13 October 2013

14 August 2013

Literally.

I won’t bother to link to the article, but once again on the Internet, some nimrod was ranting about the end of civilization as we know it, and for evidence he pointed to the fact that once you Google “define:literally” you get this.

Definition 1 is the familiar definition, “Exactly.” Definition 2 is the popular, but often totally opposite, definition, “Virtually.”

The ranter is outraged, I tell you, outraged. Everybody who means “virtually” is using it wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. And now Google is telling them they’re right, because when they look it up on Google, they can now point to it and say, “Aha. Told you it means that.” The reason I’m not linking you to the original article (and the many, many others like it) is because these ranters don’t understand what a dictionary does.

A dictionary informs us what words mean when people use them.

It doesn’t inform us what words they ought to use, or which definitions are proper or improper. It could, but then it’s not doing its job as a dictionary. Let’s say I’m new to the language. Let’s say I grew up speaking Spanish. Or let’s say I’m a 10-year-old child with a 10-year-old’s vocabulary. And let’s say someone uses a word, and I’m not familiar with that word, and I correctly decide to look it up in the dictionary. I should be able to find that definition. If that person uses the word wrong—but everybody is using that particular word wrong, because people follow the crowd, and not dictionaries—I should nonetheless be able to find that definition. If I can’t, it means I’m not gonna understand what that person meant, and therefore that dictionary sucks.

If you wanted to get to “literally” before the idiots got hold of it and made it their own, you’re literally too late. And I mean that in both senses.

And if you’re bellyaching about the collapse of society, I got news for you: Your world ended. Mine didn’t. Mine is doing just fine.

Your world is a world in which words mean what they’ve always meant. They never evolve new meanings. They never require you to learn new things about them. They’re absolutes. Nice, comfortable, safe absolutes.

Your world has a lot of things like that. Customs stay the same. Cultural standards say the same. Beliefs stay the same. People stay the same. People fit into their nice comfortable categories and never deviate. Once you have a person’s personality pegged, you needn’t ever alter it. Once you’ve got a societal phenomenon figured out, you need never change your mind. You have people figured out. You have God figured out. You’re good.

Problem is, your world is imaginary. It doesn’t exist and never did. You manufactured it in order to bring yourself comfort. But change is the only constant in the universe. Change is inevitable. For God is behind it. He doesn’t want things to stay the way they are. He is making all things new.

That’s the world I live in. Makes me uncomfortable too. But it’s okay. Literally okay.

27 July 2013

The recovering atheist?

Kirk Cameron has a new movie coming out, called Unstoppable. Facebook tried to test how accurate that title was, by blocking its users from posting any links to Unstoppable’s website. Apparently the site set off Facebook’s spam detectors.

I’d better insert this disclaimer. I’m not a Kirk Cameron fan. I’m not talking about his acting; I think it’s okay. (Not award-winning good, but way better than, say, the kids in high school drama. When he’s in a lousy movie or sitcom, that’s the writer’s fault, not his.) I’m talking about his evangelism and outreach efforts.

When Cameron first got mixed up with Ray Comfort’s “Way of the Master” apologetics ministry—playing Comfort’s goofy sidekick in his training videos—he was okay, ’cause his job was basically to look on in awe as Comfort talked condescendingly about atheists and skeptics, and complain about how their intellect and critical thinking skills were getting in the way of the gospel. (No, really.) But now he acts like Comfort: Too confrontational, too arrogant, too dogmatic, and I hate the underlying philosophy of “You need to bypass your intellect and just believe.” It’s what the Mormons teach, and it violates Jesus’s command to love the LORD with all our minds. (Lk 10.27) Comfort’s problem has always been that his evangelism lacks patience, among other fruits of the Spirit. It’s too interested in winning arguments, and getting results—intellectually bankrupt results. Cameron, as his disciple, is just as fruitless when we see him in the press: Too little patience, kindness, gentility, and graciousness. Too little love. Too reminiscent of that “twice the son of hell” statement Jesus made to describe the Pharisees’ converts. (Mt 23.15) ’Cause while your average pagan knows nothing about Ray Comfort, they’ve heard of Kirk Cameron: He’s that kid who became a Christian, then became an a--hole to all his coworkers, on Growing Pains.

After Facebook decided to lower its spam shields and let Unstoppable stuff in, I found a video on a Facebook friend’s page, promoting the movie. Well, sorta. It mentioned the movie. But it was more of Cameron’s apologetics. He talked about being a “recovering atheist.” His words.

Now, if you know anything about Cameron’s history, despite being raised by Christians, he became a Christian at age 17. Which means he became an atheist as a teenager. I’m not entirely sure how atheist you can be, as a teenager: Most of the atheists I knew in high school didn’t know squat about atheism. They tended to be as Cameron describes: They don’t believe in God, yet at the same time they hate God. More accurately, they hate God as described by their parents, who did a crappy job of passing down God to them. That’s your standard unthinking atheist. Now intellectual atheists—the sort I discovered in college, once I met kids who had been raised atheist, who didn’t hate God, ’cause they’d never been improperly introduced—they’re another breed altogether. Describing all atheists as the God-hating sort just goes to show how many atheists you’ve really listened to, as opposed to assuming they’re all just ninnies like you were as a teenager.

What got me ranting about Cameron was his word “recovering.”

If you’re involved in the recovery movement at all—the 12-step programs, whether Alcoholics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery—you know “recovering” is a mighty loaded word. When addicts call themselves “a recovering addict,” what they mean by that is, “I’m an addict. But I’m trying not to be. I’ve seen the route that life goes, and I don’t want to go there.” Likewise when I call myself “a recovering Fundamentalist,” or “a recovering conservative,” what I mean by that, naturally, is “I’m a Fundie. I’m a conservative. But I’m trying not to be. I’ve seen the route that life goes, and I don’t want to go there.” So when Cameron calls himself “a recovering atheist,” the inevitable idea which comes to the mind of anyone in recovery, is “I’m an atheist. But I’m trying not to be.”

I’m gonna give Cameron the benefit of the doubt, and assume he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he uses this recovery language.

But let’s play with the idea just a little bit. What if he does know what it means to call himself “a recovering atheist”? What if he is an atheist—and he’s trying not to be?

Well, it definitely explains why he’s resorted to pseudo-intellectual arguments as the basis of his faith, and not so much a living relationship with Christ Jesus, with Christ’s attitudes—his love, grace, and compassion—emanating out his every pore.

14 July 2013

Fruit-free water, please.

I’m gradually developing a new peeve: Fruit-infused water.

Somehow or other, it’s become popular to chop up bits of fruit, put it in ice water, let the fruit decompose just a bit into the water, and serve it to people as if they want their water flavored that way.

As I understand it, the point is that the water have a subtle taste of strawberry, melon, cucumber, or whatever it is you’ve thrown into the water. But people don’t know how to do subtle. So they throw half a pound of fruit into the water—sometimes jumbled up, as if that makes it any better—and add a little sugar. This makes it taste like a really weak ade, like limeade with way too much water in it, or cherryade where the kids only had five cherries and figured they’d stretch the fruit as far as it could go. But it’s neither ade nor water. It’s some sad hybrid, and I don’t want it.

Ah, but if someone’s made it, they didn’t have a pitcher of water on the side. Their tainted water is the water. And they’re a little put out that you don’t want their fruity water. After all, it’s only just a little mango, or kiwi, or watermelon they’re floating in it. Why, you can hardly taste it. (Which begs the question, “So what was the point in adding it?”) But of course I can taste it, which is why I want water.

It never used to be any trouble to ask for only water.

Anywho. You wanna make fruit-infused water, go for it. Have fun. Get creative: Throw a chopped tomato and a sprig of basil in a pitcher of water. Somebody oughta like it. Not me, but somebody. But don’t forget to provide actual water on the side, for those of us who like our water without pulp.

10 July 2013

Homecoming, 2008.

The year is 2013, meaning it’s now been 15 years since I graduated from Bethany College, later Bethany University, which closed its doors in 2011. Now all that’s left of it is a campus which isn’t selling, a giant debt left over from years of mismanagement, and a really hostile alumni page on Facebook where people bitterly yell past one another about how the school should never have closed, and “who’s offered to buy the campus? Why, they’re not orthodox enough. Stop the sale!…” ad nauseam.

Well, that and some really awesome alumni, myself included. So there’s that.

Since nobody bothers to make much of a to-do of five-year and 15-year reunions, there’s not one for my graduating class. There wasn’t much of one for my 10-year reunion. I went to it in 2008, and I decided to resurrect some of the old posts I wrote about it.

Where I anticipate what I’m in for at Bethany’s homecoming.

Originally posted 1 February 2008.

The year is 2008. That means it’s now been 10 years since I graduated from Bethany College (now University) in 1998, and 20 since I graduated from Vanden High School in 1988. So, I’m feeling old. Not that old, but you know… old. Older.

I’ve said I have next to no interest in going to my high school reunion—in spite of being tracked down via Facebook and forcibly added to the VHS reunion page. But long before I have to decline invitations for that one, there’s Homecoming at Bethany, which takes place in two weeks. And since I live in the same town, and have Saturday free, there’s really no reason to miss it.

Well… except for the Homecoming schedule. Here it is.

Friday, 15 February.

  • 11 am. Guest Speaker and Alumni of the Year, Daniel Stump.
  • 11:45 am. Hall of Fame Luncheon.
  • 3 pm. Alumni vs. Alumni Game.
  • 5 pm. Reception Dinner.
  • 5:30 pm. Women’s Basketball Game vs. Simpson College.
  • 7:30 pm. Men’s Basketball Game vs. Simpson.
  • 9:30 pm. Presidential Reception.

Saturday, 16 February.

  • 8:30 am. Continental Breakfast.
  • 10 am. Award Chapel.
  • 12 pm. Lunch.
  • 2 pm. Decade Party.

They actually charge you for all these events, you know. You’re expected to pony up $50 for the whole shebang. $24 if you’re just gonna be there Friday, and $28 if just Saturday. Plus they want you to pay alumni dues. What’s the purpose of alumni dues? So they can maintain the mailing list, and send me a yearly newsletter in which they tell me all the great things Bethany is doing, in the hopes I’ll send them money. Basically I’m paying for them to ask me for money.

Since you knew I was gonna do it anyway, let’s go through these events one by one and look at whether or not they’ll be worth my time. Or anyone’s time.

The guest speaker. I don’t know Daniel Stump. He’s a missionary to Barcelona, Spain. I’m sure he’s quite deserving of an award, since missionaries never get enough credit for the hard work they put into church-planting. I expect his speech will consist of some stories about his experiences. It’ll be inspiring. Missionary stories usually are. However, I hear missionary stories on a pretty regular basis, and don’t wish to pay to hear another one. By the way, for those of you who don’t know Latin, his title should be Alumnus of the Year. But Bethany didn’t teach Latin, and as I recall there were darned few of us in Greek.

Hall of Fame Luncheon. Of course there will be food, which is always appreciated. It’ll be Café Bethany food, which is typically hit-and-miss. In order to make it a more formal occasion, they may break out the tablecloths and chafing dishes and the nice plates, and the entrees may be more grandiose than usual. But it’ll be Café Bethany food. I ate the stuff for years and don’t have that many fond memories of it. I remember it was spectacular in my first year, then turned to junk, then hovered round the Hometown Buffet standard. But I know even the most pedestrian cafeteria cook can crank out a decent meal when they’re called upon to do so.

The Hall of Fame component… well, I’m not entirely sure what that consists of. My guess is they’ll point out some of the more distinguished Bethany alumni, and we’ll collectively shrug our shoulders because we’re all Bethany alumni: We know it wasn’t the school which made us distinguished. It was God. It was us, as individuals, allowing God to do something significant with us. Some of these significant things produce titles. Some don’t. Since, as Jesus pointed out, in the Kingdom of God titles are irrelevant, we’re sort of honoring the very thing God doesn’t care about.

Alumni vs. Alumni Game. I don’t suppose the game will be paintball, although that would be several kinds of awesome. No, it’ll likely be basketball or volleyball—something we can play in the gym. The participants will consist of those alumni who’ve managed to stay in shape, plus a few good sports who were nagged into doing it by classmates or spouses. No one will care about the outcome… other than people who really shouldn’t. It’s really just an excuse to fill in the massive blank spot between lunch and dinner.

Reception Dinner. At some point or another, President Max Rossi is gonna insist upon speaking, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he uses this particular dinner to do it. He’s gonna talk about Bethany’s distinguished past. Of course, since we were there, we know what that past really consists of; Max wasn’t there, so all he knows is what the yearbooks vaguely show him. He’s gonna talk about Bethany’s amazing potential future. Of course, since we’ve heard many such speeches before, we know nearly all of them will come to nothing. They’re still in talks about selling the school to Azusa Pacific University. The future is up in the air.

Nonetheless, Max will try to tug at our heartstrings a little bit. He’s pretty good at that. He’ll be effective, I expect. Nostalgia is a funny thing. We tend to blot out our negative experiences, just because they were negative. All that’s left are a few individual (somewhat fuzzy) positive memories, and if they can be combined with some nice emotions, you might actually have something which makes you wistful for the past. The further away you are from that past, the fuzzier and more sepia-toned the memories become. We can even be convinced to honor those memories by throwing money at them.

But my memory is pretty darn sharp. I remember Bethany had great students which became great friends. I remember excellent professors. I also remember an inept administration which got in the way, way more often than helped. Since I live in the same town and know a few Bethany professors and students, I know things haven’t changed any. I’m not going to Homecoming to see the administration—even though I know Max Rossi, and think him a nice guy. I have no interest in funding grand projects which will either be tossed out the window once Azusa buys the school, or once Max gets sacked, or five years down the road when Max changes his mind ’cause he heard somewhere that Vanguard tried it. Schools are ultimately about the people, not the institution itself. I’m going to homecoming to visit the people. If they’re not there I’ll be bummed. They are 90 percent of what I care about. I only care about Bethany because I’d like my professors to stay gainfully employed. Well, most of them.

Basketball. I don’t know anyone on the current teams. I haven’t been following Bethany’s track record, and don’t care. At Bethany, basketball is, and has always been, a giant money pit. Money is dumped into that program to fund athletic scholarships for a lot of below-average scholars, Christians in name only, who are regularly unconnected with student life. The only reason I knew any basketball players as an undergrad was because some of them lived in my hall. They demonstrated nothing but contempt for the spiritual life on the campus, figuring it was all hypocritical because they themselves were hypocrites. Of course there were exceptions; some really outstanding Christians who are still serving Jesus in their communities. But there had to be some other way to get ’em scholarships to Bethany. The rest served no useful purpose to the school except to win games, and they often didn’t.

I still think Bethany’s intercollegiate athletics program should be eliminated. The scholarships ought to be given to more worthy academic candidates, and the gym used for actual P.E. courses. The only reason we have a homecoming game is to make people not think about the drain basketball truly is. It’s to watch the kids beat Simpson College, and evoke more nostalgia.

Presidential Reception. I’ve actually crashed one of these after the Homecoming game. It’s pretty much coffee, hors d’oeuvres, and the President shows up to schmooze. It’s so people can come down after all the excitement during the game… provided Bethany wins, which it may.

I may actually crash this year’s reception, but otherwise I have no interest in going to the Friday events.

Continental Breakfast. That means no chafing dishes; just cold muffins and scones and fruit. And hot beverages. Since I’m paying $28 for what amounts to two meals and small talk, it’s a bit disheartening that our first meal is gonna suck hard. I’d rather go to the Starbucks down the road. But even so, I’m definitely going to the continental breakfast. I’m not gonna go to the extremes my dad would, and smuggle scones out of the café. But I’ll be sure to eat a lot of them.

If I run into some interesting classmates and get to talking with them, I’ll make sure to skip…

Award Chapel. In which there will be a chapel service. Likely worship music, which is fine; and maybe another bad sermon, the likes of which I had to put up with throughout my years at Bethany. Oh, and they’re gonna hand out awards. Awards for what? To whom? Well honestly, who gives a rip? What could any of us have done, which actually merits an award from Bethany? I suppose if we gave them a million bucks to renovate the dorms, or managed to recruit a thousand students, there’d be legitimate cause for recognition. But awards for just going through life, doing what Christ has called us to do? I want my award from Christ, not alumni president Abe Daniel. No offense, Abe; I just happen to prefer my boss’s accolades to yours. Especially since yours may cancel his out. (Mt 6.1-6)

Lunch. If you’re visiting the campus on any other day, lunch at Café Bethany is about $5. So I’m getting severely overcharged here. I also know from experience that the students, the ones currently paying to be here (like I was when Homecoming took place when I was a student), are being shunted to the Fireside Room to eat substandard lunch fare. Even though they pay a bundle for the meal program. Nobody wins but the Café.

I have a bad feeling we’ll also have to put up with speakers during lunch. But hopefully my classmates and I can ignore them and get on with our conversations.

When I was an undergrad, our lunchtime conversations would occasionally last till about 2. Everyone would be gone—the café staff trying to shoo us out of there—and we’d still go nattering along about whether Jesus’s students ever played soccer, or whether New Jerusalem will have indoor plumbing, or whether King David in his youth ever worried his sheep. I’ve never initiated any of the more inane conversations, but for whatever reason I felt obligated to put them to rest, and so we’d go on and on and on till we absolutely had to leave for our afternoon commitments. No doubt some of us can still talk like that. I certainly can.

Decade Party. As if the bulk of us hadn’t already grouped into cliques with the folks we attended school with, we’re now forced to go off and mix with people, based on the decade in which we graduated. So that puts me in the ’90s room. I know some people who graduated in the 2000s, and some who graduated in decades previous, but I guess I’ll get that schmoozing out of the way over breakfast and lunch.

And there, I guess, we’ll stay until people decide they have to drive home to other parts of California, or catch a flight to other parts of the world, or decide they’re just tired of reminiscing with people who really haven’t grown as individuals since they last saw them. Others will stay uncomfortably late, until staff encourages them to leave and take it to Starbucks (and since the one nearest the campus closes at 9, maybe they should take it to LuLu Carpenter’s in Santa Cruz). As for me, I will probably have had enough of them by 4, and go home and get ready for the Sunday service.

Homecoming from the alumnus’s perspective.

Originally posted 16 February 2008.

First of all, let me rant about a minor peeve of mine. “Alumni” is plural. If you’re referring to an individual, it’s “alumnus” for a male, “alumna” for a female. You don’t call yourself an “alumni” of your school; it’s like identifying yourself as a “dumbasses.” Got that? Good. Now it’s out of my system.

Well anyway:

8:30 am. Continental Breakfast. I showed up early for the Continental Breakfast, and after a few minutes got in there, got my nametag, and proceeded to scarf down bagels and scones and raisin bran. And lots of coffee. The café has apparently switched to serving good coffee. Last time I was there, they served Starbucks™, but they didn’t really know how to brew it properly. (And I suspect they were using Scotts Valley tap water, which tastes like ass. Literally, like a dead ass was dropped into the aquifer, where its sulfurous carcass tainted every sip.) So it wasn’t all that great. I once compared it with actual Starbucks after having gone directly from Starbucks™ to the café…. Aw, crap, I’m off on a tangent. Never mind.

Okay. So. I figured, “Well, the class of ’98 has gotta show up at some point, so I’ll make sure there’s a table for them,” and I picked out an empty table and started eating at it. About 15 minutes in, it occurred to me the gang may very well have gone to the Presidential Reception last night, decided to move on to an after-party elsewhere, and decided to ditch the Continental Breakfast because they’re too hung over tired. A member of the class of ’61 figured the same thing. So the next thing you know, I’m at a table with a bunch of seventy-somehings, and they’re discovering to their horror that I actually believe in both Jesus and global warming.

It was interesting listening to them reminisce. Some of them were there when the school moved from San Francisco to Santa Cruz back in the late ’50s, and they had some zany memories.

Five cups of coffee later, I went to the chapel.

10 am. Award Chapel. I was hoping to avoid this, but I went to the bloody thing anyway.

The Alumni Coordinator had asked me, during breakfast, whether I’d like to go be a part of the Alumni Choir, which was warming up before the service. I declined with my usual, “I don’t think anyone wants to hear me sing.” I assumed some of my class was in the choir. None were. In fact, the only person in my class there at the chapel at all, was Alumni Association President Abe Daniel. Everyone else… well, I met a very few people from ’88, a larger bunch from ’78, a lot of people from ’68, and even more people from ’58. Which makes sense. Older people tend to be retired and can afford to make the time for Homecoming. People my age haven’t always felt the nostalgia kick in just yet. Wait till we hit 40.

The service began with some scholarship recipients, who wished to thank the Alumni Association, so Abe had them come up on stage while he read their thank-you speeches. Why’d he read them? Why couldn’t they read them? I didn’t remember to ask him later. Maybe it was for the sake of time; maybe they were nervous; maybe Abe likes to hear himself talk… Nah, they were probably nervous.

Then we sang a hymn, and we were introduced to the current ASB Student Senate, as if we cared. The ASB president said a few words, which indicated he must’ve been elected for personal popularity, ’cause it sure wasn’t for public speaking skills. Hey, so long that he’s doing a good job.

Garland Covington was presented the Heritage Award, so he said a few words. Pretty much all the award recipients didn’t know why they were deserving of an award. Alice Alford (who won the Founders’ Award) joked they ran out of worthy recipients, so they decided to give ’em to everyone else, and since her name starts with A, she’s first. Jay Swartzendruber, who won the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award, didn’t show up to receive it, but sent some remarks. As I pointed out, none of us are doing what we’re doing so that Bethany will give us awards.

The Alumni Choir came after Covington. First they sang the GTBI Song. Glad Tidings Bible Institute is Bethany’s original name, when it was in San Francisco, and some of the visiting alumni were actually GTBI alumni. So we sang their school song. Then we sang the Bethany Alma Mater. It was written when Bethany was still called Bethany College, but a few years ago it became Bethany University, so the song was altered: In the two instances where it had “college,” it now had “university.” Trouble is, it now has three extra syllables in two different lines, and attempting to compress “university” into two syllables became chaos.

“Someone needs to write a new song,” I told Abe later. “And put a backbeat in it.”

“Not me,” he said.

Then the choir sang an old Pentecostal hymn, a few more people accepted awards, the Bethany Ambassadors sang some worship songs… which I’ll rant about another time. (The Ambassadors were fine, but their song selection… yeah, I’ll rant about it later.)

Then we had karaoke: Dan Fryer and Lisa Jensen, two fiftysomethings with big ’80s hair (which is how you know they’re fiftysomethings), got up and sang along to a CD track. This being Bethany's chapel, their monitors (if they even had any) in no way matched the external sound system. So they had no idea how much their voices were being drowned out by the cheesy backing harmonies of the CD, and how the sound guy—all the way in the back of the chapel, unable to actually hear anything, since there are no speakers back there—was desperately trying to balance them as they sang. Great Thundering Zeus, it was awful. Profoundly awful. But we clapped anyway because we’re all nice Christians. Plus many of the older alumni suffer from hearing loss. Anyway, some of us are used to crap like that in our churches on a regular basis. This is how singers get the idea they’re any good: Our pity applause only encourages them to inflict more of their “talent” upon others, and try out for American Idol, and fail humiliatingly. See folks, this is why honesty is the best policy. I know you want to spare their feelings, but think of the hundreds of people who have to experience this horror again.

Bethany President Max Rossi then got up to speak, and of course he included some fund-raising, ’cause that’s his job. We had to watch a video of how Bethany wants to build a new dorm… and throw in a conference center while they’re at it. Of course, since everyone’s aware Bethany may very well be purchased by some other school within the next couple years, it’s not gonna be easy to raise money for infrastructure when you don’t know how that money will be re-allocated under the new administrators. So I don’t know how well the pleas for money went. I doubt they went well.

12 pm. Lunch. Again I figured the class of ’98 might finally show, so I took a solo table. Then nobody showed. I eventually wound up with current Bethany students at my table.

“You don’t usually eat this well on a Saturday, I take it,” I said to one student.

“Never,” she said.

“And that’s the dumb thing,” I said. “We’re alumni. We know what Bethany is like. We lived here. We know the buildings are falling apart, and the food sucks, and administrators have huge plans that won’t ever go anywhere but they really want money for it. Who do they think they’re kidding?”

I don’t know if my ranting drove them away, but they did leave awfully quickly. Eventually the folks who sat by me at breakfast came over, and we talked a little about grandchildren and HMOs.

The food wasn’t bad; salad and vegetables and grilled chicken, served on the chafing trays because they didn’t want us wandering through the cafeteria-style serving tables and experiencing some real nostalgia for what college food is like.

Abe took advantage of the fact we were all at lunch together to perform some Alumni Association business. We had to approve a new member to the Alumni board. Since I knew the candidate, Kirk Smith (he was ASB vice-president on my first year in the Student Senate) I figured he was pretty unlikely to screw up the job, and voted for him.

Then, for some reason, probably because someone owed Satan a favor, Fryer and Jensen popped in a CD and proceeded to “entertain” us for the rest of our meal. As I felt the bile rise, I told the folks at my table, “I don’t think it’s possible to be too early for the Decade Party,” and left.

2 pm. Decade Party. The Decade Party was in the Spot, also called the Robert Harrison Student Union, which used to be the bookstore when I was an undergrad. I used to live on the third floor. I actually arrived for the Decade Party at 1 pm, and spent the entire hour reading, and waiting for other people to show up.

Everyone who graduated from 1990 to 1999 were expected to go to the Spot and reunite. What made it a “party” was that the Homecoming coordinators had provided us with two 12-packs of canned iced tea. Yes indeedy, that was $28 well spent on Homecoming.

If you didn’t come to Homecoming, you suck. In all there were (I think) 12 of us. Most of us were alumni, and a few of us were spouses. Some brought kids. We hung out for about two hours, said hi, talked about what we’d done in the past decade and what we were doing now, caught each other up on the classmates we knew who weren’t there, resisted the temptation to manufacture malicious, scandalous gossip about the ones who said they were coming and didn’t (okay, that was just me) and left around 4.

“We need to get everyone to attend next Homecoming,” one of them commented.

Yeah, probably. I might attend. That’s actually my brother’s graduating class, but I know a few of them. Might be interesting. But I think I’ll give the rest of the “festivities,” such as they are, a miss and only go to the Decade Party. The rest of the action was a waste of the day.

No offense to the coordinators… but come on, folks. Would you want to attend any of that?

04 July 2013

Independence Day, 2013.

Happy Independence Day.

Haven’t done much for it yet. Ordinarily we might hit up the Fourth of July parade in Fairfield, but my favorite vantage point from which to watch it, the air-conditioned Alpha Pregnancy Resource Center office, is no longer available, since Mom doesn't work there anymore. We’re in the middle of a heat wave: It’s before noon, and already 93 degrees in Fairfield, and 103 in Vacaville. I'm spending it indoors if I can help it, and only venturing outside for fireworks. And barbecue.

I did go outdoors briefly. My sister Shannon and her family are visiting from Spokane, and since she’s so seldom in California, my brother Chad wanted to gather us Leslie siblings together and have coffee or something. We compromised: Kerry and I went to Peets Coffee & Tea, and Chad and Shannon went to Jamba Juice; the stores are right by one another in the Nut Tree shopping center. (Kerry took the selfie at right.) The temperature was already climbing by then. But I’ll still drink coffee. Forget energy drinks; coffee is the original, and as far as I’m concerned, still the best of them.

Tonight we’re all at Mom’s for barbecue. We’re not decided on fireworks. Either we’ll stay in town and watch Vacaville’s spectacle from someplace we can easily drive away from (the traffic gets nuts afterwards), or we’ll go to Dixon and watch their show. Dixon is a little warmer and a little farther away, but on the up side, fireworks are legal in Dixon, so there’s always the chance we can watch someone accidentally set themselves or their car on fire. So there’s that.

Today I was scanning the blogosphere, and a lot of the Christian bloggers I read were commenting on civic idolatry. It’s a problem, and one patriotic Christians (particularly conservative Christians) don’t think about all that deeply. Looks like they’re starting to; even the conservatives were commenting on it today. I notice they get less idolatrous the longer Democrats are in power. Because I used to engage in it quite a lot myself, I’m a little hyper-sensitive about it.

Civic idolatry is when we take our patriotism too far, and start to talk about the United States as if it can do no wrong, or talk about our Founders as if they were infallibly wise, or move beyond “God bless America” to the usual baloney about America being a Christian nation which needs to return to the Christian principles of the Founders.

I’ve read and taught enough Revolutionary-era history to know better. Times may change, but human nature doesn’t. Politicians back then were exactly the same as politicians now. They paid a lot of lip service to God and Christianity, but once you look closely at their personal lives, you find they were neither as conservative or as Christian as some of us would like to believe. The so-called “Christian principles” they followed were largely the principles which managed to leak down from Christendom into English common law and the larger society. The Christianity they followed, same as today, is what the wider Christian culture interprets as religion as Jesus would want it practiced, and not necessarily the behavior Jesus truly wants of us. Fr’instance, the slaveholders: Did any of them actually follow the principles of slaves-are-brothers-in-Christ that we read in Paul’s letter to Philemon? Other than George Washington, who among them actually freed their slaves? While some Founders were certainly devout, I can’t say that as a whole they were any more devout than our present-day Congress.

I never presume when we say, “God bless the U.S.A.,” God’s automatic answer is yes. I do pray he blesses it; I certainly don’t pray this because I believe we deserve it. (I realize many people consider it blasphemy against America to say this, and that anyone who says it is somehow not a “real” American.) On the contrary: “God bless America” is a prayer for grace, because we don’t deserve it. We don’t make enough of an effort. Whether liberals or libertarians, too many of us figure all the necessary sacrifice was done by the Founders and the veterans, so we don’t have to put anything in. We just have to be true believers in order to draw freely from the blessings of liberty. Tax-free whenever possible.

It’s great that we believe in freedom. It’s annoying how very few of us believe in the values which need to work hand-in-hand with freedom to make it worthwhile. Namely justice and equality and sacrifice. It irritates me when so-called Christians blame the needy for their own neediness, and insist prosperity should be rewarded, as if it were merited, instead of the blessing from God that it is. It bothers me when conservatives and liberals both are more concerned about defending the purity of their ideologies as a whole, rather than recognizing which parts of them are of God, which parts are not, and holding onto the good and shunning the evil.

I’m concerned that our insistence that America is a Christian nation (when our Constitution has clearly made it a secular one) is unduly alienating non-Christians. I’m concerned this will get in the way of sharing Jesus with them, ’cause all they can focus on is how we seem to want them gone or marginalized. I’m concerned too many Christians equate the Kingdom of God with the United States (or the Republican Party)… and are due for a shock when Jesus decides to remove them once he returns. Or, God forbear, sooner.

I love my country, but I’d like to think I love it realistically. I’m not one of those idiots who threaten to leave it whenever the other party wins an election. Nor am I one of those idiots who side with it regardless of whether it does right or wrong. I want the best for it, and still believe the best is achievable—which is why America is great.

That, and we have coffeehouses with free refills. Okay, Peets isn’t one of them, but still.

26 June 2013

On the forwarding of lame poetry.

When I originally posted yesterday’s poem about sucky youth leaders, way back in 2005 (yep, eight whole years ago), I soon afterward got this in my email:

Dude! I LOVED the poem on your web site. That was pure genius. I e-mailed it to thirty people I know, they’ll totally love it cuz we’ve all had awful youth pastors like that before.

Emailed to 30 people. Ugh.

Y’see kids, back in 2005, Facebook was still limited to college students. So how did people pass around all their favorite pictures of cats asking for cheeseburgers? Email. We emailed them to one another. So every day, I would get on my dial-up Internet, slowly wait for Hotmail to finish loading, and discover 20 to 30 “forwards” from people: Forwarded emails which were slowly being passed around the Internet, containing jokes, links, rumors, paranoid rants, amusing photos… you know, all the stuff we now post (and ignore) on Facebook.

Thank God for Facebook. Now we can use email for its original intent: Email. Well, and ads for penis enlargement. But mostly email.

So, for spreading all that spam, I called that fan an evil bastard. He didn’t appreciate that. But as I pointed out on my blog at the time: I do not write things so people can clog one another’s inboxes. I know Blogger gives people the ability to email my posts to other people. I have no problem with that, provided those folks request to read the things I write. (I would think it’d be much easier to actually go to the blog and read it, but if your workplace, or your overly restrictive parents or school, blocks Blogger, then I can understand using email as a workaround.) If you email one of my posts to someone unrequested, in my experience you’re far more likely to alienate people with my writings, than amuse them.

But come on, thirty emails? The poem wasn’t that good. So I told him privately, and posted publicly, “Stop raping their mailboxes with crap. Especially my crap.”

I still don’t like forwarded emails. Sometimes I still gotta use dial-up, which is slow enough without having to slog through useless emails which some fool found amusing. I’ve told friends, “Don’t send me that stuff anymore. Talk to me. Tell me what’s new with you. Then include a hotlink to whatever funny or interesting thing you’ve found on the Internet. But I wanna actually hear from you.” Well, a few of them did… and a few of them simply wouldn’t stop sending me forwards, so I blocked ’em and send them directly to the trash. Some of those folks are now Facebook friends. They never post anything about their personal lives. Well, until they have children. Then they never post anything about their personal lives, but there are loads of baby photos. Which I can live with. At least it’s not in my inbox.

25 June 2013

A poem, in honor of my sucky youth pastors.

You readers probably know I don’t think very highly of the youth pastors I had while growing up.

To be fair, it’s not necessarily their fault. Youth ministry wasn’t their specialty. They went to school to learn to shepherd adults, not kids; they didn’t know squat about child psychology, or any psychology; and the church didn’t give them the freedom to really lead us properly. Plus, at that time in my life, I was an awful kid. Still, knowing what I know now, I can look back and conclude that yeah, they really didn’t know what they were doing.

So I wrote a poem about it. Like to hear it? Here goes.

I was all of eleven when Father sat down
And directed me right to his side,
And the gloom in his eyes had awakened my fear
That I’d sinned—he was after my hide.

“No it’s not that,” he said, “but whatever that was—
Well, we’ll talk about that once again.
No, it’s something more difficult I must discuss
Since you’re now at an age over ten.

“In this next year, you’ll go into (gasp) junior high
And the misery found in those grades.
And you’ll look to the church for what comfort you can…
But you’ll only find sports and charades.”

“I don’t follow,” I said. “Well you see,” said my dad,
“In the sixth grade you’re known as a Youth.
Not a boy, so no Sunday School class anymore.
Therefore now I must tell you the truth.

“Son, a Youth is distracted by things of this world:
What is ‘cool,’ what is stylish, or ‘it.’
If the church can’t keep up, we may lose you for good.
So we altered our standards a bit.

“First, we parents abandoned our leadership roles
Because kids don’t respect us as ‘cool.’
And since that is their standard for leadership, we
Have adopted this ‘cool’ as our rule.

“But we found that they just won’t accept us as cool.
This is odd, and we can’t figure why.
We said all the same slang and we wear the same clothes!
Yet the Youth think it’s odd, or a lie.

“So our church sought a person authentically cool—
One the Youth would accept and obey—
Thus we hired a Youth Leader to do the job
And instruct them to go the right way.

“First, he tries to determine what’s ‘cool’ with the kids.
Then he tailors himself to their fad.
In this way, he’ll distract them back into the church!
—But my son, his theology’s bad.

“See, to find us a leader the Youth will accept,
Our church hired a leader so young
That he’s barely emerged from his own Youth himself.
So he’s lacking in wisdom, and dumb.

“His poor brain was quick-crammed with theology from
All those schools he’s so fresh from. And so
He’s been shown each historical route Christians take,
But he hasn’t a clue where to go.

“In this state, he is hardly a leader of men.
(He’s half heretic, to tell the truth.)
We can’t trust him to deal with maturity well.
So… we put him in charge of the Youth.

“Now my son, I’ve discipled you. You know your stuff.
So I must warn you way in advance
Of the sort of Youth Leader we’ve hired to lead.
He’s a risk, but we’re taking a chance.

“See, the first guy we hired was a bit of a nut.
He drove out thirty kids with his ways!
He told them, ‘If you’re halfhearted, you’ll go to hell!’
Half the Youth group was gone in ten days.

“Then the next one we hired: He’d take in any freak—
Even kids who came in from the slums!
He was hired to babysit our kids, not them!
Now he’s gone, serving meals to those bums.

“The Youth Leader last year was a heck of a guy.
His defect was that he was too wise.
He got picked as lead pastor in some other church.
We can’t hold on to quality guys.

“Now the current Youth Leader is not like the rest.
Sure, his reasoning isn’t quite sound,
But the elders got sick of debating the rest,
And this guy… they can push him around.

“So at times he might tell you you’re going to hell,
Or he’ll threaten you till you obey.
He might frappé the culture with things of the Lord.
So watch out for some things that he’ll say.

“When you have any questions, please go to your mom
Or to me; we will both help you out.
Yeah, you won’t find us ‘cool’ enough. We understand.
’Cause it’s why our church hired that lout.”

“I don’t get it,” I told Dad. “Have you put my Youth
In the hands of a heretic, Dad?
If he’s kind of a fool, as I think you’ve described,
The results can be nothing but bad!”

“It was not my idea,” said Father to me.
“But I think we can yet see God’s plan.
Every Youth must determine for her or himself—
In the most honest way that they can—

“Whether they’ll be a Christian, or they’ll turn away.
And the thing which provokes them the best
Is the garbage the Youth Leader feeds them each week.
It’s the ultimate form of a test.

“He will frustrate them, force them to really seek God,
And maturity will have been won!
—Or they’ll chuck the whole system as stupid and weird,
And we’ll have one less hypocrite, son.”

So I went through the Youth program in my teen years,
And the Youth leaders came, and went on,
And the things which some taught would send them to the stake
If they’d taught them in 1301.

In the end, it turned out like my dad has foreseen:
Many Youths turned away from the flock.
But a few realized God was here nonetheless,
And that Jesus was always our rock.

But what always nags at me is one little thing:
Is this really the best Youth can get?
Are Youth destined to follow each flake, loon, or nut
When adults can’t be led by them yet?

There has got to be better than this for our Youth.
For our Youth, after all, are the church.
It’s not will be, but are. This the adults ignore,
And abandon the Youth in the lurch.

Now, to all the exceptions: God bless you. You’re great.
And to all the good leaders: Fight on!
And to everyone else: Please consider this fact.
Why are so many former Youth gone?

07 June 2013

Paranoia will destroy ya.

Today, I put Equal in my coffee. As I usually do.

I know: Equal consists of aspartame, among other things. And aspartame, if some of my friends’ favorite websites are to believed, will give me cancer. Or, contrary to popular expectation, cause obesity. Or shut down my liver or kidneys. Or monkey with my metabolism in some way.

As will everything else I eat. The meat and dairy products are filled with hormones, which are killing me. The vegetables and grains consist of genetically modified organisms, which are killing me. The fat and sugars are killing me; if I try to substitute them with artificial fats and sugars, that will kill me. The coffee I drink so much of is, despite how much decaf I drink, killing me. Tap water is full of poisons, which are killing me; bottled water is full of poisons, which are killing me. The only alternative is to eat stuff grown in my own victory garden and drink rainwater… except the pollutants in the rainwater are gonna kill me too, so I’d better distill it first.

31 May 2013

28 May 2013

On being a member of the jerk club.

A month or two after I moved back to Vacaville, I was out front clearing some branches from the forest that is Mom’s front yard. She likes to prune the heck out of every tree on her property, then leaves all the branches for me to saw up and shove, awkwardly, into her yard waste bins. She has the nerve to think I have the easy part of the job. But I digress… wait, no I don’t; this is the introduction.

One of the neighbors, out on a power walk, decided to pause for a moment, ignore my rather obvious red earphones, and strike up a conversation with me. Not that I mind. Okay, sometimes I do, and will wear my headphones even though the iPod isn’t on, just so people won’t interrupt my train of thought. But that’s rare. I’m not that introverted.

Once he found out how old I was, he realized I was the same age as his son. “So you must’ve gone to Vanden,” he said. “Do you know Evan?” Which is not his son’s name, but I don’t care to give his name. It took me a few seconds to recall him. “Yes,” I told him, “I know of him. We weren’t in the same circles.”

There’s a story behind that, of course. Isn’t there always? This is a blog, after all.

26 May 2013

I don’t live in a small town.

Vacaville is not a small town. It used to be, when my family moved here in 1982. It hasn’t been for years. The last census, in 2010, put the city’s population at 92,248. That makes Vacaville the 315th largest city in the country; bigger than Chico, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, Napa, or Palo Alto. Or, if you wanna compare other states, Boca Raton, Florida; Sioux City, Iowa; Portland, Maine; Trenton and Camden, New Jersey; Santa Fe, New Mexico; or Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Yet people think it’s small ’cause they’re comparing it with other cities: Sacramento (#35, pop. 466,488) to the east, San Francisco (#14, pop. 805,235) and Oakland (#46, pop. 390,724) to the west, San Jose (#10, pop. 945,942) to the south, and Vallejo (#225, pop. 115,942) and Fairfield (#257, pop. 105,321) in the same county. There are also the various things Vacaville doesn’t have, like a new-books bookstore (other than the Christian bookstore, which doesn’t count), an IMAX theater, an indoor shopping mall, a Noah’s Bagels or Trader Joe’s, a daily newspaper (it dropped Mondays), or a decent public transportation system. And the city’s civic leaders have done their darndest to manufacture a small-town feel, what with the Town Square and Creekwalk and various community events and traditions. So it fools the locals into thinking Vacaville is still small.

24 May 2013

07 April 2013

Mr. Squish, movie-reviewing sell-out.

Back in the early 1990s, Universal Pictures probably got tired of all the one-star reviews the professionals were giving them for their insipid, stupid movies. Because instead of tucking into their TV ads the typical “Heywood Jablome of the Saskatoon Auto Trader gives it five hubcaps!” they began showing a camera crew asking average citizens, as they came out of the theater, what they thought of the movie they just watched.

Now, be realistic: If you come out of a movie theater and there’s a camera crew, and they’re gonna put you in one of their national TV commericals if you give their movie movie a positive review, and you really want to be on TV, what are the chances you’re gonna give them a bad review? Many a struggling actor would perform foul, unspeakable acts for the very glimmer of hope to be on national TV. In comparison, it’s way easier to just slap a big fake grin on your face and say, “Mannequin 2: On the Move was the best comedy I’ve seen in, like, ever.” Souls are easily sold cheap this way.

26 March 2013

Rapunzel?

“Tell me a bedtime story,” the kids insist, because they know the ones I tell will be weird.

Tonight I was babysitting my niece and nephews, and like a lot of kids, their parents read a book with them before bed. They’re still little, so the bulk of those books are picture-books. I’m not a big fan of picture-books. I’d rather the kids use their imagination. But if I read ’em a book which doesn’t have pictures, it’s gonna take too long to get through the whole thing. And I can’t just read a chapter and leave ’em hanging. Although, as I recall, Encyclopedia Brown novels have stand-alone chapters. I’m gonna have to acquire some of them.

Well anyway. “What do you want me to tell a story about?” The oldest two have seen Tangled a whole bunch of times, yet even so they said, “Rapunzel!” and so I gave them my Fractured Fairy Tale version of the story.

Once there was a little girl whose name was Rapunzel, which is a really weird name, because in German or one of those European languages it means “lettuce.” I know, lettuce. Why’d she get named after lettuce? Well, the way they tell the story, her mother was really into salad. She loved salad. Had to eat it all the time. Some weird diet, maybe. Anyway, one day she told her husband, “There’s some lettuce growing in the neighbor’s yard. Go steal some for me.”

So he did, and he got caught by the owner, who was very angry with him, as she should be, ’cause you don’t sneak into people’s yards and steal their produce. She was gonna call the cops. “Please don’t call the cops,” he said, “please please please. If you don’t call the cops, I’ll give you my firstborn daughter, whose name is Lettuce.”

The lady said, “Your daughter’s name is Lettuce? What is wrong with you people? Stealing vegetables and naming your kids after them. You’re probably unfit parents. Of course I’ll take your daughter.”

So she took little Lettuce—I mean Rapunzel—for her very own daughter. She decided she was gonna be the best mother ever to this little girl. Rapunzel got her very own room, at the top of a tower, with an amazing view of the lettuce fields.

And her new mother spoiled her rotten. She never ever had to go play outside; she could spend all day indoors on the xBox and the Internet if she wanted, and watch TV until her eyes stopped blinking. She never had to go to school. She got to sit on the couch all day, in her pajamas, and eat bonbons. And she never bothered to cut her hair, so it just grew and grew and grew until it was in a big messy pile next to the couch she always sat on.

One day, when she was a teenager, she was playing some video game when she heard a boy outside. (What’s the boy’s name? Um, Tomato. She’s named Lettuce, he’s named Tomato; they go together. Or whatever is German for Tomato. I don’t know German.) So she heard a boy outside, and she actually got off the couch for once, and dragged her big pile of hair to the window, and looked down, and there was Tomato, and she said, “Tomato, Tomato, wherefore art thou Tomato? Deny thy father and refuse thy name…” —Wait, wrong story. We’ll tell you that one when you’re older.

So Tomato tells her, “I hear you’re playing ‘Storm the Castle XII,’ and I would like to play ‘Storm the Castle XII’ with you. Can I come up?”

”Sure,” she said, “but the elevator’s broken, so you’ll have to climb the wall.”

So Tomato started climbing the wall, but it was a smooth wall and he was a bad climber, and kept falling down, and Tomatos bruise easily, so you never want to drop them. But Rapunzel thought it was funny, and laughed every time he fell on his tomato, and laughed and laughed, and then it wasn’t funny anymore; it was actually kinda sad and pathetic. So she said, “I’ll throw you a rope,” and grabbed what looked like a rope, but it was her really long hair, which was all dirty and sticky and a twisted together, and smelled a little bit like foot cheese.

Tomato grabbed the stinky rope, and Rapunzel said, “Ow. You’re pulling my hair.”

“Sorry.”

“Ow. You’re still pulling my hair.”

“Wait, you threw me your hair.”

“Doesn’t mean you gotta pull it.”

“I’ll climb up quick,” said Tomato, and he did, and they played video games all afternoon. And then he went home. Out the window. Which was a lot faster than climbing up.

So that night, Rapunzel’s mom came upstairs to tuck her in, and saw Tomato had left some of his stuff there, and said, “Has somebody been in your room?”

“Um, yeah,” said Rapunzel. “It was a boy.”

“How’d he get in? The elevator’s broken.”

“He climbed up the wall.”

“I don’t want strange boys climbing up your wall into the window. That’s not safe. You don’t do that. If a strange boy tries climbing into your window, you scream and call the police. Stranger danger. If this boy wants in, he has to come through the front door like a normal person.”

“But the elevator’s broken.”

“I don’t care,” said Rapunzel’s mom. “He can’t come in through the window.”

Well, the next day, Tomato came over to play “Storm the Castle XIII,” and the elevator was still broken, so he climbed in through the window using Rapunzel’s nasty foot-cheese-smelling hair. And that night, Rapunzel’s mom found out about it, and was really really angry with her. Because you’re not supposed to disobey your mom like that. You know better, right? Well, so did Rapunzel. “You’re grounded,” said her mom. “No video games for a week.” And she took her xBox. And Rapunzel threw a tantrum, and kicked, and shouted, and whipped her hair back and forth like a big stinky whip, but she was still grounded, and that was that.

So the next day, Tomato came over to play “Storm the Castle XIV,” and Rapunzel said, “We can’t. Mom took my xBox.”

“Well then I will go home and get my xBox,” said Tomato, and he did, and came back, and said, “We’ll play it on my xBox. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”

So she did. But this time, her mom overheard Tomato shouting, and came into the room, and said, “What’s going on here? You’re supposed to be grounded!” And Tomato was so surprised and freaked out that he let go of Rapunzel’s hair, and fell to the ground, and dropped his xBox, and broke both his head and his xBox. Poor Tomato. But Rapunzel’s mom called an ambulance, and he went to the hospital, and he’s all better now. But now he knows not to climb strange girls’ hair in order to sneak into their windows, which was a good lesson.

Rapunzel’s mom finally said, “Your hair is so long enough,” and gave her a haircut, and made her wash her nasty head for once. And while she was grounded, Rapunzel couldn’t play any xBox or go on the Internet, and couldn’t do anything but read books. But she found out that she loved books. ’Cause books are cool. And so when she wasn’t grounded anymore, she kept reading books, and left the house sometimes to go to the library, and lived happily ever after. Okay, it’s bedtime. Go upstairs.

24 March 2013

Restoring Mr. Squish’s status quo.

One freak wormhole later and Leonard Squish has Quantum Leap-ed into the body of Leonard “Ding-a-Ling” Walston, pathetic hack movie reviewer for Channel 32, all so he can set right what had once been wrong… no wait, that’s the other guy. Um… Here to basically have some more self-centered semi-anarchistic fun, now with a brand new credit rating.

Yeah, pretty much all it takes to be Mr. Squish is pointy blond hair and shades.

23 March 2013

Switching feedreaders.

When I hop on the Internet, most of my time is largely spent on four sites: (1) My email, of course. (2) More Christ. (3) Facebook, which is where far more people respond to my blogging than on the blogs themselves. (I used to rig More Christ to take Facebook comments as responses, but you can’t moderate them, so I switched to Disqus.) And (4) my feedreader.

Lots of folks don’t know what a feedreader is. Most websites use either Real Simple Syndication (RSS) or Atom, both of which produce “feeds”: It’s a file which lists everything that’s posted to the site. This blog, fr’instance: Whenever I post something, the new post (and a snippet of it) is added to the Atom feed. Newspapers and newsblogs add a lot of items to their feeds. Well, a feedreader “subscribes” to feeds: When I punch a feed’s web address into my feedreader, it’ll let me know whenever something new has been posted to it. And if I want to read that new item, I don’t even have to go to the website: I can read it from my feedreader. So, instead of visiting 25 sites to look for new material, I can go to the feedreader and it’s all there, waiting for me. Nice. Seriously saves time.

So yeah, this is how I manage to read so much.

17 March 2013

A perfectly reasonable explanation for Mr. Squish’s survival. Sorta.

So here’s where I sort out Leonard Squish’s death, and basically undo it, once and for all. Then I could get off the “No, really, Leonard is dead, watch me draw a strip where the main character is dead” humor-impaired death spiral I was on, and get back to being silly.

There are three ways you bring back a dead character, as comic books and soap operas have usefully shown us. You figure out a way he wasn’t really dead, but only convincingly looked dead, with some ludicrous explanation as to why that’s not so, like faking his death. Or you pull an exact replica out of a parallel universe (either via time travel or not) and have him take the original’s place; since DC Comics tends to reboot their universe every 15 years or so, you can just wait till the next reboot and see who came back. Or you admit he was dead, then find some outrageous way to bring him back to life, like cloning (Superboy) or cloning plus brain transplant (Lex Luthor) or a weird alien metabolism that looks dead when he’s only just near death (Superman) or freezing him in a glacier (Captain America) or dropping him into a life-giving Lazarus Pit (various Batman characters) or even deals with the devil (Spider-Man). Believe it or not, I rarely read comics. This is all stuff I picked up from osmosis. Because comic books are lousy with resurrection stories.

10 March 2013

This week, no Mr. Squish. Instead, the Angriest Freshman.

After my revelation last time that I and Warren Nicht were the actual guys behind the strip The Angriest Freshman in the World, fellow Sac State Hornet cartoonist Wayne Kunert went digging round his back copies and sent me a few examples. So I’ve provided them here for your viewing pleasure.

09 March 2013

The absence of the laugh track.

Some weeks ago I saw Alan Alda in something. Not in real life; in some TV program. Made me nostalgic for M*A*S*H, which I used to watch all the time in reruns, but since I watch the Internet instead of television, it’s not so easy to come by. You’d think some website would be streaming it by now, but no.

So I checked some seasons out from the library. One of the options on the DVDs is that you can listen to a soundtrack without the laugh track. M*A*S*H was a single-camera show, meaning it wasn’t filmed live in front of any studio audience. It wasn’t even played back for one so they could get natural laughter. All the laughter on it was canned. Which the producers didn’t like—’cause it’s fake, of course—but everybody did it back then, so they did it too.

Of course, I opted to watch it without the laugh track.

24 February 2013

Unmasking Mr. Squish. (And myself.)

I said last week, after recycling a strip in order to meet deadline, I realized I couldn’t draw last-second strips anymore. So the next week, I clamped down and drew my strips a little bit ahead of schedule: I drew them the day before they were due, or at least the morning they were due, rather than the hour they were due. Slightly more responsible of me, I suppose.

First thing I realized I had to do was get rid of the “The Early Years” gag. As you recall, I killed Leonard off in December, and continued the strip by claiming all the current strips were just flashbacks to before I killed Leonard: “Mr. Squish: The Early Years.” But the flashback idea didn’t have legs: After a while, it’s no longer funny to remind everyone how your main character is dead.

16 February 2013

On the making of music videos.

Before and after my church’s services, we show music videos. Christian music videos, of course; Lady Gaga is a bit much to take as background music during pre-service prayer. But I have successfully managed to slip a Cee-Lo Green song into the music mix ’round Christmastime: He did a version of Mark Lowry’s cheesy standard, “Mary Did You Know,” and that counts as Christian enough to not cause a fuss. Yet.

Where do I get the videos? I swipe ’em from YouTube. Where else?

How do I pick the videos? Half of it comes from looking for what’s popular on contemporary Christian radio.

03 February 2013

Recycling Mr. Squish.

When I took charge of the CSU Sacramento Hornet’s Arts & Features section in spring 1991, my workload went up appreciably. We published two editions a week, a Tuesday issue and a Friday issue. That meant two production nights a week, usually from noon to midnight, Mondays and Thursdays. Production nearly always went later than midnight. The printer’s deadline was supposed to be 11 p.m., but we never made it that semester.

Back in the fall semester, when I was Graphics Coordinator, my workload was pretty much from 8 or 9 p.m. till midnight. See, I had a staff of 12, and farmed all the work out to them. So my job, really, was to be on duty during production nights. It was round 8 or 9 that everyone suddenly needed last-minute art and graphics and space-fillers. So I did that. But other than those crunch times, it was a pretty cushy job. That’s why I wanted the A&F job. I wanted a challenge.

Well, at the A&F desk, I got that challenge. And then some.

27 January 2013

Mr. Squish and the causeheads.

Oh yeah… there was a war going on when “Mr. Squish” was running. For about a month, anyway.

The day the Persian Gulf War began, I was cranking out another edition of Black Culture Magazine at the house of Carl, my editor. I know; I’m so white I dare not go out in the sun for fear of spontaneously combusting. Yet for whatever reason, I worked for several African-American publications in the early 1990s. Probably ’cause the editors looked at my résumé, and not at the skin color of the honkey looking across the desk from them.

26 January 2013

Yep, it’s a class reunion year. Meh.

I graduated from high school in 1988. Ten years later—I didn’t plan it that way, but dropping out for several years, and switching majors upon going back in, didn’t help—I finally completed my bachelor’s degree in 1998. So every year that ends in -3 or -8 is an anniversary year: Fifteen for college, and 25 for high school.

Bethany University, previously Bethany College, was mismanaged to death two years ago. I don’t know if anyone from my class is planning to formally or informally put anything together for it. Or where we’ll meet. For the 10th reunion we met of course at the campus in Scotts Valley, California. This time around, we could meet anywhere. And I do mean anywhere: About a year ago, one graduating class decided to meet in Springfield, Missouri: Since the organizers and several of the graduates live there, they figured they’d accommodate themselves… guaranteeing the bulk of graduates, who live in California and Nevada, won’t make it. Oh well.

Of course, part of the reason you meet on campus (or near it, anyway) is so you can reflect on the memories and emotional attachments you have to the place.

13 January 2013

Mr. Squish, and giving up on your dreams.

When I was a kid, I used to watch The Love Boat. The parents tended to go out Saturday nights, which meant a neighbor girl would babysit us, and we’d get to stay up and watch Love Boat. And maybe we could talk her into staying up for Fantasy Island if we promised we’d never, ever tell on her. Sometimes she would.

The Love Boat, if you’ve never seen it, is about a cruise ship, its personnel, and the tons of celebrity guest stars.

11 January 2013

“Hey, I can see my house from here!” part 2.

I was gonna write about several of the places I’ve lived—as sort of a continuation of my previous post on the subject—but writing about my first place started getting longer and longer. So I figured, “Screw it,” and decided to just tell this story. I’ll save the other places for future posts.

After high school, for my first three years of college, I lived with Mom. I spent two years at Solano College, then a year at CSU Sacramento. I spent three semesters commuting to CSUS from Vacaville. Not an easy proposition.

09 January 2013

Hey, I can see my house from here!

Back in 2007, the first summer I worked at Camp Redwood Glen, we took the kids on a hike up to “Cupcake Hill” (so named for no reason I could tell; nothing there looks cupcake-like). As we were walking along the top of the ridge, I said, “Hey, I can see my house from here.”

The kids all thought I was kidding. It was a nice view, but come on.

“No, seriously,” I said, “it’s right there.” It really was. I could see the back porch and everything.

The fascinating thing about using Google Earth, if you’ve never monkeyed around with it, is you can see your house from space, and of course if you’ve got a pretty good memory for the places you’ve lived, you can “fly” to each of these places and take a look at them.

Well, most of them. I can’t remember the address of every place I’ve lived.