. They had lost their money to the gaming tables, their wives to the mall, and now a shot at the playoffs to what was obviously a “homer job” by a biased official. So that, my friends, is why there was no third Thanksgiving celebration with the Native Americans — and why today we still celebrate separately.

Three Links (Vol. 13)

11/22/2008, 1:30 pm -- by | 1 Comment

Halftime of the Villa/Man U game…

— The thing I’ve noticed about the weird Levi’s commercials, with people backflipping into jeans and filling their pants up with helium, is the lack of a disclaimer at the bottom advising us against “trying this at home.” Does this mean they think these things are perfectly safe, or that they think it’s obvious that the commercials are fake?

This poor guy drove all the way from upstate New York to Montana, worked one 10-hour shift, then got fired. Meanwhile, down in North Carolina, a couple fishermen a mile out to sea used a lasso to land a golden retriever.

— Last story’s a sad one. Six weeks ago, a 22-year-old Army reservist and Jefferson CC student named Jesse Kilgore walked into the woods near his home and shot himself. Now, in an interview with the questionable WorldNetDaily site, his father links his suicide to Richard Dawkins’s atheist snoozer, The God Delusion.

His death is a terrible tragedy no matter what its cause, but if these claims are true — that a book and “science classes” turned this young man’s faith into despair — the real problem is not with literature or science. The problem is not even a college that allegedly “undermin[ed] every moral and spiritual value” he had (which has not been the experience of the many JCC students I know). God created the world that biology explores and studies. When our faith in Him cannot stand up to a full, impartial consideration of reality, when we feel “we must shut up one of God’s books to read the other” (Noll), then it is we who are to blame: not God, and not science.

We cannot simply demonize learning and rely on this sort of mushy, meaningless answer: “I told [Jesse] it was my relationship with God, not my knowledge of Him that brought me back to my faith. No one convinced me with facts . . . it was a matter of the heart.” Heart or no heart, facts exist whether we ignore them or accept them. Part of the reason the university culture is so dismissive of faith is that so many people of faith are reflexively distrustful of education. Where teaching is openly anti-Christian, that’s understandable. But rather than disengaging from society, we’d be a lot better off teaching young Christians how science and philosophy are blessings, not threats.

The Wisdom of Ecclesiastes

11/20/2008, 10:30 am -- by | No Comments

I saw a car yesterday in traffic, a mid-’80s compact model, and it reminded me of something that I hadn\’t thought of in years. Two decades ago, I was working as a salesman — like I am now, only with far less success — and I wandered into a car dealership to make a sales call. It was yet another rejection when I desperately needed a sale.

The salesman noticed me eyeing a brand-new compact car and began giving me his pitch on the way out. He opened the door and made me slide in; I experienced that “new car smell” and took in the spotlessly clean interior. It was mesmerizing, and as far out of reach as the constellations in the sky. I thanked him, turned down a test drive, and slogged through the snow back to my old junker, which I drove off into the gathering gloom of a wintry evening.

I thought about that car forever, struggling to make ends meet raising a family on my income while my wife stayed home to raise our children. I marveled at a world that seemed so far beyond my reach: a world where people could buy a house, not rent; where people bought their children new clothes whenever they needed them; where people could walk into a dealership and buy a new car if the mood struck. All I could see was my poverty, and I was convinced that this other world would be a happy one indeed.

When I saw that same model, dented and rusted, smoking its way through traffic the other day, I was amazed at how small and unspectacular it really was. I\’m 47 now, almost 48. My wife went back to school after the kids were grown, and now she teaches. We certainly aren\’t rich, but we have bought and discarded a half-dozen new vehicles that all put that low-end GM product to shame. The poverty that shamed me and left me feeling so helpless at times is just a distant memory. Like all young couples, we struggled. but God was always faithful to provide what we needed — we never went without.

We’re reading through Ecclesiastes in our Bible study, and someone asked what value the book holds for a Christian. Well, when you understand it was written by a man of unlimited wealth, who sought to test the limits of the happiness it could buy, always coming up empty, then you see the wisdom of Ecclesiastes.

There is no “other world,” where material wealth brings forth a joyous existence of unbounded peace and contentment. Test if you must, but my experience with automobiles shows me that Solomon knew what he was talking about: “Vanity, vanity! All is vanity!”

Four Weeks (Part Ten)

11/18/2008, 1:30 pm -- by | 2 Comments

Read the saga in parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Or read the complete, uninterrupted series here.

Intent and Purpose of the Rules: The Game
Basketball is played by two teams of five players each. The purpose of each team is to throw the ball into its own basket and to prevent the other team from scoring.

By the time I made it to the basketball camp that would serve as the final stop on my four-week sojourn, it was already mid-Thursday. It was the first time in four years or so that I hadn’t been around for the whole week, and I immediately noticed a problem: the college-age coaches were officiating.

I didn’t care that they weren’t very good, or that they were lazy. The problem was that by starting the week responsible for officiating, they had gotten the idea that they knew what they were doing. And what’s more dangerous than people who think they know what they’re doing?

Rule 2, Section 7: Officials’ General Duties
The officials shall conduct the game in accordance with the rules.

High school basketball is like prison. Lots of rules to follow, big guys tend to dominate — and everyone’s innocent. Just ask them.

Officiating is a good job for me. I love justice, I hate mistakes, and I have a thorough confidence in my judgment. Most importantly for my mental health, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t care what you think.

Officials are never popular. When you notice an official, you’re probably disagreeing with him or her. And when you disagree, you’re probably wrong. Not always — I certainly make mistakes — but probably. See, I studied the rules for three months, scored 98 on the test when the average fan would be lucky to break 50, and am never more than a few feet away from the play. I know what I’m talking about, and I don’t want to hear you loudly display your ignorance — especially when I’m volunteering at a church camp.

And so I ate alone.

Rule 4, Section 9, Article 1: Boundary Lines
Boundary lines of the court consist of end lines and sidelines.

Friday night brought more complications. Awakened by a hallway ruckus, I opened the door and leapt out to grab . . . my sister, running in formation through the guys’ dorm at the strict Bible school she hoped to attend in a month. I ordered the ladies to leave, only to be yelled at in the manner which had quickly become the norm from some coaches. I was not at my best and aptly, if inappropriately, returned fire.

I soon learned that the worst on-court offender (a tattooed, tank-topped ex-jock I’ll call “the Diva” for his foot-stomping tantrums) had actually helped incite the girls’ invasion. Back in my room, I heard the guys next door recount how the “doofy” ref had “flipped out” on the girls before they heroically told him off. At least they had the excuse of youth. Where were the adults? Who were the adults?

Rule 10, Section 4, Article 1: Bench Technical
Bench personnel shall not commit an unsporting foul.
This includes, but is not limited to, acts or conduct such as disrespectfully addressing an official . . .

The championship game was Saturday, and it pit the Diva’s team, undefeated but with a great player missing, against a team with only one loss. As the game stayed tight down the stretch, tensions rose. I called a foul against the Diva’s team and awarded two free throws.

Suddenly there he was, storming down the sideline, foaming at the mouth, demanding an audience. I briefly listened to him rant, but then told him he couldn’t do it again unless he wanted a technical. The next time he wanted to talk to me, he would have to call time out.

Rule 4, Section 7, Article 2(a): Charging
A player who is moving with the ball is required to stop or change direction to avoid contact if a defensive player has obtained a legal guarding position in his/her path.

After a timing error was corrected in the Diva’s favor, allowing his team to force overtime, his opponents took the lead. His point guard brought the ball down the right side of the court with his head down and plowed through an opponent who had slid into position in front of him.


The Diva went ballistic. He called time out, then followed me out on the court to argue. He complained to the camp director (my co-official) that the call had not been mine to make, then commenced attacking my integrity, at one point actually calling me a liar. I am not known for extraordinary restraint. Only respect for the director and the players on the Diva’s team kept me from issuing a technical foul.

Rule 5, Section 3: Winning Team
The winning team is the one which has accumulated the greater number of points when the game ends.

The game came down to the last play — the Diva’s squad down two with seven seconds to go. One of his best players brought the ball down the floor, drove down the right side of the lane, and leaped into traffic in an attempt to draw a foul as he shot. He was not fouled. He missed the shot.

The teams shook hands and I thanked the coaches. The Diva scoffed at me. “You screwed us,” he told me.

Turning his back, he called out to the director: “You should have known better than to get a lawyer as a ref. Thanks a lot.” I sat through the awards ceremony, overlooked by the directors in the “Thank you” portion of the remarks, then loaded my car for the ride home. My vacation was clearly over.

But I was glad. It was time to return to reality, with all its disappointments, disillusionments, misunderstandings, and monotonies. Life is not lived in a series of joyous reunions, stays so brief that the surface remains blissfully unbroken. It’s in the 2 a.m. screaming match; it’s in the response to passionate, competitive anger; it’s in the constant reminders that we were not made to be fulfilled on this earth.

And I obviously had — have — much more yet to learn.

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