Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Criminal Behavior Uncovered

The latest Malaysian news has me wondering.

I know all of you keep up on happenings in Kuala Lumpur, so I guess I’ll have to be more specific. I am referring to the flaming flap between China and Malaysia about, well, squat. Or, more accurately, squats.

Another video showing police brutality has emerged, this time starring the Malaysian police—who made an ethnic Chinese woman perform what were described as ”naked squats.”

Yes, more readers just clicked on that link than on links in all of my 50 or so previous posts combined.

No, the link does not have the video, only a suggestive little picture. Sorry about that.

But the story remains. China is thinking the Malaysians are not appropriately apologetic for the incident. Malaysia, or at least one of its government ministers, is thinking foreigners who disagree with the country’s police methods can leave.

Everyone else in the world is thinking … naked squats?!?

We can no longer avoid the naked truth. There is an undeniable global correlation between law enforcement and nude exercise. We remember the pictures from Abu Ghuraib, showing unclothed men compelled to do an impromptu balance beam routine. And now this Malaysian workout.

I suppose we should expect to see paramilitary units in South America forcing nude fútbol upon their prisoners, or police in India compelling inmates to play cricket matches in the buff.

On a related note, polls of men worldwide reveal that (a) they want Malaysian police stations to install many, many more video cameras, and (b) they want Charlize Theron, Angelina Jolie, and Jessica Alba to commit many, many crimes in Malaysia.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Toys in the Attic

One might think that this title, given my penchant for the classic rock, signals that this post concerns the 1975 Aerosmith album. Or at least the song by the same name.

One would be wrong.

In fact, this post is about toys. You know, the nice, innocent toys for kids.

Except that they kill.

Like most of you, I had not really focused on the deadly nature of the playthings our young ones amuse themselves with. (Or “with which our young ones amuse themselves,” if you have false sentences-ending-with-preposition issues.) But according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, children’s toys in 2004 caused 16 deaths and almost a quarter of a million hospital visits.

And that’s not counting my recent unfortunate experience with Mr. Potato Head, which I skillfully kept out official records. Yikes! To this day, French Fries give me that “not so fresh” feeling.

But let’s focus on the present. This story made me think about all the precautions parents take, only to find that kids are kids—and on occasion will do dangerous things. No matter how much parents overprotect their young ones, shit happens.

Which, I must say, is a good thing.

I learned many things at a young age by doing many things I was not supposed to do, and many of those things had many unsafe aspects. And you know what? I’m still here—and stronger as a result. Being exposed to scary and potentially life-threatening experiences as a kid was a risk, sure. But it made me better able to handle life as an adult.

Today, however, it seems that everything is about protecting children from every possible danger. Kids of my generation rode on a parent’s lap on the drive to the store and survived … yet laws today dictate the specifications of the seat that a child must be restrained in. I know that children died in car wrecks back then because they were not “protected,” but I never knew one of them.

Parental worry has reached heights probably unimagined by tens of thousands of years of previous generations. My sister (three kids) told me a few months ago that she would not take her 10-year old and two 8-year olds to “March of the Penguins” because she heard that a baby penguin dies. And that would be “disturbing” for a child.

This is the same woman who sits down with her children to watch the nightly news, full of images of dead American soldiers, starving Sudanese, and bombing victims worldwide. But she won’t show them the natural cycle of life if it involves a dying penguin.

Amulet’s Angle: If you shelter children too much when they are young, the trials, tribulations, and occasional horrors of life will overwhelm their ability to cope as adults. Then what good have you really done them?

Most parents will react to the study showing that toys are still harming children by calling for the government to enact more intrusive legislation, to regulate further the means by which each person should raise their child, and to limit what little parental latitude remains in our society.

I hope, instead, that it forces people to realize that even extraordinary precautions (like those we already have) cannot eliminate risk in the real world. And even if we could eradicate childhood dangers, would we want a country full of people so coddled as children that they cannot handle the risks and dangers of adult life?

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not about to buy my beloved nieces hunting knives for their birthdays.

But I’ll be the first to encourage them to run through the yard, jump into piles of leaves, build treehouses … and yes, even play with toys in the attic.

Friday, November 18, 2005

A Short Story

It seems these days you can find rankings of just about anything. Top books of the year. Best movies of all time. The most outstanding this, the least impressive that.

Some jackass even posted—on his pop culture and politics humor blog, no less—lists like “The Best Rock Debut Albums” and “The 25 Greatest Hair Metal Bands of the 1980s.” Who wants to see THAT crap?

This new one, however, is more in the weeds: according to’s “Showbuzz,” Maxim magazine’s December issue features the "25 Greatest Short Dudes of All Time." Briefly …

Angus Young of AC/DC stands above the rest at number one. I wouldn’t sell Yoda short; he comes in at number six.

That annoying miniature gnome from the Travelocity ads? Thankfully, he does not measure up.

But here’s a little sample of the others making the cut: Jon Stewart, Napoleon Bonaparte, Martin Scorsese, Kurt Cobain, Doug Flutie, Prince, and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. (As a tiny side note, I dare you to find any other list that includes such a diverse cast of characters.)

A wee part of me naturally wonders if they will follow with a ranking of the best tall men of all time. Would we see Abraham Lincoln? Yao Ming? Chewbacca?

I don’t know whether you are up for these kinds of lists, but I think they are the height of absurdity.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

American Royalty

It is not unusual to hear people say that the United States is a different kind of country because we do not have a “ruling caste.” We are a democracy, not subject to the dynastic rule of families that play dominant roles in politics year after year.

My casual investigation shows that these people are sadly mistaken.

First, the democrats.

The Daley family has made the fine city of Chicago its fiefdom—Richard J. Daley ruled the Windy City as mayor for 21 years, from 1955-1976. His youngest son, William M. Daley, served in President Clinton’s cabinet as Secretary of Commerce from 1997 to 2000, and then became Al Gore’s campaign chairman.

Another son, Richard M. Daley, followed in his father’s footsteps and became mayor of Chicago in 1989. Yes, that’s 16 more years of Daley rule—this from a party that decries privilege and nepotism.

But the Kennedys have more than kept pace with the Daleys.

JFK was president, of course, and RFK would have been, were it not for an assassin’s bullet. There has been a Kennedy in the U.S. Senate since 1952; perhaps the least compelling member of the dynasty, Teddy, has been there nearly 50 years. And we have not heard the last from the next generation, which is already represented in the House of Representatives.

On the republican side, there is no single family quite like the Kennedys … but an interesting factoid shows the endurance of elephant families as well.

Take a look at the republican tickets in the presidential contests since 1950. Three family names stand out from the rest, do they not?

1952 Eisenhower/NIXON
1956 Eisenhower/NIXON
1960 NIXON/Lodge
1964 Goldwater/Miller
1968 NIXON/Agnew
1972 NIXON/Agnew
1976 Ford/DOLE
1980 Reagan/BUSH
1984 Reagan/BUSH
1988 BUSH/Quayle
1992 BUSH/Quayle
1996 DOLE/Kemp
2000 BUSH/Cheney
2004 BUSH/Cheney

See what I mean? With the sole exception of the election of 1964, EVERY campaign in the past half century has had a Nixon, Bush, or Dole on the republican side.

With this in mind, is anyone willing to rule Elizabeth Dole out of the running for a spot on the republican ticket in 2008?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Commode Commotion: An Update

And now we have word that our beloved crapper-man (see previous post) has passed a lie detector test, which addressed claims that he has made multiple accusations about being glued to toilets.

I guess we have an answer to that old rhetorical question, "Can this get any weirder?"

I don't know about all of you, but this case has me on the edge of my seat.

Man's Buttocks Glued to Toilet Seat: A Commentary

Finally, dear readers, here is a story that’s worth a crap. In fact, as the Rolling Stones said in “Jumping Jack Flash," it’s a gas, gas, gas.

A Colorado man has sued Home Depot for $3 million—alleging pain, humiliation, and financial loss after a prank in 2003 left him glued to a toilet seat for about fifteen minutes.

I feel the need to get to the bottom of this; I’d feel like an ass if I didn’t. So even if you do not give a crap, listen up, because I would not want you fall behind on the news.

The plaintiff claims that Home Depot workers laughed at the man before realizing he truly was stuck and finally called paramedics, who left abrasions when they removed the toilet seat from his posterior. The victim alleges that the experience almost gave him a heart attack.

I feel cheeky weighing in on the legal merits on this suit without first flushing out all the details. But I would not be surprised if the sitting judge on this case moves it to the rear of his docket. Or even throws it right in the can.

Bottom line: If I make just one of you more cautious about sitting on a glue-lined toilet seat in a public place by giving you this dump of useful information, my work will be justified. This effort to reveal the dark underside of the toilet-seat retail world will be a public service, and we can put this kind of thing to an end.

I must admit, however, that I am having a few regrets about making this man the butt of my jokes.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

French Toast

Apparently the French government has declared a state of emergency.

Well, isn’t that just typical French efficiency? The rioters have been burning cars and buildings for twelve days now. TWELVE DAYS! I guess the French are thinking proactively … that they really should nip this in the bud.

“The bud,” for them, means a spread of violence to only 270+ towns and spillover to only a couple of other countries.

The French are so scared of pissing anybody off that they jumped on their own interior minister last week after he called the demonstrators “scum.” The bottom line is that they would rather let the hooligans create a nice France flambé than call them a bad name.

But you all know I always look for another angle on things. A more nefarious explanation. The ghost in the machine.

Here goes: Perhaps the government in Paris is wiser than we think.

You see, the French quasi-socialist system has squelched economic growth for years. Maybe these riots represent Chirac’s brilliant plan to kick-start the economy: Let the cars burn! The French finally would be able to reach a respectable employment rate by forcing citizens into Citroen and Renault factories to rebuild the country’s automobile supply.

Meanwhile, the world watches as the French—who so annoyingly lecture the rest of the globe about how to do things correctly—get a dose of karmic justice. And the world laughs.

Except for neighboring European countries, of course. For the first time in modern history, they are fearing something coming out of France.

If only the rioters were speaking German—the French government would have given up eleven days ago.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Hey, Phil: I Don't Care Anymore!

As many of you now know, I likes me the music.

I have written most about 80s hair metal and classic rock, but I also listen to ambient music. And jazz. And old school rap. And classical. And even some top 40.

But not pathetic pop from a talented former classic rock god. Hence my disdain for Mr. Phil Collins.

You see, once upon a time, there was a great little rock group called Genesis. Led by the charismatic and enigmatic Peter Gabriel and supported during its best years by the gifted Steve Hackett on guitar, the steady Mike Rutherford on bass, the talented Tony Banks on keyboards, and the exceptional Phil Collins on percussion, Genesis was at the apex of progressive rock in the early 1970s.

But like many great bands, they descended into pop. The albums “Invisible Touch” and “We Can’t Dance” turned my stomach after I had heard what Genesis once did on “Foxtrot” and “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.” The songs “In Too Deep” and “I Can’t Dance” prompted vomit after I had experienced their 1971 classic “The Musical Box” and their 1973 song “Firth of Fifth.”

The decline began when Peter Gabriel quit in 1975, but truly accelerated after Steve Hackett left to follow his muse a couple of years later. Then we witnessed free fall in the 1980s and early 1990s. Fans of the complex, provocative music of the 1970s groaned—but largely stuck with the group for the rare glimpses of its former glory that shone through the substandard schmaltz.

We even enjoyed what we could of Phil’s parallel solo career, until we broke up with him after “No Jacket Required,” “But Seriously,” or “Both Sides” (depending on each former fan’s level of masochism). Few fans stayed after “Dance Into the Light” hit the airwaves.

In 1996, Phil Collins announced he was throwing it all away and leaving Genesis for good. Do you remember? It was too late to undo the damage he had done, but we rejoiced anyway out of spite.

So it is with mixed feelings that Genesis fans heard in the air tonight that Phil Collins welcomes a reunion with Genesis. He made clear, in his own special way, that he would turn it on again. He would play drums, and he would “let” Peter Gabriel sing.

We fans find ourselves hoping that it’s another day in paradise, that the classic five will somehow produce something akin to their oeuvre of 30+ years ago. It’s against all odds, yet we dream.

But wait … let’s pay attention to both sides of the story. What was that Phil said? Did this pompous ass declare that he would “let” Peter sing?!?

I acknowledge the fact that Genesis with Peter had less chart success than Genesis after he left, but how dare HE be the one to “let” Peter take the microphone again?

Therefore, rather than celebrate the possibilities inherent in a classic Genesis reunion, fans of the old band find themselves drawn into negativity by Phil’s arrogance. We now see him as an illegal alien, that’s all.

So those of you who think Phil Collins is a better artist than Peter Gabriel, please make your case. I’m listening.

Maybe, for one more night, I’m taking it all too hard and it’s a misunderstanding, but I’m in a land of confusion tonight, tonight, tonight over why Steve, Peter, Tony, and Mike would “let” Phil dictate their schedules.

I hope he gets no reply at all.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Now That's an Idea ...

A serious day today, and a serious post on the subject of writing.

It is generally a good thing for people to do their own work. In the writing profession, for example, penning your own words is a good start. Sure, linking to others and replaying good articles is a part of the blogging world, but out-and-out plagiarism is just … well, let’s call it cheating. And nobody likes a cheater.

It’s bad enough in politics, where we have come to expect cheating in a general sense and where we even see it creeping into the written word. Ted Kennedy, for example got kicked out of Harvard for cheating. Lifting text straight out of someone else’s speech and not giving credit, like Joe Biden did in the 1980s, does not go over well.

But when allegations of stolen ideas enter the world of literature, then we are talking about a threat to our very culture.

Or at least some deep pockets.

Because the latest “word theft” accusation just happens to target a book that has sold nearly 30 million copies around the world, has created an entire industry around it, and is the basis for what is likely to be Hollywood’s blockbuster hit of 2006, you are in a different league.

Yes, I am talking about Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” And yes, there is another lawsuit, this time in the UK, claiming that he lifted the book’s theme and details from a 1982 nonfiction work about the Holy Grail and a possible Jesus bloodline.

The main problem for the plaintiffs is that when it comes to the written word, the law does not protect ideas but rather presentations of those ideas. So I was not surprised to hear that lawyers reached an agreement last week in London on technical details of the case, prompting the publisher’s spokesman to say that the accusers would drop a "substantial part" of their claim.

You might recall that a couple of months ago, a judge here in the United States decided that Brown’s book was not so alike in substance to the book “Daughter of God” that it infringed on the latter’s copyright.

Brown certainly read all kinds of things about the Holy Grail and studied numerous scholarly works—after all, his novel is massively popular worldwide because it links history, conjecture, and drama together so compellingly.

He may have even relied upon the very books in question for much of his research. I, for one, am quite OK with that: How else would you expect him to write in such detail about the historical controversies underlying his drama?

In a previous post, I mentioned that “The Da Vinci Code” succeeds more because of its sense of history than its literary gravitas. Let’s face it; Brown’s characters are not well developed. If the courts start to rule that writers cannot borrow ideas from different sources and combine them in creative new ways, we are all in trouble, because nobody can come up with entirely new ideas all of the time.

We would have, for example, no “Star Wars,” which George Lucas quite openly admits is a melding of ideas from early science fiction, Japanese cinema, and especially enduring common myths.

There just are not that many basic plots out there; some say seven, some say nine, and others say the number is in the teens somewhere. But the point is always the same.

It’s what the author adds to the basic storyline—the direction and the development—that makes a story unique.

I think most of us would hate a world in which the law forces us to watch our backs. To document every thought that occurs to us after seeing another work of art. To research sources that we have NOT used, simply to protect ourselves from potential lawsuits.

Writing can be hard enough, so let’s not go there.

(If I have borrowed these words from any of you, call my lawyer.)