Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Belly Fat

I have a secret to confess:  I sometimes can't resist watching programs on the religious channels--EWTN (Catholic) and TBN (Evangelical).

Why do I do this?  Because I am both horrified and fascinated by the madness that these mountebanks fabricate, dispense and, most astonishing of all, manage to "sell" (both literally and figuratively) to the credulous salvation-seekers of the world.

And there's some real catharsis (or, perhaps, kenosis) involved, too.  Watching one of these shows is what I call a "sauna" experience.  After an hour spent with Kenneth Copeland, for example, in his TBN sweatbox, I am prostrate, limp, withered up--completely emptied of all pride in human reason, all delight in human creativity, all optimism about human thought--what Bertrand Russell once called (silly git) the "chief glory of man."

Nothing, nothing, nothing to hang on to.  All just dehumanizing and dehydrating theological twaddle. And so embarrassing. Makes me want to jump into a cold river and not come out.

But still I subject myself to these sauna ordeals--because, as I said before, I am masochistically curious--and also because, after I emerge from the intellectual flogging, I find that very few other lunatics (Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter) have much effect on me. Like the moron who hit himself on the head with a hammer because it felt so good when he stopped. Thanks to the pain, I seem to acquire (at least temporarily) a kind of immunity to inanity.

So, let me tell you about today's metaphysical flagellation.  Rev. Copeland (who cain't pronounce "can't") was denouncing the moral and spiritual depravity which has descended, like a great plague, upon America and which has resulted--the wages of sin--in a national affliction (verily, verily of absolutely Biblical proportions) of...excessive belly fat.

Belly fat.  Yes, friends, there it is!  Did you know that fully 60% of all Americans have too much belly fat?  Gospel truth. And this fat is the direct result of perverted eating which, in turn, is the sinful behavior engendered by a nonexistent or improper relationship with Jesus Christ.  Don't you see?

It's really very simple.  Get right with Jesus and the fat will melt away!

That, at least, was the implication of the little presentation made by Rev. Copeland's bespectacled guest, a certain Dr. Don Colbert, author of a number of books, all apparently ghost-written by Jesus himself, and all entitled The Bible Cure for Something or Other (fill in the blank:  Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Yeast Infections, etc.).  Today, Dr. Don was holding forth about The Bible Cure for Weight Loss and Muscle Gain.  

Though at first I was puzzled about why, exactly, "weight loss" needed to be cured, I soon realized that what the good doctor really meant was something like this:  "how to use Holy Scriptures in order to lose weight."

Of course, there was also an actual "diet" involved (i.e., lettuce, bran flakes, cottage cheese--nothing particularly unusual).  But, asserted the doctor, none of these conventional cures for belly fat would actually "work" unless the dieter had devoutly read the scriptures and, ipso facto / sine qua non, been born again into a right relationship with Jesus.

Positively ingenious scheme, Dr. Colbert!!!!  The would-be dieter buys your book (you win); then, he tries out the diet and either--a) it works (you win and so does he), or b) it doesn't work (his belly fat persists--but, and this is the best part, YOU STILL WIN.  Because the dieter's failure has nothing to do with you or with the diet--rather, the fault lies with the dieter himself--and, most especially, with the inadequacy of his spiritual development.)

This, then, appears to be the Belly Fat Doctrine:  the fatter you are, the more wicked you are.  Jesus loves thin people.  Satan rules the fatties.  So I guess Wallis Simpson had it right (albeit backwards).  You can never be too thin or (I'm sure Rev. Copeland and Dr. Colbert would agree) too rich!

P.S.  But what about the Rev. John Hagee?  Or the Rev. Rick Warren?  Aren't they both a little on the chubby side?  Just asking...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Matres et Patres

Last night, I had a dream about Alex Kroff,  my major professor when I was a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin.  He was, officially, the director of my Ph.D. thesis--the thesis that for several years I pretended (and even partially believed) I was writing.  I suspect that Alex knew, better than I, that Ken Kirkeby was not cut out to be either a scholar or a denizen of Academe.  But he never said anything.  He never got in my face about my lack of enthusiasm for second or third-rate nineteenth century French plays.  He never insisted (not, at least, very seriously) upon seeing concrete results of my supposed research.

OK.  It's true that Alex was a bit of a dilettante himself--believing, I have no doubt, that sophisticated eating mattered more in the "great scheme of things" than did pretentious or trendy thinking (he was a stickler for proper footnotes, though).  Still, I'm pretty sure that because he cared for me as a person, he was willing to cut me some slack as a student.  He trusted me to work though my own identity crisis, without any gratuitous needling or nagging on his part.

I loved him for that.  And I still feel a bit guilty that, somehow, I didn't turn out as he would probably have preferred.  In the fullness of time, I muddled through and did the best I could.  But perhaps my lingering awareness of the "road not taken" accounts for why I so frequently dream about Alex, just as I do about my mother, father and grandparents (all of whom I disappointed in some way or another).

"Uncle" Alex died unexpectedly in 1976, not coincidentally the year I definitively abandoned all doctoral pretensions.  Late that summer, at the absolute nadir of my life, I left the University of Wisconsin pour de bon  and moved, with neither money in pocket nor objective in mind, to Washington, D.C.  But on my last day in Madison, as I piled my pathetic belongings into the old Dodge Dart that my parents had given me, I still couldn't resist jamming into the trunk--behind the worn spare tire--a small box containing ALL of the "research" I had completed in eight full years of fraudulent travail. It was a very modest parcel indeed.

Guess what? I didn't throw out that box until twenty years later, just after I had made a commitment to teach English (not French) for the remaining ten years of my career.  Try to figure that one out.

Do I have regrets about all of this?  Yes, of course.  I cannot really be proud of the time I wasted and the love I squandered in my abortive attempt to avoid the truth about my nature, viz., that I am  not an intellectual and that I have no aptitude whatsoever for the mental discipline and systematic thinking (or nitpicking) of Academe.

But I am smart.  And as a result of my "lost" decade, I learned a number of things, the most pertinent of which--for the theme of this blog--is the vital, immeasurable, incomparable worth of TEACHERS.  The loss of Alex stunned me and the depth of my reaction to his death obliged me to examine my own life.  After all, I had often sought to avoid my major professor, indeed all professors--hoping thereby to evade my own sense of failure as a student.  But Alex's sudden departure, more than anything, made me acknowledge, with deep emotion, the great affection that I felt--not just for A.Y. Kroff--but indeed for every teacher I had ever had.

Teachers.  From the very beginning, I had always loved school (if not always my schoolmates).  In many ways, the classroom was more home than home. Alma mater.  And teachers, even the weak ones (including those, like Joe Rivers, whom I tormented), were truly my foster parents.  Almi patres (?)  Thanks to Alex--and, in particular, as a result of his precipitous and wrenching departure from my life, I realized that--though I would probably never be a biological father, I COULD be the next best thing:  an almus pater, a "nurturing father," a teacher.  That was the central "turn around moment" of my life.  I woke up and was born again. Hallelujah, amen.

Recently, many years after my personal Great Awakening, I was moved by a writer to the local paper whose letter paid tribute to the teachers who had formed him. Quoting Hippocrates, he affirmed what many of us feel:  the Mrs. Brundgardts, Miss Engs, Mr. Bianchis, Mrs. Kalmeses, Mrs. Peterses, Mr. Livingstons, Mr. Glausers, Mrs. Knops, Mr. Kroffs--these teachers have also been our parents, and in consequence, we owe them an enormous debt.  Here's what Hippocrates wrote:

"I swear... to hold my teacher in this art equal to my own parents; to make him partner in my livelihood; when he is in need of money to share mine with him; to consider his family as my own brothers and to teach them this art, if they want to learn it, without fee or indenture."

Well, I don't imagine many of my former students will soon be sharing their wealth with me. Nor would I expect it.  But I'm happy that I finally realized what I could be good at.  I couldn't be a scholar, like Alex.  But I could be a good teacher--also like Alex.

I miss you, Alex Yale Kroff. Though I don't even have a picture of you, you were my almus pater. And a model for what, I hope, I too became.  Où que tu sois, même si tu ne vis plus que dans mes rêves, je t'embrasse bien fort et bien affectueusement.  Merci mon très cher père.

P.S.  Please excuse any Latin expressions that I may have mangled in this post.  I loved my high school Latin class because reading about Caesar's Gallic Wars appealed to my incipient Francophilia.  I also thought togas and vomitoria were pretty cool.  But I never bothered to learn very much of the actual language.   

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bats in the Belfry

More and more I realize just how fragile--and unreliable--is human reason, my own included.

Is anything true?

I know that I have two trees in the yard--one a maple, the other a Japanese crab.  But what good is knowing THAT?

I don't know how to fix the economy, how to bring peace to Afghanistan, how to stop global warming.

Did Paul ignore the historical Jesus and fabricate Christianity out of his own mystery-cult-obsessed imagination?

Did Allah speak to Mohammed and through him dictate the Koran?

Should adulterers be stoned?  If a woman tries to defend her husband by poking another man in the balls, should she have her hand cut off (Deuteronomy 25)?

Would lowering taxes make big corporations employ more people?

Is affordable health care a "right" for everyone or merely a privilege for those who are more important in society?

Freedom.  Freedom.  Freedom.

I don't know what "freedom" means.  I worry that it has become a loaded word, full of emotion but detached from any definite referent in the real world.

Or, isn't it possible that freedom means simply being "disconnected"?

Do you want to go to war all around the world in order to disconnect everybody from everything?

My head spins.  I suppose I should turn off the television:  in the silence of my room, I would have to confront only my OWN idiocy--not the lunatic ravings of millions of others.

"No mosque at Ground Zero because Muslims don't believe that Jesus is Lord."  "God kills American soldiers because America tolerates fags." "Save America from Mexicans:  repeal the 14th Amendment."

Bats in the belfry.  Bats are blind, like my ideas.  They go bump in the dark.  My life is a tale told by an idiot. And then?...

Friday, August 6, 2010

One Hung Low

PART ONE:  Junk Science

I know exactly what you're thinking.  You're expecting me to say something both salacious and politically incorrect about human anatomy AND funny-sounding Asian names.  But you're wrong.  True to my vow to avoid paralipsis, I'm not even going to mention Long Duk Dong, the drunken and libidinous exchange student in Sixteen Candles (see http://oldagesticks.blogspot.com/2010/05/its-really-not-worth-mentioning.html) and I'm certainly not going to recount any "Confucious Say" adages.

But, as my title suggests, I am going to talk about testicles--human ones--and about how these ridiculous, wrinkly little guys "work."  As an introduction to my meditation, I thought we might look at a picture, fortunately in the public domain (and evidently donated by the proudly-groomed photographer himself) which I found on Wikimedia.  Though it pained me a bit to do so, I have cropped off all irrelevant, non-testicular subject matter.

Now, as you can see, one really DOES hang lower than the other.  This is normal, as I'm quite sure most of you know.

What isn't normal is the, well, unencumbered airiness of the pose.  I suppose that some might call this asymmetrical scrotum "overexposed," though that prudishness is exactly what worries me.

Because, I'm really afraid that the only hope for the survival of the human race is the liberation of human testicles from all entangling, restrictive, oppressive and, most especially, overheating garments.

We all remember 7th Grade Health, don't we?  Mr. Polus (or some other phys. ed. teacher)--aided by illustrations of bull testicles and Celsius thermometers--explained to us that the production of human sperm is a very tricky business.  The fastidious little spermatozoa just can't stand too much heat (or cold).  If their wee fuzzy houses aren't kept cooled to about 2 degrees Celsius below body temperature, they just wither up in prostration and refuse to do anything--no furious swimming, no competitive egg hunting, no frantic fertilizing.

And that, of course, is why BOTH of the family jewels hang low--even though one is usually lower than the other.  The scrotum needs COOL air in order to keep its delicate residents happy and in order to ensure that a plentiful supply of sperm will be available and willing to cooperate in reproduction.

In short, the very fate of humankind, hangs upon those manjigglies' ability to hang low enough and freely enough to maintain 35C temperatures.

Which brings us to global warming.

Today, the Weather Channel announced yet another day of record-setting temperatures in much of the U.S., especially in the South:  Dallas, Atlanta, New Orleans, Mobile, Jacksonville, Birmingham.  We've had the hottest decade ever recorded and, most sources believe, 2010 will be the hottest year of this hottest decade (remember, strictly speaking, 2010 is the last year in the decade).

So, just think of all the prostrate sperm that's dying this summer!  And yet, young guys persist in running around in baggy boxer shorts protruding beneath even baggier below-the-knee cargo trunks.  And so, their poor cojones are swaddled up in literally yards of suffocating cloth.  Older dudes--the ones who might actually be interested in making babies--are even more delinquent:  they're literally smothering their sperm factories in a tight inner sheath of jockey briefs beneath a scratchy outer layer of wool (lawyers) or denim (farmers).

This is NOT GOOD.  As global temperatures rise, scrotums do their very best to hang ever lower--but let's face it:  with outside temperatures hovering around 40C, there is simply not enough hanging room inside any undies.  It's just too much of a stretch.  Hence my conclusion:  testicles are going to have to be entirely liberated, set free to flop and jiggle in the breeze.

You're just gonna have to let them all hang out, guys!  Like the well-ventilated pair in the photo. Otherwise, you're facing not just sweaty wedgies, but sterility as well.

PART TWO:  Defense of Nuts Act (or How to Save Humanity from the Threat of Global Warming)

Sartorially, if not fiscally, there IS a more conservative alternative, of course:  i.e, something could be done to arrest or reverse global warming.  Duh. Surely if we all put our thinking caps on, we could figure out some way to preserve the species and still keep those ridiculously asymmetrical testicles tucked modestly inside our shorts.

However, I'm not very optimistic about this possibility.  Despite the overwhelming evidence provided by their drooping ballsacks, most Republicans and many Democrats refuse adamantly to believe that the planet is getting too warm for sperm production.

In fact, they've never even thought of the problem in those terms, have they?

Instead, they've merely speculated about a) which cities might be inundated by rising sea waters, b) which states might become deserts, and, most importantly (c), who would have to PAY for any anti-warming measures.  And the politicos don't find ANY of these issues particularly compelling or, well, "sexy." Ergo, the Senate has simply abandoned its Global Warming Bill and, with it, any further attempt this session to regulate / limit greenhouse gas emissions.  The Republicans, says Fox News, will continue to oppose legislation based upon "junk science."

I love that expression:  "junk science."  What Fox means, of course, is that the learned look-alike journalists at Fox have concluded that, although global warming is a fact that even they cannot dispute, the notion that climate change is human-induced is, well, "junk." Just another socialist, communist, fascist lie intended to persuade innocent people to part with their money.  Well, maybe.  But, given my "meditation" in Part One of this blog, we might also employ the term "junk" as it is used in current slang:  penis and testicles.  Now, Ms. Kelly and Mr. Hemmer, THAT'S quite a different kettle of "junk," isn't it?

Personally, I think the environmentalists could make their case more sexy and politically marketable if they adopted this slang definition of "junk."  Isn't it possible that they would get more votes, especially from senators representing those overheated but prudishly puritanical Southern states if, for instance, they couched their argument in the following terms?

Since the world IS getting warmer (as even Fox agrees), and since increasing temperatures will inevitably endanger human sperm production (as Mr. Polus and the Health teachers explained), the human race has only two good options for survival:

Option 1:  in order to ensure adequate cooling for sperm production, all males must immediately cease binding, supporting or in any way covering their genitals; testicles must be allowed to hang low and swing free.  In this option, religious or esthetic prudishness about concealing "private" parts cannot be tolerated.  Too bad, Puritans and Bible Belters--this erstwhile "indecency" is henceforth an act of moral duty.


Option 2:  emissions of greenhouse gases must be strictly regulated and controlled by governments (even if that socialistic measure costs money), thereby preventing further rises in world temperatures and, ultimately, the extinction of homo sapiens.  In this option, men may continue to keep their "junk" hidden, since Big Government Programs rather than Mandatory Scrotal Exposure would guarantee a sperm-friendly environment.

Despite their fiscal objections, I'll bet those conservative Southern senators would feel morally obligated to support this second option. (And not just morally, but esthetically as well:   heck, they might not be prepared for all the costly and time-consuming "junk grooming" necessitated by Option 1.)

A possible campaign slogan for Option 2?  How about  "Preserve the Sanctity of our Testicles:  Vote for Emission-Control Legislation" ?  And if a catchy title were needed, they could even call the legislation something like the "Defense of Nuts Act"  (DONUTS).  Haha.  I couldn't resist.