December 30, 2008

Scammers need not apply

From my inbox:

Dear Sir/Ma,



First, no one calls me “ma,” not even my child.

Second, stop yelling.

This rather long piece of scam spam solicits my resume for a job in the United Arab Emirates.

Yeah, right. As if an American Christian woman with a big mouth and a devotion to democracy would stand a chance in the UAE.

This particular scam seems intended to take advantage of our increased unemployment rate. I trust you are all too clever to fall for it. Unfortunately, as Scam-o-Rama points out, there are a handful of people who want to believe that the e-mails they receive are for real.

December 26, 2008

One cultural festival, hold the beer

It’s that time of year, when my black friends start celebrating Kwanzaa, and my white friends start complaining about it.

I can't for the life of me imagine why anyone gets righteously indignant about Kwanzaa, but some do.

Their chief complaint is usually that it's a "made-up holiday."

Except it's not a "holiday," i.e. "holy day," as such. It's a cultural festival intended to unify the descendants of slaves and remind them of their common African heritage.

Perhaps I have a different perspective because I grew up in California in the post-Kwanzaa era. It stood on the cultural calendar with Chinese New Year, Scottish Highland Games, and Oktoberfest. Those who didn’t participate in these events didn’t give them much thought.

Of these, Kwanzaa is the least boisterous and the most serious. It's observed chiefly within the home and is far less cheapened and merchandised than two true high holy days, the Resurrection and Christmas.

It seems everyone is willing to be Irish for St. Patrick's Day and Mexican for Cinco de Mayo, but no one wants to be African-American for Kwanzaa. Maybe that’s just because there are no happy hour specials involved, but I think not.

People to whom Kwanzaa seems a recent intruder to the calendar do not seem to realize that most cultural festivals and holidays had to be "made up" at some point.

Even one of the most sacred days in the Christian calendar, Christmas, is a ritual celebration "made up" by the early church to counter the Roman festival of Saturnalia.

That this holy day was "made up" more than sixteen hundred years ago does give it more historical gravitas, but it is no less a human invention. God gave instructions about Passover, but there are no such instructions about the observation of Christmas in the Bible.

Secular holidays are made up, too. Thanksgiving, for example, was not celebrated annually until its addition to the official calendar of U.S. holidays in the 19th century.

I could go on: Labor Day…President's Day…Columbus Day…Does anyone really take time on those days to think about laborers, presidents, or Cristobal Colon? Heck no. They just get annoyed because the Post Office is closed.

Was Kwanzaa "made up?" Why, yes, it was. It was "made up" by one person who thought it important to unify his people.

We should all strive to be so creative that we make up something that sweeps a country and changes a culture.

December 24, 2008

Full of cheesy goodness

When the Holy Land Experience opened in February 2001, most Orlandoans viewed it with a skeptical eye. A small, Bible-themed attraction in the theme park capital of the world hardly seemed rational. Believers suspected it might be a bit heretical, and unbelievers thought it silly.

I have to admit to thinking it was probably a little of both. Nevertheless, I was curious. So when the church youth director organized a trip, I put aside skepticism just long enough to be thoroughly entertained.

Back in 2001, my colleague Alan Byrd, then OBJ’s tourism reporter, was underwhelmed. His summation: “In a place where the average guest is filled with sensory overload, Holy Land just doesn't cut it.” In the second half of his review, Alan helpfully provided a whimsical list of suggested improvements.

The park didn’t take Alan up on his suggestions. But in 2002 it did add the Scriptorium, a 17,000-square-foot, single-purpose museum, built to house the Van Kampen manuscript collection.

I’m a history buff, so the Scriptorium was my favorite part of the park. Its only drawback is that the trip through is automated. You are cued by lights and recorded narration to move from one section to the next. Even if you didn’t have 16 fellows with you to drag you into the next room, the lights go down, so even if you stay behind, you can’t see much.

Still, the collection is a delight to see, and the presentation is first-rate.

Trinity Broadcasting Network acquired the park in 2007, and the live-action shows were described by the aforementioned youth director as “very TBN.”

I missed most of the passion play, because I was still in the Scriptorium’s bookshop when the seats started to fill up. The park was so crowded, some walkways became impassable, blocked by people watching the show. Several tour buses were there that day. A park employee told us it is not normally like that. The crowds were due to its being Christmastime, and a Saturday.

I say “most” because parts of the play are staged in different places. I happened to reach the Temple Plaza in time to see a priest run out and yell that the veil had been torn from top to bottom. Gave me a bit of a chill, actually.

I did see the Christmas musical, which was excellent. Entirely a Broadway-quality show. Music, lyrics, script, performances--all first-rate.

I must admit that parts of Holy Land Experience are undeniably cheesy. Bushes are carved in the shape of letters that spell out “He is Risen.”* The park’s one restaurant serves a “Goliath burger.” There is even a life-size statue of Jesus walking on the water, with fiberglass waves all around and a flat place where you can stand to get your picture taken.

After the Scriptorium, the live shows are the park’s real draw, and since I didn’t get to see all of them—there were ten scheduled that day—I intend to go back.

Just not at Christmastime, on a Saturday.

*—Our choir director decided this made the ideal gathering place. “Just meet us by the He is Risen bushes.”

December 15, 2008

When will they ever learn?

This just in: Students have the most difficulty staying awake and functioning during early morning classes.

Ya think? Most parents of teenagers had already figured this one out.

Except, of course, those parents who think after-school jobs and sports are more important than education. Those parents turned out in force, pressuring the Orange County School Board to reverse its earlier decision about high school start times.

Orange County high schoolers currently start at 9:30 a.m. In the fall, they'll be starting at 7:30 a.m.

Except, of course, for the ones who are asleep at their desks.

December 9, 2008

Fun with puns

Some of us collect bad headlines; I collect good ones. Of course, how you define "good" depends upon your tolerance level for puns. I classify this one, on a story about a woman who lost her hearing after a fervent smooch, as good:

Kiss of Deaf

December 7, 2008

Full-immersion fiction

One of the great advantages of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series is its richly imagined wizarding society, which exists parallel to but hidden from our own.

Rowling's new book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, is the real-world version of the book that guided the heroes through the final installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

At first glance, it seems that what Rowling has done in Beedle is to take the stories out of the story, and put them in their own setting.

It is ingeniously done. Each of the five tales reads just like an old fairy tale. Except, of course, that in these stories, the witches and wizards are rarely the villains. They are the heroes.

Following each tale is a "commentary by Albus Dumbledore," and the text is indeed imbued with his character, such as his observation "…clever as I am, I remain just as big a fool as anyone else."

For fans of the series, these commentaries in Dumbledore's own voice are like a visit with an old friend. Perhaps it is more accurate to say they are like finding the old letters of a deceased relative. They are what gives the book much of its charm.

For those unfamiliar with Harry Potter, this book will not be meaningless, because each of the tales functions as a morality play in its own right.

But for the rest of us, The Tales of Beedle the Bard conjures a precious spell indeed, because it offers the opportunity, for a few moments, to forget you're a Muggle and pretend these stories are a familiar part of your cultural lore.

December 5, 2008

Because I said so

This video, "The Mom Song" is one of the funniest things I have seen in ages. Anyone who is a mom or who ever had a mom will appreciate it.

December 4, 2008

Fooling computers

The folks over at Typealyzer claim to be able to analyze the personality types of bloggers by scanning their blog posts.

Typealyzer claims that The Factotum's Rostrum is written by someone who is "especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.… happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. …They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time."

I'm going to assume that the way-off-baseness of this analysis is due to the small amount of material the scanner had to work with, rather than the ability of the blogger to disguise her true personality through her writing skills. The one whose only "physical out-door activity" is walking from the parking lot to the office. The one whose most "action-filled work" is walking down the hall to the business manager's office for more chocolate. As for sitting still … they may have a point. Sitting still isn't really sitting still if you're knitting, is it? Knitting is an activity.

December 1, 2008

Using the "R" word—update

Many of us have been saying it for months, but the National Bureau of Economic Research today issued its official diagnosis of recession. The NBER confirms that we have indeed been in recession all year.

Thanks, guys.

After the release was issued, the NBER Web site spent part of the afternoon inaccessible. Error message? "The site could be temporarily unavailable or too busy."

Ya think? Time for a server upgrade, guys.