Monday, September 27, 2004

Fox News: Come for the Forecast, Stay for the Fascism
A couple of months back, I stopped paying close attention to the presidential race because A) yuck; and B) I wouldn't vote for George W. Bush if you sprinkled him with chocolate and sautéed him in butter with a pinch of humanity because he is an immoral man who has killed thousands of innocent people, created an incubator for future jihadists, and exploited the people and resources of this nation in order to help the wealthiest one percent. Oh, and his vice president's a dick. So as you can see, I'm not undecided.

In fact, here are five things Kerry and Edwards could do and still get my vote:

1. Sing "Achy Breaky Heart" on American Idol. In the nude.
2. Become Mormons.
3. Have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinski, then lie about it.
4. Promise to make that AOL "You've Got Mail" guy secretary of state.
5. Go on Oprah and burp and fart the national anthem.

Here are five things Bush and Cheney could do and still not get my vote:

1. Promise me one million dollars plus 72 virgins.
2. Threaten to kill a cute puppy if I don't vote for them.
3. Fix my printer. (I would vote for any other human who could accomplish this, by the way.)
4. Silence Nelly.
5. Make Rummy and Ashcroft slow dance to the Lyle Lovett version of "Stand By Your Man."

So it's not really necessary for me to keep a close eye on developments like some undecided voters out there. But something recently caught my eye that got me tuned back in a little bit: the CBS News brouhaha. Not only was it shocking to learn that 60 Minutes is still on television, but it also gave the last remaining American subculture its moment in the national-security sun: font nerds. Not since the Garamondgate conspiracy of the late 80s has a typeface controversy played such an important role in American life.

Personally, I do not care what George W. Bush did in or out of the National Guard. He could have been a serial killer or a Moonie or a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader for all I care because what possible difference could it make when compared to the clusterfuck of the past four years? I do not care about desertion or AWOLs or special treatment back in 1972 when there's Abu Ghraib, Halliburton, the "Clear Skies Initiative," the corporate free-for-all, the "Coalition of the Willing," hanging chads, war for oil, assault weapons on America's streets, Iraq instead of al Qaeda, wanton misunderestimating and nookyular lying right here and now.

And I'll be the first to admit Dan Rather is weirder than Marilyn Manson and the emu combined (his 2000 comment that the vote between Bush and Gore was so close "you couldn't get a cigarette paper between them" still cracks me up), but some of the rightjob nutwings out there are trying to portray CBS News as liberally biased, which is hilarious considering the free pass the networks have all given Bush for the past four years. If you truly believe the national media is biased against Bush, check out Project Censored's Top 25 Censored Media Stories of 2003-2004. Also, consider that in the rare instances when the mainstream media mentions Halliburton, they still have to add a parenthetical note to EXPLAIN WHAT IT IS. They never explain what Michael Jackson is, and I've been wondering the answer to that for three decades now. Call me liberally biased, but if Dan Rather still has to explain to his viewers what Halliburton is at this stage of the game, there is no liberal bias.

And then, of course, there's Fox News, which has become sort of a caricature of itself: too Republican to be taken seriously as a news organization, not Republican enough to be a 24-hour commercial for Dumbya. (I would provide examples but really, it's been done to death. Well, OK, here are some examples.) Which is what made me realize what's truly insidious about Fox News. It's not O'Reilly or Hannity or Hume or Wallace or Van Susteren. It's the weather and sports.

Back before the 'net and cable diluted information to the point where ... well, to the point where this blog seems meaningful, people got their editorials from sensible sources: the op-ed pages, magazines, their bookies, their bartenders or their hookers. But wherever people got opinions, it was generally separate from where they got news, if only by a few pages. By masquerading as a cable news network, complete with sports, weather, business and entertainment news, the brilliant (ly evil) people at Fox News have cleverly couched Bushism in a 24-hour cloak of contemporary infotainment.

The problem isn't that they've got goofball conservative creeps hocking neo-fascist loogies around the clock; the problem is that the rest of the programming is quasi-legit. If unsuspecting couch taters stumble across Fox News during a major sporting event, natural calamity, celebrity meltdown or stock market crash, they might think they're viewing CNN or MSNBC. Then, when Fox slinks back to regular programming and the mini-Mussolinis start spewing invective, many viewers just keep on watching.

I know people who know people who know people who actually get all their news from Fox News. To those people, I say: Maybe America isn't fascist, but will you know it when it gets here? Maybe this isn't state-controlled media, but will you recognize it if it becomes that? Maybe our government isn't guilty of outright, widespread human rights abuses and election-rigging and global conquest but if that happened, would you learn about it on Fox News? You might just want to change the channel once in awhile. When you're in a mood to get your war on, think of Fox News as an intriguing movie, like "Birth of a Nation" or one of Leni Riefenstahl's films.

Anyway, I figure it's only a matter of time until the conservative crackpot ethos infiltrates even the weather on Fox News...

"... and now let's see what's going on in the weather. Janice?"

"Well, Ron, a strong ridge of high pressure over the Northeast brought mainly clear skies from Taxachusetts to the God-fearing Gulf Coast, as well as over the Midwest, where honest family values were rewarded with plenty of sunshine. A few places across Pennsylvania and New York (which remains terror-free, thanks to our war in Iraq) had some patchy fog. Some areas in New York saw frost develop as temperatures dropped into the 30s, due to a bookstore signing by Sen. Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, much of the Southeast and Deep South had comfortably cool temperatures, just right for sitting on the front porch and reading the Bible or cleaning the guns. During the day Monday, this ridge of high pressure will provide plenty of sunshine from the Mississippi River eastward, making it ideal for the president as he travels in the battleground states of Michigan and Ohio (where even baby-killing communist voters know a flip-flopping liberal when they see one). A rather large storm system was slowly moving through the pro-life Plains and Rockies, where the vice president will address throngs of jubilant supporters later this afternoon. Showers and thunderstorms were falling across Texas northward through the Dakotas, where men aren't attracted to men and women aren't attracted to women (except for a few limp-wristed liberals, who hide under their futons). Most of the West Coast was dry under mainly clear skies, with a chance of widely scattered Hollywood elite tree-hugging homosexuality. And over in Iraq, skies are clear and the forecast calls for democracy and freedom. Back to you, Ron..."

So, no, there's no liberal bias at CBS News. Did Dan Rather screw up? Yes. Did Bush avoid the Vietnam War? Sure. Is that important now? Not really. Should we obsess as a nation for weeks on end about superscript fonts instead of talking about how this administration is sending our children to war, sending jobs overseas, handing the country over to the corporations, and helping only the richest Americans? No. Is Fox News biased? Yes. Is that a threat to democracy? No, because it's so obvious that it's hysterical. (Watch it sometime. It's a hoot.) Should we vote for John Kerry on Election Day so we can watch the heads of all those commentators on Fox News explode? Yes, we should.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Vacation Rules
I recently took a week off work to do nothing. It seemed like a good idea at the time. In order to get in the right frame of mind for a major project coming up at work, I thought some time off would do me good.

Vacation Rule Number One: Don't go on vacation. Going back to work is too hard.

I intentionally didn't plan a trip through America's Homeland Security Wonderland, which nowadays is more stressful than work itself. So the vacation planning was quite possibly the best part of the vacation. There were no popup-plagued visits to Orbitz, Travelocity, Yahoo, Expedia or any other cartoon-motiffed vacation Web portals with nonsensical names. There were no rental-cars, no hotels, and no $12 tuna salad sandwiches served in plastic, triangular coffins. With Ben safely ensconced at U-a-kai, Laura back in school, and Mary working, I was going to have some quality Jim time. The plan: have no plan.

Vacation Rule Number Two: If you take a vacation, have a plan.

Because I had no umbrella drinks, museums, breathtaking natural scenery or long security checkpoints to distract me, I wasted two full days thinking about work. My mind drifted back there, in much the same way that you swallow constantly during a sore throat to test that it's still sore. By day three, I finally got work off my mind enough to come up with this horrible idea: I'd remodel Laura's bathroom.

Ben and Laura have always shared a bathroom. When Ben moved out, Mary and I promised Laura we'd give the room a makeover. We promised to paint it and let her pick out a new shower curtain and new towels and new teenaged-girl bathroom items that are completely incomprehensible to anyone unlucky enough to have been born male. With work-poisoned vacation time on my hands, remodeling her bathroom seemed like a pretty good idea.

Vacation Rule Number Three: Do not remodel a teenager's bathroom.

Stripping the wallpaper off the walls went pretty well. Most of it came down in giant swaths of two-dimensional pea soup, which was clearly a devious conspiracy by the remodeling gods to lull me into believing I had skills. In minutes, the walls were bare, except for the hard to reach places: under the sink, around the fixtures, behind the toilet. These pieces seemed to stick to the walls like sneaky on Dick Cheney. I picked at them like scabs. I pleaded with them as if they were voters from Ohio. I finally gave up on one recalcitrant section behind the toilet and painted over it. (A favor, please? If you are ever in Laura's bathroom and you notice the painted-over wallpaper behind the toilet, I do NOT want to hear about it. Thank you.)

With the wallpaper finally gone (or cleverly disguised with paint), the rest of the wall work went pretty quickly. I brushed and Mary rolled. In no time, the room began to look new. The universe seemed to be on our side again. It was almost like a vacation.

Because it was all going far too smoothly, we decided to install some new fixtures. Mary and Laura went to Bed, Bath & Superfluous and bought a new towel rack and a shelf that were both in the category of home furnishings best described as "darling." The shelf, despite being tiny, turned out to need space-shuttle-level assembly and ended up weighing approximately five hundred pounds, which, when bolted into the wall, proved to be more than ample for supporting Laura's loofah collection. The wall-bolting required successive trips to the hardware store for ever-larger bolts. On the last trip, I lied to the guy and said I was building a gymnasium. I will not tolerate being laughed at by hardware salesmen. With the shelf and towel rack successfully installed, I was ready for the project's biggest challenge: installing a new vanity light fixture above the sink.

Vacation Rule Number Four: No electrical work.

The comical thing about installing lights is that you have to do it in the dark. It's a wonder there aren't more blind electricians. The old light fixture came off pretty easily. I killed the power and disassembled it in no time. The new vanity light was a different story. It has four bulbs attached to a long, rectangular bar that has edges sharp enough to slice cheese or hijack an airliner. Just the kind of thing you want to hold near your neck while you're standing awkwardly atop a sink in the dark, dropping screws and wires into the sink and cursing like one of those delightful children on South Park.

(Curiously, it was at this moment that I got my best vacation idea about work: to legally change my name to Piss Off. I entertained myself with notions of signing each e-mail that way. I relished the idea of greeting callers on the phone by cheerfully calling out my new name, perhaps with one of those fake British accents like Madonna uses. I imagined my new name on org charts and meeting requests and the lips of my co-workers: "Oh, that new data report? Why don't you check with Piss Off?" I resolved to start the name-change paperwork first thing in the morning and turned back to the vanity light.)

Naturally, there were more wires coming out of the fixture than there were coming out of the wall, so guesswork came into play. Thankfully, I've assembled enough pre-fabricated toys, furniture, tools, and fixtures in my life that I have the courage to scoff at extra parts. I took my best guess at which wires went where and when Mary flipped the power back on, the lights worked! And they still do. So far, at least.

Of course, Laura was ecstatic with her new bathroom. She spent hours accessorizing, rearranging, and sprucing. Her enjoyment was so complete it made up for the fact that I'd lost valuable vacation time to toggle bolts, wallpaper, mirrors, vanity lights and skeptical, condescending hardware salesmen. Still, with valuable time lost, I knew I'd better double up on my vacationing, so I decided to take a powernap.

Vacation Rule Number Five: No naps

I've never been much of a nap taker. The last nap I'd had occurred approximately back when there were multiple Vietnams, Germanys and Kennedys. But I decided to give it a try. The nap went really well until I dozed off and woke up in the throes of existential terror. Remember when you were a kid and you had that first moment of frightening self-awareness? One minute you were a sheep following the rest of the herd and suddenly you realized you were YOU and you could make decisions and it scared the living shit out of you? It was like, "Whoa! I'm ... ME!" Well, I found out on vacation that you can recapture that white-knuckle thrill by simply waking up wrong from a nap. Coming out of my sleep, I experienced a few seconds of complete terror that under different circumstances might well have been an exquisite, extended moment of pure consciousness but instead taunted me with such marquee thoughts as, "You might just be a fuckup" and "You're going to die one of these days" and "Not feeling very vacation-y now, are ya, ya fuckin' hippie?" To get past that terror I finally came up with the one sensible vacation decision of my vacation: go camping.

Vacation Rule Number Six: Go camping earlier.

Within no time, I found myself in the company of 150 or so completely snorkled friends, some of whom were dancing around a pagan guitar circle with a blow-up alien doll that wore a wig, a bra, and high-heels, while a team of blitzed balladeers sang and crickets kept time and I thought, "Man, it's going to suck waking up from this dream," but I pinched myself and I wasn't dreaming after all and then I thought, "Now we're talking vacation!" So I kept that up for a couple of days and basked in the love and trust and respect and camaraderie and hilarity and calories and music and hops and bacteria and interesting theories about Jesus Christ's level of interest in Purdue's football program and by then it was time to go back to work.

Work, in a word, blew. It took a day and a half to read and delete the 250 e-mails that had piled up, including invitations to meetings, notices of meeting venue changes, updates about meetings, meeting minutes, meeting action items, and invitations to follow-up meetings. Before I knew it I was back in a meeting, where I silently resolved to follow Vacation Rule Number Seven from now on: If you take a vacation, don't go back to work.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Ask a Religious Dude
As a public service, Oh, For God's Sake occasionally invites a select panel of spiritual leaders to answer your questions. Today's panel includes Potala Jokhang, Adgad Das, Fr. Fintan Hooper, Rabbi Moshe Veitchik, Sayed al-Muaffad, Rev. Bobby Cottengin, and Minister K. Swakayalimumisevak.

Q. Do these pants make my butt look big?

A. In your quest for enlightenment, you must first open you heart. You should strive always to foster loving kindness toward all sentient beings. If you cannot do good, then you must endeavor to do no harm. If you take this approach in all you do, your path will open up and your question will be answered.

Q. My '94 Dodge Ram makes a strange whirring sound when I drive faster than 50 mph. I adjusted the timing and removed a dead chipmunk from the exhaust pipe but it still whirs. I've taken it to several mechanics and they insist there's nothing wrong. Is it OK to spank my kids?

A. In order to discover whence you came and whither you go, you must explore the footsteps of your own evolving soul. God has a divine plan for you and it is to spend eternity in heaven with Him.

Q. Recently, my home was attacked by rock-throwing thugs from another neighborhood. I couldn't find the culprits, so I beat the shit out of this guy down the street instead. It seemed like the right thing to do because he once threatened my dad. What kind of reel do you prefer for largemouth bass?

A. My son, please kneel with me. Take out your rosary and pray, taking care to pay attention to each Hail Mary, each Our Father and each Glory Be. The Lord loves you and you must love God and all God's creatures. Go in peace and serve the Lord.

Q. My boyfriend likes to be strangled during sex. Should I upgrade to Windows XP?

A. You must serve only God. And stay away from the pork.

Q. Is it safe to use my compost to fertilize my vegetable garden if the neighbor's cat pooped in it?

A. In all things, you must respect your parents and your elders, be kind to animals and all human beings, and do your daily tasks to the best of your ability. You must perform all of these actions in obedience to Allah, and pray five times per day.

Q. I think my wife is cheating on me. She's routinely late coming home from work; whenever I answer the phone, the caller hangs up; and she's lost all interest in sex. Does my breath smell like cigarettes?

A. In order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, you must accept Christ as your personal savior.

Q. How come nobody ever eats the leftover corn muffins?

A. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Q. Like many men my age, my hair is thinning. To compensate, should I buy a boat, a sports coupe, or an Asian massage?

A. The source of happiness is within yourself.

Q. My husband recently commented that I remind him of my mother. Can you discuss the pros and cons of burial vs. cremation?

A. Eventually, you can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment, but only through good deeds and acts of purity can you be reborn at a higher level. Through bad deeds you will be reborn as a lower level or even as an animal.

Q. There's this chick at work who's totally hot but I'm not sure she's into dudes. Do you think the Roth IRA is a good investment option for me?

A. You are made of your father, your mother, and G-d. It is G-d who gave you your personality, your intelligence, and your soul. Remember always that you are created in G-d's image.

Q. Even though my health insurance is costing me a fortune, my insurance company has denied my last three claims. How much time is too much time to spend masturbating to Internet porn?

A. In Jesus Christ will you discover the divine source of wisdom and love.

Q. I gave up a lucrative career in the private sector to become a public servant. Sure, I still make a ton of money on the side by funneling public projects to my old company but I feel dissatisfied. I have to make all the decisions while my boss gets all the credit. Is Lipitor right for me?

A. With awareness comes power and understanding. It is within you to change the perception that your circumstances are predestined. To begin your healing, pay special attention to your heart chakra.

Q. Should I give homosexuality a try?

A. Lord Krishna is without beginning, the origin of all, the cause of all causes and the source of the eternal Vedas.

Q. Yeah, can I get a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger, a Biggie Fry, and a large Frosty?

A. Be patient, for surely Allah does not waste the reward of the good-doers.

Q. Between the kids, my job, my volunteer work, and my post as captain on my amateur progressive-farting team, I can never seem to get a decent night's sleep. Is it true that the Pillsbury Doughboy is really a woman?

A. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.

Q. Man, isn't duct tape just fuckin' amazing? Sometimes I think I can do anything with duct tape. Just this week, I patched the hole in my Darrell Waltrip official coffee travel mug, made a new shower curtain, and put a new grip on my 357 Smith & Wesson. I mean, is there anything this shit CAN'T do?

A. As Lucifer was overcome in heaven by the blood of the lamb, so will the blood of the lamb on earth overcome him.

Q. I'm parched. May I have some Evian?

A. NO COVETING! And stop calling me Evian.

Send your questions about spirituality to Ask a Religious Dude, c/o Oh, For God's Sake!

Monday, September 06, 2004

Beeting Pain
The call came at work during a transcendently superficial moment, a moment so shallow that it could only happen during work: I was smiling politely at a co-worker and feigning interest in her lunch plans when my pants began to ring. Normally when my pants ring it's because there's a phone in them and this was no exception. "I beg your pardon," I said. "My pants appear to be ringing. Good luck with that cheese sandwich." This was one time I was willing to make an exception to my rule about not letting technology interrupt the flow of life, an exception I punctuated by making air-high-fives and power salutes and signs of the cross and -- for some reason -- "we're number one," once I'd turned the corner.

I punched the key with a little picture of a phone on my phone and said "Hey."

It was Mary, which I already knew because the display said "Mary." Actually it said my secret pet name for her, which I'm not willing to divulge here, so let's call her "Mary," which is her real name.

This was the Mary who is my wife. Not the Mary who is my sister. Or the Mary who is my aunt. Or the Mary who is my mother-in-law. Or the Mary who was my grandmother. What can I say? We are a Catholic family. (Well, I'm a recovering Catholic. But that's a different story.)

I sensed something was wrong so I only did two or three more "we're number ones" once I'd said hello. I was right. "It's your mom," she said.

"You're not my mom," I thought. "You're Mary." Thinking, of course, the secret pet name, not "Mary;" I never call her Mary. But I said, "What is it?"

She nobly resisted the urge to speak a line from Airplane!, so I knew something was amiss. She said, "She fell last night. Berdean called. She's at the hospital. She said not to come until they know what's going on. But it's her back. She's in a lot of pain."

Immediately I blamed myself. Somewhere along the way, despite my constant vigilance, I must've stepped on a crack.

"How did she get to the hospital?" I asked.

"Berdean called 911."

"It must be bad. I should go."

"Berdean said she'd call after they take X-rays."

Mom lives alone. Berdean is her best friend, the kind of best friend who comes over and rescues you when you fall in the middle of the night. They live 80 miles from me and my sister Mary, in a mythical little village in Indiana called Huntingburg. It's the kind of place you slip into, like a pair of old tennis shoes. It's also the kind of place you discard, like a pair of old tennis shoes.

"I gave her your cell phone number," said Mary. "She'll call you as soon as she knows more."

So for a couple of hours I racked my brain, trying to think of when I stepped on a crack. Finally I talked to Berdean, who told me it was a "compression fracture" in two of Mom's vertebrae. She said I could talk to Mom.

"Mom, what happened?" I said.

"Zhi zell zyah zallzhay," Mom said. They'd given her quite a lot of morphine, which left her loopy and me jealous. "Zhym zheeing the zyorthopedic zhurjun zhoon."

I took this to mean, "I fell in the hallway" and "I'm seeing the orthopedic surgeon soon." Or perhaps, "How about those Cubs?" Either way, it was disturbing. I said I could be there in a few hours.

"Don't do that," she said, or quite possibly, "Please come." Then she said, "There's nothing you can do. They've got me stabilized. Hey, look! It's Topo Gigio! And he's spinning plates!" Again, I felt a pang of envy.

We agreed to wait to hear what the doctor said and that she'd look the other way if I swiped a couple of whatever prescription drugs they gave her. (Well, excuse me. It just seemed like a good time to get a commitment.) Over the next 24 hours, her morphine wore off and the picture of what happened began to emerge: Mom fell in the hallway for no reason at all. She didn't slip or stumble or swoon or trip or step on a banana peel or get tripped by al Qaeda. In her words, "I just fell on me arse." (Morphine tends to bring out the Celtic in her.) She suffered two compression fractures. She's looking at 6-8 weeks of physical therapy and three years of aggressive anti-osteoporosis treatments. All without Topo Gigio because they switched her to Vioxx, which has no pleasant side effects.

At the hospital, I watched while Mom did her physical therapy. She was very brave. Theresa, the physical therapist who missed her calling as a Gestapo officer, instructed Mom to pretend she was a log and then to roll over. Apparently, becoming stiff and log-like makes it less painful to roll over. Mom pointed out that logs don't roll themselves and asked Theresa to do it. "Nein!" snapped Theresa. Mom rolled brilliantly. She's always responded well to nazi tactics.

Bravely, Mom sat up and eventually stood up, with Theresa's help. The next day she walked down the hall, which was a major step toward eventual dismissal from the hospital because not only did it demonstrate progress in her healing but it reminded her how creepy hospitals can be. After a couple of meals of hospital food, I figured Mom would be doing cartwheels in order to prove she was well enough to go home. God help the hospital worker serving food to a former dietician.

In the meantime, Mary (the sister) brought her books on tape and supplies from home and some movies to make Mom's stay less tedious. She even smuggled in some decent food.

Mom's doing fine now. She's back home and with continuing physical therapy, she'll be good as new in a few weeks. But the whole episode is a stark reminder of how fragile life is. How you can get hurt badly just walking down the hall. How mortality can be lurking around every corner. How aging is as inevitable as overcooked beets on a hospital dining tray.

To her credit, Mom never complained about aging or life's fragile nature. She never whined about fear or pain or mortality. She's been a trooper through and through. Just don't get her started on the beets.