Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bible Study Exam Question #1 Philippians 4:8

[Yeah, I know it says #1 in the post title, and that implies a promise.  The hell with that.  Just because I introduce a new blog feature doesn't mean it can't dribble out after 2 or 3 tries or never go on at all.  I've read plenty of blogs--really successful, popular ones!--and they all fiddle-fuck around like that.  Then again, you never know.]

Compare the following translations of Philippians 4: 8, from Holy Bible.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.--King James Version

And now, dear brothers and sisters, let me say one more thing as I close this letter. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. --New Living Translation

Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious - the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. --The Message Bible

Since I got out of the box I don't need no fucking negativity in my life and you don't need it in yours, cabron.   Stay away from those pinche' pendejos.  Just keep thinking about all the good shit.  And whenever some bad shit goes down or the worm is eating inside you, and you want to drive down to T.J. or get into the tequila, just remember, amigo,  tu pinche hermana está bien pinche, wey. (Your fucking sister is so fucking ugly, dude!) e tu eres más feo que el culo de un mono (and you are uglier than a monkey's ass).   Aaaah! . . Hah! Hah! Hah! . . .

Which one is best and why?   Just skip the following commentary if you don't like overkill.

In a recent book about the King James translation, Harold Bloom marveled that fifty different translators, working in 5 or 6 teams, each led by an indifferent (in his estimation) scholar managed to produce such a masterpiece of unity and poetic beauty.    So I'm with Bloom about the first version.  The last passage isn't even an intentional translation; it's something I overheard at the Mission transcribed more or less verbatim that's weirdly apt for today's lesson, except where it veers into insult.   Actually, the insults fit right in with Philippians 4: 8, in a satirical way.   And as a piece of living speech it beats out the middle two selections or any other bible translation aside from the KJV, which were obviously--and marvelously--done by circus pinheads with lead and mercury poisoning. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Homeless Asians are the Smartest; or, More Deductive Reasoning from Homeless Holmes

Premise:  Asians are the smartest people and homeless Asians are the smartest of all.   Also, stereotypes are true.

I know Asians are the smartest people because once, after a three year lapse, I revisited a fabulous Chinese buffet.  The instant I walked into the greeting area, the crone behind the podium screeched, "Hey!  Hey you!"


"Yeah, you!  Why you not come in here anymore?"

"I haven't been here to eat in three years."

"I know!  Why you not come in here anymore?  Not hungry?   Extra pound food free for you!"

In addition to this data, I have a new bunky at the Rescue Mission, an Asian-computer-criminal-felon-mastermind-inscrutable-spiky-haired-bespectacled-snickering-shifty-eyed-unfailingly polite-archaically- formal-thrash-rock-listening-seemingly-conscious-free-fellow named Matthew Chen.   Matthew's normal speaking voice makes him sound like an Anglo Saxon white boy dosed on ADHD drugs, Red Bull and a bit of helium, but he's equally at home talking to the Mexican gangsters about "buena torta"--good pussy--and the black homies about problems compressing bootleg copies of Rise of the Planet of the Apes.   He's also got a weird partnership--along with an appropriate accent--with a young Texas-grown thug and quasi-Elvis impersonator who doesn't live in the mission but somehow materializes next to our bunks after midnight, reeking of Marlboros and drawling, "I'm here--hell, yes I'm here.  Always where I'm supposed to be and nowhere else." 

It's all true and proves something.  Send in your solutions care of this blog and win a prize
 (Remember, these people are all homeless).

Monday, April 23, 2012

Zeno's Paradox and Mission Impossible

The homeless are in a hurry with nowhere to go.  Titanically impatient, enraged by delays, they can seem like thwarted Olympian Gods preparing to thunder when denied a good spot in chow line or informed that Disciple Reynaldo--notorious for his sonorous, endless mealtime graces--will be down momentarily to call for "hats off" and "reverence." (Compare stately Reynaldo to Disciple Charlie: "Tanks Jesus Bless Food Safe No Enemies Amen!  OOH RAH!  SEMPER FI!  CHOW DOWN, HOGS!")  Chugging into the cafeteria five at a time (Reynaldo records each guest entry with infuriating  elegance, ticking precise groupings of tally marks onto his clipboard) the men behave like runaway freight cars or elephants in musth after seizing their trays--crashing into the yogurt and fruit bins, careening off the monster milk thermoses, scattering cups and wet paper towels, bellowing and sending up splashes of oatmeal.  

Then comes the tension before "seconds."  If you try to line up for extra chow before the announcement comes, you might get shouted down, shamed into leaving even.  On the other hand, if you wait too long you might find yourself at the end of the line as it whip-snaps instantly into existence. God only knows if there will be an extra boiled egg or scouring pad-like synthetic chicken patty waiting.  Entry into the seconds line requires exquisite timing, balletic grace, animal cunning:  head down, you pretend you're headed for the garbage bins to bang the sticky peaches off your tray, then twirl, sidestep, and hop neatly into the emergent line, hoping no one challenges you.

Cursing, straining to see ahead, forever pegging spots in the next line, locked in a cycle of endless demands to know when "now" will happen, the homeless embody Zeno's most famous paradox: each time you move halfway toward a goal or destination, you still have halfway to go, then half again . . . chopping halves into smaller halves only and forever gets you halfway there and so you can never, ever arrive.   The paradox can be refuted by mathematicians (not by me), but  this was one of those conundrums that could seem vividly real as you pondered it awake in bed as a kid.  It's emotionally real when you're bombarded by the splitting particles of desperation given off by the homeless--finish line missing, goalposts moved again, game never over, can't be won.

Except maybe by a recent guest, a jolly florid fatty named Paul, a self-trumpeted bipolar/paranoid schizophrenic dosed on Seroquel and Abilify "with 100 milligrams of Wellbutrin to keep my sex-drive up to speed!"  Paul arrived without a backpack or any possessions aside from his blooming scarlet appearance, puffy alcoholic face, scruffy red beard, crimson football shirt and silky athletic shorts.  Striding about the sidewalk before evening chow, he introduced himself to everyone, attempting to shake hands, rarely succeeding, repeating in his reedy voice, "Sure am glad to meet everyone here at my new home, the Fresno Rescue Mission!  Hey there, buddy!"  Whenever he actually succeeded in shaking a hand or prying a name out of a sullen guest, Paul chirped, "Mission Accomplished!"

"Mission Accomplished!"  Line entered.  Line moving.  Entry reached.  Disciple greeted.  Plastic spoon and fork obtained.  Gristly meat masticated . . . "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!"  By this simple expedient, Paul achieved a cosmic inversion of the homeless paradigm, creating a universe of finely grained, shimmering, moment by moment triumphs.   Zeno refuted, destination always in sight, always satisfied with results.  Settling his flab into his upper bunk, causing the cork board to slap and crack against the metal support slats, he'd sigh, drum his full belly with grubby fingers and murmur the the talismanic phrase, sometime altering it to a quiet, "M.A. . . Fucking A-1, M.A,  Good Buddy!"  

This is not to say I found Paul pleasing.   Aside from his masterstroke decap of one gloomy homeless hydra head, he was a personal rebuke to me and my failures. [I'm still trying to save enough money to get the hell out of this place, rebuild my wrecked credit, perhaps someday get back into college teaching, revisit the world of academic writing and screenwriting, with which I'm tentatively acquainted]   He was also irritating as fuck in other ways.  He stunk to high heaven, snored like a hell-boar,  tried to shake hands and introduce himself to you no matter how many times he'd done it, and he never stopped boasting about what he was going to do for all his "best est new buddies at the Mission once my lottery [or investment, or settlement, or inheritance--it kept changing] money comes in:  Buy 100 large pizzas for us all and a 100 inch Big Screen Flat Panel Plasma High Def Surround Sound Entertainment Center TV with all the BELLS AND WHISTLES! so we can all watch sports and do some Non-Threatening NO FUNNY BUSINESS Male Bonding!!!" 

No one ends up on heavy psych meds or in a homeless shelter without some serious mental and emotional scrap metal to haul around, but Paul never descended from his stratospheric cheeriness and satisfaction.  "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!"

It ended violently--as things so often do at the Mission.  Dae'shon, a seething, furious, ultra-dark do-ragged homey simply had it one evening soon after lights-out.   The dialog writes itself: 

Paul [in bunk, accomplishing something] Mission Accomplished!
Dae'shon: "Goddamn mother fucker!  I told you to negate that shit!
Paul: A big screen TV!  Large pizzas for all my buddies!
Dae'shon: I get all the motherfucking pizza I want!  Other night I had two bitches bring me two boxes of fucking pizza with four different types of types of topping.  Two bitches, two boxes, twenty-four pieces, toppings all over the fucking place.   The whole thing was astronomical, gastronomical combination shit.   And we had a bunch of white girl movies!   Don't need no fucking sports!
Paul:  I will accomplish the mission.
Dae'shon:  I'll accomplish the motherfucking mission right now!

The imagery, too, is unavoidable:  Grappling in the half-light streaming from the restrooms and the red glow of the exit sign, Dae'shon's do rag flapping out like a dark hero cape, his compact muscles springing and fists flying, Paul's spongy bulk absorbing blows like Golem-stuff as he roars, the two seem for a moment archetypal Elder Gods who've torn through the dimensional fabric to flash up the sky over our sorry, sewer-stinking dormitory.  

After the disciples break it up, large droplets and spatters of blood are everywhere.   Paul and Dae'shon both get 30 days suspension.   Nobody's won.  Everybody's laughing, snorting, chattering, nobody sleeps for hours, everbody repeats Dae'shon's dialog and Paul's catch phrases until it all loses meaning and goes absolutely nowhere. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Homeless Holmes, Case One

One of the most annoying repetitions in all literature is Sherlock Holmes' insistence to poor Dr. Watson and others subjected to his supercilious intellect that he is engaged in "deduction" when tracking down criminals or analyzing a crime scene.  What he's actually doing most of the time is "induction."  So instead of "deducing" things from clues and appearances,  he's "inducing" or "inferring," a necessary part of the scientific method.

Here's the difference,  illustrated in an easy example I used to give students (Apologies to professional logicians and philosophers of science):  Deduction is a logical inquiry in which the conclusion is certain, given the validity of the premise.   Take a guy who's always frantically searching for his car keys before work.   Accept the truth of the following premise-- his loving wife constantly reminds him that his keys can always be found in one of three places:  
     A.  Resting on the cluttered dresser top.
     B.  Hiding beneath the coins in his trouser pockets.
     C.  Dangling in the doorknob outside.
On a given morning the frantic boob establishes--with wifely aid--that the keys are neither A. Resting on dresser, nor B. Hiding in trousers.   "Huuunnnny . . .????" loving wife coos, as music starts mocking "wah wahs" and audience starts tittering. . . Cut to a shot of keys dangling in doorknob, rocking slightly in snowfall . . . Audience ROARS.

Deduction is entirely a matter of symbol manipulation, which is why computers seem so smart.

However, in one episode the boob sheepish rolls his eyes at loving wife, opens the door . . . Audience gasps.

The key hole is empty.  The keys are missing.  And so is the boob's highly recognizable station wagon. 

Here is where induction comes in.  Induction requires real-world knowledge and intuition (forget about defining these terms).  In this case it seems pretty clear that the keys were taken and with them someone has stolen the station wagon.   After this obviosity is out of the way, students quickly catch on that lots of other things could have happened and plenty of classroom speculative fun ensues:  Loving wife is playing a joke;  Boobish Husband is playing a joke;  their son Bibby, who was only introduced in the third season and seemed to vanish thereafter, has returned and is playing a joke; aliens are playing a galactic fraternity joke . . . and so on.

From there it's easy to show how scientists and workaday stiffs have to use both induction and deduction constantly, just to make a cup of good cup of coffee or use a urinal.  Some computer scientists claim that machines like Deep Blue and the Jeopardy-winning Watson are so advanced that they're using induction--and that by extention humans are just extremely well-stocked fact machines and that all induction is really hyper-deduction . .. but that's all boring and academic and Sherlock Holmes is still a preposterous bore.

Actually, I still like Holmes and have to admit that saying "ladies and gentlemen, my powers of deduction have have never failed me.  I invite you to observe these two ostrich eggs as I drop them from the balcony onto Baker Street . . . Now!  What do you deduce?"  sounds better than "What do you infer?" or "How do you like that shit?" 
(A dusty old joke that I like has Holmes and Watson pursuing a criminal mastermind into the wilderness.   They camp out and after midnight Holmes shakes Watson awake.

"Watson!  Wake up!  Look up!  What do you deduce?"

Watson shakes off sleep and looks up.

"Go on, man!  Deduce!"

"Well," says Watson, I observe myriad stars, around which may revolve planets such as our own, where may reside creatures such as ourselves, scheming, planning, hoping, fearing . . ."

"Watson, you idiot! Someone has stolen our tent!)

All this is prelude to talking very briefly about a fun new game I've started playing, "Homeless Holmes."  To play,  you pick out a homeless person while standing in line somewhere or sitting in chapel.  Then you rub your stubbly chin reflectively, hiss a bit, click your tongue, and say to yourself, "Observing this poor fellow I deduce (yes, deduce!) . . .

Then you take in the guy's age (about 87, from appearances, although he might be 63 and just very fermented and sun-puckered);  his pink My Little Pony backpack mended with safety pins; the plastic bags strapped over his bare feet with rubber bands and the rubber flip-flops he's somehow slipped over the plastic bags; the thick yellow fungus infecting all nine fingernails (Caught that, did you?); the way he sings "Amazing Grace" by intoning the word "YEEP" in different registers . . .

 . . ."I deduce that this fellow was for some 30 years a leading authority on Great Horned Owls at a great Mid-western university and murdered a colleague with the very same garden trowel he displays on his braided hemp belt to obtain that station in life.  He now sits there, a ruined example to us all!"

Play again and again . . . and enjoy!


What Are the Homeless Reading this Week? A New Blog Feature.

The many longtime readers of this blog have been bugging me for reading lists, not just stuff I've been sampling but stuff my bunkies and comrades at the Mission read.   So here we go . . .


Most Homeless People, like most people, don't read a damn thing, preferring to watch videos on their iPods and smoke hand rolled cigarettes and scream "Motherfucking Bitch! I kill her!" over and over.  But more than a few read more than you might think:

The Bible, of course, in several different editions and covers advertising enticing degrees of thinness and accessibility.  The Combat/Camouflage Bible, a lean and mean battle-ready weapon for spiritual clashes on the plains of ignorance.  Also popular is "The Very Easy Bible."  The text is trimmed to the bone--no begats or mind-numbing litanies of injunctions from Jehovah (The Hebrew god has always struck me as a spoiled infant genie with diaper rash--like that fat, bearded, know-it-all-friend of yours who works at the tech-help desk at the library and eats cartons of fried clams, except he's got magic powers.)  Many prefer the King James Version, especially the old-timers, who seem well-versed in basic scripture knowledge (Shamefully, I got most of mine from a Mormon upbringing that didn't take hold, and the rest from books of snarky, skeptical Bible commentary.  I do recommend the King James, though) Occasionally,  heated exchanges over niggling details of translation and interpretation erupt.  Sample:

"Namaan got his skin condition all cleared up in the River Jordan.  River washed his skin clean as a baby's.  I wish I could bathe there.  What a cool, refreshing blessing that would be!"

"You missing the whole point.  Wasn't no skin condition.  It was fucking Leprosy.   Motherfucker's fingers be falling off."

"He was a great warrior.  He had all his fingers."

"You don't know shit and let me tell you something else, Punky Brewster.  The Jordan River was one jacked-up stinking repugnant body of water.   God told him to dip himself seven times.    How do you think he felt with all his troops watching him?   Like a fucking fool.  God was giving him the acid test of obedience.  It wasn't no god damned skin treatment salon."

Etc. . . .

Westerns.  You'd think soft-core porn paperbacks or serial killer stuff might be more popular, but apart from some stiff competition from science fiction, fantasy, and graphic novels, Westerns are the hands-down winner this week.    Louis L'Amour predominates, but plenty of homeless folk seem much taken with Larry McMurtry's forays into the genre--Lonesome Dove and its sequels.    I snobbishly recommend Charles Portis's True Grit.

L. Ron Hubbard.  Dianetics inventor,  Church of Scientology Founder, science fiction writer, cult leader, charismatic nutcase obsessed with embryonic engrams, evil  Thetans,  naval protocol, epaulets, proper wear of and caring for.   Your guess is as good as mine.

Danielle Steele.  John Grisham.   "A Tale of Two Cities," by Charles Dickens

Sasquatch Books

Oprah's Magazine

Boris Pasternak, "Doctor Zhivago"


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Morning Detox and Decompression

When you're standing in the stuffy, moldy mission breezeway at 5:45AM in line for breakfast with a bunch of fellow neurotics, assorted felons, brigands, rapscallions, miscreants, and good old fashioned lost souls, naturally the conversation turns to dog poisoning.

"I fucking hate dogs," says a young thug with a Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon cap turned backwards.  He's a pimply, jittery white homey with rap sizzling out of his ear buds and pants so gravity sunk that he looks like a wet-brained bindlestiff with a load in the seat. 

"I don't really like dogs either," says Eternal Pothead.  Each morning he fills the corridor with quality fumes.  How he gets away with this is a profound mystery, like the guy who runs a soda and bootlegged DVD concession in the chapel during worship, smiling behind wrap-around shades while hawking cans of Tiki Punch and Nicolas Cage discs from a giant athletic bag.   The immunity and impunity on display in these cases still  has me baffled after all these months.   It makes me feel vaguely daring or entrepreneurial, but the key word is "vaguely."  What kind of scam could I run?  Doctoring dormitory write-up forms?  Selling selected literary quotes?

Someone else chimes in about shit-bag canines.   Why this dog hostility has erupted this morning is another poser.  The whole bombed out skid row area is crawling with strays, and most people seem to feed them, play with them, tuck them into over coats.  Everybody likes dogs.  Right?

"Know the best way to poison a fucking mutt?" asks Pink Floyd.  "Antifreeze.  You inject a bunch of cheap steaks with antifreeze and toss them around and you can kill as many of the stupid shits as you want."

"We used to shoot dogs with BB guns."

"Dogs are worthless."

"Fleas and shit.  Gotta vaccinate them, eat like horses."

"I'm a cat man myself."

"I hate animals."

I'm seized by a momentary urge to display some literary erudition, to flash my college cred by alluding to the famous dog poisoning rant in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five--Private Paul Lazzaro with "rabies fizzing and popping" in his brain, bragging about killing a dog with razor-sharp metal and a steak.  But suddenly everybody in line, most with ear buds hissing, looks and sounds rabid. 

I'm out the mission gate by 6:15, on the northbound bus by 6:30, and into a 4th grade classroom by 7:00, reviewing the morning's lesson on that week's character trait--Caring.   This is one of the district's Six Pillars of Character, and for once they don't seem corny to me.   They are: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Citizenship, and Caring.   This class--I haven't met the kids yet-- is nurturing a white rat named Melvin in a cage.   To the extent I can judge such things, he looks healthy and happy.  As the children gather outside the door, I wonder what lie will come unbidden to my lips today when one of them asks me the common question, Where do you live, teacher?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Return of the Midwich Cuckoos

At school I today I discovered that an epidemic of spooky "staring" had broken out several days before.  After the school-wide flag salute, the principal came on the P.A. system and announced that there was to be no more "eye-popping," that "surrounding people and 'eyeballing' is bullying or worse."   Kids had been tormenting each other with demonic, bloodshot ping-pong-bally ogling.   Obviously, I reasoned, some kids would be better at this cartoony exercise than others--like being double-jointed or skilled at that icky eyelid trick your cousin was always pulling at family gatherings.  As the day went on and I investigated this gotta-see phenomenon, I sensed an almost supernatural, Exorcist level fear associated with the behavior.  It was bad ju-ju. 

"What's this staring thing all about?" I asked the third graders.  "Show me.  Come on . . . nobody's going to get in trouble."

After a bit more coaxing I got a group of 3 girls and a boy to give me the treatment.  They surrounded me in a rough semi-circle and did a startling alien act right out of Village of the Damned. (John Wyndam's classic SF novel The Midwich Cuckoos, about an English hamlet whose women simultaneously give birth to children with glowing golden eyes and mind-control powers has been filmed at least twice with that title; at one point the little creeps force the villagers to attack each other with pitchforks and other farm implements).  The kids dropped their arms, thrust their heads forward, and bugged out their glassies.  I felt impaled.  One girl already had owl eyes, so the effect was like the emergence of a new life form.  Another could spin her irises, creating wobbling black holes in the air. 

"That's pretty cool," I said.  Then I struggled with the need to spout the usual "You heard what the principal said," bureaucracy-guff.   I resisted.

I never saw an actual eyeball attack that day, and felt very disappointed.  The quashing had done its work.  I did have to deal with a tiresome number of false alarms and accusations and denials:  "She's putting the eyeballs on me!"  "Stop staring!"  "I'm just looking at the lunch menu!  Gawww!!!" 

More than usually bored I spent much of the day envisioning small groups of eye-bugging children forcing teachers against each other in harmless eraser battles, marking each other up with colored Sharpies, giving paper cuts in the Xerox room, or raiding mini-fridges of fruity energy drinks and the occasional mini booze bottle.

Well, what the hell else am I going to use as a counterpoint to district sensations like the new "facilitation method" that involves "use of oral language, appropriate body motions, age-leveled diction, selected technology and visual aids, and measured eye-contact" to convey ideas?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I Worship Nothing . . . .except maybe kids

In the kindergarten classes where I often teach, no technique is more effective at generating energy and enthusiasm than spinning one of the inane number or alphabet song CDs scattered about any well-stocked classroom and saying "let's dance!"  Watching kids cut crazy is goofy joyful fun, and if you time things right, you can channel their energy into other things.   Some children age 4 or 5 are natural dancers with an innate sense of rhythm.  Others are rubbery enthusiasts who bonk heads and slap each other and fall into unruly piles on the safety mats.   Kids need this kind of thing and they're not expressing anything but sheer joy and pleasure in their bodies.   None of this "trailing clouds of glory" shit.

I also enjoy watching kids fall from significant heights off outdoor play structures onto the surprisingly springy layers of wood chips provided by the playground planners.  You can actually see them bounce, and if you don't meet their eyes after they fall, they rarely cry.   It's all physics, but kids bodies really behave as if made of some strange elastic spongy stuff.   It's spooky and very funny.

I often think a fiend of a particularly sinister sort designed the ritual that opens most chapel sessions at the Fresno Rescue Mission.  It also involves dancing--but of a creepily infantile sort.  It's important to distinguish "infantile" from "childlike" or "innocent."   Usually the chapel M.C--a disciple reasonably advanced in social skills and poised enough to stand in front of a crowd--announces the evening's pastor or deeply cruddy Christian rock group then starts us off with some "I-worship."  A group of guests and disciples can usually be persuaded to gather in front of the big projector screen which displays sappy "spiritual" images of rivers, daffodils, galaxies, vacuous worshipers with hands raised toward clouds and sunsets, and silhouettes of long-haired robed figures.   The music accompanying these images is inane beyond belief . . . let's be frank: it's slack-jawed drooling cretinous offal about worship and glory, all sung by people who sound as if they're doing their best to avoid being tortured.   While this stuff plays and flashes at you, the guests and disciples bounce around and try to sing along like cows pretending they're not being slaughtered.   No description can convey the retarded shittiness and degraded nature of the proceedings.   This happens almost every night.  Then the evening's pastor rants about the Middle East or emphasizes the importance of avoiding roaring city buses and the Lake of Fire.    Kindergarten babies, heads in the gravy.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

Easter Reflections

Overheard at 1:00 AM:

"Doing anything for Easter?"
"Don't know.  Haven't seen the folks for years."
"Me neither."
"One family member who never forgets you."
"Yeah.  Oh, yeah!"
"Don't forget what it's all about."
"Yeah, it's not just about the eggs."