Okay, let me see if I’ve got this straight. S&P downgrades US Treasury bonds, indicating they are not as safe as they used to be. Investors, fearing economic collapse, pull all of their money out of the stock market, and put that money into… wait for it… US Treasury bonds, because… they are a safe investment. Humans are weird.
Another musician dies at age 27. Another member of the so-called “27 Club”. Is it coincidence, or is something deeper going on here?
Shortly after the death of Amy Winehouse, Rolling Stone magazine (no, not really) sent me on assignment to find out. My first stop, an exclusive interview with the Prince of Darkness, the Devil himself, who offered a unique insight into this phenomenon. Here now is that interview…
RS: Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones… They all have two things in common. They were groundbreaking musicians in their day, and they all died at age 27. I understand you know something about the origin of this so-called “27 Club”?
PD: Sure, yeah. It all started with Robert Johnson.
RS: Legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson, alleged to have sold his soul to play the blues.
PD: Right, you know the story. Robert Johnson wants to play guitar better than anyone so he goes out to the crossroads at midnight and strikes a deal with your’s truly.
RS: So that really happened?
PD: That really happened. There really was a crossroads. It really was in the middle of nowhere Mississippi. It was hot as hell there, even at midnight. I’d heard he wanted to make a deal, and some idiot told him that’s the place to go if you wanted to meet the Devil. Dumb-ass idea if ever I heard one, but what the heck. So on a lark I go down there to see if he shows up. Sure enough he does, and he’s serious, dead serious, so in about half an hour we have a deal. The rest is history.
RS: And dying at 27, that was part of the deal?
PD: Well I had to put some sort of time limit on it, but age 27 was Robert’s idea. Said if he hadn’t made it be then, there was no use in going on. It’s as good a number as any I thought, so I put it in the contract. I few years later, I collected his soul, closed out the contract, and then forgot all about it.
RS: So 27 became the standard age for that sort of deal.
PD: Not intentionally. You have to understand, I make lots of deals, but the Robert Johnson deal, a musician deal, that was new, and the kid was ahead of his time. It would be another 30 years before kids started asking for that kind of deal. And when they did, I just dug up the old Johnson contract and reused it, you know, changing bits here and there for the particular situation, but mostly using it as boilerplate.
RS: Who asked for that type of deal next?
PD: That’d be Brian.
RS: Brian Jones, founder member of the Rolling Stones?
RS: And his contract with you was the same as Robert Johnson’s?
PD: No, his deal was a little different, but the part about collecting his soul in his 27th year was the same, that was copied verbatim from Robert’s contract.
RS: How was his deal different?
PD: Well Brian didn’t just want to be a great musician himself, he wanted success and recognition for the band. He wanted the Rolling Stones to be huge. He wanted the band to go on forever, with or without him. I think my work there speaks for itself.
RS: You seem very proud of your work with the Stones.
PD: Hey, you try keeping Keith Richards alive for a few decades. It’s not easy, I’ll tell you that.
RS: Then there was Hendrix?
PD: Yeah, Brian and Jimi were both huge fans of Robert Johnson, but Jimi wanted exactly the same deal as Robert. Robert Johnson was the greatest blues guitarist of all time, Jimi wanted to be the greatest electric guitarist of all time. And he was already talented to begin with, I just helped him reach that next level. Man, I tell ya, I still get goosebumps when I hear his Star Spangled Banner.
RS: I think a lot of our readers would agree with you there. How about Janis Joplin?
PD: Ah yes, Janis. Sweet kid, Janis, a lovely soul. Quirky though, you know what she asked for?
RS: No idea.
PD: A Merecedes-Benz. Figured if the Lord wouldn’t buy her one, maybe the Devil would. Cute story, yeah?
RS: That’s all she asked for?
PD: No, no, no, there was other stuff to. But that Mereceds-Benz was at the top of her list.
RS: Then a color TV?
PD: Ha, ha, ha… right.
RS: And Jim Morrison?
PD: Yeah, I had a deal with him. What a total freak that guy was. I kinda regret that one a bit.
RS: Why, what happened?
PD: I really don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just say, he asked for… things… really dark things. And I though I was dark. Let me tell ya, I had nothing on him. This guy was world class f***ed up. I stopped doing deals with musicians for a long time after that.
RS: You stopped until Kurt Cobain, many years later?
PD: No, that’s a misconception. I never did a deal with Cobain. He was a talented kid on his own, his big problem was that he never believed it. In his mind, he was still a wannabe. He wanted to be a rock star like his heroes, and he wanted to die at 27 like his heroes. So one day he realizes he’s 27, and grunge has no future, and he doesn’t know what to do next, so he eats a shotgun. Sad really. Like I said, I stopped doing deals with musicians after Morrison, and mostly I’ve stuck to that.
RS: But what about Amy Winehouse, that had to be another of your contracts, right?
PD: Amy who?
PD: No, I’m kidding. But Amy wasn’t my deal either. She might have made a deal with some other deity, but it wasn’t me. Think about it, when you make a deal with me, people know it. You’re name lives on forever. Winehouse was a good singer and all, but lets face it, at the end of the day she was basically a one-hit-wonder. That’s not my handiwork, that’s not my style at all. If Amy Winehouse had made a deal with me, believe me, she would be huge right now. Heck they’re still writing songs about Robert Johnson. You sure wouldn’t have those wiki-nerds arguing over whether or not she belongs in the official list.
RS: What about Brittany Spears? a lot of people speculated you had a deal with her.
PD: I did, but that was a different deal. I didn’t use the musician contract with her, that was more of the standard entertainer, Dick Clark / Bob Sagget kind of deal.
RS: So, do you have any deals with other musicians who are still alive?
PD: Sure I do, one or two, but I’m not at liberty to say who. That would be unfair.
RS: Can you give us a hint?
PD: No, I would never do that. But let’s just say, never say never…
… Yes, all of our animals have jobs, and compound nicknames.
Phineas, the big dog, is known as Security-Dog. He was born a security dog. He takes great pride in patrolling his domain at all hours, keeping us safe and secure from all threats, man or beast. He knows more about physical security than most people I know. I have seen him literaly keep one eye and one ear on the AC repairman, whilst simultaneously keeping the other eye and other ear firmly trained on the front door, just in case more of them were coming. His only professional flaw, if you can call it that, is target discrimination. He is not convinced, and will not be convinced, that large waterfoul do not present a clear and present danger to our safety.
Guiness, the all black kitty, is called “Princess”. She was born and raised a barn kitty, but has very quickly taken to what she considers to be the elegant sophistication of modern suburban life. As a princess, she does not work, per se. But if she’s available she will offer her services as personal bodyguard. If you go outside to do some yardwork (not involving power equipment, in which case you are entirely on your own) she will escort you. If you sit down to pull weeds, she will sit behind you facing the other way, to watch your back. I assume this is behavior she learned down on the farm, where kitties had to stick together lest they be trampled or eaten by larger beasts. She is completely unaware that her role is rendered moot by Security-Dog.
Drake, the white kitty with a nub for a tail, is known as Anger-Management-Kitty. He is so named for his tendency to transform into a wild Incredible-Hulk-esque flailing, shredding, bobcat-like creature if you attempt to touch his nub, or rub his tummy for half a second longer than you should. Do not make him angry, you would not like him when he’s angry. Drake’s job is this: He has been appointed the official Curtis-waker-upper if the cats are out of food in the morning. He accomplishes this by jumping up and down repeatedly on my chest. The other two kitties watch from a safe distance. I attempt to retaliate, but in the morning he is quite nimble, whereas I have not been nimble since the late 80’s, and even less so in the morning.
Osiris, the black and white kitty, has two nicknames. One is “Sylvester”, based on his dead-on impression of the cartoon kitty when startled. However his primary nickname is “Obsessive-Compulsive-Kitty”. He is so named on account of his job, which is this: His duties are to closely monitor all three cat food bowls, and notify me immediately the second one of them drops even imperceptibly below the full mark. (Unless of course it is morning, in which case he is to immediately inform Anger-Management-Kitty, who will then proceed to awaken me with circus-like abandon.) Osiris is well suited to this job, being both an obsessive-compulsive and a brilliant conversationalist. He speaks frequently and eloquently on all manner of subjects. He speaks in complete sentences. He will carry on entire conversations. Aside from the words for “treat” and “lizard”, I have no idea what he is saying.
Sam, the little dog, is just called “Whiney-Dog”. His “job”, if you will, and only discernable talent as far as I can tell, is to whine incessantly, often for no apparent reason. Since coming to live with us, I have given him two other jobs. One – don’t poop on the patio, and two – don’t walk into the pool. After years of training, we now enjoy moderate success on both fronts. We’ve also managed to replace most of the whining with “use your big dog voice” barking, which I take as an improvement.
Drake, our white, stub-tailed kitty, (aka Anger-Management-Kitty) apparently will abide no fightin in his establishment. He was lounging by the pool this morning while the dogs were eating, when the dogs get in a fight over their food. Drake jumps up and runs TOWARD them, as if to break them up. The dogs had separated before he got there, but not before Phineas, the big dog (aka Security-Dog) got the advantage of Sam, the little dog (aka Whiney-Dog). No damage done, but Sam, his cheek firmly planted in Phineas’ mouth, duly screamed and yelped until released.
Excitement over, except, at this point Drake (who I should point out is noticably smaller than both dogs) MARCHES over to Phineas, gets right up in his face and does that hissing-spitty thing cats do when they wish to express extreme disapproval of the present situation. I’m pretty sure that if translated to English I would have heard him say “Bad dog!” Phineas, now simultaneously stunned and chastized, has nothing left to do but back up, turn, and walk away. I’m not sure about this, but I think I saw Sam smirk.
Afterwards Drake and I had a little conversation about the dangers of meddling in the affairs of dogs. Something along the lines of… Do not meddle in the affairs of cats, for they are subtle and quick to anger. Do not meddle in the affairs of dogs, for you are crunchy, and taste good with ketchup. Okay, so, that wasn’t exactly the conversation, but it was early, and my mind was still trying to work out whether Drake was incredibly brave, or incredibly stupid, or perhaps both. My only conclusion – sometimes there’s a fine line between brave and stupid.
(I’ll keep this one short and light, I promise. And there’s a joke at the end.)
I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy but… When someone says to me “Happy Holidays”, I don’t assume they are trying to insult my faith. I don’t think they are pushing some kind of liberal atheist agenda. I don’t believe they are trying to tear down the fabric of western society. I just think it’s a friendly greeting, and they are just trying to be nice.
By the same token…
I may be crazy but… When someone says to me “Merry Christmas”, I don’t believe they are trying to push their right-wing Christian agenda on me. I don’t think they are intolerant of other faiths, or are xenophobic, or that they hate the Jews. I just think it’s a friendly greeting, and they are just trying to be nice.
On the other hand…
When someone says to me “Seasons Greetings”, I think of this little cartoon I saw where these little bottles of garlic, parsley, and oregano were all saying “hi” to each other. And that makes me smile.
For all my dear Christian friends who have made an annaul tradition of getting bent this time of year about the use of the term “X-mas”, please kindly consider the following:
1. X- (the greek letter Chi) has been used in English as an accepted abbreviation for Christ for over 500 years. Chi (“X” to us) is the first letter of “Christ” as spelled in the original Greek. Just for fun, go to Google translate or Babelfish, and try translating “Christ” into Greek. As a Christian, you should recognize the Chi-rho (Xp) symbol, one of the earliest and oldest symbols of Christianity. Yes, I know crosses and Jesus-fish are all the rage now, but back in the day the Chi-rho was THE symbol for followers of Christ. That the “X-” has lost acceptance as an abbreviation for Christ is a reflection of a modern educational system with no focus on classical language, much moreso than any real or imagined atheist conspiracy to replace Jesus with algebra.
2. December 25th is the birthday of a great many deities, however Jesus Christ was not originally one of them. That we celebrate his birth on december 25th is a somewhat arbitrary choice made by the early Roman church, as they established the calendar of new Christian holy days. They could have just as easily chosen May Day or Groundhog’s Day. (Yes, really, Groundhog’s Day.) While we don’t actually know the date of His birth, we do know with some certainty that it is very unlikely it was in December. (Or May, or February, for that matter.) So the real question should be, not who’s trying to take Christ out of Christmas, but rather who put Christ into Christmas in the first place. (Believe me, that’s a much more interesting question.)
3. Almost all of the traditions of Chrismas are older than Christ. There were decorated trees, and gift-giving, and decorations, and parties, and holly, and mistletoe, and yule logs, and wreaths, and carolling, and probably eggnog, all long before Jesus Christ was born. Putting Christ into Christmas really didn’t change it all that much. Just the name really, and it gave us some new songs to sing. I suspect taking him out of it wouldn’t really change it that much either. These old traditions, with or without their Christian overlay, are important – they are our connection with our past. If we don’t know where they came from, if we don’t understand our own traditions, they are no longer meaningful to us. They become nothing more than pointless, mindless ritual.
4. A significant number of Christans to this day do not celebrate Christmas. Certainly no Christians prior to the Roman Emperor Constantine celebrated Christ’s birthday, on December 25th or any other day. The pilgrims who came here, nearly died, and in the process invented Thanksgiving, did not celebrate Christmas. Today our modern view of the Christmas tradition is more shaped by Dickens and Coca-Cola than by anything from the Bible. The New Testament tells a great deal about the activities of the early apostles, and the early (pre-Roman) churches they served, in the years and decades following the death of Christ. Missing from the scripture is any mention of any remembrance or celebration of the birth of Christ. From a dogmatic point of view, the birth, aside from being to a virgin, is nearly inconsequential. It is the death and ressurection of Christ that is the central tenant upon which Christainity is founded. (This is why a magic bunny hides eggs for the kiddies on Easter.)
5. Two out of three people on the planet are not Christian. Nearly half of these non-Christians are Muslim, the other half are mostly Hindu or Buddhist. None of them care what you do with the “X” in Christmas. This great atheist conspiracy you are concerned about, well the number of atheists in the world is amazingly tiny, and most of them don’t care about your “X” either. The ones that do care, they ONLY care in the context of where a government agency is involved in the establishment of religion. You need to understand this – Using government resources to establish religious belief is forbidden by the most holy of their sacred texts, which they call the First Admendment. Aside from that, what you do as a private citizen, or as a business, or as an organization, with respect to Christmas, honestly they don’t give a fuck. In any case, you will NEVER hear a true atheist saying “Merry Xmas”. Their traditional greeting is “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings”. NOW LISTEN CAREFULLY: Just because someone says “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” does NOT automatically mean they are an atheist. More than likely it means they are trying to be friendly and inclusive to the two thirds of people on the planet who are not Christians. Despite appearances to the contrary, being Christian does not prohibit one from being friendly and inclusive.
Now… For all my dear non-Christian friends out there, who have to put up with this nonsense every year: Sorry, and Happy Holidays!
Monday is Memorial Day, the day we honor the men and women who gave their lives in service to their country. This holiday began as a remembrance of the soldiers lost in the Civil War, and has since expanded to honor those who paid the ultimate price in the subsequent wars, and simultaneously devolved into a nationwide barbecue celebrating the coming of summer.
It is interesting the aspects of today’s culture that have their roots in the Civil War. One of these is the Pledge of Allegiance. A great deal is made from time to time about the phrase “under God” in the pledge, but what many people don’t know is that the phrase “under God” was a much later addition to the pledge that significantly subverts it’s original and intended meaning.
The key phrase in the pledge, as originally written, was “one nation indivisible”. The pledge was created as a response to the Civil War. It was meant to be a promise that we are, and will forever be, a unified nation. That we would never again fracture or splinter, that we would never again take up arms against our own. The pledge was meant to be a solemn vow of unity that fully transends the hollow “under God” alteration brought on by Eisenhower-era anti-communist hysteria.
It is sad that this original message has been lost. As a country we have become more divisive than ever. We could use the occasional subtle reminder that we are meant to be “one nation indivisible”, that we have all pledged ourselves to the same thing. Those who are so caught up in the polarization between liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, red state versus blue state, they would do well to take a moment to remember the original purpose and meaning behind Memorial Day, and our Pledge of Allegiance.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,
and to the republic for which it stands,
one nation indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all.
This is a paraphrased recollection of an actual conversation I had with my mother when I was about four or five…
Me: What’s an easter egg hunt?
Mom: We take easter eggs and hide them all over the yard, and you try to find them.
Me: But I don’t like eggs.
Mom: These are easter eggs.
Me: What’s an easter egg?
Mom: It’s like a regular egg, but they come in lots of pretty colors.
Me: So what do I get if I find them?
Mom: You get the eggs.
Me: Can I eat them?
Mom: Can if you want to.
Me: Do they taste different?
Mom: No, they taste like regular eggs.
Me: But I don’t like eggs.
Me: You sure they’re not candy eggs or something?
Mom: No, their regular eggs.
Me: Can I eat them scrambled?
Mom: No, they’re hard-boiled
Me: What’s that?
Mom: They’re cooked in the shell in boiling water.
Me: Does that make them taste different?
Me: Would I like them?
Mom: I don’t know, have you ever had a hard-boiled egg?
Me: I don’t think so.
Mom: Would you like to try one?
(we pause here for a few minutes as mom makes me a hard-boiled egg, and shows me how to peel and eat it.)
Mom: Well, what do you think?
Me: Mmm, not sure. (I take another bite)
Me: I don’t like it.
Mom: What don’t you like about it?
Me: The taste.
Mom: What’s wrong with the taste?
Me: It tastes like eggs.
Mom: It IS an egg.
Me: But I don’t like eggs.
Mom: Fine, then you don’t have to eat it.
Me: So how do I win this easter egg hunt?
Mom: By finding the easter eggs.
Me: How many do I have to find?
Mom: As many as you can.
Me: What do I get if I win?
Mom: You don’t get anything, it’s not like that.
Me: There’s no prize?
Mom: No, there’s no prize.
Me: Just the eggs.
Mom: Right, just the eggs.
Me: And you’re sure they taste just like regular eggs?
Mom: Yes, I’m sure. It’s just food coloring, it doesn’t change the taste.
Me: And there’s no candy eggs, or chocolate eggs, or anything?
Mom: No, no candy eggs, no chocolate eggs, just regular eggs, that have been colored like easter eggs.
Me: I don’t like eggs.
Mom: I gathered.
Me: If it’s all the same to you, can I just stay in a watch cartoons instead?
I have a friend who is starting a new job soon. I just had a dream where I was concerned about whether or not he would like this new morning radio show we were listening to. When I woke up, I knew one was a metaphor for the other, but then I thought, why? Why do we dream in metaphor? Why do we always dream in metaphor, why can’t we just dream about the underlying thing?
Our brains are predisposed to think in terms of metaphor. Why? Because metaphor is closely related to analogy, and analogy is necessary for classification. Metaphor it is a way of dealing with one thing by referring to its analogue, and usually pointing out how responses to that analogue are also appropriate to the original thing. As for classification, if you can find an analogy for some new unclassified thing, then you immediately know the new thing has the same classification as its analogue.
Our brains are hard-wired for classification. It is necessary so we can use limited memory space to store the learned responses for a variety of situations. Here’s how it works: Let’s say you have a hundred different situations, each of which requires you to learn a response composed of nine steps, and the steps must be executed in the correct sequence. That’s ten pieces of information for each situation. To deal with all one hundred situations, that’s 1,000 pieces of information to learn.
Now let’s say that those same hundred situations can be classified into five general classes. Now you only have to learn 10 pieces of information for 5 classes, plus one piece of information for each situation, namely what class it belongs to. Now to deal with all one hundred situations you only need to learn 150 pieces of information. That’s an 85% reduction. If you further assume that each situation has two exceptions from the general class that also must be learned, that’s still only 350 pieces of information, a 65% reduction.
This is how we deal with a huge variety of things from all areas of our life on a regular basis. Classification is the “compression algorithm” of learning. Analogy and metaphor are integral subroutines of that algorithm, without which classification would not work. Dreaming is a poorly understood, but important part of the learning process. This is why we tend to generalize. This is why we alphabetize our DVD collections. And this is why we dream in metaphor.
The little Pontiac is a mid-engined two seater, and 20 years ago it was bordering on the exotic. Today, well, it goes from point A to point B, with an acceptable level of reliability. I let her warm up as I loaded up some supplies in the passenger seat and in the small cove it calls a trunk. When we were both ready I hopped in and drove south out of town, past the edge of civilization, and the antenna farms that lie just beyond. Through the jungle and into the Florida savannah that stretches southward towards the Everglades. The open landscape is flavored here and there with farms; growing oranges, tomatoes, strawberries, and tropical fish. And everywhere cows, always cows, and stands of live oak, and the occasional palmetto bush.
There are a few little towns along the way, a curious miixture of retirement communities of old people from the Northeast and Midwest, where polyester is still a viable fashion choice, and the best parking spots at the Publix supermarket are reserved for golf carts; and immigrant enclaves, where Mexicans and Guatamalans and Hondurans and others are busy chasing their own version of the American dream, which for them is little more than working in the fields by day, to put food on the table and a roof over their family’s heads at night. In between these villages you find the good old fashioned Florida crackers, the spiritual descendants of the original farmer/ranchers who were the only ones willing to settle this land from the time of the Spanish until the invention of air conditioning. This is red state country, land of Jesus and Budweiser and Nascar and Marlboro.
Here moss doesn’t grow on the north side of the tree; It hangs thick and silvery from every branch. Here a Cuban may be a person, but more often than not it is a sandwich. It is rarely, if ever, a cigar. It is hot here, and unbearably humid, but most years the summer rain comes and goes in the afternoon with a regularity that the retirees envy. Most true Floridians do not own an umbrella, for to carry an umbrella is a full time commitment with little payoff.
If you ever come here, you should know – the people here are insane, but for the most part harmless, and they can be quite fun if you get to know them. For lack of a better word, they are “kooky”. They, like the state itself, are a confusing mixture of oddities that make no sense together, yet somehow, it all works.