Monday, April 30, 2012

DOESN'T LENNY LIVE HERE ANYMORE? ARE YOU SURE?

    Stars: five of five. 
    Perhaps you remember the scene in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Paul Newman peddles Katharine Ross around on a bicycle while B.J. Thomas sings "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head." The scene was good for more than merely cheap sentiment because the two-wheeler, which might have been stolen from Wilbur and Orville's famous bicycle shop, signified the very pre-flight moment in human evolution when robbing trains was no longer a viable means of making an honest living. 
    As Randy Newman so simply put it:
Sing a song of long ago
When things were green and movin' slow
and people'd stop to say hello,
or they'd say "hi" to you.
Would you like to come over for tea
with the missus and me?
It's a real nice way
to spend the day
in Dayton, Ohio
on a lazy Sunday afternoon in 1903.


    But in post-war Rome, Antonio Ricci needed his bicycle for commercial reasons. It was the primary reason he was selected from dozens of men for a job hanging Rita Hayworth posters on city walls. So he goes to the pawn shop and pays sixty-five hundred lire to get his two-wheeler out of hock. Now he can make money for his wife and son. On the first day of work, an Italian wearing a German cap steals the bicycle. Antonio spends the rest of the movie attempting to get it back. His efforts change him, or reveal him to himself. 
    That is the entire movie. 
    The movie is, of course, The Bicycle Thief (1949). 
    And yet it is so much more than what I have said. 
    In part it is the staggering brilliance of director Vittorio de Sica placing millions of bicycles in the path of Ricci and his son Bruno. In part it is the carelessness of the way Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani, looking very much like a young Robert Duvall) treats the machine when he first gets it back, only to have its value scream at him as it is taken away. In part it is the depths to which he sinks trying to get it back. But mostly it is Bruno watching his father deteriorate in front of him. This kid is no Mickey Rooney, with eyes full of innocent deviltry. This is a kid who talks back freely, a kid who disobeys on a regular basis, a kid who sees his own future and nearly suffocates beneath it. 
    De Sica knew poverty, he knew desperation, and he knew about the ways that men turn against men. He understood the way that people rationalize within their own economic class. Everyone in the movie is dirt poor and yet each person imagines himself to be in a different economic class from everyone else. Ricci finds an old man who is somehow involved in the theft of the bike. The old man is surviving out of a Catholic soup kitchen. The old man is in far worse shape than Ricci, even though if things do not improve, Ricci will find himself in similar digs, and Ricci knows this. Nevertheless he hounds the old man relentlessly. Antonio encounters an old fortune-teller woman who exploits the misery of those who come to her. He holds the woman in contempt and yet finds himself reaching out to her when he has nowhere else to seek help. He encounters a city block owned and operated by thieving grease-balls who are doing well to have two lire to rub together, yet he takes on the whole lot of them in an effort to retrieve his trusty bicycle. In the end, he must make a moral decision about whether to steal someone else's bicycle. 
    So there is actually very little simplicity to this seemingly uncomplicated work of Italian cinema. 
    The irony here, at least for me, is that less than two weeks ago I was railing in these electronic pages about how the idea of a greatest film ever was absurd and now I've gone and discovered what very well may be a contender for just such an honor. 
    Unfortunately, such a claim cannot be made of today's other movie, Lenny Bruce Without Tears (1972). I so wanted this to be a life-changing film, in large part because, to my knowledge, Lenny Bruce has never been the subject of an entirely satisfying biopic. Certainly Bob Fosse's film Lenny failed on a number of levels, not least of which being the decision to cast Dustin Hoffman in the lead role, especially when George Carlin was vying for the part. 


    In Without Tears Lenny is played by Lenny, which feels right. The conscience of modern comedy is shown at his televised peak on "The Steve Allen Show," and despite whatever misgivings I and others may have about Allen's rather bizarre attitude toward talented folks in the music business--and here I can only contrast the shabby way he treated Elvis Presley with the nearly fawning respect he gave--and quite appropriately gave--Jerry Lee Lewis--there is no denying that, in the realm of the comedy business, Mr. Allen's willingness to give voice to Bruce at a time when no other television show would touch the man is a feather in the cap of the third-rate jazz pianist. The film is narrated by director Fred Baker, who does a fine job of piecing together the limited filmed moments of the comedian's life and disembowelment. I suppose that in the final analysis, the real problem is with what Baker omits. The biggest thing left out is the revelation (which Lenny made possible) that being a comedian could involve substantially more than just making people laugh. (Yes, as Bill Hicks would later prove, it is sometimes about pissing people off enough to actually get them to think, yet in an amusing way). Baker also ignored ancillary matters such as the actual cause of death and the way the police continually re-positioned the body so that the news photographers would have sufficiently humiliating pictures to put in the papers. 
    Even now Lenny Bruce deserves better than this. Then again, so do we. 
    In the meantime, for the all-time greatest treatment of the Lenny Bruce story, I commend to your immediate attention a story called "The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians," by Bradley Denton, something you can get by clicking HERE. You will not be sorry. And that's a fact.
Fred Hampton


Friday, April 27, 2012

EXPLOSIVE DISCHARGE OF NEUROMUSCULAR TENSION

    
    On this, the final day of Sweeps Week here at PhilroPost, we respond to the plethora of pusillanimous polecats who harp on and on about erectile dysfunction. I take no truck with the First Amendment, except that it doesn't go far enough. As I have often said, freedom of expression is absolute. The issue, as I see it, is one of a willingness to accept consequences. For instance? I thought you'd never ask.
   A friend and I were talking just the other day about hard-ons and such and he admitted to me, in a rare bout of candor, that he didn't really understand the process of ejaculation. All he knew for sure, he confided, was that it always seemed to happen at the wrong time. I nodded. Of course it does. Such is the complex simplicity of the male orgasm. Between the ages of fourteen and forty-five, it is the driving force of the male of the human species' very existence and yet once it flowers, as it were, for all intents and purposes the pruning season is over until the roots of lust can once again fully develop. (Personally, I often suffer from priapism, which was named after Priapus, which if you've ever seen the statues, I think you can figure it out.) And so we try damn near everything to prolong the moment of release so that our partners--especially our female partners--will not have to endure the frustration of self-gratification or, God forbid, finding love elsewhere. That said, it behooves those of us in the business of being guys to understand exactly how this thing between our legs functions. It wouldn't hurt women to have a better understanding of the process either, if for no other reason than to manufacture a bit of sympathy for that often misunderstood appendage, the penis.


    Let us speak first of the limp penis. The poor thing is just hanging there, wondering what to do with itself, hoping that the next opening of the zipper will be for some purpose other than to urinate. The penis (or as it is sometimes known, the dick, pecker, cock, wiener, peter, thing, unit, shaft, schlong, prick, doinker, ding-a-ling, dork, meat Popsicle, tube steak, thermometer, love muscle, middle leg, tonsil tickler, tally whacker, Mr. Happy,  Alabama black snake, or Lincoln log) holds two tubes that it uses to become erect. Horny and blind scientists refer to these cigar-shaped structures as copora cavernosa. Arteries bring blood into these tubes and veins carry that blood away. When the penis in question is limp, the arteries are constricted little buggers, while the veins are as open and wide as a train tunnel. This openness prevents pressure from building, which in turn keeps old Mr Johnson (another nickname) relaxed and harmless. When the man is aroused--which, pardon the expression, we will get into later--the process of vasodilation occurs. You should be able to figure out what that means by dissecting the word, but what it means is that the blood vessels get wider. At the same time, the veins leaving the station constrict, so that everything is now the opposite of the way it was. The corposa cavernosa and its companion, the corpus spongiosum, are engorged with blood under pressure and the result is a nice, healthy, bouncing baby erection. As stimulation and arousal continue, the scrotum (or ballsack, weesack, randy travis, or icki bossi) gets tighter and the testicles may grow to fifty percent larger than their normal size. 


    The thing to remember is that we are talking about a muscle here. In fact, it is called a smooth muscle. It is not a skeletal muscle or a cardiac muscle. It is a smooth muscle and like other vessel areas, it acts involuntarily. A man does not--or should not--say to himself, "By God, I need an erection, preferably one that lasts for more than four hours so that I may seek medical assistance." On the contrary, the man reads something, thinks about something, sees something, or hallucinates something lascivious and whammo! Sproing! Voila!
    During this time the man's heart rate is increasing and his blood pressure is going up. He feels good. It's like taking cocaine without the risk of overdosing or the messed up sinuses the next day.
    As some happy friction transpires, the muscles between the balls and the prostate contract and force semen and, presumably, sperm up inside the man's urethra. Many guys think of this condition as the point of no return because it is here that the first initial blast of splooging occurs. 


    Okay, so that's the physiological explanation. But isn't there more to the physical phenomenon of coming than just, er, um, physiology? Why, yes. Yes, there is.
    A doctor named Barry Singer developed what he called the Model of Sexual Arousal, which, probably because he himself was a guy, focused on men. He argued that there were three components of arousal. He believed there was an aesthetic response, an approach response, and a genital response. Dr. Rosemary Basson, recognizing the male bias inherent in this point of view, posited the idea that women may not necessarily experience desire first. Instead, they may not be thinking or fantasizing about sex at all, but once they are approached and sexually stimulated by their partner, they may become aroused and desire may result.
    In any event, as a sufficiently experienced man will know, coming before your woman friend does can be very frustrating and so we will typically try to prolong the situation within reasonable parameters. Because of the impact of increased heart rate and blood pressure on the inevitability of ejaculation, many guys will attempt to control these precursors with a series of whoops and shouts. Another approach is to think about something that is not particular sexy, such as dirty socks, a religious tragedy, or baby food vomit. The risk always exists, however, that the man may overemphasize these unpleasant mental images and lose the erection altogether, a condition that will cause his partner no lack of stress. 
    This leads to the ultimate sexual quandary which I'm pretty sure was first developed by none other than Mark Twain in his posthumous publication called Letters From Earth. In the voice of Lucifer, he pointed out that the male of the species imagines the joys of coitus with an infinite number of women sequentially, despite the unlikeliness of his own ability to live up to such self-generated expectations. His penis is likened to a candle that is only able to meet the expectations of a single candle-holder, whereas the woman, or in this case, the candle-holder, cares little for the idea of massive partners and yet is physically endowed with the ability to achieve satisfaction seemingly endless times in a single lovemaking session. Indeed, this is quite the quandary as any man who has attempted to actualize this scenario can attest. 


    Well, there you have it. This week--Sweeps Week--we have discussed psychological experiments, religion, helicopters, and sex. I hope you have enjoyed yourself. I know I have. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

GHETTO BIRDS HOVERING OVER MULTINATIONALS

 
    We begin Day Four of Sweeps Week with some related questions: Why are helicopters flying around your neighborhood? Are they searching for criminals who are fleeing a recently committed crime? Are the whir-lie birds simply trying to serve as a deterrent? Is a nearby accident requiring the appearance of medical choppers? Or are these simply the result of scheduled maneuvers in case there's a freaking riot and the military wants to be ready to drop and squash?
    First, let's look at some of the many reports in recent weeks. Here is one from a site called borderstan.  "For several months Borderstan residents have heard the buzz of low-flying helicopters on regular patrol in the neighborhood. One occasionally hears police choppers in the area, of course, especially when the DC Police are pursuing a criminal. Two sources with the DC Police confirmed to Borderstan over the weekend that the police choppers have been part of a regular series of patrols. The reason? The “demonstrations downtown” related to Occupy DC, according to the police. The helicopters are on a flight pattern that often extends north — after all, it’s only a short walk to McPherson Square, site of the main Occupy DC site."


    Here is news of a series of hospital chopper complaints reported by the Santa Barbara Independent. "The newly constructed helipad, now certified and open for operation, saw more use in recent days than hospital administration and neighborhood residents had expected. Cottage initially predicted two air ambulance landings per per week. Since Tuesday, there have been six landings — five Tuesday night and another Wednesday evening — prompting many city residents to complain about the consistent loud buzzing overhead."
    And here's a final one from an area in Florida you may know called Broward County. "I moved to Lighthouse Point about a year ago. So far as I can tell, it's a pretty decent neighborhood. I haven't witnessed any obvious crime, personally. Yet it seems like police helicopters are roving around the area, constantly, at all hours of the night. I'm posting this because there's one circling over the area now. Every five minutes or so it makes another pass, shaking the house and making my wind chimes go nuts from the wind, as they pass over very low. One night I sat on my front porch as a chopper circled around for hours, until about 2 AM. It was shining its spotlight on the roads - at one point, night turned into crystal-clear day as its lamp swept across the street and over my house. Every time this happens, and it seems to be pretty often, I check the headlines in order to read about the mass-murderer or gang member that's on the loose in my neighborhood. And I never find a mention of anything that would seem to explain the vigil."


    I reprint these complaints--and could list hundreds of them, but I think the point is made--to show you, indulgent reader, that I am not completely cracked when I tell you that here in Phoenix, we have those ghetto birds over our house on a regular basis and my initial reaction was similar to that of the third person referenced above. I assumed some vile and wanton criminal must be on the prowl, seeking out feckless virgins to incinerate in a gas oven perched atop some rancid castle sequestered in one of the many gullies out in the desert. And yet when I checked the newspapers, radio, television and Internet, I never found any reports of nearby activity. 
    What I did next may strike you as a bit odd, unless you are a frequent reader of this blog, in which case it will not surprise you very much at all. I began telephoning the non-emergency number for the local police department and asking a pointed and direct question: "What's going on with the helicopters flying over my house?"
    Initially the officer with whom I would speak would remain quite vague, responding that he or she was not at liberty to discuss the matter because doing so might jeopardize the efficacy of the mission. Soon enough I figured a way around this. I simply replied that I myself was a nasty criminal and believed I had every right to know if the cops were looking for me or for somebody else. I then gave forth with a maniacal laugh that was intended to be a bit ambiguous. "Is this guy joking or not?" was the question I wanted running around in the police person's brain. Ultimately, the officer would laugh and at long last admit that he/she didn't really know what the problem was but that I shouldn't worry. Then, sure as rotten peaches give you the runs, within a minute or two the helicopters would fly away. 
    That got my mind to ruminating.
    Eventually I realized that the ghetto birds were arriving and lingering at the same time: Thursday nights at 10:07. Damn, I said to myself. That's one consistent criminal they're chasing down. 
    Not believing in coincidence, I thought some more and finally called a fellow I know who works for a TV station in Los Angeles. You know, Los Angeles, right? It's a city where anything and everything that happens where you live is already old news. This occurred in January of this year. Here's what I found out. "The Los Angeles Police Department teamed with military special operation forces Wednesday evening to conduct multi-agency tactical exercises in the skies above downtown LA. Many questioned what was going on Wednesday night as a Black Hawk helicopter and four OH-6 choppers – or Little Birds – flew over the city, at one point hovering just above the US Bank building downtown and later flying low over the Staples Center as the Lakers played inside. Someone could be seen sitting inside an open chopper with his legs hanging off the side. Throughout the exercise, the five rotorcrafts were staged at Dodgers Stadium. The LAPD said the purpose of the training was in part to ensure the military’s ability to operate in urban environments."


    Wow. That was a bit of an unwelcome shock to my system. So I thought about things a little more. One of the questions I asked myself was "Why do they call those things ghetto birds?" According to WiseGeek, "The slang term 'ghetto bird' is used to describe police aircraft which patrol low income and minority neighborhoods in urban regions. Ghetto birds may be used in active policing to track suspects and assist officers on the ground, or they may be used as a form of deterrent, to remind citizens on the ground that they are being watched. Some people object to the extensive use of the ghetto bird in urban environments, arguing that they are used to target racial, ethnic, and political minorities, rather than being a legitimate law enforcement device."
    If anyone cares, my name can be added to the list of those who object. Not only did I not realize that I lived in a ghetto, I certainly did not know that money was being spent in such a stupid manner. 
   So, I'm sure you know what happened. Yes. I did a little more thinking on the subject. Here is what I came up with: Take the money the city would spend on flying copters over my house to ward off crime that isn't really there and use that same money to improve the living conditions that contribute to the criminal activity that occasionally does exist. 
    Granted, the same people in this country who view as satanic the very suggestion of a humane redistribution of wealth would likely rear back on their hind legs in opposition to a redistribution of enforcement assets. Fine. As an alternative, I recommend that we relocate the ghetto birds to the financial districts of our fair country. The FBI, which has a special division called the Financial Crimes Section, or FCS, could use the local assistance. The FBI focuses its financial crimes investigations on such criminal activities as corporate fraud, securities and commodities fraud, health care fraud, financial institution fraud, mortgage fraud, insurance fraud, mass marketing fraud, and money laundering. Corporate fraud is one of the stated highest priorities for the FBI. At the end of 2009 (the most recent year for which government statistics are available), 592 corporate fraud cases were being pursued by FBI field offices throughout the United States, several of which involved losses to public investors that individually exceed $1 billion. 
    As to securities fraud, the recent and ongoing financial crisis saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average fall from its high of 14,164 in October 2007 to 6,547 in March 2009. As a result, the FBI witnessed a rise in Ponzi and other (what they call) High Yield Investment Fraud  schemes as the frauds were exposed and investors sought redemptions. With the development of new schemes, such as securities market manipulation via cyber intrusion, securities and commodities fraud has been increasing. Over the last five years, open securities and commodities fraud investigations have increased by thirty-three percent. During this same time period, the losses associated with these types of schemes have increased to billions of dollars. Some of the names to transmogrify from famous to notorious over the last several years are Bernie Madoff, Richard Monroe Harkless, and Curtis Somoza. 
    Of course, the real drug problem in this country is not so much the dealer on the corner but rather the well-dressed corporate genital-licker in the employ of Big Pharma. Investigation of Pfizer, as one example, was predicated in August 2004 upon the receipt of qui tam writ (which simply means that the person who assists the prosecutor is legally permitted to financially gain from his or her cooperation) from the FDA that Pfizer employees destroyed records sought in a federal civil investigation and that company employees had been engaged in a series of transactions involving off-label promotions and kickbacks. Between 2001 and 2005, Pfizer northeast regional manager Mary Holloway directed approximately one hundred sales employees to market the painkiller Valdecoxib (Bextra) for uses specifically prohibited by the FDA. On March 30, 2009, Holloway pled by criminal information to one count of distribution of a misbranded drug. Holloway was sentenced to twenty-four months’ probation and a $75,000 fine on June 18, 2009.
    You get the idea. So here's what let's do. First, let's admit that the real problem is economic. Second, let's be honest and acknowledge that one greedy inside trader can do more damage to our country than all the shoplifters and burglars combined. Third, let's also recognize that short of a glorious economic revolution, the best we can do is to frustrate the fornicators-of-maternal-parents by embarrassing them a bit. My suggest is beautiful in its simplicity: Relocate the smelly ghetto birds from our residential neighborhoods and send them to the financial district. Pull out the bullhorns and announce something like this to the sealed-off corporate buildings: "All right, you stinking embezzlement-prone bastards, you Ponzi-scheme manipulators, you bilkers of old ladies! March over to your penthouse floor windows with your hands out. Lift the riser and prepare to jump!
    PhilroPost is relatively popular among users in the cities of Idaho Falls-Pocatello (where it is ranked #688) and Boise (#900), and visitors to Philropost.com spend about nineteen minutes per visit.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

YOU DON'T WANNA SAVE ME

     
    Welcome to Day Three of Sweeps Week here at PhilroPost. As you may know, yesterday we began our two-part segment on New Religious Movements. In case you have forgotten, you can CLICK HERE for a happy reminder. In the meantime, we shall conclude with a presumably enjoyable examination of the remaining NRMs, again focusing on the ones that are not eschatologic, meaning the ones that are not obsessed with fighting wars to the death in the interests of bringing on the end of times. You know, like the two major U.S. political parties. 
    First up today is The Family International, which used to call itself simply The Family, until someone pointed out that a bunch of mass murderers associated with the incarcerated Charles Manson also referred to themselves by that moniker. You may remember TFI as The Children of God, which is how they referred to themselves originally, again until someone pointed out there was a certain insular quality to that name that non-members found annoying. Here is what The Family International says of themselves: They are a Christian community active in ninety countries on this planet alone, committed to sharing the message of God's love; their volunteers provide counseling and assistance to the disadvantaged; and they believe that the solution to the world's problems is love sweet love--that's the only thing that there's just too little of. 


    Here are what some disaffected members have written about the group. They assert that The Family International requires converts to forsake all worldly goods and to cut ties with all outsiders. Founded by David Berg and led by him until his death in 1994, the church remains active under the leadership of Berg's mistress, Karen Zerby. In a legal case in Great Britain in 1994, the court determined that The Family had engaged in and encouraged illegal sexual practices with children and had also been guilty of improper corporal punishment against children. However, the court also ruled that the church had made recent changes so that this type of behavior would no longer occur. 
    Additionally, TFI members believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, as are the collected published writings of Berg and Zerby. Their faith calls for the most enlighten members of the church to live together in a communal arrangement. They are cool with female bisexuality but believe that your run of the mill gayness and lesbian practices are sinful. They also believe that lying to outsiders about their practices is perfectly fine so long as those lies enable them to continue doing God's work. This spirit of deception and secrecy leads former members and outsiders to look upon the group with considerable suspicion. The church has several front organizations, notably The Family Care Foundation, Aurora Productions, Family Mission Foundation, and Activated Ministries. According to a 1974 ruling by the State of New York, the use of front organizations helped/helps the church funnel money into the pockets of the church leadership. 
    And then there is the matter of flirty fishingThe Family describes the practice of Flirty Fishing as follows: "In the latter part of the '70s and early '80s, [David Berg], responding in part to the sexual liberality of that time period, presented the possibility of trying out a more personal and intimate form of witnessing which became known as 'Flirty Fishing' or 'FFing'. In his Letters at that time, he offered the challenging proposal that since 'God is Love' (1 John 4:8), and [what some believe to be] His Son, Jesus, is the physical manifestation and embodiment of God's Love for humanity, then we as Christian recipients of that Love are in turn responsible to be living samples to others of God's great all-encompassing Love. Taking the Apostle Paul's writings literally, that saved Christians are 'dead to the Law [of Moses]' (Romans 7:4), through faith in Jesus, [Berg] arrived at the rather shocking conclusion that Christians were therefore free through God's grace to go to great lengths to show the Love of God to others, even as far as meeting their sexual needs."


    However, a group from Calgary know as Religious Tolerance argues that much of the recent criticism of TFI is unwarranted. "It is our assessment that child abuse in a few communities probably happened during the early 1980s. However, The Family appears to have a clean record since. Continuing criticism appears to be motivated by:
Anger on the part of disgruntled former members of The Family
Discomfort by some individuals in the counter-cult movement concerning the group's open sexuality.
Intolerance by individuals in the counter-cult movement of new religious groups whose theology differs from conservative Protestant Christianity."

    The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or Iskcon, is next on our hit parade of New Religious Movements. By way of summarizing their beliefs, we hereby printed their
"Nine Processes of Devotional Service," which are:
  • Hearing about God .
  • Chanting the names of God .
  • Remembering God by reading, associating with devotees .
  • Serving the Lord Krishna in the temple.
  • Worshiping God by preparation of food, decorating the Lord, bringing others to see Him.
  • Praying to God.
  • Encouraging others to chant the names of God.
  • Develop a close personal and intimate relationship with God.
  • Giving everything we have to God including our bodies.
    On the bad news front, there was in June of 2000 a $400 million lawsuit brought against Iskcon. Dallas Attorney Windle Turley said that the case involved "the most unthinkable abuse and maltreatment of little children we have seen." The suit alleges that ISKCON transferred students from U.S.-based gurukulas (boarding schools) to India, "In a conscious effort to avoid policing and scrutiny by U.S.A. child protection agencies." [In India] "ISKCON managed at least two profoundly abusive boarding schools for boys. The Indian schools were among the worst offenders and abusers of minor boys, and many of the Indian school teachers and leaders were also teachers, leaders and abusers in United States schools." ISKCON spokespersons acknowledged that abuse did occur in the schools and that they have been trying to locate and help the victims. Anuttama Dasa, the sect's communications director admitted: "Abuse happened at our schools. Morally, it's one of the principles in our religion that children are to be protected. It's not possible to change things that might have happened in the past..."

    Finally, to wrap up our look at New Religious Movements, or sects, or cults, we turn with unspoken joy to the favorite whipping boy of American hate systems, the Jehovah's Witnesses. If ever there were a group perfectly designed to be despised by large numbers of Americans, this is it. To once again turn to Harold Bloom, as he opines in his testament, The American Religion: "Jehovah's Witnesses. . .violently dissent from everything that is distinctively American, whether in government, religion, or economic matters. All these are assigned to Satan and are set aside, even as the Witnesses await the end of all things" (p. 159). 

    One of the things that sets the Witnesses apart from many other Christian groups is their complete and total emphasis on what they refer to as TEOTWAWKI, which, no kidding, means The End of The World as We Know It, and thank you Michael Stipe. But what else do the JWs believe? They believe that homosexual practices and inclinations be suppressed. Consequently, they stand or sit opposed to same-sex marriage. An early leader of the Witnesses, C.J. Woodworth, argued against the decency of vaccinations. While expressing opposition to whole blood transfusions, they are more accepting of a product called PolyHeme, which is derived from blood, but is not blood in its entirety.  L.C. Cotton, the associate director of Jehovah's Witnesses' hospital information services, indicates that members must decide for themselves whether to accept this product. 
    But why do so many people hate this group? Hate of JWs is long and hard and they suffered horribly at the hands of the Nazis in Europe during World War II, just as they suffer today at bus stops and other places where they hand out free literature. This is curious because unlike, say, Catholicism, the JWs do not believe their church leadership to be infallible. However, they do reject the idea of the Trinity, just as Mormons do. I suspect that where things get murky for the Witnesses is in regards to their somewhat unusual perception of Satan. They believe that Lucifer was cast out of heaven and came to earth on October 1, 1914, and that his presence here began the end times. Individual government leaders are therefore under the control of the devil. The other area where they sometimes irritate nonbelievers is in their assertion that only 144,000 people will be going to heaven, a number they got from Revelations 14, and one which many religious scholars believe refers to the twelve tribes of Israel, each numbering twelve thousand. Anyone not in this exclusive membership, say the JWs, is SOL, and they do not mean the sun. 
    So that's it for religion here during Sweeps Week at PhilroPost. It feels appropriate at this point to mention that, despite a somewhat cavalier approach to our subject matter, we neither endorse nor discount any of these movements. Indeed, the author was once asked about his own religious beliefs and responded as follows: "I am agnostic, not because I believe that all the religions in the world are wrong, but simply because I can see no way for them all to be simultaneously correct. I would not deign to have the wisdom or insight to select the right one with any certainty."
    I still stand by that. 
    Take care. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

KEEP ME IN A DAYDREAM

    "If you believe in it, it is a religion or perhaps the religion; and if you do not care one way or another about it, it is a sect;
but if you fear and hate it, it is a cult."--Leo Pfeffer.



    Day Two of Sweeps Week here on PhilroPost concerns superstition, also known as religion, and in particular, that phenomenological matter of New Religious Movements. But first, let's take a look at the Encyclopedia Britannica, where we discover the top ten religions of the world, at least in terms of population. You do the drum roll, I'll get the nails.
     
RankReligion/SuperstitionAdherents                %
1.Christianity2.1 billion33.0%
2.Islam1.3 billion20.1
3.Hinduism851 million13.3
4.Buddhism375 million5.9
5.Sikhism25 million0.4
6.Judaism15 million0.2
7.Baha'ism7.5 million0.1
8.Confucianism6.4 million0.1
9.Jainism4.5 million0.1
10.Shintoism2.8 million0.0

   Another way to look at the picture is like this, courtesy of Adherents.com.
    You'll notice that "nonreligious" is given credit on this pie chart, which is kind of cool. Here's another graphic with somewhat different statistics. This one comes from LiveScience and includes a breakdown for the United States. 

    As you can see, a lot of people buy into the idea of things of a metaphysical nature, something that I think of as superstitious but which a more generous and loving person would experience as collective or personalized attempts at understanding one's place in the cosmos. Look, I'm not a child. I realize that today's "science" may be tomorrow's mythology and that the things that our presumably enlightened age teach as part of a rigorous education may turn out to be based upon fallacious concepts, especially given that the human brain is pretty insignificant and tiny compared to the (at this moment) incomprehensible complexity of Everything. Man's evolution may be measurable, but it isn't necessarily all that impressive, especially considering that we still have been unwilling to apply effort to the very things we claim are societal priorities: peace, love and understanding being at the top of the list. The point is that I am not being smug. I even consider my own agnosticism to be a bourgeois luxury that I am simply too stubborn to relinquish. 
    With that personal disclosure out of the way, I beg you on bent and praying knees not to write me with assurances that your worldview is the one proper way to place yourself upon this infinite continuum. PhilroPost is making no effort to proselytize. We're just having fun and trying to learn, the same as you are.
    Now let's take a look at something a bit more obscure, something the folks in the social sciences refer to as New Religious Movements. I know, I know, you thought these were cults or something, but it turns out that in the interest of tolerance and good will, we actually need to speak of these belief systems in a less harsh manner. I'm sure you are cool with that. 
    (Incidentally, we've run a few articles on this topic which were a bit more specific and lacerating of their targets than we will be today. One of the best of these, in my opinion, was called "New Religious Bowel Movements," and you can click on the highlighted link if you wish to check it out.)
     
    The most popular New Religious Movements afoot today are (in alphabetical order) as follows: The Brethren, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Christian Science, Eckankar, Falun Gong, The Family, Hare Krishna, Jehovah's Witnesses, Neo-Paganism, New Age, Santeria, Unification Church, Voodoo, The Way, and Wicca. We will examine some of these today and the remainder a bit later in the week. You'll notice we have not included eschatology-oriented doomsday groups, which, you may be amused to know, exist within the Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Islamic religions as well as in their own stand-alone store front versions. Likewise we will eschew Scientology and satanism, the former because we already did that subject to death twice before, and the latter because the subject scares me too much. There. I said it.  
    Let's begin our examination with the The Brethren (not to be confused with the much larger group, The Church of The Brethren). Their detractors call them the garbage-eaters. Founded in 1971 by Jimmie T. Roberts, The Brethren believe that the end is at hand, although they are not interested in fomenting nasty global wars to hasten the finale. Instead, they sell off all their possessions and divide up the proceeds among themselves. They wander about, not so much as ascetics hoping to gain purification from poverty but rather to embrace the simple life. They stay in North America, primarily in the United States. Their goal is to live in the manner of First Century Christians, meaning they do not hold with the notion of the Trinity. They consider divorce, remarriage and homosexuality to be immoral. They do not believe in taking drugs, watching TV, or going to movies. They practice secrecy for fear of being kidnapped by their more financially well-healed relatives. 

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, is a fascinating group that deserves more attention than I am willing to dedicate in this blog. I will say that the esteemed Harold Bloom writes in his book, The American Religion, that Mormonism is, in his view, one of only two specifically American faiths, the other being the Southern Baptists. As Bloom puts it, these two groups are "Violent opponents of one another, yet each American to the core and neither having anything accurately in common with what historically has been considered Christianity" (p. 81, in case you wanna look for yourself). Bloom's book is, as I say, the best source of information extant on the subject of the Latter Day Saints and it is to his brilliance that I commend you post haste. 

    As we move on with the countdown, we turn to Christian Science. In the words of founder Mary Baker Eddy, "Even the Scriptures gave no direct interpretation of the scientific basis for demonstrating the Spiritual Principle of healing, until our heavenly Father saw fit, through the Key to the Scriptures in Science and Health, to unlock this mystery of godliness." Seeking and finding God is central to the practice of Christian Science. God is understood as the all-loving, omnipotent Father-Mother, and Jesus as His Son. Jesus's human life characterized the kind of sonship that Christian Scientists believe is provable for all as the children of God. He is seen as the Exemplar, the Way-shower. The divine nature He expressed is the Christ, and the Christ--God's expression of Himself--is eternal and ever-present. Understanding man's pure, indestructible relationship with God is what results in regeneration and healing. While they have no natural hostility toward the medical profession, Mrs. Eddy's Science and Healing, in conjunction with prayer,  is deemed adequate for the treatment of physical maladies. Indeed, they believe that to seek medical attention rather than to ask God for healing would be a form of rejection of God's love and that is not something with which they wish to mess. 

    Let us now turn to the Religion of the Light and Sound of God, or Eckankar. These followers believe that modern founder Paul Twitchell studied under two Eck Masters: Sudar Singh in Paris and India, and a elderly monk Rebazar Tarzs in Tibet. They believe that he received the title of the 971st Eck Master from Tarzs in 1965, thus becoming the latest in a series of Masters which began before recorded history. Spiritual exercises are meditation activities built upon the foundation of the Holy Spirit which is the Light and Sound of God whose name is Sugmad. These exercises are to bring the person’s mental, emotional, and spiritual state into an awareness of the self's past lives. So, yes, reincarnation is a big part of their personal trip. This  awareness is to facilitate the contact and aid of present Eck masters who are on different spiritual planes in the next world. By following their teachings, the subject can remove bad karma and help in his or her spiritual progression through various reincarnations. Usually, these exercises consist of solitude and quiet meditation on a repeated word or phrase. After these exercises the meditator says, "I now put my inner experiences into your hands, Mahanta. Take me wherever is best for my own unfoldment at this particular time." Mahanta is the highest state of God consciousness on earth. This is supposed to be the "inner, or spiritual form of the living Eck Master." The Mahanta is given great respect, but is not worshiped.

    As we close out today, I leave you with an excerpt from the website for the Falun Dafa. I thought it best to let this burgeoning group get in the first word. "Falun Dafa (also called Falun Gong) is an advanced self-cultivation practice of the Buddha School. Falun Dafa was founded by Mr. Li Hongzhi, the practice’s master. It is a discipline in which assimilation to the highest qualities of the universe—Zhen, Shan, Ren (Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance)—is the foundation of practice. Practice is guided by these supreme qualities, and based on the very laws which underlie the development of the cosmos. Master Li’s teachings are set forth in a number of texts, among which are included Falun Gong, Zhuan Falun, The Great Perfection Way of Falun Dafa, Keys to Diligent Progress, and The Grand Verses." 
    What they don't mention is just as interesting. Their name, for example, has a meaning. Fa means (a long, long way to run, or) the laws and principles of the universe; lun means wheel; and da means great. Adherents practice five sets of "qigong" exercises that imbue the faithful with cultivation and practice. Individuals with some qigong training can presumably exhibit super-human abilities, such as  clairvoyance, telepathy, and precognition. But it takes a qigong master to achieve certain functionality, like alchemy. The latter could tear down a large building using mental power only. They would never do this in practice, because it is forbidden for them to demonstrate their powers. Also, such destruction would cause harm. It might even get a person arrested. The Chinese government outlawed Falun Dafa in 1999, much to the relief of Chinese architects who were worried about all the large buildings collapsing.  

    Well, I see by the humongous digital clock in the cosmos that it is time to end our celestial search for the day. We'll be back tomorrow--if such a concept should materialize--with more on this fascinating subject of New Religious Movements. Until then, in the words of Casey Kasem, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the calamine lotion.  


You can turn to the concluding segment by CLICKING HERE.

Monday, April 23, 2012

NEW PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES

    We're kicking off our own internet sweeps week with a look at some of the more recent studies in the fascinating field of Psychology. My first academic major back at Marshall University in the glory/gory days of Huntington, West Virginia, was in Psychology, so this feels normal, whatever that means. 
    Our first study is by Kelsey Blackburn and James Schirillo from Wake Forest University. It finds that your left side is your best side. What does that mean? It means that images of the left side of the face are often perceived and rated as more pleasant than pictures of the right side of the face, possibly due to the fact that we present a greater intensity of emotion on the left side of our faces. Participants were asked to rate the pleasantness of both sides of male and female faces on gray-scale photographs. The researchers presented both original photographs and mirror-reversed images, so that an original right-cheek image appeared to be a left-cheek image and vice versa. They found a strong preference for left-sided portraits, regardless of whether the pictures were originally taken of the left side, or mirror-reversed. The left side of the face was rated as more aesthetically pleasing for both male and female posers.


    Here comes research project number two. A study of 17,000 Vancouver, BC students has found that schoolyard bullying and cyber-bullying have very different characteristics. Jennifer Shapka, associate professor in the Faculty of Education at UBC said: "There are currently many programs aimed at reducing bullying in schools and I think there is an assumption that these programs deal with cyberbullying as well. What we're seeing is that kids don't equate cyberbullying with traditional forms of schoolyard bullying. As such, we shouldn't assume that existing interventions will be relevant to aggression that is happening online." UBC studies show that 25-30% of the students have been involved in cyber-bullying -- as perpetrators or victims -- compared with 12% in schoolyard bullying. Most cyber-bullying consider it to be 'joking.' Jennifer Shapka says, "It is clear that youth are underestimating the level of harm associated with cyberbullying. Students need to be educated that this 'just joking' behaviour has serious implications." Whereas 'traditional' bullying has three components (power differential between bully and victim, proactive targeting of a victim, and ongoing aggression), cyber-bullying appears to lack planned targeting of the victim and the same individuals can be victim, witness and perpetrator. I personally find this interesting because as recently as last week two different people tried and failed to bully me on my Facebook page. One was a woman I only knew from high school. She demanded that I remove a cartoon I'd posted that quite properly mocked the Romney family for their inability to hold the concept of work in their minds. By the time I was finished twisting her less-than-nibble mind, she had deleted my friendship and was last seen heading for a Norwegian cruise-line where she plans to recite passages from the few legible sections of the latest Ann Coulter book of insanity. The other instance involved the husband of my roommate. He tried to bully me in a similar way about my refusal to admit that Ted Nugent was a genius. This man is now in intensive psychotherapy in a small room full of crab-like creatures. 


    Anyone who has ever endured the tortures of volunteer work will find our third study interesting.
    Employees who volunteer even for unwanted tasks tend to be disliked by less selfless colleagues, according to research from Washington State University published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Craig Parkes, lead author of "The Desire to Expel Unselfish Members from the Group" (not the catchiest title for a paper, it must be admitted), professor in the Department of Psychology, said: "It’s not hard to find examples, but we were the first to show this happens and have explanations for why." Parks and co-author Asako Stone suggest this phenomenon has implications for a wide range of groups including business teams, volunteer and non-profit organizations and military units. They found that resentment of unselfish colleagues develops because they are perceived to have increased expectations of all performances. The higher standard makes those not meeting it appear bad by comparison. Selfless employees are also seen as deviant rule breakers.



    George Zimmerman may want to consider thinking about our fourth research case. In a study in Population and Development Review, findings point to confusion in the way people identify themselves and in official classifications, at least in the United States. An analysis of 2000 census data by University of Washington demographers and sociologists Anthony Perez and Charles Hirschman has led them to contend that the way in which the census was structured lumped many Hispanics or Latinos into a category called "some other race." In fact, so many were classified in that way that it formed the third-largest category after whites and blacks in the census. As a result there were erroneous reports in the media last year that whites, as opposed to non-Hispanic whites, would be a minority in the United Staes by 2050. In reality, whites--including Hispanic whites--are likely to form at least 70% of the population in 2050.


    And because we like to wrap things up on a positively down note, our fifth and final study examines the role of depression on intellect in old folks. Research from the University of Rochester Medical Center published in The American Journal of Psychiatry has found that depression increases the risk of intellectual decline in older people and can be a predictive factor. Jeffrey M. Lyness, professor of psychiatry and associate chair for education said:
"We can't conclude that treatment or prevention of depression would reduce or prevent cognitive decline but these findings certainly raise the possibility and that would be our hope." This innovative study analyzed the roles of depression and intellectual dysfunction over a two year period in a group of 700 people aged 65 and over from private practices and University-affiliated clinics in Monroe County, New York. Researchers measured loss of executive functions involving high-level mental processes, such as decision-making, organizing, planning and completing a sequence of tasks. Jeffrey Lyness explained: "You can have a good memory and good language skills but if you lose executive function, you can't do very well in daily life."
   Participants were interviewed at home or at the Medical Center to assess cognition, functional status, and depression. Researchers also reviewed each participant's primary care medical chart, focusing on mood and cognitive symptoms or disorders and treatments in addition to past and current medical problems and medications. Further interviews and reviews were conducted one and two years later. Jeffrey Lyness commented: "Not every elderly person who is depressed becomes intellectually impaired, but depression raises the risk of executive dysfunction. We began to see it at the one-year mark and it was clear after two years."
The researchers conclude that physicians treating older patients should be aware of the increased risk of loss of mental functions for those who are depressed.



    Before we go today, just a quick word about "sweeps." Argghhh!
    That was the word. 

    The truth is that even on the Internet, ratings matter because they are one way of indicating the response to what the user--in this case, you--like to read online. I have been advised to dumb down the material on these cyber pages and so I have decided to do the very opposite and instead plan to take a bunch of pills to make myself smarter so that I am able to elevate the content here even further. That'll piss off someone in the marketing department, huh? 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

NIGHT OF THE PRECINCT RIO BRAVO


    As the title of this piece suggests, John Carpenter's "original" movie, Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), is Rio Bravo crossed with Night of the Living Dead. It is also a thoroughly enjoyable movie, because in the spirit of the best westerns and horror movies, Assault has an undeniable energy and, yes, even a sense of integrity. It also has a lot of people in it who couldn't act to save their lives, the sole exceptions being Austin Stoker, who plays Lieutenant Bishop, a new cop assigned to what he anticipates will be a boring night in charge of a police precinct that is being closed down, and Darwin Joston, who plays Napoleon Wilson, a convicted murderer on his way to doing either a life stretch or death row, depending on which scene we're in. For those keeping score, Stoker plays a black John Wayne and Joston plays a resourceful and trustworthy scalawag with a wit as dry as dirt. The zombies are played by half a million teenagers of all races and nationalities. They aren't actually zombies, though. They're gang kids in Anderson, a ghetto in Los Angeles, at least in this movie. As the film begins, two anonymous policemen shoot down six gang members under curious circumstances. The rest of this enormous group wages a "cholo" or blood oath against the father of a little girl they murdered. The father, who does probably the worst acting job in the entire film, even though he was likely doing what Carpenter told him to do, seeks refuge in the soon-to-be-deserted police station. Given the nasty sun spots the man on the radio keeps talking about, we know bad times are on the rise. 
    In the real world outside the theatre, a cholo is a Mexican gangster, but this movie is not the real world, which is one of the great things about it. Oh, there's all types of realism going on, mind you. Carpenter probably spent more money on the synthesizer he used for the music he played and composed than he did on sets, and that is, now that I think of it, entirely appropriate considering he was not a movie-house common name in those days. So we have city streets that are deserted even though in real life L.A. they would be choked with people. We have an old-style phone system that no longer existed in 1976. We have a team of police officers with all the personality of mildew and--well, okay, maybe Carpenter did get that part right. Otherwise, however, the movie is complete and total bullshit from beginning to end, just like any of a thousand wonderful movies from the world of science fiction, horror, or westerns. None of it matters. It doesn't matter that a potential victim runs like hell while the attackers walk after him and somehow the walking attackers catch up with the running victim. It doesn't matter that we don't really see about half the cast inside the precinct getting shot; somehow we just accept that they have been. And it doesn't matter that most of the costly pyrotechnics don't actually happen on-screen at all because that would have been too expensive. Look, this was only the writer-director's second full-length film, and he followed it up with Halloween, so let's get off the dude's back. 
    What matters is that Assault on Precinct 13 stays on point for its duration, doesn't go off on some pointless deeper meanings nonsense, and does not attempt to solve all of society's problems. Indeed, it is the film-maker's responsibility to create problems for society rather than to solve them. This movie is simply a lot of fun, you can probably watch it for free on YouTube, and you won't be bothered by anything approximating society for a full ninety-four minutes. With a set-up like that, how can it miss?