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Oblivious

June 18, 2009

Oblivious

By Brian Reed

 

 

Putrid Swirling smoke,

Exhaled from blackened lungs.

Fish yellow fingers,

Pushing filter into cracked maw.

Hairless, liver spotted scalp,

Bobbing inches from the no smoking sign.

 

Flowing sun-golden locks,

Catching air in a speeding convertible.

Flawless, red shiny fingernails,

Massaging the digital universe.

Hollywood blue speckled eyes,

Glancing left, lane closed sign on right.

 

Blackened lungs,

Spewing crimson droplets.

Hairless, liver spotted skull,

Revealing grey matter contents.

 

Flowing sun-golden locks,

Strewn with sparkling windshield shards.

Flawed red shiny fingers,

Scattered, rolling, tumbling, like  cigarette butts in a breeze.

Putrid swirling smoke,

Exhaled from the crumpled engine.

 

Hollywood blue sparkling eyes,

Vacant.

 

Fish yellow fingers,

Stilled.

 

From oblivious to oblivion.

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Joke-ism: A manifesto for the 21st century on art and life.

March 1, 2009

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Joke- 1) An amusing story, especially one with a punch line. 2) A mischievous trick, prank. 3) An amusing or ludicrous incident or situation. 4) Something not to be taken seriously.

It is my theory, as laid out in this manifesto, that instead of the word joke one could easily substitute the word “Life” and the same definitions would apply.

What is the intellectual pursuit that should keep us busy as we enter a new millennium? The answer is Joke-ism, or Jokism. (The joke of course is that people might end up pronouncing it “Jock- ism”. But that’s O.K., I’m not going to take it too seriously.) This concept can lead artists to new heights, and it is a viable philosophy for running all aspects of ones life from politics to religion.

To join Joke-ism you have to be able to come to the conclusion that life is a joke.

At first you might not agree because the word joke has gained some negative connotations over the years. But you have to understand that life being a joke isn’t a bad thing. A good joke is very structured, very clear, concise, and adds the valuable service of making us laugh. Good comedy links us all together by letting us see the kernels of truth in what brings us all together as humans. A bad joke while perhaps meandering instead of being concise, being told badly, and not making us laugh much, is still better than taking something seriously. So embrace the jokes in your life from your teachers to your relatives to our politicians.

A person involved in treating life as a joke will never hurt others because they would be to busy trying to get to the punch line, or studying the punch line that they have been given. And one can’t create true humor by creating pain on animate, non-fictional characters. Remember though definition at the top of page one. There isn’t always a punch line, but the story is still humorous.

Let’s look more carefully at the animate non-fictional concept. Animate things are flesh and blood, living things. (I include plants also, but I’m a joke-ist zealot.) Non-fictional items are here in the real world. They haven’t been made up in some one’s imagination. (Although the ultimate joke would be that our existence turned out to be just a story that some one made up. But I don’t know any one who functions well on this earth by thinking in absurdist terms like that for everyday living.)

Anyway, inflicting pain on animate, non- fictional characters is not a good way of creating humor. It is the most likely way to bring pain upon yourself and disrupting your search for the kernels of truth in all the punch lines out there.

The pain we laugh at is usually done to fictional characters in cartoons, movies, books, or at the circus with clowns. The clowns might be flesh and blood, but the character they are playing are socially accepted to be invincible. It’s pretend.

So avoid inflicting pain at all costs. There is enough pain inflicted on us by such sublime forces as tornadoes, disease and traffic jams. Don’t be responsible for creating more. To be a joke-ist one has to spend time learning. One has to search the earth for answers to life by sifting through all the punch lines that are hurled our way. One has to try to distill kernels of truth from the those punch lines. The biggest joke of all of course is that eventually some one will find the answer to life’s riddle and accidentally dismiss it as a punch line instead of the truth.

But that is the task of a joke-ist, to educate oneself as much as possible so one increases the odds of recognizing a truth when it comes your way. With out arming oneself with every bit of knowledge possible, the odds of recognizing a truth are 99,000,000 to 1. Without knowledge the likelihood of some one imposing a false truth onto you is 100%. Be advised though that the odds of recognizing a truth after a lifetime of being a Joke-ist are only 99,000,000 to 5. But at least the odds have increased! I told you, life is funny. But studying funny-ism and being a funny-ist just doesn’t have the right ring to it.

Here are examples of some of the big jokes that are prevalent today.

*The United States of America is better than the rest of the world because they raised the standard of living and they don’t have peasants like so many of those unfortunate Eastern European countries, and third world countries. The joke is that the U.S. has the same number of uneducated people as most other countries but they’re not considered peasants because they have two color T.V.’s. Please don’t argue that they are not peasants because they went to high school or beyond. The fact that they went to, or passed those grades doesn’t mean they learned anything! So if you live in the U.S. don’t get smug and superior because your peasants have a gas powered mower and those in the Ukraine don’t. They are the same class of people. But the joke is still on the U.S. Because we have a choice of getting an education and the peasants in other countries don’t.

*The West is better because we vote in our leaders. The joke is that any one desiring those positions should automatically be classified as insane.  As one becomes more familiar with Joke-ism one will think up many more examples. Study the punch lines in what every one else considers to be very serious subjects. Because we know life is a joke. (Remember, that’s a good thing.)

Death, taxes, pain, there is so often a punch line to these topics that most people miss. One has to be studied in the world and in Joke-ism to find these punch lines. Study them, and therefore increase the odds that you will notice kernels of truth in what you study. People who give themselves cancer by smoking, cirrhosis of the liver by drinking, people who burn themselves up by falling asleep while smoking, the jokes on them. Very funny stuff. Cancers, etc. that come from unknown sources,  foisted on us bv Mother Nature herself are harder to find the humor in, but we have to try.

JOKE-ISM IN ART

If one studies the history of art, and therefore the history of humankind, one finds that art is not usually the result of having a creative urge. Rather art is the result of wrestling with an intellectual idea. You wrestle with a particular concept and the creation of art is simply a way of exploring and understanding that intellectual pursuit. If one is musically inclined then the exploration of that idea comes out in music. If you like painting then you explore the idea with paint. If you like using words perhaps you write a play or a poem.

The Expressionists wanted to see it they could capture the ephemeral nature of light. Cubists were wrestling with how to show three dimensional objects on a two dimensional surface. Artists of the Renaissance were fascinated with the concept of forced perspective, in painting and architecture. Many artists painted just for the purpose of illustrating moral messages and how to behave according to a specific religion. Many paintings from any movement turn out having great aesthetic arrest for the onlooker. But the objects never would have been created if it weren’t for the intellectual pursuit that was behind it all.

Primitive man, it is believed, was trying to answer the basic question of where to get more food when they started drawing bison on cave walls. There is a theory that they had a “draw it and it will come” belief. Draw it, it appears outside the cave, kill it, eat it, and live another several days.

Name an “ism” or an art movement from any period in history and you find that it was forged out of the pursuit of an intellectual idea or a very strong belief. Joke-ism is no different.

If  life is a joke, what sort of art can we create to explore and convey this concept? Remember the premise. Jokes are highly structured, should avoid giving pain, and the joke should be understandable, at least by someone. Make sure to know the difference between parody and slander. It’s easy to parody people without having to make up lies about them to do so. Joke-ism, just like a good joke should be clear. If the punch line is unclear you have not told a very good joke. People must know what the image is they are looking at or least understand clearly why they can’t make out the image. one can do an Abstract Expressionist piece, but there needs to be a clear reason for what is done so the Joke-ist nature of it comes out. Look up Rauschenberg’s “Odalisk” sculpture. Then look up the history of Odalesques in art (Ingres and Delacroix and ancient Greek versions) People studied in art might be the only ones to “get it”, but that doesn’t’ mean it isn’t funny. Rauschenberg is definitely an honorary Joke-ist. As was Duchamp. He was especially fond of naming his pieces so that there would be word play and puns going on between the title and the objects on display. Dada-ists often tried to include humor and punch lines in their work. Duchamp hung a snow shovel up in a gallery and titled it “In Advance of the Broken Arm.” Magrite tried it in his Surrealism. “‘This is not a pipe.” Funny! I recommend you look up those three artists and their movements for inspiration. But Joke-ism needs to take this to a new level.

The Fluxus movement in Germany did some very funny stuff but the reasons they were doing it don’t count as joke-ism. The Futurists were a joke because of how wrong they were about technology saving the world. Just as those who say that the Computer revolution will create paradise on earth. It will change the world but it is the Joke-ist feeling is that it won’t cure ills any more than the industrial revolution did. The Twentieth Century might be the funniest century in history. It started with the promise of machines creating Utopia, and it ended up with machines just creating pollution. And it is ending with the promise that computers and the information revolution will create Utopia. The Joke I think is that information is power. And those already in power are most likely to benefit from more knowledge and they will use it keep themselves in power.

I have created several joke-ist pieces to date. So I am spending time and effort backing up my theories. You will find some or all of them posted at this blog. The first one I will get more dramatic pictures of. It’s titled “A Half Hour Glass.” The second is an acrylic painting titled “Clowns Gone Wild. The third one is “Son Of A…” “This is a first baby step,  but all movements have to start somewhere.

I am reminded of something Richard Nixon said, “If you hate those who hate you, it will destroy you.” Coming from the man who carried an enemies list in a little black book, and actually referred to it and acted to disrupt the lives of the people on that list, that quote is ironic, prophetic, and VERY funny to a Joke-ist.

But putting a clown nose on a Richard Nixon picture is not enough. If he said it while being filmed and that bit can be found: then it could be manipulated so that he is wearing a clown nose while saying it, perhaps in an endless loop, accompanied with graphics of little black books etc., then that would be worthy of a Joke-ist piece of art. Even if you liked some of the other things Nixon did, you should be able to appreciate the Joke-ist nature of that quote. It you can’t, you have no sense of humor, and the jokes on you, you are a stereotypical stuffed shirt and are therefore one of the jokes we refer to.

I also recommend along with the fine art that you produce, to try laughing sessions. Performance art can be great fun. It’s used to try to shock these days but it usually ends up insulting instead, so have an hour or two where the sole purpose is to get people to laugh. This can be done in more ways than stand up comedy, because that can be pretty insulting also. Do some scenes from legit theater comedies, get ten people in a row and rapid fire as fast as possible, really old, corny jokes, get the audience involved, do some physical comedy, or burn pictures of the Pope. (I’m just kidding, gosh settle down over there) Many jokes are going to offend some one, somewhere. We can be edgy or tame as long as the sole intent of the art piece is not to insult or shock.  But the idea is to get people laughing as hard as you can for as long as you can. Theater games, tickle sessions, whatever one can possibly think of. But when doing fine art remember that if Joke-ism is going to make it into the history books the pieces should have something universal about them. Just doing a political cartoon in oil paint is a sure way of wasting a lot of time on something that few will remember two months after you finish. So when one decides to work on a Joke-ist piece of art please contact me and let me know how it is going. Just leave a note here at this blog.

Other considerations for Joke-ist art subjects could be pointing out how overly serious other art movements have been taken. For instance I enjoy the intellectual challenge of Cubist theory, but really, Picasso’s life was full of marvelous choice bits of humor.

Picasso is responsible for the brilliant work “Guernica” while at the same time being responsible for handing over the names of friends and relatives, who were suspected of being on the Loyalist side during the Spanish Civil War. Picasso had to have known that the people he gave up would have their lives disrupted or even ended. And he gave these names to the same government that had created the tragedy at Guernica. If you’re not laughing by now then you have no Joke-ism in you. I’m laughing so hard I can barely typ. e

It you are not familiar with the tragedy at Guernica or some of the other references I make, don’t be down hearted, just look them up. We all continue to gather information in the quest to master Joke-ism. There is plenty of educating that I need to do for myself, and plenty of references you could make that I might not understand. But the difference between a Joke-ist and the rest of the world is that if one make a reference that we don’t know about, we’ll look it up. The average Joe, or even the average artist, would just ignore you and hope you went away.

So recreate a piece of work by some body else but use a Joke-ist theme. But make it worthy of being looked at by being true to how the original was created. What were the intellectual pursuits of the artists you’re spinning off from? What were their techniques? What was their style? Remember, jokes are structured.

Joke-ism and Religion.

In order to bring order to an unordered universe it is necessary to put things into a joke-ist frame. In order to study life by reviewing punch lines one needs order and structure. You can’t study in the midst of chaos. Too noisy. The world might be crazy and unpredictable, but if you existed in true chaos you would be too busy trying to survive to get on with finding kernels of truth. That’s why it is important to avoid permanent damage from drugs, sex, alcohol, music or any other category of life that can become an addiction or obsession. It is of vital importance to visit the world of Dionysus as long as you don’t move in permanently. Just ask the spirits of many of our Rock icons or many of Hollywood’s elite. The act of creation would be impossible without delving into that world. Or to put into Freudian terms, one can’t create without delving into and occasionally reveling in the sub-conscious. However, it is necessary to come back to the conscious or Apollonian world, in order to put your creative thoughts onto paper, canvas, sidewalk, whatever. Be careful of delving too deeply because the more brain cells one loses by using chemicals the less able one is to realize creativity into physical form. There are many ways of increasing imaginative thinking without using chemicals. Try improvisational theater games with a really good teacher. Do the exercises in Steve Allen’s Book “How to be Funny.” Study your thoughts while you’re in a hypnogogic state. (The state you are in while in between sleep and wakefulness.) Start a dream journal. One could actually visit Dionysus without ever taking chemicals. And that includes tobacco. Remember, Smokers Suck Butt! I can guaranty a smoker would miss the truth of the world even if it walked right past him on the street. Because just at that moment the smoker would have been reaching for a light. Here’s a book that keeps getting quoted that perhaps sums it up. “Everything in moderation.” Unfortunately devotees of that book don’ t understand that applies to religion as well. That’s why The Joke-ist movement has developed a new branch of religion. Atheists for Jesus. The trouble is that the full title should be “Atheists, (and Agnostics too) for Jesus and any one else who ever had a truly, really good idea.” But that doesn’t fit on bumper stickers well, so shorten it to “Atheists for Jesus.” All the major and even many of the minor religions have had the same base principals. The most basic, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If everybody who had that principal in their religion actually followed the concept, the world would be a real eden. But what does the following formula represent to you. The two most powerful religions in the world are responsible for creating the majority of wars. (Often against each other) Christianity and Islam both have the tenant of not doing anything to other people that one doesn’t want done to oneself. And yet between the two of them they are responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths since the death of Christ. I would call the above formula, are you ready, have you guessed yet? That’s right, “A Joke,” very ironic, very funny stuff.

Try this one on for size. The bloody concept of Jihad was invented by Christians, and used to stir up interest in killing off those horrible infidels in the east. Now the Muslims are using it against the Christians. (Hold on a second, my sides hurt from laughing at that thought.) But you see people who don’t study history will have missed the Jihad punch line and there fore will have missed the chance to understand a possible grain of truth in the story.

Yes there has always been aggression, and there have been hundreds of other religions throughout time that have been responsible for wars. But not many of them have lasted long enough to rack up the death points that Islam and Christianity have managed. Speaking of which, what was Allah and the Christian god doing during the first 25,000 years of human existence? If one of them is the true god (or perhaps it’s the same god that humans have separated into two) how could they have not said anything to humankind for 25,000 years or more?

The Jewish faith at least says their god was talking to them for much of that time. Here’s what I can gather from my study of the Jewish faith, Christianity, and Islam. Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, minus Able, a bunch of begats, and the world got populated, and more than a little sinful. (My Sunday school teacher in 8th grade wouldn’t tell me who was the mother to all those early begats, if Eve was the only woman. (What ever happened to Lilith?) God asked Noah to help out, he did, God destroyed the world, the world got repopulated, (By Noah, a wife, and some sons and daughters. Can you say Gene Pool?) God talks to Abraham, tests him, he passes, all children of Abraham then are to inherit the promised land. (At least that’s what Abraham’s relatives wrote down later on.) Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus…(Who never claims to be anything but a Jew) and we start running into trouble. Jesus’ disciples pass on the tradition and somewhere it is decided that one could give up Judaism and become Christian, but it’s the same God so one party is wrong. Quite a while later Muhammed is fed up with the argument between Jew and Christian, goes to a mountain top and God talks to him. (At least he’s not the son of God, just a guy God spoke to.) He says there is only one true God (Allah) and that people should listen to a new version of how to run one’s life. But if Allah is the same god as yaweh and the Christian God, that makes two thirds of the people in the equation just plain wrong.

There is no way to distinguish through logic which one is right. You just have to take that leap of faith, but I can’t take that leap of faith because so far God has forgotten to call me. How can I choose until he does? What about the history of ancient China, Egypt, then the Greeks and Roman’s?

Yaweh is talking to people left and right, but the Christian god and Allah are what… vacationing after creating the world? Sleeping? In the rest room? Every culture that could walk upright has its version of deity. What makes one better or worse than the other? Why was it so long before the Christian god started putting in his two cents worth? Is it because he hadn’t been invented yet? And it he is capable of being invented then he can’t be a god, he is only a figment of some one’s imagination.

Or even if you are Jewish and it is your opinion that your God is the true God and that Christians and Muslims simply are mistaken about a true prophet already appearing, it can’t explain all the time of history when your god hadn’t been invented yet.

And we know that he hadn’t been invented yet because there’s a bunch of stuff we have proof of today that didn’t get written about. Like Dinosaurs, cave men, etc. The only conclusion to come to after looking at the complete history of humankind is that gods are invented, but that the premises that many of them espouse can be a marvelous way of running one’s life. If the Christian God (or any other) is responsible for running the life of of every human since the dawn of time how can we explain the forgotten death and torture of so many of his “children”. This is a very old question, “why does god allow suffering?” But when people ask that they are usually asking about some specific circumstance they are familiar with. When one looks at the full breadth of history it becomes impossible to think that there is a power in control.

Start at the beginning. Did God control the starving death of a man who had drawn pictures of bison on a cave wall in present day France? Did god control the death of a child in the ancient Philippines who was killed for food by his own tribe? Did God control the death of every soldier in every war we don’t even remember the names of? Was every death of every combatant in battles between Sparta and Athens controlled by a God? Does god control who wins all those battles? If he makes more die on one side than the other then he does choose the winner. Did God choose Japan to win over the Russians in their war in 1804 and 5? Was every painful step and each death of a plague ridden peasant in the middle ages controlled by God?

The other choice is that there is a higher power but that he/she is simply letting things run after creating it. Well then they are not a God, just a more advanced life form. Perhaps one of those beings set up life on earth and is just letting the experiment run without control. Either way it’s not enough to make me worship a deity. That leap of faith means that I would stop looking for kernels of truth. If you already think you know the truth then you don’t need to search further and you will probably miss a great deal. Life and joke-ism should be about asking questions in order to find answers. Not to find questions that fit pre-existing answers!

And if there is a God but they are not in full control then they are not much of a god. And why would I leap to worship that? Free will being given to us by an all- powerful being makes less sense than our having free will just because that’s the way it is. Ocham’s Razor.

And speaking of making sense there is another major factor that Christians tend to forget. (Because they think they already have the answer and don’t bother to look further.) The Bible has been edited by humans and humans only. Not once has something been taken out of the bible because God said “No, no, that’s wrong take that out.” But lots of times human beings have said, “No I don’t like that part, take that out.” King James for instance. His people didn’t just translate it into the idiom of his day they also edited parts out. All through history people have been responsible for adding and subtracting parts. Not because of holy word but because they felt like it.

One of my favorite chapters taken out of the Old Testament is where Yahweh (God) gets tired of being one of many gods and goes around and kicks all the other gods to death. Now what makes that story any more or less believable than there being enough water in 40 days and nights of rain to cover the entire Earth. How can one place all their faith in a book so mangled by human editing? I say follow the premises that all the major religions quote because it would make for a better world. But leave out the leap into the magical, mysticism of there being an actual all knowing, omnipotent, God.

Although, I’ll be the first to say, if a creature walked up to me and showed me he could do everything God is supposed to be able to do, I would be the first one to walk the earth singing his praises. Why doesn’t God do that? Stop sending prophets and just come down and talk to us. Talk about some one who knows nothing about marketing. Don’t tell a human to tell me what’s what, just come down and say so yourself. And frankly I have a hard time believing that the God of the Old Testament would have been able to keep his big egotistical mouth shut this long. Just because he promised never to end the world again doesn’t mean he has to put up with all the crap we’ve pulled since the last time he ended the world. That reminds me, did dinosaurs get onto the arc? Or perhaps there hadn’t been any since Adam And Eve left Eden.

Wouldn’t the authors of Genesis have mentioned animals that big? Maybe the authors had forgotten about dinosaurs because they didn’t write any of it down until thousands of years after the events that took place in Eden. Gee, if they forgot Dinos in that time what else could they have forgotten, or added, or embellished, or made up…

Religious people often say that if there is no God then there is no point to life. That thought is exactly backwards (like so many well designed Jokes) There is no point to life if all we have to do to get into heaven is not cause any real trouble. That’s not living that’s waiting! The only real incentive there is to get anything done while we are here is if this is all there is. We better get it done now because there is no second chance. It there is no after life or recycling to look forward to then if you want to make improvements you’d better get started now! I suppose you could say that if you want to make it worse you had better get started as well. But of course no Joke-ist would do that because chaos is not productive to our mission as discussed before.

Please send $1,000,000 to me and you will receive the joys of knowing you are a confirmed Atheist for Jesus. It’s a joke, … a joke I tell you. (Unless you have a million to spare!)

Joke-ism On Politics

Oh please, don’t get me started. In an ordered world where one has the chance to vote you might as well. But I mean really, Jefferson owned slaves, Grant was a drunken nepotist, Taft… well look it up, but believe me he was a joke. Kennedy was a womanizer, Nixon, Bill and Monica, George W… hee hee, hohohohoho, ahahahahahahaaaaa. Sorry, anybody have a handkerchief, I’m laughing so hard I’m crying. The major trouble is that all politicians are human beings and that is not a good calling card for running the world. Wouldn’t it be great if the universe was run by an all knowing being that made sure there was no violence, disease, etc.!

The real problem is that there has never been a joke-ist in office. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have some who knew that what they were doing shouldn’t be taken too seriously? That way they could buckle down and actually get something done without worrying what every one else thought. With any luck Obama is a joke-ist, but I doubt it.

Joke-ism on War

If a joke-ist would never allow themselves to create pain they of course would be incapable of creating wars. Has there ever been a “Good” war. Well stopping Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany seems like a fairly good reason for taking up arms. But once again if one studies history it is realized that the west had an awful lot to do with empowering Nazi Germany. And if humans were smarter they never would have allowed the events that led up to WW II to happen.

World War One was one of the silliest events in history. If it hadn’t happened then Hitler never could have come to power later. It is my theory that every war after the first war, (20, 000 years ago or whatever was fought to get back at the people who started the first one. And that has been going on add infinitum ever since. Most wars are the result of a group wanting to get revenge on another group for the misery caused in the last war. The Crusades are still being fought today. If England hadn’t sent armies to capture and recapture Constantinople then the Iranians and Iraqis of today wouldn’t have the fuel to get their people to fight the West today. If there hadn’t been ethnic cleansing in Serbia in WWII there wouldn’t be so much fuel for having ethnic cleansings in the 1990’s. If Japan hadn’t invaded China in the 1930’s it’s less likely China would want to make their own power grab in the 1950’s. If France hadn’t been so oppressive to the Vietnamese people for so long, Ho Chi Minh wouldn’t have had any thing to rebel against. Name a war and you can probably name a conflict that made that one possible. How did this all start?

It’s always clearer to look at the most basic building block of a problem. So let’s go back to the first war. The leader of some group said “look at those people over there. They are bad. We need to go over there on beat on them with these big hard rocks. Because we are right and they are wrong. They are them, them is bad. Us is US, us is good.”

Why did the villagers allow themselves to be talked into picking up the rocks and going over and trying it? Why didn’t they say, “That’s no good, it will disrupt our own gathering and hunting and besides we might lose, then we’ll really be worse off. Even it we win, I might get hurt. I’ve dropped a rock on my toe before and that hurt a lot. If I get hit in the head with a rock, that could kill me. And why would I want to do that to some one else if I could avoid it. Why would I purposely put myself in harms way when I’m doing just fine right here?”

Well perhaps that first group wasn’t doing well. Perhaps they were starving and had to invade to get food. I don’t suppose they asked politely first it they could come to dinner.

One of the big things to realize is that there is no them! It’s only US, human kind. And when the space aliens arrive we can change that to there is no them it’s only Universal kind.

Being invaded is a pretty good reason to pick up arms. So you can defend yourself. But why is it so easy for the invading leaders to talk their people into invading in the first place. Has a leader in control ever failed to raise an army in his own country, or city- state, or village? People don’t question why they are taking up arms. If they did there would be far fewer wars. There is usually a punch line in the story of why we are being told to go to war. Just look up the Spanish American War. Anybody remember that one? It was started by the Hearst Newspapers because they thought it would sell more papers it they had a war to report. They were right, they made a bundle! Would the world be a different place if Athens had won the Peloponesian war? Would the world be different if the Hundred Years War had only lasted three days. In the grand scheme of things very few conflicts in history have made any real difference on how we live today. The ring of violence can only be broken by laughing at our leaders for the reasons they want us to go to war. It would be impossible for a leader to get a group of joke-ist to join an army. So we all need to become Jokists.

The physical act of laughter

The manifesto on why laughter is such a must has already been written by Norman Cousins in “Anatomy of an Illness.” I recommend reading it and taking it to heart. But here are some of the key points to why we must include laughter in our lives.

Study after study, starting in the 1920’s, has proven that the body has the ability to prevent and help cure disease, deaden pain, and prevent and treat non- clinical depression by using the physical act of laughter.

There are chemicals called endorphins that are released into the body when a person laughs. The chemical make -up of these endorphins are almost identical to morphine. So one can get ones body into a natural high, into a healthier state just by laughing. Even it you are really down you can fool your body into thinking you are happy just by laughing. It might be hard to want to laugh when you are down but is important to try.

Save some of your favorite cartoon books or comedy videos to look at when you are down and you will find that if you are able to make yourself laugh you will soon be feeling better as well.

Joke-ism Wrap-up.

Some might claim that Joke-ism is a pessimistic view of life, but I would have to laugh at that claim! We are simply looking for the humor in all situations. We simply prevent ourselves from getting wrapped up in false causes by questioning the answers that those in charge give us. We learn as much as we can about history so that we can prevent ourselves from making a mistake that has already been made in the past. And we search for the truth by gathering and recognizing all the punch lines that the world has to offer. And by, reviewing so many punch lines were are able to laugh out loud, and find the commonalities that make us all human. Having realized that all humans have the same basic needs and emotions we are able to treat everyone better. We are able to create laughs, and art, and in that we find strength and better health.

There is nothing wrong with self promotion or even shameless self promotion. Just ask Salvadore Dali. How many of you know that he was not a popular artist until he shamelessly self promoted himself to the top of fame. Now the self promotion has been forgotten and we just remember him as a great artist. All artists and art movements in the 2oth century achieved fame by getting promoted by someone some where. By the artist, by a salon, by negative press, positive press. A joke in a vacuum is not very funny. So talk this up, invite other artist friends to join us, share your works. This does not mean you can’t do other kinds of art. But let’s just see if we can’t get a newspaper some where to mention the term Joke-ism!

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A Twenty First Century Christmas

December 13, 2008

I was not born in a log cabin. I was not born poor and I’ve never lived on a farm, or in the country. No one named Sven or Ole ever delivered the mail to my childhood home by horseback. I walked a block and a half to school and I never had to do it through seven feet of snow.

My father, although a professor, was not absent minded. I never had to search the neighborhood for him, because he got so wrapped up in thought, he didn’t pay attention to where he was. He never railed for or against society. And he never made me move to South America to run an ice making machine for the natives.

My mother acted in Community Theater but she never became famous. So she was never tempted to beat me with wire hangers.

I never knew my grandmothers well. My grandfathers died before I was born. I never had an aunt greet me at the door for a Thanksgiving visit, by pinching my cheek and saying, “My, how much you’ve grown.”

My childhood pets were precious to me, but, well, never warned me that Timmy had fallen down the well. And my best friend moved away in the sixth grade, before we could get into any really good trouble. I never had a favorite sled. Besides, the local sledding hill was only thirty feet long.

So where am I, a budding author, to get ideas for a Christmas story that can be treasured for generations to come?

I started out by jotting a few notes about my family’s warm holiday traditions. But I quickly realized that our customary Christmas Eve dinner of clam chowder was not exactly a national tradition. Then I remembered that my parents drove us children around all Christmas Eve looking at decorative lighting displays. But I soon had the thought that it wasn’t because it was a jolly time for all, but rather that we kids would be exhausted and wouldn’t try to stay awake f or Santa’s arrival.

I have one great sin, the biggest sin an author could have. I was born in the latter part of the Twentieth Century. In fact, worse than that, I was born after nineteen sixty. I don’t remember, first hand, news about the Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King, or the hippies. I didn’t even start high school until nineteen seventy-five. I can’t imagine anyone being nostalgic about the “Me Generation”, or how about disco?

My father had terrific memories of holidays on the family farm, in the mountains of Oregon. Sleigh rides, cutting your own Christmas trees, and the aroma of baked goods, cooked from scratch on a potbelly stove.

Where are my memories? My warm, cheery, eggnog soaked, holiday memories. Where are my Childhood memories that will be with me for all time, to be passed onto my grandchildren? Well, maybe there was one.

The holiday season I was eight; my father decided it was high time we had a traditional Christmas. We skipped the clam chowder and my Mom prepared a succulent Christmas goose. Twinkling lights, strings of popcorn, and potpourri burning in it’s pot made the house into a tantalizing, sensuous, Christmas palace. We went door to door singing carols, my father helped my siblings and me make an old time snow fort in the back yard. We dug out my grandparents’ real wool, hand knitted, Christmas stockings that had been stitched in 1902. On Christmas morning my Mom and Dad took turns half reading, half acting out, stories from the Bible.

And, we cut our own Christmas tree.

It was pitch black. I’d been curled up in a ball, waiting for so long my muscles were aching. I’d needed to go to the bathroom for hours, but I hadn’t dared move. I feared that if Dad heard me walking around, he’d change his mind and wouldn’t drive the family into the country to cut down our own tree. “Have to get up at the crack of dawn,” Dad had said, “the country’s not close by anymore!”

The Country. I imagined it as a thousand miles away. A place we would have to take a spectacular rocket car to get to in one day. My parents had the peculiar habit of telling me exciting things, seemingly eons ahead of time. Then I’d have to wait and wait and anxiously wait for that event to finally arrive. (Punishments on the other hand they sprung on me with cat-like swiftness.)

But on that morning, I was waiting. My Dad had made the family wait until the day before Christmas to head out for our tree expedition. “It’s tradition!” Now it was almost morning, it was dark, but I could tell morning would be just another tick of the clock.

A crack of light tentatively edged onto the floor of my bedroom. Was I dreaming or was it time to go? A lurking black creature, arms outstretched, slid across the floor towards my head. I drew my trusty sword Ringo, and slashed at the creature in warning. It dissolved into a small but vicious, fire-breathing dragon. I was too scared to move.

It lunged and blew a foul burst of flaming breath at me. I closed my eyes. I felt a warm breeze tussle my hair. I looked around and the pine trees were everywhere. Which one would we choose? There were acres and acres of perfect trees. Every one was caressed with a beckoning sparkle from the morning frost. The grass was soft, and plush, and green, growing all around. Several of the trees were already festooned with decorations. But I wanted one that we could decorate ourselves. I couldn’t contain myself. I threw my arms around my father who suddenly looked more like Mayor Daley. I thanked him and said, “I Love you, I love you.”

“Brian. Brian, wake up. It’s time to go.” My Dad said

“Hrmm? Whasfuffus? It’s… time to…” I said.

“We have to get an early start, time to get up.”

My mind suddenly shifted into consciousness. My father was standing above me, but he looked like my Dad, not like the mayor. I looked out the window and a few strands of daylight were peaking through. It was time to go! Finally, after weeks of waiting, it was time to go cut the tree. I was so relieved that I rolled over and went back to sleep. It only took my father four tries to get me out of bed. I don’t remember getting dressed. All I recall is peering up over my scarf and out the car window as the city fell behind us, and fields appeared, as we drove into the country.

I was the first one out of the car. The snow was perfect. I’d hit my sister with a snowball even before she had a chance to get out of the car. Dad scowled and was about to say something when my older brother hit him in the back with a snowball. I expected Dad to pile us back in the car, lecturing us on the dangers of snowballs all the way home. Instead, a mischievous grin turned up the sides of his lips as he took two giant steps, scooped me up and used me to pin my brother into a snow bank. My sister rushed over and tried to bury us all with snow. I slouched my stocking cap away from my eyes and looked at the car.

My mom was still in the front seat. I couldn’t hear her but I could see her laughing, trying to catch her breath. She locked all the doors and held up her hands in mock horror as we all tiptoed toward the car, snowballs in hand. We gave the car a good pummeling. Our snowballs thumped against the windshield, bits of snow spinning off the glass. My Dad cleared a circle in the middle of the snow-covered windshield and peered in. He fell back a step, his face ashen. He slapped his forehead. (My Dad could have been an actor). I was stone still. He swept his gaze past the three of us and said, “She’s gone!”

Frantically I helped the others clear away the snow. It was true my Mom had vanished. I leaned in a little closer to see past the reflections on the windshield when my Mom popped up shouting a loud “BOO!” The three of us children staggered back and fell into the snow, laughing. My father helped Mom out of the car and enveloped her in a big hug.

I’ve missed that mischievous smile I saw on my Dad that day. I never saw it during every day city life.

Mr. Peterson was the man who greeted us at the gate of the tree farm. He must have grown up in the Arctic. I doubt that anyone could have had that ruddy and creased a face growing up anywhere else. He proclaimed in a heavy Norwegian accent that he was the proud owner and had worked there for forty years. He should have had a beard. He looked like a lumberjack. And he looked like he should have retired forty years ago.

Mr. Peterson guided us through the small forest of pine trees while I stopped at each one sizing up what it would look like in our living room. I liked the bushy, long needled kind. I had seen a light green, sparsely branched Scotch Pine at a friend’s house a couple of years earlier. I hated it. It looked barren. There was so much space between the ornaments you could see the wall behind the tree. My friend had a German family. I wanted a luxurious, full-bodied, American kind of tree!

Suddenly I noticed something was different. I stopped and tried to focus my hearing. But there was nothing to hear. There was no crunching of footsteps ahead of me. There was no conversation echoing through the forest. I had fallen back a bit and now I couldn’t see my family. I couldn’t even hear Mr. Peterson’s loud raspy voice. I wavered for a moment in my tracks, straining to hear. There was a chirp from a bird, but the snow and the trees muffled the sound and made it seem a hundred miles away. Cautiously I took a step. The crunch under my foot struggled up to my ears but then dissipated into the still air. I couldn’t stand the silence any longer. In the city there is always noise of some sort, but now there was a void that I wanted filled. I ran around a huge tree and slid to a stop.

My Dad was silhouetted against a tree, his hand on his chin, staring at the tree in front of him. His boots were buried in the snow. He looked like a fence pole sticking out of the ground. Mr. Peterson was off to one side. My Mom was behind Dad, her hands in her pockets. She was also staring at the tree. My brother and sister were staring at Dad. All was quiet. I was convinced that they would never move again. It was as if the forest sprites had sprinkled magic dust on them to make them ice statues.

“This is it. This is our Holiday tree.” My Father boomed in a merry voice. The family rushed toward him and converged in a chorus of cheers. I recall joining hands and dancing a jig around my father, or perhaps we didn’t, and I’ve just seen that in a movie somewhere.

Mr. Peterson sauntered over and looked up at the tree. “Ah-yup, that tree is O.K., it’ll probably do your family just fine.” It was the tree that I had envisioned, full and deep green.

It was tall, taller even than my father. And it had the perfect spike on top where we could place our star. My father shook the snow off the branches and the tree perked up and waved to us. Like a stray kitten, it had found its home.

My Mom, my imaginative, but eminently practical Mom, kneeled down at the base of the tree. “Rather a thick trunk though.” She said, and looked up at Dad.

“Never fear. My saw is near.” My Dad said, and jaunted off double time in the direction of the car. Mr. Peterson opened his mouth to speak, but Dad was gone.

My Dad had been a boy scout. I knew he’d be prepared. I guess we had distracted him with the snowball fight. I imagined cutting the tree down by hand was going to be the most exciting part. I was going to pretend that I was George Washington, cutting down the cherry tree.

I bided my time by making an angel in the snow. My sister bet me she could make a better angel, so we raced, flailing snow in all directions, trying to make the quintessential angel. My brother did his part by filling in the angels as soon as we were done.

There was an unnatural sound behind me that produced a dissonance with nature. It didn’t last long, and so at first I thought it had happened in my mind. I struggled to get out of the latest angel hole I had dug myself into. It was a deep hole. I couldn’t get a handle on anything to pull myself out. Finally I had to roll over destroying the right edge of my snow sculpture. My hands slipped as I rolled and I ended up with my face pressed into the cold, wet, ice. I stood up, and seemingly in a slow motion dream world, I turned to face the spot the noise had come from. The tree, our tree, lay dying on its side, bleeding sap from its now severed trunk. Mr. Peterson was standing above it, wondering at the glory of his job, chain saw in hand.

It was cold. The snow on my clothes had melted and was soaking down to my skin. My eyelids were freezing shut. Why had we walked so far from the warmth of the car? It took years to get back to the parking lot. Mom and Dad struggled with the carcass of the Christmas tree. Mr. Peterson had received his forty pieces of silver and had abandoned us without offering to help.

I enjoy indoor plumbing, central heating, Jacuzzis and the like. But once a year, around Christmas, I wish I had been born a long, long, time ago. I wish I had lived before the invention of chain saws, before tree farms, before the onset of Christmas tree lots, before shopping malls.

I wish I had lived at a time when I could walk out into my own back forty, and cut down my own Christmas tree.

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Life’s a Beach

November 3, 2008

There are three stages to life. They relate to how we react when we arrive at the beach for a weekend outing.

In our youngest stage, we leap out of the car and imeadiately run into the surf and play in the sand.

In our middle stage we don’t get out onto the beach until late Saturday or possibly even Sunday morning. That’s because eating, napping, and shopping come first.

In our last stage we never make it to the beach but are satisfied by watching the waves crash onto shore from our hotel window.

I realized this weekend after a visit to Cannon Beach in Oregon that I am already in the middle stage. Sure there was the excuse that the tide was high and if I had frolicked on the beach the moment I got there I might have been swept out to sea and never seen again. But that really was an excuse. The comfy hotel bed was calling my name and it won.

And yet after realizing that I am in the middle stage I have come to the conclusion that I just don’t mind. I hope I won’t mind the third stage either.

Actually in Oregon going to the beach is called going to the coast. Because most of our coast is beach and we have many choices of what beach to go to. In Minnesota going to the beach is called going to the lake. In Chicago it’s going to the beach, there’s only one but you wouldn’t want to spend an entire weekend there. One would be afraid that ones nose would fall off after a while from the joyous aroma of rotting fish. In Iowa it’s called going to the back yard and sitting in the plastic kiddie pool.

I have not conducted enough research to know if the three stages of life apply in Iowa. Watching the ripples lap against the sides of kiddie pool from ones window just can’t be fun at any age.

There is another injustice in the life as it relates to beaches. When we are young we can’t afford to stay at nice resorts at the coast. When we can finally afford it we don’t have the energy to spend all day running and jumping over the waves. That’s why the resorts have introduced big meals, wine tasting, (it’s not wine tasting you know, it’s just an excuse to sit and drink lots of wine) and bon fires. The bon fires are on the beach, barely, but right next to the stairs back to the resort so we don’t actually have to get any exercise getting to the fire. And now some resorts have combined all three. One can sit by the bon fire, and have lot’s of food and gallons of wine delivered directly to you.

On this last trip my wife and I went to the coast with another married couple. We shared a wonderful suite with an ocean side view, whirl pool, free mini bar, and all the ammenities. On Saturday night there was a knock on the door and a staff member from the resort asked me if I wanted our beds turned down. I didn’t think we were snooty enough for that so I said no. A short time later the four of us left our room to head for dinner. Our friends saw staff people in the hallway and asked them to be sure to turn our beds down. I laughed out loud and explained that I had just sent them away a few minutes earlier. Our friends looked shocked and told me that having ones bed turned down, at least at this resort, was a must. I thought to myself, I can’t be friends with hoity-toity snoots! I must have looked stunned because they told me that if one doesn’t get the bed turned down you don’t get the chocolates that go with it.

OH!!! Chocolate! Well then by all means, turn down my bed, heck turn it down twice if there is chocolate involved.

With any luck I will never reach a stage of life where I turn down free chocolate.

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Notions on Gyrating and Voting

September 20, 2008

Below is a letter to the editor my mother-in-law Carol wrote to the Spokesman-Review. It points out the appalling stupidity of some voters, and how they choose their candidates.

It has been hours since I read Edith Miller’s letter to the editor where she criticized Michelle Obama for “gyrating” with talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. I had to reread the letter to make sure Edith wasn’t writing her letter tongue-in-cheek. She wasn’t. I am still appalled that someone would base their vote for the important office of President of the United States on something as trivial as appearance. Edith cites Cindy McCain’s ‘immaculately dressed’ appearance as a clue to what we could expect from her as a first lady. That in turn make her husband, the best candidate for President?

Michelle Obama spent a few moments dancing with joy during a segment of a television show and that makes her husband unworthy of being elected President? Exactly what should the general public think of the fact, and it is a proven fact and not disputed by John McCain, that Cindy was dating John McCain while he was still legally married to his first wife, Carol? In fact, they married only one month after the McCain’s divorce became final. How does that fit into our view of what we can expect from Cindy McCain as a first lady?

Voting is a privilege and should be based on important issues.

Carol Callahan
Spokane Valley, WA

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Tales from the Short Bus (no, not that one)

September 17, 2008

I am an actor, comedian, writer, who has not acted, written or ventured onto a comedy stage in a bazzillion years. Like most folks with a theater degrees my day jobs have taken over my life. I have many talents but no marketable skills. I have not yet convinced society that my juggling, magic, prat falls or sword fighting skills should allow me to be rich.

So for the last couple of years I have been driving an airport shuttle bus. It’s true, the wheels on the bus do go ’round and ’round. I just thank the heavens that there are no children on the bus that are singing that every day. I leave that up to my wife Kelly, who sang that to me every day for the first three months I had the job. Thanks for that honey, I love you!

So while on the bus I hear snippets of conversations from passengers. If they are sitting far enough toward the front I can hear entire conversations. Or one end of cell phone calls. Here is one of my tales:

I picked up a woman from the hospital in lovely downtown Portland, Oregon. (It really is lovely, so ya’ll can come visit but don’t move here!) She tells me a long, sad, and terrible tale about how her son has come here for a hopefully life saving surgery. She lives in Southern California. Twice she flew up but twice the surgery had to be postponed. So she has spent all this money she didn’t have to get up here. But this time the surgery happened. It wasn’t as helpful as it was supposed to be, but she had to go home again to look after other children.

Thankfully just before my eyes started tearing up her cell phone rang. Here is her side of the conversation.

Hello.

Hello honey.

No, I’m still in Portland.

No, I won’t be home until late this afternoon.

I don’t leave here until 1:30 this afternoon.

No, I’m not even on the plane yet, and then I have to drive a couple of hours home.

What? Oh my God! No there is no way I can make it back by 5 PM.

Well, can’t your father bail you out?

There is no way I can make it. Where’s your father?

Well did you call the bar?

Well then he shouldn’t drive! What about one of your friends?

No honey, I can’t speed up my trip.

What happened? Oh, my God! Is Grandpa alright?

Is he hurt badly? Oh, my God!

Why did you attack Grandpa?

But honey you know…

He what?

That’s no reason to attack him! What were you thinking?

Well it looks like your spending the night in Jail, ’cause I’m not going to make it. Good bye!

My passenger hung up. She did not say another word for the remainder of the trip. I took her to the airport and pointed her toward her airline.

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Mad Science Creates Mad Parents

August 23, 2008

Invite Mad Science into your home and you are indeed going to get madness. But it’s going to be your anger that creates the madness.

Mad Science is a business that is supposed to create science education for grade school children. They do school programs, after school classes and in home shows for birthday parties etc.

One Mad Scientist told me the story of how he set money on fire for a show using alcohol. But a burning drop fell off the bill and set the whole pan of alcohol on fire. The fire burned itself out in the pan. But what would have happened if that burning drop had landed on a child’s shirt?

I experienced a disaster created by a Mad Scientist and started looking into what other dangerous situations Mad Science and their performers create. And there are plenty of examples.  All of the following examples happened in my home city. You can extrapolate how many life-threatening situations Mad Science is creating, as they operate internationally.

I started interviewing performers from Mad Science and they were happy to tell me “funny” stories that happened while they were performing. They laughed and laughed at the situations they put the public into. Not one of the “scientists” I interviewed from Mad Science understood the danger in the stories they were relating.

I witnessed a performer from Mad Science drop a bottle of acetone (nail polish remover) on an expensive hard wood dining room table. The acetone immediately ate through the varnish and the wood stain. The spill dripped over the edge of the table and scarred two chairs as well. The repair cost seven hundred dollars.

Mad Science uses many dangerous chemicals and flammable materials in their shows. Invite them into your house at your own peril.

I was told another story where a performer actually lit a customer’s dining room table on fire.

Acetone was used to melt a Styrofoam head. Later in the show while lighting a candle for a fire trick, the fumes from the acetone lit the Styrofoam on fire. The drippy fire set the tablecloth on fire. The performer had not come prepared with a fire extinguisher so the mom ran and got one to put the fire out. Several of the experiments the performer was planning to do were ruined because of the spray from the extinguisher. So the rest of the show was a flop.

From my research I discovered that every show Mad Science does includes some sort of fire trick.

Another performer told me of the time he lit his flash paper on fire and a spark from that landed in his supply of flash paper and the entire bin went up. It created a huge burst of flame. The fireball singed all the hair on one of his hands and both of his eyebrows.

For school shows Mad Science uses big balls of flame in their demos. One trick ignites flour that is shot out of a funnel.

Another show uses a burning powder in a trash can that is then supposed to shoot smoke rings over the audience.

A performer I spoke to told me about the time the company gave him the wrong powder. He lit the powder but it did not smoke. He stuck his head into the garbage can to blow out the flame but the toxic fumes from the fire actually made him pass out.

There is nothing quite as entertaining as having a performer faint during a show. And then having to cancel the rest of the show because paramedics are treating the performer.

Another example was a school auditorium show where the performer lit some flash paper and threw it at the audience. But the paper was too old and it burned slowly, so it landed on the dry leaves being used as decorations at the front of the stage. The leaves caught fire. The performer stomped on the flames knocking some of the burning leaves closer to the front row of children. The performer leapt off the stage to put out the mini- fires near the kids. In the mean time the fire on stage was getting bigger. So the performer ran back up and squirted what he thought was water onto the fire. But the squirt bottle was full of a flammable liquid. A teacher came over with a fire extinguisher and put out the fire.

Just how much training are these performers getting? The answer is shocking.

For an entire eight-week course of after school programs, Mad Scientists receive four or five days of training. A Birthday party is taught to a performer in one hour before they are sent out to perform it.

How much supervision is there during an after school program? None!

Your kids will be there alone with the Mad Scientist. There are times when there is no school staff any where in the building except perhaps in the office.

What if the barely trained Mad Scientist starts a fire during an after school program? Or passes out because of fumes? Or what if a child gets sick or is injured?

On one occasion a Mad Scientist was at a school where the secretary forgot there was a class going on. She went home and locked up the school behind her. The Mad Scientist was told that parents would come to the classroom to pick up the kids. But the parents couldn’t get into the school. About fifteen minutes after the class ended the performer finally took the kids down to the front door.

During those fifteen minutes how worried would you have been as one of those parents?

You can hire Mad Science to come to your home if you dare.

Or Mad Science can come to your child’s school to do a show and you might not even know about it.

But in my opinion the odds of Mad Science creating mad parents is greater than that of them creating happy children.