Dear Adam,

I’ve got a tough decision to make, but it’s complicated. I can’t go into details. It’s kind of a long story. The basic question is: should I go through with it?

On the Fence in Fairbanks

Dear Fencer,

It’s not a tough decision. It’s an easy decision. You want it to be a tough decision. You want the bad option to be good. But it’s not. You’re asking for advice in the hopes that someone, anyone will tell you the bad option is the good option. Nobody thinks that. It’s an easy decision.

And it’s not complicated. People in simple situations say that they’re complicated all the time, when the only complicated aspect is the hundreds of layers of bull required to put a positive spin on something so obviously negative. “I didn’t get fired . . . it’s complicated.” “I can’t commit to a long relationship . . . it’s complicated.” “Your car isn’t ready yet . . . it’s complicated.” “We didn’t get the loan . . . it’s complicated.”

And it isn’t a long story. People always try to cover up their obviously bad choices by threatening you with the length of the story. Sure, if you try to make it sound good, it gets real long. But if you keep them true, they are always short stories. Here are the short stories from the previous examples: “I got fired for stealing at work.” “I don’t want to be exclusive because I don’t like you all that much.” “The valet stole your car.” “We have bad credit and no money.”

So if you’re wondering if you and the imbezzling, disinterested car thief should buy a new house together with a no-money-down subprime mortgage . . . sure, go for it. Send me a postcard from Alaska. Just spare me the complicated long story.



May 28, 2008 question

A lot of good guesses yesterday, but only Steve T (the T stands for Three Syllables) knew that Charades had its roots in 16th Century France. Outstanding!

Now on to today’s news. Or yesterday’s news. Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan dropped a bombshell yesterday with the revelation that President Bush used propaganda to promote the Iraq war. This strongly contradicts the previously held belief that the White House had launched the war on a platform of “limericks and warm fuzzies.” I still don’t know what to do with this information.

What Pope established the Congregation for propagating the faith, from which the word propaganda is derived?

Screened In

I haven’t been blogging much, because I’ve been busy. Or at least, I’m supposed to get busy. As the work piles up, I still find myself distracted by anything with a screen: TV, computer, handheld sudoku, my cell phone. I only just realized the pattern. And I have a theory.

The retina is a screen. It’s actually the coolest screen in the entire world, but it’s a screen. The lens of our eyes project the images of the surrounding world onto our retinas, which are then mystically transformed into electric and chemical signals that travel to our brain, which then interpret the stereo images into wicked awesome 3D technicolor. (Actually, the rods and cones of the eye are more like trinitron televisions, combining receptors of three different colors to interpret every color known to man . . . hence the known to man part, although some females actually have four different colors . . . but I digress.)

Set aside the science of it, though, because it’s the soul of it that really makes up my theory. I’ve always believed that the eyes really are the window to the soul. No, I’m not suggesting that our souls are on our retinas (in which case a detached retina would mean the end of one’s natural existence). But I do think that when something projects onto my internal screen, it nestles up to my soul.

I believe that whatever we see touches our souls, and what our souls really long for is a connection.

I’ve said before that reading is powerful because words carry so much meaning, even the substance of existence itself. As you read this, our souls meet. Because of the power of words, the connection forged here is real insofar as the words adequately communicate the reality of who I am. Real as it is, it’s an indirect connection.

When you look someone in the eye, your souls shake hands, hug, slap high fives, or just slap. The connection isn’t always pleasant, but it’s undeniable and direct. Look into someones eyes and, whether you love them or loathe them, you’re paying them the respect of acknowledging the most enduring level of their existence. Stare too long, and you’ll make their soul feel a bit awkward. Of course, if they accept you, you can get lost in that connection for a very long time.

Enter the screen theory. Be it television, projector, monitor, or quartz crystal, a screen can play a trick on our eyes, our retinas, and our souls. I believe that when we look at a screen, we experience an imitation of a true soul connection. I think that even though our minds may not make the connection, we suspect in our innermost sanctuary that where there is a screen there is a soul. It is beyond subconscious, but it happens. We look at the television, the movie, the video game, whatever . . . and we believe in the connection.

The popular (and perhaps more plausible) belief is that people identify with the characters in TV shows, movies, video games, and whatevers. But I think it’s more than that. I think we connect with the screen itself and the mysterious entity through whose eyes these images are projected. I think it’s true on a computer as well. Whether you’re typing a term paper or furrowing through facebook, you see it on a screen. Your email shows up on a screen. Text messages, on a screen. Each screen that engages our attention, I believe, does so with the allure of a falsified soul.

If the theory is true, I think there’s a subtle distinction in the fixation. I think we are drawn — not to the characters, friends, and strangers we meet in a film, show, chat room, or email message — we are instead captivated by the imaginary intimate friend who relays all these stories and messages directly to our souls. The computer screen is such a close friend that he can tell me what my best friends are up to or show me pictures of my nieces and nephews. My TV knows me so well, she can send her most vivid recollections of LOST castaways and Office shenanigans directly to my brain. My buddy at the movies can cinematically tell me the story of Indiana Jones, and he does all the voices and sound effects personally.

Your imaginary friend, be he Mac or PC, is telling you all about my blog.

I think that’s why I get lost in this stuff. It’s an easy cure for loneliness. It’s also an empty cure. And it’s not to say I’m lonely. I’m not. But when I sit in front of any one of these screens, whether I’m perusing meaningless information with my friend Laptop or playing sudoku with my pal Handheld, I feel on some level like I would miss them if I left. It’s not so much an addiction as it is a horribly dysfunctional relationship.

Because it’s not a real soul on the other end of that screen. It’s an electronic void. What’s more, it’s an entirely one-way connection. My TV doesn’t feel better knowing I’m there. I think that when souls connect and accept each other, both souls feel that and feed off of it. No matter what affection I may pour into some electronic screen, my soul will never ever feel anything resembling love emanating from the phosphorescent glow. So all of those screens leave our souls feeling cold, alone, aloof . . . and starved.

That’s why reading books or even listening to the radio or music is so much better for your soul. There’s no illusion that the page is a screen, or that the actual book is a person. The connection is appropriately indirect. The words are real, and they don’t change with a new font or a yellowed page or a High-Definition anything. If the words and the ideas they represent are truly great, our connection with the author and the human experience they replicate is vibrant and alive and transforming and feeding . . . and wonderful.

If the words represent manufactured emotion that has no real basis in life, the void continues, but that’s another story.

And if the words are from God, the connection is eternal. Okay, too many rabbit trails are springing up. I’ll end the thought with this: turn off your computer, TV, cell, everything. Pick up a book, the Bible, or a pad of paper. Send real letters. Look into someones eyes. Find a real soul and snuggle up to it.

May 28, 2008 question

Awesome is pink, y’all. Helloooo. It’s totally dusty pink. Get with it. Nobody knew that, and it totally bums me out. To sum up: sarcasm.

Now it’s time for great moments in social translation. Today’s great moment comes from 1982 when a man named Scott Brubaker did a favor for his neighbor. He told her he’d be willing to babysit her seven children, all of them under the age of 5, while she left to run some errands. She then asked the immortal question, “Are you sure?” to which the answer returned, as it invariably does throughout the course of human events, “Yes.” But only a few moments later, as the last trace of the station wagon exhaust cloud dissipated from his front yard, Scott made two crucial breakthroughs in social translation. First, he realized that “run some errands” most likely meant “do everything I possibly can to avoid returning home.” He then discovered that “are you sure” is just a polite way of saying, “I realize you’re lying, but here’s one more superficial opportunity to tell the truth.”

In the world of asking favors, “Are you sure?” has come to be the perfect way to feign inner conflict over the decision to let someone else help you, lend you money, or allow you to eat the last cookie without splitting it. Only a handful of people in the last millennium have responded to “Are you sure?” with anything other than “Yes,” “I’m sure,” “Of course,” or the like. You just don’t hear, “On second thought, I would like that donut,” or “Well, not 100% sure. Can I sleep on it, and if I still feel good about it, then you can borrow my lawn mower.” So why ask? Because despite the universal desire to take advantage of people, no one wants to appear like they’re taking advantage of people. “Are you sure” somehow functions as proof positive that the recipient of a favor regrets the act of kindness but reluctantly accepts it.

Don’t worry, citizens of trivia land, I won’t ask you to stop taking advantage of each other. Nor will I ask that you stop pretending not to or that you finally respond to being AYSed by blurting out, “No, I’m not sure, and don’t pretend to care!” Keep up the charade. Charades are fun. Here’s today’s question:

According to the rules of th 1985 board game, “Charades,” the history of Charades dates back to what country in what century? (e.g. 6th century Egypt) (hint: neither the 6th century nor Egypt is a correct answer)

May 27, 2008 question

You know how Seal sang that we’re never gonna survive unless we are a little crazy? Well I resent that liturgical rhetoric. I’m going to find him and disable his spam settings until he calls off his smurf attacks and admits that I am not the crazy one! Not yet, flibber comma!

So Elena is on a serious trivia hot streak. On Friday she raked in yet another solo victory, knowing all of this about the first manned spacecraft to actually live up to its name:

The name of the spacecraft that carried Yuri Gagarin, first cosmonaut to go into space in April 1961, was Vostok (which means East).

That was in those days when Russian rocket science, or other kinds of science, existed, before Russian scientists, all of them, emigrated to the Zapad (West).

Now that is what I call knowledge, ladies and gentlemen. For those of you not schooled in cosmonautics, I offer you this kinder, gentler trivia question:

When Crayola commemorated the 50th birthday of its 64-crayon box this year by introducing 8 new crayon colors, what color was Awesome?

May 23, 2008 question

Well it looks like I sufficiently confused almost everybody with that question. Not sure how I should have worded it, but the bottom line was this: David Cook received more votes (54 million) on the AI finale than either Al Gore (51 million) or George Bush (50 million) did in the 2000 presidential election. But David Archuleta may have had more delegates, I don’t know. I’ll tell you who did know: Elena. Congratulations, Elena, you’re today’s trivia idol . . . hey . . . that gives me an idea . . . I’ll worry about that later. Here’s today’s less-confusing-than-pop-culture trivia question about rocket science, sort of:

What was the name of the first spacecraft to complete a manned space flight?

May 22, 2008 question

The first Behind the Music was about music that came from behind the curtain: Milli Vanilli. Here’s who knew the second time around (or at least mouthed the answer):

Mike K (the K stands for Keep Singing Even If The CD Skips)
Steve J (the J stands for Just Blame It On The Rain)

So . . . American Idol is over now, and all the votes have been counted. But we won’t know who the real winner is until all the superdelegates have made up their minds. Actually, the season finale drew more votes (97 million+) than any other contest in AI history, which leads me to today’s question:

If votes for this year’s American Idol finale had counted in the general presidential election in 2000, who would have won the popular vote?

I Kid You Not

For the second year in a row, American Idol gave DVR-ers everywhere a complete and total 2-hour shaft, and it’s driven me out of blog silence for just this one moment.

Last year, after 120 minutes of waitertainment, the announcement of the winner of American Idol was announced at 9:03 and three seconds. I remember, because our DVR recorded an extra three minutes until 9:03, when Ryan proclaimed, “The winner of American Idol Season 6 is . . . ” and we missed the end. Unbelievable.

Tonight, I kid you not, he did it again. Only this time our DVR switched off right at 9:00. It is beyond detestable that a results show would spend two hours offering no results whatsoever. But here’s what did happen:

Seacrest: “The winner of American Idol Season 7 is . . . David . . .” and then it ended. I am not even kidding. Granted, I didn’t have to sit through the two grueling hours of seeing and hearing from all the people we’re so glad are gone . . . but to not even reveal the winner in the alotted time is an absolute crime. It’s an outrage. It’s so outrageous, the rage has come back in. It’s INrageous and OUTcredible.

And yeah, I looked up who won. But I’m ticked on principle.

Re: May 20, 2008 question

Wait, seriously, two responses? Two guesses? VH1 Behind the Music . . . guess a band, look for a clue, try something. Ask yourselves, what would Hillary do? Would she give up just because there’s no hope? No. And neither should you. There’s a lot more chance that you’ll get this right than that Hillary will win the nomination. And you won’t be ruining your party’s chances just by guessing. By the way, do you think Hillary will still snap at Ralph Nader for ruining the democrats’ chances by staying in an unwinnable race? Just wondering.

Okay, the two of you who guessed, feel free to guess again. But you’re all stuck with this question until someone gets it right . . . and who knows? There might actually be a prize in it for you.

Adam Kellogg wrote:

Once again, parliamentary knowledge proves to be a tough topic for this crowd, and once again Charles benefits from your collective powers of underestimation. Sixteen members of Parliament-Funkadelic were inducted together into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The funktastic group has actually included well over 100 different musicians as members over the years.

Oh, and sorry to make you wait for trivia. I was busy jamming with George Clinton. Here’s today’s question packed with just that much musical integrity:

What band was the subject of the inaugural episode of Behind the Music?