Saturday, January 31, 2015

Whatever Happened to Rebecca Vitsmun?

On May 20, 2013 a gigantic EF5 tornado struck the city of Moore, Oklahoma. The tornado did massive amounts of damage and directly caused the deaths of twenty-four people. In the aftermath of the tornado, an unlikely resident of Moore by the name of Rebecca Vitsmun garnered international attention. Rebecca had the following highly overproduced and staged (per information revealed later on) interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on live television.

As you can see, Wolf essentially painted Rebecca into a philosophical corner and forced her hand. He repeatedly brought up the concept of being blessed, even going so far as to ask if she thanked the lord multiple times. If you pay attention to Rebecca, you can tell she was trying to be nice and continually dodged Wolf's assertions. But, at the end, Vitsmun finally had to respond to Wolf's incessant badgering... so she didOn live television, she outed herself as an atheist. Even her own family was not aware of her position, much to their surprise. It took a great deal of bravery and fortitude to make such a statement on air for the whole world to see. But... the story did not end there.

Soon after the interview went viral on the internet, the insightful and witty comedian Doug Stanhope decided to help. He created a crowd-funding project with the website Indiegogo to help Rebecca and her family. This project, which initially just started out as an affront to the hypocrisy of organized religion, soon morphed into a massive campaign. When the funding project finished, it had raised a whopping $125,760 from 4,475 donors! In fact, I was one of the donors to the campaign. As a fellow atheist; it was the least I could do.

At this point, most would ask...

"Whatever happened to Rebecca Vitsmun? Where did the money go?"

I recently found a podcast that Stanhope recorded in March of 2014. He finally had the opportunity to speak at length with Vitsmun after the donations had been awarded to her. During the course of the interview, she revealed that her family (husband Brian and son Anders) moved away from Oklahoma as soon as possible. Thanks to her insurance coverage, she spent a year in nearby Norman, Oklahoma getting her family's affairs in order. From there, they purchased a home in the Tacoma, Washington area with the money that was raised. Vitsmun has since become a compassionate voice within the atheist and humanist global community. She has also profusely thanked everyone whom helped her family.

It's stories like this that reflect the good that atheists can do. It highlights a few key points that I greatly appreciate.
  • Religion isn't necessary to lend a helping hand.
  • Having faith does not automatically equate to having compassion -- they are NOT mutually exclusive.
  • You never know who might be an atheist in your life. Many atheists are closeted out of fear from persecution -- usually from their own family.
  • Atheists are not devil-worshipers, Satanists or evil. They're no different than anyone else.
I commend Rebecca for being honest with the world. The atheist community owes her a debt of gratitude. She makes us all look a little bit better.

For more information about helping others in the capacity as an atheist / humanist, please visit Foundation Beyond Belief.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Almond and Fish - YUM!

Good evening my readers. I have nothing monumental to say tonight, being that it's Friday and you're probably out having fun. Let's face it... I'm really just talking to myself.

That being said, I thought I'd share some photos of a cute little snack which my great friend Yuka mailed me all the way from Japan. She sent this in a package last January to celebrate the new year. As you can see, this snack is out of this world!

Yep... that's a bag of almonds and tiny little dried fish.

I can assure you - they taste better than they look. A snack of this caliber may come as a shock to the average American. But, once you get past the notion of eating a whole baby fish (I think it's a sardine), it's actually quite pleasant. My taste palette is a bit on the adventurous side anyway, so this was no problem for me to eat.

You'd think this would be a very salty snack that reeks of a pungent fish odor. Yet, you'd be wrong. It's actually very sweet tasting. The fish are not crunchy, to be honest. Instead, they mostly just fall apart in your mouth and melt away. Contrasting with the fish are the almonds, which add a nice depth to the overall flavor. From what Yuka told me, this is a very healthy and popular snack in Japan. Many parents prefer to give this snack to their kids instead of sweets, chips and candy.

I've been savoring the packets Yuka mailed me for the past year and making them last. Being that I can't purchase such a delicacy in the United States, I have to stretch out my supply. If you ever get the opportunity to try the almond and fish snack, be brave and go for it!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Scanner Porkly.

Today, I luckily discovered a programmable ten channel radio scanner unit for sale at a local Goodwill store. It's a Regency R1077 produced by Uniden during the mid 1980's. Thankfully, the scanner fired right up without issue and works great. In fact, I have it receiving signals from all across the North Carolina Piedmont Triad region as I type this. The unit only set me back $3.00.

Check out that sexy wood-grain finish!

In all actuality, this unit is a doorway into a hobby I've always held great interest in, but never explored -- amateur radio. This is more commonly referred to as ham radio.

An amateur radio broadcaster is someone whom uses radio equipment (typically a home-based transmitter) to communicate with others for personal, non-commercial use. Amateur radio can also be used for emergencies when normal channels of communication fail (as they did with the 9/11 disaster). To be able to legally broadcast over the allotted amateur radio frequencies, you must have an operators license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This is not expensive to obtain and anyone can do so.

I know the very basics of the amateur radio hobby -- just enough to recognize what it is and how it essentially works. What interests me is the ability to speak with other operators from all across the country... and even from around the world. Radio broadcasting has always piqued my interest, especially the prospect of meeting new people from all walks of life and all corners of the globe.

I've located the local amateur radio club in Greensboro and am debating visiting to learn more. Maybe I'll finally take the plunge get into the hobby.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Value of the Butcher.

In recent weeks, I have had the displeasure of opening two newly-purchased, but spoiled, packages of pork meat. It's an extremely odorous and sickening discovery, to say the least. The first package I opened came from a local Food Lion grocery. Upon tearing the package open, I immediately knew the pork was bad. It had a pungent, sour smell that can only be described as rotten. The package was returned the following morning for a refund. Thankfully, the employee I dealt with didn't give me a hard time.

This evening, I had the same event occur yet again. Earlier in the afternoon, I'd purchased a pack of boneless pork ribs from my local Lowe's Foods. My dinner tonight was to be a pork stir fry. Needless to say, that quickly became a chicken stir fry. The pork ribs looked and smelled fine upon removing them from the package. I discovered their true putrid nature once I started to slice them apart. The inner centers were dark brown and stunk terribly. It's a good thing I had some chicken in the freezer to complete the stir fry with.

I realize that this is an odd topic of discussion, but it highlights a steady trend in grocery stores. That trend? The lack of an on-sight butcher.

The Butcher's Shop by Annibale Carracci, circa 1580

Both of the grocery stores that I received spoiled meat from do not have an on-site butcher. They might have a closed-off butcher work area, but there's no actual butcher there doing work. Instead, stock boys are merely receiving and repackaging prepared meat portions that have been delivered to their location. This is troublesome, in my opinion. The value of a knowledgeable butcher goes without saying. They know how to prepare meat and what manner to store it. Most importantly, a butcher knows how to spot a problem with meat before it ever reaches the consumer.

This drift away from on-site butchers will only continue as consumers become farther and farther removed from their sources of food. Unfortunately, there's little the consumer can do to change this trend. Corporations will continually fine-tune and tweak their chains of production to maximize their profits. Removing the butcher from the local grocery is just another cog in the capitalist machine.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Recycled Movies.

If you're a Facebook user, then you're probably familiar with the Trending tab on the right side of the home page. It keeps track of popular stories that are being shared all across the Facebook website by users. Here is what I saw just a short while ago.

In just one day, three of the highest trending stories on Facebook concerned Hollywood remakes of past films -- Indiana Jones, Fantastic Four and Ghostbusters. This is completely unacceptable.

Are the creative minds in Hollywood so bankrupt as to not have any new ideas for films? Considering the talent that's present in this world, I find that option highly doubtful. You see, the issue is much more tangible than that. I'll break it down in the simplest of terms.

Remakes are like insurance policies for film studios. Their benefits far outweigh the risks. A remake brings with it a certain degree of nostalgia and legacy that compels the average American movie goer to feel more comfortable with seeing it.

"Yeah, I've seen that movie before. It was pretty good. I'll go spend $X to see it again."

Along with that level of comfort comes a more likely profit on the backside. A movie that a studio knows audiences are familiar with and will more readily see is perfect for their bottom line. Making films is, at the end of the day, a for-profit venture after all. Thereby, movie studios produce content that they can reasonably predict will earn a profit. It's a win-win scenario in the eyes of movie studios.

How often have I heard people criticize (myself included) that they're sick and tired of seeing remakes of movies? Quite often, in fact! Did we need another Carrie remake? What about another Psycho? And goodness gracious... was that remake of The Karate Kid even remotely warranted? No on all accounts.

Yet, movie studios continue to rehash old content (often at the expense of the film's story and charm) for an eager audience. The bar for higher quality content keeps getting lower...

... and lower...

...... and lower.

Ultimately, the inherent problem isn't with the film studios -- it's with us, the movie-watching audience. Collectively, we demand less quality and creativity in the films we want to see. Instead of innovative and stimulating films with fresh ideas, we instead desire another lackluster iteration of The Amityville Horror -- this time in 4-D! The film studios will continue to create recycled content because we demand it. That, my friends, is the saddest part of all.

I'll leave you with a piece of advice. When the latest remake of Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones or Fantastic Four hits your local cineplex, avoid it. Make your voice heard with your wallet. Tell the film studios that you don't want to see another remake of an older, more magnificent film. If we make our voice heard in unison, they'll hear us.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Dude, You Hit My Car! Part II

Oh happy day...

Some of you with a good memory may recall that my vehicle was damaged by a thankless moron in a Harris Teeter parking lot in 2012. While inside shopping for groceries, a callous driver backed into my front bumper. In the process, they tore it from the driver-side fender and put a large dent in it (most likely from a hitch). That driver left the scene without so much as a note.

No "Sorry." No "Oops, my bad!" No "Kiss my ass." NOTHING.

My insurance ended up covering the damage -- after a $500 deductible and a new bumper, everything was as good as new.

It seems history has a funny way of repeating itself.

I went shopping at a local Food Lion today for a handful of items. I was inside shopping for less then fifteen minutes. Upon returning to my vehicle, I discovered this (click image for higher resolution).

Alas, my bumper is damaged once again -- in almost the exact same spot. At the time of my arrival, I parked in a spot without anyone in front of nor to the left of me. Had I of not been getting groceries, I'd have pulled through. But, I knew I'd need to get in my hatch area to store groceries, so I stayed put. From the looks of things, it seems someone decided to park in front of me. Upon leaving, they heavily scraped my car with the front left corner of their bumper while pulling away. I can tell this by the direction of the scuffing. Instead of just backing up (at least part of the way), they instead zipped right on by my vehicle and scratched the hell out of it in the process. The photo doesn't show it well, but there's black bumper residue from their car, much like what can be found on older vehicles.

And yet again... they failed to leave any sort of note. At this point, I'd even take a "sorry bro, but I've not got any cash to fix it." Just own up to your mistake and do the honorable thing. Even if you can't afford to repair it, I'd at least like the culprit to admit their wrong doing. But no... that's apparently just too much for them to handle.

Nope - I'm surrounded by dishonorable schmucks. I should expect nothing more, right? This is what it is to live in modern America. Most of you (even some of you reading this) are assholes.

Whomever you are that did this, I hope you're smeared with peanut butter and lowered slowly feet-first into a cage filled with rabid, flesh-eating hamsters.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Burns Night 2015.

Another important birthday falls today on January 25, that of Robert Burns. Every year, a feast is held in celebration of Scotland's favorite son. This is known as Burns Night.

Robert Burns, whom is famous worldwide for his hundreds upon hundreds of poems, was a champion for civil, political and social issues in his day. Oh no... the annually chanted Auld Lang Syne was not Robert's only "hit". A vast majority of his works sought to highlight the disparities experienced by the common Scot. He died at the young age of 37 in the year 1796, but his legend has only grown in the time since.

With Burns Night, Scots (both home and abroad), commemorate the poet with food and drink. The traditional celebratory meal is haggis. Haggis is the combination of a sheep liver, lung and heart that have been minced and placed in the sheep stomach. Various spices and herbs are also mixed in. The stomach is then simmered for a few hours.  With haggis, mashed turnips and potatoes are served as side dishes. Alas, let us not forget the drink -- traditional Scottish whiskey (Scotch)!

My friends, eat a big meal this evening, take a drink and honor the memory of a fine scholar, writer and icon. Here's to you Mr. Burns!

And now, one of Burns' favorite poems which is usually spoken before the haggis is served...

Address To a Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Happy Birthday Warren Zevon.

On this day, January 24, Warren Zevon would have been 68 years old. He left us far too soon. Being that it's his birthday, I'd like to take a moment to remember the man as he was.

Many terms could be used to describe Warren -- a lover, a fighter, a sincere pain in the ass and a wordsmith. His extreme talent was only overshadowed by his penchant for hysteria and misanthropy. Warren, in my opinion, is to this day one of the greatest song writers to have ever graced the earth. His ability to weave intricate tales through music rank him with the greats. Amazingly, his songs could reflect the dreary side of existence, comedy, love, horror or a spectacular combination of all the above. Yet, his competitive and self-destructive behavior always seemed to keep him from the limelight he so desperately deserved.

Warren Zevon was not a perfect man by any means. Just ask those closest to him. Yet, even through all the booze and blusterous grandstanding, he somehow remained charming... in his own macabre manner.

His career spanned nearly forty years. Though perhaps best known for the eerily comedic Werewolves of London, Warren's catalog of songs would put most any talented singer-songwriter to shame. There's a reason he garnered the respect of such greats as Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, The Everly Brothers, Bob Dylan, various members of the Eagles, and many more.

As Zevon grew older, he calmed down a great deal and got his life back on track. By the 1990's, he'd put most of his terrible behavior behind him. As such, I believe Zevon mellowed and matured like a fine wine, as did his work. By the time he reached the new millennium, I feel he'd finally gotten comfortable in his own skin. To hell with what others thought of him, Warren was just glad to be alive and doing what he loved.

In 2002, Warren began to have dizzy spells and shortness of breath. Upon finally visiting a doctor, he learned that he had developed peritoneal mesothelioma (caused by exposure to absestos). In an interview with his good friend David Letterman, Warren expanded upon his diagnosis, as well as his grim prospects.

"I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for twenty years."

Ever quick-witted with the tongue, Warren somehow took his final months in stride with great candor and self-deprecation. Not one to sit idle and waste away, Zevon completed his magnum opus album before dying -- The Wind. After a career spanning decades and filled with fantastic songs, he finally earned his first Grammy award. Unfortunately, Warren would not live to see it. Warren Zevon passed away on September 7, 2003.

A few years ago, I did a month long tribute to Warren Zevon on my Facebook page. Every day,  I shared one song of his that I enjoyed. As I leave you, I'll revisit some of those great songs with you. Click on the videos below and give them a listen, for Warren's sake. Maybe you're a lapsed fan. Perhaps you're a young person just discovering his music for the first time. Either way, enjoy Warren for what he was.

A smart, talented, ever-so-unique human being.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Thanks Stupid Americans, You've Brought Back Measles!

As many of you may be aware, America is currently dealing with a measles outbreak. If you haven't heard about this, let me give you a quick update. In mid-December 2014, an unknown infected person or persons spread the measles virus in one of the worst places possible -- Disneyland. Since then, an outbreak of measles cases has spread from California to many other western states, including Arizona, Washington, Utah, Colorado and Oregon. It has also since appeared in Mexico.

Here's the sad, but brutal truth about the outbreak... it is almost totally controllable. Why is it spreading, though? Because Americans, at an alarming rate, are not vaccinating their children. Records of all the cases thus far reported in California show that only six of the thirty-four infected patients were vaccinated.


It's the year 2015, yet we have parents whom are neglecting to vaccinate their children against diseases. This is especially infuriating considering many of these diseases have been previously labeled as eradicated. Measles was considered eradicated in 2000! At its peak, measles was killing two million people globally. Through hard work and science, we put measles to bed and had it beat in the United States.

Now, thanks to lazy parents and those whom fall victim to junk science, it's back with a vengeance.

The vaccine against measles isn't one-hundred percent accurate, but it's damn close. Coupled with preventative widespread vaccinations, there is little chance of catching it in a responsible society. By not vaccinating your child, you not only open them up to a major illness and possible lifelong debilitation, but you also put the lives of other innocent children at risk.

And no, before you even ask... Vaccines do NOT cause autism. This is a prime example of the junk science that has been widely proliferated in the new millennium. Not a single study has shown a link between vaccinations and autism -- ever. Past claims of vaccines being the cause of autism have since been debunked or proven fraudulent. The Centers for Disease Control and the Institute of Medicine both support these findings. Even the Autism Science Foundation reports the fact that vaccines do not cause autism. The science is clear and speaks for itself. Not only is it safe to vaccinate your child, but it's your responsibility to do so. If you do not vaccinate your child against diseases like measles, you're essentially babysitting a severe illness just waiting to happen.

Thanks to parents whom believe such nonsense, the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases (measles, whooping cough, mumps, etc.) has increased over six-thousand percent between the years 2008 and 2014! Let that sink in.

So thanks Stupid Americans! You've given the world another reason to laugh at our nation.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hot Pretzels!

I'd like to highlight one of the most often overlooked snack foods -- the pretzel. Odds are you have a bag of pretzels in your pantry. They're a common food item to be found in my home, as I'm sure they are in yours. But... where do they come from?

Here are a few interesting facts about the pretzel that you may not know.
  • The modern pretzel originates in the sixth century with Italian monks. They twisted dough into a shape resembling folded hands across the chest in prayer. They were then rewarded to eager children.
  • Average Americans eat one to two pounds of hard pretzels per person annually. There is one exception, though -- the average Pennsylvania resident will consume ten to twelve times more pretzels than the national average!
  • The name Pretzel most likely originates with the German word Brezel. Brezel is derived from Latin word bracchiolla, which means little arms.
  • In America, pretzels first came to prominence in Pennsylvania. This is due to all of the European settlers that came to live in the New World. The area was widely settled by Germans and the Dutch.
  • April 26 is National Pretzel Day. It was founded in 2003 by the then Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell.
  • A pretzel without salt is referred to as a baldie.
  • If you're nuts for pretzels, then you're what's known as a Pretzelphyte.
In case you're wondering, I prefer a classic soft pretzel without salt over the hard pretzel found on grocery store snack aisles.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

This Soap Nerd Met a Toad!

If you remember, I previously published a blog in November about how much I love bar soap. Tonight's blog is in a similar vein, but this will focus on some wonderful handcrafted soaps I recently purchased.

I wish you could smell this through your screen.

While visiting the Raleigh Flea Market at the North Carolina State Fair Grounds, I happened to meet Carol of the Blinking Toad Workshop. She had a massive display booth containing a variety of hand made soaps in a multitude of fragrances. That alone was enough to real a soap nerd like me in. I could not even begin to count the number of varieties she had available. I finally settled on four bars -- Bay Rum, Fresh Orange, Citrus Cedar Sage and True Vanilla. As to the price, it was VERY competitive to what you'd pay for in a department store. I'd much rather spend my money with a local merchant whom produces their own product. This holds especially true when they're competitive with mass-produced items. For the quality of product I received, the price was perfect.

I started using the Fresh Orange bar this morning and WOW! It lathers up great, rinses off smooth and I've smelled like a ripe, juicy orange all day long. Per what their website says, they only use "olive oil, coconut oil, organic palm oil, organic sunflower oil, shea butter, natural botanical and mineral colorants, and essential oils or phthalate-free fragrances." The funny part? I noticed this evening that the bar has made my bathroom smell lush and inviting just by sitting unused in the shower. It's like having a scented candle burning... just without the candle!

So good, you almost want to take a bite... almost.

As a huge proponent of buying directly from a local business owner, I can't tell you how pleased I am to have made my purchase. The soap nerd in me just geeks out over stuff like this! I'll certainly be a repeat customer.

Please visit with the Blinking Toad Workshop upon your next visit to the Raleigh Flea Market. They're at booth #332. If you can't make it down to Raleigh, place an order at their website -- Or, check them out on Facebook at You won't regret it. Tell 'em Jared sent you!

Go ahead and laugh, but soap rocks. Try getting yourself going in the morning without a bar of soap to wash with in the shower. Good luck feeling clean and productive all day.

Full Disclosure -- This was NOT a paid advertisement. I'm just a nut for good soap.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Grinding My Gears! - Dumb Facebook Recipes

It's that time again for another installment of...

On tonight's Grinding My Gears, I want to discuss a thorn in my side that I contend with constantly. That's right... Dumb Facebook Recipes. Here are two photos of a recipe I saw this morning on my Facebook timeline. Be sure to click the images to see them in a larger and much clearer format.

I want to thank my friend Christopher for allowing me to share this particular recipe with you. In no way does this blog reflect upon him -- Chris is a smart guy and I think he will understand the point I'm about to make. Certainly, this conglomerate of tasty sweets is mouth-watering, but good grief. Thanks Chris!

That being said, here's my issue with Dumb Facebook Recipes like this one. They're not recipes at all! The level of difficulty to make this "Heaven in a Bowl" dish ranks somewhere between making ice and boiling water! The ingredients:

  • 1 fudge brownie mix (as in go buy it from a store)
  • 2 Packages of miniature peanut butter cups (buy it from a store, too)
  • 4 cups of milk (yep, buy it)
  • 2 packages of instant vanilla pudding mix (buy it)
  • 1 cup of creamy peanut butter (buy it *yawn*)
  • 4 teaspoons of vanilla extract (buy it *zzzzzzz*)
  • 2 containers of whipped topping (*zzzzzzzzzzzZZzzZz*)

That's it folks. No baking or preparation required. Buy - Dump - Stir - Eat


Per the directions, it tells you to "prepare brownie batter according to package directions". What kind of instruction is that?! Not only is this recipe absent of any challenge or integrity, it actually resorts to telling you to follow someone else's directions for a component of the dish. Who does that? It's like an architect designing a house, but outsourcing the drawing aspect to a dishwasher at Red Lobster! From there on, you basically lump everything together and layer it in a bowl.

It's a recipe so simple, a blindfolded hippo could mash it together while taking a dump in a river.

Such silly recipes are insulting, really. Here's how it would go down on a cooking show...

"DUHHHH, you take dis ones here and picks it up."

"Thens, you puts dis ones in wit dis ones."

DURRRRRRHHHHH, gives it a good stirrings."

"Yup, you eats it now."

Dumb Facebook Recipes aren't so much recipes as they are new ways for depressed morons to eat high-calorie foods all at once. The type of people that come up with such ideas (in this case, a simpleton named Shannon Ross) must pick super sweet foods out of thin air and decide to clump them together.

"Err.... Chocolate and peanut butter... marshmallows... some peppermint... a handful of pistachios... three cups of egg nog... a carton of butter pecan ice cream... two heaping spoons of hot fudge... yeahhhhhh."

When it comes to "Heaven in a Bowl", you know some deadbeat fat-ass was sitting around their apartment late one night and mashed what crap they could find in their fridge together. I'll set the scene for you...

*removes Oculus Rift from their face, wipes drool off their chin, pulls pants up*

"Peanut butter cups, brownies, whipped cream, vanilla pudding... yep, it's a fan-frickin'-tastic recipe now BABY! Look out Rachel Ray, I'm gonna be a star!"

I think maybe I'll come up with a Dumb Facebook Recipe. Perhaps I can make it go viral! It seems all the idiots can do it... why not good ol' Jared?!

Monday, January 19, 2015

1980's Television Retrospective: 1985 - 1986.

There was no better decade for prime-time television than the 1980's. In this series of retrospective articles, I hope to share my love of this televised decade with you. Perhaps I'll jog your memory of a hit from the past. Better yet, maybe I'll introduce you to something new to watch! In this series, I'll be analyzing each year of the decade in no particular order.

Tonight, I'll start with the 1985 - 1986 season.

Here's the rundown of each network by day, along with my comments. Please note that this list will not include news programs, sporting events, network broadcasts of feature films or made for television movies. Also, the Fox Network had yet to make its premiere, so you won't see any listings for them. If a program moved around the schedule within the season, I'll only mark it once with the day it premiered originally.

Punky Brewster


ABC - Ripley's Believe It or Not, MacGyver,
CBS - Murder She Wrote, Crazy Like a Fox, Trapper John, M.D.
NBC - Punky Brewster, Silver Spoons, Fathers and Sons, Amazing Stories, Alfred Hitchcock Presents

  • As a kid, the two big ones for me were MacGyver and Punky Brewster. I followed both programs and watched them faithfully. To be honest, I probably had a small crush on Punky (who didn't?). Who thought a program about an orphaned girl would be so darn appealing? As to MacGyver, he was the MAN! I can remember trying to guess every week what devices he'd cook up in the episode. It premiered in the fall of 1985, went on for seven seasons and two made-for-television movies. MacGyver went down as one of the most successful shows of the 1980's.

Cagney and Lacey


ABC - Hardcastle and McCormick
CBS - Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Kate & Allie, Newhart, Cagney & Lacey
NBC - TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes, You Again?, Valerie

  • There really wasn't much for me to watch as a kid on Monday nights this season. In terms of '80s TV nostalgia, this night has come to be known as "The Night of And's". You can obviously see why. TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes was decent. I recall watching it for the animated segments drawn by MAD Magazine's very own Sergio Aragones! As I've grown older, though, I've come to like and appreciate Newhart. Cagney & Lacey was a program I watched occasionally, but don't remember too much of it. It's great to watch in reruns, though. Interesting fact -- in the first season of Cagney and Lacey, Meg Foster (They Live) originally portrayed Cagney. She was replaced after the first season by the fantastic Sharon Gless because CBS's executives thought Foster gave off too much of a lesbian vibe. Times sure have changed for the better in that department!

The A-Team


ABC - Who's the Boss?, Growing Pains, Perfect Strangers, Moonlighting, Our Family Honor, Spenser: For Hire 
CBS - Hometown, Stir Crazy, Melba, Charlie & Co., Mary, Foley Square, The Equalizer
NBC - The A-Team, Riptide, Hunter, Remington Steele, Stingray

  • Tuesday night was one of the best nights on television during the 1985-1986 season. I had tons of great shows to watch, but there was always a tough decision to make at 8 PM -- do I watch Who's the Boss? or The A-Team? Usually, The A-Team won out if I had any control over the television remote (that wasn't always the case). I can remember my mother not caring for The A-Team very much, but it wasn't a huge loss. To this day, I think Tony Danza is highly under-rated as an actor. Perfect Strangers was a show I can remember being very fond of, but not at this point. It premiered with a short six-episode run in the spring of 1986 before it found its way to Friday night in 1988. There, Perfect Strangers would go on to become a fan favorite with TGIF! In terms of greatness, though, the best show was by far the new series The Equalizer. Many times, I would sneak into the hallway and try to watch this from afar without getting caught by my parents. As I grew older, I was allowed to stay up later and watch it -- particularly with my grandpa when I stayed overnight with my grandparents! Robert McCall stands proudly in the pantheon of great television characters, in my opinion. The stellar performance by Edward Woodward turned me into a lifelong fan of his work. Moonlighting was a series I didn't watch until I was much older, but it's an instant romantic-comedy classic in a time before rom-com's were at thing.



ABC - The Insiders, Dynasty, The Hotel
CBS - Fast Times, West 57th, Tough Cookies, Crazy Like a Fox, Airwolf
NBC - Highway to Heaven, Hell Town, Blacke's Magic, Gimme a Break!, St. Elsewhere

  • Wednesday was sort of the bummer night during this season. Not much aired that I liked except for Airwolf , but I rarely got to see it because it was on at 10PM. I watched a lot of Highway to Heaven, though I didn't like it as a kid. As a teenager, I came appreciate the sincerity of the program and grew to like it during syndication. I remember Gimme a Break! distinctly for Nell Carter, a fine comedic actress in her own right. Gimme a Break! is also where successful actor Joey Lawrence hit it big as a child star.

Simon & Simon


ABC - The Fall Guy, Lady Blue, Shadow Chasers, The Colbys
CBS - Magnum, P.I., Simon & Simon, Bridges to Cross, Knot's Landing
NBC - The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court, Hill Street Blues

  • Thursday was another very difficult evening to watch television. At 8PM during the fall, you had The Fall Guy going up against Magnum, P.I.! Talk about difficult to choose. Many times, I can recall flipping back and forth between the two programs because I loved them both so much. Ten minutes here, then minutes there -- I'd work up a sweat just trying to keep up. Thankfully, both shows would be repeated on other nights throughout the week, so I could catch up if I missed something. Simon & Simon aired in the Magnum, P.I. slot during the spring, but it didn't make the choice any easier. I loved all three programs. As luck would have it, Simon & Simon was very successful in syndication, so I saw many of the episodes I missed previously. Hands down, it's one of the best private detective shows ever produced. Cheers and Night Court were also programs I watched fairly regularly. Obviously, Cheers went on to become the most successful series of the 1980's. The Cosby Show, believe it or not, wasn't something that appealed to me at all -- and it still doesn't. Considering how popular it was, my sentiment is certainly in the minority. Maybe I just don't get its vibe.

Knight Rider


ABC - Webster, Mr. Belvedere, Diff'rent Strokes, Mr. Sunshine, Benson, He's the Mayor, Joe Bash, The Love Boat
CBS - The Twilight Zone, Leo & Liz in Beverly Hills, Dallas, Falcon Crest
NBC - Knight Rider, Misfits of Science, The Last Precinct, Miami Vice

  • WHOA! In the 1980's, Friday night was not a death slot where TV shows went to slowly die like today. I usually watched (geeked out over) Knight Rider unless it was a rerun, to which I then watched Webster and Mr. Belvedere. For some reason, I don't believe I was even aware of The Twilight Zone as a kid, which was a real pity. The '80s revival series was a great one and still holds up if you watch it today. While I didn't watch them, both Dallas and Falcon Crest were huge programs that dominated the ratings. Perhaps the biggest of all the programs shown on Friday was Miami Vice, which has come to epitomize much of what the '80s represents. Miami Vice didn't really appeal to me as a kid, either. I wouldn't appreciate it until later on in syndication, when I was older.

The Golden Girls


ABC - Hollywood Beat, The Redd Foxx Show, Mr. Sunshine, Lime Street, Lady Blue, Fortune Dane 
CBS - All Repeats
NBC - The Facts of Life, The Golden Girls, 227, All Is Forgiven, Hunter

  • Saturday was usually the day networks would broadcast repeats of their programs from earlier in the week. This gave folks like me the chance to catch up on shows that I'd missed due to competition or a bed time (Magnum, P.I., Fall Guy, Airwolf, etc.). Though, NBC premiered a massive hit that went on to win many awards over the course of seven seasons -- The Golden Girls. While I didn't appreciate it in its first-run, The Golden Girls became a show I watched later on in syndication. I was just too young to "get it" at the time. While not something I made a point to watch, my grandma absolutely LOVED Hunter. It seems like she screamed commands at the show every time she watched it. Look out, Hunter!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Out of Step.

A Midnight Modern Conversation by William Hogarth, Etching - 1732-1733

I spent nearly three hours composing a blog post this evening, which you'll get to see tomorrow. Hopefully, it'll bring back some memories for my readers. No teasers, though. I put a lot of work into writing it!

That being said, Sunday is usually quiet for me. Being that I work from home and have no children, Sunday night isn't anything monumental. I don't dread having to be back at work on Monday morning. Nor do I have to concern myself with getting kids ready for the new school week. I suppose you could say that puts me out of step with most of America. Oh well.. Not much I can do about that, now is it?

I thought I'd share a poem with you this evening from the celebrated Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, entitled "Was There a Time".

Was there a time when dancers with their fiddles
In children's circuses could stay their troubles?
There was a time they could cry over books,
But time has set its maggot on their track.
Under the arc of the sky they are unsafe.
What's never known is safest in this life.
Under the skysigns they who have no arms
Have cleanest hands, and, as the heartless ghost
Alone's unhurt, so the blind man sees best.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why We Need Less Police Officers, Not More.

For just a moment, let's imagine a world where civil and personal liberties are not criminalized. The use of chemical substances, whether naturally occurring or produced in a laboratory, is not restricted. Prostitution is not an illegal activity, but merely a private transaction conducted by two consenting adults. Gambling is a risk knowingly taken by informed adults.

With that sort of world in mind, answer the following question.

If all of those activities were suddenly decriminalized, what exactly would police do?

We're here to help you.

For our nation's supposed protectors of the peace, without nonviolent "crimes" like solicitation, drug possession/use and gambling, the police wouldn't be very busy, now would they? You see, this is the great ruse that's been pulled over our eyes. The criminalization of non-violent activities carried out by consenting adults harms no one. Yet, these same actions are illegal. Why? Because without these actions bearing an illegal status, the police would have a lot less policing to do. If there are less laws to enforce, then there's less need for police. Less need for police equates to less need for prisons.

Don't you see? It's all about the money. Making everyday adult activities illegal puts money in the pockets of oligarchs, politicians, police unions and the industrial prison complex. It creates jobs for police officers where there is no need. Average citizens, whom have not harmed anyone else, are incarcerated and used as cash cows for the police state wealth machine. Sure, the police are an important segment of our civil servant sector. Though, why not treat the police like fire and rescue departments? You don't see firemen roaming the streets in high-powered automobiles looking for fires to catch. Nor do you see EMT's lurking behind every street corner trying to catch a heart attack. Why not officiate the police in such a manner as their fellow civil servants? If an actual crime is taking place, like a robbery or assault, then we'll call upon them to make their presence known and enforce actual laws. In fact, we already do that to some degree -- by using 911! Thereby, we know such a method works.

Violent crime has been dropping in the United States for decades. As of 2013 (the last year on record), violent criminal acts were at their lowest point since the 1970's. Yet, since 1980 and President Reagan's War on Drugs initiative, the incarceration rate for nonviolent offenders (drug use, solicitation, gambling, etc.) has more than doubled. Over twenty five percent of all inmates nationwide are incarcerated for a non-violent act. Correctional budgets rank second nationwide for states in terms of cost; only Medicaid costs more. As a whole, America has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world.

In the most basic of explanations, we do not need as many police officers in this country. There are far too many police for too few actual crimes. Remove wrongfully criminalized acts like prostitution, drug possession and the like. What you do with your body and the choices you make, short of harming someone else, is your business.

Friday, January 16, 2015

These Dreams Still Glisten.

The vitriol of a dying sun
Caught awash in the tide of reason
Atop a heap of broken words
A time for every season

Embark this day for a fragile promise
Spoken by a humble heap of bone
Nary a blade nor pistol to be found
This silent engine is yours to disown

In a life which you hate
Your undoing awaits you at dinner
Salad days are here again
Be sure to tip your sinner

The joy of your spotlight moment
Bleeds into the bottle of tomorrow
Part the seas of hopefulness
Set sail on the winds of sorrow

Your fingers touched grace once
Burst free of the phantom disorder
Stop and take a second look
These dreams still glisten with ardor

Along the edge of emptiness I say
I say
I say
I say
Say it to me
Open my eyes and let me see

Ophelia by John Everett Millais, 1851-1852

Thursday, January 15, 2015

My Favorite Video Games: Gyruss.

Who can forget taking a trip to an arcade in their youth? Rows and rows of flashing screens, digitally processed music, bleeps, bloops and the rattle of quarters.

Ah, those were the days.

For kids born within the past twenty years, arcades are really a thing of the past. You'd be hard-pressed to find an arcade these days, though they do exist if you know where to look. Even finding a couple of stand-up arcade units in a gas station or convenience store were nice as a child. Or, what about the local pizza parlor with a classic sit-down table arcade unit? Those were awesome!

With all of this fond nostalgia whipping through my head, I'd like to premiere another new series of articles.

My Favorite Video Games!

For my first entry, I shall discuss an absolute classic -- Gyruss.

Premiering in 1983, Gyruss is a classic space shoot 'em up that few can forget once they've played it. You pilot a powerful space ship hurtling through our solar system. Starting at the planet Neptune, you work your way through multiple levels past a majority of the planets circling our sun -- Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and finally Earth. Along they way, you combat endless hordes of enemy space ships, asteroids, laser beams and satellite dishes. Your mission is to make it home alive and in one piece. This is easier said than done, of course.

An original Gyruss arcade unit.

What makes Gyruss stand out from all the other endless variations of space shooters (like Galaga or Space Invaders) is its unique top-down 3-D perspective. Your space ship circles around the screen in a virtual tube instead of up and down, left to right. As you shoot at enemies, your shots travel towards the center of the screen. This simulates the feeling of flying through space in the first-person perspective. As such, this is what's known as a tube shooter in the video game world. A game which shares this mechanic is the infamous (and also fun) Tempest.

Thankfully, Gyruss received multiple ports to home consoles, like the Nintendo. If you own a NES, be sure to grab a copy of Gyruss from eBay. A copy can be had for less than $5. It's a fantastic port of the original arcade game for a fraction of the cost. Gyruss is an absolute joy to play. It's easy to pick up and learn, but hard to master (much like Pac-Man). When I have the space in my home, I definitely want an original Gyruss arcade machine!

Here's a fantastic video showcasing game play from Gyruss.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

This Action Figure STINKS!

Yep... just like the title suggests... this action figure really smells terrible!

In 1985, the Masters of the Universe toy series was one of the hottest around. Mattel had a sure-fire hit on their hands, with little competition from other manufacturers (except for Hasbro's Transformers). That same year, Mattel included a peculiar new figure in the Masters of the Universe line-up. It's name was Stinkor.

And when they said Stinkor... they weren't kidding.

As part of the toy's gimmick, Mattel decided to make Stinkor a monstrous skunk monster that actually reeked. As described on the figure's package, Stinkor was the "Evil Master of Odors". Boy, were they not kidding. As soon as you tore Stinkor loose from his packaging, the pungent odor ingrained in the toy hit you like a ton of bricks. Years later, it was revealed that the secret to making Stinkor smell so horrific was a twisted patchouli oil concoction mixed in with the plastic.

Yet, here's the disgusting part. Thirty years later and Stinkor STILL STINKS!

I was lucky enough to own an original Stinkor as a child. Masters of the Universe was one of my favorite toy series when I was little. While digging through my office closet the other day, I happened to look in a bin of old toys. Inside were the majority of my Masters of the Universe figures. Right on top of the heap was Stinkor, so I picked him up and took a whiff.

Yep... it still stinks to high heaven. I was shocked. Not only did Mattel manage to create a memorable toy, but they achieved it in a way that no one would have expected. I guess the moral of the story is this -- the secret to earning the money in a parent's wallet is through their child's nose.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Your Diamond is Worthless.

If you're a married lady, or are engaged, odds are that a diamond ring is on your hand. For countless decades, diamonds have been considered the go-to gift when a man proposes to a woman.

And it's completely and utterly ridiculous.

Why, you are surely asking?

Because diamonds are a crafty marketing ploy to separate you from your money. I'll explain.

Up until 1870, diamonds were indeed rare and precious. Only the wealthiest sultans and kings owned them. Suddenly, a series of massive diamond mines were found in South Africa. This discovery made diamonds extremely plentiful, thereby sending the price of diamonds down to almost nothing. To counter this massive financial loss, a man named Cecil Rhodes purchased all of the diamond mines in South Africa. He had conquered the market by 1888. By monopolizing the diamond mine market, Rhodes was able to artificially control the output of diamonds, thereby sending their value back up. One of the biggest mining companies Rhodes purchased was owned by the DeBeers Brothers. As the conglomerate of diamond mining companies grew, Rhodes' organization took on the DeBeers name. DeBeers continued to grow larger and larger as more diamond mines were uncovered around the world. The company absorbed these new mines as they popped up. Because they could control the number of virtually all the diamonds mined in the world, DeBeers could set the price of diamonds at any level.

Throughout the Twentieth Century and into the Twenty-First, DeBeers has operated the Central Selling Organization. This is the "marketplace" where diamonds are sold at wholesale to purchasers for jewelry production.

You heard that right -- not only does DeBeers control nearly all global diamond mining activity, but they also operate the supply chain which puts diamonds in the hands of jewelers. This still holds true to this day, even though DeBeers was forced to settle an anti-trust lawsuit with the US Government in 2000. Why? Because of their successful world-wide marketing strategy.

And this, my friends, is where the plot thickens...

By the time of the Great Depression, demand for diamonds had fallen dramatically in the United States. The reason why is obvious -- people were broke. Most Europeans hadn't caught on to the idea of owning a diamond, either (because most citizens there were wise to the DeBeers scam). To increase their profits once more in the commercial sector, DeBeers turned to the marketing firm of N.W. Ayer and Son. They're famous for creating the Morton Salt Girl and the catchy "Be All You Can Be" Army slogan, amongst a slew of others. In the 1930's, the marketing firm's president was Gerold M. Lauck. Once hired, Lauck completed an extensive research study about diamond engagement rings. His results weren't surprising -- to sell diamond rings, you have to attract men. Lauck keenly realized that to increase profits for DeBeers, he needed to craft diamonds as the ultimate symbol of love. Accordingly, Lauck also determined that women needed to desire diamond rings, in so much as to expect them when being asked for their hand in marriage.

Immediately, Lauck implemented a dastardly marketing campaign that encompassed nearly all aspects of public and social life. He paid for diamond rings to appear in movies and in magazines. Fashion designers were "encouraged" to feature diamonds on their models. Radio and television programs had placement advertising, which reinforced how owning a diamond ring was a lofty status symbol. Men were told that giving your fiancee the biggest diamond you could afford was the proper thing to do. Women were told that they deserved a large diamond ring because they were special. Lauck was a pure genius. With DeBeers' money, he created one of the most successful marketing campaigns this world has ever known. It was during this campaign that the famous slogan "A Diamond is Forever" was born. Within only a few months, Lauck's campaign strategy increased American diamond sales over fifty percent! To this day, the Lauck campaign is still in full effect. And to think... a commercial-grade diamond has nearly ZERO intrinsic value.

One of the most common DeBeers advertisements.

Consider a report published by The Atlantic magazine in 1982. They studied the history of diamonds, as well as how much a diamond is really worth. Within this widely lauded report, it revealed that the Ayer marketing firm constantly stayed on top of their marketing strategy and made adjustments when and where necessary. Because so many diamonds were in the hands of the public by the 1950's, they were forced to address the massive diamond supply that could potentially be resold, thereby sending prices down. To do this, Ayer created new marketing tactics which encouraged women to value their diamonds more than anything else in their possession. Concurrently, they promoted the notion that diamonds should never be resold. Their marketing strategy again worked -- to this day, it is nearly impossible to find a person that will resell a diamond (either gifted or inherited).

Here's the damning part, though. That same Atlantic report also proved that diamonds depreciate dramatically the moment they leave a jewelry store. The markup on a diamond can be upwards of 200%! As such, a jeweler will not typically buy a diamond back from a customer. Why? Because they have little incentive to do so, even though they could flip the diamond for a small profit. Even if the jeweler did want to repurchase the "used" diamond, their offer would be extremely low. As such, they'll avoid the situation altogether because making a low offer would illustrate how invaluable a diamond really is. If the public truly knew diamonds were not valuable, then they'd stop paying such high prices for them. Essentially, refusing to repurchase the diamond keeps the myth going.

Remember that slick Ayer marketing strategy I mentioned before? One such tactic was to present diamonds in movies as objects which thieves often wanted to steal. In reality, high-level thieves and burglars will rarely, if ever, steal diamonds. They know that it's next to impossible to resell them. Why risk being apprehended for little to no profit? Yet, to this day, heist movies will still show crooks swiping diamonds.

And there you have it my friends. Diamonds are absolutely worthless. Over ninety percent of all profit made from diamonds goes to the DeBeers Cartel. They control the supply. They control the demand. They control your thoughts, even.

Ladies... take a look at that shiny rock on your hand. Understand this -- it is not really valuable. The man (or woman) whom gave that diamond to you was fooled into thinking it was a prized possession. What you have is a very common, mildly lustrous stone. Many generations of Americans before you were tricked into thinking diamonds were important. Their children were taught the same thing, and so on and so forth. You now continue to prop up the diamond myth. You're just the latest victim in a long string of parlor tricks and misinformation, all thanks to greedy tycoons and one of the most brilliant marketing tactics ever devised.

Monday, January 12, 2015

People Watching at Starbucks.

I had an appointment with someone today whom I was buying a large lot of Nintendo games from. They asked to meet me at a Starbucks in Greensboro, to which I happily obliged. I arrived roughly twenty minutes early. With nothing else better to do but wait, I was able to people watch. Accordingly, I made some interesting observations about the various customers going in and out of Starbucks.

Starbucks on Battleground Ave., Greensboro, NC.

  • Obviously prissy girls like to sit outside at the metal picnic tables and drink their coffee. Never mind the fact that it was below forty degrees and rainy, they had to be seen in their North Face jackets and UGG boots.
  • I saw more Mercedes and BMW vehicles pull up than at any other normal business establishment.
  • Spotting a person of color was next to impossible, except for the employees I could see through the storefront of Starbucks.
  • What is it with middle-aged women and funky haircuts? They seem to go for swirled blond hairdos that are short and sit high up on their skulls. It looks like their hair-dresser phoned it in and placed their head in a blender.
  • I saw quite a few girls in short skirts and leggings, but also with fluffy boots, heavy coats and scarves. If they're so damn cold, why would they wear a skimpy skirt with leggings?
  • A large number of customers exiting Starbucks had the most soured-up look on their face. What made them so unhappy? Is the coffee terrible... or were they sad that their drink cost as much as a pound of tasty pastrami?
  • No one holds doors for anyone these days. The guys were especially guilty of this. Be a gentleman and hold a door for a woman, would you?
  • Drivers are terrible about letting other vehicles back out of parking spaces to exit the lot. The more expensive the car, the more likely they were to zip past a person trying to back up (one almost caused an accident).
  • Only two families went into Starbucks with children. With both instances, the kids were screaming, crying and generally being little pricks.
What does all of this say about Starbucks customers? My conclusion is this -- a fair number of Starbucks frequenters are inconsiderate, self-absorbed meat-heads whom only patronize their establishment because it's a signifier of their supposed superior status. Give me a break!

I hope you choke on it.

Full disclosure -- I have never purchased anything from Starbucks in my thirty-two years of existence. I have more sense than that.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Understanding the Illusion.

Nullification is the untainted state of all things. One moment we're swimming in a sea of non-existence. No sense of self. No self to have a sense of. There is only the void, with all things woven into the same mercurial tapestry. Then suddenly, we're ripped from the cold, unfeeling state of oblivion into the world we now live in. From perfection to imperfection. Omnipotence to subsistence.

Each and every one of us holds a lease on a bag of meat.

We go through life trying to find the answers. Who am I? What should I do? Where do I fit in? Why am I important?

It's not that we can't find the answers to these questions, though. The problem is that we never seem to ask the right questions.

What makes one man right over another? Is it the truth? Does the mistress of reality burden herself with a balance scale of all actions? Nay, this is an absurd notion. The first step to seeing past the grand illusion is to release all concepts of right and wrong. Let me be perfectly clear and direct with you.

There is no right or wrong.

That's not to say people don't do terrible, unforgivable things. The slaughter of a child. The theft of a loved-one. The rape of a woman. These things are undeniably painful. I would never commit such acts, just as I hope you never would either. In the grand scope of the universe, though... none of these abominable choices are innately right or wrong. A child dies. A person is lost to the ages. A woman weeps. 

And the universe continues on, without so much as a whimper.

You see, lesser men have created a lattice-work of mendacity just to get through the day. They can't handle the entire weight of the universe bearing down upon them. The knowledge that no one and nothing is out there to execute the rules of fair play is just too damn much to accept. So... they busy themselves with trivial matters. These lesser beings work themselves to death, or they watch too much television. They obsess over their money or drown in a sea of narcotics. They worship idols and gods, pleasure and pain. Anything to stay distracted... but they can not accept that this is all a fantastic magic trick.

The funny part, though? Once you know that you're watching a magic trick, then the semblance of a structured existence becomes all the more enjoyable. We all want to know the secret to how a trick works, but what happens after that?

Knowing the secret of a trick leads you to appreciate the artistry of its administration.

How wonderful that we get to see imperfection in the flesh? The agony of defeat and sacrifice? The colors of the rainbow? The wonder of a freshly cut bouquet of sunflowers? The deep blues and purples of space, scattered with a million billion stars and countless worlds? These things, though phantoms, are no less beautiful. Can you not appreciate the bonds that hold the petals of a flower together? Can you not marvel at the love that keeps two people linked for a lifetime?

The beauty in all things goes far deeper than their surface.

I can not walk through life with head hung low and mind kept dull. My eyes must wander deep into the onyx well. No reflection in the water. No cool breeze trying to return home to the sky. Just me and the substratum, alone together.

Friedrich Nietzsche is infamous for stating the following...

"And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you."

I find Nietzsche to be acute in his language. Though most would take his words as a lyrical hustle of allegory, I find that a much deeper meaning can be gleaned if you take him more at face value. The trick (there's that word again) is to not misread abyss. Instead of an allusion to the depths of the soul, read it merely as a name.

When you stare at abyss, abyss stares at you.

Important here is to identify who or what (though they are one in the same) abyss is. I refer back to the beginning of this article. The abyss is the nothingness we were forced from at the onset of our lives. It represents the cyclical nature of our being. We move from nothing to something, and back to nothing again.

In the abyss. Out of the abyss. In the abyss. Out of the abyss.

This infinite loop of opposing perspectives seems without merit, but consider this...

Would you know what black was without white? Would you know up without down? Would you know joy without sadness?

To understand the abyss, you must leave the abyss.

This circular view of existence is ostentatiously represented by the Ouroboros -- a dragon in an infinite loop consumes itself. There is no beginning or end; there is only the cycle. The Ouroboros first appears in antiquity with the ancient Egyptians, but was also separately present with the Norse, Germans and Greeks. They understood the concept that Nietzsche put to paper long before he ever existed.

I'll leave you with this thought...

Consider the universe as having two basins, much like a kitchen sink. There is the one basin where the amorphous nothingness exists. On the opposite side of the sink is the basin with the world we currently live in. With the advance of technology, many futurists believe at some point that we can obtain immortality (whether via an organic or inorganic means, the choice is irrelevant). Leap ahead to a future where this prediction has been met. All of mankind can live indefinitely. The illness of death has been conquered. As the contents of the nothingness basin slowly transfer to the land of the living, that side of the sink empties out. The basin on the side of the sink where we currently live grows full, to the point where it contains all matter. The nothingness basin is completely and utterly empty. All matter exists in the living basin. One sink is filled; the other is empty. The cycle is no longer moving from one basin to the other. When you can't leave the basin you're in, how do you know you're in a sink with two basins? You can't. Thereby, would mankind not eventually wonder what it is to die and not live forever? Would man not want to escape the basin of life and see what else the universe had to offer? Would man not purposefully vacate their own immortality to see the other side?

In this way, death is life and life is death. We go from one basin to the other, all in the hope of gaining a better understanding of the universe. The cycle always finds a way to continue.

On the other side of a child being born is a curious immortal hoping to die.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Charlie's Words.

Hello everyone! I've had a very long and tiring day, so my blog post this evening shall be brief. Many miles have been traveled and my stomach is growling for sustenance.

I'll get right to the point.

While at a toy convention this morning, I met a kind old man out looking for hot rod collectibles. We've crossed paths before at random moments and spoken, but he's always managed to remember my name, just as I have remembered his -- Charlie. He is in his eighties, but still fairly spry and witty. When I become his age, I can only hope to be in as good physical and mental condition.

Charlie and I had a long conversation this morning, with the topics ranging from old automobiles to children. One of the topics we discussed was his deceased best friend. It was obvious that Charlie and him were very close, almost like brothers. The discussion really drove the point home of how important true friends are to your life. Friends that really care about you will do what they can to be involved in your life.

Everything else is just funny business.

As I settle in for the evening, Charlie's words ring even more true. I look at my life and see that the number of friends I can depend on can be counted on one hand. The older I get, the less fingers I need to count.

There is only one best friend in my life, and she knows who she is.

Friday, January 9, 2015

An Implanted Memory.

As I attempt to write this blog entry, I find myself staring at a sumo wrestler bobbing back and forth with a menacing grin.


That may sound strange, but relax... it's only one of those comical solar-powered novelties where the figure bounces back and forth.

Today has been rather calm, with little reason to get angry or perturbed. Nothing has pushed my buttons or agitated me. Also, I've not really done anything exciting or remarkable. In essence, today has been simple, pleasant and peaceful. That being said, it unfortunately leaves me with very little inspiration for a blog article. At times like this, I find myself staring at all the unique objects I've collected over the course of my life. Just looking in my immediate field of vision, I can see...

  • A Game Boy
  • Generation 1 Transformer Ravage
  • One of the original Trash Bag Bunch monsters
  • The first three volumes of the Viz manga 'Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign'
  • The Elvis Christmas Album on cassette (happy belated birthday to the King, by the way)
  • Power Rangers magnets
  • My awesome Godzilla coin bank
  • A fox ornament
  • The original Slimer action figure from the '80s Real Ghostbusters toy line
  • A glowing Buddha
  • Two tape dispensers
  • Glow-in-the-dark nail polish
  • Rubber stamps
  • A Hawaiian Lei
  • A bag of LEGO parts

I think to myself...

I'm a fairly diverse guy, it seems. My interests are extremely varied and cross multiple genres.

What made me this way? How did I become a collector? Not just of Transformers or Hot Wheels, nor books or music -- but of life. There is no truer statement about me than this.

I am a collector of life.

Objects are definitely important to me. They serve as reminders of memories and sometimes of people. For example, I went through a large box of comic books earlier in the day. Though many of the issues were numerous decades old, I could easily recall where I was when I first received them and who gave them to me.

Here's one instance of such a memory...

Avengers Vol. I, Issue 289

The year was 1990. My brother Joshua and I were parked in a truck that happened to be resting on a steep incline. We were at a production factory... I believe it was a lumber mill. My dad had left us there while he went inside to speak with someone. To keep myself busy, I was reading an Avengers comic - it was issue #289. While sitting there, my brother Joshua happened to hop across the bench seat of the truck and disengaged the transmission. We fell out of park and into neutral. As such, the vehicle started to creep backwards and quickly picked up speed. Thankfully, an eagle-eyed employee at the facility saw what happened and rushed to our aid. I do not know the man's name, unfortunately. He grabbed the truck's driver-side door, jumped inside and hit the brakes. Mind you, I was seven years old at the time; Joshua was three. I had no idea how to work a vehicle, nor could I probably reach the foot pedals. It's a good thing someone came to our rescue - a large transfer truck was coming around the curve in the road at the bottom of the hill. That man surely saved both of our lives. That was twenty-five years ago, yet I still remember the events clear as day. More important, I remember gripping that comic book, not knowing what was going to happen. That Avengers comic is still with me and I will never get rid of it.

In this manner, I have implanted a memory into an object. I look around my life and see so many objects... so many memories. This is why items are important to me. They represent a tiny pulse in time that we can never go back to.

That comic book is the closest my memory can ever get to being real again.

Now that I've put these thoughts into words, I can see an ulterior motivation to why I'm a vintage toy retailer -- each and every one of the items I sell is a memory for someone else. Their feelings... their hope to feel a long lost memory once again... that's just as important as what I feel with my own collection. For me, holding on to things isn't a reflection of greed or avarice, it's the embodiment of love for a moment in my life that will never come again.

If only for a brief instant, the ghosts of days gone by can once more breathe the crisp air of reality.