Voting Update

The current leader is #1, followed closely by #4 and #6. If you haven't voted (shame on you) go here to examine the entries, then post your choice(s) in comments. If you've already voted, vote again!! If your favorite is not doing well, argue for it - CONVINCE me.

Kindergarten Stoics

Do you remember that song about the Itsy-Bitsy Spider? It came up in my theory class yesterday, as an example of how fables and nursery rhymes are used to socialize and instill values in the wee ones. In this case, we were supposed to learn about perseverance, and maybe a bit of hand-eye coordination (that thumb-to-forefinger thing is not as easy as it looks). In this reading, the spider is just another little-engine-that-could as he makes his way back up the spout. Everyone in my class agreed that the moral was "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

Everyone, but me. I saw the spider's tale as a case of "life sucks and then you die." Allow me to explain...

The itsy-bitsy spider begins the song, presumably at the top of the waterspout ("...climbed up the waterspout" is past tense, indicating that he has already completed this action). He is knocked down by the rain, and can only wait for the sun to come dry things out again. The song concludes with him climbing right back to where he was - no net gain. In fact, it is only by dedicated effort that he can even attain his former position. The sun/rain cycle is a continual one; presumably, he will be washed from the waterspout again and again. Certainly, he can climb up again each time the sun returns, but his task takes on a Sisyphean quality - what is the point? Sun and rain are beyond his control, and each success is met with another defeat.

The spider's only hope is to make the climbing itself his desired life. This is quite a mental feat - as Sheryl Crow put it, "it's not having what you want, it's wanting what you've got." Seneca would be proud of Ms. Crow, as this is an excellent encapsulation of the Stoic doctrine. Of course, the Stoics also held that the sage - a person who had attained moral and intellectual perfection - is utterly immune to misfortune and that virtue is sufficient for happiness. They also contended that emotions like fear or envy (or impassioned sexual attachments, or passionate love of anything whatsoever) either were, or arose from, false judgements and that the sage would not undergo them.

Obviously, these teachings are completely at odds with our current Western lifestyle. To constantly climb the waterspout, only to be knocked back by the rain would infuriate most Americans - I imagine there would be litgation. The manufacturer of the waterspout would be sued for making a faulty product that lacked the proper rainguards, and the Environmentalists would then have to get involved on behalf of the endangered rainspout ecosystem... but I digress.


The previous message was brought to you by the Committee to Let Linus Graduate. This problem has been brewing for several semesters, but in recent weeks it has boiled over into a full-blown case of PTSD (Post Theoretical Study Disorder). Linus is no longer able to enjoy literature, television, movies, or as we see above, even simple nursery rhymes - everything he takes in is now filtered by Otto, Durkheim, Freud, and a host of others.

Won't you help? For only pennies each day, you can help pay for the strong drugs that he needs to fight back the theorists who have colonized his mind. Your generous donations can make it possible for him make it to graduation day without going on a multi-state killing spree... Make your checks payable to CLLG, and mark the envelope "ATTN:Liquor Fund". Thank you for your support.

The Magnificent Seven

Here, at long last, are the finalists in the Ministry's logo contest! It is up to you now - time to vote for your favorite.

Voting Instructions
In keeping with our long-standing traditions of mob rule, palace intrigue, encouraged chaos, and the squeakiest wheel getting the grease, please don't feel that you are constrained to just a simple endorsement of your favorite. Plead your case, extoll the virtues of your choice, threaten those who oppose you, spread vicious rumors about the artists, offer outrageous bribes to Ministry officials, present new entries, and generally make a mockery of any attempt at a democratic process. As they say in Chicago, vote early and vote often...








If you haven't read the post before this one, you really need to scroll down...

Darth Furious here.

I made a new family - the Ugolinos. There was dad (the Count), and four sons - the youngest being little Anselmo. I locked them in a single room, with only a tiny, high window, and bricked up the door. As planned, they slowly went mad and died of hunger... but to my disappointment, those who lived the longest never turned cannibal.

Though I stand in for Archbishop Ruggieri, these digital Guelphs refused to play their part. Perhaps it was the setting - not enough oppressive stone and flickering wall sconces to properly simulate the Torre della Fame. Or perhaps, the folks who coded the Sims never read Dante...

At any rate, the Sims have proven a valuable tool for PoMo/Decon review of my favorite literature. Despite this early setback, I will push on. I have to go now, and build a crumbling mansion for Roderick and Madeline... surely you remember Rod and Maddy, the twins? - the "last of the ancient race of the Ushers."

Note: shooting fireworks at the chemistry set is pretty cool...

Digital Death, Furious style...

I have a friend who was put on academic probation at CSU because her Sims addicition was so bad she just couldn't make it to class. My sister owns the game and a few of the expansions; I remember how she tried to not install it until her MFA was done. I am already having a hard enough time motivating myself right now - I don't need to be fighting an addiction on top of it all.

So naturally, I just bought the Sims Deluxe.

It was on sale.

I love my little digital people, but Darth Furious has discovered a perverse joy in watching them die. The Grim Reaper comes, and you get an urn full of ashes that makes a lovely accent piece. Two of them flank a doorway very nicely, and a dozen of them lining a hallway makes a very bold statement.

When they accidentally set the stove on fire while cooking, it is tempting to just let it burn - and them with it. In one house, DF actually bought the fireworks set and made them set it off in the living room...

I know that DF is not alone in this. While surfing for cheat codes (And yes NerdyGirl, I did find the one that makes them naked), I came upon this little gem; The Sims Murder page. A full range of techniques are covered, and some are quite grisly. The "Firestorm" is an excellent form of mass murder - you can successfully take out an entire house party in one fell swoop.

DF likes the classics. He has walled up a few of his least favorite Sims in rooms with no exits... it takes about four days for them to starve to death. In a sick twist on the whole "Cask of Amontillado" oeuvre, he has started leaving them with a fully stocked wet bar. They can last a long time on just booze and olives... Near the end, they are sometimes visited by the ghosts of other Sims that died on the property. It's all very spooky and grim. Poe would be proud.

Sick? Perhaps. But it beats carrying a magnifying glass to every anthill you see.

The Dark Pontif will now hear your confession - how many Sims have you murdered?

In keeping with the tenets of Celtic Bushido, I am compelled to drag the Flock, kicking and screaming, into cynical literacy. With that in mind, it's time for another installment of the Devil's Dictionary...

An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught.

[from ACADEME] A modern school where football is taught.

A convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse for getting drunk.

An ingenious instrument which indicates what kind of weather we are having.

One who in a perilous emergency thinks with his legs.

One of the most conspicuous qualities of a man in security.

An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.

KILT, n.
A costume sometimes worn by Scotchmen in America and Americans in Scotland.

In the Buddhist religion, a state of pleasurable annihilation awarded to the wise, particularly to those wise enough to understand it.

The act of repeating erroneously the words of another. The words erroneously repeated.

A dead sinner revised and edited.

In other news, Hero Machine is a big hit with our little family. Big Gay Jim even forked out the $19.95 for the full version. Clearly you get what you pay for, as demonstrated by this life-like rendition of the Dark Pontif...

"Creepy. It's like looking in a comic book mirror. I hope Sal doesn't poop on my good black shirt..."

Super men (and women)

Thanks to inkandpen and the good people at UGO, we can all be super. The Hero Machine allows you to create your ideal superhero - well, almost. I tried to make a convincing rendition of "The Papal Avenger" but they didn't have the right kind of hat... At any rate, it's tons of fun.

In a related vein, it is time to make the last call for entries in the Ministry's logo contest. If you are going to enter, do so by Friday or be forever damned...

An Address from His Sinfulness

Because I planned an outdoor activity for tomorrow, it has naturally snowed several inches. Wyoming has, yet again, screwed up my plans. With each passing day I am more convinced that my plan to move the Black Vatican to California is the correct course of action.

After consulting with the Inquisition, I have declared Wyoming to be "fucking excommunicated indeed."

Go in Peace.

Geekin' Out...
New Boomerangs!

The warm weather we've been having has me itching to go throw some 'rangs. Naturally, that feeling is accompanied by the lust for new 'rangs as well...

My current wish list follows;

Teacher's Pet by Steve Graham (this one comes in a "Wind Modified" model as well)

Dragonfly by Airfloat Boomerangs

Scout, also by Airfloat

Challenger by Volker Behrens (100 meter range!)

Also, I want to try my hand at making the Uluru Throwstick pattern shown here.

See you on the field!

Elemental Conversation

There is no way to orchestrate the good conversation. It's like the proverbial wild horse - it chafes under restraint, jumps the fences we erect, and loses much of its appeal when its will is broken. Such a talk cannot be confined by scripting or outlines; it will range far and wide, exposing us to new terrain, with or without our consent.

When you have this kind of conversation, you can't help but feel blessed. There is a chaotic, random quality to them that feels like an encounter with the elements. Like weather, they start when they please and end when they will. Often they come when they are least convenient, like rain after you wash and wax the car. You have to make room for them, in their own time, at the expense of sleep or homework or whatever you would have been doing right then.

I had such a conversation yesterday with Raksha. It was funny, and revealing, and kind of sad at certain points. We talked about childhood, academia, flirting, the disgusting "sport" known as frog gigging, graduating, denial, and a dozen other things. For this I am grateful.

Sunday Sermon

I have several friends who are currently observing the Bahá'í fast or Catholic Lent. Their sacrifices set me to thinking about fasting in other traditions...

(If you want to skip the "World Religions 101" portion of this post, feel free to skip down to the next line of dashes...)

Buddhist monks of the Thai Forest Tradition beg for all of their food, and only eat one meal per day, all year-round. That one meal must be consumed before noon.

All practicing Muslims observe the fast during the month of Ramadan, abstaining from food, drink, smoking, and sex during daylight hours, but some particularly devout followers will hold a smooth stone on the tongue during the day to remind them to not swallow, thus guaranteeing that they do not even swallow their own saliva during the fast.

The Tendai Buddhists monks of Mt. Hiei undertake a strenuous 7 day fast known as the doiri, during which they go without food, water, or sleep.
"Several weeks before hand, they prepare for this event by limiting themselves to small amounts of food so they will be ready when the time comes. When the doiri period begins, they spend their days reciting chants that they repeat 100,000 times. By the fifth day, they are dehydrated and are allowed to rinse their mouths with water but must spit out every drop that enters their mouths. They usually go outside and take in the fresh mountain air where they are able to absorb moisture from the rain and dew through their skin. Usually what the monk finds most difficult is not the lack of food and water, but keeping awake and keeping the proper posture at all times of the day."
Since 1885, only 46 monks have successfully completed this fast.

Hindus have a whole menu of fasts (pardon the pun)...
-The man who abstains from one meal every day throughout the month called Margasirsha, becomes freed from all his sins.
-He who passes the whole month of Magha, abstaining every day from one of the two meals, takes birth in a high family and attains to a position of eminence among his kinsmen.
-He who passes the whole month of Bhagadaivata (Phalgun), confining himself every day to only one meal becomes a favourite with women who, indeed, readily fall under his sway.
-The person who passes the month of Jyaishtha confining himself every day to one meal a day, succeeds in attaining to a position of eminence and great wealth.
-He who passes the month of Ashadha confining himself to one meal a day and with senses steadily concentrated upon his duties, becomes possessed of much corn, great wealth, and a large progeny.
-That man who confines himself to only one meal a day for the whole month of Proshthapada (Bhadrapad), becomes endued with great wealth and attains, to swelling and durable affluence.
-The man who passes the month of Aswin, confining himself to one meal a day, becomes pure in soul and body, possessed of animals and vehicles in abundance, and a large progeny.
-He who passes the month of Kartika, confining himself to one meal every day, becomes possessed of heroism, many spouses, and great fame.

Jains sometimes take fasting to the ultimate length...
"Santhara or Sallenkhana is a procedure in which a Jain stops eating with the intention of preparing for death. This is different from suicide as it is not taken in passionate mood of anger, deceit etc but it is undertaken only when the body is no more capable of serving it's owner as a instrument of sprituality and when inevitability of death is a matter of undisputed certainty. The intention is to purify the body, and remove all thought of the physical things from the mind. As well as giving up food and water, the ascetic abandons all desires and dislikes so that they can concentrate exclusively on the spiritual as they approach death."

To me, fasting has always been metaphorical - the hunger of our bodies is symbolic of the hunger in our souls. This hunger of the soul brings our physical wants into proper persepctive. By self-inflicted deprivation we develop patience and discipline, both of which are sorely lacking in our world today. Perhaps most importantly, we develop gratitude for our lives filled with plenty, and compassion for those who are hungry due to poverty, war, or famine. In case we ever forget how many people are in that boat...

-According to Unicef:
400 million children do not have access to safe water
90 million children are severely food-deprived

-According to the Bread for the World Institute:
852 million people across the world are hungry, up from 842 million a year ago.

-According to Donation.Com
Every year, almost 9 million people die from hunger. That's 24,000 deaths a day, or one life unnecessarily lost every 3.6 seconds. Three-fourths of the deaths are children under the age of five.

-According to the End World Hunger Project:
More than 12 million U.S. children go without food at least once a week because there is none in the house. 8 million suffer every day from chronic hunger.

Support those who are fasting. They may be tired, irritable, forgetful, or whiney, but they are doing spiritual heavy lifting. Feed them when the rules let them eat, give them pleasant distraction when they do not, and carry them gently in your heart the rest of the time.

Go in Peace.

Science Marches On

It appears that the cybernetic bodies the Ministry is developing may not be needed after all. It turns out that a fellow named Alex Chiu has solved the problem of aging. He calls his amazing discovery Eternal Life Rings.

Alex Chiu

Wow. And just in time for my birthday, too...

Mr. Chiu's site is a treasure trove of previously undisclosed knowledge, that he offers for free, just for the betterment of the world. There really is just too much here to give you an accurate feel for it, but here are some quotes:

"So in the future, farming will be done in high tech sky scrapers. This 80 stories high sky scraper is a giant robotic farm house."

"Nowaday's Japanese robots already know how to talk and do some basic house cleaning. Robots will be as smart as humans in year 2050."

"Attention. Eternal Life Device is already patented and is proven by many people to be working. Teleportation is not. The reason why I wrote this page is because we need teleportation very badly since everyone now lives forever."

"Let's see what's inside matter. First, what is inside this baseball?
To find out what is inside the baseball, let's zoom it up! ZOOM!
So! There are whole bunch of atoms inside the baseball! Duhh.
What is inside an atom? Good question. Let's ZOOM it up again!
Wow! Inside an atom are more little atoms!
Inside an atom are more little atoms. Inside a little atom are more little, little atoms!"

"Long time ago, there were only one gender cells. Then one day, a cell was infected with a disease, a DNA disorder, and reproduced offsprings of male and female (two different kinds of gender)."

Seriously - click on his link. It is just too odd to be conveyed in a few sentences.

From the Desk of the Dark Acolyte

On this the momentous 40th anniversary of the birth of my uncle, the Reverend Linus, I present this gift. I have commanded my maternal vessel and paternal unit to procure this gift and assure its delivery to you. I must add that the Blue’s Clues wrapping paper, while amusing, was not my ideal selection. As it was the only non Christmas paper the maternal vessel had available, I had no choice but to acquiesce. I hope that the gift pleases and amuses you. (Editor's note: The gift was a very nice travel version of Scrabble. The Dark Pontif was pleased.)

Here we see the Dark Acolyte hard at work, dictating correspondence.

I know that there is a belief, dare I say even a fervent desire, among some that I assume female form when I finally grace this Earth in the Fall of this year. I understand that in accordance with this belief, I have been referred to as the Dark Niece. As I have not yet chosen to reveal my preference, I have given myself the gender-neutral moniker of Dark Acolyte. This indicates my current unknown status and my dedication to supporting the hellfire, brimstone, and heathen smiting of my most revered Uncle’s ministry.

I remain your most humble,

Dark Acolyte

p.s. Mom and Dad say Hi and Happy Birthday.

(It's one thing to get your friends to play along with your fantasy life. It's quite another when your family joins in. My sister and brother-in-law are cool...)