Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

March 2005


Found on the webMonday, March 14th, 2005, (1:15 pm)

You may have seen this series of pictures already, but to start the week after a torrid weekend for me, I thought I’d post something amusing.

The pictures were taken late last year by someone in the bay of Roundstone, County Galway, Ireland. A little hunting around online unearthed the tale behind the sequence of pictures. According to the official website for Roundstone a young man managed to somehow drive his car over the pier into the water in the “wee small hours” of Saturday morning. Local resident, Mary King, alerted another resident, Sean de Courcey, who heroically jumped into the bay and rescued the young man from the submerged vehicle and pulled him to safety, then probably had a pint of Guinness and a sing song with him, such is the Irish way.

The nest day a crane was called and what happened next is apparent by the series of pictures. Amazingly nobody was hurt in the event, however it’s unclear how much Guinness was consumed while residents planned how to deal with the situation.

Apparently, this kind of incident is not uncommon at Roundstone Pier and local residents are keen to see some kind of guard rail or other safety barrier put in place to prevent something tragic happening.

I looked for a website for Michael Long crane hire in the hope that he was using the pictures to demonstrate that his trucks were the right tools for the job. Unfortunately it would appear Mr Long doesn’t have one, an opportunity missed I feel. Ah well.

One observation is that there would appear to be absolutely no Gardai (Police) present at this incident. Such is the way of the Irish I suppose :-)

The bay on a nice day
Roundstone’s little community website

GeneralFriday, March 11th, 2005, (8:31 am)

I meant to post something like this the other day in response to a couple of comments about the flags of the UK from various people. One person, and I won’t embarrass them by mentioning names, said what I hear from a lot of people including British folk. They said “I can’t tell the difference between the England flag and the British one, is there one?” Well, if you’ll allow me to put on my teachers hat I shall be only to happen to show you the flags of my country and explain to you the differences.

Okay, first off, the flag you all know is the Union Flag (Naval Jack), often called the ‘Union Jack.’ This is is the flag that many people mistakenly refer to as the English flag. It is in actual fact the British flag. That is to say it encompasses England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. If you look at the English and Scottish flag, as well as the old Irish St Patrick’s cross (a flag ‘given’ to the Irish a long time ago by the English) you’ll see that the Union Flag in a combination of all of these flags.

Save LOTS of money on international money transfersThe English flag is the St George’s Cross. A simple red cross on a white background. This flag is more commonly paraded around by football (soccer) and Rugby fans. I’ve even heard some here in England refer to this flag as the “football flag” which is very sad indeed if you ask me. St George wasn’t a footballer, he is most famous for his mythical role as a dragon slayer. St. George was a real person though. He was acknowledged as Patron Saint of England by the end of the fourteenth century. In 1222 the Synod of Oxford declared a holiday in honour of St George, to be kept on 23 April. In 1415 Archbishop Chichele raised St George’s Day to a great feast and ordered it to be observed like Christmas Day. In 1778 the holiday reverted to a simple day of devotion for English Catholics.

The Red Dragon of Cymru, the Welsh flag, is pretty cool if you ask me. When I was a kid I wanted to be Welsh for two reasons, so I could speak their funny language and so I could take that flag as my national flag as it struck me as far more interesting than the British flag. It has a red dragon on it for heavens sake! To little boys, this stuff is far more exciting that red white and blue I can tell you.

The Scottish national flag, St Andrews’s Saltire, is simple in design. A white cross on a blue background. Though Scotland is often represented by a flag bearing a thistle too, but not in any official capacity.

The Tri color flag of Eire is Irelands flag. That’s southern Ireland, because of course, Northern Ireland is the historically disputed territory of Great Britain and therefore part of the UK. Eire’s patron saint is of course St Patrick, and everyone knows that. Across the world everyone seems to become strangely Irish on March 17th, St Patrick’s Day. Here in England, and across the UK, pubs often throw on special events for that day. A pint of Guinness is the traditional drink, and on March 17th a whole heck of a lot of the stuff is consumed. personally I’d like to see similar festivities here in England for St George’s day.

Another one of my favorite flags is the European Union flag. Officially released in 1992, this flag represents all of the counties within the European Union (the EU).

There are of course flags for the British Islands off our cost lines. Jersey is plonked somewhere between us and France, it’s seen as a tax haven, but personally I’d rather move to Monaco if I wanted to avoid tax. The Isle of Man is straddled somewhere between England and Ireland. They have a big motorbike race there ones a year called the Isle of Man TT. If you have a motorbike and you feel brave you can go there and charge around the course, hoping not to become one of the many people who have met their maker on that little island. (It’s also where the 1998 movie ‘Waking Ned Devine’ was filmed.)

There are of course other flags. The Royal family have a whole raft of flags, and seemingly different ones for different things. I dare say there is a Royal Standard (flag) for when the Queen is in the shower. Then there are the county flags, the state flags and the military flags and stuff, not to mentions the Arms. But I think I’ve educated you enough for now.

Hopefully you’re now all better informed about the flags of my country.

Flags of the United Kingdom
Medieval Sourcebook: St George
Guinness (learn to drink Irish)
Online Welsh translation engine
Welsh Language Board

GeneralThursday, March 10th, 2005, (12:10 am)

My friend, Missy in Portland Oregon, sent me these pictures earlier this evening. They show Mount St Helens from her office window this afternoon as the sleeping volcano stirs and sends hot ash some 20,000 feet into the air.

Scientists are warning that the Washington landmark could spectacularly erupt again at anytime with the same kind of force as it did some 25 years ago when.

Missy sent me these pictures partly because we were both at Mount St Helens in the new year just before I flew back home to the UK. Even then the sleeping giant was gently sending smoke and steam into the air.

Mount St Helens erupts
Experts weigh super-volcano risks
Live pictures of Mt St Helens
About Mount St Helens

Faith & ReligionTuesday, March 8th, 2005, (2:09 pm)

I was recently reminded of an article I read a while back entitled ‘What would Jesus do’ by GQ’s Walter Kirn, and decided that I would try to find it online and share it on my blog.

The article examines the subject of the multi-million-dollar Christian culture or, as he put it, the ‘alternaculture’ in which mainstream culture is cleaned of it’s evil influences and then marketed for Christian consumption. For seven days Kirn steps into the culture bubble immersing himself, and his family, in the ‘alternaculture’ in every possible.

Below is the entire article by Walter Kim, originally published in GQ magazine.

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? BUT MORE, IMPORTANT, WHAT WERE JESUS’ FITNESS SECRETS? IF YOU WERE ONE OF THE GROWING MILLIONS OF AMERICANS LIVING IN THE MULTIMILLION-DOLLAR CHRISTIAN ALTERNACULTURE—IN WHICH EVERYTHING IN MAINSTREAM CULTURE GETS CLONED AND THEN BLEACHED OF “SINFUL” CONTENT—YOU’D KNOW. WALTER KIRN SPENDS SEVEN STRANGE DAYS WALKING IN THE SHOES OF THE FAITHFUL.

DAY ONE: RESOLUTlONS
Today I will pray for Jewel, the singer-songwriter, “that Jewel’s artistry in music and poetry will draw her audience into an encounter with truth.” Tomorrow I’ll pray for Paul Allen, the Microsoft billionaire, “that Allen and others working on the leading edge of interactive media will pursue their objectives with integrity.” And later this week, in the manner and order prescribed by Praying for the Worlds 365 Most Influential People: 5 Minutes a Day to Change Your World, I will pray for Michael Crichton, the author/producer; for Jesse Helms, the North Carolina senator; and for Bill Nye, who hosts TV’s Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Today I will start reading Desecration, the ninth installment of the Left Behind series, a best-selling fictional treatment of the Apocalypse that pits the heroic Rayford Steele (“original member of the Tribulation Force3 against the cloven-hoofed Nicolae Carpathia (“self-appointed Global Community potentate3. Today I will dine on foods from What Would Jesus Eat? by Don Colbert, M.D., heeding Dr. Colbert’s solemn warning that “eating a diet high in salt, low in fiber, very high in fat and sugar, and virtually void of nutrients is not the way Jesus ate. Today I will ask my daughter, Maisie, 3, to pick out a video from the Bibleman series, a live-action superhero saga for kids directed by and featuring Willie Aames of Eight Is Enough and Charles in Charge fame.

Today I will plug in my TVGuardian, a handy electronic chaperone whose “patent pending, award winning technology” filters out “95% to 100% of foul language from TV shows” and replaces objectionable phrases like She’s such a #%&#h! and Oh &#!t! with She’s such a nag! and Oh crud!

Today I will leave behind the fallen world of secular American pop culture and enter the sell-contained parallel universe of American Christian pop culture, within which I’ve vowed to dwell, exclusively, for seven days and nights, watching PAX instead of NBC and letting Pat Robertson be my Tom Brokaw. But first, before I do any of these things, I will read from my new prayer book and ask God “to bless Jewel with safety, meaningful relationships” and, of course, “success.”

DAY TWO: ADJUSTMENT
I wake aboard the Ark.

The old Ark, the biblical Ark, constructed to save the chosen from the Great Flood, had two of every creature in existence. The new Ark, the cultural Ark, built to save the chosen from the Great Media Flood, also has two of everything I’m learning. You say you’re a Pearl Jam fan? Check out Third Day. They sound just like them–same soaring guttural vocals, same driven musicianship, same crappy clothes, just a slightly different message: Repent! You say you like Grisham- and Clancy-style potboilers! Grab a copy of Ted Dekker’s Heaven’s Wager–same stick-figure characterizations, same preschool prose, just a slightly different moral: Repent! Your kids enjoy Batman, you say? Try Bibleman. Same mask, same cape, just a slightly different…

That’s the convincing logic of the Ark: If a person is going to waste his life cranking the stereo, clicking the remote, reading paperback pulp and chasing diet fads, he may as well save his soul while he’s at it. Holy living no longer requires self-denial. On the Ark, every mass diversion has been cloned, from Internet news sites to MTV to action movies, and it’s possible to live inside the spirit, without unplugging oneself from modern life, twenty-four hours a day.

After a wholesome scriptural breakfast of unsweetened wholegrain cereal, I start my morning with a holy workout based on a chapter from Dr. Colbert’s book, “Did Jesus Exercise?” It’s a question I never would have thought to ask, but in Ark culture there’s a fundamental presumption that if one squeezes the Bible hard enough it will yield practical guidance on any topic, from personal finance to toilet training. And lo, it appears that the Lord did have a fitness program: Many days he walked “between ten and twenty miles” and thus “certainly was engaged in aerobic exercise.” As I walk, I listen to music over headphones, a convenience unavailable in Jesus’ time. The CD is the sound track from Extreme Days, a Christian movie for hyper suburban teens that was released last fall. According to a slick promotional video hosted by a bouncy-breasted blond veejay (she’s a virgin, presumably, but just barely), the story of Extreme Days involves “five friends forever changed by a journey to the threshold of life and sport…. [They’ll test their will and skill with the best extreme-sports athletes in the world.” Skateboarders for the Lord, in other words. The sound track includes a range of acts-Audio Adrenaline, P.O.D., PAX217–from the born-again-rock scene’s “alternative” department. They’re not that bad. They’re not bad at all, in fact. Because their lyrics are mostly unintelligible, there’s no way to know they’re even Christian, really. And yet, in the same way one sensed that groups like Abba were singing in a language they didn’t speak, one detects a certain falseness in these bands’ sound. They’re trying too hard, somehow. They have the formula but lack the flair. They’re straining at carelessness, but deep in their hearts they do care, one suspects–about their fans, their message, their authenticity. Bottom line: They sound a bit like foreigners–highly talented Asian prodigies whose governments have equipped them with guitars and trained them in some elite punk-rock academy.

These new Christian bands rock like Americans play soccer: skillfully but somehow not convincingly.

Or maybe it’s the power of suggestion that makes the stuff seem counterfeit to me. At the Family Christian Store in Bozeman, Montana, the multimedia spiritual emporium where I bought the CD and my other Ark supplies, a poster above the music racks matches name-brand acts from secular radio with their closest sanctified equivalents. For the atheist teen who has suddenly been converted and wants to carry into his new life as many of his old attitudes and tastes as he can safely manage, such a chart would prove helpful, I imagine, much as a cookbook of sugar-free recipes might help a chocoholic with diabetes. For me, though, the chart confirmed a preconception that Christian rock is a cultural oxymorona calculated, systematic rip-off, not a genuine surge of inspired energy.

After my walk, I turn on the computer to survey the day’s news, a morning ritual. Today, though, instead of going to the Drudge Report or NYTimes.com, I call up the home page of Crosswalk.com, the all-purpose Christian Internet portal whose NASDAQ symbol is AMEN. Crosswalk.com is a Net within the Net, where vulnerable children and sensitive adults can surf without fear of predators and porn.

Before I can find the morning headlines, I’m snagged by an ad for Pura Vida Coffee, a mail-order outfit that donates its profits to Central American children’s ministries. They even have their own coffee on the Ark! There’s no harm in that, of course, so I order a pound and feel a virtuous shiver, a passing glow. Can buying sundries score me points with God? If so, I wish there were Christian gasoline too–Christian tube socks, Christian printer cartridges!
Here are the day’s big stories according to Crosswalk.com:
CHURCH PREPARES COURT FIGHT TO SAVE LAND FROM DEVELOPERS. PASTOR FINED $1,000 FOR REBUKING LEWD WOMAN. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN JEOPARDY IN GEORGIAN REPUBLIC. GOD AND GUINNESS” REACHES OUT TO POST-MODERN GENERATION.

It’s not exactly CNN, and I find this refreshing. I’m burned out on bad news. As a member of the post-modem generation myself, I also support people’s right to shape reality in whatever way they see fit. A world in which rebuffing lewd women rates a headline-a world in which lewd women get rebuked at all, a world in which the word lewd is even used–must be a cozy, reassuring place, and it doesn’t surprise me that some should choose to dwell there. I’m tempted to hop off the Ark and check the real news, but why break the spell, why shatter the small-town silence? Instead I do the paternal-Christian thing and ask my daughter, whom I’ve prohibited from watching secular children’s TV this week, to join me for a viewing of Bibleman: Conquering the Wrath of Rage.

“Who’s Bibleman?” Maisie sneers. I’m taken aback. She’s only 5, and she’s never sneered before.
“That video you picked out. You want to watch it? It’s like that Spider-Man movie you’ve probably heard about.” She shakes her head and toddles off to her room. Despite the videos colorful, jazzy packaging, she has sensed the whiff of uplift in its title and wants no part of it. She’ll break down soon, though. A few more days without Disney or Nickelodeon and Bibleman will look pretty good to her.

A few more days without sugar, salt, major-label music or mainstream news and I bet it will look pretty tempting to me too.

DAY THREE: APOCALYPSE KITSCH
I sit in an armchair and open Desecration (subtitled Antichrist Takes the Throne). What I don’t understand about these Left Behind books is how there can be so f–ing many of them, given that their subject is Armageddon. How long can a writer drag out the Second Coming? Even a trilogy would be a stretch, but ten novels going on eleven, all huge sellers, with no final volume in sight? I smell a con.

But that’s because I’ve failed to realize this: On the Ark, the End of the World is never ending, because it’s the only dramatic game in town. Drop the curtain on the Apocalypse and there are no more stories–the party’s over. Which means the art of Desecration, and of the Christian thriller in general, is the art of the stall–of giving the reader a sense of forward motion without moving things any closer to a conclusion. This task is complicated by the fact that the genre’s basic principles rule out new suspense. Since the heroes are assured of going to Heaven, it doesn’t really matter if they die, and since the villains are bound to bum in hell, it doesn’t matter if they win. Which they won’t, of course. The Bible tells us so.

So why am I still reading? It’s a mystery. Desecration’s dialogue is preposterous (“In all candor, Anika, our intelligence reports indicated that we might face more opposition here, in the traditional homeland of several obsolete religions”), and its situations; and episodes develop in a pell-mell, miscellaneous cascade, careening from Jerusalem holy sites, where Ultimate Evil haunts the ancient shadows, to the family rooms of average midwestern homes, where true-blue Americans with names like Ray battle the Beast using laptops and ham radios. No, it must be the freakish tone that holds me: part Marvel Comics (“Mac jumped out and realized his front tires were on the edge of the gigantic crevasse”) and part Sunday sermon (“We often wonder, when the truth is now so clear, why not everyone comes to Christ”). Who’d have thought such styles could ever be united? It’s the prose equivalent of a sideshow monster: a snake with fur or a dolphin-flippered lady, unbearable, repulsive, yet irresistible. I decide to make this an all Armageddon day, so I pop in a tape of Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, starring Michael York as Stone Alexander, the Antichrist, and Michael Biehn as David Alexander, the straitlaced American president who opposes him and also happens to be his brother–a touch that suggests that Doomsday by itself is not sufficient but needs a soap-opera family angle too. After a brief intro by Hal Lindsay, a leading doomsayer from the 1970s and proof that a Christian can cry wolf for decades on end and still not lose his audience, the movie deals its familiar hand of cards. As in the Left Behind books, the Antichrist is an oily Eurotrash bureaucrat whose globalist rhetoric masks his raw ambition. His cosmopolitanism marks him as the Evil One as surely as David Alexander’s Yankee bluntness shows he’s a born lieutenant of the Lord. Does this come from the Book of Revelation? Of course not. The folks behind Megiddo and Desecration may pose as scholars of biblical prophecy, loading their products with murky sacred symbols and fancy numerological allusions, but at heart they’re cornpone vaudevillians.

As the evidence mounts that Megiddo’s cosmic climax will be a dud and necessitate a sequel, I find myself pitying Michael Biehn. Biehn is your typical Christian-movie star: a semilegitimate Hollywood leading man (remember Navy SEALS?) who hasn’t been seen much for the past few years and appears to have weathered some crisis or tribulation that has dimmed his good looks without completely wrecking them. Because his role in Megiddo has no substance, what comes through most clearly in his numb performance is his gratitude for finding work mixed with his self-hatred for taking the work.

Biehn has plenty of company, of course. Ark culture is all about the comeback and the redemption of the mainstream hasbeen. The music aisle of the Family Christian Store features a number of John Tesh CDs. The former cohost of Entertainment Tonight has rebranded himself as a composer of inspirational music. In his photos, he’s a praying man’s Michael Bolton, all stuble and jawline and long–if thinning–blond hair. He’s just the type church ladies go nuts for: a sort of macho eunuch. Burt Reynolds comes in a Christian version now, too. In Waterrproof, a weepy melodrama about forgiveness and spiritual growth, he plays a crusty Jewish deli owner who’s shot in a holdup by a troubled black kid. The air of studly mischief that made Burt famous persists, but only faintly, subliminally. Once, long ago, he sinned, but now he’s harmless.
I suspect Christian movie fans love to witness such neuterings. You thought you were such hot s–t, I hear them thinking. Look at you now–you’re not even allowed to cuss!

DAY FOUR: REVELATION
Eating as Jesus ate, I have lost one pound. I can’t bring myself to pray for Jesse Helms. The ending of Desecration was a cheat. Maisie still refuses to watch Bibleman.

When I’m depressed, I drive, and I’m depressed today so I set out for Bozeman, thirty miles away, to fetch more Ark supplies. On the way, I tune in to Christian radio, and the moment I hit the right frequency, I know it. There’s a curious hush in the announcers’ voices, as though they’re broadcasting from a library, and though the top-of-the-hour news report is heralded by a dramatic burst of music not unlike those used on secular networks, the stories that immediately follow deal with abortion and pornography instead of politicians and celebrities. There’s news from Israel, reported straight, but I detect an agenda between the lines–the correspondent is hoping to remind me that suicide bombings mean the End is near and it’s time to get my life in order. Fair enough, but I need no reminding. What I need is a little meaningless entertainment.

The station–one of those disembodied jobs that’s beamed via satellite from a distant headquarters–serves up a relentless series of buzz-kills. A man discussing the war on terrorism, which is depressing enough, digresses into a rant about damnation and how the real terror threatening the world lurks inside the sinful human heart. A therapist specializing in relationships instructs the wives out there to bow their heads and pray for a spirit of obedience. A rambling sermon about generosity loses itself in an endless and painful anecdote about a mentally retarded busboy who toiled at a truck stop to buy medicine for his sick mom until he fell ill and was hospitalized himself.

An odd sense of dislocation comes over me. I’m floating out of my Ford and into space. Secular radio, with its sports and weather, grounds one in a specific time and place — it’s rush hour, the Vikings play the Rams tonight, tomorrow it will be fair to partly cloudy —but Christian radio bypasses such trivia, conjuring up a vast eternal void in which titanic forces of good and evil struggle over man’s immortal soul. Who cares if it’s sunny or rainy? Details, details. Who cares about traffic conditions? The Lord is coming!

I’m amazed that regular listeners can bear such weight, yet I’ve spoken to some who find it soothing. They say Christian radio makes them feel cocooned, particularly when they play it in the car. It’s Babylon out there, corrupt and dangerous, but they drive right on past in their little rolling tabernacles.

One must grow used to it. Maybe after a while the buzz-kill becomes the buzz.

But I need a break. I skip the Christian store and stop at a supermarket for some junk food. Standing in line with my chips, I pick up a National Enquirer without thinking and binge on forbidden Hollywood scandal. It’s silly stuff but exactly what I need. And then I turn a page and understand, utterly, profoundly, and in my gut, why so many people seek refuge on the Ark despite the copycat music, crappy fiction and fifth-rate performances by third-rate actors.
Before me, so raw and obscene that they look sticky, are enlarged color photos of the Columbine crime scene taken just moments after the shooting stopped. A teenage boy’s skull leaks brains onto the floor next to a blood-smeared black rifle. He has a face, but it’s like a McDonald’s hamburger in cross section–more ketchup and cheese and special sauce than meat. Even harder to look at is the bland school furniture. It wasn’t designed to shield sophomores from shotgun blasts. I put down the tabloid. I feel infected, soiled. A week ago, I could have handled this image, but my spell on the Ark has weakened my immune system. Afterward, at the Christian store, I put on headphones and sample a track from the latest John Tesh CD. It’s not any good, but considering what I’ve just seen, it could be worse, and right now that’s good enough.

DAY FIVE: GOD’S COUCH POTATO
Despite my invitation to pop some popcom and curl up together on the sofa for a big Saturday night of Christian television, my wife and kids go to bed early. I’m not surprised. Courtesy of Falwell and the Bakkers, Christian TV has a lousy reputation, even, I bet, among a lot of Christians. Between the nonstop frantic appeals for funds and the apoplectic praise-athons, it throws a lot of heat for a “cool” medium. Or at least it used to. It’s changing now–blending into the mainstream, as the music has. That’s a shame: I miss those frenzied traditionalists. Like the old-style gospel singers, the classic televangelists were geniuses, inimitable products of a culture that stood as a rival to middlebrow mass taste and didn’t try to beat it by joining it. Now, instead of soaring, perspiring rants staged amid profusions of potted lilies and amened over by bouffanted grandmas who seemed about to either cry or come, you get shows like the Sky Angel network’s Ten Most Wanted–a low-voltage rip-off of those MTV music video-countdown programs. The twentyish host has a fuzzy soul patch, a grungy plaid shirt and a shock of spiky hair that like most Christian versions of “downtown” style, is years out of date and ever so slightly too clean. Plus, his earrings look suspiciously like clip-ons.

Both of the videos I manage to sit through–by Gibraan, a black rapper who seems to lack his race’s stereotypical gift for rhythm, and by 12 Stones, a gang of mussed-up white boys whose sisters are probably standing just offstage mixing pitchers of Country Time lemonade for when the guys knock off–are set in what seems like the same abandoned apartment building. Its broken windows and peeling paint presumably stand for the sinful human condition that teens today are struggling to transcend.

An ad comes on for a pro-life pregnancy hot line, and then it’s back to the shaggy veejay, who drops his rebel pose, earnestly asks his young viewers to come to Christ (“call 877-949-HELP”) and then slips back into jive talk for the sign-of: “Thanks for hangin’ wit’ me. I’ll see you guys later.” Such lame mimicry is the curse of most youth ministries. I start changing channels, looking for fire and brimstone–healings, tongues, exorcisms, spectacle–but wimpiness reigns in the Kingdom of the Lord. A lot of Ark TV, particularly on PAX, seems to consist of nothing but reruns of Murder, She Wrote and other shows aimed at the nursing-home demographic (like that one in which Dick Van Dyke plays a crime-fighting pathologist). There’s nothing particularly Christian about such programs, but insofar as they feature extremely old people using their wits to bring younger folks to justice, they do radiate a diffuse conservatism. Then there are the specifically Christian shows, such as Touched by an Angel, whose soft-core, herbal-tea spirituality meld old-time religion with the New Age. I catch one on PAX–Twice in a Lifetime, starring Mariette Hartley as a grown-up ’60s hippie chick who, way back when, betrayed her longhaired boyfriend in order to please her crusty Republican dad. The plots of these tearjerkers are all the same: Someone screws up very, very badly and then, with the help of a kindly intercessor from outside the space-time continuum, is granted a do-over, which the person aces.

Of course, the whole agony of moral choice is that do-overs aren’t possible on earth (unless you’re a Hindu or a Buddhist), which makes these shows meaningless as religious instruction, if not heretical. Also, I find their stories hard to follow. There’s always one being who’s visible to some people but not to others (or not at the same time), and there’s always some tricky problem that results from leaving the present to tinker with the past.

DAY SIX: DECEIVED
It confused me at first, but I think I understand now why my book on praying for powerful people targets Bill Nye of Bill Nye the Science Guy. It’s because he talks to children about dinosaurs.

Fundamentalist Christian children’s media is preoccupied with dinosaurs. The monstrous lizards and their fossilized remains represent a big black buzzing fly in the wholesome lemonade of creationism. If you lose a bright 5-year-old on the dinosaur issue–and what bright 5-year-old isn’t mad for dinosaurs?–then you may lose him on the God thing too, or at least on the Holy Bible-as-perfect-truth thing. Then again, if you win the kid over on the dino stuff–and it’s best to start this effort early, before a school trip to the Smithsonian saturates the kid’s spongy brain with lies–then you’ve opened a hole in the fortress of his intellect wide enough to drive the Rapture through, or maybe even the theory that the Beast is somehow using grocery-store bar-code scanners to brand people with magnetic 666s.

As luck would have it, I finally persuade my daughter to join me in some Christian-TV viewing just as one of the ‘ dinosaur shows starts. Maisie loves ancient reptiles. She sits up straight, her right hand motionless in the popcorn bowl. For a 5-year-old, she’s a prodigy on this subject, able to pronounce the word Cretaceous and hip to all the latest hunches and theories about the abrupt demise of pterosaur. She favors the killer-asteroid scenario but is open to extinction by natural climate change. I’ve taught her well.

But incorrectly, I learn. Through a combination of patronizing slapstick and earnest pronouncements from middle-aged male authority figures, the program proceeds to reeducate my daughter on the following points: (1) Dinosaurs are just 6,000 years old, since Earth itself is just 6,000 years old and both were breathed into being at the same time. (The figure is arrived at, it’s explained, by adding the ages of all Adam’s descendants down to Jesus and then tacking on the next 2,000 years.) (2) Dinosaurs and people once coexisted, as evidenced by biblical references to “Behemoth” and other massive beasts. (3) There were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark but, due to space limitations, only little ones, which accounts for the survival ofthe crocodile and the fading away of diplodocus. (4) The carbon-dating process is a farce. It just is. (5) Scientists who dispute these facts are really not scientists at all, since the definition of science is truth seeking and the whole of truth is in the Bible and either most of these eggheads haven’t read the Bible or they have and they’ve consciously rejected it. (6) Science is really a religion, taking on faith what it purports to prove, while the Christian religion is really a science, which means that when you have a question about T-Rex you should visit your pastor, not the library. (Even better, avoid the library altogether–a kid can only get into trouble there.) I steal a quick look at Maisie’s wondering face. She’s buying this new line, I fear, and I don’t blame her–the image of dinosaurs living next to people is a natural fantasy for kids. It makes for great cartoons. It also, if you truly believe in it and you share this belief with the wrong person, can keep you from ever getting into Harvard except on some special affirmative-action program for underprivileged Caucasian hillbillies. “We’re turning this off,” I tell Maisie. “Can I watch Rugrats?” “Only if you forget you ever saw this. By the way, the prayer for Bill Nye is as follows: ” ‘My modest little goal is to change the world,’ says Nye. Pray that science education will engage both the imaginations and the spirits of students.” That’s code for this: I’m a forgiving person, you atheist bastard, so I’m giving you one last chance. Change your tune about the dinosaurs, or don’t blame me when you wake up in hell.

DAY SEVEN: SAVED
Even the mouse pad I’m using comes from the Christian store. It features a quote from Hans Christian Andersen printed on a snowy olde-time Christmas scene rendered by Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light. You’ve seen his stuff: wee little button-nosed children, frisky dogs, a diffuse golden glow that drips from everything as though somebody spilled a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s. It’s not even good kitsch–it’s too slick, too savvy somehow. Ark culture is mall Christianity. It’s been malled. It’s the upshot of some dumb decision that to compete with them–to compete with N’Sync and Friends and Stephen King and Matt and Katie and Abercrombie & Fitch and Jackie Chan and AOL and Sesame Street–the faithful should turn from their centuries-old tradition of fashioning transcendent art and literature and passionate folk forms such as gospel music and those outsider paintings in which Jesus has lime green bat wings and is hovering lovingly above the Pentagon flanked by exactly thirteen flying saucers, and instead of all that head down to Tower or Blockbuster and check out what’s selling, then try to rip it off on a budget if possible and by employing artists who are either so devout or so plain desperate that they’ll work for scale.

What makes the stuff so half-assed, so thin, so weak and cumulatively so demoralizing (even to me, a sympathetic journalist who’d secretly love to play the brash contrarian and rate the Left Behind books above Tom Clancy) has nothing to do with faith. The problem is lack of faith. Ark culture is a bad Xerox of the mainstream, not a truly distinctive or separate achievement. Without the courage to lead, it numbly follows, picking up the major media’s scraps and gluing them back together with a cross on top. You like this magazine–you like GQ Then check out New Man, “America’s #1 Christian Men’s Magazine.” Subscribe to Time, you say? Give World a chance. The covers are almost identical.

Bibleman, however, stands alone-a pearl in this vast pile of lukewarm mud. Maisie and I finally watched it together, father and daughter, the way it was meant to be, and damn it if Willie Aames of Eight Is Enough hasn’t pulled off a wily deconstruction, as clever in its way as Rocky and Bullwuinkle, of all the clunky old superhero clichés. He’s a guy in a mask who instead of socking people stands stock-still with his slushy gut sucked in, squares his not-broad shoulders, faces the evildoer and bores him into submission by quoting Isaiah. That’s it. That’s his superpower: the ability to compose at will tidy chapter-and-verse-packed sermonettes that send the villains into instant comas and, if you think like a college professor, subtly parody piety itself while also signaling to Willie’s old mainstream costars that though he’s doing Christian stuff these days, he’s smarter than all of them and he’ll be back. I’m serious: This Bibleman show has layers.

It’s bedtime now. Tomorrow is a new day. Off the Ark and back onto the sinking ship.
But first, before I sleep, a prayer for Jewel: Do whatever it takes to get back on top, my dear, but don’t go “Christian.” They have their Jewel already. I forget her name, but I saw her on the CD rack, and the chick is your twin, only prettier, and a virgin.

Creative MediaSunday, March 6th, 2005, (11:13 am)

Following on from my recent ‘shockvertising’ post, I thought I would post a link to a current TV commercial that I really like. The ad is once again a VW one but I’m not posting it for it’s shocking or controversial qualities, but purely because I really like the ad and appreciate the days of work that must have gone into making it.

Actually, as coincidence would have it, my favorite ever TV commercial is another VW one. Released quite a while back, the Cabrio ad introduced me to the music of Nick Drake. It also reminded me of a really great night I spent on Singing Beach just North of Boston with some students from Gordon College. It was a warm night and there were just loads of groups of people chilling out on the beach. It was magically mellow.

And just in case you missed my links to some amusing TV commercials in the comments of the ‘shockvertising’ post I’ve posted them again. So hey, enjoy, though if you’re not on broadband you probably won’t.

VW Golf ad
VW Cabrio ad (My all time favorite TV ad)
Nick Drake

Yo! Pedestrian!
Guys will relate to this
Credit card protection – Ouch!
Cam breast exam
Pretty girls sell beer
Get in line

Found on the web and PoliticalSaturday, March 5th, 2005, (12:09 pm)

You may already have seen these news stories but I though I would share them anyways. The first is a blunderful story about how the U.S. Army shot and killed an Italian secret service agent in Iraq. The agent was shot dead by mistake when the military opened fire on a convoy of vehicles carrying Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena who had just been released after being kidnapped in Iraq. Sgrena was also injured in the so called ‘friendly fire’ incident.

The other story is about a woman who cut off her lovers penis and flushed it down a toilet in Arnchorage, Alaska. 35-year-old Kim Tran was charged with assault, domestic violence, tampering with evidence, and jailed without bail after the incident. Apparently she was being told by her lover that he was breaking up with her when somehow they came to the agreement to have sex together. (“One for the road” perhaps?)

Unfortunately Tran’s lover didn’t become suspicious when she suggested tying his arms and legs to the bed. It’s not clear at what point she then cut off his Johnson, but she was at least nice enough to drive her now slightly well endowed lover to the local ER before driving home to clean up the bloody mess. All’s well that ends well in Alaska though, as Police were able to find the unnamed mans little buddy and surgeons managed to reattach it to the victim.

Although the Yahoo news report doesn’t go into details about the current state of the couples personal relationship now, I think it is safe to assume that they are no longer a couple.

And finally, how come jailed celebs are always very outspoken about prison reforms and the need for better conditions and education inside prisons only why they themselves are either inside or recently released from such a facility? Martha Stewart was released from jail on Friday and is now under house arrest at her $16m New York ranch.

While Stewart was in jail she wrote to a reporter regularly outlining details of her time inside and strongly presenting her arguments for prisons reforms. In the UK the disgraced Lord Archer, who was released from jail in September 2003 after serving half of a four year jail term, also called for the state of prisons to be looked at by the government. However like all such calls from celebrities who find themselves behind bars, his impassioned pleas on behalf of those in prison did not last long once he was in the comfort of his more familiar surroundings.

Freed Italy hostage arrives home
Martha Stewart goes to her ranch
Lord Archer calls for Prison reform

« Previous PageNext Page »