Friday, July 30, 2010

Army of Lovers - a retrospective

In 1990, I was stationed in Spangdahlem, Germany. For television, you had AFN (the Armed Forces Network, part of AFRTS, the Armed Forces Radio Television Service), which was a single channel and pretty much got everything a year late (except football and baseball games which they played live, so games tended to start around midnight).

They've apparently improved lately, with newer shows and multiple channels. But for 7 years as a kid and 8 years as an adult, that pretty much described what we had to watch.

Fortunately, some German entrepreneur saw a market, and we had TKS Cable. They had a limited selection of channels, but that was still more than one. We had AFN, BBC, Sky TV (also from of the UK), MTV Europe, a couple of German channels. So it wasn't like we had a vast selection of channels to choose from, but there it was.

And it was there, on MTV Europe, where I discovered a Swedish musical group called "Army of Lovers." They never made it big in America, but their videos were amazing. Flamboyant, colorful, laced with humor, completely over-the-top, and somewhat hypnotic. Sadly, the music wasn't always up to the level of the videos - basic Disco-era Wall of Sound schmaltz. Listenable, with strong hooks, but not particularly challenging. But that wasn't the glory that was Army of Lovers - their biggest strength was always the video.

Army of Lovers was formed in 1987 (under the name Barbie, later Barbie and Friends) by Alexander Bard, Jean-Pierre Barda and Camilla Henemark (who liked to be called "La Camilla"). Bard, the short redhead, was the musical brains of the operation, and seemed somewhat goofy. Barda, the black-haired prettyboy, sang lead, did choreography, and posed a lot. And La Camilla... well, she had a bunch of cleavage.

A lot of eyeshadow was used to create this band.

Their first album, Disco Extravaganza, had been intended to be released only in Sweden. However, after they appeared on a Japanese TV show, it was also released in that country. And unknown to them, the record company gave them a limited release in America, but titled the album Army of Lovers. No real triumphs came from it (although the track Viva La Vogue appeared in Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead with Christina Applegate and the then-unknown David Duchovny).

They really didn't enjoy major success until a year later, with their next album, 1991's Massive Luxury Overdose, where they hit with arguably the highest-charting song of their career, Crucified (it was in heavy rotation on MTV Europe for a while, which happens to be when I saw it).

Later that year, they had a second hit with Obsession.

Now, you have to understand that, technically, "hit" is a subjective term. These two songs would prove to be the only two that they recorded which were ranked on the US dance charts. And that's the US dance charts only, and neither song went higher than number six. Still, they sold millions of albums throughout Europe, and Crucified was a #1 hit in 13 countries.

(What is it with bands from Sweden and the letter "A"? ABBA, Ace of Base, A'Teens, and Army of Lovers. I mean, if it wasn't for Roxette and Europe... and all the rest... OK, so this argument seems to be breaking down. Pretend I didn't say anything...)

Toward the end of 1991, following a moderately public fight (the details are unclear), La Camilla left. She released several singles that failed to chart, and recorded (but never released) an album called (perhaps ironically) "Temper."

Realizing they needed a third member, Bard and Barda hired Michaela Dornonville de la Cour (a blonde this time). They even reshot the video for "Obsession" with Michaela (you can see it here if you have to), with a cleaner, but somewhat less interesting, ending. For the US release of Massive Luxury Overdose, they replaced two of the original tracks with four new songs they recorded with Michaela, and reshot the cover art.

Michaela had worked for the Camilla Thulin modelling agency, as had La Camilla (the name is just a coincidence). Camilla Thulin is one of Sweden's best-known designers, and designed most of the costumes in the Army of Lovers videos of the Nineties. Michaela owned a small jewelry company called "De La Cour Entertainment," and she invariably wore her own jewelry in every picture and several videos, and made sure that mention was made of them in the liner notes.

In 1993, Army of Lovers became a four person group with the addition of Dominika Peczynski, yet another model from the Camilla Thulin agency (odd how all the women in the group started as models...), and they released The Gods of Earth and Heaven. This album, however, was never released in the US. The first video off Gods was Israelism.

Israelism was banned from MTV Europe, apparently for making fun of Jewish culture and history. Oddly, Dominika and Jean-Pierre were both Jewish. Some taboos you just don't touch.

In 1994, they released Glory, Glamour and Gold. The album received some critical acclamation. The first release was "Lit de Parade" their first collaboration with another Swedish band, "Big Money."

In retrospect, with MTV already leery about their attitude toward religion, perhaps it could have been considered a mistake to spend money on a video set in an ancient graveyard outside an abandoned church, brewing a potion and resurrecting a knight apparently from the Crusades. In two languages.

The video received little or no airplay. Glory, Glamour and Gold went on to become the lowest-selling studio album Army of Lovers ever produced. In 1995, Big Money broke up, Michaela left Army of Lovers, and La Camilla returned. Details why vary, depending on who you ask. Army of Lovers finally broke up in 1996.

In 2001, they reformed long enough to do three new songs, which were included in a greatest hits album, Le Grand Docu-Soap. One of them was a remake of the song from Hair, "Let the Sunshine In," where they tried to recapture what made their early videos special. And they almost succeeded.

The symbolism is obvious: Alexander wakes up from a long sleep, calls the other members to resume their place in the Army. They're back. As you watch it, most of the video elements are taken from earlier videos - and what can you say about the fact that, striding down the corridor, Jean-Pierre slides a cucumber into his pants?

All in all, if any lesson can be taken away from the history of Army of Lovers, it might be that eye-catching videos are not enough to provide a lasting musical career.

But I still have a soft spot in my heart (or possibly in my head) for Crucified and Obsession.


(Update: 1/2015): So I've fixed most of the videos (don't even try to find an copy of "Crucified" from YouTube that you can embed). Because, once again, Army of Lovers have returned!

Their updated website (appropriately subtitled "Big Battle of Egos") has some hints as to the current status of the group. (Scroll down to "an open letter signed by the Army Of Lovers members to the Queen La Camilla".)

The legend continues.

Monday, July 26, 2010

This would be so damned funny if it were fake

Sweet flaming Jesus, I thought this was a joke at first. You know, satire. Like the Onion or something.

Michele Bachman. The gift that keeps on giving.

If GOP Wins House, "All We Should Do" is Issue Subpoenas

The often controversial Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann said yesterday that if Republicans will the House in November, "all we should do" is subpoena and investigate the Obama administration.

If Republicans take the House, Bachmann was asked at the GOP Youth Convention in Washington, "how do you feel about the chances for like a little oversight and a little accountability now that the Republicans will have the subpoena power - how aggressive do you think..."

"Oh, I think that's all we should do," Bachmann said. "I think that all we should do is issue subpoenas and have one hearing after another. And expose all the nonsense that is gone on. And it's very important when we come back that we have constitutional conservative leadership because the American people's patience is about this big. So we have to make sure that we do what the people want us to do."

The exchange was flagged and posted by the Three Fingers of Politics blog.

Bachmann went on to claim that while prior to President Obama's election, "the private economy was 100 percent held in private hands," while "today 65 percent of the economy is now held in government's hands - either through direct ownership or control."

It's not clear where Bachmann got the 65 percent figure. She claimed on CBS' "Face the Nation" in March that the government owns or controls 51 percent of the U.S. economy, which her communications director explained by combining an estimate from an economics professor of government ownership and "the passage of the health care bill, which makes up about 18 percent of the economy."

At no time since 1929, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data, was the United States' GDP 100 percent private.

Bachmann said in her remarks yesterday that "all of our chips are on November."

"If we don't get it back and then starve the beast - the House, we have the power of the purse - so we can starve ObamaCare," she said. "We don't have to fund any of these programs and that's exactly what we need to do - defund all of this nonsense and then unwind it."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Racism, slavery and the Bible

You'll find, as you wander around the digital mountains and valleys of cyberspace, that a lot of Christian apologists trying to claim that racism isn't supported by the Bible.

Now, the tricky part that none of them wants to mention is the fact that, back in the Bad Old Days known as Biblical Times, the Middle East was not what you'd call a "racially diverse" area. There weren't a whole lot of world travellers in those days, and so people, being the small-minded bigots they are, separated themselves mostly on a tribal basis rather than the color of a man's skin.

The Romans marched way down into Africa, but the Old Testament had already been written by that time. By that same token, of course, the Egyptian had some dealings with the Nubians and other African people, but for the average tribesman running across the desert, there was really only one major race that they ever saw - the medium-brown, dark-haired folk known as the Semitic people.

Which leads me to wonder, who the hell is this guy?

However, within those limits, racism is found in the Bible, and more especially in how the Bible has been interpreted throughout history.

First, consider that the Jews are continually referred to as God's favored people (admittedly, this enhanced status hasn't seemed to help them much through history).

Deuteronomy 24:7 "If a man is caught kidnapping one of his brother Israelites and treats him as a slave or sells him, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you." This verse quite clearly states that the Israelite is better than any other human being in the eyes of God. If an Israeli is treated as a slave, then that is bad. However, it's ok to treat other races as slaves and all but kill them (Exodus 21:20).

This attitude that the Jews are better than all other races is echoed in the New Testament, where Jesus doesn't want to help a darker-skinned Canaanite woman, saying "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). Yeah, that's what the son of God would say, right?

All through the Bible, God tells the Israelites that they are His "chosen people," His "inheritance." The whole point of the Old Testament is to establish a precedent for Israelites to be God's favored people, after all.

Going back to the Canaanites, though, the "curse of Ham" (Genesis 9:20-27) is less often referred to as the "curse of Canaan." Noah got drunk and passed out naked. Ham saw him lying there, and because of that, Noah cursed Ham's son, Canaan, and all his descendent's with being enslaved to the descendants of his other sons.

Let's not get into why Noah didn't curse the one that did him wrong, the curse seems a little extreme, considering the nature of the "crime." This curse has most often been represented by those amazingly understanding ancestors of ours to be... well, let's just say "darker skin."

Which is why slaves are brown people.

This same logic has also been used in reference to the "mark of Cain" in Genesis 4:15, which was considered to be, again, the darker skin. Of course, since everybody on earth drowned except Noah and his family, anything that affects man would, logically, have to take place after the flood. So that theory seems harder to accept, right? It's just logic.

(If logic can be said to have anything to do with this story; for example, that's a mightily small gene pool for all of humanity to have sprung from. On the other hand, I suppose that inbreeding could explain a lot about humanity, wouldn't it? And then there's the whole question of the size of the ark, and the size of all the animals that were supposed to go into it. Plus, with only two of each animal, that's an even worse inbreeding problem than humanity faced.)

In the Song of Solomon, the woman is dark but comely; even though her skin is darker, she can still be pretty, right? (In the King James translation, it actually comes right out and calls her black. Nice of them. Thomas Jefferson would be proud.)

The belief that dark-skinned people are somehow cursed, and thus less important than their white brethren, has been abused by people throughout history. The Mormons even refer to white skin as "delightsome" (no, really, Joseph Smith thought that was a word) in 2 Nephi 30:6.

But don't stop there. Read something about Rev. Benjamin Morgan Palmer, the father of Southern Presbyterian University (now Rhodes College). Streets and parks are named after him throughout the South. He was also a virulent bigot, who thought the Civil War was a "holy" conflict between a righteous South and an ungodly North; he spent a lot of time and energy ensuring that Godly racial separation and Anglo-Saxon domination were reflected in both church and society.

Without slavery, he argued that blacks would suffer "rapid extermination before they had time to waste away through listlessness, filth and vice."

He also viewed the "practical extinction" of Native Americans as part of a divine plan revealed in Scripture.

So go ahead and explain. Why is a non-racist interpretation of the Bible the correct one, and all the others have been wrong for the last two thousand years?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Complete Mor(m)ons

Some years ago, while I was still in the Air Force and stationed in Wyoming, the base got a Mormon chaplain. Now, the military has had Mormons in the chaplaincy since 1917 when three Mormons, including Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy, were appointed. But they aren't real common.

And since my wife was working in the chapel at the time, I got to see the reaction of the other chaplains to this guy. I'd never really paid attention before, but apparently, certain flavors of Christianity believe that the Mormons don't qualify as Christian.

So I looked into it. And, you know, with just a little research, you can pretty much see what they mean. In fact, some of their more off-the-wall beliefs start to sound a lot like Scientology.

The Mormons belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, or LDS for short ("Mormon" comes from their earliest religious text, the Book of Mormon). The LDS have some good beliefs: the healthy lifestyle (no alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea - except herbal tea), the much mellower attitude toward strangeness - although they have damned little acceptance of outsiders, they do make some of the best neighbors of any "true believer," after Wiccans.

But you pretty quickly get into weird ground. There's the spiritual aspects: the pre-birth life, the ability to have spirit children in one of the three heavens (the Celestial kingdom, the Terrestrial kingdom and the Telestial kingdom). But they believe that all other modern Christian faiths have departed from true Christianity, and the LDS church is a restoration of 1st century Christianity and the only true and authorized Christian church.

They have a doctrine called "exaltation" which (as stated in the Doctrine & Covenants 132:20) allows true followers to become gods in the afterlife.
Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.
They also believe that God (Elohim) lives with his many wives on a planet (or by a star) named Kolob, God wants you to wear special underpants, and Joseph Smith really did not want to start polygamy, but a powerful angel with a sword threatened him and made him do it.

There's basic structural changes to how the Earth was formed: apparently, Elohim wanted to build Earth to give his billions of "spirit children" real bodies. His two oldest sons, Jesus and Lucifer, offered plans on how to do this. Elohim went with Jesus' plan, and Lucifer got angry and started a big war between the spirit children. After this war, any spirits that had stayed neutral were cursed to be born with black skin. (Hence the long-standing racism in the church.)

Elohim and one of his wives came to Earth as Adam and Eve and had a buttload of kids. Centuries later, Elohim left Kolob again to have sex with the Virgin Mary, to give a body to Jesus. Jesus took three wives (Mary, Martha and Mary Magdalene), and had a bunch of kids with them (and, of course, Joseph Smith was one of the descendants of Jesus).

After His resurrection, Jesus came to the Americas to preach to the Indians, who the LDS believe are really Israelites. In fact, according to Prophet Spencer W. Kimball in 1960 (and the words of a Mormon prophet on church business become canon law), as they convert to Mormonism, Native Americans skin lightens to a more Caucasian hue.

Yes, that's right. It turns out that Mel Brooks was divinely inspired by Elohim.

Which, of course, brings us to the story of Joseph Smith himself. In 1820, Joseph Smith said he had his first vision, which he said was God telling him that all of his sins were forgiven, and that all other churches were false. (You know, like he'd told Mohammed that all churches were false over twelve centuries earlier. It's weird how many people claim that God tells them this.) Smith made his living by putting a rock in his hat (calling it a "seer stone") and claiming that it would lead him to buried treasure. And then a few years after his first vision, an angel named Moroni showed him where to find a breastplate fitted with two "seer stones" (we'll just call them his "magic glasses") and some golden plates inscribed with the story of those Jewish Native Americans I mentioned before.

After being unable to bring back the plates from where they were buried, because apparently he was using the wrong helpers, he finally got the plates and locked them in a box, because the angel told him that nobody else should see them (and that didn't sound suspicious at all). But the magic spectacles would let him translate them, and write them out in book form, and he could publish the books. (He made some of the later translations by sticking a rock in his hat again, but who among us hasn't misplaced their glasses, right?)

It's weird that nobody has ever found evidence of a gold mine used by the indigenous people of North America, particularly not in the New York or Pennsylvania areas where Smith was living at the time.

Smith was mostly illiterate (education being what it was then) - he could read some, but really couldn't write. So he had to sit in the kitchen on the other side of a blanket (or a screen, or a curtain, depending on the source you read) and dictate, first to his wife, and later to a guy named Harris.

A few years later, Smith had about 118 pages translated, and Harris lost the first translation (let's call it a "rough draft"), the angel took the plates away, and Smith lost the ability to read words from a rock in his hat. Until a few months after that, when he magically got the ability back, and God gave him a new set of plates, so that Smith could to rewrite the story - it had to be changed, of course, because the first draft might be in the hands of Satan by now.

(An uncharitable reading of the events of those days might be that Harris' wife, tired of her husband getting conned, took the pages and hid them, saying that God could just dictate them again and they'd be exactly the same; so Smith had to come up with a cover story to work around that. But we aren't uncharitable people, are we?)

So there Smith sat, dictating to some scribe or another. ("Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!") From words he could see on a rock. In his hat. Which came from plates that God had recalled and replaced. (Maybe Smith hadn't been making payments - gold plates cost money, after all...)

So Smith gradually had the translations written out again, and set up his church. Of course, since people might not believe in plates that had been returned to heaven, Smith had eleven followers write statements saying that they'd seen, or even touched, the plates. The plates that the angel Moroni had said that nobody but Smith could ever see. (Maybe that's why God took them back! Hey, I think we've solved a mystery here!)

Weirdly, God couldn't be bothered to create a better story than he'd used before - he cribbed widely, from the New Testament, the Old Testament, and even from a crackpot book called View of the Hebrews: A History of the Ten Tribes in America, which claimed, yes, that the Native Americans were really Jews. (God as plagiarist; what the hell, right? But it had worked for Mohammed centuries earlier.)

Some years later, after escaping from the law in Ohio on charges of banking fraud, possibly marrying (or possibly just screwing) a 15-year-old named Fanny Alger, marrying several dozen other women and then claiming (since it was illegal) that he'd never supported polygamy, starting the Mormon War of 1838 in Missouri, bribing a sheriff to escape from jail, mobilizing the Mormon Nauwoo Legion to quell uprisings in the church (they later surrendered to the state militia), and finally going to jail and getting shot by unknown assailants, Smith died.

Today, the Mormons have almost nineteen million members worldwide, with at least 46 different schismatic versions of the religion still remaining, and at least 25 defunct, dissolved, or deceased sects fading into history.

But on reflection, I guess I can see where Mormonism doesn't really fit in with the more "standard" versions of Christianity.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ready! Aim! ...

So, I decided to reclaim my back yard a little, and things just went downhill from there. Nothing disastrous, just a pain in the butt.

Now, we have this part of my yard where nothing grows. I'm not clear why (you know, except for that part about not watering it or seeding it or anything...), but it had dead grass, a couple of dead trees, some tumbleweeds, and general natural detritus lying around. And a lot of dog turds, because we ignored it, knowing that it would be a pain to get around in and clean up. Just kind of a mess, and I wanted to take care of it.

So I raked and I shoveled and I got it all piled up, and it seemed like a hell of a lot of stuff to try bagging and toting to the dump, particularly since I don't own a truck. And I figured, why not burn the stuff?

Now, I haven't lived in Albuquerque my whole life, so I wasn't clear on the requirements. I do know that some radio stations gets these "no burn days" announcements, so I knew that there was some kind of regulation on it. And the week before last, figuring that I needed a permit, I had gone hunting for one.

I found two. One of them seemed to be primarily for big monster events. and neither one seemed quite right. So I went looking for the rules. Couldn't find them. I called one of the numbers listed on one of the forms and left a message, but he never called me back.

Finally, last Sunday, I went to the Fire Department to ask just what the deal was - we have a substation just about a minute and a half away. Of course, as I pulled up to the light within site of them, they went racing off, lights flashing and sirens wailing. And when they head out, they don't leave anybody behind. They lock the place up tight and they're gone. And they could be gone for hours.

I could have given up at that point, but I'm stubborn. There's other fire stations around. So I went to one I knew about, a little farther away, at the corner of Menaul Blvd and Eubank Blvd. (That's the only identifier I'll be giving of our public servants in the course of this little story - I'm not trying to get anybody in trouble, I'm just venting.)

And once I found a firefighter, I asked what the rules were. He explained that a permit wasn't required (which I didn't expect), agreed that leaves, sticks and branches were OK, it had to be away from any flammable structures, had to have a hose, and (here's the kicker) to find out what the "no burn days" are, I could either go to the City of Albuquerque website, or call 3-1-1 (the Albuquerque government information line).

And let me be clear here - he specifically mentioned those two information sources.

It all sounded clean and civilized to me, but it was getting later in the afternoon, so I put it off for this morning. When it was overcast, with a prediction for scattered showers today (seemed like a bonus, really) and humidity of 39% (which may sound like a drought to somebody in, say, Florida, but it's huge around here).

And about ten thirty, I called 3-1-1, to discover that they had limited services, mostly pre-recorded, on Sunday (and only from ten to six, for that matter).

Undaunted, I went to the website, where I poke around until I found this, under "click here for today's No Burn status."

So I'm feeling pretty good about it. I'm monitoring the fire, I've got rakes, shovels, the hose, an actual fire extinguisher, a metal rod I can use to bring the unburned stuff in the middle up. And it's just about out when a fire truck pulls up in front of my house to tell me that I had to put it out.

I didn't get a citation, so pretty much no harm, no foul. But they were pretty clear that it had to be put out.

Not really a problem. Like I said, it was pretty much done. (It had been a good-sized pile, but more on that in a second.) But these guys tell me you have to call 768-BURN (which the other firefighter didn't even mention), and that today was a no-burn day. I explained the situation, and they contradicted themselves at a couple of points (regarding what you can burn, "you can only burn tumbleweeds" became "weeds and grass" became "leaves" at various times). But I didn't argue, and I put out the smoldering embers.

So, a couple of points.

One - shouldn't the website and the phone line match?

Two - wouldn't it be nice if they had some webpage to explain the rules?

Three - should I be angry that none of the firefighters seem to agree what the rules are?

And (most importantly) four - remember how I said it was a good-sized pile? Should I be upset that the fire truck (that is, as I also said, only 90 seconds away) took an hour and a half to come tell me that I was doing wrong?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Been a busy week

Things just pile up sometimes.

I'm in charge of putting together thirteen medical staff meetings, on schedules ranging from twice a year (one of them), quarterly (two of them), every other month (five of them) and monthly (the last five). So why don't we put the one with the most involved set-up on a short week? That will make things fun, won't it?

So, you add to that the fact that the Trophy Wife and Last Son are assistant music director and lighting/sound tech/grip/general-guy-getting-electrocuted-jobs on the Opera Unlimited Outreach production of the Mikado (last performance tonight), and it's been a hell of a week.

Plus, I've been spending a lot of time on a blog called Debunking Atheists, which, to be honest, doesn't do a good job of it (in case you weren't aware, atheists are immoral and Satanists (despite the unreasonable premise that you can believe in Satan, but not God), oil is produced by the earth (as opposed to being rotting dinosaur parts under pressure), and the Shroud of Turin is not a 14th century fraud).

So, instead of posting anything of note, I'll just point out something that I was unaware of: Steampunk Star Wars seems weirdly popular.

Admittedly, some versions... better than others.

But they all show an unreasonable amount of work that has been put into this odd little hobby.

Well, it probably keeps them busy and off the streets. Which may be a very good thing...

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Sometimes you aren't paying attention

I guess I slept on my shoulder wrong last night. It's been bothering me all day. Well, at least most of the day.

But then again, I could be wrong.

I was in the first relief unit into Baghdad. The first troops hit, boots on the ground, on March 20, 2003. My squad had already been mobilized at that point, all our equipment was set up, and we got on the plane on July 3, en route to Baghdad. Between holidays, brainless bureaucracy, and flying into war zones, we eventually ended up in Iraq on the night of 8 July.

We were Security Forces, the infantry of the Air Force. Our purpose was to guard the military side of the flightline of Baghdad International Airport; we were armed troops, but we were also surrounded by a large, comforting womb of Army forces. We never took any direct fire - the only bullet that came through our camp (that we knew about) was when somebody, after responding to a report of gunfire, didn't clear his weapon before coming back to camp. He walked into a bunker, put down his rifle a little too abruptly, and fired a round through an innocent case of water bottles.

We did have hostile fire to deal with, though. We were located right off of the flight line - rockets and missiles were being fired at our planes all the time, mortar rounds landed all around the camp, shells would fire off over our heads all day and all night.

I started to block it out. In direct violation of Darwin's laws, I learned to sleep through things blowing up around me. It's still true - I sleep through loud noises that bring my wife sitting straight upright in the bed, like a car crash directly in front of the house that left a Geo Tracker upside down in my yard.

Good times.

We eventually got back to the states, I volunteered for the Kerry campaign (you see where that got us), and eventually, on the day that John Kerry conceded the election to George W. Bush, I filed my retirement papers.

After shopping around a little, I made a conscious decision to avoid any job where I might eventually have to shoot someone; this meant I was stuck with essentially entry-level positions, but I could live with that. It's a much lower-stress job, I'm not in charge of anybody, I do my work and everybody's happy.

I'm a fairly private person, but that's only because I get bored with the minor, petty problems of the majority of people. But overall, I think I'm a pretty cheerful guy.

Just this week, when people would ask me what I was doing for the Fourth of July, I've been telling them that I'd be curled up under the bed peeing myself as the fireworks went off. Then we'd all laugh, and I'd explain that, even though I knew people who had problems with explosions, I wasn't one of them.

Meanwhile, my body was telling me what my brain was too stupid to see.

We're in New Mexico, where fireworks are sold by people smoking cigarettes in flammable tents, because that's the American way.

I was watching TV tonight, and during a commercial, I got up to get the Trophy Wife some ice water. Halfway down the hall, my foot cramped up. I don't know why - I guess I was sitting too long in one position. But between that and my shoulder, I ended up limping back into the room like a bad Igor parody.

I think I made some stupid joke at that point, about how I wish I was under enough stress to justify all this. The Trophy Wife took that moment to tell me that I was always irritable on the Fourth of July. And on New Year's Eve. Any time fireworks were shot off.

I like to think I'm a fairly introspective guy. I've got a pretty good handle on my emotions and how I react to other people.

My shoulders are so tight you could bounce a quarter off them. My head feels roughly like I've got a clamp attached to my temples. And I've got tension forcing my muscles to seize up at random moments.

The Trophy Wife tells me that it's like this every year; I've just been blocking it out. I've been telling myself that I'm in my forties, and this is what I can expect as I'm growing older.

Outside the house, another bright red explosion has just lit up the sky, along with a loud crack. It startled me and I misspelled the word "older." Twice.

I'm in good shape. I don't even want to imagine what they're going through at the VA Hospital tonight.

And tomorrow night is the Fourth.