Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Attack of the Bizarro Irb

I have an evil twin.

Okay, maybe "twin" isn't quite the right word. My wicked doppelganger and I don't really look that much alike. For one thing, he's several years younger than me. Also, he's black.

But his name is Christopher R. Irby, and he apparently lives somewhere in the Dallas area. And, just in case I haven't mentioned it in the past sentence or two, he's evil. EEEEEEVIL!!!!!!!!!!

It all started back in 1993, when I moved into my first apartment in Dallas. I'd only been there a month when I got a letter from the Dallas Probation & Parole Office addressed to Chris Irby. The letter informed me that I had missed several scheduled meetings, that the phone number I'd given them was invalid, and that I was in direct violation of my probation. If I didn't contact their office within 48 hours, a warrant would be issued for my arrest.

I didn't have a phone at the time, so I went across the street to Jack in the Box to use the pay phone there. I called the number and explained to them that I'd never been arrested for anything and I'd never been on probation. After a few minutes, they finally told me that they'd been trying to track down a Christopher Irby, and when my change of address had gone through, they had assumed that I was their guy. They were very polite, and they apologized for the mistake. They told me that if I received any further notices, I could disregard them.

In 1997, the same day that George W. Bush was reelected governor of Texas, my apartment was burglarized. (I'm not implying one had anything to do with the other, you understand. I'm just saying.) Anyway, having had enough of inner city living, I decided to move out to the suburbs. I was working for Brinker International at the time, and was making more than enough money to live in a less unsavory neighborhood. Once again, I filled out the proper change of address information. And, once again, I received a notice from the Dallas Probation & Parole Office. And although they'd told me I could disregard it, I called anyway, just to be safe. They apologized and told me they'd make a note of it.

It was about a year later that I finally got a look at the vicious felon who was besmirching my good name. My friends Scott, Eric, and I were playing around on Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's Internet at work, looking up property values for people we knew in Plano. (No reason for it... we were just bored.) Mike discovered the link to the Plano Registered Sexual Offenders page, and clicked on it. As a joke, he did a search on his name and pretended to be relieved that there were no hits. (I assume he was pretending.) We searched for Scott and Eric as well, with no results. But then they typed in my name, and got a hit. Christopher Irby.

I can't remember what his specific crime was, or if they even listed it. Fortunately, there was a picture of him there, so I didn't have to convince anybody that I wasn't leading some kind of crazy Marv Albert/Bill O'Reilly double life.

For the next few years, I heard nothing about my evil twin. But in 2002, just a month after I had left Brinker and set out to be a Writer™, I got a voice mail from some company that leases credit card verification equipment. The woman who left the message sounded rather agitated, and was threatening legal action if I didn't call her back immediately.

I called her, and she was very, VERY belligerent. She told me that I owed several thousand dollars in back charges, and if I didn't return the equipment to them, they'd tack another $10,000 to the total. I told her I had no idea what the hell she was talking about, and that I'd never leased any equipment from them.

She asked, "Is this Christopher Irby?"

I said, "This is James Christopher Irby."

"Is this the Christopher Irby who owns Cleaning Solutions?"

"I have no idea what Cleaning Solutions is."

"Do you reside in Plano?"

"No, I live in Dallas. I'm not the guy you're looking for."

"There can't be that many Christopher Irbys in the area. You're telling me you don't own Cleaning Solutions?"

"No, I don't own any kind of business."

So she demanded my social security number. I refused to give it to her, since she was the one that had originally called me. I told her she could give me the number she had, and I'd tell her if it was correct or not.

Then she started yelling at me. "I am trying to investigate a case of fraud here! If you really are innocent, you should be trying to help me instead of stonewalling!"

So I started yelling, "I'm not stonewalling anything! You've got the wrong guy!"

She was quiet for a second. Then she said in a particularly vicious voice, "I can't wait until our lawyers get you on that stand." And she hung up.

I was trembling with rage, and not sure what to do next. The first thing that occurred to me was that this was some kind of identity theft, so I went online and checked my credit reports. Nothing unexpected, nothing out of the ordinary. Then, I remembered Christopher R. Irby, who was a registered sexual offender in Plano. I tried to look up his information online, but I couldn't find a listing anywhere.

The next morning, I got another call from the credit place. This woman was much nicer, and was obviously the supervisor of the bitch I'd talked to the day before. She asked me if my name was Christopher Irby, and I told her I was James Christopher Irby. She asked me if the last four digits of my social security number were 3191, and I told her no, they weren't. She apologized profusely for the call I'd received the day before, and she said she'd make a note of it in the file so I wouldn't receive any more calls on the subject. I mentioned to her that there was a Christopher R. Irby who lived in Plano, and that I had received his mail on a couple of occasions. She thanked me, and that was it.

Well, almost. I still get calls on the matter every six months or so. The file gets handed off to somebody else to investigate. And they apparently check for a directory listing of Christopher Irby, and get my name. And saying to themselves, "Wow! I can't believe nobody thought to do this before," they call me and I have to explain to them that I'm not the Christopher Irby they're looking for.

The last call I got was in April of last year. The guy didn't even bother confirming my social security number or anything. I told him he had the wrong guy, and he apologized for bothering me. I haven't heard back, so I'm hoping the issue is resolved.

Every once in a while, I'll do a Google search for "chris irby," just to see if I'm wanted for any brutal murders. So far, I seem to be in the clear. The first three hits are all me, baby. There's also a Chris Irby who works in the Industrial Services Group with Collies Spectrum Cauble, whatever the hell that means. Sometimes, I get hits on a Wingate University football player named Chris Irby. And, at the moment, there is a YouTube video of somebody named Chris Irby who is apparently "riding wheelies on Flat Shoals road."

But my evil twin, for the time being, appears to be lying low. Probably holed up in his dark lair, waiting and plotting my demise...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Y Cant Irb R34D - A Literary Meme

With all the words spelled with numbers or being abbreviated to a single letter, it's become obvious that Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's Internet isn't exactly packed with literate types. That's why, when I ran across this meme on my pal Professor's blog, I jumped at the chance to prove that I had, at some point in my life, read a book that wasn't about Spiderman or Jesus.

1. What was your favorite book as a kid?
I absolutely *loved* the Great Brain series by John Fitzgerald. In case you don't remember, it was about a Catholic family living in Utah during the late 1800s. The narrator (supposedly Fitzgerald himself) related tales of his brother Tom, the titular Great Brain, who was a con artist and swindler. Most of the stories involved Tom's convoluted and utterly brilliant schemes to part his friends from their money. My third-grade teacher gave me a Bowdlerized version of Gulliver's Travels that jump started my love for Johnathan Swift. I liked Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I also really dug A Wrinkle in Time, The Borrowers, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

2. If you were stranded on that proverbial desert island (again!), what book or books (up to 5) would you want to have with you?
A nice, heavy Robert Jordan novel would come in handy for killing pesky polar bears and Others. But for reading purposes, I guess I'd have to go with those books that I read and reread without getting tired of them.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
The Chronicles of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
The World According to Garp, by John Irving
The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers

3. What was the first “naughty” book you read and in what way was it naughty?
Probably the Bible. Have you actually *read* it? Jeez! There's more sodomy and incest in Genesis than in all of Peter Greenaway's films put together!

4. If you were to publish your autobiography today, what would be the title?
Nerdvana: The Chris Irby Story. I was originally considering Diary of a Mad Black Woman, but Tyler Perry already stole my idea...

5. Would you rather look at nude pictures/pornography or read erotic fiction and why?
I would have to go with the reading, as long as it isn't slash furry Star Trek fan fiction...

Nobel Prize Winner Al Gore's Internet News

Google's Lost in Translation
So my pal and occasional hero John, of Random Squeegee fame, discovered yet another oddity in Google's translation tool. Sometimes, for reasons known only to the Lord, Google Translate will convert the English word "Crap" to the Spanish name "Guillermo."

So, any theories? I'm betting some anonymous Google programmer used to get pantsed and thrown in the girl's locker room by a high school bully named Guillermo. Or perhaps this is a personal vendetta being waged against Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Speaking of Tom Cruise and Anonymous Vendettas...
A gang of hackers who are calling themselves "Anonymous" have declared war on the Church of Scientology. So far, their attacks seem to consist primarily of posting melodramatic videos to YouTube about how they're going to bring Scientology down. The Church of Scientology International (or CSI, so you just know David Caruso is somehow involved) has responded by releasing a statement claiming that the videos have sparked interest in their "faith" and inviting people who want to learn more to visit their website.

The whole thing apparently started when a video of Tom Cruise was leaked onto the Internet. The video, excerpted from a Scientology presentation, features Cruise all wide-eyed and earnest as he claims:
When you're a Scientologist, and you drive by an accident, you know you have to do something about it, because you know you're the only one who can really help. We are the authorities on getting people off drugs. We are the authorities on the mind. We are the way to happiness. We can bring peace and unite cultures. Now is the time.
The Church of Scientology responded with their usual level of restraint by immediately sending out cease and desist letters to anybody who had ever come within 5 feet of a computer and threatening legal action against anyone who dared to offer the video for download. Because that always works. Few people took the Scientologist threats seriously (although the video did vanish from YouTube for a few hours before reappearing with a vengeance). Some folks consulted lawyers of their own and determined that CSI's legal team was, frankly, talking out of its collective ass.

The Scientologist's hamfisted tactics inspired a gang of self-proclaimed hackers to declare war on them. Usually, these guys devote their efforts to stealing passwords and harassing online communities who don't share their love of anime. But this time, they decided to put their talent for annoyance and mischief to work for the greater good.

I honestly don't know who to root for in this battle. On the one hand, you've got a massive organization with a history of bullying, brutalizing, and blackmailing people who have spoken out against it. And on the other hand, you've got a bunch of console cowboy wannabes who have obviously watched V for Vendetta a few times too many. It's like a cage match between Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter. I don't care who wins... I just wanna see lots of blood spilled.

To tell the truth, I would probably be more sympathetic towards Anonymous if I didn't think their campaign against CSI was simply a self-aggrandizing ploy full of sound and fury signifying nothing. I've always been a huge fan of subversive attacks on organized religion. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was a brilliant response to the Kansas School Board's decision to teach Intelligent Design as scientific theory. The First Church of Shatnerology hounded Bob Larson mercilessly with crank calls after he cheated on his wife with an employee named Margo. The satire of Landover Baptist Church is so convincing that several of their articles have been forwarded on by outraged Christians who weren't in on the joke. And God knows, I love me some Melba!

But there is nothing particularly clever or daring about the Anonymous attack on Scientology. In their videos, they claim (with kewl digitized voices) that they will "systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form." Yet, so far, their campaign of terror has consisted of some half-assed denial of service attacks (which accidentally took down a school in the Netherlands). Anonymous wants to pretend like they're a band of ragtag freedom fighters struggling against an oppressive evil organization. But while the Church of Scientology certainly fits the bill as an Evil Empire, Anonymous is not the Rebel Alliance. Hell, they're barely Jar Jar Binks.

Their "bold" attack actually comes off as petty, juvenile, and a bit silly. It's like expressing your outrage at the Bush administration by leaving a flaming sack of dog poo on the White House porch. The Church of Scientology has weathered organized assaults from people who were far better informed and far better equipped to damage them. Somehow, I doubt the pranks being perpetrated by Anonymous are going to have any lasting effect.

Ironically, if anything is going to bring down the Church of Scientology, I'm betting it'll be Tom Cruise.

Friday, January 25, 2008

R.I.P. Tom Cruise Heath Ledger

Poor Heath Ledger. Like it wasn't bad enough that his tragic death had to be somehow tied to one of the Olsen twins, now he's getting dissed by Google.

Some bored Googlers unearthed an odd bug in Google Translate, where translating "Heath Ledger" from English to Spanish would convert his name to "Tom Cruise."

Of course, Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's Internet was abuzz and it was only a matter of time before Google became aware of the issue and fixed it. So now, Heath is no longer in danger of being confused for a closeted couch-hopping maniacal Scientologist, and his spirit can rest in peace.

At least until Mary Kate Olsen starts doing the talk show circuit.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Framing the Fearful Symmetry

A few weeks ago, I took this test to see which political candidate is most aligned with my views and opinions, and I discovered that Dennis "Gollum" Kucinich and I are soul mates. I actually out-liberaled Hillary. I feel like such a Communist!

Even so, I've decided that I'm pulling for Hillary in the 2008 election. Not for reasons of politics... Lord knows, basing your vote on issues requires far more effort and intelligence than slightly more than half of the American voters are willing to expend. No, I am supporting Hillary purely for reasons of symmetry.

I like the idea of a Bush -> Clinton -> Bush -> Clinton progression. In fact, I'm hoping Hillary will serve for two terms, and then be followed by Jeb Bush for two terms. By that time, Chelsea and the Bush twins will probably be old enough to run.

Or, better still, maybe Mary Cheney could perform the ceremony to marry Chelsea to one of the Bush twins, thus uniting the two families into a powerful Bush-Clinton dynasty. Of course, they'd be hard pressed to come up with an heir unless they adopted, but still. You have to admit, the idea holds considerable appeal.

At least until Schwarzenegger spearheads the inevitable Kennedy Rebellion.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Not Feeling the Melodramatic Love

There's a small theater here in Dallas called Pocket Sandwich Theatre. The main item on their menu is pocket sandwiches, so it's not just a clever name, my friend. They do a wide variety of plays, but their bread and butter is the melodrama.

A melodrama is a silly play where the audience is invited to participate by cheering the hero, booing the villain, and sighing wistfully for the damsel in distress. These plays are crammed so full of bad jokes that they're in danger of collapsing in on themselves, and they are acted so broadly that no scenery is left unchewed. A piano player provides the musical score, and popcorn is provided (at 50 cents a basket) so the audience will have something to throw at the cast. It's intentionally bad theater, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.

My friend Sean and I have been going to PST (as we aging hipster doofuses like to call it) since the mid 80s. In fact, it was the summer after my freshman year at Texas Tech that Sean and his girlfriend of the time took me to see Fu Manchu: The Melodrama, and I was hooked.

All through the 90s, we were regulars at PST. Our table of choice was the "moose table," a booth along the back wall decorated by an enormous stuffed moose head. And after seeing dozens and dozens of the melodramas, Sean and I came to realize, 'Hey, I bet we could write one of those!"

Our first effort was in 1992. We decided it would be fun to write a swashbuckling pirate play, so we went to work on Blackbeard: The Melodrama. Our plot was pretty threadbare, but we had one gag that was guaranteed to kill. It was my idea to start Blackbeard off as a regular looking guy. Then, near the end of the first scene, he loses an eye. Sometime in the second scene, he gets his hand cut off. All through the play, he loses body parts until the last act, when he shows up with an eyepatch, a hook, a pegleg, etc. It was comedy gold, I tell ya!

We met regularly at Jason's Deli, which was right next door to Pocket Sandwich Theatre, and we hammered away at our plot, trying to stretch it out to the requisite three acts. And just about the time we got our first act into shape, PST announced their brand new play, Captain Blood: The Melodrama. And one of the gags involved a man who starts off relatively normal, but who loses body parts over the course of the play until he's left with an eyepatch, a hook, a pegleg, etc.

(To this day, I still maintain that it was an unfortunate coincidence. Sean, however, is convinced that somebody overheard us and stole our ideas.)

We were a bit disheartened and abandoned our efforts for several years. When we started talking about writing another melodrama, I suggested we try to come up with a genre that hadn't already been done. Sean suggested we meet somewhere else besides Jason's Deli.

Monster movies and science fiction had been done to death, so Sean and I brainstormed to come up with something different. Sean wanted to do a film noir, with gangsters, a private detective, and a femme fatale. We played around with the idea for a few weeks, but we just couldn't think of anything to do with it. Then, one night, we happened to catch Stalag 17 on AMC and inspiration struck. I suggested we write a melodrama making fun of WWII POW movies, such as Stalag 17, The Great Escape, and Bridge on the River Kwai. Sean suggested making our emcee General Patton, and we could have him stand in front of an American flag when he was introducing the play.

One by one, we came up with great bits and hung them on the basic plot of Stalag 17 (with a little bit of The Great Escape and Casablanca thrown in). A group of American POWs, led by the dashing and handsome Colonel Francis Blake, have made several failed attempts to escape from Stalag 18. A couple of British pilots, recently shot down over Wankendorf, are brought to the stalag and interred there until they can be taken to Berlin for questioning. But one of the pilots is actually the beautiful Marie LeVoleur, a cross-dressing assassin in the French underground. And, as it turns out, she and Blake were once romantically involved. So, in order to keep her from falling into the hands of the Gestapo, they come up with a ridiculously convoluted and totally retarded plan to help her escape. We named our play The Great Escape from Stalag 18: The Melodrama.

Now, the TV show Hogan's Heroes had been a parody of Stalag 17 as well. In fact, the character of Sergeant Schultz had originally appeared in Stalag 17 (although he hadn't been nearly as buffoonish as his television counterpart). I knew comparisons between our play and Hogan's Heroes were inevitable, but I wanted to downplay them as much as possible. When Sean pitched our play to Pocket Sandwich Theatre, he emphasized that it was a parody of WWII POW movies, and that it was based on Stalag 17 and The Great Escape.

So in September 2005, we submitted our play to Pocket Sandwich Theatre. In December 2005, they told us that they'd loved it and wanted to add it to their 2006 lineup. They eventually scheduled it to run through July and August. Sean and I were, in a word, ecstatic.

We met with the director in March, and the first thing he told us was, "I really like this play. It's just like Hogan's Heroes!" He also gave us some notes and requested some modifications. Some of them rankled me a bit, but most of them were sound and made total sense. (He wanted us to flesh out one of the bad guys, bringing her into the play earlier and giving her a proper come-uppance at the end. He also suggested shifting some of the bits around so the play would flow better and the acts would be more balanced. He suggested some subplots that we could weave into the main story to pad it out a bit.) We made the requested changes and the play went into production. And, much to my chagrin, it was billed as "a spoof of 1970s WWII television comedies."

It was my first real theatrical experience, and I have to admit that it was a blast. All of the actors seemed to love their parts (Sean and I had labored to make sure just about everybody had at least one memorable bit). The director had come up with some slapsticky interpretations but, as I mentioned before, lowbrow is the name of the game with these plays. I had no complaints.

Until the last dress rehearsal, that is. I knocked off work and met Sean up at PST to watch them go through it one last time before opening night. Everything went swimmingly. It was pure magic. And then, they got to the last scene and suddenly our hero Colonel Blake is delivering this plodding, unfunny speech about how they'll keep trying and trying and won't rest until everybody has escaped, so get back to digging and blah, blah, blah.

Our original ending had been a takeoff on Casablanca's "This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship." The director apologized to us and said he'd tried to make our ending work, but he just couldn't, so he'd written this other one.

I was furious. I hated the new ending, and didn't see where it was any kind of improvement over the original. It was just a clunky, unfunny coda. People accused me of being defensive, but it wasn't like I felt the original ending was sacrosanct or anything. I was just pissed that the director had taken it on himself to rewrite it instead of asking us.

Opening night, the audience was packed with people who love me and Sean. (There was also a celebrity in the audience... no one I know, but apparently he has a show on Nickelodeon or Disney Channel or something). We took our usual seats at the moose table. Stephanie attended the show with me, looking astonishingly hot and making me feel like a real stud. The director invited us to come backstage for a toast before the curtain went up. I was never involved in anything remotely theatrical (unless you count a decade of marching band), so it was all swanky. Add to that the tens of dollars that Sean and I made for our writing effort, and I was really feeling pretty goddamned glamorous.

Despite the new ending (or maybe because of it... what the hell do I know?), the play was apparently a success. Most of the performances sold out. Sean stayed in touch with several of the actors, who wanted to know when we were going to write another one. The guys at PST started bugging us for a new one as well. So in December 2006, Sean and I got together and discussed our next magnum opus.

We still liked the idea of doing a film noir gangster movie type thing, and we brainstormed plot ideas for hours. We riffed on movies like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, but we couldn't think of anything funny to do that didn't come off like a fifth rate Carol Burnett sketch. I suggested doing something akin to Scarface or The Godfather, about a young man's rise to infamy in the world of organized crime. But still, we couldn't help but feel like it had all been done before.

Then, Sean hit on the brilliant idea of making our hero a masked avenger, like The Shadow or The Spirit. He envisioned some guy in a dark trench coat and fedora wearing a mask and wielding guns. Playing off of that, I suggested we go with a radio serial theme. Our emcee could be the radio host and could remain a character throughout, narrating the action. One of us (I can't remember which) came up with the idea of adding horribly dated commercials to the mix ("Sophisticate Cigarettes, now with asbestos to prevent lung fever.") As we hammered out our plot, our noirish story became rather outlandish. Our hero evolved into a shadowy mystic who was orphaned in the Himalayas and trained in the inscrutable arts of the Orient. After several rejected names, we finally settled on Captain Phantasm. His opponent, whom Sean dubbed Dr. Noir, was a maniacal French genius whose scheme was to poison the Metroville City water supply so he could sell his bottled water to the masses. The first and second acts ended with dramatic cliffhangers, and the second act even featured a musical number with lyrics by me and Sean. It was gold!

In September 2007, Sean and I finally finished Captain Phantasm vs. the Nefarious Dr. Noir: A Melodramatic Serial in Three Parts and sent it in to PST. Then we sat back and waited for a response. And waited. And waited. And waited. Sean followed up with them to make sure they'd received it.

We finally heard back from PST a few weeks ago. It seems the person who is now responsible for reading the new scripts is the man who directed The Great Escape from Stalag 18. He emailed Sean to let him know that he'd gotten behind in his reading, and hadn't managed to get to "Capt. Nefarious" yet. So we won't make the 2008 schedule, but we will "go into next year's consideration."

So we'll see. Sean's the one in touch with PST, so I'm unloading all my prima donna demands on him. "Tell them they can't make any changes to the script without consulting with us." "Tell them we want to be involved in writing the promotional material." "Tell them we don't want any brown M&Ms in our candy bowl." I'm sure they'll come back with suggestions/demands of their own.

But I'm not really feeling the melodramatic love this time around. Despite that, Sean and I are about to start on our third and likely final collaboration (not counting the Blackbeard fiasco). It's a murder mystery entitled Dial M for Melodrama, and we're going to be ripping on geezer mystery series like Murder She Wrote, as well as all those Law and Order and CSI shows.

And if Pocket Sandwich Theatre says no, I guess we can always act the goddamn thing out with hand puppets and post it to YouTube...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Neurodiversity Training

My nephew Campbell was diagnosed as mildly to moderately autistic this week.

It didn't really come as a surprise to any of us, but it's still a little weird to hear so definite a term put on it. He's two years old and hasn't started talking yet. He tends to get frustrated and start screaming for inexplicable reasons. He's surprisingly passive, to the point that any time his twin brother Luke snatches a toy away from him, he simply shrugs it off and picks up another. He's always been partial to playing with blocks, and he spends hours just stacking them up, knocking them down, and then stacking them up again.

So the possibility of autism had definitely been discussed, but it's such a nebulous and odd condition that nobody seemed to know for certain. Last year, when my sister Sunny was grocery shopping with the twins, Campbell started screaming. He wasn't agitated or freaking out or anything. He was just screaming. When Sunny finally got him settled down, a woman approached her and started asking her all these questions about therapists and programs. She told my sister that her son had been diagnosed as autistic the year before, and started giving her all kinds of advice. No doubt the woman meant well and was just happy to find a kindred soul, but it freaked my sister out a little. She told the woman that Campbell was seeing a therapist, but they were still trying to determine just why he was so slow to develop. The woman told Sunny that she and her husband were in denial as well, and now she regretted taking so long to get her son diagnosed. My sister finally thanked the woman for her "kind words," paid for her groceries, went home, and bawled her eyes out.

So now it's official, or as official as anything regarding autism can be. There's a lot of culture that has sprung up around the condition, and a lot of controversy amongst people with autism and their families. There is actually an autism rights movement that encourages autistic people to "embrace their neurodiversity" and encourages the "neurotypicals" to accept autistics instead of trying to "cure" them. Some even view their autism as a gift, and resent being treated as if they are somehow disabled.

But while embracing the condition may work for those who are mildly affected, it isn't quite so easy for the moderately or the severely autistic. The nature of the condition makes it difficult for them to develop any kind of meaningful relationships with others. Some are able to "learn" the empathy necessary to interact, but others never develop that understanding.

So of course, there are some who feel the autism rights movement is doing more harm than good by extolling autism as a virtue and a gift rather than a condition. They want a cure, and they fear that efforts might be compromised if people view autism as a lifestyle rather than a disorder.

(And for the record, the whole idea of an autistic savant is one that has been exaggerated in popular culture. While many autistic people do show a real aptitude for logical, process-based disciplines, like mathematics and engineering, true savants are a rarity.)

I have no idea where I fall in this spectrum. I guess it will depend on how Campbell develops. Right now, one of the major milestones is to develop his language by the time he's six. If he can do that, he'll have a fighting chance.

I love my nephew, and all I want is for him to feel that and know what it means. He has two parents and an older brother (Christopher) who are devoted to him, and I have no doubt his twin brother Luke will be as well. No matter what happens.

There have been a few controversial studies that have linked autism with "geek" and "nerd" behavior. If that turns out to be true, then Campbell was certainly born into the right family...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Getting to Know You... IN THE BIBLICAL SENSE!

I was browsing the TV Tropes website, which has become a primary time suck in my life in recent days, when I ran across this ad. All I could think was "Wow! Check out the enormous rack on that Christian! Please turn in your Bibles to the Book of Hooteronomy!"

By the way, Christians are allowed to join for free. I wonder who makes that distinction. Do Mormons count? Not if you ask the Baptists. Do Baptists count? Not if you ask the Church of Christ. "Sorry sir, but the obscure Gnostic sect to which you belong was declared heretical by Pope Angus VI back in 983 A.D. I'm afraid you'll have to pony up the $25 service charge."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Keep Watching the Skies!

Actual excerpts from Essentials of Survival: Emergency Action to Save Lives, a pamphlet published by the Dallas City-County Civil Defense and Disaster Commission in 1958.

Civil Defense will prevent us from becoming a panic-stricken mob of people, unable to organize and fight back immediately after such an attack. Civil Defense will keep us alive, alert, and organized -- able to hit hard and fast as this Nation of 170 million people has shown the world it is able to do under our democratic way of life.
When the only way an atomic bomb could be dropped on our Country was from an airplane, we might have had sufficient warning time to evacuate our City. With the perfection of Intercontinental missiles and missiles launched from submarines, our warning time may be cut to zero.

Therefore the Mayor contemplates he will give no "order" for everyone to evacuate the City.

Certain "essential citizens" will have to remain to conduct the business of law enforcement, rescue, medical attention, public utilities and like services. Other citizens, including many women and children can make their plans to leave the City should information over Conelrad indicate the probability of an attack.
Lie flat on ground. Pick a gutter, ditch, or a curb. Protect head and neck with your arms. Remain until shock wave has passed. Move quickly to nearest protection from "fallout" -- a building, basement, your home or other shelter.
Communism is a way of existence in a total socialist state, such as the U.S.S.R. It is an ideology which results in slavery under a system of terror imposed by a Communist dictator government. It is a device by which the International Communist Conspiracy intends to rule the world. Communists want America. They want your property and you.

Although there are scores of books written by Communists and others on the theory, philosophy and ideology of Communism, it all boils down to this:

The Communists pretend they will make the world over into a paradise of materialism, in which each man will share according to his needs.
  • By promising a Materialistic heaven on earth they appeal to the Godless.
  • By stressing science they interest the unwary intellectual.
  • By promising security they capture the mind of the poor.
  • By pretending to Champion the Underprivileged they ensnare the idealistic.
  • By promising something for nothing they win the support of the shiftless.
The Communist Party U.S.A. operates in the open and also underground. The open party is not very large nationally, having a total of perhaps 15,000 dues-paying members. They purposely limit their hard core membership to keep tight control among the dedicated revolutionaries. However, there are many thousands of fellow travelers, pinks, fifth columnists, Communist Front Members and others who are in the Communist orbit and who could not be counted on for loyalty to our government in time of Communist threat. These are people very dangerous to our country. Many are disgruntled with their state of life. Many are opportunists. Many are intellectuals who are soft on Communism for reasons known only to themselves.

The underground Communist organization is composed of spies, saboteurs, couriers and others who can work themselves into strategic positions in government, industry, art, unions, news media, school systems, entertainment, Religious organizations and civic groups. In fact practically every phase of American life has been infiltrated by Communists or Communist sympathizers.
The principles of Americanism that have made this Country the greatest in the world are:
  • A belief in God
  • Freedom of the individual
  • Private Enterprise System of Economy -- the right to own property and work for reward
  • Representative Republic System of Government where the government is the protector of the individual under the Constitution
  • Determination of policy by persuasion and not by force.
With God's help America will remain a land where people still know how to be free and brave.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm thinking our country will probably make great strides in international diplomacy once we finally get someone into office who didn't grow up reading this shit.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Holy Catch Phrases, Batman!

Recently, I was reading through John's archives over on Random Squeegee. He's a funny, funny boy who deserves to have hordes of slavish followers, and the fact that he isn't a world-renowned celebrity on Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's Internet is just one of the many things that mocks my childlike faith in God. And if it sounds like I have a little bit of a man-crush on him, what can I say? One time when I was feeling low, he sent me a picture of Rodney Dangerfield's zombie eating the brains of Karl Rove. So although I've never actually met the guy, I'm not ashamed to say that I love him with the robust, manly love that might exist between two vikings who are secure enough in their manhood to dress up in red chiffon and ride each other up and down the hallway...

What the fuck was I talking about?

Oh, yeah. Anyway, John has posted at length about his co-worker Joe, who is apparently more annoying than a sack of Bill O'Reillys. As near as I can tell, Joe is a socially-awkward man in his fifties who attempts to reach out to people by spewing random pop-culture catch phrases that make absolutely no sense out of context.

Full disclosure time... I think I used to be like Joe. I was constantly tossing off non-sequitors and regurgitating crap I'd heard on TV in an effort to make myself seem interesting. How bad was I? Well, I remember when that horrible Rob Schneider skit debuted on Saturday Night Live where he played the office worker who sat near the photocopier and kept regaling his co-workers with silly variations of their names. "Kristine! Kristiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine! The Kristinator! Kristyl! Krystal Burger! Onward Kristian Soldiers! Makin' the copiiiies!" And when I went to work on Monday, no fewer than five people made a point of telling me, "There was a guy JUST LIKE YOU on Saturday Night Live!"

So I'm probably lobbing stones from the patio of my glass house by giggling at the Joe stories, but in my defense, that was 20 years ago. I've since grown out of it. I no longer spend my every waking moment trying to be the wacky office guy. Life's just too short.

(Recently, one of the senior managers where I work told me that I reminded him of Jim Gaffigan. I choose to believe it's because of my wry and insightful sense of humor, and not because I'm whiter than a klavern of albino Republicans.)

During the 90s, when I was working at Brinker International (the restaurant company, not the armored car company), I was surrounded by folks who were trying way too hard to be funny. And, like Joe, they did it by randomly spouting catch phrases that had long since surpassed their use by date. Any remark made in a group of three or more was certain to be met with unfunny retorts like "Don't go there," and "That's just a little tooooo much information," and "That's what she said," and OH MY GOD! SHUT THE FUCK UP, TRAGICALLY UNHIP CO-WORKERS!

There was one programmer named Rex who performed no discernible function, yet managed to retain his job at Brinker for several years. We used to joke that Rex was a barometer for the rest of us, because he illustrated just how badly we could fuck up and still not get fired. Anyway, Rex got hold of the phrase "That's not what you said last night," and continued to flail away at it long after it was little more than a horse-shaped pile of dust. I mean, it didn't even have to make any sense. He used it like most people use punctuation.

So one day, I conspired with my friends Scott and Mike. The programmers and the QA team were getting together for a group lunch, and we decided we were going to catch phrase everyone to death. The plan was this: every time somebody said anything, no matter how innocuous, I would turn it into an innuendo. Scott would reply, "Well hell, who doesn't?" And Mike would end it with, "That's not what you said last night."

For nearly half an hour, the conversation at the table went like this.

I don't think we're going to be able to meet that deadline.

I've got a deadline you can meet.

Well hell, who doesn't?

That's not what you said last night.

Someone else:
Maybe we could shorten the testing schedule.

I've got a testing schedule you can shorten.

Well hell, who doesn't?

That's not what you said last night.

Someone else:
Can we push back the rollout date?

I've got a rollout date you can push back.

Well hell, who doesn't?

That's not what you said last night.

Someone else:
Jesus, would you guys stop doing that?

I've got something you can stop doing.

Well hell, who doesn't?

That's not what you said last night.

Our little object lesson did nothing to curtail Rex and the rest of the catch phrasers. If anything, they became even more egregious. In fact, most people hadn't really noticed it before Scott, Mike, and I had done our little stunt, and now they blamed us for having started the trend in the first place.

However, Hands Across America didn't solve the homeless problem and We Are the World didn't put an end to famine in Africa, but they're considered successful because they raised people's awareness of those issues. And I like to think that's what Scott, Mike, and I did. We raised people's awareness, baby. We raised the *shit* out of it.

The world "hero" gets bandied about so often that it has just about lost its meaning. But like Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi, we took a stand against a perceived injustice. And although this act caused us to be labeled pariahs and outcasts, I like to think that future generations will vindicate us as heroes.

I've got something you can vindicate.

Well hell, who doesn't?

That's not what you said last night.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year's Resolutions for 2008

  • I will spend more time lying on the couch and watching TV. (It's important to set realistic, attainable goals.)
  • I will never miss an opportunity to refer to the World Wide Web as "Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's Internet."
  • I will hone my Photoshop skills so I can finally get my lolmanson page off the ground.

  • I will stop bugging Stephanie to fulfill my Little Debbie fantasies by dressing up in a gingham dress and bonnet and feeding me Swiss Cake Rolls.
  • I will do everything in my power to eradicate the words guesstimate, ginormous, and chillax from the English lexicon.
  • I will make an effort to go door to door and meet my neighbors, in accordance with the terms of my probation.
  • I will start a wave in church.
  • I will celebrate the end of George W. Bush's presidency by drinking wine from the skull of Ann Coulter.