Pondering The Secret Gospel Of Mark On Easter Morning

When my radio alarm blared at 6:30AM on Easter morning, I listened to Brent Walters, who is the host for God Talk on Sunday mornings for KGO-Radio 810AM, talking about the spiritual significance of Easter. The second and third hours told the story about how he, as a young man in still seminary school, was trying to learn about the real Jesus beyond the traditional biblical references. He read all the available books he could find. After ordering a 12-volume set written by a leading biblical scholar through the bookstore, and reading all those books, he felt no closer to discovering the real Jesus. His father, who was a minister, then asked him if he read “The Secret Gospel of Mark” by Morton Smith, which he hadn’t, and his father refused to tell him anymore. He went to one bookstore to order the book, but the clerk refused to do so. Several more bookstores refused to order it for him. Eventually, he got the book. Today it’s very easy to get “The Secret Gospel of Mark” through Amazon. A very interesting topic for Easter.

The canonical version of the Gospel of Mark was supposedly edited by a rival faction within the early church to suppress certain church doctrines that weren’t widely accepted elsewhere. This doesn’t surprise me at all. There are at least forty authors who had written the Bible. Each one had their own political viewpoint to shape and mold the text as they like, presumably under divine influence. The most recent controversy was the Old Testament (the Hebrew bible) being edited to remove references of God having a wife to present a single god rather than multiple gods that were common prior to the Jews being exiled to Babylon.

Thirteen years of church had left me a cynic. When I first came into the church in 1992, we were encouraged to study the sermon and verify the message against the Bible. When I left the church in 2005, neither the ministry nor the fellowship were doing that. The word of God should be trusted through faith and a grain of salt. But not the men who wrote and edited the Bible in the past, and those who claim to know the know the will of God today. Everyone has an agenda that they are trying to push on others. If someone claims not to have an agenda when preaching the word of God, they are lying to themselves and others. I think being a Christian today requires examining the controversies behind the Bible, the motivations of those who wrote the Bible, and questioning those who preach the Bible.

Why Is There A Coca-Cola Vending Machine In My Foyer?

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Last week I went downstairs to the foyer of my apartment building to check out the availability of the laundry room. I found a brand new Coca-Cola vending machine in the middle of the foyer. Like an alien artifact that had no business being there, I was somewhat mad to see this monstrosity here.

First, I’m a diehard Pepsi fan since the New Coke disaster in 1985 and would never go back to Coke. (I did try Kosher Coke when my friend brought a bottle over during Passover week, which was way too sweet of my taste.) I wouldn’t mind if it was a Pepsi vending machine. Not that I would buy from a vending machine. Pay $1.50 to $2.00 for an upscale drink in a 20-ounce bottle? No way. The local stores sell two-liter bottles for less than a dollar when on sale. A much better deal. Besides, most vending machines don’t stock caffeine-free Diet Pepsi in any sizes.

Second, it’s taking up floor space in an empty foyer that will make it difficult to move furniture out through that particular entrance. I’m sure the people with five parking spaces located out front will be happy not to find a U-Haul truck backed up in their spot on the weekends. On the other hand, this might discouraged those people who parked the U-Haul truck out back, move furniture through the foyer, and out to the smaller apartment buildings.

Third, the apartment complex must be hard up on cash since removing all the vending machines in 2007 after a series of caffeine-fueled graffiti incidents, leaving only the one at the swimming pool in a gated area. Bad enough that the rents went up by seven percent this year after staying flat for two years straight. Now they can earn an extra buck off of each beverage sold. I’m sure all the college students will enjoy having their favorite caffeine hit available within walking distance.

Then again, this isn’t the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen here. After one windy day blew in leaves and small branches from the outside, I stepped into the elevator to find a lizard trying very hard to blend in with the brown floor tile and hissing at my feet. He/she/it didn’t look like a happy camper.

“Weird Al” Yankovich’s New (Not Approved By Lady Gaga) Song

“Weird Al” Yankovich has made a living of turning pop hits into parody songs that often became pop hits in themselves. He decided to do a new song based on Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” called “Perform This Way,” which he planned to be the lead single for his new album. Unfortunately, Lady Gage choosen not to grant permission through her manager to release this song on the album. (Which is ironic since Lady Gaga is often accused of recycling Madonna’s entire career without permission.) Although his songs fall under the fair use provision of the copyright law, he had always requested permission before releasing a song based on another artist’s work. Since he didn’t want his work to go to waste, he released the video on YouTube with the full lyrics for everyone to enjoy yesterday.

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Later in the afternoon, after a tremendous outpouring from the Internet, it turned out that Lady Gaga wasn’t aware of the song because her manager never told her about it and granted Weird Al approval to release the song on his album (coming out in June). It’s a catchy song. I’m looking forward to the actual music video to see how outrageous Weird Al can outdo Lady Gaga in the costume department.

Protesting Radical Islam With Concealed Weapons

The Christian fundamentalist preacher, Terry Jones, from Gainesville, FL, responsible for burning the Koran that led to 20 deaths in the rioting that broke out in Afghanistan last month (although that might have been politically incited by the Afghanistan government), is planning to hold a protest against radical Islam outside the largest mosque in the United States in Dearborn, MI, this Good Friday. His protesters will be armed with concealed weapons.

“We have made it very clear that we are coming there with very, very peaceful intentions,” Jones told the television station. “We will be armed. We do have concealed weapons permits.”

There will also be a counter protest. No word yet if they will be armed with concealed weapons. The local prosecutor is seeking a court injunction against the protest to prevent a possible riot from breaking out.

When I was a young Christian in the San Jose City College campus ministry, our church established a campus ministry at De Anza College in 1993. The two campus ministries with ten people were given the task to evangelize the campus by sharing our faith with 200 people each in the first month. We shared our faith with as many people as we could from Monday through Friday in the late afternoons to early evenings. We each got 200 rejections. Why? Because the biggest religious group on campus was the Muslim student association. They were far more serious about their religion than many of the Christians I knew then and now. For every conversation I had with a Muslim student, I walked away impressed by their unshakeable faith and disturbed by my own shakeable faith. Although our church hailed the new campus ministry a success (at least, by the numbers), it was a discouraging month for each of us individually.

What is the point of protesting against radical Islam in front of a mosque with people who are least likely to convert to Christianity and generally don’t support radical Islam?

Terry Jones is trouble looking for more trouble. A Christian extremist trying to make Islamic extremists unhappy. A part of me hopes that a gun battle breaks out and everyone dies at the protest. One, it would cleanse the gene pool faster of these idiots who think they are doing God a favor. Two, senseless violence for a cause is still senseless violence. Three, this is what America is becoming in the 21st century, where the threat of violence speaks louder than actual civil discourse.

A Moment of Silence For GOP’s Nonexistent Jobs Policies

Representative Joseph Crowley (D-New York) made a silent presentation before the House to point out that voters demanded jobs, the Republicans promised to focus on jobs, and, after 100 days into the new Congress, the Republicans have done nothing to add jobs and/or keep jobs in America. Although the unemployment rates are starting to decline across the United States, people are still hurting from the lack of jobs and expiring unemployment benefits. There is a proposal to extend unemployment benefits for 99ers who had exhausted their benefits after two years for another 14 weeks, but it’s unlikely to make any headway in this Congress. If you’re not a member of the super rich (i.e., the top 1% of all Americans), screw you and your middle-class American dream.

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Although Silicon Valley is starting to turn around, many companies are not hiring fast enough. When I was laid off in February 2008, I was interviewing for desktop/help desk support positions that paid $25 per hour. Now I’m interviewing for PC technician jobs that pays only $13 per hour. When a recruiter learned that I had previously made $23 per hour in my previous full time job, I had to talk him into submitting my resume for the $13 per hour position. As the Great Depression taught my father, the Great Recession taught to me live on significantly less.

Take a guess what Congress is doing for the next two weeks? That’s right, another recess. Seems like they work two days straight, and, exhausted from their unheroic work of representing special interests who funded their re-election campaigns, take two weeks off. No wonder nothing is getting done in Washington.

Fairchild Video Game Inventor Passed Away

The San Jose Mercury News posted an obituary for Jerry Lawson, who passed away at 70 years old, the inventor of the first cartridge-based video game system in 1975. I had to scratched my head over that one, having never heard of the Fairchild Channel F video game system. At least, not in a store. I was surprised to find out that the Atari 2600 came out a year later. Video game didn’t take off until the early 1980s, where home systems and arcades at the mall became more prevalent. Besides that Atari 2600, there was the Magnavox Odyssey 2, Mattel Intellivision and Coleco ColecoVision. All cartridge-based systems. The Channel F must have been a very short lived system.

In the mid-1970s, he was director of engineering and marketing for the newly formed video game division of Fairchild Semiconductor, and it was under his direction that the division brought to market in 1976 the Fairchild Channel F, a home console that allowed users to play different games contained on removable cartridges. Until then, home video game systems could play only games that were built into the machines themselves.

During the 1970s I had two video game machines, one that plays tennis and another that plays tank warfare, both require two players. You could play by yourself if you wanted to operate both sets of control. There was no Artificial Intelligence (AI) to play against. I also had handheld games like the Coleco Electronic QuarterbackColeco Quiz Wiz and Mattel Battlestar Galactica Space Alert. These single player games had an AI to play against, but they were very predictable AIs that were easy to defeat once you learned the patterns. Which was why the Coleco Quiz Wiz was a huge disappointment for me. I only had three quiz books before I realized that the answers for all 50 questions in every quiz book were identical (i.e., question 1 / button a, question 2 / button c, etc.). The electronics for these early games weren’t sophisticated enough to have an unpredictable AI to play against.

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I developed the life long habit of recognizing patterns from these games, which became useful when I became a video game tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises). I was the lead tester for Atari Anniversary Edition (Game Boy Advanced), which was a collection of classic arcade games that I played back in the 1980s. (I routinely shocked younger testers who believe that there were no video games before the Sony PlayStation in the 1990s by telling them I played Pong when it first came out and introduced them to another tester who tested pen-and-paper strategy games in the 1970s before they were born.) Since the original arcade game ROMs were being run in an emulator, I remembered all the patterns and re-discovered all the bugs that would never be fixed. Last week the Atari’s Greatest Hits for the Apple iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad came out. Didn’t take me long to reproduce an unfixed bug in Pong to show off to my friend because the original ROMs were being run in an emulator.

I always wanted to be a historian when I grew up. That never did happen. A blind pursuit of mathematics—and video games—caused me to drop out of San Jose State University. If I ever win the lottery and/or score a multi-million-dollar book contract, I would go back to school to finish a degree in Silicon Valley history. (With school funding being cut back and prices being jacked up, you need to win the lottery to avoid being debt for the rest of your life.) I’ll need to add Jerry Lawson and the Fairchild Channel F video game system to my list of research topics.

Finding More Bargains At Several Closing Borders Stores

Before my friend and I went to see that groan-inducing stoner comedy movie, “Your Highness,” on Saturday night, we stopped at the Borders store in Oakridge Mall. We didn’t know what to expect since we haven’t been to this location since Borders announced it was closing 200 stores around the country. Borders haven’t sent out any emails on the current state of the going out of business sale. As we approached the store after buying our movie tickets, we noticed the signs in the windows proclaiming a $1 per book sale. What was left in the store for sale?

Overwhelmingly, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin books (about 100 each). No one was buying these and other books written by conservative writers at $1 per book in this working class mall. I seriously doubt that the publishers would take any of the books back even if Borders wasn’t in bankruptcy court. A half-dozen shelves were stocked with mostly political and history books, plus a few odds and ends. The rest of the store was closed off with yellow caution tape. All the shelves were up for sale at $100 or more, with signs that they would look great in the laundry room or garage. It would be cheaper to buy lumber from Home Depot and build new shelves that fit.

Here are the four books I picked up for $1 each:

  • “The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth in Bush’s America” by Frank Rich
  • “Dark Alliance: The CIA, The Contras, and The Crack Cocaine Explosion” by Gary Webb
  • “Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption” by Jules Witcover
  • “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward

The next morning I went over to the Santana Row store. The 90% off sale was still going on with much of the first floor stocked with books, and the second floor closed off. The few Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin books were hidden away like Easter eggs all over the store, but books about President Obama were more prevalent in much smaller quantities (10 copies or less). That makes sense since Santana Row is a mixed development of stores and luxury condos. People with money are more likely snap up the latest conservative books than working class people. Political and history books will probably be the big leftovers for the $1 per book sale.

I kept thinking that this was a treasure hunt and a riot will break out over that one special book that everyone wants but can’t have (perhaps a signed copy of a Harry Potter book). Nothing that exciting took place as everyone milled about from one shelf to the next, pawing and gawking at the books. I spent most of my time watching people and listening to their conversations. The two sales clerk leaning against a stocked shelf that I was trying to browse had an over the top discussion about their sex lives. I know there is a short story idea to be found in a bookstore going out of business sale—treasure hunt, Easter eggs, gossip, murder— but I haven’t figured out how to pull it together yet.

A woman was scanning for the used book prices with her iPhone and carting books over to the cash register, where a sales clerk was processing 600+ books. I’ve sold my old books from library through Amazon before. If done right, reselling books can be quite profitable. I made money but I didn’t do it right: I sent everything by first class and not media rate since I was shipping out of a drug store and not the post office. Media rate is dirt cheap but slower and subject to inspection. What the woman had stacked up, I estimated that her average profit margin was about $3 per book.

Here are the books that I got for 90% off each:

  • “Apollo 13” by Jim Lovell and Jeffery Kluger
  • “The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism” by Mark Morford
  • “An Accidental Goddess” by Linnea Sinclair
  • “Unplugged: My Journey Into The Dark World of Video Game Addiction” by Ryan G. Van Cleave
  • “Insurrection (Starfire, Book 1)” by David Weber and Steve White
  • “March Upcountry (Empire of Man, Book 1)” by David Weber and John Ringo
  • “March to The Sea (Empire of Man, Book 2)” by David Weber and John Ringo
  • “March to The Stars (Empire of Man, Book 3)” by David Weber and John Ringo

I was disappointed with the limited selection of science fiction books for $0.80 each. Nearly every available paperback was a series book, and I didn’t want to read a book from the middle or end of a series. I got lucky with the David Weber books, picking the first book of one series and the first three books of another series. Military science fiction is a genre I don’t read that often. Since I’m planning to write a military science fiction novella in the near future, I need to man up on what I would be writing about. Anything less would be space opera. Not that I don’t mind space opera. This particular novella is aimed at breaking me into Analog or Asimov’s Science Fiction, which would be ironic since I don’t write that much science fiction. I wanted to get some fantasy and mystery paperbacks, but those were long gone before I showed up.

After months of whittling down my unread book pile, I have too many unread books. So much to read, so little time to read them all.

Stoning Your Highness (Preferably With Stones)

The new “Your Highness” movie has all the makings of a classic sword-and-sorcery movie that we haven’t seen much of since the early 1980s. A younger prince being resentful of his big brother’s claim to good looks and quest fame. The older prince comes home with his soldiers from yet another challenging quest and a beautiful damsel in distress in tow that he plans to marry. An evil sorcerer and three witches barges into the marriage ceremony to kidnap the damsel in distress. The two princes and their soldiers are sent by the king on their new quest, and they see the wise old wizard who provides a magical compass to find the labyrinth with a powerful sword that can defeat the wizard. After they are betrayed by the soldiers, the two princes encounter the beautiful warrior who agrees to join their quest. The older prince is kidnapped by the soldiers to be tortured by the evil sorcerer. The younger prince raises to the challenge of finding the powerful sword, defeating the evil sorcerer and redeeming himself in the eyes of his people. A classic sword-and-sorcery movie, except that this a stoner comedy movie that you need to be stoned (preferably with stones) to really enjoy.

Most critics panned the movie as being really bad, which could mean either really bad as to suck or really bad to be funny. After groaning my way through this unfunny pot fest, the movie is really bad. A few critics were comparing “Your Highness” to “Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke” and “Mel Brook’s History of The World, Part 1” as to what viewers could expect in this movie. These critics need to be taken out and stoned with stones. “Your Highness” comes nowhere to close being like these classic movies because the non-stop vulgar humor dives straight into the sewer. Had this movie been made in the spirit of “Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny,” which turned vulgarity into hysterical poetry, it might have been more successful.

Here’s the list of the unfunny vulgarity:

  • The opening sequence of the younger prince standing on the gallows for molesting the beautiful midget queen and his manservant is being tarred and feathered was fairly predictable. A gallows built by midgets for midgets does nothing more than strain the neck of a non-midget man like a tighten tie when dropping through the trapdoor. They quickly escape to be admonished by their king for screwing up a simple diplomatic quest.
  • The wise old wizard comes across as being a perverted Yoda with Michael Jackson bedtime tendencies, requesting a kiss on the lips, a hit of the bong and a cock rub before letting the princes go on with their quest.
  • The princes and the manservant are captured by bare-breasted women who bring them to a hairless fat man in diapers (the adult version of the dancing baby fad), who sticks his hand into a pot of honey mustard to summon a five-headed creature from the ground in the middle of the arena. Every time the head of the creature is cut off, the fat man loses a finger until all he has the middle finger left among four bloody stumps to wave around.
  • When the younger prince acquires the powerful sword and kills the minotaur guarding the labyrinth, he tries to claim a trophy to prove that he succeeded in this part of the quest. Unable to saw off the horns of the minotaur, he acquire a lesser trophy from the half-man/half-bull beast: a massive cock. He spends the rest of the movie wearing it around his neck and being very cocky with it (pun intended).

The only redeeming part of this whole movie is Natalie Portman, who plays the beautiful warrior babe with a straight face while being surrounded by perverts who wants to get into her rawhide pants. Alas, she is wearing a chastity belt enchanted by an evil witch that can’t be unlocked until the witch is dead, which means another quest and another movie that isn’t going to happen. When the young prince spills the beans about the magical compass and finding the labyrinth, she steals the magical compass and leaves them in the middle of the night. You wished that she had done everyone a favor by cutting their throats and finish the quest by herself. Hollywood could have done an entire movie around her character if the movie was made in the classical swords-and-sorcery format.

Zooey Deschanel plays a bosomy and not too bright damsel in distress who spends most of her time lying on her back to wait for the evil sorcerer to spread her legs for the ritual impregnation of a dragon under the eclipse of the two moons. A limited role that she pulls off with great zest.

The younger audience thought this movie was funny. My friend and I groaned through most of it. I thought “Conan: The Destroyer” was a much better swords-and-sorcery movies than this even though it tried too hard to be funny the second time around. We did see the movie poster for the new “Conan: The Barbarian” movie that is coming out soon. The poster artwork was done in the 1970s comic book drawing style. Maybe this movie will usher in a new era of swords-and-sorcery movies. Or maybe not.

Why Do I Hate The Bee Gees? It’s Walt Disney’s Fault!

This came up in Twitter last night: Why do I hate the Bee Gees? Simple, it’s all Walt Disney fault. During the disco craze of the 1970s, my parents gave me a portable cassette recorder for my birthday that was smaller than a shoebox. (The iconic Sony Walkman wouldn’t be a must have item until the early 1980s, and I never got one until the late 1990s.) I was still young enough to appreciate Walt Disney storybooks that had a sing along cassette tape, like Robin Hood and Pete’s Dragon. But there was one cassette that I had played over and over again because I had nothing better to listen to: Mickey Mouse Disco. That, plus watching every re-run of the Bee Gees in Sgt. Pepper’s Loney Hearts Club Band on cable TV, and getting The Beatles album, sour my taste in music for years to come.

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Not that I ever had much taste in music. Although I was born a Californian native, my parents came from Boise, Idaho, where hard work on the farm and smuggling on the road went hand in hand. My father and his brothers used to smuggle untaxed cigarettes from Oregon and sold out them of the trunk in Southern California in the 1950s, and a distant cousin is serving time in the Florida state pen for smuggling cocaine from Cuba in the 1990s. Since my father’s truck only had two radio stations—country and talk—I grew up on classic 1970s and early 1980s country music (i.e., Johnny Cash, John Denver, Willie Nelson, The Oakridge Boys, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, and Hank Williams, Jr.). Needless to say, country wasn’t very popular when I was going to school with all the wannabe Duran Duran and George Boy running around. Bad enough that I was a normal student misclassified as mentally retarded by the school system, I was considered a freak among the retarded for liking country.

Unlike some of my friends, I have a modest music collection on my iPod. Over the last 20 years I grew to like the top hits from the 1980s music that I never got into when growing up, especially Cyndi Lauper and Joan Jett. I listened to Hootie & The Blowfish, Jane Monheit and U2 in the 1990s. These days I’m listening more to the early The Rolling Stones, especially the recently remastered Exile on Main St. album. The only disco song that I still listen to is “I Love The Nightlife” from the theatrical release of “Love At First Bite”, which is my favorite vampire movie of all time.

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But I don’t listen to today’s country because it sounds like crap, trying too hard to be half country and half rock. Beside, the only real country music radio station in the San Francisco Bay Area, Radio Keen, went off the air in 1992. When the current country radio several years ago decided to switch to Mexican music—their last English song was “Mexican Radio” by Wall of Voodoo—and switched back to country music three months later, I never bothered to listen to them again. The only thing I listened to while driving in the car (which used to belong to my father) is talk—KGO Newstalk 810AM—or the old Dolly Parton cassette tape still stuck inside the player.