Monday, April 30, 2007

Busting a Knut

Sometimes one reads something that's so shocking, so abnormal and so fucking stupid, one must share it on their blog. While perusing The Drudge Report, I chanced upon this item from Spiegel Online about Knut the polar bear cub in the Berlin zoo. The article reads more like something from The Onion:

"Knut Steadily Getting Less Cute

It's a tragic fact of life. Celebrity polar bear cub Knut, now almost five months old, is gradually mutating from a fluffy porridge-lapping cub into a heavy bruiser with a penchant for meat off the bone. But the visitors are still flocking to see him.
Knut's days of extreme cuteness are numbered now that he has acquired a markedly longer snout and weighs a chubby 17 kilograms (37 pounds), twice as much as when he first appeared before an adoring public five weeks ago."

So the angle for this feature is about how the polar bear cub is maturing and getting "less cute". This is the same polar bear cub that received an anonymous death threat a few weeks ago. And I thought the Germans were assholes only during World War II.

Anyway, I understand the whole journalism business and getting stories, doing updates and features and meeting deadlines. The editor probably wanted an update on Knut and needed another angle, some different variation on a theme that is Knut the polar bear cub. But stories saying the polar bear cub is "getting less cute" or the implication that people only like seeing cute animals at the zoo is ridiculous. Case in point: The Philadelphia Zoo had a huge gorilla named Massa, who was sold to the zoo in 1935 and died in 1984, his longevity attracting admirers. He lived to the ripe old age of 54 years. Not a cute animal, but one you wanted to see.

That's why this whole Spiegel Online article disturbed me. It was such a fucking waste of time and so ridiculous, I don't know what's happening to the news business anymore. Turn on the TV and your cable news networks have news about celebrities. News content is more of a distraction than actual information. It's schoolyard gossip replacing need-to-know information. The NewsHour with Jim Leher is the only real news program out there. It's the only chunk of television news that doesn't pander to me or insult my intelligence and treats me like an adult. That's the problem with the mainstream corporate media: it treats its viewers like children. Stories about Britney Spears shaving her head, about John Edwards' expensive hair cut, about Knut the polar bear cub growing less cute. It's all bullshit. There's no substance. And what's not gossip is outright opinion and scathing polarized commentary. Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity. They're all cranks. Not one of them actually informs me or sheds light on the darkness. I feel less illuminated with the truth and more loathing of my fellow humans after exposure to their stinking bile.

The only difference between Knut the polar bear and the journalists and media moguls who cover him is that Knut is maturing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

B&J's AmeriCone Dream

Strange that Ben & Jerry's chose Stephen Colbert as a theme for an ice cream flavor. While I think Colbert is talented and funny and his Colbert Report is a spoof of right-wing nutballs, I don't know why the ice cream flavor. Is John Stewart that polarizing a figure you can't have a Daily Show ice cream flavor? Vermonty Python was a far better flavor in my opinion.
Things may be working out for Stephen Colbert and he deserves the success he's reaping. However, the only thing Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream gave me was a bad case of the sugar shits.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Answers or Questions?

Seems like a lot of people are wondering what the enigmatic words “Ismail Ax” found on gunman Cho Seung Hui meant. Blogs, websites and listservs cranked out multiple theories. Here’s an update of sorts:

This is from the ABC News website:

“One "Nightline" viewer recognized "Ismail-Ax" from a poem he had read by Drum Hadley, the 1960s beat poet. The poem is called the "The Goat Ranchers" and in it Hadley, under the pseudonym Yonder Ridgeline, writes about "Ishmael's Ax." Here's the excerpt:

Went where they'd herded goats when they were kids,
Went where they were lovers,
Went where they were married here, those fifty years ago.
Traces of Ishmael's ax on the scarred trunks of the cedar trees,
Crossing the canyons and winding arroyos.

According to Strong's Dictionary, the name "Ishmael" literally translates as "God will hear."

Someone even suggested the name Ismail Ax was really Ismail YK, the name of a Turkish singer. Cho may have been batshit crazy and angry, but even he could have known the difference between the letters a, x, y and k.
Cho mailed a package to NBC containing multiple videos, photographs and a rambling manifesto. In that material, Cho rants against rich kids and Christianity and sees himself a martyr, comparing himself to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the sicko gunmen from Columbine High School. Here’s the most tantalizing bit: The return address on the package was “Ismail.” NBC News President Steve Capus described the package as having the name “Ismail” on it.
A photo of the package is on the NBC News site. The return address lists the name as “A. Iihmael”.
It seems that Ismail or Ishmael was the name Cho had for himself, that there wasn’t a link to Islam, poetry or literature. Maybe the meaning of this name will be name clearer as authorities release more information.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ismail Ax

Law enforcement sources said that Cho died with the words “Ismail Ax” in red ink on one of his arms, but they were not sure what the words meant.
- The Washington Post
April 17, 2007

Cho Seung Hui, a 23-year-old South Korean who lived in the United States since 1992, shot and killed 32 people and then himself on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va. On April 16 in what officials called the deadliest shooting in American history.
How does one make sense of something so horrible, so awful? How do you look at something like this and not realize there are monsters walking among us?
Cho was said to have psychological problems and was deemed a “loner.” Why do loners take their grisly fantasies out on everyone? Cho fit the classic profile: an outsider, an introvert, a fan of violent video games, prone to depression and dark thoughts. Who knows what inner demons brewed in his head over the years, the same ugliness that led him to buy a 9mm and .22 caliber handgun and treat Virginia Tech like his own shooting gallery?
Like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the shooters at the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, Cho killed himself, leaving a lot of questions unanswered.
Why did he do it? What were his motivations? Was he a psychotic? Authorities say he left a rambling message in his room, saying he was gunning for the rich kids, that they made him do what he did.
Cho, an English major, received psychological counseling after a teacher noticed his fucked up writing. He wrote a dark one-act play called “Richard McBeef” about a 13-year old boy who accuses his stepfather of pedophilia before the stepfather, enraged, murders him. You know, if a student brought this to me, the kid would be on an all Lithium diet and live in a rubber room. To think that a kid this fucked up, like a powder keg waiting to explode could not only get turned loose but could purchase weapons is beyond me.
The media, the proverbial douchebags that they are, over-analyze this. One British newspaper, The Daily Mail, had a sentence that began, “With America’s lax gun laws and propensity for casual everyday violence...”
Okay, hold on. People have been killed in the worst slaying in modern history and the reporter wants to debate culture and gun control? Need I remind the Daily Mail that Europe’s history is drenched in blood, or was World War I, World War II, the Crusades, the Napoleonic Wars and the Roman campaigns all for fun? England gave the world Jack the Ripper, the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, and various ingenious medieval torture devices. Violence is world wide, jackass. If you think only Americans like shooting up schools, have you forgotten the 1996 massacre in Dunblane, Scotland, where Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and one teacher before killing himself? These were not college students, they were children – five and six year olds. So can the “propensity for casual violence" crap, Nigel. England also has its fucked-up loners.
The Daily Mail’s website ran the Virginia Tech story with photos of Cho and a student named Emily Hilscher, whom he may have been infatuated with. However, the Mail claims another student, Ryan Clark “may have been involved” with Hilscher. The website ran a picture of Cho and Hilscher side by side and one large photo of Ryan Clark. By the way, Clark is black. What these sly Brits are saying is “Blimey! Clark is a colored bloke!”
Subtle racism? Who knows, but it just looked weird that the black guy’s headshot was billboard sized while the student who MURDERED OVER 30 PEOPLE gets a small photo.
The geniuses at the Daily Mail interpreted the words on Cho’s arm, “Ismail Ax” as meaning Cho “may have been a Muslim. In Islamic lore, Ismail is a reference to the ‘son of sacrifice.’”
A television repair shop owner in Texas registered the name after hearing it today. He said he has offers from people to buy the domian name. Fuck them! Profiting from a phsycho's rampage. I'm sure there's going to be some alternative band with the name Ismail Ax in the future. Again, fuck them!

The Internet is abuzz with speculation over the name.

Here’s what KingOfTruth listed in a post on a Netscape blog:

"For those of you still searching for meaning in this phrase, written in ink on Cho Seung-Hui's arm and also how he signed his infamous note, it starts with the story of Ibrahim's Ax (Ibrahim = Abraham):
After making sure that nobody was left in town, Ibrahim went towards the temple armed with an ax. Statues of all shapes and sizes were sitting there adorned with decorations. Plates of food were offered to them, but the food was untouched. "Well, why don't you eat? The food is getting cold." He said to the statues, joking; then with his ax he destroyed all the statues except one, the biggest of them. He hung the ax around its neck and left.
--The Koran
Ismail was Ibrahim's son. It was Ismail that Ibrahim wanted to sacrifice for Yahweh (with an ax)."

Was Cho, a South Korean, a Muslim? Seems very unlikely. Wouldn’t you think that little detail would come out in the story? It is pretty significant that this dick thought he was on a holy mission to cleanse the world or some crap.

Got this from This makes the most sense:

"You probably already know this, but in James Fennimore Cooper’s story “The Prairie,” the settler Ishmael Bush, who is attempting to escape from civilization, sets out across the prairie with two key tools, a gun and an axe. Each has a symbolic meaning. The axe — which can either kill or provide shelter — stands for both creation and destruction. Given that the VT killer was an English major, might this be the likely meaning of the words on his arm? Just my two cents."

There is also the book "Ishmael" an 1876 novel by American author Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth:

"As to what brought me back to the neighborhood, Hannah, it was to do some business for the judge, and to buy some stock for the farm. But there, my dear! that boy has slipped out, and is cutting the wood; I'll go and do it for him," said Reuben, as the sound of Ishmael's ax fell upon his ears.
Hannah arose and followed Gray to the door, and there before it stood Ishmael, chopping away at random, upon the pile of wood, his cheeks flushed with fever and his eyes wild with excitement.
"Hannah, he is ill; he is very ill; he doesn't well know what he is about," said Reuben, taking the ax from the boy's hand.
"Ishmael, Ishmael, my lad, come in; you are not well enough to work," said Hannah anxiously.
Ishmael yielded up the ax and suffered Reuben to draw him into the house.
"It is only that I am so hot and dizzy and weak, Mr. Middleton; but I am sure I shall be able to do it presently," said Ishmael apologetically, as he put his hand to his head and looked around himself in perplexity.
"I'll tell you what, the boy is out of his head, Hannah, and it's my belief as he's a going to have a bad illness," said Reuben, as he guided Ishmael to the bed and laid him on it."

Maybe it was a reference to the character Ishmael in Herman Melville's "Moby Dick".

So what the hell was Ismail Ax? Is there some deep meaning to it? Was it Cho's screenname in a chatroom or was he really a religious fanatic or was it a reference to a work of English literature? Might AX be the Alpha Chi Omega sorority? There was a chapter on the Virginia Tech campus.
Perhaps we'll never know.
All I know is Virginia Tech will never be the same. The students and community was scarred by the indelible mark of senseless violence. Those students, faculty and the town of Blacksburg will take a long time to heal. I wish them all well in their healing and recovery.
The Virginia Tech massacre hit home for me. Actually, one of my co-workers in from Virginia and has a sister that attends Virginia Tech. She was not one of the victims. She and her classmates are affected as well as my co-worker. She took the following photo on her cell phone on Tuesday, the day after the tragedy. It is Lane Stadium packed with students at a memorial ceremony.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut died April 11. He was 84.
So it goes.
I know lately I've been chronicling the deeds of the dead on this blog and I don't want it to be morbid. I just marvel at their lives and their accomplishments. Death is extremely weird. It grounds the living, makes them view their lives differently and gives them a purpose to strive. It reminds everyone they're on borrowed time.
As a teenager, I discovereed Vonnegut after reading Slaughterhouse Five. I was so blown away by his style, his breezy and somewhat prechy worldview and his propensity for kindness in the face of evil and stupidity. Man must be kind to each other. Wow. What a concept.
Vonnegut was an anomaly in fiction. Was he writing science fiction, social commentary, tragedy, comedy or a little of everything? One summer, I remember vacationing at the Jersey shore and going into a dinky little bookshop and purchasing at least one Vonnegut paperback a week. I devoured his works that summer: Welcome to the Monkeyhouse, Mother Night, Slapstick, Bluebeard, Galapagos, Breakfast of Champions, Cat's Cradle, Jailbird, Palm Sunday and others. He was a master at writing, at surrealism and at carving out and sharing the dark areas of his life.
But despite his personal tragedies, Vonnegut's writing always strived for the better. He used the absurd to illustrate truths. He appeared in Rodney Dangerfield's movie "Back to School" making a brief walk-on cameo as himself, which I thought was cool.
When I was in college, I read Hocus Pocus and decided to write to him. I found the address of his publisher or agent (I forget which now) and wrote a gushing letter that I admired his work and I was a young writer, etc. I never got a reply, but I felt good sending him a letter. Whether he got it is highly improbable, but at least I tried communicating.
I could wax poetic about the burly Midwesterner, the bard of satire and surrealism. I could talk all day about Kilgore Trout, Billy Pilgrim, Wanda June, Montana Wildhack and the weird asterisk-shaped illustrations meant to be assholes. Vonnegut was one of my favorite writers and influenced me during my late teens and early twenties.
Good night, Mr. Vonnegut.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Nigga, Please...

Unless you've been living in a cave on one of Jupiter's moons, you've heard of Don Imus' on-air comments about the Rutger's woman's basketball team. Imus referred to the team as "some nappy-headed hos." The immediate outcry from the black community was swift and resulted in Imus' show being pulled from MSNBC and him receiving a two week suspension from radio. Opportunists like Rev. Al Sharpton pounded away at Imus and the news networks began their blanket coverage. Sponsores to Imus's show pulled away, as well. I guess those corporations had no problem with his past racial or derogatory comments, but when heat is on, they began their disassociation. Typical.
I'm not a big Imus fan. In fact, I think the I-Man is a desiccated old cowboy, a rude and cantankerous curmudgeon. But I really pity him now.
Imus fell all over himself apologizing to everyone - to the station, to the listeners, to the Rutgers athletes, to the black community, to God. That wasn't enough, and he personally apologized to the athletes. The basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer and her players admonished Imus and the issue is getting more exposure in our retarded corporate national media.
I heard one pundit ask what made Imus feel so comfortable that he could call black women "nappy-headed hos"? There has to be a gulf between blacks and whites in this society to make one feel so removed, so at ease to utter that phrase. Because when you're shielded by income, culture and status from each other, you can't help but objectify others different from you.
Conversely, we live in the land of free speech. I'm sure a majority of Americans don't agree with Klansman David Duke and former Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell, who spewed hated and division of the races, yet they were allowed to speak the most foulest hatred imaginable. I don't agree with dopes like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, but I don't want them thrown off the air for their rhetoric.
Maybe it had to do with history. Whites owned slaves and enacted legislation that kept blacks socially feeble for generations. The onus was to throw him off the air as an example and not just to play the race card. Maybe it doesn't matter that Imus donated millions to charity or has a ranch where sick kids can go. Maybe we're focused on the current bloodfest du jour.
Who knows? Who cares?
You know, if an entire country can rise up and get Imus thrown off the air, can't they rise up and get better programing on TV?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Happy Easter

Easter is finally here! We celebrated Easter the traditional Armenian Orthodox way - we nailed a Jew to a tree. I know, I know: It sounds like a typical weekend in the South, but this is a holy day.
Seriously, I just spent the weekend in Delaware with my family. For such a religious day, I found a total lack of religion there. There were colorful Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies and marshmallow Peeps. Nothing really to remind us of Jesus, the resurrection and what the true significance of the holiday means.
Easter and Christmas are two really fun pagan holidays. Well, they were pagan originally. Then the church muscled in and took them over. Easter was originally a spring fertility rite. That's why bunnies and chickies. A new beginning. Spring and flowers and babies and all that.
But mostly Easter is about eating lamb and candy with your family and just seeing each other. There's not the pressure of Thanksgiving or Christmas. It's just a neat springtime holiday where you dress up in fancy clothes and stuff sugary chocolate-covered coconut eggs in your mouth. Yummers!

Friday, April 6, 2007

NJPA Award Night

Last night the New Jersey Press Association held its awards ceremony for the New Jersey 2006 Better Newspaper Contest. The banquet hall, at a hotel in Trenton, was filled with editors, reporters and photographers from all over the state. I haven't been to one of these awards ceremonies in years. When I win an award, they're usually sent to me. It was really fun to go and read all of the winning entries.
The company I work for, Sample Media, won seven editorial awards: three for photography, three for column writing and one (mine) for environmental writing. Woo-hoo!
For environmental writing in the larger weekly division, the winner was Montclair Times, followed by my stories on dredging in the Ocean City Sentinel. Third place went to New Jersey Jewish Week.
Here's what the judge said about my entry: "second place was extremely well written, easily digestible and well-reported." Okay, so I'm beaming because I got second place, but it is an accomplishment, considering the number of entries this year was very high. While I won first place awards in the past, I'll gladly take a second place now.