Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The ABC's of Civil Society. Or Coffee Shop Patrons Et Al.

I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. Espresso, free internet, and espresso being the top three reasons. There are certain traits that make for a great coffee house. It can't be overly bright, can't have bad, mass produced art on the walls, can't have a muzak system oozing emasculated versions of popular music into the air. But all of this can be somewhat forgiven if the patrons are friendly, intelligent, engaged, and polite.

Last night, in the throes of boredom, I pulled into a Starbucks (T-Bones my regular haunt was closed) to borrow their WiFi and within a few short minutes my coffee house experience was sorely compromised. In an open letter to the offending individuals, I hope that by highlighting their grievous behavior it may lead to less of the same in the future. The letter, as follows:

Dear Person A, please do not park in handicap spots. They are not for you unless you have a physical disability that makes traversing a parking lot a painful chore. If you are merely lazy, as I assume you are, since you just walked spryly to your seat, then kindly move your vehicle.

Person B, if you might abstain from your vulgarity and raunch infested ramblings as there are children within earshot. Perhaps like person A, you have the inability to perceive your surroundings, you do not see the child, the one that is six feet from your locale, the one directly in front of you, as obvious as, say, bold blue lines paralleling a vehicle.

Hattiesburg Artist Spence Townsend's epic mural on T'bones' west wall.

Person C, your blue tooth headset is sooooo 2007. And although I have a penchant for nostalgia, 2007 was not a good vintage. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, quit talking loudly to the air. If you are driving then I am the first to commend your responsible citizenry using your hands-free device, but if you are in a coffee shop, please refrain from this awkward monologue, this one-act play of intermittent pauses and incomplete thoughts that do not segue into other incomplete thoughts. Your volume only serves to emphasize the mundane nature of your half of the conversation. Brevity being the essence of wit, you have far exceeded those parameters, and now, the rest of us can only hope you have forgotten to charge your phone.

Person D, your mom does not work here. Bus your own trash. Or tip accordingly. Yes you did just pay 5 dollars for a very bastardized version of some formerly proud Italian coffee drink, but that does not give you carte blanche to be a slob.

Person E, berating the barista will not give you the satisfaction you are demanding, nor that which you feel you deserve. It will however get your drink spat in on some subsequent visit. That is not a threat, that isn't a promise, that's just payback. Subsequently, please stop acting as if you have experienced some great injustice. There is no conspiracy to make your beverage wrong. Perhaps your finely tuned palate is just too precise for this establishment. All apologies.

Person F, forgive me for breathing your air. For even being seen in your peripheral. If I could be unborn, I would at this moment do so. Needless to say, if ever I am on fire, I would not imposition you to waste a single drop of any of your bodily fluid to ease even my slightest discomfort at being ablaze.

Live music at T-Bones featuring Scott Chism and The Better Half. The voice of an angel mingled with the heart of an outlaw. (photo by Sam Miller of Blue Healer Music)

Person G, no matter how many times you tell your racist joke, it's still not funny, it still reveals the limited scope of your intelligence, your deep-seated insecurities, and your latent fear of all that is not homogenized. I have to this point refrained from any and all judgments on your breeding. That could however change at any moment.

Person H, your description of religion, more like an autopsy, was a lot like talking to an oral hygienist about kissing. While factual, and anatomically precise, it disemboweled any and all romance from the act. Your Greek pronunciations, while endearing with your slow southern drawl, were in fact lost on us, your English-speaking coffee house congregation.

Person I, thank you for the nice tract on the evils of rock and roll. I would be glad to throw it away for you. I'm not sure what is more inane, the fact that you profiled my long hair or the fact that the illustrator of your little comic strip sermon did. If you are the same person, and I'm not saying you are, quit leaving those other tracts around that look like five dollar bills. If you want people to convert, use real 5's and write a scripture on them. Also, if you ever leave a fake five for a tip for the waitress making $2.25 an hour, the one with three kids and a deadbeat old man, God's gonna give you the pox. No, not really, but Imma ask Him to.

Person J, and person K, rent a room. I have seen this reality show. Your public displays of affection are merely cries for help. J, she'll never get your "art". And K, to be honest, there may very well be nothing to get.

Joe Van Zandt, one of my favorite songwriters who along with his lovely wife, is a long time friend of Conspiracy Of Hope.

Person L, loudly talking politics in public, well it's a lot like a bathroom exhaust fan, only in reverse.

Person M, your ringtone is soooooo rad. Nickleback is sooooooooo rad. You should probably just not answer that call and let the rest of us hear the hook one more time...

"Screamin' no!
We're never gonna quit, ain't nothing wrong with it
Just acting like we're animals
No, no matter where we go 'cause everybody knows
We're just a couple animals"

If ever there has been a reason to attack Canada....or 4...
Person N, the perfume you're wearing is really nice. I will think about it later tonight while it's still burning my eyes, still lingering on my taste buds, still clinging to every fiber of my clothes.

Person O, there is a logic, an etiquette, a method to the madness of waiting in line. While understandably nuanced and potentially cumbersome to the unintiated, here are some helpful tips. The following are never ok: 1. Your loud exasperated sighs at the slow speed of the line's movement. If you do not have the time to wait, don't. Or get here earlier, or quit booking your schedule so tight. I know you are important, that the great machine of civilization will grind to a halt without your prompt attention, but since you are so important, maybe you owe it to the rest of us to quit taking so many coffee breaks. 2. You will not move the line quicker by your proximity to the person in front of you. If I can feel your hot breath on my neck...too close. If I can tell what you have in your front pockets without looking...yep, you guessed it, way too close.

More of Spence's incredible art. He has donated generously to Conspiracy Of Hope for our art show fundraisers. He is also a talented musician. Check out he and his brother's band Kookaburra!?

Person P, Q, and R, at first I thought you three were script writers for Desperate Housewives or Jersey Shore, but then I realized you were just viscous gossips. Please refrain from airing the dirty laundry of your friends, family and neighbors. Though by your ecstatic tone it is evident that you live vicariously through their sordid lives, please remember they are somebodies child, parent, or spouse. When and if it happens to you or your loved ones you'll see there really is no "fun" in dysfunction.

Person S, while ingenious, using a fork as a back-scratcher is really quite uncouth. If this were a camp-out or a locker room, high fives would be in order, but there are other people here trying to eat. But if you must persist in scratching your back with your eating utensil, please, for the love of all that is holy, refrain from eating with it afterward.

Person T and U, if you continue with your unfettered use of sugary pet names and syrupy baby talk you're going to send the whole lot of us into a diabetic coma.

Person V, although it may be hard to believe, a human sneeze travels at about 60mph. The fastest sneezes have been recorded at well over 120 mph. I'm no mathmatologist, but the distance from your nose to my face is like 20 feet. That means in like a hundredth of a second....well....just cover yer friggin' nose. Gracias.

Person W, that dry gurgling sound at the end of your straw means your drink is finished. I know it seems like there should be more, but there's not, and there's never gonna be. Just walk away man. Just walk away.

Person X, thank you for being such a willing and amicable ambassador for America. But the person to whom you are speaking is not hard of hearing, nor illiterate. They merely speak another language. Please stop talking loudly in long drawn out monosyllabic sentences. The dumb look on their face is merely one of astonishment and embarrassment and not ignorance as you might suppose.

Person Y, your conspiracy theories of government complicity in covering up alien involvement in fixing major sporting events and of stealing patents, like yours for the perpetual motion machine, is well founded. In fact I am quite sure that the man, let's call him person Z, the one with the shades sitting covertly in the corner, the one snoring loudly, pretending to be asleep, is following you. Yes, that one, with the ominous wristwatch that as we both know is a mind reading device. You should probably leave, quickly. Before you make anymore children cry with your tales of CIA plots to euthanize the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and Justin Beiber.

And to all, as Groucho Marx once said, I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it. So stop by T-Bones sometime, the coffee's absolutely amazing and the people are just plain lovely. Honest.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The 27 Club.

I remember where I was when Kurt Cobain died. I remember feeling my generation had lost an important voice. I remember the knot in my stomach for days. I remember going on the air that night (I was DJing then) and announcing his apparent suicide. I remember trying to conjure something authentic, hopeful, some tangible words of comfort. I loved Nirvana. Prayed for Kurt all the time. But that was years ago and time makes you forget. And then today, Amy Winehouse's death was announced and the memories came back around.

The 27 club. Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Cobain and now Amy Winehouse. The Doors frontman predicted it..."it's better to burn out then to fade away."

Today, with the news of a mass shooting in Norway, a car bombing there, trains derailing-32 dead in China, and Miss Winehouse's death heavy on my heart, I walked around New Orleans. I sulked through the D-Day exhibit, saw the worst of what men can do to each other, the death machines, the violated children, the death count unimaginable. I heard the tales of the heroes, the good guys, the liberators...I am thankful for their sacrifice but war stains everyone, scars nations for generations.

Child victim of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The war ended, but the wounds remain.

Later I saw the homeless as they slept under the interstate, as they lined up for a free meal, as they sat, staring blankly into the gray fog of despair and I teared up. I always tear up. I mean I can be in the middle of a crowd and see suffering and I'm choking back the tears.

Then I hear this man yelling at his son, his 4 year old son. And he says. Shut the hell up motherf*&%er" and I'm reeling from the blow of it, from the hate everywhere.

92 people dead in Norway. Some as young as 16, dead! And they are saying this sociopath was a "christian".

Anders Behring Breivik, the 32 year old shooter. The police identified him as a right-wing fundamentalist Christian.

While other "christians" are saying "good riddance" to Amy Winehouse, saying she got what she deserved, just like there were those that reveled in Cobain's suicide, and the rock stars before him. Calling it the judgement of God.

Well I'm tired. I'm tired of apologizing for Christians. I'm tired of people saying they are Christians and using the cross as a blunt instrument. I am tired of the violence. I am tired of the hate. I am tired of the children taking the brunt of our wrath, growing up in a vacuum of lovelessness and then putting guns in their mouths, needles in their arms. I am tired.

I love Jesus. He is wonderful beyond wonder. I believe with all my heart He is the way to the Father. But it's getting harder to be comfortable with being called a Christian.

C'mon church! Love! Love like He loved you. Love without fear, without reservation, with reckless abandon. Take the 163 million orphans and the millions of widows into your hearts and homes. Rescue the oppressed, the 27 million enslaved. Divest yourself from the treasures of this world, invest yourself into the souls of men. It's been 2000 years since Christ showed us how, showed us what love looks like. Since He traded the glory of heaven's throne for a bloody cross, the royal diadem for a crown of thorns, the company of worshiping angels for the taunts and curses of hell's wretched host.

Sorry for the sermon, like I said, I'm tired.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The New Math.

My evermore favorite Hollywood wonder-girl, Shannon Ivey, sent me the video below. The world's most expensive car wash- 6000 dollars, or 20 times the per capita income of The Congo. Twelve times that of Liberia, and ten times that of Guinea, Somalia, Comoros and Solomons.

That's 6000 dollars, or 200 dollars more than the combined incomes of the ten poorest nations in the world's average worker's yearly salaries.

There are well over 200 million people with no home or viable shelter in the world but no such misfortune for a pampered pair of UK Great Danes. Their dog palace is being built on an exclusive estate near Cirencester in Gloucestershire.

After a long day of sniffing each others rears and licking their, well you know, the dogs will retire on "sheepskin-lined, temperature-controlled beds, soothe their aches in an 18in-deep spa with a saline treatment built in because it's good for their coats. Then howl along to a £15,000 sound system and watch dog-friendly programs on a 52-inch plasma TV. Automatic dispensers will ensure that chilled, filtered water and deluxe dry food are always available. The two dogs will each have a bedroom with large windows which overlook their own private playground."

"There is also a sophisticated retina scanner installed at the front door to stop any other dogs getting in. Plans for the 400 thousand dollar pet palace, and for an adjoining house for the dogs' mistress, have been approved and building work is to begin at the Lower Mill Estate in the spring."

OK. Thinking caps on Mathmateers: 400,000 dollars. That's over 1300 times the average yearly wage for a resident of the Congo. So if 1333 Congolese workers worked for an entire year these two dogs and their canine concubines would not have to be homeless.

And back on this side of the pond...

Barkley Hotel and Spa, where, according to the ABC report, if you are "crazy about dogs" your pet can have a bedtime story read to him or her in front of a soothing artificial fire. Last year 41 billion dollars was spent on pets.

Pop Quiz!

How many Somalian men, women and children must work an entire year for Fluffy and Fido to live in luxury? If you said 68 thousand, you're way wrong! Try 68 million! Or my dear Mathmateers, the entire population of Somalia, seven times over, working an entire year plus overtime to care for the pets of the first world.

Not Great Danes, just two little Somali boys.

Picture your little girl, dying of thirst, and the clean water of a 6000 dollar car wash, circling down the drain. Picture your starving son, digging his dinner from the dumpster while dog bowls are auto-filled and auto-cleaned. Picture the one dearest your heart, and do the math. Are they any more important than somebody else's dearest one? Are all men created equal? Or is that the old math, the math of poets, and lovers, and a savior who laid down His life for His brothers.

Study hard....the Pop quiz is coming....what have you done for the least of these?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Like Voices From Another Room.

-written February '11

Today drags
Stays a beat behind
And the lovely song this morning was singing
Has gone terribly out of tune
I’m sitting by a roaring fire
Which is actually a television
With a recording of a fire
Set on endless repeat
All light and no heat
And outside the sunset like a hemorrhage
Bleeds through a bandage of clouds
And it’s going to be one of those nights
Where secrets get passed around
Get spilled out
All over the frozen ground
Somebody turns up the volume on the TV
And the hiss and crackle of the fake fire
Sounds a little like voices from another room
Like the echoes of whispers
And there is a woman at a table
Slowly writing in her journal
Everything she wants to tell her husband
Who is far away fighting a war
She rereads past entries
All the moments he has missed
And then a flurry of scribbling, a sad smile,
And the little artificial fire reflecting
In the loneliest eyes you’ve ever seen

For Tobi....and her soldier. Godspeed him home...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Patience of Obama?

Job. Defending his innocence, lamenting his loss.

As always, politics aside. Nancy Pelosi said this week that President Obama's patience was much greater than that of the Biblical figure Job.

Ms. Pelosi, darlin', Job lost all of his children. He lost all his livestock. He was covered in boils. Satan himself was out to get Job and even, at least in Job's mind, so was God. Have ya even read the Bible Ms. Pelosi? The President's had a rocky year, his detractors are many, but all things considered, Mr. Obama is in pretty good shape.

Please refrain from the type of empty rhetoric and baseless hyperbole that insults people of faith everywhere.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Rich Eat Gold While The Poor Eat Dirt.

Haiti's per capita income is around 1,100 dollars US. Same as this Louis Vuitton iPhone case...

And this bagel...

...created by Executive Chef Frank Tujague for New York’s Westin Hotel. The bagel is topped with white truffle cream cheese and goji berry infused Riesling jelly with golden leaves.

And that's just Haiti.... who grows dearer my heart everyday.

Then of course there is the unfathomable, unconscionable statistic, that every year 14 million children die from starvation.

Only made more perverse by the fact that while those children starve, restaurant patrons can purchase the curry dish below for the bargain basement price of 3200 dollars.

The curry dish was made as some sort of twisted tribute to the DVD release of Slumdog Millionaire, a movie that featured prominently the trafficking of slum dwelling children. Bombay Brassiere "packed this curry platter full of the most expensive ingredients they could find. Devon crab and white truffle and a half tomato filled with Beluga caviar and dressed with gold leaf are just the start of this lavish dish. A Scottish lobster, also coated with gold, four abalone and four shelled and hollowed quails’ eggs filled with even more caviar round out the dish."

Or this 4,200 dollar pizza...

The 12 inch pizza pie is "densely packed with an assortment of some of the world’s most expensive food ingredients, such as lobster marinated in cognac, caviar soaked in champagne, sunblush tomato sauce, Scottish smoked salmon, venison medallions, prosciutto, and vintage balsamic vinegar. In addition to all these fine ingredients, it’s topped with a significant amount of edible 24-carat gold flakes."

(This is where a string of gratuitous invectives would be if my conscience would allow.) Gold, on the food, to eat. GOLD. ON THE FOOD. TO EAT!!!! Of all the elitist- rub starvation in the nose of the poor- acts of mind numbing, soul crushing callousness. They're eating GOLD!!!!

God save us.

Or if you prefer fresh fruit and have 6,100 to 23,000 dollars burning a hole in your $675 (three times the per capita income of the Congo) Renna USA Zip around Wallet you can purchase either of the following...

Then of course there is Almas Caviar...

...at 25,000 dollars a kilo in a 24 Karat gold tin. Or the most expensive food, that is more expensive per ounce than the ever so delicious gold, an Italian White Alba Truffle....

...a little over 160,000 dollars US. For one. One truffle. Dug up by a pig. 24 Karat gold flakes are extra.

So, let's recap. In a world where 14 million children die every year from starvation the discriminating taste bud can breakfast on eleven hundred dollar bagels, smeared with 25,000 dollar caviar, with a side of 23,000 dollar cantaloupe, and wash it down with Kopi Luwak the most expensive coffee in the world, made from coffee beans eaten, partly digested and then excreted by the Common palm civet, a weasel-like animal. 600 dollars a pound, or 50 dollars a cup.

But for those of us with duller palates... the country where all-you-can-eat buffets litter the suburban sprawl like Coors cans after a NASCAR Race. Americans spend 174 billion dollars a year on obesity related health care. That's 174 billion dollars annually, not on treatment for malnutrition due to under eating, but 174 billion dollars because we eat TOO MUCH.

We Americans also waste an astounding amount of food — 96.4 billion pounds- an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption. According to a New York Times story, "The Department of Agriculture estimated that recovering just 5 percent of the food that is wasted could feed four million people a day; recovering 25 percent would feed 20 million people." Or the entire nation of Haiti, twice over.

And then there is this. MLE, or the Major League (of) Eating is the world body that oversees all professional eating contests. According to their website: "[t]he organization, which developed competitive eating and includes the sport's governing body, the International Federation of Competitive Eating, helps sponsors to develop, publicize and execute world-class eating events in all variety of food disciplines. MLE-sanctioned eating contests provide dramatic audience entertainment and offer an unparalleled platform for media exposure.....MLE promotions generate more than a billion consumer impressions worldwide each year."

WHAT!!! There are enough leisure class sheeple watching sanctioned gluttony that it merits its own organization, let alone one of this size!

I really need to get on a plane to Haiti before I have a coronary.

Dear MLE, it's fans, sponsors, contestants, and anybody who thinks this is OK, REALLY?!?!? You live in a world where every day 38 thousand children die from starvation. That's one every 2 seconds. Thought you might like to know that while you are making a mockery of them they don't know it, they're not watching you eat 60 hot dogs in twelve minutes, they're too busy dying!!!

Here's one of the MLE's star "athletes" Takeru Kobayashi:

I especially like the way he is carried around like royalty. But what really sums it up for me, the whole attitude and perversity of it, is the "consumer impression" left by someone under the video:

"Lol, put a starving kid from Somalia in that contest."

This is where I would normally quote scripture, grow increasingly sanctimonious, and reach a screaming fevered pitch perched precariously atop my little soapbox. But this should suffice.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — "It was lunchtime in one of Haiti's worst slums and Charlene Dumas was eating mud. With food prices rising, Haiti's poorest can't afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies. Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau."

"When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat dirt three times a day," Dumas said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, thinner than the 6 pounds, 3 ounces he weighed at birth." --from the Associated Press

Shame on us.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nothing Shocking, Nothing Sacred.

Very little shocks us. Fed a steady diet of blood-lust and sex over a lifetime we have disconnected with horror and perversion. A child was raped by his HIV infected father may get our attention, but no sooner has the headline faded from sight that it fades from memory too. Of course it is a defense mechanism, a heart can only stand so much heartache, even on behalf of others.

Sacred And Profane Love by Tiziano Vicellio (Titian). Painted at the age of 25, it symbolized the eternal nature of God's love and the ephemeral loves of earth.

On the same token, nothing is sacred. We ritualistically desecrate everything from the sacrament of marriage to the sanctity of life. But again, the psychology of it is not complex, it is the way fallen creatures find comfort, devaluing others to raise our sense of self worth, lowering everyone to one great coterie of the profane.

So it should not have shocked me today when an off-color remark was spoken to elicit laughter from a third party to the situation I found myself in. A simple process was taking way too long and the person said "This is taking so long the nails in Christ's wrists are rusting."

I wanted to scream, "That's the love of my life you're talking about!!" But I said nothing. If the man knew Jesus, loved Jesus he would not have said it, anymore than he could have been so cruel and callous about his daughter or wife or mother, anyone he adored, anyone he held sacred.

Stop the friggin' planet....I want off.