Las Vegas CityLife

Paradigm X

I'm almost ashamed to admit that one of my most powerful literary experiences as a child took place during the summer of 1981, when I paid 75 cents at the corner grocery in Tampa, Fla., for a comic book called "The Uncanny X-Men." I had been following the title for many years, but nothing I'd read up to that point even hinted at the scary ideas and images inside the "SPECIAL DOUBLE-SIZED 150th ISSUE!"

I say almost ashamed, because it was in a comic book that I gained insight into the spiritual cost of being different. Sure, I learned about significant things in other books I read that summer. "Animal Farm" taught me to beware of fascists in revolutionary clothing. "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" taught me how the best adults make for the worst hypocrites. "The Red Badge of Courage" taught me about the horrors of modern war.

But it was the X-Men who demonstrated how being gifted meant being feared and hated. It was and remains a hard lesson.

The X-Men were created 30 years ago by the legendary Jack Kirby (who also created Captain America, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk). X-Men #150 ("I, Magneto ... ") wasn't written or drawn by Kirby. Instead, Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum did the honors and succeeded in expanding the existential foundation that Kirby laid 15 years prior. The X-Men were misfits bound together by their freakish powers. They were a powerful symbol for the way I felt about my own misfit status. Like the young mutants, I was a "gifted" student enrolled in a "gifted" school where I took "gifted" classes apart from the larger student body, who naturally looked at me with suspicion and a bit of envy. If my powers had consisted of something more than the ability to read a lot, perhaps they might have grown to fear and hate me.

Being different was the red badge I wore growing up, and I wore it proudly with others like myself. It was a privilege the X-Men characters could never afford, because their powers consisted of flying, bending metal, becoming metal. They were weapons, like Wolverine, whose powers were heightened by military scientists, making him a weapon of mass destruction. Still, they wanted to be accepted, not persecuted, for their unique qualities. It's a universal feeling, particularly among adolescents, as they discover how they differ and -- more often than not -- learn to suppress rather than flaunt the talents they're born with.

Persecution is an ideological game, one played expertly and to the hilt during Reagan's '80s and Dubya's '00s. Cold War brinkmanship is another game that has returned to the headlines. It's the game the mutant villain known as Magneto tried to disassemble in X-Men #150, a comic book I still possess today. In it, when the character Cyclops questions Magneto's resolve to protect mutant kind with a pre-emptive attack on humanity and its nuclear arsenal, the super villain replies, "For myself, I am tired of seeing things as they are and asking why, of dreaming of things that never were and asking why not. I have the power to make my dreams reality. And that I shall do."

As a child, I understood that Magneto had a point, and I found that point frightening. As columnist Patricia J. Williams writes in the April 28 issue of The Nation ("Taking the Cake"), pre-emption "is the Bernhard Goetz doctrine, the cowboy rationale, as well as the hip-hop anthem, shoot first, ask questions later. It is a scared gangfighter's way of thinking, and it ensures a never-ending cycle of trauma, in which illusions of danger are treated on par with reality, in which waves of endless violence engulf all sane limits."

What horrified me as a child is that Magneto's words were often echoed in the speeches of my cowboy president -- and now as an adult I hear them in the words of the New Cowboy. This sense of horror at our leaders' dreams of death is something I've longed to encounter in comics -- and movie adaptations of comics -- ever since. After all, comics have always been a subversive medium, from Marvel Comics' anti-nuclear stance to Crumb's underground revolution to Alan Moore's deconstruction of Victorian England in "From Hell." But all the mainstream comics industry and Hollywood have given us is the same crap, specially formulated to sell Happy Meals. From Superman to Batman to Spider-Man to Daredevil, it has been nothing but a consistent, brain-deadening attempt to pander to the lowest common denominator. Sadly, it works.

No more. I can't fully explain why director Bryan Singer's sequel to his shoddy first foray into the X-Men saga is a superior, thought-provoking, thrilling example of genre filmmaking. (It seems the same hacks who brought us that cliched showdown atop the Statue of Liberty in X-Men were involved in the making of X2.) But I can outline some themes and moments in "X2: X-Men United" that reveal its subversive spirit and bold vision.

The opening scene, for instance, is harrowing. A mutant (whom we later learn is named Nightcrawler) enters the White House, teleporting his way through Secret Service agents and into the Oval Office. There, the president cowers amid 30 or more agents, their guns drawn, waiting for the mutant to break down the door. Instead, he teleports through the room, viciously beating the agents into submission, until it's just him and the Big Man, pinned to the desk. Nightcrawler pulls out a dagger, ready to plunge it, but an agent recovers enough to wing the assassin, who then disappears. The dagger is left sticking in the desk; a note attached reads: "Mutant Freedom Now!"

When has a Hollywood superhero flick been this hardcore? Singer (The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil) must have ordered his screenwriters and production crew to put their balls on, because from here things just continue to intensify.

The assault renews the political and public outcry for a Mutant Registration Act, a gross erosion of civil rights on par with the Bush administration's own Patriot Act. Leading the anti-mutant crusade is a wealthy former military commander, William Stryker, played by Brian Cox (Manhunter, LIE), who does his best John Ashcroft impression, as a man whose grievances and psychopathology make him a dangerous administrative figure. He sends U.S. Special Forces to attack Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, and the images of soldiers shooting mutant children in the neck are absolutely terrifying. There's a moment when the clawed Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) -- who alone is left guarding the school while the X-Men search for Nightcrawler -- shish-kabobs a dark-hooded intruder. It freezes the heart: Mutant has killed man, and there's no going back. The war is on.

Indeed, the humans' effort to pre-empt another mutant attack has wrought -- as the Israelis and Palestinians fail to acknowledge in their treatment of each other and as our own leaders refuse to perceive -- more violence. As a result, the evil mutant Magneto (Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings) unites with the X-Men to fight a common foe, the U.S. government, and impending disaster haunts every subsequent frame.

There are other chilling scenes. Teenaged Bobby, or Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), briefly shelters Wolverine and two younger mutants at his parents' house. There, he "comes out" to his family that he possesses unique powers, to which his mother replies, "Have you tried not being a mutant?" Heartbreakingly, Bobby's brother immediately phones the authorities, and the group is again on the run. Fear shatters even familial bonds.

Then there's the scene where Magneto lures Pyro (Aaron Stanford, Tadpole), Xavier's student, to the dark side. "You're a god among insects," he says, flattering the burgeoning pyromaniac. "Don't let anyone tell you otherwise." Mutant power is a curse, until it's used to harm others, the weaker ones, humans. Then it becomes a mark of supremacy.

I could go on. Of course, X2 has everything the rubes expect from Hollywood: lavish special effects and violence. The pill beneath the sugar, though, is that the violence serves as a warning about the direction our country is headed. Mindless fear and policies of intolerance will result in a cycle of bloodshed from which no one will be spared, not even the innocent.

Who are the innocent? Singer's new movie offers no answers. Rather, X2 is full of troubling questions. If all summer movies were this daring, comics enthusiasts would no longer have to suffer inferior Hollywood adaptations. Indeed, the American superhero comic book is a mythic genre that has finally been translated into a remarkable film. Let's see if American audiences will embrace or loathe the long-awaited breakthrough.

"X2: X-Men" United opens Friday, May 2.

Jarret Keene is CityLife's A&E editor.

Medical Pot Comes to Nevada

Pierre Werner has a (hazy) vision. He's a medical marijuana provider, and wants to create Nevada's first compassion club for the product's users -- and not even the law will get in his way of creating it.

"I've been doing this all my life -- providing medical marijuana even before it was considered medical," he says.

Werner is the president of Primary Caregivers and Consultants, a company he created to provide medical marijuana to patients and offer physician-approved recommendations. He also consults attorneys and physicians on Nevada's Medical Marijuana Program. Currently he services 15 patients, eight of whom are registered with the Department of Agriculture's Medical Marijuana Program.

"After seeing so many dying patients in pain, I felt obligated to do something," he says, adding that he is not considered a caregiver since the state only allows one patient per caregiver.

One thing Werner can be considered is ballsy. Even though compassion clubs are prohibited in Nevada, he's going to open shop no matter what. Through the club, Werner will recommend physicians, caregivers and recipes for growing medical marijuana, as well as provide the product. All he needs to get his compassion club started is more patients, which really means more money.

The way he's going to operate his club is what will make it work, Werner says. Instead of being located in one place, his operation will be mobile.

When the Nevada Legislature initially envisioned a state medical marijuana program, it considered using a single state agency to distribute marijuana to qualified patients (according to Nevada Lawyer, which is published by the State Bar of Nevada). But after examining the medical marijuana programs in California and Oregon, the preferred course of action the state decided on left the supply and distribution "in the hands of patients," meaning a patient's plant can be shared with other patients, Werner explains.

The problem California cannabis clubs had with raids by federal agents discouraged the creation of a single agency. So instead of taking responsibility for supplying medical pot to patients from a central location, Nevada just said it's fine to smoke up with a doctor's note -- but where a patient finds this medicine is the patient's responsibility. A patient can grow it, but the state can't provide.

That's where Werner comes in.

"Supply and distribution matters are left to us," he says. "So as a patient, I should be able to provide to my fellow patients. Instead of the streets, I want to provide a safe environment for these people."

One of the significant aspects of Nevada's medical marijuana law is that a person who is legitimately engaged in or assisting in marijuana's medical use may raise an "affirmative defense" to certain criminal charges such as possession or distribution, according to Nevada Lawyer. This applies to any caregiver or patient regardless of whether that person is registered with the DOA.

And that affirmative defense is what Werner says protects medical marijuana providers.

"Say I'm not a patient and just an average Joe selling marijuana. If I sell to a medical marijuana patient, I cannot be charged with selling to that patient because that is now medical marijuana," he explains. "The average Joe is protected from certain charges."

A patient has the right to grow marijuana; and Werner says that if a patient grows too much, that person should be able to sell the excess. Werner sells his medical marijuana based on stress. Mexican stress sells for $80 to $100 per ounce and hydroponic stress goes for $300 to $350 an ounce.

"That's a legitimate use of medical marijuana," Werner says. "I tell my patients that if they grow too much, they can sell to me and I'll sell to the other patients."

But Jennifer Bartlett, program manager of Nevada's Medical Marijuana Program, says there is a limit to how much a patient can grow, and what is grown can't be sold. Under state law, a patient can have up to seven marijuana plants, Bartlett says.

"A patient can have four immature plants, three mature plants and an ounce of smoke-able marijuana under Nevada law," she says, explaining that a mature plant by the state's definition is a plant whose bud can be seen with the naked eye. "What a patient grows is just for their use."

Bartlett made it clear that the DOA is not affiliated with Werner's operation. And Werner, a registered DOA patient with a bipolar condition, wanted it made clear that since a patient cannot be a caregiver, he isn't one. He's simply a provider.

So, what's the difference?

If a DOA-registered patient is extremely sick, the patient can opt to have a caregiver care for them and their medical marijuana. That person -- usually the spouse or a family member of the patient -- must also register with the DOA.

Successful registration occurs after the patient's physician approves the applicant, who can never have been convicted of selling a controlled substance. Also, the person must sign a waiver acknowledging an understanding of the program and that they won't hold the state responsible for any delirious outcomes (such as a car accident while under the influence). Currently, there are 216 patients and 24 caregivers registered in Nevada, says Bartlett.

Werner says DOA registration is unnecessary because of affirmative defense, which protects anyone distributing to a patient.

"Approval from a medical doctor is all a patient and caregiver need to be legally recognized by the state and be afforded the same protections under affirmative defense," he says.

But there is one thing Werner wants understood -- all his clients are doctor-approved.

"I don't mess with recreational marijuana. I only sell medical marijuana."

Medical marijuana patients can contact Werner at 702-328-4420.

Mike Zigler is a CityLife staff writer.

Political Scientist

Despite the recent chaos, leaders of Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement -- the group behind the ballot question that would legalize the possession of three ounces or less of marijuana -- remain optimistic about Question 9's chances come Election Day.

Billy Rogers, the spokesman and leader of NRLE, said the recent controversy over the endorsement-turned-nonendorsement by the Nevada Conference of Police and Sheriffs won't hurt the initiative's chances; if anything, he said, it will help it by showing that the police are divided over the initiative.

And at least one of the state's most prominent political scientists agrees -- on that point and several others.

It's been a tough week for supporters of Question 9, which polls show to be a 50-50 proposition in terms of voter support. NCOPS, a police union umbrella organization, came forward Aug. 6 to endorse Question 9, stunning many observers because law enforcement organizations in Nevada had, up until that point, unanimously condemned the ballot question.

Within days, NCOPS was in shambles. Its president and one of its founders, former Metro officer Andy Anderson, resigned after some law enforcement officials freaked out about the endorsement - and after some NCOPS board members came forward claiming that they did not know what they were actually endorsing. NCOPS then reversed itself and announced that it opposed Question 9. Its credibility was badly damaged.

Rogers blamed the flip-flop on "the storm" caused after the Aug. 6 endorsement. He said he first approached Anderson about a month ago through a common friend. They had a lunch, Rogers said, during which Anderson indicated he supported Question 9. Anderson then said he'd take the matter to the NCOPS board.

"We were happy to receive the endorsement and we were pleasantly surprised by it," Rogers said, calling Anderson "courageous" for taking the steps he did.

Of course, all hell soon broke loose.

Despite NCOPS' current opposition to Question 9, Rogers claims that a "silent majority" of police officers in the state support the initiative - not because they are in favor of marijuana use, but because they spend way too much time arresting people for marijuana possession instead of doing more important things.

And, according to a report -- commissioned by the Nevada Division of Investigation for the 2001 Legislature -- Rogers may just have a point.

Eric Herzik, an associate professor and director of graduate studies in political science at the University of Nevada, Reno, was hired by NDI to head up the Nevada Substance Abuse Report. He said that its numbers clearly show what NRLE has been saying all along: Nevada police spend a lot of time on marijuana possession arrests.

The numbers are striking. Herzik said that in 1999 (the latest statistics available when the report was done), Nevada police made 5,406 arrests for marijuana possession. That's more than the number of arrests for the possession of all other drugs combined (3,550).

Herzik also points out that the number of arrests for more dangerous drugs -- like cocaine and methamphetamine -- go up and down depending on the year, but marijuana arrests have consistently been rising. In 1995, only 2,076 arrests were made for marijuana possession. That number nearly tripled in four years.

Herzik -- who said he had not been contacted by Rogers or anyone else from NRLE -- also said he agreed with Rogers that the NCOPS flip-flop won't hurt Question 9's chances.

"[The flip-flop] undercut some of the support for the marijuana initiative," Herzik said. "But voters will see that even the cops are ambivalent about the issue ... It may give the initiative a slight boost."

Herzik agreed with Rogers on one more point: Law enforcement, especially Metro, has been skirting the legal line on getting involved in political campaigns.

Late last week, as the NCOPS debacle played itself out, Metro Detective Todd Raybuck made several television appearances, most notably CNN's "Crossfire" on Aug. 8. With him, he had six ounces of marijuana from the Metro evidence locker - three loose ounces, and three rolled into joints - to make the point that three ounces is not a small amount of marijuana.

This infuriated Rogers (who also appeared on "Crossfire"), who sent a letter to Sheriff Jerry Keller. His beef: By using government resources unavailable to the public (pot from the evidence locker) and speaking out against Question 9 on government time, Raybuck was getting involved in a political campaign on the taxpayers' dime.

"We have to report all of our contributions and expenditures as a political action committee. We aren't allowed to use government resources," Rogers said. "At minimum, [Raybuck's actions] are unfair. At maximum, they're against state law."

Rogers said that aside from the letter to Keller asking him to forbid Raybuck and others from campaigning against Question 9 on work time, he would take no further action.

Raybuck's actions are borderline, if not illegal and unethical, Herzik agreed. He said a law enforcement union or organization taking action during non-work hours is one thing; this is another.

"Law enforcement is supposed to enforce the law, not make the law," Herzik said. "This is one of those things that is right on the margin."

Raybuck told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he went on "Crossfire" at the direction of Undersheriff Dick Winget and that the pot was used "for the training and education of the public." Winget told the Las Vegas Sun that they did not seek the attention, but they were simply responding to media requests.

But it's doubtful that Metro would have allowed Rogers to get pot from the locker at the request of the media to educate the public on how much three ounces of weed is. Although it would be fun to see him try.

Separating The Weed From The Chaff

Nevada now knows what to call it: Question 9.

Now, all the state needs to do is figure out what to make of it.

"It," of course, is the initiative that would amend the state Constitution to legalize three ounces or less of marijuana. And here's what we do know: Since the Secretary of State's Office on July 9 determined the signature drive to get the initiative on the ballot was successful, an increasing number of law-enforcement wonks have been coming forward to claim, essentially, that this initiative is a bad, ugly thing that will result in all sorts of heathen behavior and wanton crime if passed.

The people behind the pot petition have countered that these law enforcement officials are full of it and that Nevadans think cops should be worrying about murderers, not stoners.

And in the middle of the fray are state officials, who are preparing Question 9's ballot language in as fair of a way as possible while bracing for the possibility that the question could put them in blatant violation of federal law, resulting in all sorts of drama.

To top it off, all indications are that the vote is going to be reeeeaaaly close come November.

Gosh. Putting politics and pot together is kind of interesting, ain't it?

Pot's bad. No it's not.

Predictably, Question 9 has the collective underwear of many law enforcers and prosecutors in a bunch.

Two days after the initiative's ballot certification by the secretary of state, Drug Enforcement Administration Director Asa Hutchinson asked a crowd in Reno: If the ballot question is approved, "what kind of tourism will Nevada attract?" Hutchinson apparently forgot that Nevada already attracts tourists who like to gamble and see adult-themed shows and occasionally sneak into a rural county to legally boff a prostitute.

Then, Office of National Drug Policy Director John Walters showed up in Las Vegas and claimed, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, that Question 9 would make Nevada the "vacation spot for drug traffickers." He also claimed that the pot of today is stronger than the pot that Baby Boomers smoked when they were kids. Looking at some of the freaky stuff Boomers came up with in the 1960s, we're skeptical.

This was followed by a vote by the Nevada District Attorney's Association to oppose Question 9, with some folks using the age-old argument that marijuana is a gateway drug to more serious drugs.

Stewart Bell, the Clark County District Attorney who is not running for re-election but is instead running for a District Court seat this year -- and who, it should be noted, did not participate in the Nevada District Attorney's Association vote -- is more reasonable about things.

"We believe that having possession of a small amount of marijuana as a misdemeanor protects the community without treating it more harshly than it deserves," he said, choosing his words carefully since he won't be the D.A. when and if the initiative goes into effect -- although he could be a judge, and judges are not supposed to take public positions on such issues.

"We support the current law," he said.

Billy Rogers, a representative of the pro-pot group Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement (a name that gives some police officers fits), which is funded by the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, called these claims by prosecutors and law enforcement officials "disinformation campaigns" and, appropriately, "smoke screens."

"Ultimately, most Nevadans don't think that it's appropriate to waste tax dollars on going after people who possess a small amount of marijuana," said Rogers, who works for the Marijuana Policy Project. "They'd rather the police use their resources on criminals such as murderers and rapists." Where Rogers got the idea that Nevada cops are focusing on catching tokers in favor of catching killers, we aren't sure.

Long story short: Both sides are a little full of it, which is to be expected, seeing as politics is involved.

Stop the madness

Amidst all the rhetoric sits the state, which is in the unenviable (yet somewhat amusing) position of trying to present Question 9 fairly and impartially to the public, even though the whole darned thing is illegal according to federal law.

"We're kind of in a monitoring phase," said Gina Session, a senior deputy attorney general.

The attorney general's office is not taking a position on the issue, although it certainly has some concerns. Tom Sargent, a spokesman for the office, said he personally had some problems with how some of the signature-gatherers for Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement misrepresented the effort as being primarily over medical marijuana. That's not the case; medical marijuana is already legal in the state. While Question 9 does have a medical marijuana element (it would make the state set up a marijuana distribution system for patients), it's only a small part of it.

But now that the question is on the ballot, that's moot.

"It would be unbecoming for us to sound off too early on whether this is a good law or a bad law," Sargent said, adding that the office could lobby the Legislature one way or another if the amendment is passed this year and in 2004, making it part of the state Constitution. If that happens, the 2005 Legislature would be mandated to make the appropriate changes to state law.

For now, the state's job is to make sure that the ballot language for Question 9 is as fair and noncontroversial as possible. Susan Morandi, a deputy secretary of state for elections, is finishing up a draft of that language. After her office signs off on the language, she said, the attorney general's office will take a gander. Any suggestions will be sent back to the Secretary of State's office, which will finalize the language and then send it to the county clerks to place on the November ballot. The language should be finalized by the first week of August, she said.

"It's very important to be able to make the language understandable and accurate so citizens are fully able to understand what [the initiative] is going to do," Morandi said.

This is important -- and potentially controversial. The language on several recent initiatives, including the medical marijuana initiative (in 1998 and 2000) and the so-called "Protection of Marriage" initiative (in 2000 and this year) has been called into question for fairness.

The Secretary of State's Office also went the extra mile to help fairly educate the public on the issue, recently holding televised public forums in Las Vegas and Reno (on July 23 and July 22 respectively).

Beyond the question language, the state's role now can be summed up in one word: wait. Wait and see if Question 9 passes. Wait and see what the federal law is in 2005, when the Legislature will have to deal with it if it does pass. (There are some whispers in Congress to make marijuana laws more of a state issue than a federal issue.)

"Lots of questions are unanswerable until this is passed, if it's passed," Morandi said.

It's gonna be close

All indications are that Question 9's fate will come down to the wire. A recent Las Vegas Review-Journal/Mason-Dixon poll showed that 44 percent of those queried supported the question, while 46 were opposed. The remainder was undecided.

That's close, folks.

Rogers, of Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement, thinks those results were a bit off. He accurately points out that the pollsters only mentioned that "possession of 3 ounces or less of marijuana by a person aged 21 or older [would not be] a cause for arrest," and that it did not mention that it would be illegal in public, to minors, and so on.

"We're doing much better than an even race right now," Rogers said, predicting that Question 9 would pass. He also promised that his group would "educate the public" on the issue between now and November. How, exactly, that "education" will be done will be determined closer to Labor Day, he said. Bet on an advertising/media campaign.

But there are also some problems that could hinder Question 9. One surfaced this week, when a group of Clark County prosecutors came forward to say the initiative could weaken DUI prosecutions, because the proposed amendment says that "driving dangerously" while under the influence of marijuana would be illegal. That one word, "dangerously," could let stoned drivers off the hook if they were pulled over for something non-dangerous, the prosecutors claim. And make no mistake about it -- one or two faulty words in a law can indeed create crippling loopholes.

Another potential Achilles' heel for Question 9 is the three-ounce provision. While Rogers has been brilliant at claiming that three ounces is a "small amount" of marijuana -- newspapers and TV, for the most part, have ignorantly gone along with this -- that's debatable. By Rogers' own admission, that's the equivalent of three to four packs of cigarettes, or 60-80 joints. (Some say that three ounces could make even more joints than that.) Considering that only the biggest stoners use pot more than once or twice a day, this is enough for weeks -- or even months -- for virtually all potheads.

When asked why the line was drawn at three ounces, Rogers said that's often the standard used by law enforcement on what is a small amount of pot (although an informal CityLife poll of stoners disagreed). However, in Nevada, that line has been set at one ounce.

In any case, the next three months are going to be quite interesting in the state. Expect a ton of rhetoric from both sides -- and expect a nailbiter come Election Day.

Strange Changes

I have always held the assumption - and it's a reasonable one, by the way - that quantum teleportation would not happen until after quantum computing. Even so, I've been going around for a while now telling people that quantum teleportation was probably no more than 20 years away. "It'll be like 'Star Trek,'" I'd say. "You could just teleport around. It would mean the end of everything we know now." They would always laugh at me and say, "Twenty years? More like 500." And of course, I had to agree that this was possible, and they would tell me I was overly optimistic and a big technophile, and then they would make me buy them another beer, since these conversations usually happened in bars.

This week, scientists at the Australian National University announced that they have performed a successful quantum teleportation experiment, in which they teleported an information-bearing laser beam from one side of a room to another.

Laugh at me now, you fuckers. Next round's on you.

This doesn't mean you'll be seeing a teleport station in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog next to the personal submarine and the gold-plated underwear hanger any time soon. Teleporting atoms is a very different proposition than teleporting photons, which is what light (and hence laser beams) are made of. Right now, the practical applications of this experiment are limited to three things: 1) optical computer networking, 2) quantum computing and 3) getting every researcher involved in the project wildly fucked by nerd groupies. Well, one would hope so, at any rate. But the implications of this project are still mostly in the laboratory, not on the street, and will be for a while.

It's still a major breakthrough in quantum physics, and there are a few more textbooks that need to be rewritten ... but what's most fascinating about the Australian teleportation experiment is that it essentially comes out of nowhere. Well, not nowhere; IBM's been working on it for a while, and CalTech did something similar four years ago. It's always been possible in theory. But there hasn't really been a lot of talk in the scientific community about seriously doing teleportation, in this century anyway. It was always assumed that you would first have to invent a quantum computer capable of handling the processing power required to tear something into its component particles and then put it back together. So when somebody actually goes ahead and teleports something, without the aid of quantum computers and well ahead of even the most optimistically drunk futurist's schedule, it's kind of ... well, it's kind of embarrassing.

The problem with predicting the future is that you often end up looking like an asshole. Look at the poor bastards in the 1950s who kept saying things like, "Everybody on Earth will have a flying car by, oh, I don't know, 1976. At the latest." The only thing everybody on Earth had in 1976 was a bad haircut and a copy of Frampton Comes Alive!, and we still don't have flying cars or holographic televisions or food pills or artificial intelligence, or any of the goofy stuff that was supposed to be a part of everyday life by the year 2000.

But even the most fanciful technology prophet doesn't look quite as stupid as the dumbass who errs too far on the side of caution. Thomas Watson of IBM was quoted in 1943 as saying that the world would only need "maybe five computers." I have nine working computers in my house. Even as recently as the early 1990s, Robert Metcalfe - the inventor of Ethernet - claimed that the Internet would collapse due to overpopularization in 1996. Scientific history is full of these sort of statements, most of which get proven wrong almost immediately. Heavier-than-air flight is impossible. Telephones will never achieve popular usage. The sound barrier will never be broken. We won't be able to actually clone a mammal until some time in the middle of the 21st century. People believed all of these things, some of them until quite recently.

Look at the world around you. Nanotechnology is fast becoming a reality. Human cloning is right around the corner. Quantum teleportation leads to quantum computing, which leads eventually to parallel-universe hopping ... and is there anybody who's really willing to put hard money on how soon this stuff is gonna come down the pipeline? Anybody? I didn't think so. Sooner rather than later seems to be the best stance to take. Things are happening faster; the Internet allows scientists to share findings and compare notes much more quickly than they used to. Projects that used to take decades can now take only months. I suspect that this quantum teleportation deal has cut 10 years off the timetable for the invention of commercial quantum computers.

But I might be wrong. It might be three years. It might be 30. I've learned that I'm never going to see everything coming down the road of technology. All I can do, as David Bowie said in that dim dead year of 1971, is turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes, and keep my eye out for the Next Big Thing.

Joshua Ellis, raconteur and deranged futurist, has a doctorate in divinity from the Universal Life Church. He can be contacted at jzellis@yahoo.com or on the web at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/paranoid_annex, the discussion group for this column.

Nevada Initiative Has a Chance

Over the last month and a half, they’ve been seemingly everywhere -- libraries, the DMV, meetings, etc. -- with their petitions and pens. This small army of clipboard-holding minions, some paid and some volunteers, has one goal: The legalization of marijuana in Nevada.

Not just medical marijuana -- that’s already legal as the result of a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters in 1998 and 2000. This is the legalization of the use and possession of three ounces or less of marijuana by anybody 21 or older.

In other words, it could be 4:20 in Nevada 24/7 if this amendment gets enough signatures to make the ballot, and is then approved by voters this year and in 2004.

The folks behind this movement, a newly formed political action committee called Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement, were tight-lipped about their efforts before the June 18 signature submission deadline. Gail Tuzzolo, a paid political consultant heading up the PAC, said the group was too focused on getting enough signatures to talk to the media.

“We’re sort of doing our news blackout,” Tuzzolo said. “We’re not talking to the press. We’re working on getting all the signatures in.”

Bruce Mirken, the director of communications of the Marijuana Policy Project (the Washington, D.C.-based group behind Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement), was also quiet about the campaign.

“We’re in the process of getting signatures,” he said. “We’ll have a lot to say when it gets on the ballot. ... We’re not seeking coverage right now, because we’re seeking signatures.”

In defense of these folks, they did have their hands full. The group had to turn in at least 61,336 voters to the secretary of state -- that’s 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the 2000 statewide election. Additionally, signatures representing 10 percent of the total of 2000 votes from 13 of the state’s 17 counties had to be be included. The group had only been collecting signatures since May 9. That’s a lot of John Hancocks in a short amount of time, and the group estimated they’ll need about 110,000 total signatures for enough of them to be valid.

Well, on June 18 that the group announced that it had filed more than 107,000 petition signatures with the state’s 17 county clerks. The group claimed it got more than 10 percent in 15 of the 17 counties, although the group submitted signatures in all 17 counties.

In other words, it could be close.

“We’re confident that we’ve collected enough signatures to qualify this initiative for the November ballot,” said NRLE spokesman Billy Rogers in a news release.

So now here’s what happens: The various counties will go through a signature verification process, and then report the results to the Secretary of State. This must be done by Aug. 7, according to the Secretary of State. If there are enough signatures, it will be placed on the general election ballot. If it passes, it will appear on the ballot again in 2004 (constitutional amendments must pass voters twice).

This process, of course, does not count potential court battles that could throw a wrench in things.

NRLE seems confident that the initiative, if presented to voters, will pass.

"Most Nevadans believe that people should not be arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana," said Rogers in the release. "This initiative will allow the police to spend more time going after murderers, rapists and other violent criminals, rather than wasting valuable resources hunting down tens of thousands of nonviolent marijuana users."

So, what does this all mean? Let’s break it down. The initiative, if successful, would amend the Nevada Constitution to say the following:

• That the use or possession of three ounces or less of weed by anybody 21 or older would not be a “cause for arrest, civil or criminal penalty, or seizure or forfeiture of assets.” In other words, pot would be legal in the eyes of the state constitution.

• The state would have to develop “a system of regulation, designed to curb the unlawful production of marijuana, for the cultivation, taxation, sale, and distribution of marijuana ...”

• Advertising of pot would be illegal.

• Weed would be taxed similar to tobacco and cigarettes.

• It could not be used in cars or public places, and you could not be “driving dangerously” or operating heavy machinery while under the influence.

Of course, marijuana would still be illegal under federal law, opening a very interesting can of worms.

NRLE is painting the initiative primarily as something to help out medical marijuana users by instituting a system for distribution, and by making it so sick patients wouldn’t need a doctor’s permission to get the marijuana (many doctors have been weary to sign off on marijuana use, fearing the feds).

The petition drive comes two years after voters approved medical marijuana, and just months after the 2001 Legislature chilled out what was one of the nation’s toughest marijuana laws. Before, marijuana possession was a felony; now, in small amounts, it is simply a misdemeanor.

All of this is very interesting, but why Nevada? The Marijuana Policy Project has been willing to pay $1-$2 per signature and shell out big bucks for a consultant to get this measure on the ballot. Sure, Nevada’s relatively small size makes it easier to do this here than in, say, California. And it would set a nice precedent; if this ballot initiative passes muster, Nevada would become the first state to effectively give the finger to the feds in terms of marijuana laws. But beyond that, why choose Nevada for this groundbreaking move?

And what will the consequences be? Considering that George W. Bush and John Ashcroft are in office, what would they do to Nevada if this makes it through?

It’s all fun to speculate about, assuming the petition drive is successful. And that’s a moderately big “if” at this point.

The Day the Music Sucked

2001 bristled with tragedy. There was heart-biting despair, weepy anguish and everything we cared about seemed lost or damaged. And that's just what happened to the music industry.

It was virtually nonstop bad news for music. Album sales dropped like they were kneed in the nuts. According to the tracking firm Soundscan, sales were off almost 3 percent. That's freakin' unheard of in this age of shameless promotion directed towards every demographic niche, when even fetuses shop at Best Buy. Apparently, the record industry strong-armed Napster out of business for nada. Radio stations are mired in an advertising recession, and touring acts play to echoing empty venues. While some of that can be pinned on the wheezing economy and the aftermath of Sept. 11, mostly it's because the music produced in 2001 smelled like ass.

There was nothing of substance to grab on to. No dominant trend propelled the industry. Nu-metal got pushed aside by nu-soul, which got walloped by nu-grunge, which fizzled. When the most talked about musical event of the year was a series of holiday Gap commercials, it's no wonder industry analysts are hunkered down in a sulking whisky-funk.

Where were the summer anthems of years past like "Macarena" and "Mambo No. 5?" Where were those grating jingles that wedge in your brain, sucking up all the airtime and pushing you to the brink of a bouncy and infectious suicide? Want to know who let the dogs out in 2001? No one. The dogs did not go out. They stayed inside gnawing on furniture, urinating on the rug and turning feral and mean. That was the state of music last year.

The good news is 2002 has got to be better. No way it can get any worse. So here now are a few predictions of what to expect from the music industry in the upcoming year.

America will turn once again to romance. And to capture that mood, the song most frequently requested at weddings is "Suck and Let Go" a minimalist punk electro ditty by Peaches. Number two on the list is another Peaches tune, "Fuck the Pain Away." Ah, memories.

Whitney Houston will continue to shrivel. Over the summer the skeletal 46-pound diva will die in a drug related incident. While attempting to snort cocaine she is sucked inside the rolled up $20 dollar bill where she suffocates.

Calling George Harrison's death a wake-up call, Jon "Bowzer" Bauman will rejoin Sha Na Na in the year's most eagerly anticipated reunion tour, electrifying the crowds at county fairs and car shows all across the country. Unfortunately, the gangly greaser's return forces Sha Na Na to dump their current frontman, David Lee Roth.

Jill Sobule releases her long awaited follow-up, "I Went Down on a Girl."

A white and noseless Michael Jackson will release a new album with enough macho posturing and swaggering bitch-slappy bravado to finally convince everyone there's nothing creepy or desperate about him, no sir. Nothing at all.

NSync's Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears will announce their engagement. No wedding date is set but Britney tells reporters she hopes to wed sometime within the next few years and that she intends to remain a ravenous cockteasing virgin until then.

Justin Timberlake dies suddenly in what doctors describe as "a massive testicular implosion resulting from acute seminal fluid backup."

Following the success of cartoon-pop band Gorillaz, The Banana Splits come out of retirement with a critically acclaimed album, "Split for the Coast." All except for Splits guitarist and lead singer, Fleegle who died of heartworm in 1987 and is replaced by David Lee Roth.

Mick Jagger's solo album will finally break the magic mark of 10,000 units sold, when each of his illegitimate children buys one.

MTV announces they will begin airing video footage of rectal surgeries, Congressional procedure coverage and snuff films as part of their ongoing effort to play anything except a music video.

In a stunning upset, boy band O-Town walks off with eight Grammys, including one for Lifetime Achievement. Afterwards a Grammy spokesperson explains, "Big deal. We felt sorry for the talentless little acne-wagons so we threw them a bone. It's not like anyone takes this crap seriously. Come on, we're the Grammys!"

Office Party Survival Guide

Maintaining proper etiquette at your office holiday party is crucial in these times of economic uncertainty. Use this easy to follow guide to keep your fast track reputation intact.

Use proper business protocol. Even though music is playing, food and alcohol are being served and people are laughing, the office party is most definitely a business function. Behave accordingly. For example, while moderate drinking is acceptable, use of needle drugs is not. So shoot up in the car before entering the party. That way you should hit the door like a battering ram of teeth-grinding frivolity.

Determine proper attire. Unless it is a black tie event, an open-nipple rubber cat suit is considered de rigeur. Add a floor-length cape of baby otter skin to stand out from the crowd without diminishing your professionalism.

Acknowledge your boss. Find your boss soon after arriving. Thank him for hosting the event and take a moment to chat but don't monopolize his time. Once you see that he is engaged in conversation with someone else, take advantage of the opportunity to go have sex on his desk with the little hottie from Human Resources.

Acknowledge your co-workers. After you have finished having sex on your boss's desk, check to make sure that no sticky notes, memos or calendar pages have stuck to the hottie's sweat-slick ass. After returning to the party be sure to describe the hottie's technique and overall effort in great detail to your colleagues. This reinforces your position as a team player.

Mingle. Introduce yourself to someone you don't know. It may turn out to be someone who can help you on your next project. Not the mingling type? Then find someone who looks as miserable as you feel and ask if they want to duck into the supply closet to get high and badmouth the senior management.

Take care of your clients. If you have clients that are attending the party, remember they are your responsibility. Hover over their shoulders throughout the evening to make sure they don't steal stuff. Before they leave, escort them into a conference room and perform a full cavity search. Maintenance usually keeps a stock of rubber gloves, but be sure to put them back when finished.

Spouse appreciation. If spouses are invited, make sure they are treated as real people and not just an appendage. When introducing your spouse or date to a co-worker, include pertinent information to help break the ice. "Honey, this is Dave. He's the one I always talk about. You know, that prick from Accounting who steals my food out of the refrigerator."

Glad-handing. When being introduced to someone, make sure you look that person in the eye and greet them with a firm knuckle punch or chest bump. Don't worry about remembering their name, just refer to them as "dog" and announce to everyone within earshot that you are now totally down with this person. They'll appreciate the mad props.

Give wisely. If you are expected to bring a "Secret Santa" gift for a co-worker, determine the cost range and come prepared. The trick is giving something that is practical yet fun. Something like a sex toy. Everybody loves sex toys. Especially the kind that can be worn under clothing and that rotate when you flip a switch.

Don't be afraid to volunteer. Offer to finish off any leftover food that would otherwise go to waste, even if it means you have to vomit first, which you promised yourself you weren't going to do this time. Also, if the bar starts running low on supplies, whip up a batch of your special office egg nog: Kahlua, Seven-Up and Wite-Out.

Leave gracefully. A good guest always knows when to exit. Right after the police have subdued and cuffed you is generally a good time. Don't forget to thank your boss on the way out, and to wish him happy holidays.

Fat and Freaked Out on Turkey Day

Then we're all agreed: Thanksgiving came along at exactly the right moment this year.

After the widespread anxiety and heaving uncertainty of recent events we needed a warm fuzzy holiday, an excuse to gather with loved ones around big tables creaking beneath the weight of carb-laden comfort food. A turkey so mammoth it could be mistaken for a succulent Great Dane flipped on its back. A trough of beets, yams pyramided to the ceiling, a bushel basket of dinner rolls, a full carrier group of gravy boats, giblets galore and a pumpkin pie topped with a dollop of mincemeat pie.

We strap forks to the wrists to prevent a crippling attack of carpal tunnel and windmill in the grub. There's no stopping until we hit tablecloth and then we suck the stains from our napkins. It is a frenzy that would mortify hyenas.

Afterwards, we shower the cook with praise and unbutton pants to let blood circulate to our throbbing digestive tracts. And right there, in that quiet moment as we begin to slip into a languorous stupor, that's when we have our Norman Rockwell epiphany.

We do a quick inventory of the familiar faces surrounding us, a Scorsese-style 360 degree slow pan around the room. Here are the most important people in our world, the people we cherish above all others. Our. Loved. Ones.

How is it then, that with seemingly no effort on their part, they still manage to drive us right straight up the freakin' wall?!

With just a well-remembered gesture or tone or phrase or inflection in the voice, they totally punch our buttons, torque us off and push us to the brink. They make us crazy! Grrrr! Which leads to the next question: just what kind of brain-numbing snake oil was that huckster Rockwell peddling anyway?

It's not supposed to be like this. United we stand, we're in this together, never go against the family, yada yada yada. Pundits are practically beating us over the head with the new post-terrorism tight-knit family unit. Oprah, Rosie and The View chicks all swear by it.

Is it us then, is it our problem? Why can't we achieve some higher level of squishy tolerance? Are we the shallow hals, sitting there, picking cranberry skins out of our teeth and taking offense at everything that gets said?

"You look good." Just what the hell does that mean? "How have you been?" We don't remember signing on for this kind of interrogation. "We miss you." Ah. Now it's clear where this is going. This is about the goat-sacrificing Satanist with the felony rap sheet we were living with over the summer isn't it? God, that is so over! Not that it's any of their business.

If they want to know, they should just ask, like normal people instead of prying in their benevolently tolerant way. Dammit, if we weren't oozing stuffing out of every orifice we would stomp off to our room in a huff and slam the door behind us. Except of course, that we're in our 30's and don't live here anymore.

Well, at least until we bring our belongings in from the car. And even then it's only for a few months. Just until we find another dot-com willing to offer us a fat signing bonus, lunchtime massages and a foosball table in the conference room. Then we are out of this dump. So just back off. You're not the boss of us.

What's that? Another piece of pie? Well, all right, a small one. Laundry? Sure, we've got some laundry that needs to be done. And you'll fold it afterwards and use fabric softener, won't you? Mmmm... softly fragrant.

Sleep in tomorrow? That sounds okay. Yeah, bacon and eggs and hash browns and waffles and fresh squeezed oj for breakfast sounds fine. And a little more of this pie couldn't hurt. Hey, maybe later we'll build a fire in the fireplace and play cards.

By the way, does anyone know how many days until Christmas?

Days of Wine and Bushes

So far the tastiest moment in the great hooch saga was when presidential spokesman, Ari Fleischer went all Tony Soprano on the White House press corps' ink-stained asses.

Responding to a question about the president's reaction to his daughters being cited for underage drinking, Fleischer dialed his orbs down to the Heavy-Lidded setting favored among loan sharks and growled, "I would urge all of you to very carefully think through how much you want to pursue this. You fuckin' hear what I'm saying to you, you fuckin' needledicks?"

It was beautiful. Finally, a front line flak that has the stones to go after the media jackals, to threaten to rain down a vindictive turdstorm on those low-minded sucks for their shameless liberal bias.

What? You think the media doesn't apply a double standard in these kinds of situations? That elected Democrats and their spawn are treated the same as Republicans and their Republican progeny? Then explain the bloody incident in 1978 when Amy Carter shot a man just to watch him die.

You would think something like that would garner a few headlines, right? Teenage daughter of the president guns a man down in cold blood. A thrill-killing at the hands of the soft spoken freckle-faced Baptist girl. But no. Most news bureaus ignored it completely, or buried it as a human interest piece.

Crazy thing is the guy didn't die right away. He was in a coma for a few months hooked up to a respirator. They thought he was going to be a vegetable but he regained consciousness and started to show signs of improvement. He was able to communicate with his doctors through a series of blinks and was squeezing the hands of his loved ones. The prognosis was good. Then Amy Carter shows up at the hospital, high on uppers and finished the job by jamming an icepick in his eye.

Again, zilch for coverage. Carter pays a fine, receives some counseling and the whole thing is swept under the rug, almost as if it never happened. But now that the White House is occupied by a staunch conservative, it's a whole new enchilada.

Ever since the election controversy, left-leaning reporters have been licking their chops, waiting for the chance to nail one or both of the Bush daughters. Phase Uno of their fiendish plan was planting a variety of alcoholic beverages in bars and restaurants throughout the Austin area where Jenna, the twin built for sin, is a college student. Then the media advertised the availability of said spirits. Then they hired bartenders to dispense the liquor and musicians to entertain bar patrons. And in a final stroke of evil genius, the media raised the legal drinking age to 21. Then the media crouched on their hairy haunches, monitoring a police scanner. It was pure entrapment, a set-up from the words Go...get me another Jell-O shot.

How could the media be so sure the girls would take the boozy bait? They had seen to that months earlier. In a frenzy of muckraking, the press had uncovered the details of George W. Bush's long ago DUI arrest. Mr. Bush explained that the only reason he had concealed the incident for 24 years was to shield his daughters, who are both as fragile and beautiful as glass figurine angels handblown by hillbilly artists working at Dollywood, and also highly impressionable.

His fears proved too well founded. Perhaps it was their eagerness to win parental approval or maybe their utter pliability is some kind of inherited condition, but for whatever reason the girls were quickly lured down the high octane trial blazed by their Pops.

Now instead of giving this family time to heal in private the media gleefully savages the girls, insinuating they are supposed to be held accountable for their own actions somehow. Even President Bush is dragged into the bitter debate which is, of course, staggering nonsense. Could someone please point to where it is written that a father is responsible for instilling common sense and moral character in his children? What kind of liberal elitist propaganda is that?

Let's step back from the brink of hysteria for a second. Cancel the impeachment proceedings. This incident needs to be kept in perspective. Sure, laws were broken but there is something much more important to consider. According to all reports, the girls were in a bar and were drinking. They may have even been drunk. And while all indications are this is normal behavior for both of them, they were not, repeat NOT, engaged in karaoke.

And at the end of the day, isn't that kind of good sound judgment we all pray for our children to have?

XFL Meets PGA

This summer, forget everything you thought you knew about golf.

PGA Announcer: (whispering) We’re back at the fourteenth hole, where Tiger Woods has this short putt for birdie, and to regain a share of the lead. It is slightly uphill and should break gently to the right. He’s lining it up... (yells) Oh my God! Out of nowhere Davis Love III levels Tiger with a flying drop kick! Woods is stunned. Love tries to finish him with an atomic knee drop but Woods rolls clear. Tiger scrambles to his feet and tries to set himself for the putt, it’s about a three footer... What’s this? Tiger’s own caddie comes running in from the fringe and cracks him across the skull with a seven iron! Tiger is face down on the green and he appears to be convulsing. Can you believe what you’re seeing, Jesse "The Body" Ventura?

Body: I’m in shock! That’s not nearly enough club for a swing like that. If he would have used a driver and rotated his hips more, there would be skull fragments and pieces of brain flying around like melon chunks at a Gallagher show. Just grip it and rip it, you pansy. Hey, speaking of unbelievable, check out the rack on that blonde cheerleader on the end. Those titties rock! Now that states are going around naming official snacks, Utah can pound Jell-O up it’s whitebread ass, I declare those jiggle-babies as Minnesota’s state snack. Hoo-haw! As governor, I can totally do that you know.

PGA Announcer: I’ve never witnessed this kind of carnage on the links before. I think I may become ill.

Body: And we owe it all to the vision and foresight of one man: Vince McMahon. He’s done for the PGA what he did for the NFL. He got rid of the boring crap and just serves up the juicy parts. This is what the fans want, plenty of action and gore and cleavage, you betcha.

PGA Announcer: But I’m confused. Why would Tiger’s own caddie turn on him like that? It seems devilishly unsporting.

Body: That’s not Tiger’s caddie. It’s Tiger’s arch nemesis, "The Hindu Hitman," Vijay Singh.

Vijay: (to the cheering crowd) Yes, yes. Can you smell please what it is that Vijay Singh is cooking?

Body: Welcome to the XGA, Tiger! This is golf in the extreme! It’s old fashioned smashmouth golf with plenty of throat ripping, eye gouging action just like I remember from the days when Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan were having at each other.

PGA Announcer: Let’s go to the twelfth, where Phil Mickelson delivers a devastating elbow smash to Ernie Els, causing Ernie’s tee shot to bounce into the parking lot.

Body: Sonofabitch better not hit my governor’s limo. I just had it detailed. Mickelson tries a fallaway slam but Els scissors his legs out from under him. Here we go now. Els slaps his patented move on Mickelson: the ball scrubber! That’s gonna be all she wrote. There’s no way out of this. It’ll sound like he’s been sucking helium when he talks for the next month and chances are he’ll never reproduce again.

PGA Announcer: So the more long lasting the damage inflicted, the greater the thrill. Interesting. We’ll be back at the Bo-Bo Brazil Sleeper Hold Invitational right after this important message.

McMahon: Hello, I’m Vince McMahon. If you’re like me, you’re sick and tired of golf being played by some pampered candy-ass in ugly pants who needs total silence just to pick his nose. That’s why I created the XGA. It’s got something for everyone; exploding putters, quicksand in the bunkers, pungi sticks and bouncing bettys in the rough and a drunked-up John Daly careening down the fairway in a golf cart with a loaded .45 in his lap. Plus, no holds barred physical contact between golfers. So everybody’s got a crack at the belt. Or the cup, or the green jacket or whatever they win at these things. Check out the XGA! It’s hardcore and stone cold! And you better believe that none of these players replace their divots.

Body: The XGA! It breaks par while kicking ass!

McMahon: And be sure to watch this fall, when I bring on my newest league, the XBA. It’s bowling to the extreme! Really hot looking women in wet T-shirts bowling with human heads. Now that’s entertainment.

Mom Stole My Parachute

Note to the yowling hordes of the freshly downsized: quit yer bitchin'.

Everybody's bemoaning this gut-wrenching economic downturn and their abrupt dropping of wealth. First stock options tanked, then jobs disappeared. Boo-hoo. Deal with it.

Sure, the tsunami of layoffs doesn't bode well for the peon-friendly perk-intensive workplaces that have become the norm but holy crud, they were just some kind of freakish blip on the employment scene. You knew that sweet ride couldn't last.

Say adios to your signing bonuses, benefit packages and lavish perks. No more free lattes, office massages or company Porsches. No more cubicle Jacuzzis, conference rooms with aromatherapy candles or company sanctioned naps. Forget about the lax dress code and the bring-your-child/pet/crackwhore-to-work policy.

Now it's back to the sweatshop mentality of yore, where bosses actually boss and hiring standards are enforced. Last year a drifter with a shaved head and prison tats who showed up to interviews with a human foot in a sack was being wooed by six different companies to fill a VP slot in marketing. Today, he'd be lucky to score a low level position in accounting.

Big deal. At least you have a shot at landing another job. You're only being jacked around by a heartless merger-spawned mega-conglomerate. I was ripped off by my very own mother.

You heard right. I got screwed by dear old mom. My financial security, gone. My early retirement, pissed away for no good reason. All thanks to the woman who gave birth to me, nurtured and raised me. Talk about your mixed signals.

The following is a tragic but true story.

I was browsing in a funky old used books and music emporium near my house last week when something caught my eye. Nestled behind several inches of bulletproof glass, protected by an array of video cameras, trip alarms, floor-mounted motion sensors and armed guards was a treasure of heartbreaking beauty. A Fantastic Four Marvel Comic, # 48, "The Coming of Galactus."

All right, maybe it was just inside a Plexiglas cabinet with a couple of candy wrappers on the floor and a baggy-pants skateboard jockey lurking nearby, but the cabinet did appear to be locked.

What snagged my attention about this particular rarity was that it belonged to me. Or had in the past. Maybe not this very copy, but the exact same issue. I checked the price tag: $700. I was gazing upon a $700 comic book.

My mind raced, trying to remember the last place I had seen my copy of Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics, # 48, "The Coming of Galactus." Oh, yeah. Last spotted in my mom's garage sale approximately 25 years ago, along with all my other comic books, priced to move at 3 cents each. As philosopher and poet, Homer Simpson has been known to proclaim, "D'oh!"

I called my mom later that night and let her have it with both barrels. How dare she dispose of my valuable property, she had no right, what was she thinking, was there something wrong with her brain, I'll never forgive her, expect to hear from my attorney, etc. Until she finally said something about it being my idea to sell all my comic books in the first place because I wanted to make room for my collection of Mott the Hoople memorabilia, and that I had even filled out the 3 cent price tag with a magic marker I had taken from her sewing kit. A blue one, if she wasn't mistaken.

Well, there's no use trying to talk to her when she's babbling incoherently, so I just hung up. Obviously the woman is totally disconnected from the secondary collectible market. Because the comic book fiasco isn't even the worst of her financial miscues.

Get this... she let me play with my toys. It seems incomprehensible now, but it's true. Instead of trying to preserve the mint condition of my toys by keeping them sealed in their original boxes, high up and out of reach on some shelf in a controlled environment, thus guaranteeing their value to a collector in the years to come, she just handed them over and let me engage in play-like activity. It was insane.

I probably lost a bundle in defaced army men alone. Especially since one rainy Saturday afternoon I used an electric pencil sharpener to create a platoon of coneheads. Hey, war is hell.

Fortunately, over Sunday dinner, just before I went all habeus corpus on her ass, my mother and I reached an out of court settlement. For my emotional suffering I received an extra piece of blueberry pie.

And there is more good news to report. I checked back at the bookstore and the price for the comic book in question has been slashed to a measly $595.

When it gets to 3 cents, I'm buying it. I don't care what my mom says.

Ho Ho Huh? A Guide to Christmas Trivia

Did you know...

To honor the birth of Jesus, the Three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem bearing gifts of frankincense, gold and a Hungry, Hungry Hippo game.

Before Santa Claus, John the Baptist distributed presents to children around the world. Unfortunately, many kids were severely traumatized after being forced to sit on the lap of a headless man and he was quickly replaced by the jollier, and easier on the eyes, Saint Nick

Santa's middle name is Pugsley.

Santa's first crew consisted of highly trained lemurs. But their shoddy workmanship and frequent breaks to groom each other for parasites slowed toy production to a virtual standstill. According to the current contract, elves are allowed only two 15-minute parasite grooming breaks per shift.

During the filming of White Christmas, Danny Kaye died from choking on his own vomit. Kaye's final scenes were shot by attaching his corpse to an overhead boom with fishing line. Extra crew members had to be hired to fend off the gathering swarms of flies but the results speak for themselves. The movie has become a holiday classic and also spawned the highly successful Weekend at Bernie's franchise.

According to a radio survey, the most requested Christmas songs of all time are "Jingle Bells," "That Fa La La Song," and "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

Eggnog remains far and away the most popular of the nog-based beverages, easily beating out both olivenog and clamnog.

The Island of Misfit Toys was briefly considered as a site for the television show, Survivor.

The most common questions children ask Santa: "Is your beard real?" "What's your cholesterol level?" "Is Rudolph's red nose the result of years of alcohol abuse?"

The most common questions investigative reporters ask Santa: "Are you still dating Courtney Love?" "Where the hell is the Nissan Pathfinder I asked for last Christmas, lardo?" "Is your beard real?"

Cutting down a tree and bringing it indoors during the holiday season is meant to symbolize Man's unrelenting domination over puny Nature.

A lot of mail intended for Santa's workshop accidentally ends up at the neighboring compound, Superman's Fortress of Solitude.

In many parts of the world, cheese balls are an affliction, not a delicious holiday snack.

Office Christmas parties are the perfect way to show off social skills and launch a fast track career advancement plan. Just follow a few simple guidelines to stand out from the crowd. Always check the toner level in the Xerox machine before running off copies of your ass or other body parts. Use of hallucinogenic drugs is not yet widely accepted in a corporate environment, so it is best to eat the peyote buttons on the ride to the party. Be polite but not afraid to voice a distinct opinion. If you think your boss's wife dresses like a whore who specializes in fetish play, let him know it in no uncertain terms. He'll respect your honesty.

If a house doesn't have a chimney, Santa will usually jimmy the patio doors or break out a front room window to gain access.

During the Leopold and Loeb trial, prosecutors tried to bolster their case by issuing a subpoena for Santa's Naughty list. But citing the "sanctity of the lap," the presiding judge quashed their effort.

Elves are colorblind, but that still doesn't excuse their garish bell-laden wardrobes.

Of all the reindeer, only Blitzen ever served time in a Turkish prison. Although, he later characterized it as just a "crappy ultra-strict petting zoo where sodomy was rampant."

Santa Claus is the third most recognizable person on the planet, trailing only Muhammad Ali and Helen Hunt.

Hair of the Mouse

If your vacation plans include a visit to Disneyland this summer, brace yourself for a hard, ugly jolt. The teeth-grittingly Happiest Place on Earth has undergone a radical upheaval. No, they haven't bounced Mickey and brought in a chain-smoking wombat as official spokesrodent. Not yet anyway, but that day may not be far off.

Just take a gander at the mug of some male employee. Not his flat, dead eyes. Right there, south of the schnozz, just a hair north of the pie-hole. A bunch of hairs as a matter of fact. Unfreaking real. The kid is sporting a 'stache. Flaunting it, actually. And he's got the blessing of the suits upstairs, too.

An edict has been handed down from on high. For over 40 years the company has banned theme park employees from cultivating facial hair. But now, hard up for fresh worker drones, they have backed off that fascist stance. Mustaches are okey-dokey, beards, still verboten. Big Walt must be spinning in his freezer.

And while it's true, the company founder and namesake himself wore a soup strainer, he was also a savvy businessman. The clean shaven kisser rule was part of Walt Disney's effort to draw a distinction between his sanitized and aggressively wholesome amusement park with the more traditional carnivals of the day, which were nothing more than rickety skanktowns oozing drifters and corndogs.

Still the implications of this fundamental policy shift are staggering. Mustaches will give employees a whiff of follicle freedom, bestow upon them a kind of Village People/Magnum PI/Goose Gossage cockiness. That's heady stuff for the pre-programmed replicants which currently patrol the park.

Once the handlebars, pencil thins and Fu Manchus sprout, no one knows where it could lead. Sideburns, a soul patch, maybe even God help us, a mullet.

Mullets, for those who've never attended a monster truck rally or pro wrestling match or Whitesnake concert, or watched an episode of "Cops," or gone bowling, or cruised the Dairy Queen in a souped-up Camaro, or scored some crystal meth from the trailer park just outside of town, are those bi-level short-on-top, long-in-back haircuts popularized in the '80s. (For the purposes of this discussion, the mullet shall refer only to the male fashionistas who staggered down this dark path. Female versions of the cut, sometimes called the fullet, are another beast altogether.)

Billy Ray Cyrus was the achy-breaky mullet poster boy, but plenty of other celebs fell under the mullet's sway. Chuck Norris, Patrick Swayze, Mel Gibson, Michael Bolton, Alan Jackson, Joey Buttafuco, Wild Bill Hickcock and Napoleon all have been documented wearing the "guido" or "neck warmer." Other mullet de plumes include ape drape, redneck rug, soccer rocker, beaver paddle, tweaker tophat, Kentucky waterfall, Rogaine mane and Restraining Order Mortar Board.

The mulleteer tries straddling two worlds with his surly 'do. By keeping his hair shorn and tidy in the front he conforms to the corporate ideal of a hard-charging comer, a take-no-prisoners, all-business go-getter, and thus is able to hold down that key position at Jiffy Lube. But from the back, those locks cascading gracefully down his neckline, that's letting his freak flag fly, baby.

He sees himself as wild and untamed, a quasi-free spirit swaggering through life demanding respect, like his stylistic role models, the professional wrestlers, an ancient tribe of mullet people themselves. In truth, he is a rebel without a clue. A man conflicted, torn in half. The same undercurrent of homoeroticsm that runs rampant through the world of wrestling - sweaty buffed men in fetish wear, putting moves on each other like the pile driver and the figure four leglock, pul-leeze, why not just have Judy Garland blaring over the intercom as they sashay into the ring? - threatens to tear Mullet Boy apart, too.

He wants to feel macho, hard and edgy, sucker-punch manly, to be accepted by his peers. Yet the desire to throw off some feminine vibes is so overpowering he is willing to walk into Super Cuts and sacrifice his skull to the fashion travesty sometimes known as the "mud flap." In more ways than one, the mullet is a cry for help.

And sadly, tragically, it is inching back from the boonies into the mainstream. A coffee-table opus, "The Mullet: Hairstyle of the Gods," hit bookstore shelves in January. Publications such as the Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly have recently reported on the increase in sightings. Web sites abound, both celebrating and vilifying (there's that paradox again) the mullet. The Gucci menswear line this spring featured be-mulleted models. And now this outbreak of the retro-coif among the smile-bots at Disney, while still in the theoretical stage, pretty much seals the deal. The mullet is here to stay.

Is this a trend you should jump on? Maybe the mohawk bandwagon rumbled out of the station without you. Maybe you missed out on pony tails, the branding/scarification mini-fad, even the cargo pant craze, now you're worried about being labeled terminally unhip. But really, is a mullet any way to get back in the game?

Unless you have an appearance scheduled on "The Jerry Springer Show," or are going to be racing on the NASCAR circuit, or opening for Sawyer Brown, chances are a mullet won't be considered a plus.

If you're applying for a job at Disneyland, that's a different story.

Short Attention Span Column

A collection of musings, random observations and curmudgeonly bon mots, all served piping hot.Actress Kathleen Turner is shaking up audiences in the London production of "The Graduate" by strutting around stage bareass naked. The 45-year old actress is portraying the seductive Mrs. Robinson. So, answer me this: Kathleen Turner peels off all her clothes in front of a room full of strangers and it's hailed as a theatrical triumph; I do it and I'm banned from Johnny Rockets for life. Where's the justice?Fresh off their wildly successful "Innocent as O. J." national book tour, devastated parents John and Patsy Ramsey say they've been overwhelmed by fan response. And knowing the importance of striking while the iron is hot, the grief-stricken but still media-savvy couple, hope to soon be auctioning off some of JonBenet's sparkly little pageant dresses on eBay. A fragrance launch is also in the planning stages. I think it's fabulous how they've managed to get on with their lives in a classic lemons-to-lemonade conversion scenario.Whitney Houston delivers an unforgettable performance, even wrecked on peyote. Or, as the singer's publicist called it, "suffering from a bit of a sore throat." The diva, who has endured some personal embarrassments lately, including a pot scandal in Hawaii, being booted from the Oscars at the last minute and rambling, incoherent interviews, still tears the place up once she hits the stage. Sure, the people in the front row caught some splatter from her projectile vomiting between songs but that only added to the festive atmosphere. It was reminiscent of a Gallagher show.If you're anything like me, you'll agree that the music scene has never seemed so vibrant and just downright awesome since hunky teen boy bands began ruling the charts. Let's hope this trend continues for years to come. I was fortunate enough to meet one of the Backstreet Boys recently and it was quite a thrill. I don't remember the specifics of our conversation but he did say something that really hit home, something to the effect of, "Please don't cut me anymore. If you untie me and let me go now I won't say a word to the cops, I swear." Of course, I'm paraphrasing. But what a charmer.Note to Slyvester Stallone, who recently lost a three picture deal because of his waning box office clout: wise up, beefcake. America is clamoring for a sequel to your greatest screen triumph. It's time for "Stop or My Mom Will Shoot II." Give Estelle Getty a topless scene and your talking a record breaking opening week. It worked for Kathleen Turner.It's just one man's opinion, but wouldn't snuff films gain more mainstream acceptance if the killing blow was delivered by cuddly sock puppets, like the one from those Pets.com commercials? Then it works on two levels.Good news, bad news for comedy aficionados. The bad news is Foster Brooks, bowing to the forces of political correctness, has abandoned his slobbering drunk act. Good news is, he now slings the yuks while pretending to be whacked out on crystal meth. And take it from someone who parties with bikers almost every weekend, Brooks' take as a surly, paranoid tweaker is bust-a-gut hilarious. Audiences in Branson are eating it up.And from our Miscellaneous file: I'm no theologian, but I'd bet real money that hell is eerily similar to a renaissance fair.If you've been working at the same job for over five years, why not storm into your boss's office and demand that they give you an enema? What are you afraid of? They can only say no, right?Color me curious but, if it's true that all you really needed to know you learned in kindergarten, why don't people walk into restaurants and order a paste and booger fajita?Whoever said "Love means never having to say you're sorry," apparently never got drunk and made a pass at his wife's mother.Unlike a lot of so-called liberals, I still give money to the homeless. But now I make them perform a traditional Irish step-dance to earn it.Whatever happened to courteous service in this country? It seems like nobody cares anymore. I can't tell you the number of times I walk out the door after making a purchase without getting so much as a "Have a nice day" from the hooker.And finally, take it from yours truly, here are the complete set of rules to live by: never play cards with a man named Doc, never eat at a place called Mom's, and never ever get a lap dance from a gal named Itchy.

Grumpy Old Semen

Senior studs aren't just getting it on, they're getting it done. Don't let the gray hair and rambling stories about a time when cars cost a nickel fool you, these aging slabs of man-beef are stone cold playas.From the loins of geezers flows the squiggly brew of conception. Sperm of the elderly is suddenly a vibrant life force. Old guys are nixing the early bird dinner specials to stay home and impregnate their womenfolk. Teeth in a glass and a bun in the oven, that's a virile badge of honor these days.Larry King, 66, is about to become a pop for the second time in two years. Even before they could exchange "I do's" Michael Douglas, 55, has Catherine Zeta-Jones in a delicate condition. Thin White Duke, David Bowie, 53, will become the Thin White Dad in August. Richard Gere, 50, became a father for the first time last month. Tony Randall started reproducing at the age of 77 and hasn't stopped since.Warren Beatty, Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood are just a few of the AARP set who recently sired rugrats. And the Artist Formerly Known as Scotty, James Doohan, will boldly go where few men have gone before, when he begats on April 1, just weeks after his 80th birthday. Insert your own "beaming up" joke here.Obviously, there's a surge in geriatric jiggy. No surprise. It's a brave new sex-you-up world out there. Even with age verification software there's still no way to keep a headstrong gramps out of the cyber porn. Global warming knocks some of the chill off and means better circulation of the blood. Once sweaters and summer jackets get peeled, it's katy bar the door.Of course the 900 pound gorilla in this steamy mix is Viagra. Boner pills. Stiffy pez. Say hello to my little friend. Erections are like handguns: if one's in the house, chances are it's gonna get used. Or at least shown around. Seniors are now locked and loaded.Yet just because a few fogies are embracing their inner horndog, getting their swerve on, doing the horizontal hula, boinking like the ship just iceberged, doesn't explain the rash of bambinos. Old guys are at the pharmacy every week buying back pills and arthritis meds. How tough can it be to toss some rubbers in the cart?These high profile pregnancies must then be a conscious decision. And the well-heeled celebs are doing it to reclaim some turf, taking back their lost prestige. Simple as that.Everything changed, all the standard perks of being a filthy rich old guy were devalued once wealth became so readily attainable to the unwashed masses. Cash in some stock options, launch an e-bidness, go mano a mano with Regis and voila, you're loaded. Is that a gazillion in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?Trophy homes, trophy cars, trophy boats and trophy dogs, once the exclusive spoils of the mature and mighty, now litter the 'burbs, common as mini-vans trying to pass themselves off as something other than a mini-van. Even the quintessential trapping of old school machismo, trophy wives, have lost their cachet. These salon-fresh, tae bo-toned creatures, so svelte and exotic, once conveyed a sense of ultimate validation. A celebration of all things penisy. "Look who clings to moi. The girth of my johnson must be staggering." Or so the TW implies.But now that any parent-mooching, Cheetoh-popping, caftan-swaddled, techno-minded social troll who happens to design an Internet site allowing users to name their own price for a foot massage has access to "Baywatch"-grade arm candy, just marrying hotness is no longer the be-all, end-all certification required by truly powerful men.However, if the trophy wife happens to swell with child, that's point, set, jenga! A whole new level of status is conferred on the proud papa. "Not only has the monstrous size of my johnson been established, but also the fact that it's fully operational." Or so the birth announcements might trumpet. Also, there is far less pillorying in the tabloids if TW-1 gets pregnant and kept around for the long haul instead of traded in for a newer, bosomier model.Analyzing this trend of fossil love pales beside the ramifications it has for the barren. Harnessing the potency of senior sperm could provide a major breakthrough in assisted reproductive technology. Rumors of a geezerseed web site, while still in the planning stages, have electrified couples unable to conceive through conventional methods; i.e., the kind of methods that don't require an old fart's baby-juice to go chugging through fallopian tubes, in the slow lane, blinker on for the entire trip.Soon the infertile will be able to point and click their way to a blessed bundle. Which is way more convenient than knocking on singer David Crosby's door -- who not surprisingly is 58 -- with a sob story, a skin mag and a Tupperware crisper, asking to borrow some sperm.

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