34 years later, I still don’t understand Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”.

I was 14 years old when I first heard O Superman (For Massenet) by experimental musician Laurie Anderson. I don’t know if it qualifies so much as a song than as a spoken word piece with some musical bits to it. I remember being entranced by it and not being able to explain why. It’s eight and a half minutes long and the one constant is a “ha” that serves as the beat, in as much as it can be said to have a beat.

If you’ve never heard it, you can watch the video for it right here:

I had completely forgotten about it until this morning when it showed up on my Thomas Dolby radio station on Google Music. I was immediately taken back to those days in 1982 when I listened to it repeatedly trying to figure out what it was supposed to be about and understand why it had such a hold on me. Not just a hold, it affected me deeply. Particularly when it gets to the lyrics about mom.

Today, 34 years later, it was a jolt to hear it and realize that it still deeply affects me to listen to it. So much so that I had tears welling up as I sat here at my desk, which is really out of character for me. I love a good song as much as the next guy, but it’s rare that any music moves me to tears. I’m not a huge fan of the artist; I’ve never bought her albums and the copy of this song I had was taped off of a local radio station as we were wont to do back in the days before MP3s.

Reading the lyrics does little to help me understand it:

O Superman. O judge. O Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad.
O Superman. O judge. O Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad.
Hi. I’m not home right now. But if you want to leave a
message, just start talking at the sound of the tone.
Hello? This is your Mother. Are you there? Are you
coming home?
Hello? Is anybody home? Well, you don’t know me,
but I know you.
And I’ve got a message to give to you.
Here come the planes.
So you better get ready. Ready to go. You can come
as you are, but pay as you go. Pay as you go.

And I said: OK. Who is this really? And the voice said:
This is the hand, the hand that takes. This is the
hand, the hand that takes.
This is the hand, the hand that takes.
Here come the planes.
They’re American planes. Made in America.
Smoking or non-smoking?
And the voice said: Neither snow nor rain nor gloom
of night shall stay these couriers from the swift
completion of their appointed rounds.

‘Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice.
And when justice is gone, there’s always force.
And when force is gone, there’s always Mom. Hi Mom!

So hold me, Mom, in your long arms. So hold me,
Mom, in your long arms.
In your automatic arms. Your electronic arms.
In your arms.
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms.
Your petrochemical arms. Your military arms.
In your electronic arms.

A good chunk of the song is a phone conversation between someone who initially claims to be the mother of the person they’re calling, but then reveals that to be a lie. Then it gets surreal with statements like being the “hand that takes” and something about planes coming and so on.

When I was 14 I thought it was very deep and I was just too stupid to figure it out. I’m not sure I’ve gotten any smarter in the time since. Today we have the Internet and Wikipedia article on it offers up the following explanation:

As part of the larger work United States, the text addresses issues of technology and communication, quoting at various points answering machine messages and the slogan “Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”. That line is inscribed over the entrance of the James Farley Post Office in New York and is derived from a line in Herodotus’ Histories (8.98), referring to the ancient courier service of the Persian Empire. This line is also interpreted in the accompanying music video into American Sign Language by Anderson wearing white gloves, white sunglasses and a white coat.

The lines “‘Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice / And when justice is gone, there’s always force / And when force is gone, there’s always Mom” derive from the fourth sentence of Chapter 38 of the Tao Te Ching: “When Tao is lost, there is goodness. When goodness is lost, there is kindness. When kindness is lost, there is justice. When justice is lost, there is ritual. Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.”

All of this is in the context of an attack by American planes and arms. In an interview with the Australian magazine Bulletin in 2003, Anderson said that the song is connected to the Iran-Contra affair, but she meant the Iran hostage crisis which took place in 1979-1980. Anderson appeared as a guest co-host on WFMT Chicago to say the song is directly related to the crash of the military rescue helicopter outside Tehran — a disheartening incident where U.S. military technology essentially let down the government. This equipment or pilot failure, she continued, was her primary impetus for the creation of the song/performance piece. When it became an emerging hit in the U.K., she was as surprised as everyone else, and the need to press more singles to meet emerging U.K. demand was what led to her first multi-album record deal.

Um, OK. So it was inspired by the Iran-Contra affair, but I’ll be damned if I understand how you’re supposed to glean that from the lyrics. Nor does it explain why I am so affected by something I simply don’t understand. I love this song in spite of it. I’ve listened to it several times while writing this entry. I don’t know why.

I can’t say for certain whether my reaction today was because of the song itself or the feeling of being transported back to 1982 and being on the verge of adulthood. The year 2000 was less than 20 years away and I was going to experience “the future” first hand. My cynicism hadn’t fully developed and the future looked promising even if I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do as an adult. I was still ignorant enough of the larger world around me that I could be optimistic without any good reason for it. The future! It was coming and I was gonna be there for it. Looking back it’s not quite what I thought it was going to be, but it could be a lot worse than it is so I’ll take it.

Still, this damned song. Do you guys have anything similar or is it just me?

A couple of videos on the subject of “You.”

We think of ourselves as a single entity, but the reality is we’re a combination of trillions of individual organisms some of which are a part of us, but not human (e.g. the bacteria in our guts). So at what point do you stop being “you”?

The YouTube channel In A Nutshell has a new video out that’ll ask you to ponder: What are you?

If that’s not enough to get your head spinning, there’s a companion video by CGP Grey that talks about how you are really two “yous” in one body. Specifically, how experiments done on folks who have had the connection between their left and right hemispheres severed has revealed that you are literally of two minds that don’t always agree with each other.

Just some food for thought.

Rush Limbaugh doesn’t understand how evolution works.

If you’ve been reading SEB for any amount of time then it probably doesn’t need to be said that my politics don’t line up with Rush Limbaugh’s politics. It’s also probably obvious that I think that Rush has said some amazingly stupid things over the years, but I’ve never thought the man was particularly uneducated. That’s probably as much due to the fact that I try to limit my exposure to his rantings as much as possible than it is him actually being educated.

On Tuesday during a segment about the kid falling into the gorilla enclosure in Cincinnati, Rush demonstrated his scientific ignorance of the Theory of Evolution. The folks at Media Matters captured his idiocy in all its glory:

“A lot of people think that all of us used to be apes. Don’t doubt me on this. A lot of people think that all of us used to be gorillas.”

headdeskOK, let’s stop right here. There’s more, but this is all you really need to realize that Rush has no clue what he’s talking about. Humans did not evolve from apes, or chimps, or gorillas. We are a kind of ape ourselves. We share a common primate ancestor (Homo-Pan) and have travelled different evolutionary paths starting around 6 to 7 million years ago. Either Rush is ignorant of what the theory of evolution says or he’s intentionally setting up a strawman. Based on what he says next I’d wager it’s the former.

“And they’re looking for the missing link out there. The evolution crowd. They think we were originally apes.”

The problem with the “missing link” is that there is no missing link. Evolution isn’t a matter of sharp delineations. It’s a matter of gradual differences. There is not, nor will there ever be, a fossil find that we can point to and definitely say that is the exact moment we stopped being Homo heidelbergensis and started being Homo sapiens. Reality is messy and doesn’t give a shit about fitting things into obvious categories. People like Rush don’t like that fact so they try to ignore it.

Here is his pièce de résistance. The statement that clearly shows his complete lack of understanding of evolutionary theory:

“I’ve always — if we were the original apes, then how come Harambe is still an ape, and how come he didn’t become one of us?”

First, we’re not the “original apes.” As I said before, we share a common ancestor. Secondly, had Harambe spontaneously evolved into a human it would invalidate evolutionary theory as well as a number of laws of physics.

To be fair, it’s not clear if Rush is suggesting that if evolution was real that Harambe would’ve evolved into a human in the time he was in the zoo or if he’s using the old argument of “If we evolved from apes why are there still apes?” Not that it matters, both would reveal his ignorance of what the theory of evolution actually says.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s really not that hard to understand the theory of evolution if you take the time to actually read up on it. There are a number of books that lay it out in layman’s terms and provide quite a bit of the evidence that back the theory up. A good one is The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins. It’s one I think Rush Limbaugh should probably read. He won’t, but he should.

You can hear Limbaugh’s words for yourself below:

Nature show host Coyote Peterson attacked by playful ocelot.

Coyote Peterson hosts a nature show on YouTube called Breaking Trail. Recently they were filming at night down in Costa Rica looking for snakes and other creepy crawlies when they had a close encounter with a young ocelot that took an interest in what they were up to. Here’s what happened:

Peterson ended up with a few scratches and nips, but was otherwise unharmed. Right now this ocelot is still young, but a full-grown one can do some serious damage. This one is known for frequenting the trail and not being afraid of humans so hopefully she doesn’t become a problem when she hits maturity.

WTF: The “Licki Brush” for grooming your cats.

Apparently there’s a group of folks out there in the world who aren’t happy with using traditional pet grooming brushes on their cats. They want something more akin to what a mother cat would use. So someone has invented a tongue-brush you hold in your mouth so you can lick your cat.

No, I'm not fucking kidding.

No, I’m not fucking kidding.

I’m not sure I see the point in this. It doesn’t seem to me that a cat would get more out of this experience than they would from a traditional brush or even just your bare hand. If anything they’d probably be annoyed because now you’re breathing all over them through your nose, which most cats don’t really appreciate. It looks awkward as hell to use and I was pretty sure this had to be a joke, but their website claims they’ll be launching a Kickstarter to raise funding for it soon.

I can’t imagine this will be a big seller, but at least they can take comfort in knowing that they have at least one potential customer out there:

Yeesh. I love my cats, but I have my limits.

Too Much Faith Will Make You Crazy: BBQ Pet edition.

christianassholesThere’s a lot of fucked up shit in the Bible. Things like incest, murder, rape, and animal sacrifice to name just a few. In fact, that last one shows up quite a lot in the Old Testament. There was a time when God really loved the smell of a freshly slaughtered animal on a pyre, but for the most part Christians stopped sacrificing animals after Jesus came along.

Apparently 42-year-old Patrick Zane Thompson in Arizona didn’t get that memo:

Investigators spoke with Thompson’s family, including his daughter and wife. When Thompson went back into the house, they say he got more erratic and told his family, in front of his four minor children, that he needed to make a sacrifice of a male.

According to the victims, Thompson stated it had to be either himself, his firstborn 6-year-old son or the family dog — a small, white poodle weighing about 15 pounds. That’s when the family tried to escape the home but Thompson was able to grab hold of the dog. Investigators say the family pleaded with Thompson not to hurt the dog.

But the situation got more gruesome. Goodyear police say Thompson admitted to then breaking the dog’s neck and strangling it until it “could not breathe.” He allegedly told officers the sacrifice was not done and that he had to put the dog in a “lake of fire.” Court documents say he then told them that he put the dog in the heating element of the smoker, which was turned on.

Oh yeah, I’m sure God’s loving the smell of smoked poodle. That’s gotta be a refreshing change from all those lambs and cows and shit he got in the past. Plus it’s been so long.

So what was the sin that prompted Mr. Thompson to offer up his only poodle to his Lord and Saviour? Why, only one of the most horrific things you’ve ever heard of:

Detectives investigated further and learned that shortly after returning home, Thompson became upset with a shirt that his 17-year-old daughter had. Investigators said he believed the shirt had to do with the devil. That paperwork says Thompson made his daughter take the shirt and go with him to a large BBQ traveler that’s parked in a side yard. The smoker was lit and police report that Thompson put the shirt in the trailer, burning it.

The article doesn’t say what the T-shirt had on it that was so terrible, but I’m sure it was something like “I’m with stupid.” or “I love One Direction.” You know, really evil stuff.

But hey, you can’t judge this guy! He was only doing what he truly believed his God wanted him to do. He was sure calamity was about to befall his family unless he took immediate action. Of course, he was also high as a kite at the time, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t save his family with his quick thinking. God can be pretty fucking demanding! Just read the Bible and you’ll see that for yourself. At least he didn’t opt to use his 6-year-old son instead, right? Can’t say that about Abraham and his kid. I bet if Abraham had had a poodle God wouldn’t have stopped him just before he completed the act. Smoked poodle is delicacy in some places.

Yet another reason why Christians are seen as the bad guys.

andthentheresthisassholeBack in 2009, Decrepit Old Fool wrote an entry for SEB about his discussion with a Christian minister who asked why Christians are seen as the bad guys. It’s a topic I’ve used several times since then, but I’ve not hit upon it in awhile. There’s enough Christians out there giving themselves a bad name that I could almost make it the sole topic of every entry and never run out of material and that gets old fast. Yet every now and then I run across an example that is so egregious that I just can’t help but put it on display.

Meet “God Warrior” Marguerite Perrin who has taken it upon herself to warn the blissfully ignorant shoppers at her local Target of the dangers dwelling in the store’s bathrooms:

It’s bad enough she decided to make an ass out of herself in public, but did she really have to drag her poor kids along with her? I love how the teen on her left spends most of the video looking down at his phone so as to avoid making eye contact with anyone. She didn’t accomplish anything with this nonsense other than perhaps alarming a few folks that a crazy lady was loose in the store.

You wanna know why Christians are often seen as the bad guys? This woman right here is a good example.

The “Assassin’s Creed” movie trailer has arrived.

While there have been cinematic video games for a long time now, Hollywood hasn’t as much luck turning video games into cinematic successes. Arguably the best so far was the couple of Tomb Raider movies that came out a few years back and those were hardly blockbusters. Personally, I’ve a soft spot for the two attempts to turn the Hitman: Codename 47 games into movies despite their flaws.

That lack of success hasn’t caused anyone to stop trying, though, and among other upcoming films based on games will be Assassin’s Creed featuring Michael Fassbender. The first trailer for it just hit the Internet:

It’s impossible to say if this will be any better than past video game movies just on this one trailer, but I’m intrigued. There’s been some minor changes to the plot — such as the protagonist being a recently “executed” criminal and there apparently being a whole shitload of people in the program and the Animus has transformed into some sort of robot arm that holds you aloft instead of a pod you laid down in — but most of the aspects of the video game appear to have made it into the movie.

Well, if nothing else, he certainly looks the part.

Well, if nothing else, he certainly looks the part.

Not that I really have a clue what the plot of the games is anymore as I’ve only played the first two to completion on the PS3 and a little bit of the most recent game, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, which I somehow ended up with on the PC. There’s a total of six other games in the series that I’ve not played yet and somewhere along the lines they dropped the parts that took place in the future. In the first two games it seemed like the mysterious company you were kind of a prisoner of was using the sessions in the Animus to find some mysterious artifact, but it was having the side effect of teaching you the skills of your ancestors whose memories you were reliving. I assumed that eventually there’d be a story that takes place in that future setting where you’d finally become the badass your ancestors where, but it appears they dropped that whole plot line. I should check to see how cheap the older games are on Steam these days and get caught up. I hear AC IV was pretty cool.

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see if the movie can break the Video Game Curse and be a success. That is, if Warcraft doesn’t manage to pull that off first in June.

My attempt to explain the 2016 U.S. election.

Way back at the start of March SEB reader Dave out of the U.K. sent me the following via email:

Hi Les i would love to know what you are thinking about the current presidential campaign and especially what you and your family are making of Trumps lead on the Republican campaign.  I’m from England and am not sure we’re getting a true picture of what is happening.    Thank you

Since then I’ve started at least a half dozen blog entries and I ended up scrapping every one of them because shit keeps changing and things I thought would never happen ended up happening. Still, I promised him a blog post so I should probably post something. Keep in mind that I am no expert on Politics; or much of anything really.

The best I can say, Dave, is that the Republican party has finally lost their goddamned minds. When Trump first announced his intention to run for President most folks, and this includes many Republicans, laughed it off as a publicity stunt. There have even been a couple of people who worked with Trump in his early days who said as much later, but no one realized that the subset of the Republican base made up of poor, racist, angry white people was as large as it turns out to be. Large enough, apparently, to turn Trump from a joke into the presumptive Republican nominee.

Ladies and gentlemen, the best the Republicans have to offer as President.

Ladies and gentlemen, the best the Republicans have to offer for President.

As much fun as it’s been watching the Republican establishment eat itself alive trying to stop this train wreck from happening, there’s a frightening reality that tribalism will assert itself and even the “reasonable” Republicans will fall in line because they can’t countenance the idea of ever voting for a Democrat no matter how terrible their own nominee happens to be. If Trump is the nominee (and there’s no reason to expect he won’t be at this point) there’s a real danger he could end up President. It might be unlikely, but then I thought the same thing about him clinching the nomination and I was horribly wrong about that so I worry about the general election.

As for the Democrats, I would prefer that Bernie Sanders gets the nod as I like a lot of the policies he advocates for. Sure, the chances of some of them ever actually happening in his term might be small, but that’s no reason not to try. That said, if Hillary ends up as the nominee, as it appears she will, I will vote for her because for all her faults she’s still a damned sight better than Trump. I’m not happy with some of her ties to Wall Street and I think she’s more right of center than I’d prefer, but Bernie has dragged her more to the left and hopefully that’ll stick.

So what if the worst happens and Trump manages to win the general election? Well, that’ll be nerve wracking to be sure, but I won’t go so far as to say it would be a death knell for the United States. We’ve survived some pretty bad presidents over the years and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if both Congress and the SCOTUS kept him in check. Not that he wouldn’t do a great deal of damage however long he’s in office, but I think we’d somehow manage to survive it. I don’t expect this to actually happen as I think between Democrats and Independents there’s enough sane people left in this country to insure he doesn’t win, but I’ve been wrong before.

I don’t know if this answers your question, Dave, but it’s what I’ve got to offer. If you have any followup questions I’ll try to answer them in the comments.

Good news Christians! Photographic proof that Heaven is real is here!

Mboro-1

How could you not trust a face like that? I’m sure his story is 100% legit!

Self-proclaimed South African Prophet and founder of the Incredible Happenings church, Pastor Mboro (real name: Paseka Motsoeneng), claims that on Easter Sunday he ascended physically to Heaven for a guided tour from Jesus and his (Jesus’ not Pastor Mboro’s) “hot, young wife”. Best of all, he had his Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone on hand to document it all with pictures! Which he is TOTALLY going to share with anyone and everyone… who makes a small donation of 5,000 South African Rand (about $351.43 USD) to his church.

Needless to say, some folks have a problem with these claims. Especially the whole making-money-off-pics-of-Heaven thing. This has left Pastor Mboro both confused and sad. He’s especially unhappy with the folks who took to social media to mock him with a number of memes like the ones below:

 

So, being the amazingly Godly man that he is, he announced that he would release the pictures for FREE on his Facebook page on Sunday! At last we’ll have real, photographic proof of the existence of Heaven along with Jesus and his hot, young wife!

Or at least he had TOTALLY planned to do that if not for the fact that his smartphone full of pictures was JUST STOLEN AT A CAR WASH!!

He was facing extortion charges for offering the photos for a price, before he claims his Galaxy S5 was stolen.

“The pictures were really there, I saw them. We suspect one of the boys washing the Prophet’s car took the phone. But they all denied taking it, even after we threatened them,” one of Mboro’s bodyguards told reporters. “All those who have deposited money will be refunded.”

Oh, that’s a tough break! Apparently he wasn’t aware that he could set up his phone, which runs on the Android platform, to automatically back up any pictures he took to his Google account which would’ve mitigated the tragedy of having his phone stolen. You’d think he would’ve put that phone in a safety deposit box or a safe or something.

Surely getting a selfie with Jesus and his hot, young wife is a once-in-a-lifetime experience he is unlikely to see again. Not to mention all those amazing vistas obscured by countless numbers of souls milling about praising God 24/7. This could’ve been something to finally shut all us dumb atheists up with all our dumb requests for stupid “evidence.”

Oh well, I suppose it’s a lesson learned for next time. Turn on that automatic backup feature, folks! You’ll never know when Jesus might invite you up for a tour of his crib!