Friday, July 25, 2014

Wish I'd written that - a Dickens of a time

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On reading Charles Dickens:

"Some of it’s fascinating, and it’s marvelously acted, but there’s something about those 19th century novels that just wears on the heart like a dull stone pressing against a ventricle. The courtship rituals are tiresome and boring. All these protestations and fluttery words and fevered attempts to hold someone’s right pinky-finger. The conversations between anyone of the same class seem to take as their motto that one word shall not suffice when 75 may do, and the general effect is like being smothered with fresh bread."

- James Lileks, reading (or listening to an audio version of) The Mystery of Edwin Drood

I completely agree with this, which is why I also stay away from the Brontë sisters, and so many others from that era.

On the other hand, I have no trouble with Shakespeare.  Go figure.

Doctor Who and friend.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Throwback Thursday

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Cubs Announce “Live Goat Sacrifice Night”
Move Is An Attempt to End Century of Futility

Cubs got your goat?  On 9/8
 you'd better hope not
CHICAGO -- In an effort to end the nearly century-old “Curse of the Goat,” the Chicago Cubs today announced plans to sacrifice a live goat in a ritual ceremony designed to appease the baseball gods.

The “Chicagoland Meat Packers Association Reverse the Curse Live Goat Sacrifice presented by Haroldson Foods” will be held between games of a September 8 doubleheader between the Cubs and the Miami Marlins, team officials said.


“After nearly one hundred years, it was clear to the team that dramatic action was necessary,” assistant Publicity Director Ken Randolph said. “We’ve tried blockbuster trades, spending wildly in the free-agency market, and hiring high-profile managers, all to no avail. And even though we’re seeing some signs of life in the team this season, it became obvious as we analyzed our history that something drastic had angered the baseball gods, and that only a blood offering would totally appease them.”

The so-called “Curse of the Billy Goat” supposedly dates back to the Cubs’ last World Series appearance in 1945, when a man trying to attend Game 4 with his pet goat Sianis was denied admittance to Wrigley Field. Subsequent attempts to “reverse the curse” by bringing goats into Wrigley Field have failed to stem the tide of futility and loss which have dogged the Cubs since their last championship in 1908.

“The vengeful baseball god Homeron is clearly not satisfied with our meek attempts at redressing the injustice,” Randolph said. “We concluded that the only possible step available to assuage Homeron’s wrath was to sacrifice a male goat between the ages of 18 months and two years, after which his blood will be drained into a clay pottery bowl and offered up in humility to Homeron, along with a meek plea that he might take pity on the Cubs and remove the curse which he so justly invoked upon us these many decades ago.”

A stone altar will be constructed midway between second base and the center field bleachers. Akwar Abandai, a Verdic priest, will preside at the ceremony, assisted by veteran slaughterhouse butcher Duke Mantel. The ritual sacrifice will be telecast live by Cubs broadcast partner WGN, and will be available via streaming video on the station’s website.

For a city still reeling from the 1979 “Disco Demolition Night” fiasco at Comiskey Park on the south side which resulted in a riot that forced the Chicago White Sox to forfeit the second game of a doubleheader, announcement of the sacrifice brought apprehension to many fans.

Cubs follower Dick Blutus spoke for many, calling the sacrifice “a cheap stunt” and comparing it to “a gimmick the Sox might pull, but unworthy of our Cubbies.” Teresa Sims offered her own concerns about the promotion. “I mean, what’s to keep other bizarre cults and religions from storming the field to offer their own ritual sacrifices?” Sims asked. “I’m all for diversity, but I’d hate to see something like this get out of hand. The Cubs can’t afford a loss, even by forfeit, this late in the season.”

PETA spokesperson Victor Benjamin illustrated the unease with which his group views the Cubs announcement. “Of course, we completely deplore this inhumane treatment of an innocent goat. This announcement by the Chicago Cubs is another example of the corporate influence of American culture, putting greed and profit ahead of the lives of animals. On the other hand, one hundred years is a long time to go without winning the Series. If it works, well, it is only one small goat.” A representative from the Illinois Humane Society said the group would defer comment until November.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig declined to intervene in the Cubs promotion, issuing a statement that since there were no drug tests in place for animal sacrifices, there was no action he could take. Selig also refused to confirm nor deny that he would be in attendance at the sacrifice ceremony.


Originally published August 30, 2007

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A parody and a flashback

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At one time, television on Saturday mornings was deemed "educational," and ABC's Schoolhouse Rock was known for teaching fundamentals (I'm Just A Bill, Conjunction Junction, A Noun is a Person, Place, or Thing) until that show went exceedingly "Commie Core" political with the "climate change" projects of Dear Leader in later years.

Sadly, such programming has disappeared, replaced by entertainment rot that does not teach virtues but rather propaganda.

It struck me this week during news reports that famed parody artist "Weird Al" Yankovic has pulled the feel of the older television with his new parody "Word Crimes." Does it resemble a modern-day Schoolhouse Rock to inform people that there are standards in the English language?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Korean Air 7 again?

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The shooting of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 at Ukraine near the Russian border is reminiscent of two cases where Korean Air flights 902 (1978) and 7 (1983). With that, we reminisce with President Reagan after the discovery September 5, 1983, of the shootdown of Korean Air Lines (as it was called) Flight 7 (as it would be referenced today to remove what was jokingly referred as the reason for the conspiracy theories -- the three digit code for the flight allowed it to be known as a Licence to Kill).

Monday, July 21, 2014

The once and future persecution

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At At the risk of being disowned by my fellow orthodox Catholic friends, I picked up a copy of Rolf Hochhuth’s infamous play The Deputy a couple of weeks ago at a used book store.  It was no great revelation to me; I’ve read it before, and I bought it on this occasion as a research aid for a writing project that you may or may not ever hear about again.  It went on the bookshelf, between The Complete Works of Ayn Rand and How to Become a Libertarian in Six Easy Steps.

As a work of fiction likely to be taken as fact by readers and viewers, The Deputy is little more than a slanderous piece of Communist propaganda, deliberately promoted to tarnish the reputation of Pius XII through lie and innuendo.  And over the decades since it was published in the early ‘60s, it has indeed gone a long way to smear a man who, in the immediate aftermath of WW2, had been praised by Jews and Christians alike for his efforts to save Jewish lives while in a delicate position.  Evidence has since been uncovered linking Hochhuth with East German intelligence, and it’s likely that the whole thing was part of an orchestrated plot to undermine the Church.

It’s also not that well-written; far too polemical and strident, not to mention the slander I mentioned earlier (which, I guess, means I shouldn’t have to mention it again).  As a play, though, at least in written form, it has some intriguing qualities.  For one thing, Hochhuth’s prose stage instructions go on and on, sometimes for pages.  They’re obviously meant to be more than just directions; indeed, they provide background and commentary in such depth that they become an integral part of the story.  If you’re attending it as a performance without having the book in front of you, there’ll be so much left out that you won’t really receive the full impact.*  With some judicious editing, it would be reminiscent of a book I enjoyed quite a bit, Michael Herr’s Walter Winchell – a prose novel written in the form of a screenplay, complete with descriptions of fade-ins and fade-outs, camera cuts, and the like.

*Of course, there are many who’d argue that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

If there’s one redeeming factor in my purchase, aside from the research aspect (which has already borne fruit), it’s that I bought it second-hand, which means that neither Hochhuth, his publisher, nor anyone else connected with The Deputy made any money off of me.  Had I been forced to pay full price, I probably would have had to make a trip to the confessional.

There is, however, one thing I’d like to note in favor of The Deputy, although it has nothing to do with the book itself.  It came to me as I was driving in this morning, pondering the Christian persecution that seems to be in America’s immediate future.  Oh, I don’t necessarily mean a persecution on the scale of the Holocaust; it’s more subtle and insidious than that.  It’s the persecution occurring when an individual refuses to conform to the new social order and realize that religion is best kept hidden away in a dark corner, not to be brought out into polite company.  You’re OK if you want to cling to your superstitions, just don’t do it where you can be seen, or in a way that might influence public policy.

It might not be as pronounced as wearing a yellow Star of David, at least not at first.  But when you’re queried at work about political beliefs that have nothing to do with your job, when you can be forced to step down from a job or sell a company because of contributions you’ve made to various organizations, when the government can try to force companies  fund insurance coverage for acts that violate their own religious beliefs – well, you fill in the blanks.

Eventually it spreads.  The skeptic might suggest that, in a free-market economy such as ours, anyone confronted by religious discrimination is at liberty to start their own company, hire people who agree with you, and so on.  But when the prospective business isn’t able to get funding because lending institutions won’t provide it to those of a certain ideological or theological bent, when the business can’t attract customers because of intimidation tactics waged by those for whom freedom of speech applies in only one direction, when the burdens placed by government on the business force an owner to choose between conscience and profit – well, you try explaining it to someone who still has to put food on the table for a wife and children.  There’s more than one form of persecution, and sometimes the unbloody ones are every bit as painful and damaging.  They don’t attack the body, at least not outwardly, but they chip away at the soul.

Which leads me back to The Deputy.  Hochhuth’s claim is that Pius allowed political and financial considerations to prevent him from taking a stronger stance against Nazi persecution of the Jews.  And for all of his preaching, there’s no doubt that Hochhuth’s words (if they’re sincere and not simply a propaganda tool) show a great deal of compassion for the plight of the Jews during WW2.  If he really means what he says, if his fictional Fr. Riccardo (based, supposedly, on St. Maximillian Kolbe) really exemplifies, in his contempt for Pius, a desire to empty himself out for those being persecuted, then one can at least begin to understand the depth of abandonment that the Jews must have felt back then.  To have the entire world abandon you, turn its back on you and ignore what’s being done to you, and then to have the man who carries the greatest amount of moral authority remain silent* - well, that truly speaks to the dark night of the soul.

*To be clear once again: despite Hochhuth’s claim that the play was “ein christliches trauerspiel,” that is, a Christian tragedy, I believe it to be a smear job backed by the KGB, with no intent of sincerity.  However, as Caiaphas discovered (John 11:50), anyone can be an inadvertent prophet, no matter how much the thought might horrify them.

And so, as we enter the once and future persecution, I will put that hat on and look toward Rome and its bishop.  Can you see what is happening here, or are your eyes only on the refugees and the dissenters?  Do you feel the pain that so many are feeling, the choices that are having to be made, the sense of despair that rises, or are you more interested in kissing babies and playing the role of the kindly, benign father?  Are you prepared to confront a powerful government of an increasingly post-Christian nation that wants to marginalize Christianity and its beliefs in the name of progress and majority rule?  Are you ready to speak out for those who have no voice, to show the truth to a world that prefers not to see?

Are you aware of how high the stakes are, of how immigration and social justice and wealth redistribution and all the rest are of no consequence without this basic freedom?

In other words, are you ready to interfere?

Or, like Hochhuth’s fictional Pius, are you all-too willing to allow worldly considerations to influence you to look the other way?

Friday, July 18, 2014

The end of the world

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Apropos of yesterday's "Best Of" piece, today I'm going to reprint a quote. It's a little long, but read it. Afterward, I'll tell you more.  (H/T Dreher)

The Liberal notion that religion was a matter of private belief and of conduct in private life, and that there is no reason why Christians should not be able to accommodate themselves to any world which treats them good-naturedly, is becoming less and less tenable. This notion would seem to have become accepted gradually, as a false inference from the subdivision of English Christianity into sects, and the happy results of universal toleration. The reason why members of different communions have been able to rub along together is that in the greater part of the ordinary business of life they have shared the same assumptions about behaviour. . . . The problem of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us, and it is a very different problem from that of the accommodation between an Established Church and dissenters. It is not merely the problem of a minority in a society of individuals holding an alien belief. It is the problem constituted by our implication in a network of institutions from which we cannot dissociate ourselves: institutions the operation of which appears no longer neutral, but non-Christian. And as for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemma — and he is in the majority — he is becoming more and more de-Christianised by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space. Anything like Christian traditions transmitted from generation to generation within the family must disappear, and the small body of Christians will consist entirely of adult recruits. . . .

What is often assumed, and it is a principle that I wish to oppose, is the principle of live-and-let-live. It is assumed that if the State leaves the Church alone, and to some extent protects it from molestation, then the Church has no right to interfere with the organization of society, or with the conduct of those who deny its beliefs. It is assumed that any such interference would be the oppression of the majority by a minority. Christians must take a very different view of their duty. But before suggesting how the Church should interfere with the World, we must try to answer the question, why should it interfere with the World?

The author of that quote was T.S. Eliot, which means that though it sounds as if it was written yesterday, it was actually quite a while ago.  Try almost 75 years ago.

In one way this is encouraging; it seems as if whatever time in which you lived was always pointing toward the end, which was always just around the corner.  At the same time there's something depressing about it as well; because he describes today's times so well, his pessimism is that much more so.  Either way, there's no doubt that his words are prophetic.

But there's more to Eliot than that, and ultimately - if you read the whole thing - you'll find that he also provides a call to action, a description of exactly what we're called to do. "To accept two ways of life in the same society, one for the Christian and another for the rest, would be for the Church to abandon its task of evangelising the world. For the more alien the non-Christian world become, the more difficult becomes its conversion."  That's the challenge; those are our marching orders.  It sounds vaguely like a call to martyrdom; I don't know.

But one thing that comes instantly to mind: has the Pope ever said anything this cogent?  In this sense, the money quote:

I do not mean that the Church exists primarily for the propagation of Christian morality: morality is a means and not an end. The Church exists for the glory of God and the sanctification of souls: Christian morality is part of the means by which these ends are to be attained. But because Christian morals are based on fixed beliefs which cannot change they also are essentially unchanging: while the beliefs and in consequence the morality of the secular world can change from individual to individual, or from generation to generation, or from nation to nation. 

He's not talking about the Catholic Church, though I have no doubt that if Eliot lived today, seeing what's become of his Anglican church, he would convert.  The message remains the same, though.  Unlike, perhaps, the Bishop of Rome, Eliot does not soft-sell the faith; he does not dumb down the message.  The Church does not exist in a state that renders insignificant what it really stands for.

No matter how confused today's message might be.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The lion that squeaks

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I'm going to start you out with some quotes from an article I admire, and then we'll discuss it.
One cause of present-day childishness in grown-up people is the change in the character of the work by which an ever-increasing proportion of the world's population has come to be earning its living since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The mechanization of the world's work has been lightening mankind's physical labor, but this at the price of imposing on the factory worker a psychological curse from which the pre-industrial farmer was free. This curse is the curse of boredom.
Now, the farmer works from dawn to dusk. His life is not dull. Everything - everything - on the farm requires his attention. On the other hand, the factory worker tends not fields nor animals, but machines. "The factory worker's relation to the machinery is impersonal."
If the wheels are to be made to pay, they must be kept turning 24 hours in the day, so the machine-tender works on a shift; the machine is not his own, in the sense in which the farmer's cow and crop are his.

Understandably, this can lead to a dull life for the factory worker. "He may come out physically fresh; but he is likely to find himself phychologically jaded. What he craves for, in his off-time, is recreation; and of course, he is tempted to choose the kind of recreation that makes the lowest spiritual demand on him.
But this isn't an experience limited to those who work in manufacturing:
The middle-class office worker is also making the same choise, without having the same excuse. In his case, perhaps, the cause is not so much boredom as it is anxiety. His higher education has made him more acutely aware of problems - political, social, moral, and spiritual - that are baffling him. His flight from these cares to soap-box opera is a case of escapism.
Moreover, the incentives to seek frivolous distractions are growning in strength. The problems that create anxiety become more menacing, and daily work becomes more boring as automation's pace accelerates.
Interesting, isn't it? At least I think so. And you're probably wondering what kind of textbook or philosophical tome it comes from.

Arnold Toynbee
Well, in fact, it comes from December 4, 1965 issue of TV Guide (with the lissome Juilet Prowse on the cover), in an article entitled "The Lion That Squeaks" by the famed British historian Arnold J. Toynbee. Now, we could discuss at length what this says about TV Guide, that it could go from such in-depth and distinguished writing by a noted historian, to the pap that it now produces. But we've covered that ground before. What I find fascinating is what Toynbee has to say, and what it says to our own times. The lion in Toynbee's article is television, and his speculation is why TV has failed to fulfill its potential. Keep in mind that this article was written almost fifty years ago.

The scene that Toynbee describes is eerily our own. Writing in the '60s, when manufacturing still made up a large part of our economy, Toynbee focuses on the dreariness of factory work and what it does to an individual's spiritual makeup. However, in the paragraph I just excerpted, Toynbee turns his focus to the office worker, and here he describes our service-driven economy to a T.
Working hours are continually becoming shorter and leisure hours correspondingly longer; and here we have a second caues of the public's present choice of forms of recreation that are frivolous and childish.
Toynbee might have been amused to find that although technology has made it possible for us to do more work in less time, we seem to be reacting by working longer and longer hours, in an effort to afford more of the material goods that define our lives, even as in doing so we sacrifice the time available to make use of those toys. But he saw the results coming; oh, yes he did: "The misspending of leisure, even on comparatively innocent frivoloties, will lead to social, cultural and moral regression if it continues unchecked."

Isn't this what we're seeing this very minute? In a past post on TV Guide I cited a publishing expert who looked at the tastes of post-9/11 readers: "Everyone thought that after 9/11, people were going to focus on what really matters, get their priorities straightened out . . . [b]ut I think more than anything people have sought escape at a higher level." In a Strib article on the resurgence of horror shows on TV this season, an anylist followed the same reasoning:
"I think people expected that after 9/11, people were going to want light comedies," said Stuart Gordon, director of "Re-Animator" and the series' installment next week. "But there's so much tension in the world, and people need a chance to get it out of their systems."
It might be well at this point to remember that the great sci-fi movies of the 50s were often seen as cold-war metaphors, the paranoia reflecting our concern with Communism, nuclear war, and the end of the world. And so it's not surprising that we'd turn to horror and celebrity gossip - when we don't believe in anything, when we see no hope for anything other than the world in which we live now; and we see that world seemingly spiraling out of control, then why not turn to more and more destructive ways of living? Even if it's only vicariously, through watching the imploding lives of celebrities or the latest apocalyptical horror story. We're not only escaping responsibility, we're trying to close our hands over our ears and shut the whole thing out. We just don't want to think about it.

Toynbee describes a very Chestertonian-like outlook on economic issues and their relationship to the spiritual lives of people; the need for ownership of work, the essential goodness of physical labor, the dangers of becoming a "wage slave," with no personal stake in the work being performed. He's absolutely right when he talks about the inevitable effects: a rise in anxiety, laziness, moral slackness, an urge for the frivolous. He has looked at today's world through Chesterton's eyes, and seen what the great man predicted.

So what happens next? Toynbee's article concluded with a prescription for what was needed, but doubt that it would happen. First, people need to expect more from television:
How far does this depend on him, and how far does it depend on the policy of the commercial organization that purveys to him those silly programs to which the viewer is now giving an appallingly high proportion of his viewing time?
Networks have to be responsible to viewers, and since they're all businessmen they have to give the viewer what he wants. They can't afford to get too far ahead of the curve, for then it may appear they're trying to force-feed the viewer, who will turn away, leaving the network and its sponsors in a financial dilemma. But, as Barnum (I think) pointed out, nobody ever went broke by understimating what the people will accept:
The purveyor [executives and sponsors responsible for what's on TV] therefore allows himself a margin of safety. He sets the level of his wars below the average level of demand, not above it, and this poor-spirited policy gives him greater freedom of play; for his researches tell him that he can depress the level of his wares at least 12 inches below the average level of demand before his low-brow customers will give up television in disgust because they are finding it too banal to please even them.
Yes, TV needed to become more educational, at least in the sense of feeding the viewer's intellect rather than acting as junk food.
But will just educating the head be enough? The head cannot run far in advance of the heart; and, for bringing about a change of heart, something more than an improvement in formal education is required. A spiritual revolution is needed; and here, I think, we are touching the heart of the matter. We are putting our finger on what is wrong, not just with present-day television, but with present-day Western life.
[...]
In our time, we have lost the lofty vision and the serious purpose with which our forefathers used to be inspired by their ancestral religions. This inspiration has now been lost by many people who still attend church and temple and mosque. How is this vital inspiration to be regained? The future of television, and of everything else, will depend on our answer.
Toynbee was right forty years ago; he's even more right today. And while he's talking about TV in the article, he could be discussing all the institutions of our society: government, business, church. The mood he saw in the waning days of 1965 came to flower in a generation that seemed to reject everything: faith, morals, authority, responsibility, convention. They talked of peace, often in the most violent ways possible. The damage caused by the 60s and 70s can't be overestimated; we now see what happens when our major institutions are run by the generation that ceased to believe. And today's culture is being written by their offspring, children of the children who never grew up.

Toynbee saw the warning signs, and they came to pass. We are poorer because of it. And we must now ask, as we see the signs flare up again: what will they produce this time?

Originally published October 31, 2005

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Opera Wednesday: Songville Mystery!

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Well, well.  Opera Wednesday paid a visit Friday to "Songville Mystery," which the Carolina Opera Project children wrote and performed.  The libretto states the lead character "has the finest voice in all of Songville Woods, but when her voice is stolen right before the annual singing contest, only the detective can find out whodunit"  I filmed two clips from this project --- enjoy!



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Who says you can't combine sports and religion?

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This appeals to my sense of the absurd.  Harris - why didn't you come up with this first?

Germany Abdicates World Cup Championship; Argentina to Assume Title

BRAZIL––The German National Team today stunned soccer fans across the globe with their announcement that they would abdicate the World Cup title, effective today. FIFA, the international governing body of association football, said today it has voted the largely unknown Argentinian National Team to assume the title of champions of the soccer world.

Read the rest here.  I laughed out loud at this; would have been even funnier if it hadn't cut so close to the truth...  (H/T Fr. Z)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Flashback Friday - This Just In

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Another gem from Steve Harris, a man who can always find the absurd in everyday life. From 2006.

Fortune Cookie Writer Fired, Claims Bias
KING OF PRUSSIA, PA -- Local resident Harold Ludman says he can’t understand why he was recently fired from his job writing fortunes for the homemade fortune cookies served at Leonard Wang’s Chow Palace.

“My fortunes speak to the human condition,” Jones said, holding a sheet of paper with his most recent saying, "When misery knocks at the door, you don’t ask if it’s made a reservation." I know it’s not cheery, but it’s real life. People need to face up to that once in awhile.”

Other fortunes which Jones said he was proud of included “If at first you don’t succeed, try again, but know that the possibility is great that you might fail again,” and “Every glorious sunset means you’re one day closer to the cold eternal darkness of the grave.”

Jones said he had always hoped to find a profitable use for his Master’s degree in the works of French existentialists such as Camus and Sarte, and considered writing fortune-cookie fortunes to be the ideal job.

Wang, however, begged to differ.

“People look for escapism when they crack open a fortune cookie,” he said. “They want to read things like, ‘You will meet a tall, dark stranger,’ not the depressing crap he was coming up with. I was afraid I was going to have to start offering Prozac instead of after-dinner mints.”

Ludman, who himself had recently undergone electro-convulsive therapy at nearby Pleasant Valley Mental Health Clinic and Sanitarium, was disappointed with Wang’s decision, but sought to put a positive spin on the dismissal. “I was thinking about getting out of the fortune-cookie business anyway,” he said. “To be honest, there isn’t a lot of growth potential in it. I didn’t want to be caught in the bathroom when the last lifeboat leaves the Titanic, if you know what I mean. Hell, I’m not sure I know what that means.”

As for his future plans, Ludman said, “I’ve already sent my resume to Hallmark. There’s always a market for a good greeting card.”

Originally published November 6, 2006