Thursday, March 26, 2009

BBfiction taken offline

An FYI for those of you reading my fiction blog, :

The site has been taken down for the time being. I am rewriting most of the stories that were posted, and many are being submitted for publication in a newer, much improved form. If items are accepted for publication, I'll post the links to the stories here.

Thanks to any and all who checked out the story drafts and gave their comments. I may use the site in the future to post newer fiction sketches.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Biblical Literalism and "Burning to Read"

Recently, in conversation with someone, I mentioned that I have a background in Religious Studies, and on occasion, teach the subject in universities. The question was then put to me: “Don’t you think there’s a conflict between religion”

The question is a natural one, given our current global religious environment. In the West and the Middle East, there are 2 apparent approaches to religion—the secular approach, and the fundamentalist approach. In terms of society and politics, this is really where the religion/science line is drawn—secularists are tolerant of religion, but science, logic, and reason are championed as the way to truth. Fundamentalists react against secularism, and feel that only God (as defined by said fundamentalists) can show us the true way. How do they know what God wants? Scripture.

I’d mentioned in an earlier posting that I was reading a book entitled “Burning to read: English fundamentalism and its Reformation opponents” by James Simpson. I’ve finally finished that book, and it’s given me a lot to think about with regard to religion and society, and the idea of Scriptural authority.

The translation of the Bible into English is considered to be one of the great “liberating” events of history. No longer bound by the traditions of a corrupt Church that served as interpreters of God’s word, the common people could now read the Bible and make judgments for themselves. Liberalism traces its roots to this time in the 16th century, which is actually a tremendous irony. Simpson argues that the translation of the Bible did not make us more “free”—it bound us further, creating an atmosphere of suspicion, paranoia, moral authoritarianism, and violence. This appeal to Scriptural authority, called “Biblical literalism”, leaves its adherents “painted into a corner”.

Before I look at Simpson’s evidence, I will just state my view up front: Biblical literalism is bad. Bad, bad, bad. Did I mention that it’s bad? Human beings already have fractured souls, and this just shatters everything beyond repair. It turns God and the Great Mystery into a petty absurdity, and causes people with any common sense to reject the whole idea of God as ridiculous. There IS an alternative way to look at the “God” idea, but that is completely lost in today’s society. Either you’re a literalist, or you’re an atheist. The Catholic Church—the only institution in my humble opinion that still has ANY grasp of meaning in Christianity, totally blows it by focusing on stupid shit like abortion and gay marriage—trying to play the same game as the fundamentalists.

OK, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest—Simpson makes several points throughout the book. The first has to do with the idea of Scriptural authority, argued by Martin Luther, and supported by Bible translators like William Tyndale and George Joye. Simpson uses the term “evangelists” for those supporting this Protestant view, so that’s the word I will use.

The evangelist view of Scripture suggests that it is God’s literal word. It should not be “added to or subtracted from”, so the text must be taken as a whole (i.e., no verses out of context), and anything outside of Scripture can be dismissed as error. In order for this point of view to have any credibility, Scripture must be clear and simple, and its meaning transparent. Indeed, the evangelists claimed that Scripture was so simple, it spoke for itself, and no theological commentaries were necessary.

It’s not hard to see how this immediately gets messy, but Simpson also goes on to talk about what that Scripture actually says. The Old and New Testaments of the Bible are vastly different. The God of the Old Testament is irrational and temperamental; the reader gets the message that this God cannot be appeased. More accurately—God tells us what He wants, but there is no way we can do it. Ha-ha. So this throws out the idea of “good works”—nothing you can do will win you any favors, so there’s no point in thinking that. The casual literal reader at this point will realize that they are doomed. As Simpson says, they take an “abject” attitude towards the text, because it is hateful.

So what’s the good news? In the New Testament, Jesus suffers for our hateful, sinful nature, and in Jesus alone is there salvation. We see where the idea of “Once I’m born again in Christ, my old life is dead, and I am saved” comes from. But there is a problem. In order to create a flow between the Old and New Testaments, the concept of an Elect, a True Church, came into being. The doctrine of predestination has its roots here—God already knows who is saved through Jesus, but you don’t. Ha-ha once again.

So—where does all this leave the “liberated” reader? In a fearful, paranoid spot, I would imagine. He or she must determine if they are one of the “Elect”—and they do so by interpreting “signs”. Simpson accurately notes that this is trouble, leaving the door open for “hearing voices”. Frequently, the suffering and death of the evangelists at the hands of Henry VIII and his chancellors was seen as a “sign” of election—they should be pleased to suffer for the Truth. But it is all too convenient to convince oneself about the interpretation of “signs” from God. Even those who believe they are saved suffer from the uncertainty that they can’t really know for sure. This not only leads to self-righteousness (I’m more “right with God” than you are), it also leads to extreme proselytization. The reason that certain Christian groups feel the need to knock on your door and convince you of their beliefs is a testament to this uncertainty. If everyone else believes they have the truth, they will feel more secure.

Which brings us to another point of Simpson’s—the reliance on Scripture suggests a distrust of God. God needs to put his terms “in writing”, as it were. And, like a lot of legal jargon, it’s difficult to interpret. Protestantism has so many splinter groups precisely for this reason—the “simple and clear” text obviously is not so simple. Even Tyndale, in his first translation of the Bible, had to provide an extensive commentary, as readers could “fall into error” by incorrect interpretation. So much for the text speaking for itself.

The last major point in Simpson’s book relates to history and tradition. If the Catholic Church was in error for so many years, as the evangelists claim, then how could God have allowed humanity to err for so long? Evangelists tossed out as irrelevant any and all traditions that were not Scripturally based. In short, they throw away most of history, leaving us suspended in a single point in time, with no past to refer to, and no way to go forward and create future traditions. If nothing matters but the Bible—a narrative of events and traditions (yes, traditions) from a particular place, time and culture—how is there room for anything else? He discussed Thomas More’s attempt to argue against this Scriptural literalism (and More does have some good arguments if you get past some of the venom), but More eventually weakens and falls because he’s trying to fight his opponents by the very method he’s opposed to using. The Catholic Church still has this problem today, which is why they are lumped in with all other flavors of Christianity in the “secular/scientific” worldview.

The book was a fascinating, if not somewhat weighty read. I’m quite passionate about the subject, because I am very distressed by the state of people today, and I feel this literalist worldview has contributed significantly to the problem. There is no need to read the text literally, and no need to take sides. Amma said it best on her talk before the Interfaith Center of New York: “Spirituality is like a piece of sugarcane. The scriptures are the outer husk, and inside is the sweet spirituality. One must suck out the sugar and discard the husk.”

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Simon Iff

Over the past couple of weeks I've been cleaning up the stairwell in my house. For those unfamiliar with my house (most of you), my upstairs is a large loft, with an open staircase with ledges big enough for bookcases. Naturally, the stairwell has become filled with books. Some of these have been piled up in corners for the last 6 years, and now that I plan to hang a piece of artwork in the stairwell that's worthy of cleaning all that up, I have done so.

In the cleanup process, I found my copy of "The Scrutinies of Simon Iff" by one Aleister Crowley. (I blogged about Crowley and the philosophy of Thelema a couple of years ago). These are a collection of short detective stories written by Crowley. I love this particular book, because you can get an excellent snapshot of Crowley's wit and his mind without slogging through all of his magical books and diaries, which can be difficult even for those well-versed in those subjects. What I like about Crowley is his bluntness, his extensive knowledge of literature, and his excellent grasp of what was a new field during his lifetime, psychology and psychoanalysis. It's no wonder the Victorians--the non-Swinburnesque ones--were terrified of him. Here are a few quotes that I love from that collection:

From "The Biter Bit" :

"'Evidence of Identity', by Dolores Cass, was the Book of the season. It was as dry as a treatise on trigonometry, but people read and discussed it as if it were a novel The Washington Square group all tried to look like each other so as to deceive the very elect, and succeeded perfectly, as there was not one ounce of individuality in the whole gang."

"You don't worry about matters unless you are potentially or actually capable of them. Tell me that my house in Pittsburg is burnt down, and I do not fret, because I have not a house in Pittsburg, and please God, I never will have!"

From "Nebuchadnezzar":

"Mrs. Mills entered the room. She was the kind of individual who doesn't matter to anybody. She had everything in a mild form. Simon Iff was reminded of Mrs. Nickelby, but one without enough imagination to be flustered over The Gentleman Next Door. He had to use all his tact and acumen to disinter her from the graveyard of General Reminiscences."

"But even as he spoke, the telephone rang. It was a voice unknown to the magician. It had appeared that Mrs. A had been telling Mrs. B at Mrs. C's dinner-party that Mrs. D had heard from Mrs. E that Mrs. F had a letter from Mrs. G saying that Mrs. H had met Mrs. I and Mrs. J's, the subject of discussion being Mrs. K's divorce. Mrs. L had then... it went on to the climax, where Mrs. Y had advised Mrs. Z to consult Mr. Iff; and might she call to see him? Mr. Iff regretted that he was sailing, that afternoon, to take up residence in a monastery on Mount Athos, and replaced the receiver."

From "Who Gets The Diamonds?":

"Simon Iff was considered a crank by many people; they based their opinion on those of his acts which were in reality severely rational."

"The tendency to standardisation is an eternal menace to evolution."

"His genial nod was intercepted by the waiter, who informed Iff, trembling, that pipes were not allowed. Simple Simon knocked out the tobacco, and rolled it in a piece of cigarette paper before replacing it in his pipe. 'This, my friend, is a cigarette holder.'"

From "In the Swamp":

"His stupidity and conventionality quite discounted his cowardice, for though he saw men dying all around him, he believed himself to be under the special protection of a deity called Jesus Christ by the Methodists, to whom he belonged, but to be carefully distinguished from a false god of the same name worshipped by Baptists, Wesylans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Plymouth Brethren, Agapemonites, Lady Huntington's Connection, or other savage sects. Intelligent men, such as the French or Germans, cannot colonise. The art needs a race too stupid to understand that it is being martyred. Empire is a dream, with nightmare passages. And men must be asleep to dream."

"'It is the doctrine of the Vicarious Atonement that does the harm,' said Iff; 'despite all Paul's special pleading, it is bound to destroy moral responsibility.'"

From "Psychic Compensation":

"Morals are the cause of madness. Unmoral people never go mad, except in the case where insanity is a symptom of some disease like tuberculosis. Madness is caused by a conflict in the will. Immoral, as opposed to unmoral, people often go mad; for their 'conscience' reproaches them--Satan divided against Satan. And moral people often go mad too, for their suppressed desires reproach them; and this is worse than conscience, because conscience is a factitious thing, an Intruder on Nature. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. The penalty of disobedience is insanity."

From "The Conduct of John Briggs":

"All men are capable of every kind of evil intention. But some are incapable of carrying such intentions into effect, just as a paralytic cannot walk, although he may desire infinitely to do so."

And, one of my favorite quips from "Ineligible":

"She had no more sex than one of the oatmeal scones."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Electricity and Ghosts, Part II

In yesterday’s posting, I started to talk about “Electricity and Ghosts”, John Foxx’s discussion of the origins of the album, “My Lost City.” I had mentioned 3 components of those notes that caught my attention, and talked about the first two yesterday. Today’s posting is about the 3rd component.

Foxx goes into wonderful detail about his experiences of parts of London (Shoreditch and Spitalfields in particular), New York, Rome, Tokyo. He notes the very European--very Roman--origins of many cities in the world, and muses about the universality of being part of the life of a city, of having parts of it "lost" to you. In thinking about Foxx's experience, I started to think about my own.

While London has been somewhat central to Foxx’s experience, New York has been central to mine. This is purely geographical—I was born and raised in New Jersey, and New York City was only 25 miles away.

I come from a family that you might call "provincial". My parents hardly travel at all, except to visit my sisters. They are not fond of having to travel, and having occasionally traveled with them, I can say they are not good at it. My mother grew up in Newark, New Jersey long before it became the city it is today (and if you want to talk about a shifting city, Newark is a perfect example--it's never the same from one day to the next, never mind one year to the next). It may have been her experience of losing her own mother when she was only 9, and ending up being largely responsible for her younger siblings--not the mention the poverty they lived in--that has made her so fearful of moving about, of losing the security of one safe place. Not only were we raised to be provincial, we were raised to be wary of the city, to stay away from it.

My brother moved to Manhattan in the early 1980s, and my first experiences of New York--Greenwich Village, the Twin Towers, Times Square, the subway system--was through my visits to the city with him. I enjoyed the time we spent in the city--it was so vastly different from the suburban home life that I had. However, when my brother died in 1989, it was portrayed as somehow being connected to the "badness" of the city, of its dangers, of being swallowed up--of just being a number and of no importance. I did spend time in New York while I was only a few miles away at Montclair State University, but it was always stressful. The city was overwhelming, and I always felt very insecure when I went there.

After September 11, 2001, I found my attitude towards the city had changed. Many Jerseyans stayed off “the Islands” after September 11. Initially this was with good reason—the air quality downtown was not only terrible, it was dangerous. But after a couple of months, I started to go there with some regularity. At first, it was like a ghost town—usually bustling places like Times Square were eerily devoid of activity. Gradually, things picked up again, but I don’t think New York was ever the same after that.

I used to feel that the city was highly impersonal and cold. Whether it is because of 9/11, or perhaps it is because I’ve gotten over my own prejudices about the city, I now find this to be untrue. I talk to people I don’t know all the time in New York City--on the subway, in Penn Station, walking through Union Square, or in Greenwich Village. I feel like I’ve discovered a current or flow to the city, and once I discovered that, I could go with it, rather than feel drained or overwhelmed by it. This is true of every major city I’ve visited, though the feeling of each city is very different.

Foxx talks about the way cities change over time, how things are built on top of older things, derelict areas are “sanitized”. Some places don’t seem to change over time, others are built up, torn down, and then eventually built up again. Cities have life cycles, just like everything else that lives. But some things, even though long past, don’t entirely go away. In modern physics, the idea of time is not so linear (interestingly, because of the discovery of the properties of electricity and magnetism). Time is not absolute in the relativistic view of the universe—the observe-ability of events is absolute. In Eastern thought, no time exists but the present—it is from that point that we interpret everything. It has been suggested that all events actually occur at the same time—it is only a matter of when and where we are tuning in. The apparent linearity of things can be transcended, and perhaps that is what Foxx is doing here.

In any case, food for thought here is endless, and I’ve probably rambled on long enough...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thoughts on "Electricity and Ghosts", Pt. 1

My last posting was my impressions from listening to John Foxx’s “My Lost City” for the first time. Subsequently, more detailed notes written by Foxx on the origins of the album were posted on Foxx’s MySpace blog, under the title “Electricity and Ghosts”. Foxx is a brilliant writer, so even if you’re not a big fan, I would recommend reading the notes. I have figured out the reason that I like Foxx and his work so much—he creates things on a mythic level, something that humans in the 21st century are desperately lacking. When I say “mythic”, what I mean is that his work intelligently reflects and comments on the way things are—it stirs things up, it challenges you to look at the world and to try to make some sense out of it. A lot of what passes as “art” or “music” only distracts or entertains. Foxx is not “merely” entertaining.

Foxx covers a lot of ground in the notes, but I found myself focusing on 3 specific things. One is the observation that much of modern media was borne out of attempts to communicate with the spirit world. The second is the idea of cities and their inhabitants as a kind of “swarm organism”. The third is Foxx’s observations about the cities he’s visited in his lifetime, and his relationship to them.

With regard to the first thing—that’s a pretty amazing connection, and I’d never thought of it. But it’s true—the discoveries of things like television, radio, and electricity came initially from attempts at spirit communication. What one hears or sees via any electronic media is very much like a ghost—a disembodied voice, or an image that is not really the person—it’s not the same as face-to-face contact with a real flesh and blood person. But that got me thinking about even the face-to-face contact. Much of that is like talking to the dead as well. Interaction with others involves smoke and mirrors—projections, agendas—people don’t listen, they are more interested in what they can get from you, interpret what you say in the light of their own issues and circumstances. It is very rare to find someone who really listens to you and tries to understand you on your terms, not theirs. Honesty is a hateful thing in communication—no one really wants to “know”, everyone wants things politely glossed over. It happens every day in all sorts of “political” situations; it’s also why those types of political meetings and interactions are useless and empty.

This is because the two sides of communication—talking and listening—are tied up in personal boundaries. We are talking across fences to each other. Even with love—that most intimate form of personal interaction and contact—real love is predicated on trust and respect. Both of those things have to do with personal boundaries. If I “respect” you, I respect your space, I stay back tactfully unless invited. If I “trust” you, I’ve invited you into my space, and you haven’t violated it. In order to respect someone’s boundaries and defenses, one treads lightly in conversation, not wanting to accidentally open old wounds. The person who engages in real communication is unfortunately open to having their boundaries violated. People want to be heard, validated, and understood, and simply retreat into themselves when they see the hopelessness of that. If someone actually listens—there is the danger of the feeding frenzy, of desperately clinging to the listener as someone who finally “understands” them. The distinction between listener and talker is lost, and the listener becomes a distraction for the real problem. The only way the listener can save him or herself is to cut off the talker, to reinforce the boundary. It’s a vicious circle, and there’s no graceful way out of it.

Which brings me to the topic of cities as “swarm organisms”. Foxx suggests that there is no real individuality, that we are all like bees to a hive, or cnidarians to a coral reef. Are the boundaries that we retain false ones? The problem between the priorities of the individual versus the priorities of the society is not a new issue. Ironically, as we have more and more media for communicating with each other, societies become more and more fragmented. The identity that binds a society together is often no more than a name, or a set of abstract characteristics. Yet, on some level, there is a forgotten unity that transcends all ideas of identity. Identity itself is temporal. Religion is supposed to be a social link to that unified state, but that also has fragmented. With the advent of Peoples of the “Book”, there is no longer an implied trust between the temporal and the eternal. There needs to be a written “covenant”, and for all the simplicity of it extolled by evangelicals, it’s not simple at all—much of it is patently absurd. Any attempt to interpret the ultimate and eternal is distorted and absurd. In the end, that connection too is forgotten, leaving people deader than ever.

In another of Foxx’s writings (I want to say “The Quiet Man” but I can’t find the chapter now) there is a chapter deals with the man deciding to become “electric”, and how that doesn’t change the empty, shadowy feeling. That is true—high energy only wears you out, gives you a rush, and you become addicted to the rush. You forget about what’s beyond the rush. Even with religious experiences (which are a rush in and of themselves), many people cling to the experience and never move beyond it. Jolts of ecstasy do not bring happiness. Happiness has little to do with feeling ecstatic. What goes up comes down, and the only way to get out of that is to get off the wheel.

I have not yet gotten to the discussion of the cities themselves, but I think I will save that for tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Thoughts from listening to John Foxx’s “My Lost City” this morning

My copy of “My Lost City” arrived from Townsend Records yesterday, and I was anxious to listen to it this morning. I don’t make a habit of writing about my experiences with music. I feel that most reviews are pretentious, and I don’t really consider this a review per se—more my own mental ramblings after listening to the album. I think that music serves a religious function. When I say “religious”, I am referring to the Latin word “religare”—to link back or tie back. I find myself talking about this album because I think it serves that function very well.

I would say that many of the songs on this album have a hymn-like quality to them, if not somewhat fragmented. Reading Foxx’s liner notes on this does help put the album in context. It’s actually meant to be an album of fragments. Pictures made from the bones of old experiences. A tapestry of ghosts.

Why ghosts, though? What is the need of going back over the past, over things that are done and gone, and rehashing them? But that is how one makes sense of life. All of us ponder our ghosts at some point, no matter where they come from—places, people, events. The ones that haunt us are often the ones that reflect what we consider to be a failure—a memory of something wonderful lost, a sense of regret over the handling of a situation, something we wish we could go back to and do again, or fix. There is a sense of wanting “perficere”—to finish, to complete the situation as wished.

There is also the sense of “lost-ness”. The sense of being lost is ghostly in itself, because it is always a past or future thing—one is either experiencing a void where something was before, or they don’t know where they’re headed. Neither is “real”.

Regardless of where I am—I could be in my own neighborhood, in New York City, in Los Angeles, in London—people always seek me out to ask me things. And they’re not selling anything. They are lost. I commented aloud once after my input had been solicited by strangers for the third time in a 2 hour period. The person I was speaking to said, “Well, of course people ask you. You look like you know where you’re going.” He was right. I do know where I’m going. Nowhere. There isn’t anywhere to go. Life isn’t about rushing from one milestone to the next. As to past lost-ness, I’ve never believed in that. Everything is borrowed, and if it’s really yours, then it will find its way back to you, even if you appear to have lost it. Most of the time the only thing we lose are illusions. Clarity is a starkly beautiful bitch.

Fundamentally, we are fragmented. Our external experiences are only reflections of that, reminders that we are split in some fashion. Religion is supposed to provide a tool for integration, for linking those fragments back together in a way that is whole and harmonious. Sadly, religion today often fails at this—the tool is broken. Art and music are the only tools we have in this day and age for providing that link.

What I love about this album is how you really get the sense of harmonizing chaotic fragments, the bits that don’t seem to go together, the always imperfect attempts to bring some unity or order to those fragments. One gets the sense of going through the attic, finding things, dusting them off, deciding what to do with them, where they fit in. And like any good allegory—it’s not just a sense of old buildings, old memories. It also disturbs the deeper sense of separation.

If I take a step back and look at a lot of Foxx’s work, this is a continuation of a similar theme—the Quiet Man, Cathedral Oceans—the sense of looking back, putting fragments together, the sense of being lost, invisible, somehow all mashed up together in a collage, either visual or audio (or both). I consider it great art because it reflects something larger than the artist, a fact about the culture that we live in.

What fact? People are lost and they are broken, and haven’t a clue as to how to put their shattered selves together again—does anyone remember what it’s like to be whole? Brokenness is everywhere. People do different things with it. Some people collapse, some move through life ignoring the pain of brokenness, others try to build new structures out of the broken ones—or leave them behind for new structures entirely.

But brokenness is not something to despair; rather, it is to be celebrated. One should not be broken by their brokenness. To be broken is to be alive, to have been shaped in some way, not simply left untouched. What challenge is there in never being broken? I think one of the things I really like about this album is that it presents the pieces without judgment. They are simply there, for you to make what you will of the fragments. There is no aura of victimization here.

Enough said. I think this album is tremendous. In the sense of “tremendum”.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Snow Day Randomness: 2009 edition

Welcome to the third edition of Snow-Day Randomness. This has become an un-intentional tradition, which may or may not be a good thing. It does, however, have the benefit of quasi-meaningful distraction, otherwise known as "keeping me out of trouble". When it snows and I'm stuck inside, there is always potential for trouble. I get strange ideas when I'm alone in the house for too long. Having the cats here does not help that.

Today's snowstorm is particularly heinous in many ways. For one thing, it is bitterly cold and windy. The plus side is that shoveling ought to be a breeze, as the snow will not be thick, wet, and icy. But the drifts! I opened my door at 5:00 this morning to feed the basement cats, and could not believe how the snow had drifted against my door, and my basement door. And did I mention that it's fucking cold? I cannot help but think about the fact that it was about 60 degrees Farenheit in London the weekend before this last one. Why did I ever come back?

This weekend I have been on a tear to go through the mounds of books sitting in my stairwell for the last 5 and a half years, dust them off, and get rid of the ones I don't want. I accomplished this yesterday, with a price to pay today--my body is absolutely killing me. I still have a few more things to do, and another part of the house to tackle; "later" is sounding like a very good time for that (never mind shoveling snow), maybe after the Advil has kicked in.

I have been reading through the taglines on Fark this morning. Fark is a website run by Drew Curtis, and it is dedicated to news that is not news. Curtis has an entire book dedicated to the various categories of non-news, which is highly amusing, and somewhat scary. The proliferation of things out there in newspapers and in the news online and on TV that is just a lot of made-up garbage, or advertising posing as news is mind-boggling. The Fark site allows users to submit these articles with an appropriate tagline that summarizes the article. The best taglines/articles actually make it onto the Fark site. The non-news is divided into various categories: scary, obvious, asinine, dumbass, interesting, hero, and Florida, to name a few. If you're wondering about that last one, then you've never been to Florida.

Here are some examples from today's Fark:

Filed under "Stupid" : Headline: "U.S. airlines losing less luggage." Actual point of article: people aren't checking as many bags due to bag fees

Filed under "Florida": Woman arrested for aggravated battery with deadly weapon after stabbing boyfriend in face with her stiletto shoe

Filed under "Scary" : War brewing on the US-Mexico border. This is not a repeat from 1846

Filed under "Silly": LA County to proclaim "No Cussing Week." Yeah, good farking luck with that shiat

(California is going bankrupt, and someone is worried about swearing. The person leading this should talk to Lewis Black.)

I don't watch the news and barely read the papers anymore, precisely because of the phenomenon demonstrated by the Fark site. I can't tell you how many times my mother has come trooping over to visit me, handing me an article about some study that proves that something I am doing is going to kill me one day. (File that under "obvious"). Yet, if you read the fine print, a lot of these are sensational-sounding propaganda masquerading as a serious scientific study. Yet, people like her, who already worry too much about nothing, don't realize this and get even more worked up about nothing. There must have been a time when you could rely on a newspaper to provide sound journalism that had integrity. Those days are long gone, not even part of memory, so it's best not to assume that anyone in journalism has anything useful or true to tell you.

Before my thoughts get too well organized, and in the interest of the "randomness" tradition, I present to you:

15 Random Things I Have Learned Over the Years

1. The desire to clean everything in your house with a Q-Tip is a sure sign of one of 3 possible things: PMS, pregnancy, or a meth addiction. I'm sure someone will do a study that will correlate the 3.

2. Tequila is bottled evil. Not the good kind of evil.

3. Something kills everyone someday. If you think this is obvious, speak to the folks who continually admonish me for not getting an annual flu shot, not eating vegetables, and for drinking copious amounts of diet soda.

4. The fastest way to drive a bunch of unwanted and hung over twenty-somethings from your house after a night of partying is to play some early Pink Floyd singles. Say, "Apples and Oranges." Or, "It Would Be So Nice." (This is a leftover from my days of being married)

5. It is actually OK to be physically sick once in awhile. Never convenient, but you'll live.

6. If your job sucks so badly that you have to call and dump on all of your friends almost daily about how terrible your day was...time to get another job. Same goes for your marriage (though I wouldn't recommend running into another one of those.) It's not nice to bleed your friends dry of any pleasure they might have experienced during the day.

7. Beware of what Scott Adams calls "the rolling disaster." This is the person who is besieged daily by major catastrophes, usually self-created. When you encounter such a person--run, don't walk.

8. You do not have any more brains at 40 than you did at 20. Being older does not necessarily make you smarter.

9. If you find yourself tripping down the escalators at Penn Station at midnight because you are so wasted, it's probably not a good idea to drive home once you get to the train station.

10. If you are so attached to your job, your friends, your position in life, that you would completely fall apart if there was a big change--then you need to rethink your priorities.

11. Toyotas are difficult to break into, so try not to lock your keys in the car if you own one.

12. Everything is absurd, and should not be taken too seriously.

13. Never answer the phone, unless you really do want a new mortgage or want to order satellite TV.

14. You won't find real news in a newspaper or an online/televised news network. You need to go to a comedy show, or satirical newspaper like The Onion.

15. Work, politics, and day-to-day interactions are not logical. You can save yourself a lot of grief if you realize this.

I guess I should go shovel some snow.