Wednesday, August 31, 2011

CP Game 3: C.K. vs. Cosby

Tough matchup for 14-seed Bill Cosby here. When I was a kid my parents had a couple of Cosby stand-up albums that we played the grooves off of. In the 60s it was an interesting time to see the racial boundaries coming down, albeit in sometimes small ways. Before he was Dr. Huxtable, and before Richard Pryor changed the game forever, Cosby was a pretty successful stand-up. This is an old favorite:

Cosby came out paired against the great Louis C.K. I gave him a three seed, and some people might think that's a bit high. Is Louis C.K. one of the 12 best comedians of all time?

By the time this competition is over, we'll know what you think. Right now at least, he's a big favorite over a guy who was doing stand-up 50 years ago. Here's a great C.K. clip, especially relevant to those of us who have felt the recession up close and personal:

Leave comments in the comments. Duh.

CP game 2: Carrey vs. Silverman

Ah, yes, just what we need, a good mid-ranking matchup.

The eight seed is Jim Carrey, the man of a thousand faces. He first gained attention as the white guy on Fox' "In Living Color," and thus this clip:

His stand-up career pretty soon got swamped by his movie career.

Personally, I've never been a huge fan. Undeniably talented but also, to me, a little one-note.

In the other corner, 9th-seeded pottymouth Sarah Silverman. In her favor is that she had one of my favorite bits on Crank Yankers (shopping at the hardware store) and she's also kinda hot. Since I'm incompetent, apparently, the link to see Sarah is here:

Personally, I think Silverman's a prime upset candidate here. What do YOU think?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Comedian Playoffs!

M and I were talking about a shag tournament the other night and we came up with the idea of a comedian playoff. It sounded like so much fun I had to try it.

It's your basic 64-team bracket. We came up with a list of more than 100 prospects. Primarily I wanted people who were stand-ups, but that's pretty hard to do since a lot of genuinely funny people don't do much or any of that.

And of course these things always generate outrage along the lines of "How could you exclude ___" or "How could so-and-so be seeded so low?"

For example, I excluded Robin Williams. Thing is, I thought of more than 100 people before I ever thought of him. He just doesn't do it for me.

I also excluded Andrew Dice Clay. Because he's Andrew Dice Clay. But I had him rated ahead of Robin Williams.

As for seeding, I figured my top four seeds were pretty obvious. Carlin, Pryor, Seinfeld... and Sam Kinison. That last one will probably get some detractors, but I saw this guy perform and he caused the audience to go into convulsions.

After that, I figured out who I thought were the top 64 contenders, and kind of arbitrarily ranked them.

I'm gonna roll out the bracket one-fourth at a time, and each matchup at a time. I don't want you impatient types jetting to the end. I also will just put down the matchups randomly. Vote here for your favorite, or e-mail me, or post to my FB page.

But mostly, take a few minutes to laugh. Our first matchup in Bracket 1:

No. 2 seed Woody Allen vs. No. 15 seed Mitch Hedberg.

Woody is now most known for NY/Jew-centric films and a rather unique love life. But before he became the Woodster he was a pretty clever standup. As evidenced here:

Hedberg is one of those late 20th-century alt-comics who is known for his unusual delivery and wry subjects. Like a lot of hard-charging comics, he had a substance abuse problem, and heroin killed him in 2005. Here he is in Montreal at Just for Laughs in 1998.

In March Madness, only one or two 15 seeds have ever advanced. This shouldn't be one of those rare upsets, because Allen's portfolio is substantially more significant than Hedberg's. But do people know how great a comedian Allen was in his day?

Let the conversation begin.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Day 103, pt. II: Vent

So no, the water situation isn't resolved completely after all. Now the toilet won't stop running, but the kitchen faucet has. Almost no water. Plus there's a four-foot crater where the front porch used to be. And a pile of dirt and rocks for the lawn.

My daughter needs my help with a school-related issue, and I haven't been able to deliver. Cancel the Father of the Year award.

The past few days I've been working harder on finding suitable job prospects, but: still unemployed.

I am not sleeping well. So constantly grouchy and unpleasant. No one particularly enjoys my company at the moment and I can hardly blame them.

The heat is back, and I am sick of it. Just had it.

Oh, and Michael Vick now has a $100 million contract. The scum.

How can the world give Vick and so-called "entertainers" that kind of money? How does a mindless bimbo like Snooki Polizzi have a career, and I don't?

Yeah. This one's got no sugar-coating.

Day 103: The Myth of Home Ownership

A crew of three men are at work destroying this domicile's front porch. Their goal is to get to the 73-year-old water pipes that have started leaking within the past two days.

It's possible they could be ace enough to get precisely to the problem on the first try. If that's not the case, their work must continue.

Of course, it could be reasonably assumed that 73-year-old water pipes are going to have multiple weak points. Like the home itself, which has cracks throughout its walls and leans throughout. We have shims under every piece of furniture. This is not atypical for such an old structure. The summer's record heat has dried and hardened the ground, a prime suspect in the pipe debacle.

There are other changes in the home. A few weeks back a patched piece of wall spat out the seal along an 8-inch-tall, quarter-inch wide strip. Bounding the north property line is a stone and masonry retaining wall that runs the length of the property, probably 100 feet in all. At the front edge the wall is perhaps a foot tall; at the back edge it's closer to four feet. Two-thirds of the way back, a large tree has grown near the edge of this wall and atop it. A few months back, when we had a week of sustained heavy rains, a four-foot portion of the top of the wall tumbled over. Not long after a masonry brick also was pushed out. Some of the tree's roots are now breathing more freely.

Presuming the porch exploration is optimally efficient, the team will find the leak, replace it, and that will be that. Of course, then there will be the matter of rebuilding the porch.

I am fairly certain this task cannot possibly be completed before COB tomorrow. That's a likely best-case scenario. Also best case: This job will probably cost at least $3,000-$5,000. Perhaps more.

We like this old house. It's in a great, older (obviously) neighborhood. Although the landscaping is handled pretty much solely by Madam Nature, it's beautiful. The off-kilter issues are adaptable and charming. The owner has updated some of the features nicely: we have a good, modern washer and dryer, and a nicely remodeled bathroom.

What the home does not have:
* A good refrigerator (this one is at least 10-12 years old). CORRECTION: M is an appliance geek. Ours was made in 1985. NINETEEN-EIGHTY-FIVE!
* A dishwasher. (I'm the dishwasher)
* Insulation. The house is not energy efficient, even though we've replaced the weatherstripping and made some efforts. We could probably help this by installing drapes, but I hate drapes.
* Modern heating. After yet another ridiculous gas bill over the winter, we called the provider to get their opinion about methods to improve efficiency. The inspector said the furnace is probably 40 years old and thus, not very efficient.

It does have a programmable thermostat. We installed it.

Why do people own homes?

Since the Great Recession bit down hard in 2008, homeowners across the country have had their homes foreclosed upon in record numbers. Millions have been able to keep their homes, but the homes have now lost so much value that it's become a bad investment. What used to be a builder of equity and wealth has now become a money pit. Many people have responded to this by making a "strategic default."

A strategic default is when a person can still afford to make mortgage payments, but realizes that doing so is a bad business decision. In a common scenario if a person bought a home valued at $400,000 on a 30-year note, with interest the final amount paid could easily reach $800,000 or $1 million over the life of the loan. Of course, that depends on how large a downpayment was made, or if the interest rates were extremely favorable, or if the loan term is less than 30 years. But in the past decade, and a big reason the economy is screwed, anyone who could (as Ethan says) "fog a mirror" could get a big mortgage. Whether they could really afford to have one is another story.

Because there were so many risky buyers, and because banks overextended so egregiously, the housing bubble developed. When buyers started to default, banks (at first) were stuck with these homes. Suddenly there was a glut of available housing, which lowered prices for everyone. Now, housing starts (the measure of new home construction) are stagnant at best, and it's arguable that the market has not hit bottom.

Drive down ANY street in your town and count the "for sale" signs. People cannot unload their homes, and the weight is an anchor dragging them down.

Thus the strategic default: a buyer realizes that continuing to dump money into what is now a bad investment is a dumb move. To continue to do so would drain available cash and the home will never recover the value. The smart play is to default. You hurt your credit, but you stay more liquid.

Businesses and banks do this all the time. It's called cutting your losses. Certain elements of society have no problem with businesses who default; they just go to the government and get a bailout. But the moneychangers have screamed bloody murder about consumers choosing a strategic default.

Home ownership doesn't work right now. And it will be years before it works again. I'm glad I'm not tied down to a home. It's a millstone. If I want to move, I move. If I have a great job prospect in another state, I'm not tethered to a home that I can't sell. It's freedom.

That's because debt is slavery. And the biggest debt for most people is a home.

I love this house. If I owned it and it carried no debt, and money wasn't an issue, I'd make this place a palace. It has enormous potential. But as a (once and future) member of the working class, owning this home right now would be traumatic. Because it's eating money with a three-man work crew and the meter is running.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Day 102: Water

So low water pressure in this old house this morning.

Thus, the combination of marginally interested landlord and extremely interested spouse had me in the moldy, spider-web infested basement looking for clues. This duplex was built in 1939. Connect the dots. The basement height would be suitable for someone 5-6; less so for someone 6-3. So ducking low-hanging creatures and wires and whatnot, I found a little bit of what seemed to be normal groundwater but quite an intense sound of water rushing behind the front wall.

Still, it didn't seem terrible.

Outside, the drive runs on the low/south end of the house. Water was in the drive. Toward the front of the house, a large crack in the foundation... like this |____| but inverted... was about five feet wide and four feet tall. At the bottom right, the crack forks in two directions, about four inches high. Water is steadily but slowing flowing from this.

The dial on the water meter was spinning crazily. So now the water is shut off, and I spent time going back through our entire bill history. We're averaging $1.84 per day on water expenses here. I'm not sure if that is a high figure or a low figure.

I'm grateful for indoor plumbing, we take this for granted. Awareness rises when you don't have water.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Day 101: Hang on

The worst part of being without work for a while is the rollercoaster effect. Good days, bad days. Enthusiasm, pessimism.

When I was 8, my family moved to Dallas. For one year it was a little scary... new school, riding a school bus, aftercare, and living with my brother and my mom in this little apartment. You just kind of went with it.

I really got into music. Probably because I lived someplace that had real radio stations for the first time. I had a small blue plastic radio. The thing couldn't have been as large as a lunchbox. I don't even think it picked up FM stations but at the time there was a pretty good AM station in Dallas, KLIF. The Mighty 1190.

There was a DJ... I think he called himself "The Bama Boy." Yes, really. Anyway, he did the late night show and played a lot of rock and pop music. Who knows how the filter of memory colors your perception, but I thought he was pretty good. My brother and I slept in a little room with twin beds. I'd turn on the radio and put it in the bed next to my head, with the sound turned down low so that I could hear it and not bother anyone. For some reason the song I associate the most with this is a song by Brook Benton called "Rainy Night in Georgia." To this day it reminds me of the little boy I might have been.

Radio reception always floated in and out. On good nights you could hear WOAI out of San Antonio -- the "50,000-watt blowtorch" -- or even more exotic, WLS out of Chicago. It thrilled a pre-teen boy to think of places so far away.

Sometimes the sound came in loud and clear. Sometimes you'd tweak and tune all night trying to nail that frequency, and never or rarely could.

That's what it feels like trying to master your emotions during a time like this, when you need to find a job and you are worried and stressed out about what will happen to you. You want -- hell, you NEED -- to be cool, collected, and sometimes you are. Other times you are just lost. You can't get a clear signal.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Day 100: You never know

So, I've not been so good about the boring details that I provided early on about the places I was looking at to work.

Thursday one of those places turned out to be in Oregon. Now, my entire experience with Oregon was a stopover in Portland where I never got off the plane. I guess technically that puts Oregon on my list of places I've been, but really... I don't know it.

I had a good friend who lived there and she loved it. But she was a goof, so you gotta be careful with that.

Anyway, Oregon. A good job, good location... it would work. In keeping with my policy of only targeting strong fits, I wrote a pretty good pitch letter and sent my stuff. It didn't take long to get a response from the main dude there. That was nice.

Hey, it's a longshot. I even said that to him. But I also pointed out that the neat thing about longshots is that they can pay off big.

Oregon. You never know.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Day 99, Pt. II: Philosophy

One thing that I'm doing this go-round of joblessness is I'm making sure that the potential marriage is a good fit.

What I mean by that is, I've had jobs where I knew going on there were some issues. I think this happens to a lot of us a lot of times, but the people I like to hang with go about their business and figure "I'll be a professional, work as hard as I can, do what seems to be in the best interests of the company, and let the BS fall to the side."

That's the way things should be.

I've worked places now that had very questionable business policies. One place basically told me that saving money cost money. One place was so driven by non-business-related policies that I don't even include them on my resume any more. They've run afoul of the government since I was there.

Thing is... some of these places are bad fits for your personal values. The values I have in my life preclude me from working in certain places. It's like an infidel trying to take a job at Al Qaida. Not gonna work. Unless your job is "target."

So now I'm only applying to places that have a great personality fit with me. That limits me to some extent. I could probably get a job in retail or some such. But that's not who I am. I hate selling. I tried it, very briefly, and it's just not something I like or am particularly good at. Why waste everyone's time?

I suppose if things get more dire, I may have to reconsider this.

My job interview from last Friday that I aced, I may have said, has not contacted me. Which means I am almost dead certain that I am out. I was pretty bummed about it, but today I'm resigned to it. If the girl doesn't love you, why do you want to love her?

I'm done with one-sided relationships. And that's driving my application approach. I think it's the right way to go.

Day 99: Johnny 99

Thanks, Boss...

Gonna let the sentence, son, fit the crime...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day 97: Thanks

Well, sometime Monday my little 'ol blog got its 1000th page view. It's a milestone. Thanks for spending some time here, it is extremely humbling and gratifying.

Tuesday, which as of 5 minutes ago is actually today, brings the slim chance that I will get that phone call I wanted with a job offer. But, I've danced to this tune before. The offer's obviously been made to someone else and now my fate is in the hands of people I don't even know.


Those of you who offered encouragement in other venues, thanks. It means a lot. Old friends and new friends... I'm fortunate indeed.

Well, gotta get back on that horse, eh? So I have a few things to tend to today but mostly I have to redouble my efforts.

There just aren't a ton of opportunities here in GC, so I'm thinking my best bet is to look beyond the horizon. Destiny awaits!

Love to you all...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Missionaries

I wrote this in 2007 and thought it should have been printed. But the person I tried to convince to run it never even acknowledged it.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. Settle in, it's long...

An Invitation From The Lord, RSVP

Everything started with lies.

I became an investigator on a cool, overcast Monday. Two clean-cut young men wearing suits and ties strolled into the courtyard of my apartment complex. I can’t even remember why I was outside. Had I just walked the dog? Checked the mail? What put me on the deck overlooking the scene as they approached, smiling?

The young men would undoubtedly say it was God’s will. They were Elders Blanchette and Marcom, missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Mormon missionaries are typically young men between the ages of 19 and 24. At any given time, the church says, approximately 55,000 missionaries are sharing their beliefs at their own expense for two years at a time, scattered around the globe to destinations chosen at the discretion of their church.

They live monastic lifestyles during this period, eschewing contact with their families, religiously avoiding the trappings of the secular world and adhering to strict tenets of their faith. They face scorn, ridicule and rejection.

I didn’t scorn or ridicule them, but after engaging in a few minutes of generic chit-chat, I told them I had to go to work.

I don’t work on Mondays.

They asked me my name and if they could contact me. Like an attractive woman being hit on by someone she doesn’t want to date, I gave them a bogus phone number – close enough to the actual number that I could explain away a discrepancy as being misheard – and told them my name was Bruce “Castleman.”

I felt guilty.

Half an hour later, however, curiosity took over. What must their lives be like? How did they deal with the instances such as the one we had shared, of being misled and “ditched” by callous non-believers? Maybe the “hot girl” wasn’t as hot as she thought. Was the guy she wanted to avoid Mr. Right?

I became an investigator – the term Mormon missionaries use for people who show an interest in what they’re pitching. Mormon missionaries are traveling salesmen: Jesus is the manufacturer, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the franchise, and your eternal salvation is the product.

A church for the New World

The world’s most popular religions – Christianity, with an estimated 2 billion followers, and Islam, with up to 1.8 billion adherents – have been around for more than 2,000 and 1,500 years, respectively.

They’re relative newcomers compared to Judaism, which has origins more than 4,000 years ago; or Taoism and Buddhism, with roots traced back to centuries before the time of Jesus Christ.

About a billion earthlings reject religion entirely.

But a vast majority of religious observers have hundreds or thousands of years of foundation to deepen their fervors.

Mormonism is a virtual babe in the woods among religions. Discounting new religions such as space alien Scientology or pot-smoking Rastafari, Mormon’s appearance in 1830 makes it one of the world’s youngest theologies.

Mormon founder Joseph Smith claimed divine inspiration for being given the burial place of the modern gospels of Jesus, inscribed on golden plates in upstate New York. The plates – now known as the Book of Mormon – tell of Jesus’ appearance in the New World not long after his death.

Smith and his descendants believe that their church is the true church of Jesus. They also believe that each succeeding leader is a God-picked prophet with a direct line to the big Guy.

“A lot of churches on earth today have parts of the teaching,” said Elder Lashaway, “But our church is the restoration of God’s church.”

A missionary from Portland, Ore., Lashaway is a beefy young man with close-cropped blonde hair who usually closed his eyes while he responded to questions as we sat in the Fayetteville home of former missionary Trevor McGarrah.

Blanchette concurs. “There is one gospel, one truth, one Lord, one church. The LDS has restored God’s church.”

(The missionaries don’t use their first names. They call each other “Elder.”)

McGarrah adds more context to the missionary position imparted to investigators. “We believe God loves all his children and wants all to live with him back in heaven,” he said. “But different cultures are not able to receive the fullness of the gospel. Because of his love, he doesn’t want a standard they can’t achieve.

“He is a fair God.

“He gives truth to spiritual leaders throughout the world. Even Muhammed was given inspiration to give to his people. God reveals the truth to anyone willing to listen.”

The blood of Christ

The legacy of abuses linked to various forms of religion is well-documented. The Crusades. The Inquisition.

In the last 100 years alone, crusades against religion have accounted for some of the world’s most infamous atrocities, from the Holocaust of the Jews to “ethnic cleansing” in Europe to the rise of the Taliban, Wahhabi and other extremist Muslim sects.

On a smaller but no-less horrific scale, the 1993 Branch Davidian massacre in Waco, Texas and the religion-driven mass suicides in 1978 at Jonestown, Guyana and in 1997 with the Heaven’s Gate followers indicate the carnage potential of following a “God.”

Even the Mormons – or as they refer to themselves, the Saints – have blood on their hands. Founder Smith and his followers were initially met with stern resistance and pushed westward repeatedly as they wore out their welcome across the U.S. Mormons, incidentally, are proud of this persecution, because it gives them something in common with Jesus.

“The truth is always opposed,” said Elder Blanchette. “So how could Jesus deal with it? By asking for blessings on the heads of the persecuted. He sacrificed his life and asked for atonement. Righteousness, love, charity, suffering…this message is so powerful and uplifting, there’s opposition. There will always be.”

For Smith and his brother, it didn’t take long to share martyrdom. In 1844, the small band of saints had been pushed to the western boundary of Illinois, creating a tiny settlement and naming it Nauvoo – from the Hebrew word meaning “beautiful location.” But the saints’ peculiar ways – which at that time included polygamy, since rejected by the main followers of the church although still in practice among Mormon fundamentalists – alienated neighbors. Smith, his brothers and several followers were assailed for promoting the practice of plural marriage. Jailed at Carthage, Ill., in the aftermath, an angry mob stormed the jail and shot and killed Smith and his brother.

Shortly thereafter, Brigham Young was considered the new prophet and led the upstart followers further west, to Utah. Today, more than 70 percent of that state’s population are Mormon.

More bloodshed ensued, in time. The most notorious – and an event with an Arkansas connection – is the Mountain Meadows massacre of 1857. Approximately 140 settlers headed west from Van Buren, Ark., stopped near the Mormon encampment. Paranoia about a possible attack from the U.S. Army is speculated to be a reason why the suspicious Mormons attacked and killed all but a handful of children of the pioneers.

But for Christians of all persuasions, this is par for the course. You can’t spell “allegory” without “gory.” The foundation of the entire Christian school of thought is a brutal, cruel, bloody state-sanctioned murder – the crucifixion of Jesus.

The road to redemption

The day after the missionaries first stopped by, I decided to try and learn more about their lives and their beliefs.

It wasn’t the first time that the story of the Saints had intrigued me. By accident several years ago I had stumbled upon an online account of what had happened at Mountain Meadows. Author Jon Krakauer’s 2003 book “Under The Banner Of Heaven” offered one of the most in-depth looks at the church ever written, especially focusing on some of the more lurid details associated with the fundamentalist offshoot of the Saints.

Krakauer’s book opens with a quote from one of the LDS prophets, John Taylor, who wrote in 1880: “We believe in honesty, morality, and purity; but when they enact tyrannical laws, forbidding us the free exercise of our religion, we cannot submit. God is greater than the United States, and when the Government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven and against the Government … Polygamy is a divine institution. It has been handed down direct from God. The United States cannot abolish it. No nation on earth can prevent it, nor all the nations of the earth combined, … I defy the United States; I will obey God.”

The polygamist label has been the hardest to shake for the modern Mormons. Elder Marcom is aware of the Saints’ perception problems. “Without a doubt,” he said, “the most common thing people ask about is polygamy. ‘How many wives do you have?’” (Elder Lashaway said people also sometimes think the missionaries are Jehovah’s Witnesses.)

The Saints consider the fact that their leaders are chosen by God to give their church an advantage. “One of the things we’re proud of is we have a living prophet,” McGarrah said. “Other churches have to rely solely on scripture, something that’s 2,000 years old or more. We have an active relationship with God.”

This hotline to God has helped the Saints officially reject plural marriage in 1890; include blacks among church leadership in 1978; and combat the evils of tattoos and body piercings in recent years.

“A few years back our prophet Gordon B. Hinckley said for women, there should be no more multiple ear piercings,” McGarrah said. “And for men, no piercings whatsoever. We also have a dress code to try to not incite feelings. Another thing is tattoos, we don’t want tattoos.

“A lot of other churches have tried to become more hip. Those extra things are a distraction. Jesus Christ never tried to be among the ‘in’ crowd.”

The missionary program began in 1974, when then-church president and prophet Spencer W. Kimball said that God had ordained that missions begin to actively spread the Word. It’s estimated that missions cost about $11,000 per Saint. Elder Marcom had saved $9,600 for his.

Missionary Men

In Fayetteville, there are two churches (which are called wards). The “family” ward – what passes for the “official” house of worship – is on Zion Road, and a student center is on Arkansas Ave. The missionaries are housed in a small apartment in west Fayetteville. While the church provides the shelter, the rent is paid by the missionaries.

The missionaries live a Spartan existence, but they do have a phone. Their phone number sounds like the first seven notes of the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas,” about a benevolent monarch who helped the poor.

The Mormons have many rules, and they are not freely trumpeted to outsiders. But a handful of the rules – taken from Joseph Smith’s “Words of Wisdom” doctrine – include:

• Alcohol, tobacco and caffeine are off-limits. So the devout have never experienced the joy of a Starbucks. Of course, they’ve also never had a hangover that would necessitate a trip to Starbucks, either.

• Sundays are holy and not to be desecrated by working, entertainment or other types of non-religious activities. Attendance at church is expected, and services last about three hours. Further, the Elders said members are expected to dress nicely. Blue jeans would be bad form. Tithes of 10 percent of a member’s income are expected.

• The “Law of Chastity” requires modest apparel and strict limitations on sexual conduct. Pre- or extramarital sex is out, homosexuality is out. Elective abortions are unacceptable.

For the missionaries, the rules are even more sharply defined. There are 17 Missionary Training Centers around the world, eight in Central or South America. All missions start at an MTC, with training that lasts from three weeks for domestic missions to two months for international, foreign-language missions. While on a mission, God’s emissaries must adhere to the following:

• Only eight hours a week are given for “free time.” The Elders said they play basketball, go bowling, do laundry or shopping. “We aren’t allowed to participate in some sporting activities because they don’t want us to get hurt and have to end the mission,” Marcom said.

Missionaries may write weekly, but only call home twice a year, on Mother's Day and Christmas.

• Internet usage is severely restricted. The Elders don’t have computers at home, so usually use those at public libraries. They can only access a few church-controlled sites, but only once a week, and companions must be able to see each other’s screens. Only family can receive e-mail.

• Non-approved music and movies are out.

Some of the rules are extremely strict.

• The “Elbow Rule” requires Elders to always be near enough to their companion to hear him at a whisper while outside of the apartment. Within the apartment, the Elders are supposed to not be apart for lengthy periods.

• The “Rule of Three” states that when entering a home to teach or visit a member or nonmember, there must be three men or three women 16 or older present in the same room.

And perhaps the oddest rule: missionaries aren't allowed to go near large bodies of water.

Mondays are considered “preparation days.” Blanchette said the typical routine is they rise at 6:30 a.m., make their beds, pray, exercise, then eat. They then study two hours (one alone, one together), do laundry, shopping, send e-mail.

“At 6 we start proselytizing again. We have an hour for dinner and lunch. We go teach lessons, try and find people who are ready.”

Meeting People Is Easy

Soul-saving time is Tuesday through Saturday.

“We talk on the streets, knock on doors,” Marcom said. “We try to find most efficient way to share our beliefs and teach them how to share truths. During these hours there is no basketball or things like that. We focus on the work. We’re expected to be in by 9 p.m. or 9:30 at the latest.”

Elder Marcom and the missionaries are serious about this curfew. When 9 p.m. approaches, there’s little fudging: it’s time to go.

The Elders say they pray for inspiration where to meet potential converts or people interested in their message.

“We think of good places to go but ask God to help us,” Blanchette said. “He tells us where to go. There’s usually something that happens. We do whatever needs to be done.”

Marcom said the missionaries are expected to meet 140 people a week. Of those, about 20 would hear one lesson. Ten or so will hear two. Seven will hear three.

And of the last four, maybe two will be baptized.

“We don’t expect everyone to convert,” said McGarrah. “It’s mainly just to share the message that God loves you.

“Everyone is at different stages in their lives. Maybe we’re just saying hello to someone. But we’re planting small seeds. Maybe they’ll develop but it’s not up to us, it’s up to them – and God.”

The missionaries remain steadfast even when met with rejection – which they say comes frequently. When one or two in 140 represents success, a positive attitude is essential.

“I’d love to have someone knock on my door and tell me what they believe,” said Marcom. “It’d be great!

“But to see the closed-mindedness hurts the most. Not the doorslams or the snottiness. In Tulsa, we had been teaching someone a while and he was doing this extracurricular stuff, anti-Mormon stuff, trying to trip us up with things. It was very hurtful. It felt like he had taken the Lord’s time and given it away. He could have used that time in a less antagonistic way.”

Marcom’s sadness in recounting this story was palpable. He really felt this.

“It’s a test of faith,” Blanchette interjected. “If you’re shot down over and over, you’re maybe not as optimistic, but the neat thing of the gospel is it’s about hope and faith. That’s the powerful thing. Over and over you may be rejected but over time you experience the liberating power of Jesus Christ. He suffered rejection, too. It’s motivation.

“It’s not supposed to be easy. Was the Savior’s suffering easy? Trials are wonderful.”

Marcom agreed.

“Part of the reason for the mission is to have humbling experiences,” he said.

“Christ’s entire ministry wasn’t to the rich, and neither is mine. People in those neighborhoods are generally hard-hearted. The more humble are more receptive to the truth, especially when sober.

“We show them the differences Jesus Christ would make in their lives.”

Marcom’s mood had shifted for a second: he seemed a little disillusioned that people had been so skeptical to embrace the joyous message he and his brethren were bringing. The ever-upbeat Blanchette had the answer.

“The best experiences,” he said, “Are when you ask God where you should go and whether someone has had a bad day or they need help you recognize that you were there for God, even if it’s just to exchange a smile. God used me to help get done what He needed to be done. If you uplift someone it brings them closer to the heavenly father.

“As a missionary you run into some strange things. So the adversary throws his hand in there sometimes.”

The last sentence lingered. The adversary? Is that what the Saints call Satan? Was Blanchette referring to Satan? It seemed for a moment like a Harry Potter novel – where the evil Lord Voldemort’s name was not spoken.

Buddy Christ

The missionaries love to share stories of their coming to the Saints. At McGarrah’s modest apartment in north Fayetteville, the different worlds of missions past, present and possibly future were on display beside the artificial Christmas tree. McGarrah brought back a bride from his Philippines mission and now has two small children. On his wall are three pictures and a painting. The pictures are of McGarrah’s children and a photo from his wedding. Above them all and larger than the others is a painting of Jesus.

Across the room sat Elders Blanchette and Lashaway in suits and ties. On another wall was a TV set with a Wii game system. McGarrah wore a Razorbacks shirt.

Marcom and McGarrah were born Mormon. But Blanchette joined the church six years ago.

Blanchette converted at age 16. His parents had split up, and his description of his mother screams “Bay Area Hippie.” A friend who is now a Marine sniper had converted and Blanchette began going to church with him. Blanchette was investigating.

“One evening I had the Book of Mormon and I began to pray,” he said. “I said ‘God, if you’re true, if you’re real, I’m going to open this book and see what it says.’ I opened it and it said ‘Repent and be baptized.’

“I knew at that time, at that exact moment what I needed to do. I wept for a long time. I recognized the things I had done that were wrong and knew what I needed to do. It was very powerful, very life-changing.”

Blanchette’s tale was moving, convincing. He believes it. You can’t help but be happy for him. He’s happy.

“Something that’s very special is the spirit of God,” he said. “His love is the most nurturing, powerful, peaceful love. Like the love of a mother when you’re sick.”

Onward, Christian Soldiers

The simplicity and focus of the missionaries’ lives make their hardships relative. Most of us can’t imagine lives without stimulants such as caffeine, movies, music.

Marcom’s crisis? Having different ties.

“You want to have nice ties,” he said. “Not have to wear the same one all the time.”

He has about 20 – one was given to him by a man who just ended a mission. The silvery blue tie was autographed.

The missionaries don’t seem to miss what they’re missing.

“The heavenly father lets you have agency,” Lashaway said. “But I felt my desires changing over time. At first you may feel like you are sacrificing things, then you realize they are not important. After a while you don’t miss it. You really focus on selflessness, not selfishness. That’s what’s so beautiful about it.”

“This is completely voluntary,” added Marcom. “Were it forced, you might not see the participation. You would not grow as much.

“This is not a church for wimps. It’s a church for the committed.”

Blanchette is committed.

“I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I wear this tag that says Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Because it’s HIS church. It’s just a building. True salvation comes from faith.

“Being human, we have two natures – spiritual and carnal. There’s temptations – look at that, look at this. But when you can know something is TRUE, you can overcome them. The Savior’s love is far greater than anything else. This is a brief period of time for us. The rest is eternity.

“As missionaries, that’s what we’re called to do. We invite them to find out for themselves. We are authorized servants. There is a hole in everyone’s heart that will be filled by what He has.”

Blanchette’s earnestness and sincerity are riveting. Before offering an invitation to come to the family ward, he tries to close the deal.

“We offer invitations. They are from the Lord. We’re his representatives. The words we have spoken are the truth. The spirit of peace, the spirit of hope, the spirit of love, the spirit of the Lord.”

Lead us not into Temptation

On a recent Monday night, Marcom and Blanchette tapped at my door. It was an unexpected visit.

The missionaries missed me at church on Sunday, they said. I had promised I’d go, knowing almost for certain that I would stay home and catch up on football. I was a tease. A faith-tease.

With this visit, my perspective deepened. Had I been leading them on? Was my “flirtation” a sign that I wanted more?

Lead us not into temptation. As the Elders stood in my living room, the TV was on, dinner was steaming up the kitchen. I had spent the day holed up in front of a computer, working on a project. Shabbily dressed and unshaven, I offered a stark, sloth-like contrast to the young men in suits and ties.

As we spoke briefly, I noticed Elder Marcom stealing furtive glances at the TV, at least three times. Seeing his reaction to its siren song was both fascinating and sadistic, the school dork at a junior Prom.

The boys wanted a prayer, so we bowed our heads and listened. Blanchette prayed for my success in my writing projects. On that, my prayer was sincere. Afterward, we set a time to meet again. They diligently took out small plan books, both entering in the agreed-upon date and location.

Three days later, I dialed seven notes of “Good King Wenceslas” at a time when I knew the Saints would not be home. I left a “Dear John” voicemail reiterating, guiltily, that I was interested in their message and experiences but that I was not a good candidate for conversion.

I went back and looked over the words of that carol. The final four seemed to summarize my impression of these men who were so zealous:

“In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;

Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,

Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

Day 95: Anxiety

What's worse? Knowing... or not knowing?

I'm thinking of watching "Fight Club." It might be the right call.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Day 94: Encouragement

So, had an interview yesterday. I'm a serious contender for a local gig that is totally in my wheelhouse.

It kind of came out of nowhere. Whatever! Things have moved pretty fast. I've had decent luck with things that went that way before. My amazing Cali job, from first contact to moving to LA, took about six weeks. Sometimes the planets align. I should know no later than Tuesday.

I feel like I interview well. Part of this is my reporter background, I think. I have been the one asking questions, so I shouldn't get rattled being on the other side of that equation. It's not foreign.

My interview a while back at MondoBusinessEntity went well; I'm still convinced there were extraordinary factors that scuttled that. Or rather one factor. I'm fairly confident that mystery will eventually be solved. Unfortunately, so-called "networking" actually counts... good contacts can give you the edge. Bad blood can torpedo you.

That last one is something that works against me. I've never liked the taste left on your lips by kissing ass. Hate to say that it possibly hasn't been in my best interests to not play that game.


SIDE NOTE: The Caspa remix of Kaskade/Deadmau5's "I Remember" just came on Pandora. Cannot recommend this song enough.


Naturally it hurts when you think you've got the inside track for a job and you don't get it. You always wonder: What could I have done better? Did I do something wrong?

When I first came back here to Gawd's Country, I interviewed for an internal job that I felt pretty good about. It seemed like a clean slate situation, and I thought I had some people behind the scenes who were in my corner. I had a great interview and the hiring manager actually made me think that it was a fait accompli. I was sure I was in.

Then they gave the job to someone who I despise. But that's not that important, I've worked with jerks before. No, the problem was that this guy was not just lazy, but his work performance was just so-so. I've rarely worked with someone so widely despised. "Brownie" was known as a deceitful suck-up and back-stabber, and his getting the job stunned not just me but a lot of others. It wasn't necessarily that it was a given I should get the job, but it was universally panned among the group that Brownie got it.

It just sent the worst message possible about the future. The morale in this place was bad enough as it was, but hiring Brownie for a leadership role indicated that achievement and initiative was unwelcome, and being a toady and a weasel was the way to advance.

We should have all seen it right then and there. A team is built in the image of its coach, and this image proved out repeatedly over time.

Anyway, that was then, and this is now. My possible new boss really impressed me yesterday. He seemed like a no-bullshit guy, open-minded and results-oriented. That's a good fit for me. I'll be pretty damned determined to not let him down.

We'll see. If I'm in, more details to come. If I'm out, unfortunately I think that's going to seal the deal with my needing to leave Gawd's Country for greener pastures. That makes this a pretty momentous time, doesn't it?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 92: Taking Stock

So, the DJIA finished down another 400 points today. This will of course lead to much gnashing of teeth.

The left will say it's the fallout from the Bush years, scams by the Banksters and Corporatists, GOP obstructionism, lack of tax revenue, etc.

The right will say it's the left's failed policies, entitlement spending, too many taxes, etc.

Who's correct?

Neither of them. Both of them. But the bottom line is, the DJIA swings up and down every day. Sometimes the swings are big. Sometimes they are not. In all the years these things have happened -- has it made an impact on you? How?

Most likely it hasn't meant a damn thing. That's because the DJIA is an outdated way to evaluate the health of the U.S. economy. Not many common folk even understand what's being measured. It's a look at a supposedly representative sample of major corporations that is supposed to provide a decent snapshot of our national business climate. But it doesn't. For one thing, it only measures 30 publicly traded companies in the entire U.S.

How many companies are in the U.S.? Does 30 of anything adequately measure the big picture?

I had an argument years ago with a statistician who represented what I thought was an absurdly small sample as appropriate for the company. But I was told that even though the sample was indeed miniscule, she alleged that it was "statistically accurate."

Look at it like this. If you took a baseball player's batting line from one game in a season, or even two, that can be considered "statistically accurate." If that batter's two games read 1-9, four strikeouts, that's not a good indication of the player's abilities. I assure you, anyone can find lines like that in the careers of Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams or any other Hall of Fame player. The sample is too small.

Same with the DJIA. Ford and GM aren't part of the index (GM was booted a couple of years ago). Two of America's dominant 20th century companies aren't included? Think the demise of the car industry would have an effect on the Dow?

10 percent of the DJIA companies are pharma companies. That should skew things statistically, wouldn't you think? The same amount are banking/lending giants (AIG and Citigroup were on the list before they contributed to the economic catastrophe of a few years ago). Think it's safe to say that all of these have an interest in the index? The last time the stuff hit the fan, the government panicked and organized $700 billion in relief. Gosh, you don't think that these same greedheads and cheats would like to see the rubes panic, do you?

Another tenth is made up of Coca-Cola, Disney and McDonald's. Come on. Does America need any of these? These are the companies that are going to determine the strength of our economy?

General Electric's on the list. They earned more than $14 billion last year. And paid no taxes in the U.S. Yep, that's right, a $3.2 billion tax break. How were your taxes this year? Corporations are people, you know. And some people are more equal than others. GE, of course, owns NBC and other media entities.

Do you trust these "people" to do the right things?

Do you think that scaring people with huge swings on the DJIA can create instability that, ultimately, might serve the very entities that cause these swings?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Day 91: Connected

When are we all going to realize that we're all connected, and everything you do has a consequence?

The butterfly effect makes sense. Do you believe in it?

I do.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day 90: Maybe

OK, got a nibble. This one could be big. Stay tuned.

Day 90: Priorities

A Yahoo! News piece ( talks about PayPal founder Peter Thiel's financial support of man-made islands beyond international boundaries that intend to somewhat re-start civilization.

The idea is to create a place with a clean slate: write the laws from square one, re-think our priorities.

I can understand this idea. To a lot of people, society seems broken right now. Consider:

* Asia is overpopulated, and has nuclear capabilities in China, India, Pakistan and Israel. North Korea and Iran have expressed intentions to have nuclear weaponry. Japan likely has the capability. Russia is Eurasian; they've got the bomb, too. Similarly, there is ongoing warring/tension/hostility throughout the continent (China-Tibet; Russia with several former USSR allies; India-Pakistan; Burma/Myanmar; Afghanistan-Iran-Iraq; Israel vs. everybody). Asian development has also placed a greater strain on natural resources and also has a developing pollution problem.
* Africa remains a continent in political turmoil (Libya, Egypt, Liberia, Nigeria, Sudan/Darfur, Somalia... maybe it'd be easier to list those without crises).
* Europe has its share of problems. Balkan conflicts, hate groups across the continent, the Norway mass killings, terror attacks in Madrid, London and elsewhere...
* South America has a long history of violence between and among its citizens and governments. Now throw in the fact that it remains a prime source of drug production and traffic. Oh, and for good measure let's not forget the ongoing rape and pillaging of the Amazon.

Speaking of planetary destruction, consider the Pacific Ocean garbage patch, a huge floating congregation of trash and plastic. Or the fact that the Northwest Passage is now available to shipping, thanks to the ongoing thaw of polar ice that has resulted in frequent stories of glacial melting and ice shelf dispersement.

How much trash do you put out on the curb each week? Multiply that by every house in the world. And multiply it by every business, only several times over. Where does this waste magically go? A piece of food degrades and eventually rejoins the biosystem. What about the packaging and the plastic, though?

People don't think about this enough. A smoke tosses a butt-end out the window of a car. It's small, right? Not so much harm, right? Well, of course, discounting the smoke. Most of you have probably seen a full ashtray. A pack of smokes is 20 cigarettes. Do the math. Then tell me you're cool with it.

So think of all the world's problems, then realize: we haven't even talked about those of North America.

That island is sounding better, right?

So what would you have on your island? Would you have a government? Taxes? Rules? What rules? Who decides?

Would you have a currency? Would you have a job, businesses?

And for those of you who believe in a deity... WW(fill in blank)D? Would there be religion on your island?

I'm somewhat amused by those who want to say the U.S. is a "Christian" nation. Especially when you consider that what brought a lot of the first guests here was a desire to be free of religious nationhood.

It's interesting that people on all sides of the political spectrum are so unhappy with government right now. The conservatives think things are too liberal; the liberals think things are too conservative. They can both be right in their minds, but not in reality.

What appeals to me about an island do-over is the idea that religion and politics both either get real or get out. Religious believers need to walk the walk... lead by example. Live a life that makes people take notice and admire your good works and find your message appealing. Don't tell others what to do and say "God made me hate you/your values." Own it.

For politics and government... serve the people. Not the corporations. Sorry, Mitt... corporations are not people. Go back to your biology class and figure this out.

Governments are supposed to make things easier. People choose representatives to... well... REPRESENT them. ALL of them, not just the richies and the cronies.

OK, silent lurkers... get off the fence and discuss.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day 89, pt. II: The Larch

Bonus points if you get that...

Very weird day today. Not all that productive. Unless doing the dishes and such counts. And it probably doesn't.

I am not going to write about body parts. Probably ever.

I am not going to write about NASCAR. Unless I am making fun of it.

I may write about stupid things the dogs do. For example, Piper will go into a barking frenzy if I play a YouTube vid of dogs barking.

Told you it was a weird day...

Day 89: Sleep

It's early on Day 89. I can't sleep.

This has become a little bit of a problem. Because I don't have a regular routine, it's easy to have an irregular one. If that makes any sense.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Day 88: Win Gregg Jefferies!

Behold, 14-year MLB veteran first baseman Gregg Jefferies.

(Not actual Gregg Jefferies)

I found some buried items when doing a closet douche last week. Then I had the great idea: bribery!

Want this Jefferies... (toy? doll? What is this thing?) item? Be the third person to e-mail your Top 20 music list (either North America or Global) and it's yours.

He's adorned in the uni of the preferred St. Louis Cardinals of 1993-94, when he hit .342 and .325, respectively. Nice work, Gregg! He's posed as if he was on the way to one of his career-best 46 stolen bases. Whoosh!

More fabulous prizes to come!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Day 87: Homework

... literally. Been doing household chores.

Exciting, right? But hey, this is the sort of quality content you pay for here at the JJ.

Back in the days when I had a big house with a big yard, I used to enjoy making that yard a thing of beauty. Funny, actually, because as a youth there was almost no way you could get me to participate in yard-type duties. But I got my own and I got into it.

There's a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when you get done with something like that. Yes, it's mundane, but it has to be done, so why not make the best of it? Sometimes the work speaks for itself.

I think in some ways these sorts of tasks provide a way to bring order to your otherwise disorderly world. There are many, many things you don't have control over. Your job can be one of those! The actions and thoughts of others. Traffic. You can build a big list.

So when you can take some piece of your world and somewhat master it, it provides some positivity. Of course the yard's going to become unkempt again and you renew the Sisyphian effort. But for a while, you are the ruler of your domain.

Same with housework. It has to be done. Might as well be good at it. So this includes the detail tasks. In a yard, the sign of a well-manicured effort was if it was edged. Gotta edge the yard. In housework the details that matter are things like dusting the areas that don't get dusted, clearing the crud off the top of the ceiling fans, hoovering the webby things in the upper corners.

OK, I know this isn't thrilling stuff. But it's damn sure real!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Day 86: Ouch

So got a free week-long taste of a local health club. (Not my idea.)

Today went and checked it out.

OUCH. Let me repeat: OUCH!

I'm not really much of a health club kind of guy. I used to love to play basketball, and I was pretty good at it. When my life got really, really crazy in the late 90s I didn't really have a regular game to play in anymore.

About six or years ago, I guess, I just stopped playing. I used to play in this apartment complex that had an indoor half-court gym, but some hoodlums ruined it. They got in, stole some of the equipment and the community, rather than bump up security, shut it down. They took the rim out. So that was pretty much it.

It's not hard to find a game, but from that point, I just stopped.

I got a bike, but I don't ride as much as I should. When you've had a summer of record heat, it's not always advisable.

Anyway, local club. I was there for about an hour. I don't really love it. And I can't really afford it.

Not much on the job front. My leap of faith job I applied for a couple of days ago, I have yet to hear even an acknowledgement of my interest. This does not surprise me just yet. We'll see.

There's another gig in Apple Gigantico... looks like I'm gonna go for that. How wild would that be?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 85: Vegas, Baby, Vegas

Fair warning: this post has almost nothing to do with Vegas. But everybody who has seen "Swingers" remembers that famous line.

I've only been to Vegas a few times. Official American debauchery comes in two prominent stripes: glitzy and grimy. Vegas is glitzy, an amusement park for the dark side of our nature. An example of grimy would be like what New Orleans was pre-Katrina (and could still be, but I haven't been there in a while). In Vegas debauchery is a product. It's shiny and slick. In New Orleans it's organic. It just is part of the fabric of the town... "Let the good times roll."

Usually I get into the post before I tangent. This one starts with the tangent. That being, in Vegas when you're inside, you can't see outside. Obviously there are no windows in the show venues, and there are no windows in the casinos. This is because they don't want you thinking about real life outside. They don't want you distracted by things the have no control over.

So what you wind up with is an experience that is very disconnected from reality. My advice: go outside.

This is also true for the jobless. It's very easy to get a bunker mentality. This is pretty unhealthy. You've got to try and normalize things as much as possible.

Not easy. You can go days without doing the "normal" things most people in the working world experience. I've had a few long periods of non-shaving, for example. This only works if you're in the NHL playoffs or are Adrian Grenier.

You also have some days when you literally don't venture beyond the porch to check the mail or supervise peeing dogs.

You've got to get out and normalize.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day 83: Productivity

I once worked with this dude who asked me how my day was going and I said "busy." This person was not very good with people and responded, "Well, there's busy, and there's productive."

It seemed kind of a snotty thing to say. Especially since he was wandering around and poking his head into MY office while I was working. Whatever.

Anyway, has been a busy (AND productive) day here at the JJ. Not only three (count 'em, 3!) posts for you, the home viewer, but also a couple of very promising job leads. But, both are out of the immediate vicinity -- one in Kansas City, one in Baltimore.

And I still haven't applied for the one out of SF. Nor was I able to get to the one in Lexington that was intriguing but was having some sort of server meltdown.

So don't worry, folks. I'm still pluggin'... think the thing to do now is to have a snack, chill a bit then get a bike ride in. I'm loving me some me...

North American top 20: Donna weighs in

My friend Donna offered her top 20 via the magic of FB and asked for feedback. I love me some feedback. Here's her list, abridged:

1. Elvis. I had him ranked lower, but I can see how some might start him at 1. He didn't invent rock, but he might have been the first American to focus its power and chart the course for what was to come.

2. Johnny Cash. Whoa! My friend Johnson will like this one. It's an inspired pick, and while I think the ranking might be too high, I like the thinking here. The Man in Black certainly had the rock n roll attitude... he was a true original, spoke his mind, did his thing and broke the rules. And, with his late recordings with Rick Rubin, also had late-career work that kept his star shiny. Great, great pick... just not at 2.

3. The Doors.
4. Neil Young.
5. Bob Dylan. These last three are in the wrong order, but otherwise, yeah, I'm obviously down.

6. Joni Mitchell. Hmmm... well, I'll give this pick this much credit: Joni Mitchell had a lot more impact on women in music than a lot of others. And she wrote "Woodstock." Interesting choice, but I think that since she's pretty much been retired from the scene for 30+ years it hurts her.

7. Nine Inch Nails. Too high. I like Reznor's work and was surprised how well he did scoring "The Social Network." But 7th overall? (Actually, Donna couldn't resist breaking some rules herself and co-ranked Elvis and Cash at 1. I adjusted...) Can't put them at 7. Can't put them in the top 20.

8. Nirvana. Yeah, honestly based on their music alone, this band is probably top 5. So I guess I'm the bad dude for penalizing the dead guy.

9. Iggy and the Stooges. Another enticing pick. And I actually like some of Iggy's work post-Stooges. ("Squarehead" is a great song no one's ever heard.) Iggy's the father of punk in a lot of ways. But I just think his work is a little narrow.

10. George Clinton/Parliament-Funkadelic. Man, do I love this pick. Love, love, love this pick.

11. Prince.

12. The Pixies. Like them, but too obscure and not enough catalog with only four albums. To include them would mean I would have to include Sublime, who I like even better but who also didn't have enough of a portfolio. There I go punishing the dead guy again. OK I admit it: I'm anti-dead.

13. Todd Rundgren. This is an interesting pick also. Rundgren wrote some good stuff, but he also has had a hand in shaping the work of Grand Funk, Janis Joplin, the Band, Badfinger, Patti Smith and others. I guess he's kind of the American Alan Parsons.

14. Zappa.

15. Snoop. I love Snoop. But he's not top 20. Public Enemy, The Beasties, Eminem, NWA, Dre and Jay-Z (and probably RUN-DMC), to me, all rank higher. Tupac, too.

16. Butthole Surfers. And with this pick, Donna solidifies herself as being a little off-center! Interesting band from Texas, but top 20? Of all time?

17. Janes Addiction. Another interesting pick, just not top 20. Perry Farrell did create Lollapalooza, so bonus points.

18. Velvet Underground/Lou Reed/John Cale. A good pick. I considered these guys, especially Lou Reed, in the original list.

19. Madonna. I get it, I really do. She's influential and very successful. I just wish she did more than what she does.

20. Diana Ross and the Supremes. They were something, but for me, the short sample excludes them.

21. The Grateful Dead.

Donna also mentioned Aerosmith, Husker Du, Wall of Voodoo (heh!), Ministry, Thrill Kill Cult, Patsy Cline, Talking Heads, Devo and the B52s. I included Aerosmith and the Heads on my list. I like Devo and the B52s a lot. Patsy Cline is dead, so since I am anti-dead...

Donna also addressed two notable exclusions: Hendrix and the Beach Boys. Hendrix just didn't resonate with her. The Beach Boys she found a little dated. I agree with that. But the Hendrix thing... even though I am anti-dead, you have to give this man his due. So many artists held him up (and still do) that to discount his impact is impossible. I think of Hendrix playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at sunup on Monday when Woodstock was supposed to be over... a few straggling hippies remaining to be greeted by this distorted, demented song that really summed up the disarray and disillusionment that was the American Dream, circa 1969... that moment said and says a lot about where we are as a country.

So, if we were voting, here's the score with two precincts reporting. Keep in mind that I'm only giving points to the top 20 with 20 points for first, 19 for second and so on. Also-rans get nada.
1. (tie) Bob Dylan (1) 36 pts
1. Neil Young 36
3. The Doors 34
4. Elvis Presley (1) 32
5. Prince 23
6. Johnny Cash 19
7. My Morning Jacket 18
8. Jimi Hendrix 17
9. (tie) Public Enemy 15
9. Joni Mitchell 15
11. (tie) Talking Heads 14
11. Nine Inch Nails 14
13. Nirvana 13 (ooo... 13 at 13!)
14. Iggy Pop/The Stooges 12
15. (tie) The Eagles 11
15. George Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic 11
17. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 10
18. (tie) James Brown 9
18. The Pixies 9
20. (tie) Stevie Wonder 8
20. Todd Rundgren 8
22. (tie) Alice Cooper 7
22. Frank Zappa 7
24. (tie) The Beastie Boys 6
24. Snoop Dogg 6
26. (tie) Beck 5
26. The Butthole Surfers 5
28. (tie) Stevie Ray Vaughan 4
28. Butthole Surfers 4
30. (tie) Steely Dan 3
30. Velvet Underground 3
32. (tie) Madonna 2
32. Ryan Adams 2
34. (tie) Aerosmith 1
34. Diana Ross and the Supremes 1.

Alright, the gauntlet's thrown. Get into it, people.