This is Epth Nation

Epth is a state of mind, not a place. Reading this will give you a virtual drivers license in that state, but you'll still need to be 21 to purchase alcohol. And you can't get any there anyway, so stop asking.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas

Since the first time I heard it, I have always loved the song, "The Little Drummer Boy". I hated the cartoon (was it a cartoon or a puppet show or something?), but I loved the song. It was so simple, so humble. Looking at it more closely at age 32, I see it as a great Christmas song that has some Theological warts. I think it's worth a parsing, so let's go through these lyrics that have affected me so much and see what they really are saying.

Verse 1
Come, they told me pa-rum-pum-pum-pum (after this, the pa-rum-pum-pum-pums will be assumed)

Right off the bat, there is a level of mystery. Who is this mysterious "they" who are doing the "telling", or, "ordering around", of the narrator? For that matter, who is the narrator? We do not know. I always assumed since the song is about a little drummer boy that the "they" refers to the boy's parents. Now that I think of it, the "they" could really be any adult -- a guardian, the director of an orpanage, the Oprahites with their Book Clubs, or Herod's guards. Anyway, it's clear that the song is about the boy, and that where the orders come from doesn't matter.

A newborn king to see

From the story as it reads in the Bible, we have no account of just random people and their drumming sons showing up at the manger and pelting Jesus with gifts. This is an apocryphal (there is only one "h" in that word -- did you know that?) story. The author is using his dramatic license to demonstrate his own reaction (and the reaction of the ideal audience) to the story of Jesus' birth. It is apocryphal and metaphorical. The Drummer Boy is a metphor for you, me, everyone. Got it? Good.

Our finest gifts we bring
to lay before the King

Once again, this account is not "based on a true story", but regardless, what is happening here? The Ordering Agent is letting the boy know of the protocol that is used when approaching the manger, i.e., Jesus. "You're supposed to bring your best stuff." What the author is doing is setting up the back story so that we feel for the drummer boy in verse 2 when he explains that he has no "finest gifts". The nameless Ordering Agent is putting pressure on the boy, and on us (of course, it could also be a joyful, "Come on, let's worship the King" type of thing, and in fact that's probably the author's intended meaning. That I first viewed the bringing of gifts as a threat to be subverted indicates how weird (and ultimately, Lutheran) I really am).

So to honor Him
When we come.

So they are traveling as a group to the manger to give their gifts to Jesus. Imagine if you will a line containing all people who believe in Jesus or who ever believed in Jesus. Imagine them getting one thing to lay down before Jesus in the manger. Imagine most of them getting caught up in this and missing the point, which is Jesus really wants you more than your gifts -- i.e., you are there to honor Him, not impress Him. And then imagine yourself as a little boy with no posessions to give, standing in this line with only your drum and meager skill. Is that enough? Check out...

Verse 2 (The Drummer Kid Speaks)

"Baby Jesu

We've skipped ahead to the boy's time at the manger, and he is speaking to Jesus directly. For some reason, the "Jesu" part always gets me. It's probably not intended to be this way, but it seems a familiar and affectionate way to address someone that everyone is there to Honor. It's like, the boy knows that this is God with a capital G, but knows him (or of him) well enough to be talking with him like someone talks to their own father. That he's actually talking to a baby creates an interesting bunch of ideas, don't you think? In any case, the boy is humble approaching the humble manger.

I am a poor boy too

Now this part really gets me, perhaps better than any other part of any other Christmas song. The Drummer Boy sees the child and knows the honor due Him, and knows he's really in no way worthy of pleasing the child in any way. He also knows he has nothing of value to give the child (and God, btw). Can it be any clearer? Soylent Green is people, and the Drummer Boy is us, I mean, me. This is exactly how I feel when I think about the God that loved me enough to send this Baby. I have nothing of myself to give Him. I am a poor boy indeed.

I have no gift to bring
That's fit to give a King

This is the boy's unworthiness laid bare. He knows he's not worthy -- he's just there to honor the King in the manger. He throws himself at the mercy of the court, so to speak, and appeals to the fact mentioned in the previous line: that this baby Jesus was a "poor child" just like us.

Shall I play for you
On my drum?"

The Drummer Boy takes the only thing he has and asks if he can use it to honor God. That's pretty cool. But will the baby Jesus let him play, or will he make him come back with more money or an advanced degree? Maybe the boy would be turned away and use that as motivation to develop some marketable skills. The answer's in...

Verse 3
Mary nodded

Catholicism alert! Ok, was the author Catholic? I guess non-Catholic Christians can look at this and say, "Jesus was a baby at this point. so Mary had to speak for Him." But why not, "Joseph nodded", since it was undoubtedly a patriarchal situation there in that barn? Or am I being too critical?

The ox and A__ (or, later, lamb) kept time

When I was growing up, this song had a cussword in it. We would all sit and giggle like Beavis when we got to this part. I fear for our children when they are deprived the right to giggle at the changing of a word's meaning from "donkey" to "bum". It's would be like singing, "Don we now our festive apparel". It's just a silly response to something silly. Of course, that's not nearly as silly as the picture of an ox and a sheep getting down to the Drummer Boy's beat. Actually, it sounds like a Disney movie.

I played my drum for Him
I played my best for Him

This is the boy's response to Jesus' mercy -- playing his best. Not the other way around, because we don't receive mercy for doing our best. That would not be mercy at all -- it would be reward. We receive mercy because God loves us and sent that child in the manger for whom this Drummer Boy is playing his song (probably quite irrythmically, I might add -- how old is this boy, six? How many six-year-olds do you know that can drum well?). Our gifts and the use of our talents has to be a response to God's love. That's what I got from this song. That's why I cry whenever I hear it. Really, I do.

Then he smiled at me

See? The Little Drummer Boy got it right. Jesus smiles at those who use their talents to honor Him.

Me and my drum.

Study questions: What is your "drum"? Are you the Little Scientist Boy? The Little Football Girl? The Little Missionary Boy? The Little Singing Girl? The Little Parts Coordinating Boy? Oops, too personal, I'd better stop.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Community Quick Hits, Part Whatever

The Milwaukee Bucks are 6-16. This is starting to kill me.

It snowed in Dallas yesterday, which is a very odd thing to have happened. Thankfully it did not really stick to the roads, because they have a tendency to get Death Slick, like slicker than your roads wherever you are, which causes even more car accidents than usual here. There's this feeling of dread in the air whenever it gets cold down here, especially when it snows. People go crazy, I'm telling you. It's not the same as up north, and I don't think it can be totally attributed to the fact that it only happens twice or thrice a year. There's actual fear out there now, as if the freeze was going to "get them" or something. It's hard to explain, and I failed.

My theory on the ratio of sane to insane (S/I) and how that relates to a quality of life in a city is coming soon.

I think Mischa Barton is kinda ugly. Not that I'm any better(maybe that goes without saying), but I still just don't get it.

So I've been thinking about advertising for this blog, but I (as always) find my well of marketing knowledge as empty as Gnosticism. Here are my (bad) ideas: Spamming usenet, doing Google AdSense or Yahoo's equivalent. That's it. Those are my ideas. I thank everyone who has told other people about this blog, because that's my only advertising right now. I'm getting driven to succeed, but need for something to happen right now to get this some play. I would like to make that happen somehow. We'll see.

I'm in a CD exchange again this Christmas, even though last year's was rife with no-shows and disappointed people (nothing ruins a CD exchange more than someone going, "I still don't have my CD" every 5 minutes). Here are my ideas for CD's:

My wife's idea, which is to take one song of the last 15-or-whatever CD's she's bought (a problem: 5 of them would be from wacky Milwaukee DJ's "Bob and Brian" -- something my subject would not appreciate).

Songs of the Destitute and Insane (I think I could come up with a few of these. It might get hard to listen to after a while though. And when you think about it, don't most songs fall in to this category?)

Super-Long Jam Band Songs (A good idea, I think, for this person. Also reduces the number of songs I need).

Pink Floyd's Greatest Songs (Everybody needs a CD like this).

The 15 Songs I Hate The Most (A bit troublesome to compile since I would either have to only use the songs from mine and my wife's CD's or illegally download them via P2P. Speaking of P2P, well, later).

Mellow Mood Music (involving things like the LOTR soundtrack and Enya. Did you know that Enya is one of the few artists that exists in the middle part of mine and my wife's musical taste Ven Diagram? Everybody likes Enya)

Christmas Plan: Due to preventable circumstances I managed to not prevent, I am stuck here over Christmas again. At least today it looks and feels like Christmas. My plan for Christmas Eve is to work both jobs and get home at 9pm and not open presents because we're buying them after Christmas this year. Nevertheless, I spend that night with my wife and the Christmas Dog (My Dog Allie with a red bow stuck to her head. Very festive) and some chocolate pie, and maybe go to Church. Christmas morning we definitely go to church, and then go see The Life Aquatic. Then we'll probably end up watching Kobe vs. Shaq and Pistons vs. Pacers. Ho Ho Fricking Ho.

Finally, and most importantly, little-known site shut down this week due to pressure from the motion picture industry. This would not be important, except for the fact that in lieu of VHS videotaping Arrested Development on Sunday nights I had been using to find and download that episode when I got home from work. Last Sunday night I was obviously not able to do this. This made me very upset. I had to use my "methods", and that took three days. The more important point in all this is that was like Napster in its heyday (not in structure, but in function) in that it allowed you to search for and find a large quantity of movies (and TV shows, and games, and apps, and music, and whatever else exists online) and download it using the P2P program bittorrent. I would go into depth about what makes bittorrent different and better (and scarier to the MPAA), but that's not my point. My point is, I was just downloading this so I could watch it the next day, and then delete it or keep it, like a VHS tape. I was "time-shifting". The method I was using to do it was probably illegal, but I was doing nothing wrong. I'm tired of the representatives of the Entertainment Cabals suing and threatening to keep P2P down. It's not affecting them, no matter what they say. And I am an innocent victim in all this, having to go out and locate another source for my Arrested Development episodes. Maybe now I'll think twice about doing something really wrong, like not buying the Arrested Development Second Season DVD when it comes out. They clearly have enough money if they can waste it one frivilous lawsuits. What it comes down to is the MPAA is declaring war on their own customers, just like the RIAA did with music. You see how well it worked for them, don't you? The MPAA is on the verge of destroying its industry, just like music did. I can't wait.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Emerging Market of Niche

The generically-named Chris Anderson has an article in Wired entitled, "The Long Tail." It's about how smaller niche markets have opened up and found audiences through and Netflix and Rhapsody, thus challenging the "hit" mentality that much of the entertainment industry has clubbed us with. Read it here. It's interesting to us old people.

The Sports Guy wrote a column last week that used the term "crowning achievement of irrelevance" referring to his upcoming 5000-word review of the first Miami Vice DVD. This means that he thinks that very few people care about that DVD, but also that Miami Vice is cheesy and has very little cultural value. If I were trying to pinpoint my "crowning achievement of irrelevance," a good place to start would be here. But I would never have achieved that had it not been for Netflix. See? This post did have a point after all. O ye of little faith.

Sports Ignorant -- Baseball on the Brink

(me as editor's note -- All Sports Ignorant posts will also be copied here, because people can just skip over the sportsy stuff if they don't like it, and I want to write a little about sports now. There's so much to be discussed!)

The Los Angeles Dodgers did baseball a tremendous service yesterday by pulling out of a proposed 3-team deal with the Diamondbacks and Yankees that would have sent 41-year-old Uberpitcher and noted Yankee killer Randy Johnson to the Yankees along with another good left-handed pitcher whose name I can't remember right now but it sounds like O-Ren Ishii. This merely delayed the deal, however, because all parties involved besides the Dodgers seem determined to get Randy Johnson in the accursed pinstripes. How did we get to this point?

Well, R. Johnson has said that he wants out of Arizona, and he only will play for the Yankees. In short, he's A-Rod II: This Time it's Worse. A-Rod merely cut the number of potential teams to which he would be traded to two: The Yankees and Red Sox. R. Johnson has said "Yankees or bust", putting Arizona in the terrible position of having to trade their best player and not being able to get much back for him. And this after Arizona overpaid to get Johnson in the first place and won a title with him. There's a sickening lack of loyalty among baseball players that seems to grow every year -- R. Johnson has no reason to screw the Diamondbacks over except to get what he apparently wants, which is a 3-year overpayment deal with the only team that will give it to him: as always, the New York Yankees.

This begs the question, "Does R. Johnson really need the extra money at this point?" He's a millionaire many times over, and I don't think even as sketchy-looking a figure as he could have squandered all his money already (plus, he doesn't look like the type to have, say, a posse. Maybe shady and blackmailing 3rd cousins, but not a posse. And the posse is what squanders the money. People don't lose millions of dollars without the help of several "friends"). So, Randy, wot's uh the deal? You can make it to the next meal, no? Why do you have to ruin baseball (that's really what this column is about -- I will explain soon) to get a few extra mill?

The thing that gets me is the players know that the Yankees are the only team that will pay them exhorbitant salaries. This is why R. Johnson only wishes to be traded there. If he kept his options open, this would put the Diamondbacks in a much better position, but he's not thinking about that now(And you could argue that he shouldn't be thinking about that -- but it shows a phenomenal lack of loyalty, as I explained above). He's thinking, "The Yanks are the only team I can milk for 20 million over three years. You know how many cans of mullet sheen that is? I'll be set for life, as will my sons Cletus and Riverbank." Preserving the ability of the the Yankees to set the market so high (because of their tremendous comparative income) is now the number one issue the players union cares about. That's why baseball needed a salary cap but ended up with a luxury tax. People said that the owners finally got some concessions, and finally "won one." But the players mostly don't want to give up competitive imbalance. They could care less if the Yankees are are luxuriously taxed, as long as they keep on paying ridiculous salaries. The players don't want to give up the knowledge that if you're good enough, at the end of your career you can always get that Yankee windfall and a shot at the World Series. It's their Pension Plan for Superstars, and over the last few years Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Roger Clemens, and so on have cashed in. It doesn't matter to them that competitive imbalance has ruined the sport for most of the rest of the country. Most of them didn't graduate from college and can't even spell competitive imbalance, so they probably believe it doesn't exist. But their leader Don Fehr knows, and has put the fear of competitive balance in them something fierce. That's why the players fight against real revenue sharing and anything resembling cost controls. They think that if the Yankees are pulled back into the pack, they no longer can get what they would verbalize as their "fair share."

Sports are about competition between teams. If all teams in a given league have the chance to be competitive, the league grows. Every team that doesn't have that chance sees interest (and money) in it die a slow agonizing death. Now, all the league needs to do to stave off that death is give every team an equal-as-possible chance to win. The NFL has perfected this, largely because of revenue sharing but also because of their hard salary cap and the fact that their player's union cares about more than just the player's money.

(side note: Every time I hear about the great job that Donald Fehr and the Baseball Players Union is doing, I think about: Jason Giambi and his steroid-filled illness that Fehr was fighting the detection of (in Giambi's best interest, of course); The fact that baseball in 2004 still does not have a real (punishing) steroid policy(talk about competitive imbalance -- Fehr must just love steroids, since they give one player an unfair advantage over another); The average baseball salary going down 2.7% in 2004, reversing a 10-year trend; and, most ominously, the fact that at least half of baseball's teams are dying on the vine, with the only thing keeping them afloat being the 30-and-older generation's obsessions with the Big 3 American Sports. The kids don't have that bias, and unless they happen to be in a consistently competitive region, they have no incentive to become baseball fans. In short, the Union is fighting to reduce the number of fans as the old ones die and aren't replaced. As much as Social Security is facing a doomsday, Major League Baseball is facing a doomsday. In 20 years when the average salary is still 2.4 million and R. Johnson's kid Cletus is pitching for the Yankees, remember this: the decline of baseball to the nation's 6th most popular sport could have been prevented, now.

The Yankees and Diamonbacks will eventually find a partner with which to make their Trade of Doom, although after the trade goes through they still have to pay R. Johnson his three years of money (right now they're only offering two). That could be another snag. But if the Yankee-killer joins the Yankees (think about the cosmic implications of that for a second), it could accelerate the process that years of competitive imbalance, greedy and ineffectual ownership, steroid fears, taxpayer-funded stadiums, and Jose Cansenco have developed.

Besides or on top of the Trade, the Yankees will find another way to get "O-Ren Ishii" or his equivalent, and will sign Carlos Beltran giving them the 2 best under-30 players in baseball (along with A-Rod). They will win championships by buying them, and everyone will know it. I can't be the only one who thinks this is a bad thing. I know that term "buying a championship" is bandied about a lot, but how many times does it happen, really? It can't happen in the NBA or NFL because of the salary structures (This doesn't stop NBA teams from trying, though -- see Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban -- but how many championships has he won? Or the Knicks? They're not even good), so we're left with baseball (and hockey, which seems on the verge of doing what baseball will never do, that is, fix the sport), and the Yankees teams that won all those titles were mainly built from within the Yankees organization or in trades before they became stars. Same with the Red Sox last year. If the Yankees get all these players and win, what message does that send?

"Trying to compete with the Yankees if futile. To give up is Divine. You other baseball teams, just do what the Brewers have done and try to go limp."

Monday, December 20, 2004

Fantasy Nerdball

That title sounds like a role-playing game. Anyway, due to my awesomeness I am in the championship game of the only Fantasy Football League I joined this year. So, next week root for Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb and the rest of my crew. Pray for them to do well so I can win a meaningless prize I'll probably refuse anyway.

We just had a power surge here at work, and there's some weird noises going on. The lights flickered and everything. My head a splode. That's what I repeat to myself when people start to bother me. It's my version of "serenity now!" Try it, it really works.

Ooo. Anther power surge. I'd better post this before it's gone.

Manic Depression

The external, unimportant things in my life are in total chaos right now, and that has spilled over into my real "important" life.

The Milwaukee Bucks suck -- I have been doing an internal rant about this for a week now. It is driving me absolutely nuts. As one of the world's 5 hard-core Bucks fans, my disappointment is turing into unjust anger spewing in 100 different directions. This is unimportant, but close to the center of me.

The Green Bay Packers suck -- They are wasting the final years of Favre and an offensive line that's as good as any they've had in my 32 meaningless years here on earth. When this crosses my mind, I eat my arm. This year has been as humiliating as a 4-12 season. Sheesh. They're inventing new ways to lose to inferior teams every week.

And lest you think that all I'm thinking about is sports, which are admittedly totally unimportant (how many times can I point this out?), let me just say that other things are weighing down on me. I have a novel to finish. I have a business to start up. I have a year of solid work ahead of me. Christmas is coming again, I'll be dead soon and will have spent much of my time 1000 miles from my immediate family, with a job that doesn't allow people to take vacations when they need to. Ok, that's important. If I think about that, I might start screaming.

Look, life is full of hope and possibilities, especially with God around. But I'm just not feeling it today.

Thank you for your support.