apocalypse whenever

As hopeful as I am in this post-Osama world, the cynic in me always is ready for things to go kerflooey on a global scale. And when things get real scary, like most people, I think about starting my own religious cult. I’ve obviously got the leadership thing down, having been captain of my high-school debate team. If you’re not inclined to join my cult, maybe you’ll want to start your own, and in the that spirit, I’ve put together some tips to make your cult as successful as possible.

  • Pick a date for the end of the world. Avoid the beginning of any century–be creative. Who’s to say the world won’t end on March 30th, 2012? Or tie your personal vision to an astronomic event–comets have been done to death, but what about the next asteroid shower?
  • Get as many people to agree with you as possible–ideally, you should have at least twenty followers–otherwise it’s really more of a club than a cult.
  • Choose a spiritual name for your followers to call you. You will have more luck drawing adherents if you avoid really American-sounding names like ‘Greg.’ Also avoid names which are difficult for your followers to pronounce, like Azhgtilsksh.
  • When the ‘end times’ come, remember–you don’t have to kill yourself just because your followers do.
  • If you have a regular job, quit. In addition to the long hours involved with starting a cult, you lose some credibility if you have to miss a vigil or a sacrifice because you’re ’stuck at work for another hour.’
  • Convince your followers to have sex with you in exchange for their salvation. If they are not convinced, threaten to shoot them.
  • Good places to build your compound: the desert, the mountains, or anywhere in Idaho. Bad places: the banquet room of a Holiday Inn and your apartment.
  • Avoid telling potential converts about the killing themselves part. Wait until you get all their worldly possessions, then start dropping hints about ‘the next world.’
  • Be sure to tell your followers that when they kill themselves (see above) they will be going to a better place. Nobody will give you all their worldly possessions if you tell them you’re ‘just not sure what will happen when this all shakes out.’
  • Don’t tell people you’re God. Acceptable substitutes–Vessel of God, Messenger of Truth, Most Eminent Visionary. Bad choices–Smart Guy, Man Who Is Better Than Others, Guy Who Tells People To Kill Themselves.
  • Find corporate sponsorship. With more cult startups expected than ever before, competition for lost souls will be intense. If you could be known as The Nike Cult of The Impending End Times, you’ll have a better shot at getting new members.
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the real cause of the financial crisis

AS BUDGET CUTS LOOMED, ONE AGENCY TRIED TO SURVIVE

When the global economic crisis began, most average Americans had difficulty comprehending the numbers being tossed around like so much ticker tape. In our day to day lives, we find it hard to make sense of the fact that, as a nation, we could be (according to the Office of Management and Budget) 1.3 kajillion dollars in debt.

Listen to Dorothy, a waitress at the Bacon N’ Lard in Ottumwa, Iowa:

“Look, if me and Ernie miss one payment on our Discover card, we get all sorts of phone calls and letters letting us know, you know, that we owe some money. How could the government get over a kajillion dollars behind? How could they keep spending when they weren’t making enough money? Where did all the money go? Do you want to see a couple of menus?”

These are the questions which prompted a three month investigation, involving both Google and Wikipedia, into the inner workings of the American economy. What we found was astonishing.

One nondescript building in Northern Virginia, hardly visible frome the street,  houses an agency which was formed in the heady days after World War II, when the American economy was a global behemoth. The agency, which prior to this investigation had been shrouded in mystery, has apparently had an unlimited budget under every administration since Truman. The agency is officially known as the Council for Wasteful Spending, but as with all government agencies, this name obscures the Council’s true mission.

It was apparent at the main security desk that this was not a typical government office. The concierge led me to my meeting with the head of the CWS, where we were to have a no-holds-barred interview regarding his agency’s purpose, as we try to find the root cause of the country’s financial meltdown. What follows is a transcript of the meeting between our reporter and the head of the CWS:

CWS Guy: Come in. Would you like a menu?

Reporter: Uh…no thanks.

CWS: Some caviar? Chilean Sea Bass crudite? Maybe a muffin? Seriously, we’re just gonna toss all this when the interview is over.

Rep: Fine–I’ll have a muffin. First, why don’t you tell me about the Council on Wasteful Spending. When it was founded, your mission…

CWS: Gladly. Well, this agency was founded initially (grabs a solid gold plaque off the wall behind him and reads inscription) “to find ridiculous ways to spend taxpayer dollars in these heady times after World War II”. What we do essentially, is try to come up with projects the cost of which far outweighs any possible benefits.

Rep: So the actual purpose of this agency is to waste taxpayers’ money?

CWS: That’s right.

Rep: …but…ok…um…you see the thing is…it’s just–the economy is in probably its worst shape since the Great Depression. How can you reconcile your agency’s mission with the fact that the United States is in the midst of a potentially devastating crisis?

CWS: Well that’s the beauty part. We don’t have to–what was your word?–reconcile anything. We just have to keep spending the money–(phone rings) hold on I need to take this…”yeah, bring it to the loading dock like usual”…sorry, one of our delivery trucks.

Rep: What kind of shipment are you getting?

CWS: Oh, it’s a couple pallettes of money. New driver I guess. Anyway, why don’t I tell you about some of our current projects so you can better understand what we do here.

Rep:……Sure.

CWS: (hands folder to reporter) This is something we’ve been working on for several years. Our scientists are attempting to…oh what’s the techical term…transmute–that’s it–transmute lead into gold. So we would be able to take piles of lead and, if our theories are correct, turn those into piles of gold.

Rep: This used to be called alchemy. In the Middle Ages. And it was proven impossible.

CWS: Just open the folder.

Rep: There’s nothing in here.

CWS: That’s right–because so far, we have not been able to accomplish the goal. The alchemy thing. But, we were able to spend over $800,000 last year alone to show that we couldn’t do it. Now here’s another project we’re very excited about. Remember as a child learning that dolphins are highly intelligent and can actually communicate with each other in a complex language? Well we have established an underground oceanographic institute here–filled with 100 million gallons of actual ocean water–to try to decode the dolphin’s secret language.

Rep: And….

CWS: Not much at this point. The only things we’ve been able to translate so far are the phrases “let’s swim over there for a while” and “I think I’ll jump out of the water for a second”, but we just were approved for more funding, so who knows.

Rep: It seems like you’re just throwing money away here.

CWS: Oh we do that too–fiscal year 1987–we actually couldn’t spend all of our funding and had to throw out 2.5 million dollars.

Rep: So you have no qualms about taking the money of hard-working Americans and just…wasting it?

CWS: It’s what we do. Besides, it’s not like this country was gonna use that money for anything truly important. Universal health care? C’mon that’s been a non-starter for years–what are we, Scandinavia? A free and competetive public school system where teachers are compensated with high wages? Please! Infrastructure upgrades to create high-speed rail networks? Oh yeah, conservatives in Nebraska will be all over that. Nah, we’re better off spending our money on projects that we know won’t go anywhere. Like this new kind of gun with a special sensor that allows you to shoot only endangered species.

Rep: Well–thank you for your time.

CWS: No problem. All in the interest of transparency. Sure you don’t want take a couple of muffins with you?

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and the 2035 Grammy goes to…

The most eagerly-anticipated new album of 2035 was released this week, as ninety-four year old Bob Dylan’s “The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: Crap I Never Planned To Release” hit the airwaves on Tuesday. Coinciding with Dylan’s seventy-fifth year as a recording artist, “Crap” is a sprawling, maddening but ultimately rewarding and occasionally brilliant addition to the Dylan oeuvre, with undiscovered gems and a handful of new recordings which illustrate his still vital presence in the rock pantheon.

This has been a banner year for Dylan, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, a Tony award for the musical version of his Greenwich Village years called “Blowin’!” and his week-long sting as a guest judge and mentor on the still popular “American Idol.” The “Idol” appearance was marred by controversy, of course, as Dylan was shown yelling at one of the finalists to “stop destroying my legacy you kids!”

This latest collection has Dylan looking back on his Minnesota troubador roots while at the same time making peace with modern technology. Late last year, he bought his first computer, and on this new album seems to be excited about the possibilities of using what he refers to in the opening track, “I Think I Like This,” as “the bleeps and blips, the ones and zeros” of digital recording. He even had a special microphone (‘the Zimmerman’) designed, which allows him to electronically add entire notes to his vocal range.

The album, in a nod to nostalgia, is being released on six actual physical discs. Although primarily a novelty item (each disc only holds about an hour of music), this ‘boxed set’ is noteworthy for the inclusion of words printed on paper listing each of the songs in the order Dylan performs them. Naturally, the songs will also be availble for download into your Individual-Digital Ear Accessory. The Apple I-DEA version of the album includes seven hundred tracks not available in the physical release.

The first part of “Vol. 12” is the most revelatory, as it includes six new songs. The best of these, a rollicking country-blues wrapped around a folk-punk groove, reflects Dylan’s recent conversion to Islam. Entitled “Osama (Might Be Comin’ Back)”, the tune is kicked off by Dylan’s funereal noodling on an antique instrument known as a ‘B-3’ organ, and features the sounds of drone missiles and a haunting refrain from a children’s choir.

This is followed by the strangest track in the collection. A collaboration with The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, “R U From Minnesota 2?” is, on it’s surface, a slight acoustic number distinguished only by the return to the studio of TAFKATAFKAP after 20 years as an ordained minister for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But underneath, you can almost feel the existential angst and whispered questions—and the implication that, at least for three minutes and seventeen seconds, we are all ‘from Minnesota.’

After a couple of perfunctory genre exercises (the calypso-inspired Still Not Dead” and the rockabilly-tinged “(Baby, You’re The Reason For All My Crazy Runnin’) Around,” part one ends with the most personal writing from Dylan since “Blood On The Tracks.” Bob Dylan has always expressed ambivalence about being ‘the voice of a generation,’ and nowhere is this conflict more apparent than on the moody, zither-driven anthem “The World Is Screwed And I’ve Stopped Caring.”

At almost twelve minutes, “The World Is Screwed And I’ve Stopped Caring” is a cryptic ode, full of opaque references to “the world being screwed” and Dylan himself “not caring.” Always a challenge to decipher, here Dylan presents an almost impressionistic lyric which can be interpreted in many ways.

We don’t ultimately know if it’s the folkie Dylan, the electric Dylan, the born-again Dylan or the romantic Dylan who is speaking to us, or is it an overlap of all of those Dylans in some sort of rock and roll Venn diagram? The song’s lyrics give us few clues, but he seems to be repudiating the notion of rock stars as prophets when he wails the lines “I repudiate the notion of rock stars as prophets/I can’t make it any clearer than that”.

After he became a Muslim, Bob Dylan famously said “God wears a lot of different suits, man, depending on where he has to go that day.” In this, his 47th album, it is Dylan who changes his wardrobe, and not all of the suits fit. Even Dylan fanatics won’t need an entire disc of sound checks, although “Test: One Two” is interesting. And the spoken word piece “Brownsville Girl Parts Two, Three And Four” is a bit self-indulgent. But after a fifteen year absence from the studio (claiming that “the magnets they’re using steal your soul”), “The Bootleg Series Vol. 12” is a stunning return to form from a man battling his demons, and ours, at times with just a harmonica.

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