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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Gossip About Obama (and McCain)

I can't even believe I'm writing this, but either certain Americans are more gullible than P.T. Barnum imagined, or there's a concerted effort by McCain supporters to plant stories of "Clinton supporters now voting Republican" because they think Barak Obama is an Arab/Muslim/from the Middle East. (Being cynical, I tend to think both could be true.)

[UPDATED: McCain has just pulled ads from allegedly pro-Hillary sites that compare Barak Obama to - you guessed it - Adolf Hitler. I remain skeptical about the reports of these "sour grapes" Hillary supporters, although from what I've seen of them they could very well be as crazy as the "agents of intolerance" McCain is now saddled with, and who he used to denounce. Andy Warhol had it partly right - in the future, everyone will have 15 minutes of fame being compared to Adolf Hitler.]

The fact that these alleged "sour grapes" voters make equations between the three astonishes me. What does being an Arab have to do with being a Muslim? Arabs are an ethnicity; Islam is a religion. As a matter of fact, most Arabs in the United States are Christian, and most Muslims in the world are Asian. And don't make simple equations between these and the Middle East, either. They are three different sets that can, but don't always, overlap. (Did people know that there are Jews in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey? Do people know that Arab-speaking Christians and Jews also pray to "Allah," which is simply the Arabic word for "God"? Do they know that there is no religious test for the Presidency? I hope so.)

When I hear (or read) questions like, "How are we supposed to know what's true?" I just cringe and remember all those passed notes on the schoolbus ("So-and-so in such'n'such state was ARRESTED for PRAYING IN SCHOOL!!!") and everything that people repeated mindlessly from television ("Pedophiles are SACRIFICING BABIES to Satan!" or "Bottled water causes CANCER!"). I remember clearly the day that I had a "snake pit" moment amidst all the false drama that people in a small town invent to have something to do, and realized, "If I listen to these people, I'll never get anywhere."

This is a fine time for a 70-year-old Citizen Joe to ask how we are supposed to know what's true. You should have learned that long ago. This is why we need sound science education in our public schools! Critical thinking is not a "choice" between rumor and fact, any more than it a "debate" between science and pseudoscience. Whatever happened to the adage, "Don't believe anything you hear, and only half of what you see?" But unfortunately, our education system has become so politicized by special interest groups like creationists and abstinence-only wingnuts that people can be easily swayed by even the most outrageous rumor (in fact, the more outrageous the rumor, the more likely that it will be believed), while simultaneously believing that they are the ones digging deeper at some hidden truth. It's the same with Obama.

So where do I begin?

1. Start by becoming curious; climb out of that shell, switch off the idiot box, and start living. Meet people; do things. As a result Citizen Joe/Jane will feel less insignificant and helpless, and the world will be a much less scary place, factors that are probably the greatest contributors to gossip.

2. Talk to your librarian, check some books out of the library - for example, Obama's autobiographies (or McCain's) - look at a few maps and read about the history of Islam, Arabs, the Middle East, and Africa. You live in a country that allows you the freedom to inform yourself about the world. Take advantage of it! Consider travel, too - another freedom that much of the world doesn't enjoy.

3. Ignore all the rumors you hear at the water cooler, the barber shop, in church, on radio or television, and in those fucking forwarded e-mail hoaxes - and be prepared to experience in response a massive amount of peer pressure, exhortations to be a "part of the group," which should confirm that what you're hearing is a crock. (The pressure to gossip is overwhelming, in part because if you don't succumb you will likely become the next target. I know.) The best response is to delay any action. Even if what you're hearing turns out to be true, in all likelihood there's nothing you can do about it that cannot wait until you've confirmed it from a credible source. (In all likelihood there's nothing you can do about it anyway.)

4. Be suspicious of any statement that plays to your emotions, especially fear and vanity - be aware that these rumors always have a "hook, a threat, and a promise," which alternately scares the target and flatters him/her with the power to "save the world," usually by forwarding an e-mail to "all of your family and friends," or by signing some "petition" (what a great phishing scam!) or, in this case, by not voting for Obama.

5. Ask for specifics - for example, where in "Africa" was Obama supposedly born? Africa is a huge continent, after all. Who was his doctor/midwife? Where is his birth certificate? Where is the birth certificate of McCain's "love child"? (To which I must ask, "Who cares?" I tend to feel relieved when people, Republicans especially, show a bit of tarnish. There is a puritanicism that lurks beneath all of this talk.) Where specifically are people getting their information? Ask for the original author of the information - and if no one can name a name other than their neighbor who passed it on, or some e-mail or talk show host, it's a rumor and should be dismissed immediately. (Likewise for this crap about McCain "not being a U.S. citizen" or being "too old" to run for President. Spare me.)

6. Learn to recognize logical fallacies, and dismiss any argument that uses them. Start seeing the contradictions that will arise, inevitably, from gossip. (Isn't it strange that Obama can both be "from the Middle East" and "from Africa", or both "have that awful pastor" and be a "Muslim"?) Get into the habit of assessing websites for accuracy and objectivity.

7. When in doubt, check out Snopes.

Don't get caught up in the "drama" of spreading the rumor - which is what this phenomenon is really about, if the participants were to be honest with themselves. Gossip is Nobody's Friend:

My name is Gossip.
I have no respect for justice.
I maim without killing.
I break hearts and ruin lives.
I am cunning and malicious and gather strength with age.
The more I am quoted the more I am believed.
My victims are helpess. They cannot prove themselves against me because I have no name and no face.
To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, to more elusive I become.
I am nobody's friend.
Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same.
I topple governments and wreck marriages.
I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights, heartaches and indigestion. I make innocent people cry in their pillows.
Even my name hisses. I am Gossip.
I make headlines and headaches.
Before you repeat a story, ask yourself:
Is it true?
Is it harmless?
Is it necessary?
If it isn't, don't repeat it.

P.S. Do belly dancers also have "Arab tendencies"? Call the Department of Homeland Security! Stop me before I dance again! I think I just invented a slogan for a t-shirt.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Abby Normal, Part Two

Yes, I'm still using the Michael Geary method.

I haven't consumed sugar except for the occasional treat and I feel just great. (You don't miss it or even want it after enough depravation. Cooked carrots start tasting like sugar, instead.)

I've supplemented the weight training with dance, of course, plus a jump rope routine that I found on You Tube:

(Rope jumping is recommended for people who have bum joints like mine, since it utilizes the balls of the feet, without putting stress upon the heels as running and jogging do.)

Also swimming, biking, walking, and stairs. (Plus that 15 minutes of ab work that Dr. Geary says is all one needs.)

Where are my abs, Dr. Geary? Will we finally see them? Well, I must say, lunging with weights gets pretty damn boring after a while, but I feel fantastic. They're still hiding, but I'll give you more time. (To be fair, I didn't buy your book, and I haven't been visiting your cheesarooni website, either. I can barely look at it. Blech.)

I used to take jazz and ballet dance - back during my "Flashdance" phase. Jazz dance made me feel like a cow (which was a new experience for me), what with the leaps and kicks, and I didn't even weigh 100 pounds at the time! You really have to be built like Gesley Kirkland to pull off some of those moves. (I couldn't even leap that well when I figure skated.) It wasn't until I discovered belly dancing that I found my niche, but lately I've been checking out the jazz dance on You Tube, and discovered this delightful performance. Enjoy!

(Even though I think the movie Flashdance is totally hokey now, implausible and melodramatic, I must admit that to a certain extent I have modeled my life after that of the main character, Alex - right down to the small detail of not quite being able to relate to these "fitness" types, as Alex couldn't relate to the other ballerinas. I love to exercise, but there's something about "Coach Nicole" above and these other fitness characters on You Tube that makes them a little too wholesome for me!)

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Friday, June 20, 2008

The Creationist's Nightmare

UPDATED: Ray Comfort blames the California wildfires on gay marriage, and then exhorts his critics to "get out more" because unbelievers "life in a fantasy world."

Great idea. I'd love to get out more and travel the world. Ray, I suggest you check out Albania, which for five centuries has had women pretend to be men:

For centuries, in the closed-off and conservative society of rural northern Albania, swapping genders was considered a practical solution for a family with a shortage of men. Her father was killed in a blood feud, and there was no male heir. By custom, Ms. Keqi, now 78, took a vow of lifetime virginity. She lived as a man, the new patriarch, with all the swagger and trappings of male authority — including the obligation to avenge her father’s death.

She says she would not do it today, now that sexual equality and modernity have come even to Albania, with Internet dating and MTV invading after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Girls here do not want to be boys anymore. With only Ms. Keqi and some 40 others remaining, the sworn virgin is dying off.

“Back then, it was better to be a man because before a woman and an animal were considered the same thing,” said Ms. Keqi, who has a bellowing baritone voice, sits with her legs open wide like a man and relishes downing shots of raki. “Now, Albanian women have equal rights with men, and are even more powerful. I think today it would be fun to be a woman.”

The tradition of the sworn virgin can be traced to the Kanun of Leke Dukagjini, a code of conduct passed on orally among the clans of northern Albania for more than 500 years. Under the Kanun, the role of a woman is severely circumscribed: take care of children and maintain the home. While a woman’s life is worth half that of a man, a virgin’s value is the same: 12 oxen.
The sworn virgin was born of social necessity in an agrarian region plagued by war and death. If the family patriarch died with no male heirs, unmarried women in the family could find themselves alone and powerless. By taking an oath of virginity, women could take on the role of men as head of the family, carry a weapon, own property and move freely.

They dressed like men and spent their lives in the company of other men, even though most kept their female given names. They were not ridiculed, but accepted in public life, even adulated. For some the choice was a way for a woman to assert her autonomy or to avoid an arranged marriage.

"Albania Custom Fades: Woman as Family Man," by Dan Bilefsky, New York Times, June 24, 2008 (requires subscription).

However, this venerable tradition of gender-swapping is now threatened by feminism! I wonder what Ray Comfort would make of that? Which is more evil - transsexuals, or feminists?

A big world, isn't it, Ray? And real confusing too, when you cling to moral simplicities and black-and-white absolutes. So, where are the floods and fires in Albania?
Remember Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, and their "atheist's nightmare," the banana?

(Of course you remember. This video is among the Top Ten Belly-Laughs of all time. I was down for the count for a full half-hour after seeing it. I laughed so hard that one side of my body went numb, and I thought I was having a stroke!)

Well, due to the banana having that artificial "tab" (bred via artificial selection), we may see a banana shortage in the coming years, and no only due to higher gas prices:

By sticking to this single variety, the banana industry ensures that all the bananas in a shipment ripen at the same rate, creating huge economies of scale. The Cavendish [currenly the only banana found on the market] is the fruit equivalent of a fast-food hamburger: efficient to produce, uniform in quality and universally affordable.

But there’s a difference between a banana and a Big Mac: The banana is a living organism. It can get sick, and since bananas all come from the same gene pool, a virulent enough malady could wipe out the world’s commercial banana crop in a matter of years.

This has happened before. Our great-grandparents grew up eating not the Cavendish but the Gros Michel banana, a variety that everyone agreed was tastier. But starting in the early 1900s, banana plantations were invaded by a fungus called Panama disease and vanished one by one. Forest would be cleared for new banana fields, and healthy fruit would grow there for a while, but eventually succumb.

By 1960, the Gros Michel was essentially extinct and the banana industry nearly bankrupt. It was saved at the last minute by the Cavendish, a Chinese variety that had been considered something close to junk: inferior in taste, easy to bruise (and therefore hard to ship) and too small to appeal to consumers. But it did resist the blight.
Over the past decade, however, a new, more virulent strain of Panama disease has begun to spread across the world, and this time the Cavendish is not immune. The fungus is expected to reach Latin America in 5 to 10 years, maybe 20. The big banana companies have been slow to finance efforts to find either a cure for the fungus or a banana that resists it. Nor has enough been done to aid efforts to diversify the world’s banana crop by preserving little-known varieties of the fruit that grow in Africa and Asia.

Then what am I going to put on my yogurt?

Now, for more serious matters: I have not been able to get this story out of my mind. A 61-year-old grandmother discovers her 16-year-old granddaughter in bed with another girl - normal teen-age experimentation it sounds like to me - and beats her granddaughter with a cane and a belt as punishment. The granddaughter is in a hospital; that bitch grandmother is in jail, where I hope she becomes someone's bitch.

What a rigid lunatic!

I couldn't stop thinking about it, and I needed some cheering up, so I turned to Margaret Cho for some perspective. This is from "Notorious C.H.O.," which I watched on the bus on the way to New York City to protest the Republican Convention with a bunch of other peace activists. (Actually, laughing your ass off at 1 a.m. is not the best way to get to sleep on a long bus ride.) The entire show is up at You Tube in ten parts (and thank you for that!).

Margaret describes how her otherwise conservative mother had an open mind about being gay: "I tell you gay story about Daddy!"

I hope someone shows this video to that poor girl in Pennsylvania, so that she and her friend don't think they're alone in being gay (or being straight and experimenting as normal kids do).

Shimmies to JanieBelle - who I understand is now quite the shimmier herself!

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Penny Lane

Guess what film is opening in Canada.

Guess who's flipping out about the possibility of "picketers" (because there were so many of them here, right?). Can anyone name one flipping "protest" against any showing of Expelled? Neither can I.

I wonder who will picket or try to crash? (There was a big hoo-haw over the screening at the Mall of the Americas when "raving atheist" biologist PZ Myers got ejected by line producer Mark Mathis.) Perhaps I will recognize some prominent local figures strutting importantly on the sidewalk.

Picketers please note, there is a wide sidewalk, and plenty of coffee shops nearby. The restrooms in the Cumberland Terrace are usually pretty clean too.

Be reassured, picketers! The government-funded Nanny Monster is always right, and she says that neither the universe nor life forms show evidence of design, despite the evidence. And in our random universe, the biggest Monster should rule, and that is She.

Yadda, yadda, yadda...

First of all, this breathless tactic ("Please picket! Please picket our film! We won the lawsuit and lost the war! We need more publicity now that we've run out of new angles!") gave me a flashback. (Yes, this is the same nutball group that also culminated in my contacting the FBI. Sheesh.)

Second of all, it reminded me of the other times that Denyse O'Leary poisoned her own well by opening her mouth.

Thirdly, it makes me think that "Nanny Monster" is a good nick-name for Denyse. (Do we need reminding as to why?)

Fourth, it makes me think that, as with the neighborhood nutballs who comprised the former neighborhood group, something very, very unexpected and existentially just is about to happen.

In anticipation, shimmies to Pharyngula and U Dream of Janie.

Oh! And don't forget - "How Life Began" is on the History Channel tonight (please let it not be inaccurate and suck), and Ken Miller will be on The Colbert Report.

(P.S. There was "a big hoo-haw" at the screening of Expelled that Rev. Barky and I attended? Well, I guess there were as many "hoo-haws" as there were women attending, no?) :-D

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Million Dollar Maybe

First of all, take a moment to visit my new addition to the blogroll.

What is Intelligent Design?
Intelligent Design (ID) is a scientific theory that says evolution's naturalism is wrong: an Intelligent Designer is responsible for the origin of the universe and of life and its diversity.

Isn't the "Intelligent Designer" just another way of saying "God"?
Of course not. The Intelligent Designer could be advanced aliens or the Christian God. We don't say which.

If it could be either aliens or God, why does your logo show the Christian God?
We had to pick one or the other, and it just happened to be that
one. We definitely don't rule aliens out. We even have an alternate version of our logo in case that turns out to be the case:

Do you really believe it could be aliens?
No. [Geez, Richard Dawkins got in trouble for entertaining this idea even only hypothetically!]

Is Intelligent Design scientific?
Yes, didn't you see that we italicized scientific all over the place?

How do you recognize when something is designed?
Something is designed when it is really complex, has Irreducible Complexity, or looks like it's designed.

What is Irreducible Complexity?
Irreducible Complexity means that something requires all its parts in order to function, so therefore it couldn't have possibly evolved.

How do you recognize when something is Irreducibly Complex?
Something is Irreducibly Complex when proponents of Intelligent Design can't imagine how natural selection could have produced it.

Speaking of intelligent design - In what is surely a publicity stunt rather than a serious challenge, Bushnell and Field and Stream are offering $1,000,000 for a clear, precise photo of Bigfoot.

We’re not saying we believe in Sasquatch, but if anyone’s ever going to capture an image of one, we’re guessing it’ll be a hunter with a trail camera. That’s why Bushnell is offering a chance at $1,000,000 to the first person using one who snaps a verifiable photo of the beast.

But just in case no Bigfoots wander your way, the editors at Field & Stream magazine are giving away great Bushnell gear for the best trail cam shots in the following categories: Deer photos, non-deer photos, and funny photos. There are three winners every month, and three grand prizes at the end of the year, so enter your photos today!

BONUS CATEGORY: For all you jokers out there – we’re giving away an additional Bushnell Trail Scout Pro camera for your best attempt to cheat Bushnell out of their $1,000,000 prize. So go grab your gorilla suit and head to the nearest woodlot. Just don’t get mistaken for a bear.

And no blobsquatching! Go ahead and fake that hernia! (Now BF enthusiasts claim to spot a "hernia" on the right thigh as the creature walks - but I think it looks like a bunching up on the costume.)

Oh, and don't do as Roger Patterson did and steal a camera and film (or video, today) to capture that million-dollar baby!

Roger Patterson was a incorrigible con-man apparently obsessed with female Bigfeet and who had already self-published a book mentioning one just one year before he allegedly captured "Patty" at Bluff Creek, California (in the nick of time, apparently, to go on tour with the film and pay off some debts). In fact, after capturing an alleged Bigfoot on film he was promptly arrested for nonpayment of the camera and the film - just two of the many items/money he stole or bilked from other people. And why would Roger Patterson swear on his deathbed that the film is legitimate if that was a lie? Well, he was dying of cancer and he wanted his wife to get the proceeds from the film.

Look, I had a Bigfoot phase too, when I was around twelve - and the legend still fascinates me, as old ghost stories and tall tales fascinate me. But it's now been thirty years since the Bigfoot phenomena peaked, and forty years since Patterson staged that tired old chestnut, the Patterson-Gimlin film. (The time to investigate that tired old film was right after it was shot, and even the late Rene Dahinden, one of the "Four Horsemen of Sasquatchery," and the only Bigfoot hunter I have any respect for, admitted that the Bigfoot hunters "didn't do our jobs" to investigate Patterson's and Gimlin's claims. No, they didn't - but Patterson also kept the location a secret for a long time, and to this day know one knows where he had the film developed.)

It's high time that someone coughed up a real creature, or produced some fossil evidence on par with what we have for other creatures that migrated to America (including human beings), or quit talking about Bigfoot. We know about the evolution of the bear in the United States, but* there has never been one fossil of BF found anywhere. All we get is more "enhancements" and theories pulled out of people's asses, such as below:

*Apes don't have butts like the "creature" in the Patterson-Gimlin footage. (Notice also that the buttocks don't move.) The "creature" in this film is problematic for many reasons (try to get a close-up glimpse of the heels - FAKE!), but the major objection is, this is an "ape" top-half with a human bottom-half. How an anthropologist like Dr. Meldrum can not realize this is beyond me. (Even the Smithsonian's John Napier, who was willing to entertain the idea of Bigfoot's existence, called this film a fake.)

Of course, the contest also calls for a good fake! Hmmmm....but that won't win me the million dollars...

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Something For the Dark

If you believe in the devil, you belong to him.
- Thomas Mann

It's Friday night, and school is out! Time enough at last for my favorite creepy crawlies. I recommend revisiting anthologies you enjoyed as a kid to read the stories you skipped before - and to reread the ones that scared the crap out of you. Like this dastardly little collection:

I especially recommend the stories "Something for the Dark" and "The Other Celia." Fun stuff.

"Ritual abuse" stories, a staple of the daytime schlock TV circuit in the 1990s, have certainly fallen off the map. Here is an interesting article: "Interpreting the Satanic Legend."

But really for enthralling reading I offer this gem, an excellent example of investigative reporting by Mark Opsasnick as he traces the supposed "true story" behind the so-called exorcism that inspired both the best-selling novel and the movie. In the process, he exposes the sloppy and downright irresponsible "what-he-said" hearsay and rumor-mongering that masquerades as "journalism."

Part 1: Feeling Devilish?

Emphasis on Blatty’s inspiration for The Exorcist intensified after the novel was released in May 1971, went to the top of the best-seller lists, and began receiving movie offers from Hollywood. The first of many major publications to consider Blatty’s literary sources was The New York Times, which weighed in with an article by Chris Chase on August 27, 1972 titled “Everyone’s Reading It, Billy’s Filming It.” The article chronicles how director William Friedkin became involved in the project and touches upon the fact that Blatty based his novel on a local story of demonic possession that he learned of while attending college.

Part 2: After the Movie

Media interest peaked after the movie’s release and subsequent success. The most fascinating and in-depth article ever to appear on the subject appeared in the January 1975 edition of Fate magazine. In a feature titled “The Truth Behind The Exorcist,” author Steve Erdmann reveals never-before-known information regarding the facts behind the story.

Part 3: Debunking the Myth of 3210 Bunker Hill Road, Mount Rainier

Rumors that the haunted boy had actually lived at 3210 Bunker Hill Road in Mount Rainier have been around since the early ’80s and have mostly been spread by neighborhood teens and newcomers to the area, who have raised the aura surrounding this location to urban legend proportions... I realized, however, that there was no evidence demonstrating that the family ever lived in Mount Rainier in the first place. Something was amiss.

Part 4: Friends and Neighbors Speak Out

Since J. C. was one of the very few who actually knew that Rob was going through this phase at the time and was able to observe the situation firsthand, I asked him if he thought the boy was actually possessed by the devil, and he responded...

Part 5: Truth and Consequences

After talking with so many people who had personally known Rob Doe it was disheartening to review the published material on the case from a new perspective and observe the various discrepancies between what has been written by others and what was told to me by individuals close to the family in question.

Reporters aren't supposed to be perpetuating urban myths and rumors - they should leave that to the experts - the fiction writers.

Yes, the fiction writers. Wah ha ha!

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Yoko Loses Lawsuit

Yoko Ono has lost her bid to remove the song "Imagine" from the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. And at AtBC, Glen Davidson expressed my feelings when he said: "I can't say I really mind."

Neither do I. Copyright law is just nuts. (So is Yoko Ono, who is not a sympathetic character.) Plus, I have to admit, I'm curious to see the reception that Expelled will get in Canada.

But I'm also kind of wondering how Ono will go ballistic... You don't want to piss her off...

(I just wish I could never hear that song again.)

P.S. I prefer Elvis Costello. (“Was it a millionare who said ‘imagine no possessions.’?”)

Not that John Lennon really believed in any of that nonsense - even when he was running around in military fatigues and spouting stupid faux-revolutionary rhetoric. But it sounded good in a song lyric.

Pop songs appeal primarily to emotions, not reason or logic. The fact that a sentiment sounds good coming out of a singer's mouth, with swelling strings and a Phil Spector production doesn't mean that it has any validity whatsoever.

No, we do NOT need more of this kind of sentiment. It actively works against the difficult and often unpleasant but utterly necessary task of sorting reality from fantasy.

Yes, remember that “But when you talk about destruction/Don't you know that you can count me out? (In! In!)” Hypocrite. I always hated that song, too.

Ironically, it’s Ben Stein and his producers who takes the song seriously, in contrast to what Al Barger has written:

On the other hand, maybe we should just give peace a chance. If we just go to Kim Jong Il, lighting candles and singing this song, then maybe one day he'll join us, and the world will be as one.

Hey, I thought it was Josef Stalin! ;-)

Now, probably Lennon himself didn't think that much about it when he was writing it. He had a hook and a catch phrase, and developed a strong tune for it - though it is stiff, white English church music that sounds like you should be wearing a jacket and tie and sitting on a hard wooden bench while you listen. Still, it is admittedly a well crafted, pretty song [emphasis mine].

It is?

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