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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.

Friday, October 23, 2009

This New-Fangled Halloween

Halloween is coming - and you know what that means. It's the time of year for book burnings. So, what's going up in flames this year? Harry Potter? Porn? The Ultimate Sudoku Challenge? Nope - this year, it's Bibles.

Come to our Halloween book burning. We are burning Satan's bibles like the NIV, RSV, NKJV, TLB, NASB, NEV, NRSV, ASV, NWT, Good News for Modern Man, The Evidence Bible, The Message Bible, The Green Bible, ect.

These are perversions of God's Word, the King James Bible...

We will also be burning Satan's popular books written by heretics like Westcott & Hort, Bruce Metzger, Billy Graham Rick Warren Bill Hybels , John McArthur, James Dobson, Charles Swindoll John Piper, Chuck Colson, Tony Evans, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swagart, Mark Driskol, Franklin Graham, Bill Bright, Tim Lahaye, Paula White, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Joyce Myers, Brian McLaren, Robert Schuller, Mother Teresa, The Pope...

Man. It sure is confusing, trying to keep up with the book-burners these days. But that's not all - if you want to see a true Halloween horror, check out this ministry's website, via this page (scroll down for the link - I'm not linking directly to these nuts). It looks like they licked a piece of candy-corn and wrote it on a puddle of melted crayons.

Since the author freely admits that he cannot read Hebrew, Greek, or Latin, how does he know that the King James Version is the only faithful English rendering of the Bible? Easy! The KJV tells him so! Wow. Such logic makes me weak in the knees.

Speaking of weak knees, apparently they don't make ghosts like they used to.

Ouch! That's awkward. I can see this Halloween shaping up to be just peachy. Therefore, I thought I'd rent The Shining again just to revisit a classic piece of horror by my favorite director. Wow! Was I disappointed!

Give me a break. This movie wasn't really that scary at all! What a rip-off. I don't remember it being heartwarming. So now how is one supposed to have a scary Halloween?

Good old Mary Poppins! Yes, as I recall, it was this movie (and not Alien) that made me jump high enough to stand straight up on my theatre seat backrest.

But seriously folks, you can have a great and spooky Halloween without any television. Just go to and check out their huluween specials, or my favorite classic shows: "Night Gallery," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," and "Outer Limits." (They also have "Dark Shadows," but it's the 1990s remake, not the original series, which I love - but I have parts of that on DVD.)

When I was very small, I saw part of a TV show that scared the living crap out of me so badly that I had to leave the room - it was worse than the famous third story from "Trilogy of Terror," which I actually could sit through. ("Trilogy of Terror" is not at Hulu, but you can watch it on YouTube.)

This particular program, I remember, had something to do with red, glowing eyes following a man on the street in the dark before attacking him. Then, there was a scene in which a man trapped in a basement watches in helpless terror as a creature with two glowing red eyes reaches its hairy paws into the window to pull the bars open and come in. I remember that, knowing that the show was about to end, I waited outside the room until all the scary noises had died down, then ran in to see the very last scene: a dark puddle of something on the floor, out of which, suddenly, two red eyes opened and glowed.

Not having any idea what the title of this show was, or if it was a TV movie or part of a series, I searched IMDb and Google and YouTube for this show that had terrified me, without any luck, until a few weeks ago I stumbled upon it by pure chance at Hulu! I could not believe that I had finally found that silly show that had made me scream bloody murder! (And no, it didn't have the same effect on me now.)

It was a "Night Gallery" episode, "There Aren't Any More MacBanes," starring a very young and weird Joel Gray, and (coincidence upon coincidence) including a walk-on role by a young Mark Hamill, who was later to cause me so much adolescent-girl-puppy-love-trauma as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. Too funny! It's a small Hollywoorld!

This year, the ghosts are not on the television - the ghost is our television! Television is dead. We can rebuild it; we have the technology. The average ghoul who wants more control over her Halloween viewing now has more choices than ever before. Between Netflix, Hulu, and LikeTelevision, along with all the online world news/entertainment channels to be had, and online mp3s of Old Time Radio shows, this promises to shape up to be a happy (and cheap) Halloween after all.

(What's that, you say? "Twilight Zone"? I didn't forget TZ - I have the entire collection on DVD. I don't even need an internet connection - I can watch it whenever I want! Bwahahahahaha! *evil laughter*)

Shimmies to Ed Brayton at Dispatches, and Book Patrol at Seattlepi, and all my ghosts and ghoulies out there.

P.S. Any "Twin Peaks" fans out there? You can watch seasons one and two for free at IMDb.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

My Sweat Lodge Experience

UPDATED: I thought this guru was just misguided, but the story has gotten worse. "People were not physically forced to stay inside but chided by Ray if they wanted to leave as he told them they were stronger than their bodies and weakness could be overcome." Oh, man - just as I said, this is just more stupid, Judeo-Christian compete with nature/transcend your body/look-at-me, I'm ascendant above the others shaming bullshit! That is not the Lakota way. That is not the Choctaw or the Crow way [these are the tribes I've been exposed to], to "prove" something. Why do white people continue to think that they're participating in a "Native American ritual" when everything essential (community, trust, mental preparation) has already been taken out of it?

I mean, how would Christians feel if a bunch of Hindus merely served coffee and doughnuts after praying to Shiva, and said, "Now I know what it's like to go to a Christian church"?
In light of the horrendous story of the people who have sickened and died as a result of paying $9000 - $10,000 to participate in what they thought was a "sweat lodge," I recall my own experience at the Rainbow Gathering in 1990.

I rode up to northern Minnesota with some people that I met through a notice I placed on the bulletin board at the Seward Cafe. After we parked, we had to trek about five miles with our gear to the actual camping site. After about three miles, I became tired and needed to rest - and I lost track of the people I had ridden with.

Several other people caught up with me and helped me repack my pack so that the walking was easier. We walked along talking until we encountered some Lakota guy who was stirring rice in a huge pot. He did not say a word, but simply offered us rice sweetened with honey and apples. One member of our group tried to engage the man in a conversation about crystals and the Tarot (groan!). I cringed, but the Native American just shook his head and said, "No, man."

"You've never heard of the Tarot?"

"Nope." And that ended the conversation. I grinned at him over my rice, but he was too busy cooking.

The food that he gave us perked me right up so that I could complete that long, hard trek to the campground; talk of crystals doesn't cook rice. And that is a big key to understanding so-called "Native American spirituality" right there. Hold that thought.

Upon reaching camp, I befriended and joined a group of strangers, then set out to find the people I rode in with - yeah, great idea, since there were only 10,000 people distributed among this expansive state park! I was feeling anxious and alone, wandering around in the growing dark among all these people, when another guy took my arm and said, "Hey, you seem to be searching for something." Doesn't that sound spiritual? But he didn't mean it that way. Leo listened sympathetically when I explained that this was my first Gathering, I was here alone, had lost my travel companions, and wasn't really having much fun.

"Let's hang out," he said. "Come with me and we'll get some food. Quit worrying about finding your friends, we're going to be here a week and someone else will give you a lift back to the Cities, if it comes to that. I'm looking for a good sweat somewhere. Besides, I'm Choctaw and I can find anybody." He said it humorously, as if the opposite was true. He didn't sound profound or "spiritual," he sounded like some friendly man with a sense of humor. If anything, he looked at this crowd of earnest idealists with a jaundiced eye. "One thing about these things, there's always good food," he said, "even if a lot of the people are stupid."

We did find something to eat; and we even found a "sweat lodge." It was small, intimate, and dark. (No light bulbs in a northern Minnesota forest!) With only the fire outside for illumination, we undressed and sat in the hot half-darkness. Everyone was extremely polite, offering each other water and counseling against the symptoms of overheating: light-headedness, agitation, etc. The one exception was this one obnoxious man who cajoled (almost ordered) us to stand in a circle, hold hands, and recite "this powerful prayer," which included statements like "Let Christ return to earth," and such. When the voices dropped off, he berated us for not showing enough enthusiasm. "Wow, this is really powerful," I muttered as we sat down again. "Some people should shut the fuck up," Leo agreed in my ear. We left not long after that.

So there you have my "sweat lodge experience" - mostly disappointing, pretty much a spiritual bust, and yet what I remember is the taste of good food made even better by the long walk in, and the companionship of a humorous guy who laughed about it afterward and gave me a backrub. "We had a good sweat, and that's all I care about!" he chuckled. "You need a good hot fire."

I groused about the "Christ return to earth" bit.

"Oh, well, lots of us combine our rituals with Christianity these days." He shrugged. "It doesn't mean what the die-hards think it means. Different tribes got together in the old times and combined their stories and dances and shit. What matters is what you do, not what you talk about. If you don't like something, just walk away. We don't fight about religion - we're not religious like that. It's not a ritual like that. A real sweat is supposed to last three days, anyway, and you smack each other with pine branches, but I usually don't do the whole routine."

What did I learn? What profound knowledge did I take away from my time with Leo? For something that didn't cost me a cent, I learned that I don't necessarily like sweat lodges - I can't take the sauna even for more than a few minutes. Leo laughed when I told him this. "Lots of people don't like them." I also learned that Native Americans chafe at the sight of their ritual and beliefs - which for them is a practice inseparable from belonging to a community of people that they know and love - being appropriated by these "gurus" for commercial purposes.

I learned that whatever "Native American religion" is, it's something done rather than talked about, and not done with strangers unless that person is taken under someone's wing, as I had been by Leo. It's not evangelistic, like that bossy kid in the lodge. Ideally, it's not puritanical or judgmental. You're not supposed to compete with others or "last the longest" in the sweat lodge.

Eat when you're hungry, sleep when you're tired, pay attention to your own damn business, expect disappointments in life, and treat the earth with respect - that's basically what I got out of my "sweat lodge experience."

Nevertheless, I did have fun at the Rainbow Gathering. I met a lot of hippies - real ones, poor, poor, poor - who spent the whole time cooking and feeding people, because they wanted to. I met a lot of Native Americans, who are more interested in talking about life, their friends, their families, their careers, and hunting than about their "religion." I swam and ate and danced to great drumming (if I have a "spirituality" it is dancing to a drumbeat), and even hung around the Hare Krishnas - for a while. (They have great food, but when they get out the tamborines, you beat it!)

Nothing profound - or maybe it was, depending on your point of view. If I say that there was something Zen about it all, I'm going to sound like I'm saying the opposite of what I really mean, aren't I? I'm going to sound all woo and I hate woo (and Leo hated it, too). Maybe that mangled ideal, "spirituality," is all about living without, you know, spirituality, and just accepting things as they are, because you're not longing for things that don't exist.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

The New Yorker Nails It on President Obama's Nobel

How does someone who loves the Prez to pieces but naturally has a "yes, but - " attitude toward the surprise awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to him navigate between the twin shoals of gushy worship and cynical tut-tutting? The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg, always a dry wit, throws this struggling captain a line:

If President Obama really had to get a gift postmarked Scandinavia this month, he would probably, on the whole, have preferred the Olympics. At least at the Olympics the judges wait till after the race to give you the gold medal. They don't force it on you while you're still waiting for the bus to take you in anticipation of possible future feats of glory, like a signing bonus or an athletic scholarship. They don't award it as a form of gentle encouragement, like a parent calling "Good job!" to a toddler who's made it to the top rung of the monkey bars.

Ha ha ha! Isn't it the truth? After watching the defensive response of Thorbjørn Jagland to questions about this choice, I began to suspect that this was really the "Congratulations for not being George W. Bush" award - which means, for pity's sakes, that any of the rest of us could have won the thing.

It's not a plastic, made-in-China "participation" trophy handed out to everyone in the class as part of a program to boost self-esteem. It's not a door prize or a goody bag or a bowl of V.I.P. fruit courtesy of the hotel management. It's not a gold star. It's a gold medal.

I'm hip to that. However, we must remember that even the gold medal itself is not always the Seal of Good Sportsmanship that it is meant to be. Let's not forget that ridiculous spectacle at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City:

Or a pensive Nancy Kerrigan pouting and stomping her foot after losing the gold - which she deserved to lose - to Oksana Bayul. (On second thought, let's forget that whole Tonya-Nancy-Oksana thing. Yes, please!)

Of course, in response to the awarding of another gold to Sale and Pelletier, the scoring and judging of figure skating was changed to make it more "fair" - so fair, in fact, that I cannot make heads or tails of it, and judging from the comments of others who watch this sport on YouTube, neither can they.

So fair, in fact, that we find ourselves looking up the good old days by watching old performances by Kristi Yamaguchi and Midori Ito*, and even the pre-1993 performances of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan (but man, did Kerrigan choke a lot - it's painful to see) rather than watch many of the skaters today, what with their "flutzes" (failed lutz - either falling off the takeoff edge, which makes it a flip, or under-rotating the jump so that the skater completes the last revolution on the ice) and "slips" (under-rotated flips). The new scoring system is supposed to award attempts at jumps but deduct for an incorrect takeoff edge, incomplete jump, and any landing that is not clean, and yet it seems to me that women's figure skating in particular went downhill after 2002.

(A few exceptions: the fiery Irina Slutskaya, who eats triple jumps for breakfast, and the lovely Shizuka Arakawa, the 2006 gold medalist, who I think could work on building more speed in her spins but completes her jumps with a confident back edge and a beautiful line. And despite her strong jumps I was never a fan of Michelle Kwan.)

Well, there it is. The award was not given, as I had hoped, to the Iranian student protestors. For better or for worse, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to President Barack Obama, who looked "abashed, even a little uncomfortable" according to Hertzberg, who adds, "the prize is won, but the peace, as always, is elusive." So it is. I don't think this honor has done much to help the current President step out of the He's-not-W shadow - that achievement, too, remains to be seen. But step out of that shadow, I believe, he will.

In other news, John McCain has requested that President Obama pardon Jake Johnson. I hope that he will.

*Both Kristi and Midori fell; Kristi won the gold. Uncharacteristically struggling to complete her jumps in the 1992 Olympics, Midori rallied, fought for the silver, and made skating history by throwing into her program a second triple axel. I love them both.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dear Ben, Is There Really a Sanity Claus?

Wow, I really can't get over the generosity of some people who work for a certain company - which shall remain unnamed, since I've added ads to my bloggity-blog. Follow the linkity-link to this Emerald City, Dorothy and gents.

The phone rang just as we were sitting down to dinner, so I was already predisposed to be irritated and only half-listening.

“Hi, this is John from C**cast. I’m just calling to see if you’d like to make a payment free of charge.”

Say what? I know I wasn’t really paying attention, but what did he say? “Make a payment free of charge?” What the heck does that mean?

If I only had a brain! Dorothy, though, caught by the tornado, follows the yellow brick road through a veritable poppy field:

I punched the C**cast number into the phone and was greeted by both Shaquille O’Neal and Ben Stein, thanking me for calling C**cast. Hmmm…that’s nice, I thought. I like Shaq and Ben. Nice to hear from them. I figured neither of them would be available to answer my questions, though, and I pressed on, hitting the correct prompt for billing inquiries...

The woman who answered greeted me politely and asked what she could do for me. “Well,” I said, “I received a phone call from someone last night who offered to let us make a payment to C**cast for no charge, which implies that sometimes, C**cast charges customers to take the customer’s money. Is that correct?”

“That is correct,” she responded.

“Okay, wait. I want to get this right. How does this work?” I asked.

“You can pay your bill on the internet or in person at a C**cast office for no charge, or you can use our automated phone system for a $2.00 convenience fee. You can also speak to a customer service representative and pay your bill for a $4.95 service charge,” she said.

“So what you’re telling me is that C**cast will charge me to take my money depending on how I want to pay the bill?” I asked.

“That is correct,” she said.

“Can you explain to me why they charge customers an additional fee to take the customer’s money?”

“I’m sorry; I can’t explain that. It’s company policy,” she responded.

Well, guess who's our internet provider, too. I wonder what Ben Stein would say? "Evolution can't explain why Con-cast would do such a thing, therefore it's..." [fill in the blank]. Hmmmmm. Maybe Ben Stein should write a column about it. ;-)

But of course he's been too busy, since his employers have been suing an anonymous blogger. However, they recently dropped the lawsuit, having located (they think) their man. It's none other than the Wicked Witch of the federal pen, but according to the irrepressible Felix Salmon, there is no ruby-slipper bling to be had:

Franklin Seegers, as a minute’s Googling will reveal, is an inmate of Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina, having been given a 40-year sentence in 2006 for his role in a violent drug gang known as Murder Inc. I don’t know who “flâneur de fraude” is, but I’m quite sure that it’s not Seegers. Still, I hope that Adaptive spend lots of time and money trying to serve a lawsuit on Seegers claiming defamation. This could be very funny indeed.

Shimmies to Felix, to the (defunct, but not defunct) Ben Stein Watch, and to Mary Fran Bontempo, who apparently never was in Kansas.

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