frogg files

"She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." --Flannery O' Connor

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Barton Fink

I am not entirely sure if the movie Barton Fink is brilliant or whether it just pretends to be. Perhaps it is pretending on purpose and that is part of the brilliance.

I'm not sure it matters. Any way you look at it, you must admit that it is deeply compelling without being at all entertaining.

Drowning

I hate paperwork, and today I feel like I'm drowning in it.

Whoever came up with the idea of direct mail, I'm sorry, but I don't think I could even be remotely civil to you right now.

Of course, it's partly my own fault, for letting the junk pile up and telling myself over and over again, "I'll look at it later." I've been saying that since January, it seems, so you can imagine the state of things on my desk at the moment. (Come to think of it, where is my desk?!)

I have piles of paper all around me as I write, and if I had my way, I'd pick them all up and throw them into the recycle bin (be nice to the environment!), but I guess there's some stuff I should actually keep, like bank statements and such. I don't know why. I mean, I know why, but I'm bitter about it. I don't want to keep them. I don't ever look at them anyway, so what's the point?

And receipts! I have receipts everywhere, because people say I should keep them. I don't want to keep those either. I don't care about deductions. I just want the least amount of headache that I can possibly achieve, and it seems like keeping countless tiny slips of paper so that I can wade through them later and tally some up while tossing others isn't really conducive to headachelessness. I'm starting to get one right now, for goodness' sake.

I also have a terrible habit of scribbling notes to myself on any odd scrap that presents itself, wherever I happen to be...so I have a notepad next to the bed, and another one on the desk (I think), and note cards scattered around here and there (why on earth do I have note cards?!), and then I have things that I've printed out, like articles and such, but I've scribbled on them too because I couldn't find any of the notepads, or note cards, anywhere when I needed to jot a note to myself.

But it's all going to change. I have decided! I am going to be organized, and detail-oriented, and efficient, and all those other things you see on job descriptions everywhere these days. I think even janitors are supposed to be attentive to detail, and able to multi-task. (I sometimes wonder if these companies actually want human beings working for them, or if they are not-so-secretly longing for the day when robots will take over the earth.)

Anyway, I have a plan to get everything sorted out and filed neatly into appropriate compartments. It is a beautiful plan, with a classification system that would make a grown man weep. But first, I just have to jot a few notes to myself on my To Do list. When I find it.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Return to the Forgotten Blog

In September of last year, I went to the Middle East for three and a half weeks. When I came back, I wanted to write about the experiences, and I started a blog for the purpose at about the same time as I started the frogg files. But I only wrote a couple entries before I let it fall by the wayside.

I've finally updated it, and I plan to continue, though probably not as regularly as this one. But if you want to read stories from that time in my life, go here.

The trip was referred to as Project 17 by those who organized it, which explains the title of the blog, "Stories from P17." But the meaning of the term really has little bearing on the stories I want to tell, at least as far as I'm concerned, so I am not going to define it further. The stories are the important thing.

Take what you will from what is given.

A Day

As we were driving out to Temecula this morning to tour the vineyards, I remembered a warm afternoon at a small winery just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand. My friends and I stopped there because the road was temporarily closed that we needed to take, so to pass the time until it opened, we thought we'd explore the winery, and have lunch there. It was a quiet, easily missable place if you weren't paying attention, so I will always be thankful that we were. We parked the car, and wandered around the grounds for a bit. In a pasture nearby, we saw goats that looked like little dogs, romping about playfully. They were very strange, and yet, perhaps for that reason, beautiful too.

Everything was colored in champagne shades that day.

Eventually, I drifted away from my friends to look at flowers and lie in the long grass. I don't know how much time passed, but I know it went too quickly.

I can't remember the name of the winery anymore. I hope it's still there. And the dog-goats too.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Good Night

It's late, and I'm having a cup of Moroccan mint green tea and some dark chocolate before bed. If there is a better recipe for pensiveness and introspection, you may tell me if you like. But this one is not bad at all.

And what am I thinking about right now? Well, any number of things, really. I'm thinking about what a great show I saw tonight at The Mint, with my friends Yardley taking the stage among others, and turning out a fun, energetic performance. I'm thinking about how refreshing it was to go to a church this morning that actually sang songs directed to God, about how wonderful he is. I'm thinking about how the mint tea is a fresh taste in my mouth, and that the chocolate blends well with it.

I'm thinking I need to get some classical music onto my iPod.

Nothing connects, but that's fine. It doesn't always have to. And you know what, my life still seems a bit frayed and precarious when I let myself analyze it, but that's ok too. I might stress about that tomorrow, but tonight, when I am about to fall asleep and I am happy that the night is not hot or cold, but blissfully in between, and the sound of a single cricket drifts through my open balcony door, and I can hear my brother singing and playing the guitar downstairs...ah, well, tonight I don't really feel stressed at all.

Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.--Psalm 131:2

Sweet dreams.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

If Only...

You know what I really wish someone would do? I'd like someone to get all upset with me for going the right way in a mall parking lot, while he is trying to turn the wrong way on the one-way lane that I'm on, and I would like him to look all shocked and angry when I look at him incredulously for being such an idiot. I'd also like him to honk at me when I drive past, seeing as how I am, after all, the person actually going the RIGHT WAY.

Oh wait, that's exactly what happened to me today.

It's nice to know that wishes can come true, isn't it.

Hair and There

Every now and then, I have a day when I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt that I look beautiful. Hot, even.

Today was not one of those days.

For one thing, I need a haircut. Desperately. If I had my way, I'd chop it all off, but I made a pact with Becca last year, that I will grow it until I am 31. So I can only get a trim. But it looks so dreadful, and BORING. If I can't cut it very short, then I would like to color it. I'm tempted to go blond, even though I'm well aware that I don't have the skin coloring for it. Still...just once in my life?

But no, my 30th birthday is coming up, and I don't want a hair disaster for that momentous occasion. Sigh...

Speaking of my 30th, I have not planned anything for it. Some momentous occasion it's going to be!

Does anyone have any suggestions??? I don't have much time, it's on the 12th of June!

By the way, before I forget...Yardley will be playing this Sunday night at The Mint. Hope to see you there!

Friday, May 27, 2005

In Honor of WoundedBug

This is a funny story about my brother, WoundedBug, who didn't know for a long time that when I signed off my emails to him with the word "ciao" that it was the same word which is pronounced as "chow" because he is not a student of Italian. And I'm not either, but I do know what "ciao" means and how to say it.

I also know the meaning of "grazie" but that isn't significant to this tale, that I know of.

So, WoundedBug was working at a company in San Luis Obispo, and he is an outgoing, extroverted sort of chap, who is known for being a little wild at times but always ingratiatingly adorable and very funny. (He is the sort of person who can walk into a room where he knows no one at all and by the end he is everyone's best friend. He is also amazingly good at getting people to give him expensive things for free, or at very large discounts. It's a knack and a gift, one I wish I had, but in the meantime I watch his triumphal progress through life with a little envy, and a lot of awe.)

But the point being, he will sometimes come up with funny little catch-phrases and things to say, and no one thinks anything of it, because they figure it's just WoundedBug being his hilarious self, so on one particular day as he was leaving his work, he waved his hand and shouted out to everyone, "Kay-oh everybody!"

And he didn't know that he wasn't, in fact, saying "ciao" at all, but "kay-oh" which means absolutely nothing at all.

The best part was that no one said, "What?!" No! Instead, they actually said it back to him!! "Er, kay-oh," they said. No one had any idea what "Kay-oh" meant, for obvious reasons, but no one admitted it!

Ah! This story cracks me up every time I think of it. All these people, absolutely clueless, but they won't say anything because they don't want to seem stupid, but really it was my brother who was clueless because he doesn't know Italian.

WoundedBug, this one was for you. Miss you, man. And don't worry, I am sure you can get me back someday now that you know Arabic much better than I do.

I'm Back

On the way to San Diego, I think I broke some laws.

It started when I stopped at In-N-Out for a bite to eat. I got my cheeseburger to go, and as I turned onto the on-ramp, my hunger couldn't contain itself, so I started eating the burger, but I also had just dialed my brother on my cell phone, so I had my phone to one ear, and one half of my iPod headphones in the other. I was not using a hands-free headset, which meant that both hands were full (one with the phone, the other with the burger), and that left me to steer with my knee. I am not actually sure how I managed to shift gears.

Oh, and I think I was speeding, too. BUT at least I was wearing my seatbelt.

On the way back to Los Angeles, I hit traffic even though it was nearly 11pm. I love traffic. It's my favorite thing about living in southern California. Especially when I drive a car with manual transmission. There's nothing like constant shifting and downshifting in stop-and-go across 3-5 lanes.

I also really like it when people go less than the speed limit in the fast lane. Or when they turn on their right or left signal, as if they are going to change lanes, and then they don't, for ages, until finally you get fed up and put the pedal to the metal to pass them, and THEN they change lanes. Right in front of you, causing you to slam on the brakes.

Mallwalkers do the same thing, by the way, only on foot, instead of in cars. It isn't any less annoying.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

On the Road Again

Just a short trip this time. Heading down to San Diego, looking forward to some fun in the sun, and then back in time for work on Friday. I have to say, I'm glad I have a job that is flexible enough to accommodate these little spontaneous journeys. I'm not sure how long the luxury will last, so I'm going to enjoy it while I can.

Probably no post tomorrow, but I'll try and whip something up for Friday. Until then, I leave you with this quote from The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy to get you through your Thursday (of course, if you are one of my New Zealand readers, you've already had Thursday, so this won't really apply to you, sorry).

And the profound, deeply meaningful quotation follows:

"I never could get the hang of Thursdays."--Arthur Dent

Well, whether you get the hang of it or not, enjoy it, kids. Ciao for now.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

One Thought

There is something that displeases me about California, and that is the lack of fireflies.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Cellulite...No Bars Held

Say what you like about Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, the man is funny. And good-looking. Am I shallow for making such an observation? Probably, but I don't care.

What I do care about is the fact that I'm seeing a marked increase in the number of people walking around with those little cell phones that hook over their ears, like some sort of cybertronic appendage. They come into the store where I work, and sometimes they are talking, and it looks like they're talking to themselves, until they turn and I see the device clinging to the side of their heads, like some kind of metallic leech.

I'm kind of disturbed by them, in a way. They look so...robotic. And alien. Also, I have to wonder: why would anyone really want to be that accessible to people? Of course, I'm unusual in that I don't feel at all guilty when I don't answer the cell phone that I always have on vibrate anyway so that I won't be bothered by it ringing. I got my first cell phone five years ago, and the only reason I did was because I was getting pressure from friends at work who worried about me because I had (still have) a habit of going hiking in the hills by myself. So, I got a cell phone, which I dutifully took on my hikes and then discovered that it didn't get reception in the hills. I felt much safer after that.

But at least it worked on Mission Street in San Francisco, which was good, because I went down there once a week for a writing class, and let's just say it's not the least anxiety-producting area to walk around late at night when you are a lone female who doesn't know karate.

So, yes, I have a cell phone, but it does not take pictures. I don't download cool ringtones, because I think it's dumb to pay money for yet another sound on my phone, when I don't want to hear it in the first place. Sometimes I don't like answering the phone at all, so I won't. If you are one of my friends and this happens, don't take offense...just because I don't always want to talk to you doesn't mean I don't love you. Honest.

I have no idea where I'm going with this, so I'd better stop before I get there. Ciao.

No Power Goes to My Head

Yesterday we had a power outage. I wrote a posting about it last night, but couldn't get online til now, so here it is. I'm sure it will be edifying and informative, as always.

The power went out at around 3:30pm; it is nearly 10pm now and still no power. I was watching TV when it happened. Well, actually I was lying on the couch in the same room as the TV, which was on, but I was not watching so much as moaning and groaning while I clutched an ice pack to my head in an attempt to soothe the mother of all headaches (and no, it was not a hangover). It was the sort of headache where it feels like your brain is swelling to twice its normal size and you don't know how it's even fitting inside your skull anymore, while meantime your eyes feel like they are going to burst and fall out of their sockets, and every time you sit up you wish you hadn't because a surge of pain goes through your head and you think it might explode, so you shove your hands against your temples in a desperate attempt to keep everything together, though you're not sure why you don't just give up and die, since that's what it seems like is happening to you anyway.

In other words, I was feeling very sorry for myself, and The Pelican Brief, despite having Denzel Washington in it, did little to improve either my mood or the pounding ache in my brain. So I wasn't too bothered when the picture on the screen suddenly imploded into a little white star before being snuffed into blackness. On the contrary, it seemed appropriate somehow.

However, trying to cook dinner by candlelight a few hours later because the power STILL hadn't come on was not nearly as romantic as it sounds.

Sadly, I missed seeing the Petal Stones at the Viper Room tonight. I am really a bad friend. Sorry, F!! I will try to make the next one!


What the...? Why, that wasn't edifying OR informative! In fact, it was totally pointless!

Ah, that's good.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Faith is NOT a Commodity!!

I'm no friend of Joel Osteen, as I've indicated before. I'm even less of one after reading the following article, Earthly Empires, (by William C. Symonds, with Brian Grow in Atlanta and John Cady in New York, BusinessWeek Online. Here are the first two paragraphs, which I could barely get through without feeling sick:

There's no shortage of churches in Houston, deep in the heart of the Bible Belt. So it's surprising that the largest one in the city -- and in the entire country -- is tucked away in a depressed corner most Houstonians would never dream of visiting. Yet 30,000 people endure punishing traffic on the narrow roads leading to Lakewood Church every weekend to hear Pastor Joel Osteen deliver upbeat messages of hope. A youthful-looking 42-year-old with a ready smile, he reassures the thousands who show up at each of his five weekend services that "God has a great future in store for you." His services are rousing affairs that often include his wife, Victoria, leading prayers and his mother, Dodie, discussing passages from the Bible.

Osteen is so popular that he has nearly quadrupled attendance since taking over the pulpit from his late father in 1999, winning over believers from other churches as well as throngs of the "unsaved." Many are drawn first by his ubiquitous presence on television. Each week 7 million people catch the slickly produced broadcast of his Sunday sermons on national cable and network channels, for which Lakewood shells out $15 million a year. Adherents often come clutching a copy of Osteen's best-seller, Your Best Life Now, which has sold 2.5 million copies since its publication last fall.


First of all, I hadn't realized that Osteen's church is the biggest in the country. If that's true, I'm angry, but then again, maybe not so surprised. In my opinion, any church that is truly devoted to Christ, and truly preaching him is not going to be all that popular. After all, Jesus himself wasn't while he was here. Why should he be now?

But Osteen!!! Argh! I have watched his show a grand total of twice, and that's more than I could stomach. And his book! Your Best Life Now? How does that square with Jesus' teaching that his kingdom isn't of this world and that we shouldn't stock up on earthly treasures? Hmmm, well, short answer: it DOESN'T.

When I watched Osteen's show, I hardly ever heard him talk about the cross of Christ, which should be absolutely central to Christianity, but somehow has been pushed to the periphery, and in some quarters, even beyond it. And we'd better wake up and realize that this is a severe problem in the church, on far more than just a marketing level. Jesus rebuked one of the Revelation churches for forgetting her first love--have we, today, forgotten him as well?

I also hardly observed Osteen mentioning the Bible at all, except to quote an occasional verse completely out of anything remotely resembling context. I remember one particular instance where he actually used about half a verse from Acts, quoting Paul as saying "I think myself happy..." as proof that we are meant to think positively about ourselves and that will help change our lives!!! (Never mind that the quote comes out of Paul's lips while he is actually in CHAINS, a prisoner in front of a Roman government official, and he says that he thinks himself happy that he has the opportunity to talk to this Roman guy about Jesus.)

Back to the article::

Especially controversial are leaders like Osteen and the flamboyant Creflo A. Dollar, pastor of World Changers Church International in College Park, Ga., who preach "the prosperity gospel." They endorse material wealth and tell followers that God wants them to be prosperous. In his book, Osteen talks about how his wife, Victoria, a striking blonde who dresses fashionably, wanted to buy a fancy house some years ago, before the money rolled in. He thought it wasn't possible. "But Victoria had more faith," he wrote. "She convinced me we could live in an elegant home...and several years later, it did come to pass."

It seems the point is that God is there to be tapped for financial blessings primarily. And while I know from experience that financial blessings do come at times, and when they do we should be thankful, prosperity is not what something the church should ever preach--especially when some of her children are being thrown into prison in countries overseas, or even being executed simply because they love Christ. We should be ashamed of ourselves, pouring millions into our fancy worship centers, and the pockets of our fancy pastors, while far away (and therefore easily forgotten apparently), churches can barely afford the dilapidated buildings where they meet, and even fear for their lives when they come together. And yet I have felt more joy inside the walls of tiny churches in places like Bangkok and Bethlehem than I have experienced in many of the prosperous American churches.

Another quote:

"Our entrepreneurial impulse comes from the Biblical mandate to get the message out," says Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels, who hired Stanford MBA Greg Hawkins, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant, to handle the church's day-to-day management. Willow Creek's methods have even been lauded in a Harvard Business School case study.

Hybel's consumer-driven approach is evident at Willow Creek, where he shunned stained glass, Bibles, or even a cross for the 7,200-seat, $72 million sanctuary he recently built. The reason? Market research suggested that such traditional symbols would scare away non-churchgoers.


How, how can we have a consumer-driven approach to God? To faith? And Jesus--well, he was one of the worst entrepeneurs I've ever seen! I mean, the man gathered followers readily enough, but then he would turn around and ruin it all by saying something crazy-sounding like "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me" and BAM, followers dropped off like flies! Hmmm, maybe Jesus should have done more market research. Maybe he talked too much about carrying crosses and dying to self and following the narrow way. Maybe that was all too unpleasant. WHAT was he THINKING? If only he could have gotten some tips from Hybels and Osteen, maybe he wouldn't have ended up on a cross himself.

Has the church become so market-savvy and "consumer-driven" that she has become embarrassed of Jesus, and that's why she talks about him so little? God help her if that's true. And forgive her too. We shall have an awful lot to answer for.

NB: And maybe this is really all that Sharlet was getting at in his recent piece in Harper's. If that's the case, then I apologize for misinterpreting him in my eariler post.

Friday, May 20, 2005

A Song for Tonight

He introduced himself as Rico, but said his first name was Confessor. He called out to us as we were leaving Mia Piace, and said he had a song he wanted to sing for us, so we stopped to listen. He played an old classical guitar with nylon strings. ("Not bad for $60 bucks!" he said later.) He sang us a a bluesy song about a woman named Katy who left him, "not because she fell out of love with me," he said, but because she missed her home on the East Coast, and she just couldn't make it out here. I think he might still love her, but he hasn't followed her to Baltimore, so it's hard to say.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ode to a Coffeeshop

I am sitting in my favorite local coffeeshop, which thankfully isn't Starbucks, but I have recently heard that they will be closing down due to the high costs of rent in my town, so in fact I shall be left with...Starbucks. Ugh.

Oh Higley's, I'm sad to see you go
I pray you say it isn't so,
But if in truth it must surely be
(Alas, alack the day for me!),
I'll miss your ice-cold Mona Moka,
Much more than simple Coca-Cola
And I know my written sense is lacking,
In uneven metre and random clacking,
Because, lost, I cannot say
In pretty words "I wish you'd stay."
I am no poet,
And now everyone knows it!
But what can I do,
If I can't write an ode to you
When my heart desires
And the muse requires?
So now I go, with heavy heart
Both for your loss and my literary art,
(Or lack thereof, as the case may be).

And know that I will forever be,
Faithful to your memory
Oh my Higley's.

Viper Room Show Sunday

Hey, sorry folks, been doing this, that, and the other the last few days, so I haven't had a chance to post anything. But here's some news for those of you in the LA area: another friend's band, The Petal Stones (formerly Ozono) will be playing at The Viper Room this Sunday night, as part of a TV show they'll be filming with Lisa Kudrow on Monday. So come check it out if you get a chance, sounds like it'll be a lot of fun! I think they go on stage around 8pm.

It's a beautiful day again in southern California; too bad I'll have to spend it running errands. Car needs fixing, oil needs changing, house needs cleaning, and life needs organizing. Sigh...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Thanks to...

Many thanks to Daily Pepper for an excellent and thoughtful commentary on my recent post about an article in the latest issue of Harper's (see "A Defense? Perhaps. You Decide.).

Pepper, you and I may not agree on everything about politics and faith, and that's fine. I'm definitely glad we're friends. The Crepe Vine awaits us on my next trip to the Bay! Or maybe Jupiter, for a change of scene...what do you say?

Also, thanks to S4P, who, during an online chat session, gave me more food for thought re: the whole Newsweek mess. As he rightly pointed out, these kinds of issues are very complicated, and so I will clarify (retracting nothing!) that in my last post I wasn't at all trying to say that journalists shouldn't be responsible with their reporting. They should. Was the story true? I don't know; my opinion is, it very well may have been. If it was, should they have published it, knowing the reaction it would cause? I don't know; I need to think about this one a little more. It's a delicate question in some ways. But anyway, none of that was really my point; what concerned me was the fact that the reporting of the incident seemed to highlight our government's tendency toward manipulating a press that is already corrupt enough, when it pays more homage at the shrine of the Almighty Dollar than it does at the Temple of Truth.

Ok, so enough of politics for now. My head hurts. Bleah.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Free Press?

Newsweek Retracts Quran Story

So this whole Newsweek scandal has got me riled, I admit it. And mostly because it seems to me that what's on the table here is more than just the issue of journalistic responsibility, but in fact the whole issue of a free press.

I watched a news anchor this morning vehemently attack Newsweek for their reporting, but not because they had been careless in their research. At least, that isn't where she placed most of her outraged emphasis. No, she talked much more about how "our brave men and women in uniform" had been put in danger, and that America's image overseas had suffered as a result of the story. And I would have laughed if I hadn't been so angry. Our soldiers have been put in more danger, and our image has been more damaged, as a result of this Administration's actions since the day Bush was sworn into office, than as a result of one or two sentences in a Newsweek "Periscope" item. It's a little late in the day for our government to get all sanctimonious and concerned on behalf of our men and women in the field!!

What was even more laughable was the reaction by government officials, who talked about how they give out "rule books" to guards to teach them how to show proper respect for Islamic worship. So of course desecration of the Holy Q'uran couldn't happen!!! Right. Meanwhile, these same guards who received these rule books are currently under investigation for heinous human rights abuses! Are you kidding me, that these guards would think twice about flushing a book down a toilet?? Just because there are RULES against that? I mean, honestly. How stupid do they think we are?

Don't answer that.

Quite frankly, I don't necessarily think the story was untrue, even though Newsweek has published a retraction. Personally, I think they are bowing to pressure, and that disturbs me more than I can say. Because the press shouldn't be concerned primarily about upholding our governmental image. They should be concerned with telling the truth.

Some will say, "Well, that's the whole problem. Newsweek didn't tell the truth." Well, I would say that's up for debate, but hey, what would a frogg know? And it seems that any debates are being ruled out fairly quickly. That's what bothers me.

Now, am I saying journalistic responsibility isn't important? Of course not. But I get anxious for the state of our union when I read things like the following on CNN.com:

"Senior White House officials applauded Newsweek's decision to retract the story but said the magazine will have to do more to repair the damage done.

'It's a good first step,' said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.

McClellan said the magazine now has a responsibility to spread the word to the Muslim world that US interrogators 'treat the Quran with great care and respect.'"


Hmmm. I'm really not so sure that any such responsibility lies with the magazine. And McClellan's statements concern me, because they show an absolutely unabashed determination of our government to influence--no, control--our media. In fact, I don't know when I have seen such blatant tampering with the press and free speech as I have with this Administration.

Finally, it occurs to me that maybe our Administration should consider what part of the blame rests with them for the whole mess on the other side of the world. They have shown themselves woefully incapable when it comes to understanding the Muslim world. The Bible verse about sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind irresistibly comes to mind at the moment. And I just don't see why Newsweek has to take the fall for this current outbreak of anti-American sentiment, when I would say it's just one more result of the lack of foresight, wisdom, diplomacy, integrity, and plain old common sense displayed over and over again by the current Administration.

I could keep venting, but I'm too disgusted and depressed.

Note: all of the above is the opinion of the writer. Very little research was done, beyond reading a few articles and watching the news--CNN.com, Fox and MSNBC, if you want to know. The writer is lazy, but she likes to spout her opinions anyway. This is very irresponsible journalistically speaking, so it's quite a good thing that the writer is not, in fact, a journalist. No sources were contacted, and no retractions will be made. Do your own research if you have concerns about the veracity of any of the opinions expressed herein. Ok?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

King Cobra Rules! Or Maybe He Doesn't

Ok, so I just sat down to watch a movie, I'm surfing the channels looking for something good (of course there isn't anything), and then I get to this movie, King Cobra. The description of the movie in the little channel guide is exactly as follows, verbatim:

"A doctor becomes a 30-foot hybrid of a man, a cobra and a rattler after his biochemical lab explodes."

Well. Sounds like a bad day all around for the doctor, doesn't it.

But I have to say: Why a cobra AND a rattler? Is one or the other of them not deadly enough? Especially when they are 30-feet tall/long? I mean, maybe it's just me, but it seems a teensy bit redundant, that's all.

And how come it's a foregone conclusion that when you morph into something like a cobra or a rattler (or both), you are of necessity going to be evil and try to kill everyone? Isn't it just possible that there are good cobras in the world, who just want to be left alone while they mind their own business? I ask you.

But maybe the doctor was evil to begin with, in which case what he morphs into reflects the state of his darkened heart. I suppose I would have had to watch this from the beginning to know, but I think if I had done that, I might have died. Whether of boredom, or of shame that I would have watched such a movie from beginning to end, I'm not sure.

I do wonder, though: Why do horrible accidents always happen in these biochemical labs? It makes you wonder if we should even have them, doesn't it? And the accidents are never like, "Oh, I knocked over a beaker of perfectly harmless saline solution." No, it's always, "The two most volatile substances known to man, that should never come into contact or else something will explode, have just been thrown into the same Bunsen burner!" "NOOOO!!!!! Didn't you read the labels?!"

So, are biochemists and scientists and doctors just clumsier than the rest of us? What's the deal? Maybe they should leave the biochemical labs under the care of English majors. We'd gladly leave everything alone, and then nothing bad could ever happen. Everyone would be happy.

Also, how come these scientists never die when their labs explode and stuff, they just morph into strange hybrids? It's weird.

Pat Morita of Karate Kid fame is in the movie, getting the worst of it in an epic fight with the King Cobra. Which, I might add, does not resemble a man at all, but does look like a giant cobra...with a rattle on the end of its tail. It also seems to be made out of very strong, industrial strength plastic. Or something.

Pat Morita is dying now. It appears he just got bitten by the cobra. Bummer. There are other people fighting too. Everyone is wearing safety goggles, when it seems like what they should really be wearing is body armor. I mean, the man/cobra/rattler isn't SPITTING at them, for crying out loud. It's BITING them!

I thought for awhile that A.I. was the worst movie ever made, but I think I will have to revise my opinion. (A.I. is still pretty dreadful, though.)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Defense? Perhaps. You Decide.

I was appalled by the May issue of Harper's magazine, which contains articles about The Christian Right and its War on America, Christianity's influence on economics, and a report on megachurch New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

Article writers like Lewis Lapham ("Notebook: The Wrath of the Lamb") and Jeff Sharlet ("Soldiers of Christ: 1. Inside America's Most Powerful Megachurch") paint a picture of Christians as an army of empty-headed morons pinning their beliefs on a non-existent God as a way of justifying their political conservativism. That's a simplification, of course, but I'd say it is a pretty accurate sum-up of their basic premises.

Obviously I disagree with the foundation on which they build their cases, being a Christian myself. However, at the same time, I am forced to acknowledge that, at least as far as Christianity in politics goes, they bring up some issues that can't be dismissed. Personally, I think something terribly ugly happens to Christianity when it makes its way into the political arena, and I start to understand why Jesus always avoided getting embroiled in politics, and would hide himself away whenever he suspected that followers and adoring crowds were planning to make him king. He said his kingdom wasn't of this world, and I wonder if sometimes the political Christian Right has forgotten this.

Sharlet's article in particular was very damning, quoting Pastor Ted Haggard of New Life Church as saying things like, "I want the church to help me live life well, not exhaust me with endless 'worthwhile' projects." What?! Since when is the church, or God even, a vehicle for making sure you maximize the potential of your life? And yet that's exactly what's being taught in church these days. I went to a church last Sunday, where above the stage where the worship band was leading us in a rock-concert style praise session, was a large banner that read: "Imagine creating the life you've always dreamed."

Books like "A Purpose-Driven Life" are blockbusting best-sellers. I am constantly hearing, in Christian circles, the idea that "God has a big call on your life." I've heard Jeremiah 29:11 quoted prodigiously: "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." I've heard that God wants us to be happy, he wants to help us fulfill our dreams, and so much more besides.

I haven't heard an awful lot about making sacrifices to help those in need (though I personally know Christians who are doing this; too bad they get far less press). I haven't been strongly rebuked for my lack of compassion for the poor. It's rarely been suggested that maybe God's "big call" on my life means working behind the scenes, never getting recognition for the things I do, and perhaps just living out my days in quiet faithfulness to him, giving to those in need, comforting those in distress, staying faithful to my spouse, and teaching my children the ways of the Lord. These aren't the sort of topics that make for dramatic sermons, I guess.

Sharlet also describes Pastor Ted as aligning himself with the idea that spirituality is a commodity. As such, says Sharlet, "[Ted] knows that for Christianity to prosper in the free market, it needs more than 'moral values'--it needs customer value." Sharlet also quotes Pastor Ted stating that "evangelical" stands for "pro-free market," :pro-private property." This is certainly news to me, and not particularly welcome news at that. Without going into my personal politics, I am absolutely opposed to any definition of Christianity that has nothing to do with the person of Christ. I don't care if church has no customer value. I don't want it to, to be honest.

I am not against capitalism per se. But I'm firmly against using Christianity as a defense for it. That's not what Christianity is for. And that's not what "evangelical" means.

Having said all this, I was ultimately very disappointed in Sharlet's piece, not because his writing was bad (it was hardly that), but because his bias was clear from the beginning. There was nothing whatsoever that could be called objective about his reporting. His careful phrasing of every description of New Life Church and the people in it, not to mention Colorado Springs in general, is absolutely calculated to generate maximum levels of disdain and contempt for all things Christian.

So naturally I can't completely trust his portrayal of his subject. But because I've been in the arena myself, I know that some of what he says is partly true. And that's the part that makes me incredibly sad.

Because, you see, I want people to know the Jesus I'm just starting to know myself, and how can they when they read about New Life Church in Harper's. I want people to know the comfort of a God who, though wild and untamable and utterly beyond my control, is there for me when I need him. How can I explain it? How can I make anyone see what I'm talking about without coming off like a total weirdo myself? I can't, at least not to those who don't know me. But those of you who do...have I given you cause to think I'm crazy? To think I'm stupid, gullible, or prone to uncritical acceptance of any belief? You know I haven't. And if you know that, then you should at least consider what I'm telling you. Consider that it might be true. That maybe, just maybe, there is a God out there and we need him. That maybe, just maybe, Jesus really was something completely different than ourselves, and yet very much the same. And that maybe, just maybe, there's a reason to believe that the things he said and did are worth investigating for yourself.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Scene from a Movie: The Road to Perdition

A boy and his father are sitting in a diner, eating. They have just robbed a bank...or perhaps a mobster don. I think they are in Chicago in the late 30s, but I can't remember. But wherever they are, they are now in a diner, side by side at the bar, not talking but eating.

The boy is the first to break the silence.

"So when do I get my share?"

The father keeps eating. He doesn't look at his son. "How much do you want?"

The boy thinks for a minute, then says, "$200."

The father considers.

"Ok."

The boy is delighted that he got what he wanted so quickly, easily, painlessly. He had been primed to beg and plead, ready to face resistance from the man by his side. But there was none.

Then the boy has a thought. "Could I have gotten more?" he asks.

His father answers, "You'll never know."

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Snakes

Today I had a conversation with a snake.

It was pretty one-sided, I admit. I was asking him to let me pass him on the trail where I was walking, and he didn't say yes or no, just lay there, stretched out on the ground in the sun. I couldn't see his tail, because it was hidden in the weeds, but I had my suspicions. Rattlesnakes abound in the California hills.

He wasn't the first snake I'd seen this morning, either. I'd been walking along a narrow section, and came to a spot where I heard a strange noise coming from a rain gutter that ended right over the trail. I thought it was running water, and then I saw the writhing tangle of yellow and black bodies inside. I don't know how many there were. I didn't stick around long enough to find out.

But this snake, in the middle of the trail! He wasn't moving, and yet the thought never entered my head that he might be dead. I was quite sure he wasn't, long before I saw the little tongue flick in and out.

"Please," I said aloud. "Do you mind if I just, well, go past you? I won't hurt you, I promise." Pause. "And you...you won't hurt me either, right?"

Flick, flick.

"Hmmmm."

I didn't want to go back the way I'd come; besides, who's to say I wouldn't find myself facing the same problem again on the way back? Snakes could be all over the place! No, I wanted to go forward. I eyed the trail; it was quite wide. The snake wasn't coiled, so perhaps I could sprint past him quick enough to avoid a bite? I looked at the snake. I didn't think it was a good idea.

Well, I stood there for a minute, wondering what to do, and then he began to move at last. At first I thought it was bad news; that he had decided I was a threat and was going to get all coiled up and ready to strike. In that case, he would've won--I'd definitely have gone the other way. But no, he just began to make his slow, leisurely way across the trail to the other side.

And I saw that I was right--he was indeed a nice big rattlesnake.

Froggs like snakes about as much as they like sharks, which is basically not at all. Fascinating creatures, but I prefer to be fascinated from the comfort of my living room, when they are on TV and far, far away.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Parenthesis

"For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy--a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding."--from The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri

But what is it like to be a foreigner in the land where you thought you belonged, because that's where you were from, where you grew up, where you lived...until one day you went away, and everything changed?

When I came back from my travels--and I mean came back at last, because when I first arrived back in the United States "for good," there was still a lot of going here and here, including the East Coast and the Bay Area, and eventually I even went as far as Egypt, Jordan, and Israel and going to the Middle East was like going to the moon in some ways, and yet not in others--but when I really and truly came back, I felt more lost and homeless than I had ever felt on my many travels. For here I was, where everything finally was familiar again, and yet it was all completely strange. I didn't know what to do with it, what to do with myself, and what to do with everyone else. I had forgotten how to live with my suitcase packed away empty in a closet.

Sometimes I think to myself, "I want to go to that cafe that I went to with so-and-so once, what was the name?" And then I remember that the cafe, as well as so-and-so, is in Titirangi, in New Zealand, and there is no way of getting there in time to watch the sun go down and still get home in time for work the next day.

And then there was my first view of Cairo, from the plane. All I could see was brown desert, brown buildings, and an absolute forest of brown satellite dishes. The pyramids gleamed golden at the end of the wing as the plane banked for the landing.

I have black sand from Karekare beach in a little bottle on my desk, next to another bottle that has red sand from Petra. The sand from Petra used to carry the scent of Jordan with it--a scent of dust, of the Bedouins, of ancient beauty. Now it smells like nothing at all.

One day I was cleaning out my backpack and found rocks that I think are from Israel, but it's hard to know. They look like ordinary rocks to me now.

This evening I lay down to rest, and suddenly I was walking across the field near the dairy in Oxford, New Zealand. I tell you I could feel the grass under my feet, and I saw the little yellow flowers scattered through the green, just as I did on a lazy afternoon, how long ago now?

Every now and then I still go into a momentary panic when I pull out of my driveway, because I am not sure anymore which side of the road I'm supposed to be driving on.

Someday I will tell the story of my near-death experience while riding a donkey on a street in a Bedouin village. But not tonight.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Widgets and Smocks

Well, I tried posting this twice using a new blog widget for Tiger OS 10.4, but it didn't work. Annoying, but I still do like widgets. They are pretty neat. Actually, I think I really just like to say, "widget." It's a cool word.

Did anyone ever read the Calvin & Hobbes strip where Hobbes and Calvin are making stuff with clay, and Hobbes wants a smock before he'll sculpt anything, but Calvin says he doesn't need a smock, because the clay isn't that messy, and then Hobbes starts yelling that he wants a smock, and Calvin gives in, and eventually Hobbes admits that really he just likes to say, "smock," and then he says it over and over and over again, until Calvin screams, "What the heck is WRONG with you?!"

I feel the same way about the word "widget" that Hobbes does about the word "smock."

And I also like the word "yellow."

Snails

Snails are not my favorite animal in the world. I wouldn't even say they make my top five. I do feel sorry for them, though, because they aren't cute, or fuzzy, or anything that would make anyone like them much. Even bugs can get some people interested in them, such as etymologists, but I have no idea what they call people who are interested in snails, because I've never heard that anyone really is.

The other day I rescued a snail that was laboring across a grocery store parking lot. He'd have gotten stepped on or rolled over for sure, so I picked him up and moved him to a little grassy plot of ground, hopefully out of harm's way. I felt good about saving a life.

A couple days after that, I personally stepped on a snail by accident, squooshing it to oblivion as I was about to get into my car and head off to work. I heard the crunch under my foot before I ever even saw the poor pathetic little thing.

The irony, far from escaping me, made me feel depressed.

Today is gray and sulky, looking like it wants to rain but won't because that's exactly what people are expecting and why should it do what everyone expects it to do? It's unseasonably cold for May in Los Angeles, my fingers are icy as I type this, and I really hope I never step on a snail ever again.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

What Can I Say?

Sometimes I have a really hard time writing this blog.

It's not the writing itself that's difficult, usually...more the issue of what to write about. I'd really like to write about serious subjects, but as I start to write, I will suddenly remember the story about, for example, the time that I threw up in front of a bullying older girl when I was in first grade, and I was kind of glad that I did, since she was acting all snotty because I'd put my school bag in the wrong place on the playground when I arrived for morning daycare, but the thing was, I was feeling really sick and didn't care, so when I ended up puking on the ground right in front of her and she ran off screaming, I didn't feel sorry at all. I was more concerned about possibly getting throw-up on my new shoes, if you want to know the truth.

Now, you'd never guess from reading the above paragraph that what I had originally intended to write was a thought-provoking piece on the Arab-Israeli conflict based on my experiences during a trip I took to the Middle East last September, would you?

And that's my trouble. This is why I will always struggle to be a great writer. When important things need to be written, I cave and fall back on the trivialities of life.

Is it fear? Writer's block? Laziness? Perhaps a combination of all three? Something else entirely?

It's hard to say.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

My Favorite Posts...of Mine, I Mean

Well, it is nearly Friday on the west coast, and I probably won't post anything tomorrow, as I work early. Of course, I also get off early, but I think I'm going to give the frogg files a break for the day.

And, since I am feeling so lazy, I am just going to direct you to some of my favorite posts from the past however-many months. I don't know how other people felt about these, but I happen to like them. Some are funny, some are serious, and they are in no particular order. Anyway, enjoy, if you haven't already. And if you have, enjoy them again. It's all you're going to get today!

Have a great weekend.

The Single Girl
The Game, Part I
Buggin'
Getting Things Into Perspective
A Parking Misadventure
Keeping it Real
You Googling At Me?
Bear With Me
And The Winner in the You've-Got-to-be-Kidding-Me Category...
Sticking With It
Prelude to Mt Sinai

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Thailand

Sometimes when I go for a walk near my house, I will catch a scent on the air that reminds me of a street in Bangkok, where I lived for three weeks in October 2002. Specifically, it reminds me of the four-block walk down to the laundromat we hauled our clothes to when we just couldn't deal with handwashing anymore. I couldn't possibly tell you why I should be reminded so strongly of that place, but some things can't be explained. That is the case more often than not.

A Thai man once said to me, "There are three seasons in Thailand: hot, very hot, and very very hot." We were there when it was hot. It was the rainy season, so it was almost unbearably humid as well. Every day felt like we were walking in a giant, inescapable sauna, yet somehow some of us would get up the energy to go jogging around the nearby university in the evenings, before teaching our English classes. Lots of people would be out at that time, jogging, doing aerobics, or playing a game that was kind of like hackey-sack, only instead of a hackey-sack, they used a hollow plastic woven ball. I played a couple times; it was fun.

Often we heard rumblings of thunder in the air during the day, though the rain didn't always come. When it did, it was tragic. One day it rained so hard, it flooded the church where we were staying, and we spent the day sloshing around in water well past our ankles, and trying to unclog one of the drains. It was a mess.

The people in Thailand smile all the time; in fact, the country is known as the land of smiles. This has a downside: you never know if a Thai person is upset with you, because they won't show it. It would be impolite, and at all costs they will be polite to you.

I liked Thailand. My favorite aspect of the country was the people, but a strong runner-up was the food. I remember one time I found a giant ant in my pad see yu (which I'm sure I've spelled frightfully wrong)--but it was still really good. I also think the Thai omelette is quite excellent. I do admit that I never sampled anything truly exotic, such as the crunchy fried grasshoppers that street vendors would often have available, and which I would see children actually clamoring for, just like kids here might jump up and down and beg mom and dad for candy.

We would eat lunch at Ramkhamhaeng University, at the canteen. We got a lot of attention, being farang (foreigners). Students liked to sit with us and practice their English. They were very friendly.

A meal in the canteen would cost about 15 baht, which was roughly equivalent to about 50 cents. The exchange rate was shocking. When we went to the markets, I didn't really have the heart to bargain, because, even though vendors were certainly ramping up their prices, it was still so very cheap. A skirt for 250 baht was something like $5.00. Was I really going to try and quibble it down a few more? Would Jesus do that? Well, I am a bad bargainer anyway.

The best haircut I ever had was in a salon at the mall in Bangkok. The girl who cut my hair didn't even speak English, but her hair was pretty cool, so I just indicated that I wanted her to do mine the same way. She did a great job. I felt beautiful for the rest of the day.

Brains, anyone?

When I was in Egypt in September, I stayed in a Catholic school in Cairo. Across the street was a fast food place called, as I remember, "Three Stars." I thought this was funny, because here in America things are usually measured on a five-star scale; like a five-star restaurant would be awesome, while a three-star place would be only so-so.

"Look, they only gave themselves three stars," I said to Darren as we walked in for lunch one day. "Like they're saying, 'hey everyone! We're not great, but we're good enough!'"

Darren laughed, I think, but it was a long time ago now, and I don't know for sure. I thought it was funny, but I've also been known to nearly fall of my chair laughing at a movie where all the major characters were played by thumbs. Anyway, what I do know is that Darren eventually ordered the cow brain sandwich. I didn't, because I'd had cow brains before, and once was certainly enough.

It was at my aunt's house for Christmas Eve one year. My father's side of the family is mostly Egyptian, and this is the sort of thing that can happen to you when you are only half-Egyptian as I am: you can end up eating something like cow brains at your aunt's house and not even know it, because it would never occur to the non-Egyptian half of you that anyone might actually put cow brains on the table, for people to eat.

On that Christmas Eve, I put what I thought were chicken patties on my plate. I don't know why I didn't think it was odd that we would be having chicken patties, of all things. Not really your typical holiday fare. But my sister the cowgirl and I both tucked in, and I personally thought it wasn't terrible, but definitely odd, and had a strange mushy texture for a chicken patty. The cowgirl agreed, and then our cousin came out of the kitchen.

"So, how's the [insert Arabic word for cow brains here, which I can't spell phonetically in English and can barely say in Arabic anyway]?" he said.

"Huh?" said the cowgirl and I.

"You know," he said. "The cow brains."

"No," we said, "No way."

He laughed. "Yes. Oh yes."

We stopped eating.

(As an interesting side note, the cowgirl has since had the chance to lop off, fry up, and eat...a calf's testicles. She says they are good. And that they taste like chicken. Me, I think I'd rather have the brains over the balls, but I'll settle for neither even more happily.)

But about Three Stars in Cairo. Darren didn't get sick from the cow brain sandwich and actually he indicated that he kind of liked it. I don't know if I believed him, but he finished it, so he must not have hated it too much. As for me, I found out that they have a pretty good chicken kebab sandwich. At least, I hope it was chicken. Anyway, it was good enough to warrant another star, and possibly even two thumbs up!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Weekend

Well, last weekend I left late for the Bay Area on Saturday morning, because I just had to get my eyebrows done first. I had tried to do it on Friday, but there were no appointments left, and I really was quite desperate. ("Ah vanity, speak thou a little softer, my sweet, lest you betray your presence...")

So anyway, I didn't get on the road til 10, but that was ok. I figured I would get to In-N-Out at Kettleman City (Junction 41) just in time for lunch. And I would have, if I hadn't been in some other world and entirely missed the exit; in fact, I didn't even know I missed it until I realized from the unmistakable, all-too-pervasive scent of cow manure that I was close to Harris Ranch, which meant I was no longer close to In-N-Out. I was very disappointed. I ended up settling for Subway at Santa Nella about an hour later, but it really wasn't the same at all. When your mouth is watering and your stomach is longing for a double-double with cheese, you aren't exactly thrilled by sweet onion chicken teriyaki.

And just so you know, it's really hard to eat while driving a stick-shift.

I also slaughtered something like 3.2 million butterflies during one stretch of road, and it was very upsetting. I don't know why they were all suddenly there, but there they were, and there was nothing I could do to avoid hitting them. I was depressed after that for a little while.

But eventually I made it to the Bay Area, had dinner in Berkeley, and then got to see my friends Yardley put on a show on the top floor of a building that looked more like an abandoned house than an Epic Arts Studio. From the street, we saw a red light coming out of a window, and that's where the music was coming from. On the corner was a heavily graffitied liquor store, and across the street was a park (lit by the glaring lights of the nearby Ashby BART station), where men were gathering suspiciously. I grant that perhaps they were not, in fact, dealing drugs or anything illegal; perhaps they were members of a night-time knitting club. Anything's possible, but having been held up and robbed in Berkeley once before, I confess to leaning more toward being suspicious than trustful. Besides, how many men really knit? I ask you.

But the show was great. If you didn't go, you missed out. Yardley in particular rocked, and I'm not just saying that because they are my friends. They were my favorite in a very strong, talented lineup, featuring Dawn Thomas, Amber Rubarth, and others. Great sets, all acoustic, and for only $5. Not a bad deal at all.

Speaking of music, I'm really glad that God gave music to us as a gift, because if he hadn't, I'd just have to invent it because I like it so much, but I'm not very good at inventing things, so I'd probably have to delegate it to someone else, only I'm even worse at delegating than I am at inventing, so what I'm really trying to say here is that the human race would be out of luck. And yes, I think I know I've made absolutely no sense whatsoever, but that's the sort of thing I write after spending nearly the entire day yesterday alone in my car with nothing but an iPod to keep me company.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Heading Home

About to hit the road back to Los Angeles, and I'd just like to say that I'm glad that there are bands out there like They Might Be Giants and that they write songs like "Experimental Film."

I also think Weezer's blue album is just about one of the greatest gifts to lone, long-distance drivers ever. Too bad I don't have it anymore. Sigh...

Ok, catch ya on the south side, and I'll have more info on the weekend, because it was a really good one and I'd love to share it with you.

Until then...