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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

'Why I love (and hate) dating a gorgeous guy'
By Maggie Kim

I love looking at my boyfriend Tim's big brown eyes, fringed with lashes so thick they could easily fan a small child during a summer heat wave. He's got a nose chiseled by some Italian master sculptor, full lips that readily stretch into a sweet, charming grin and just the right amount of sexy, three-day-old stubble. He's 6'3, broad-shouldered and has more style than any straight man ought to; think Ashton Kutcher with a dash of Mr. Big thrown in. And he's all mine. I should be in heaven, right?

Wrong. Call me a whiner, but dating a cute guy isn't all it's cracked up to be. It begins to wreak havoc with a well-established dating dynamic.

In general, women are the ones in a relationship who are expected to turn heads. But with Tim, the tables (and heads) are turned to the point that any self-assured woman would wonder: Is dating a good-looking guy worth it? See for yourself as I describe the highs and lows you'll encounter dating one of them.

High: Your friends think he's hot
It's definitely an ego boost to date a guy whom your friends immediately, and enviously, agree is a babe. I showed him off at a friend's birthday party and, one by one, everyone I knew came up to whisper, "Oh, he's gorgeous." While the approval from my friends was welcome — and puffed up my pride — that bubble was bound to burst once I encountered my next grim realization…

Low: Everyone else thinks he's hot, too
It would be great if only a select few people — trustworthy friends, important relatives, ex-boyfriends — could see how beautiful my beau is. Unfortunately, that's not the case, and lots of other people (including some just plain beautiful women) brazenly eye my man when we're out together. We went shopping recently and were having a great time until a lithe brunette made a beeline for my boyfriend like a sleek cheetah on the hunt. Somehow I managed to drag Tim out of the store before she pounced, but it was close. Not the most enjoyable way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

High: An attractive man gets you plenty of perks
Going out is a lot more fun when you've got the good-looking pass (i.e., my boyfriend) to garner VIP treatment. Many bartenders, waiters, and maître d's are happy to have my boyfriend around, so we have a pretty easy time getting a great table at a high-end restaurant, a drink at a crowded bar, and other preferential treatment won purely through charm and good looks. With the less model-esque men I've dated in the past, I was the one who would try to convince the unimpressed gate-keepers to let us into overbooked nightspots. It's a nice change and a load off my shoulders to be escorting the arm candy in lieu of being it.

Low: You turn into a jealous, territorial lunatic
I never noticed if the men I dated were bothered by whatever attention I got when we went out. I don't think so, maybe because it's expected for a woman to be pretty and admired and that most men get a kick out of being with a girl who people look at. The flipside, however, isn't that fantastic. I don't know if it's because men tend to be more respectful of women who are obviously taken, but I can tell you women practically shove me aside to chit-chat with my guy. The hissing, claws-drawn look probably isn't me at my most attractive…What had happened to the fun, flirty gal I was before I met Tim?

High: You learn that looks aren't that important
While one might think that being with Tim has forced me to double my efforts to look my best, on the contrary, it's made me rethink all the time and money I spend on clothes and primping with expensive beauty products. The reason: I realized that there's always going to be someone who's prettier, taller, younger, and thinner than I am. But that's not why my boyfriend's with me in the first place. He remains smitten by my quirky sense of humor, the songs I write, or my take on international politics. Being with him has made me appreciate — and nurture — my more unique qualities, which have a much longer shelf life than my looks ever will.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Producer’s death took daughter’s life
Man apparently toppled onto young girl after heart attack

CLEARLAKE OAKS, Calif. - A Hollywood producer who was found dead in a car with his young daughter had apparently suffered a heart attack and fallen on top of the girl, suffocating her, according to a coroner’s report.

The body of Terry Carr, 62, toppled onto his 9-year-old daughter as she slept in the cargo area of their SUV, leaving her unable to escape or breathe, according to Lake County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Russ Perdock. Carr and his daughter, Arieka, were found Aug. 1.

Carr weighed about 212 pounds and his daughter was about 53 pounds, Perdock said Tuesday.

The vehicle was found parked at a convenience store in Clearlake Oaks a day after Carr abandoned his wife at a grocery store in Ashland, Ore. Clearlake Oaks is about 280 miles south of Ashland.

Although Carr had not worked on a film for several years, he remained a well-known producer and screenplay writer. His movie credit list included “The Boost,” a 1988 drama starring James Woods and Sean Young; “Yes, Giorgio,” a 1982 musical comedy starring opera great Luciano Pavarotti; and the 1980 romantic comedy “Coast to Coast,” starring Dyan Cannon and Robert Blake.

He and his family recently had left Los Angeles in search of a more tranquil lifestyle in Oregon, family members told The (Santa Rosa) Press Democrat.

Carr’s wife, Chikako Carr, 50, said she still has no idea why her husband took off while she was in a grocery store restroom. He also dumped a box of belongings, including important personal papers and photos, in a pasture on the outskirts of Ashland a few days before he disappeared.

Authorities also don’t know why Carr drove to Clearlake Oaks. His brother, John, lives there but said he had not heard from Carr, Perdock said.

Empty Nesters: How to Cope?
Jan Faull, MEd, on what to do about Mom's off-to-school blues.

By Jan Faull, MEd

No Need to Worry

Q. My son is going off to school three states away, and I know it's going to devastate me. What's the right way to cope with this?

A. One of the unique aspects of parenting is that you work yourself out of a job. You've spent 18 years submerged in parenting, and then the sign of a job well done is that your young adult graduates from high school and leaves home. There are no awards banquets or ceremonies for the moms and dads.

This rite of passage out of high school and into whatever else comes next truly represents a huge change. You'll likely be riding an emotional roller coaster, feeling relief and pride mixed with regret and sadness. There's even grief involved.

Never mind that your son watched TV until 3 a.m. You'll miss him. So what if he needed daily reminders to throw his dirty laundry in the hamper. You'll miss doing so. What if his room looked as if a hurricane had moved through it daily? You'll feel sad seeing it clean and tidy once he's moved out.

Plus you'll feel lonely in the afternoon when you no longer anticipate his return from school; you'll miss his presence at dinner; you'll miss going to his sporting, debate, and student council events. It's a loss, a change; there's no getting around it.

But will you really be devastated? If you are, hopefully you'll feel a sense of pride, too. He's done well. He's proved himself academically and he's confident enough to journey far away from home for college. There'll be no separation anxiety for this lad. Would you really be happier if he planned to live at home to go to college?

Recognize Your Own Good Work

Of course the accolades for his achievements go to him and not to you. But as you thumb through all the photo albums that are a testimony to his childhood, stop and pat yourself on the back for a parenting job well done.

Weren't there times when you grew tired of all your parenting responsibilities? Well now all those responsibilities -- or at least most of them -- are over. Didn't you ever feel trapped as a parent? Now you'll no longer be trapped. Ask yourself these questions:
• When was the last time I really had fun without my son being the source of it? If you can't answer this, you might be in trouble. If your identity and individuality centered solely on your son, you've got some personal work to do. You'll need to add some interests to your life to fill the void.

• Has my son always been at the top of my priority list? Have I always been last? If you answered yes, then it's your turn to be at the top! You may need to see a counselor who can help you find out who you are separate from being a mother. While there's no doubt that that role is profound, fulfilling, and consuming, you'll likely be surprised to find other vocations and avocations that will be almost as gratifying.
As your son graduates, take time to stand back and behold as your responsible young adult emerges. Then be prepared, because your job really isn't over: You'll continue to be the one he calls when triumph or tragedy hits. This will be the case until he attaches to a significant friend or mate. Plus, the after-high-school revolving door to your home no doubt will swing continuously. Your son will still need you, but in a far different way than ever before.

If you need more guidance regarding your role during the college years, read Letting Go: A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger (HarperCollins, 2003).

The biggest man on any campus ... ever
Peter Schrager /
Posted: 6 hours ago

By nature, being a fifth-year senior is pretty ideal.

While most of your friends are slugging it out at 9-to-5 entry-level jobs, you're still at college, having the time of your life. As they fill out Excel spreadsheets, type up memos, and figure out the optimal time to sneak onto instant messenger, you're entertaining guests, courting freshmen girls, and debating between Dominos and Papa John's. Life's good when you are a fifth-year senior.

Now, toss in the fact that you are a Heisman Trophy winner, a good looking dude, and one of the most successful college athletes of all-time — that's pretty much the best situation any American male has ever had while pursuing a secondary education.

Yep, that's what Matt Leinart has going for him this year. In simple terms, he's about to embark upon the most amazing year of college that anyone — state-side or abroad — has ever had in the history of the world. Lucky guy.

In the past few years, the celebrity/athlete morphing process has reached new heights. Derek Jeter's every move off the field is charted by paparazzi, Dennis Rodman's love life is featured on The Insider, and even Jeff Garcia dates a Playboy Playmate of the Year. Professional athletes have become akin to Hollywood stars. Andy Roddick dates Mandy Moore, and Mandy Moore dates Vincent Chase. It's how it goes. The pro athlete and the big-screen idol have become interchangeable on the social scene.

What about the college athlete, though? Leinart's a true pioneer, a real-life Magellan. Never has a kid still taking Sociology 101 been such a visible force in the tabloids. In the past 12 months, the USC quarterback has been romantically linked to Jessica Simpson's personal assistant, Kristin from Laguna Beach, the point guard of the USC women's basketball team, and Alyssa Milano, who we'll always think of as Samantha Micelli from Who's the Boss. Hell, if he wanted, he could probably score Mona and Angela too. This is all from a guy who plays college football.

Leinart plays it cool, though. In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, he did the whole humble "I'm a normal guy" routine. As a jealous on-looker from afar, I appreciate such a modest approach to the coolest life ever. With the shaggy hair and team-first attitude, Leinart comes across as likeable — a guy you'd enjoy getting a beer or watching the game with. That is, of course, unless you are a UCLA fan.

It's hard to imagine life being much better for Matt Leinart, who threw out the first pitch at a recent Angels game. (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images)

He's also a champion. The starting quarterback of back-to-back national championship squads, Leinart's got the hardware to back up the hype. His career record as a starter is 25-1. The career statistics are just plain jaw-dropping. He already has thrown 71 touchdowns in just 26 career starts, with at least one TD in all but one game he has started and at least two TDs in all but three games. His career passing efficiency rating of 160.5 is fifth on the all-time NCAA chart, and during USC's current 22-game winning streak, he has thrown 63 TDs and just 9 interceptions. The guy just wins.

Leinart, who had redshirted as a freshman, turned down the opportunity to enter the NFL draft after last season. The experts' unanimous first overall pick had he left USC, Leinart shocked the world by deciding to come back to school. Sportswriters and TV personalities couldn't believe it.

"What else is there to prove?"

"What if he gets injured?"

"How's he going to survive without Norman Chow?"

Talking heads were exploding. Lots of screaming. Tons of confusion.

But I supported Leinart's decision 100 percent. There's no place like college. No place at all. And when you're a 6-foot-5 fifth-year senior at USC, the real world can wait. Leinart can make history this season. He has the chance to become the second player ever (Archie Griffin being the other) to win two Heisman Trophies. He can be the first quarterback ever to be an All-American three times. Heck, he might even lead USC to a third straight national championship. Quite simply, Matt Leinart has a chance to solidify his legacy as the greatest college football player ... ever.

There were, indeed, "football" reasons for Leinart to come back for one more season.

But, in the end, I think he just wanted to be a fifth-year senior. Could you blame him?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Turn Your Hobby Into a Career in Five Steps
By Kate Lorenz,

Experts say that many of today’s small businesses are a result of a person following their passion. So don’t waste another day doing something you don’t enjoy. Follow these five easy steps for turning your hobby into a career you love.

Step 1: Explore the possibilities.
Consider what types of moneymaking opportunities are available in your area of interest. Look online and check the Yellow Pages for business categories and listings of companies that do what you want to do. Visit your local library and seek out reference materials that relate to your hobby. Let’s say your hobby is dog training. Start your research by reading magazines, newspaper articles and books dedicated to dog obedience, pet ownership and animal behavior. In these materials, you are likely to find information that will help you think about what it takes to start a dog training business.

Or, check out job search Web sites like for possible openings in your field of interest by doing a keyword search. To perform a search, simply go to the “Quick Job Search” area and enter related key words or phrases such as “dog obedience” or “dog training.” You may be surprised to find openings that are a close match to your skills right in your own backyard. If you don't find any, don’t be discouraged. Check back often, you never know when a prospective employer will post your dream job.

Step 2: Get expert advice.
Visit your local office of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). In addition to providing you with a wealth of information about starting and owning your own business, these offices usually hold conferences and have networking groups for new or prospective business owners. Be sure to ask about any government assistance programs for small business owners.

Experts also suggest that prospective small business owners take advantage of every opportunity to talk to local business owners within their communities by attending chamber of commerce meetings. Once you get to know some of the chamber members, ask them for startup advice or referrals to other sources of assistance. Take a class on starting your own business at your local college or university. You also should consider doing volunteer work or accepting a job in your area of interest. You’ll gain firsthand experience and meet valuable contacts that you will need once you get your business up and running.

Step 3: Conduct simple market research.
Talk to people and businesses in your area and ask for feedback on your business idea. It would be very wise for a potential dog trainer to talk to local veterinarians, dog groomers and pet store owners/managers. These are the people who work with your potential clientele each and every day. Ask them for their opinions on your business idea and whether there is a market for your services.

Step 4: Draft a simple business plan.
There are scores of books that will walk you through the creation of a simple business plan step-by-step. The SBA can provide you with an easy-to-use format. Whatever you do, don’t skip this step. You’ll need to see in black and white the blueprint for your potential business.

Step 5: Just do it.
Once you’ve made the decision to turn your hobby into a job, go for it! That’s exactly what one woman with a talent for floral design did. She had loads of floral design products lying around her home from years of making floral arrangements for friends and family members. One day she put all of those materials to work for her. She made up ten floral arrangements, which she loaded into her van along with her young son and went from floral shop to floral shop selling her products. By the end of the afternoon, she had sold them all and gotten orders for more. Today, she regularly receives orders from area flower shops and has a successful small business all her own.

Obesity in America Continues to Expand
Government programs are failing to meet the challenge, report says

By Steven Reinberg, HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDayNews) -- Rates of obesity continue to climb in every state except Oregon, and government policies and actions offer little hope of reversing the trend, according to a new report Tuesday from the Trust for America's Health.

The report, F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America, 2005, found that Mississippi is the heaviest state, while Colorado is the least heavy.

More than 25 percent of adults in 10 states are obese -- Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, and South Carolina.

"Across the board, we have every state failing to meet the national goal of 15 percent or less of the population being obese," Shelley Hearne, executive director of the Trust for America's Health, told a press conference.

"Bulging waistlines are growing, and they are going to cost taxpayers more dollars, and it's going to cost us in years of life and quality of life, regardless of where you live," Hearne added. "We can, and must, do better to start to turn around this obesity epidemic."

Added study co-author Parris Glendening, president of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute: "About 119 million Americans are either overweight or obese. That's 64.5 percent of adult Americans."

Excess weight is known to cause a variety of health problems, including heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

The number of obese American adults rose from 23.7 percent in 2003 to 24.5 percent in 2004. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services set a national goal that obesity would be reduced by 15 percent by 2010. An estimated 16 percent of active duty U.S. military personnel are obese, and obesity is the biggest reason for discharging soldiers, Glendening noted.

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In addition, people on food stamps are more likely to be obese compared with higher income individuals, Glendening said. "There is a link between obesity and those with lower incomes and less education," he added.

Glendening said that to fight the obesity epidemic, a combination of individual responsibility and government policy is needed.

"While it is indisputable that individual behavior -- eating less and exercising more -- is critical to addressing obesity, the government and private industry also have important roles to play in setting policies and taking actions that make it easier to help people make healthy choices," he said.

The report criticizes government policies as insufficient and too narrowly focused to have a significant impact on countering the obesity problem.

"The bottom line is that there is a lot more that could and should be done to help people with nutrition and exercise," Glendening said.

Glendening and Hearne believe that both state and federal governments can institute policies to help Americans shape up. They include combating suburban sprawl by increasing recreation space, and improving nutrition and physical education in schools.

"To really see a change in people's health, these programs must grow significantly," Glendening said.

"We have a crisis in poor nutrition and physical activity in this country," Hearne added. "It's simple math: we are eating more and exercising less. And it's time we deal with it in a much more systematic and realistic way."

Dearly Departed
In which our correspondent explores the art of delivering a eulogy.

By Marc Gellman

Aug. 3, 2005 - One of my aims in this space is to help democratize the spiritual life. To that end, let me try to offer some helpful advice to those of you who will deliver a eulogy for somebody you loved (stay tuned for how to give a wedding toast).

More and more funerals these days are including eulogies delivered by people other than the presiding clergyperson. This is most pronounced in Jewish and Protestant funerals, but even the Roman Catholic Church, which once virtually prohibited eulogies, is now allowing them. I think this is generally a good thing because it reduces canned eulogies by clergy who did not really know the dearly beloved, and it also helps begin the grief work of family and friends. Of course it can get out of hand. Too many eulogies are repetitious and enervating; eulogies that are more about the eulogizer than the eulogizee are embarrassing; and musical eulogies are usually just plain stupid. Eulogies must be brief. Even though everything they say must be true, they need not say every true thing about the deceased person. Within the bounds of common sense, eulogies from family and friends generally have a poignancy and truthfulness that even the most eloquent clergy cannot ever hope to achieve.

On the catastrophic side, I recently was told about a funeral for a man in Florida. Following touching eulogies delivered by his sons, a total stranger made his way from the back of the funeral chapel to the lectern and said, “I have no idea who this guy was, but he does have a nice casket. My son knew him and told me to come over here and tell everybody that he was a hell of a softball pitcher. My son played shortstop with this guy and my son was really great! My son could turn a double play and hit like a pro. I told my son that he should never have quit the team, but he wanted to go out on top. What can you do? I guess that's it.” Then he left. The rabbi who had been hired by the funeral home to do the service then calmed the agitated crowd with these comforting words, “Hey, I didn't know him either.”

On the other spiritual hand there was the funeral I conducted for Joan's sister, Dolores, who died at age 67 from pancreatic cancer after a career of teaching Shakespeare, Keats and creative writing to generations of disadvantaged students. Joan rose to eulogize her sister and told a story about how they had performed a short play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music when they were young girls and were taking elocution lessons from Mrs. Shapiro on Flatbush Avenue. The play was called, “The Fairy and the Doll.” Dolores was the fairy and Joan was the doll. Joan remembered her sister coming on stage in her fairy costume and tiptoeing over to her as she lay motionless on the stage. The fairy asked the doll to stand, but the doll said that she was just a doll and could not stand by herself. Dolores the fairy touched her sister Joan the doll with her magic wand and said, “Tillie, tillie, talley tell. I will cast a magic spell. Tippey, tappy, tippy tup, now you'll find you can get up.” And then Joan the doll got up and they danced together, bowed to the audience together, and left the stage.

Then Joan walked over to her sister's casket, kissed it and whispered, “Tillie, tillie, talley tell. I will cast a magic spell. Tippey, tappy, tippy tup, now you'll find you can get up.” I thought it was the most perfect eulogy I had ever heard until Dolores's 8-year-old granddaughter, Pamela, came to the lectern and delivered a eulogy that was even better: “I believe we should not think of the bad times, just the good times which we had with my grandmother. I will remember the way she kissed me on the nose. I will remember the way she touched us some way in the heart.”

The most important quality every eulogy should possess in addition to being egoless, true and brief is that the eulogy should be humble. One can speak words of deep love and respect for a person who has passed to life eternal without appearing to canonize a person whose most defining virtue may have been that he had no outstanding parking tickets and did not father any illegitimate children. Let us remember the eulogy God preached at the death of Moses:
“And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders, which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel.” (Deut. 34:10-12)
The entire eulogy for Moses was 71 words! I suggest this sobering fact to all potential eulogizers. If it's good enough for Moses, it ought to be good enough for uncle Abe.

The only eulogy I ever heard of that may have been better (and briefer) than God's eulogy for Moses was the iconic eulogy enshrined by generations of Catskill comedians in the joke about the rabbi hired to do Sam's funeral. The rabbi was told by every member of Sam's family that Sam did not posses even one single positive quality. The frustrated rabbi asked them, “What am I supposed to say in the eulogy?” They said, “Rabbi, we have no idea, but frankly that's your problem.” The funeral began. The rabbi rose, looked at Sam's coffin, looked at the family and at the congregation. Then he delivered a four-word eulogy: “His brother was worse.”

I Rise to Toast the Bride and Groom
A wedding toast should be egoless, true and brief. Most are exactly the opposite.

By Marc Gellman

Two weeks ago, in my ongoing attempt to improve the state of spiritual etiquette, I wrote a self-help column on how to deliver a eulogy. I hinted at that time that a column on how to give a wedding toast was on the way, and I immediately received in my e-mail satchel a needful e-letter from an e-woman whose e-husband was facing an impending wedding toast and hoped I could offer some advice as soon as possible. So, here goes....

My advice to toasters is pretty much the same as my advice to eulogizers except that you should always remember that the people you're talking about aren't dead yet. Like a eulogy, a wedding toast must be egoless, true and brief. Like eulogies, the point of the toast is to wish the bride and groom well and ask God to bless their marriage, not tell everyone everything about yourself and more about the bride and groom than they would want known.

The two main problems I have seen in disastrous wedding toasts (which amount to at least 99 percent of all the wedding toasts I have had the painful opportunity to hear) are that, one, the people giving the toast are already drunk and two, the people giving the toast are trying to be funny. Being successfully sober is much easier than being successfully funny, so unless you are professionally hilarious, like me, my advice is to go for the tender personal toast over the potentially funny but usually tasteless toast. Most male wedding toasters (best man, brothers and buddies) just can't pull off either tender or personal toasts--drunk or sober. Fathers have a shot at tender and personal toasts, especially when they are marrying off their "little girl," but even fathers tend to be stiffer and more stilted than they need to be or should be during a wedding toast. Women can do this in their sleep, but they tend to cry a lot.

I think it is also unwise to extemporize your toast unless you are a professionally accomplished public speaker. Even then, winging it is dangerous. Write it out and read the damn thing. Yes, it's true that the emotional impact of a memorized toast is far greater than a recited toast, but what you lose in spontaneity, you will gain by not dissolving into a pool of sobbing incoherent goo, or saying something you just thought up that minute which will make the bride and groom hate you for the rest of their lives.

Also, if your written toast is more than one half of a typed page (single-spaced, 14-point font) it is too long. I have never ever heard a wedding toast that caused listeners to demand that the toaster keep on toasting for another 10 minutes. Less is more, just like a eulogy.

Another common mistake of wedding toasters is in assuming that it is funny or endearing for either the bride or groom or the guests or the waiters or the party enhancers or the valet parking guys to hear a list of the bride and groom's most embarrassing moments. If any of your sentences begin, "Dude, do you remember the time we were trying to score chicks at Cabo Wabo?" rip it up and try again.

Another problem is sibling rivalries. Get it through your head that your lifelong envious bickering with your brother or sister is embarrassing, irrelevant, unattractive and almost always destructive in a wedding toast. Talk about the great things your sibling has taught you and how much you love him or her. Even if it's a lie, who cares? Most people will not discover it until after the party and the people who do know that you hate your sib will think you finally made up--which you should do anyway. For a father of the bride who is offering a toast (I don't know why more mothers don't give toasts, but they don't and it's a shame), the obvious is the obvious. You should welcome everyone and tell them how much it means to you and your wife or ex-wife or both your ex-wives that they have all joined you for this joyous occasion. Welcome your son-in-law and his family into your family and tell his family how much you love their son and how happy you are that he will be spending every single holiday and vacation with your family and how he has willingly agreed never to see or speak to them again. Whatever you say during your toast, for God's sake don't end it with "Now let's party!" or "Boo-yah!"

For nonreligious toasters, I beg you to try to stifle your atheism for a minute and include in your toast at least the formulaic phrase, "God bless you both!" at the end of your toast. If you are religious, you might include the old Jewish legend that, just to keep busy, God spends every day after creating the world matching up brides and grooms. Then say, "Today we are here to celebrate some of God's best work." If it is a Christian wedding, say that it is an old Christian legend. If anyone presses you for a source, just offer him or her another martini.

I like toasts that include the phrase, "I pray that you will be blessed to see the children of your children's children." However, you should first check out any fertility issues. I once said that to a bride and groom during a wedding ceremony and discovered later from the weeping bride that she was infertile. I was then quickly ushered out of the party by her large and angry brother, so the fertility prayer is something of a risk.

A final word about eloquence, the guests who hear your toast are not expecting Shakespeare because some of them even know, or heard on MTV, that Shakespeare is dead. However, I implore you to try to lift the rhetoric a few clicks above "You guys are totally awesome!" You can do it. I believe with all my heart in the power of natural eloquence. A good way to do this is to talk about what you learned from the bride and groom and from their love for each other. Speak about how their love has lifted up and inspired not just the two of them but you and all their friends and family, as well. Speaking about our family and friends not just as family and friends but also as our life teachers is a good way to elevate and honor the true place of family, friendship and love in our lives. You might also want to speak about the shared passions of the bride and groom. However, if their principal passions are shopping and drinking beer, forget this and go right to the old Jewish legend. Just speak from your heart about what you love about them, and then sit down.

I once said to the bride who was marrying a kid I had known since he was 2, "Melissa, I always knew David would marry you. I just didn't know your name or your face until that day when he introduced you to me. But I knew it would be you; I knew it would be someone who would love his energy and his passion, his loyalty and his kindness. You were not only made for each other, you were made only for each other. And so my deepest hope and prayer for the two of you is that, in the words of D. H. Lawrence, 'May you have the courage of your tenderness'."

Something like that might work.

Anyway, Mazel Tov to all the brides and grooms and toasters out there, and now ... Let's party! Boo-yah!

Un-Happily Ever After
As 'The Brothers Grimm' reminds us, not all fairy tales are meant for children ...

By Sean Axmaker
Special to MSN Movies

As anyone who has ever read the original, unadulterated Brothers Grimm can tell you, real fairy tales are not sweet. They are dark, dangerous and primal. They reach into the darkest corners of our imagination and threaten us with our most basic fears. We've since sanitized them in storybooks and movies, the better to protect the fragile little minds of our modern wee ones from nightmares. Just compare Disney's treatments of "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty" with the strange and weird Brothers Grimm originals, where the villains are punished with violence and mutilation in the vengeance-filled happily ever-afters. What parent wouldn't want to soften those grotesque edges?

It's been left to directors like Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam to dredge up those forgotten shadows, and they show no signs of ending their romp through the dark corners of fantasy and imagination. "The Brothers Grimm," Gilliam's latest genre-trampling fantasy is a slapstick thriller with nightmarish edges, while Burton follows up his eccentric remake "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" with the innocently macabre "Corpse Bride," an animated storybook romance by way of Charles Addams and Edward Gorey.

Yes, those primal instincts still occur, but usually with a grown-up audience in mind. Here are the best of those fairy tale movies for big kids.

10. "Snow White: A Tale of Terror" (1997)

Leave all memories of Disney behind. This revisionist take features a gang of outcasts standing in for the dwarves, a tarnished Prince Charming and a stepmother (Sigourney Weaver) who turns wicked with insanity. Monica Keena plays the headstrong heroine as a defiant adolescent on the verge of adulthood, a whirl of hormones and romantic fantasy. But Weaver steals the film with her witchy portrait of hysterical narcissism and medieval madness. Though it never quite delivers on its promise, the landscape of this darkly handsome production (it was shot in Czech Republic) casts a spell over the film, as if bringing it to the folkloric roots of the original fairy tale in all its grotesque and grim (or, if you will, Grimm) dimensions.

9. 'Freeway' (1996) & 'Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trick Baby' (1999)

Matthew Bright's films are familiar fairy tales turned into grotesque B-movie thrillers with a wicked sense of humor. "Freeway" is "Little Red Riding Hood" with Reese Witherspoon as a tough-talking juvenile runaway hitchhiking to grandma's house and Keifer Sutherland as a serial rapist on her trail: the big bad wolf in reform school counselor clothing. The even weirder "Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trickbaby" features a bulimic juvenile delinquent and a riot-grrrl serial killer in training as a "Hansel and Gretel." Also along for the ride is a nearly unrecognizable Vincent Gallo in drag, as a demented nun who fattens up children in her dungeon of perversions. Violent, twisted and often blackly hilarious, they skate the edge between energetic exploitation and savage satire.

8. 'Little Otik' (2000)

Czech animation master Jan Svankmajer's "Little Otik" is an Eastern European fairy tale about a wooden child set in modern day Prague. The monstrous infant of the original story (illustrated in the prologue) becomes a voracious innocent adopted by a hysterically protective apartment dweller. It's a far cry from "Pinocchio": the gnarled stump of a baby feeds on the stray humans who wander into its maw, many of them annoying tenants lured there by a mischievous neighbor girl. Svankmajer's jerky stop-motion style creates an unnerving atmosphere and his vision is downright grotesque, yet the film is full of blind maternal love that, finally, turns to self-sacrifice of the most direct -- and most primal -- kind.

7. 'The Curse of the Cat People' (1944)

The original 1942 "Cat People" was a genuinely adult horror film with an atmosphere of repressed sexuality and unleashed inhibitions created from dreamy imagery and beautifully modulated mood. The lyrical, underappreciated sequel, "The Curse of the Cat People," however, brings the stars back for a thoughtful turn into childhood fantasy. Irina (Simone Simon), the feline cat woman who died in the original "Cat People," returns as the secret friend and protector of her former husband's lonely, daydreaming daughter. But is she imaginary playmate or benevolent spirit? The line between fantasy and reality blurs for the little girl with an overactive imagination; it's illustrative of the troubled relationship between a little girl lost and her frustrated, literal-minded parents in one of the finest films about a child's imagination made for adults.

6. 'The Adventures of Baron Munchausen' (1989)

Terry Gilliam's opulent "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" is less fairy tale than tall tale, but it's the love of storytelling and the magic of fantasy that brings it to life. Baron Munchausen (played with condescending extravagance by John Neville) may be a compulsive liar, but there is magic in his imaginative yarns. As indulgent as a Fellini film (and shot by Fellini's favorite cinematographer, Guiseppe Rotunno), the delightfully outrageous imagery becomes increasingly preposterous as the adventure continues. A rich, whimsical treat with nightmare ripples (Gilliam can't resist the dark side, even if he does toss in a wink and nudge), it's buoyed by the spirit of innocent wonder. This tribute from one spinner of outlandish tales to another may be Gilliam's most personal film.

5. 'The Princess Bride' (1987)

"Is this a kissing book?" Not really. William Goldman's storybook fantasy about a dashing pirate king (Cary Elwes), a beautiful but sad princess (Robin Wright Penn), a haughty scheming prince (Chris Sarandon), an ambidextrous mercenary (Mandy Patinkin -- "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."), and a gallery of colorful rogues is so much more. It is both a wacky spoof and a celebration of fairy tale romance and outlandish adventure. Rob Reiner brings it to the screen with a perfect mix of tongue-in-cheek humor and swashbuckling joy. It's a movie that has fun with itself without making fun of itself, and it's one of the few films on the list that the entire family can embrace. Even the kids don't mind the well-earned mushy kiss in the happily ever-after.

4. 'The Company of Wolves' (1984)

Neil Jordan collaborates with Angela Carter for "The Company of Wolves," a dreamy re-imagining of "Little Red Riding Hood." Doting Granny Angela Lansbury spins cautionary tales of beasts and men and lust unleashed as her little granddaughter struggles through the hormonal rush of puberty ... and the seductive wolf beckons her to leave innocence behind. It's a dense, deliciously designed fairy tale by way of a werewolf thriller, directed with a knowing intelligence and filled with decidedly sexual implications. The mix of fear, fascination and allure of the wolf makes this allegorical transition from childhood to adulthood both scary and satisfying. See also the Czechoslovakian "Valerie and Her Week of Wonders" (1970), a surreal psycho-sexual fairy tale that explores the end of childhood with ravishing and weird imagery and Eastern European folkloric references.

3. 'Edward Scissorhands' (1990)

Johnny Depp is sweetly haunting as the little boy lost in black leather, a wild fright wig, and a Swiss Army knife of attachments for fingers in Tim Burton's bittersweet fantasy, "Edward Scissorhands." "Rescued" from his gloomy horror movie castle and plopped into suburbia by a maternal Avon Lady, this wide-eyed "Frankenstein" -- by way of "Pinocchio" -- is a dazed clockwork boy with a sense of wonder and curiosity. In Burton's world of guileless dreamers and eccentric innocents, that makes him easy prey for the petty jealousies and social predators of suburban America. But for all the social satire and horror movie references (including a touching cameo by Vincent Price as the gentle creator), this paean to misfit outcasts and misunderstood artists is ultimately a magical and melancholy fairy tale for the modern world.

2. 'The City of Lost Children' (1995)

In "The City of Lost Children," a gaunt, withered scientist in a sumptuously dank, fog-bound port city turns into a veritable psychic vampire as he kidnaps kids to steal their dreams. That is, until a simple-minded circus strongman (Ron Perlman) and a wise-beyond-her-years waif team up to find the lost children. The filmmaking team of Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Amelie") and Marc Caro plunder centuries of fairy tales and recast them in a world that quotes Jules Verne, "Peter Pan," "Oliver Twist" and "Brazil" (among many others), wrapped up in an imaginative fantasy with a nightmarish undercurrent. Equal parts delight and dread, this dark dream at times recalls the labyrinthine fantasies of Terry Gilliam. However, the deliriously designed images and saturated colors of their perpetually twilight world (which look painted onto the screen) are all their own.

1. 'Beauty and the Beast' (1946)

One of the most eerily beautiful films ever made, Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast" is the quintessential fairy tale for grown-ups. Compare Walt Disney's bright, bouncy musical with Cocteau's surreal take. Where singing candelabras and teapots light up the palace for Disney's plucky heroine, living statues and human-arm candleholders and eerie magical doors that creak open as if worked by ghostly sentinels fill Cocteau's shadowy enchanted castle. It's a weirdly spooky prison for the self-sacrificing Belle (Josette Day). Even stranger is the decidedly animal attraction of the ferocious, seductive and tragic Beast (a growling, glaring, elegantly hirsute Jean Marais). The primal tension is not lost on Cocteau -- when the curse is broken and the beast reverts to smug human form (Marais sans fur), the audience's disappointment is echoed by Belle. She sighs at the loss of her feral lover before taking the hand of her far less exciting Prince Charming.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

In Search of the Spiritual
Move over, politics. Americans are looking for personal, ecstatic experiences of God, and, according to our poll, they don't much care what the neighbors are doing.

By Jerry Adler

Aug. 29 - Sept. 5, 2005 issue - The 1960s did not penetrate very deeply into the small towns of the Quaboag Valley of central Massachusetts. Even so, Father Thomas Keating, the abbot of St. Joseph's Abbey, couldn't help noticing the attraction that the exotic religious practices of the East held for many young Roman Catholics. To him, as a Trappist monk, meditation was second nature. He invited the great Zen master Roshi Sasaki to lead retreats at the abbey. And surely, he thought, there must be a precedent within the church for making such simple but powerful spiritual techniques available to laypeople. His Trappist brother Father William Meninger found it in one day in 1974, in a dusty copy of a 14th-century guide to contemplative meditation, "The Cloud of Unknowing." Drawing on that work, as well as the writings of the contemplatives Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila, the two monks began teaching a form of Christian meditation that grew into the worldwide phenomenon known as centering prayer. Twice a day for 20 minutes, practitioners find a quiet place to sit with their eyes closed and surrender their minds to God. In more than a dozen books and in speeches and retreats that have attracted tens of thousands, Keating has spread the word to a world of "hungry people, looking for a deeper relationship with God."

For most of history, that's exactly what most people have been looking for. But only a generation ago it appeared from some vantage points, such as midtown Manhattan, that Americans were on their way to turning their backs on God. In sepulchral black and red, the cover of Time magazine dated April 8, 1966—Good Friday—introduced millions of readers to existential anguish with the question Is God Dead? If he was, the likely culprit was science, whose triumph was deemed so complete that "what cannot be known [by scientific methods] seems uninteresting, unreal." Nobody would write such an article now, in an era of round-the-clock televangelism and official presidential displays of Christian piety. Even more remarkable today is the article's obsession with the experience of a handful of the most prestigious Protestant denominations. No one looked for God in the Pentecostal churches of East Los Angeles or among the backwoods Baptists of Arkansas. Muslims earned no notice, nor did American Hindus or Buddhists, except for a passage that raised the alarming prospect of seekers' "desperately" turning to "psychiatry, Zen or drugs."

History records that the vanguard of angst-ridden intellectuals in Time, struggling to imagine God as a cloud of gas in the far reaches of the galaxy, never did sweep the nation. What was dying in 1966 was a well-meaning but arid theology born of rationalism: a wavering trumpet call for ethical behavior, a search for meaning in a letter to the editor in favor of civil rights. What would be born in its stead, in a cycle of renewal that has played itself out many times since the Temple of Solomon, was a passion for an immediate, transcendent experience of God. And a uniquely American acceptance of the amazingly diverse paths people have taken to find it. NEWSWEEK set out to map this new topography of faith, visiting storefront churches in Brooklyn and mosques in Los Angeles, an environmental Christian activist in West Virginia and a Catholic college in Ohio—talking to Americans of all creeds, and none, about their spiritual journeys. A major poll, commissioned jointly with, reveals a breadth of tolerance and curiosity virtually across the religious spectrum. And everywhere we looked, a flowering of spirituality: in the hollering, swooning, foot-stomping services of the new wave of Pentecostals; in Catholic churches where worshipers pass the small hours of the night alone contemplating the eucharist, and among Jews who are seeking God in the mystical thickets of Kabbalah. Also, in the rebirth of Pagan religions that look for God in the wonders of the natural world; in Zen and innumerable other threads of Buddhism, whose followers seek enlightenment through meditation and prayer, and in the efforts of American Muslims to achieve a more God-centered Islam. And, for that matter, at the Church of the Holy Communion, described by the Rev. Gary Jones as "a proper Episcopal church in one of the wealthiest parts of Memphis," where increasingly "personal experience is at the heart of much of what we do." A few years ago Jones added a Sunday-evening service that has evolved into a blend of Celtic evensong with communion. Congregants were invited to make a sign of the cross with holy water. Jones was relieved when this innovation quickly won acceptance. "We thought people would be embarrassed," he says.

Whatever is going on here, it's not an explosion of people going to church. The great public manifestations of religiosity in America today—the megachurches seating 8,000 worshipers at one service, the emergence of evangelical preachers as political power brokers—haven't been reflected in increased attendance at services. Of 1,004 respondents to the NEWSWEEK/Beliefnet Poll, 45 percent said they attend worship services weekly, virtually identical to the figure (44 percent) in a Gallup poll cited by Time in 1966. Then as now, however, there is probably a fair amount of wishful thinking in those figures; researchers who have done actual head counts in churches think the figure is probably more like 20 percent. There has been a particular falloff in attendance by African-Americans, for whom the church is no longer the only respectable avenue of social advancement, according to Darren Sherkat, a sociologist at Southern Illinois University. The fastest-growing category on surveys that ask people to give their religious affiliation, says Patricia O'Connell Killen of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., is "none." But "spirituality," the impulse to seek communion with the Divine, is thriving. The NEWSWEEK/Beliefnet Poll found that more Americans, especially those younger than 60, described themselves as "spiritual" (79 percent) than "religious" (64 percent). Almost two thirds of Americans say they pray every day, and nearly a third meditate.

These figures tell you more about what Americans care about than a 10,000-foot-high monument to the Ten Commandments. "You can know all about God," says Tony Campolo, a prominent evangelist, "but the question is, do you know God? You can have solid theology and be orthodox to the core, but have you experienced God in your own life?" In the broadest sense, Campolo says, the Christian believer and the New Age acolyte are on the same mission: "We are looking for transcendence in the midst of the mundane." And what could be more mundane than politics? Seventy-five percent say that a "very important" reason for their faith is to "forge a personal relationship with God"—not fighting political battles.

Today, then, the real spiritual quest is not to put another conservative on the Supreme Court, or to get creation science into the schools. If you experience God directly, your faith is not going to hinge on whether natural selection could have produced the flagellum of a bacterium. If you feel God within you, then the important question is settled; the rest is details.

As diverse as America itself are the ways in which Americans seek spiritual enlightenment. One of the unexpected results of the immigration reform of 1965 was its effect on American religiosity. Even Christian immigrants brought with them unfamiliar practices and beliefs, planting on American soil branches of the True Jesus Church (from China) or the Zairean Kimbangu Church. Beliefnet, the religious Web site, sends out more than 8 million daily e-mails of spiritual wisdom in various flavors to more than 5 million subscribers. Generic "inspiration" is most popular (2.4 million), followed by the Bible (1.6 million), but there are 460,000 subscribers to the Buddhist thought of the day, 313,000 Torah devotees, 268,000 subscribers to Daily Muslim Wisdom (and 236,000 who get the Spiritual Weight Loss message). Even nature-worshiping Pagans are divided into a mind-boggling panoply of sects, including Wicca, Druidism, Pantheism, Animism, Teutonic Paganism, the God of Spirituality Folk and, in case you can't find one to suit you on that list, Eclectic Paganism.

Along with diversity has come a degree of inclusiveness that would have scandalized an earlier generation. According to the NEWSWEEK/Beliefnet Poll, eight in 10 Americans—including 68 percent of evangelicals—believe that more than one faith can be a path to salvation, which is most likely not what they were taught in Sunday school. One out of five respondents said he had switched religions as an adult.

This is not surprising in the United States, which for much of its history was a spiritual hothouse in which Methodism, Mormonism, Adventism, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Nation of Islam all took root and flourished. In America even atheists are spiritualists, searching for meaning in parapsychology and near-death experiences. There is a streak in the United States of relying on what Pacific Lutheran's Killen calls "individual visceral experience" to validate religious ideas. American faiths have long been characterized by creativity and individualism. "That's their secret to success," says Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. "Rather than being about a god who commands you, it's about finding a religion that empowers you."

Empowerment is at the heart of Pentecostalism, which has burgeoned from a single Spirit-touched believer at a Kansas Bible school at the turn of the last century to 30 million adherents in America and more than half a billion worldwide. Marching under the Pentecostal banner is a host of denominations whose names roll off the tongue like a voice from heaven: Church of God, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Assemblies of God. Among them is a tiny Brooklyn storefront church whose sign grandly proclaims the Cathedral of Deliverance. This is where 43-year-old Ron Cox, who left his mother's large Southern Baptist church in his teens, now lives and works as an assistant to the bishop, Steven Wagnon. He tried Hinduism, but it failed to move him; looked into Buddhism, but lost interest when a Buddhist couldn't tell him the meaning of her chant. But one summer night recently, guided by the voice of God to a Pentecostal revival in full-throated swing, he was transfixed by the sight of worshipers so moved by the Holy Spirit that they were jumping, shouting and falling to the floor in a faint. Soon he, too, was experiencing the ecstasy of the Holy Spirit. Once, it seemed to lift him right out of his body:

"I felt the Spirit come upon me, and it was an overwhelming presence. It was bliss. I thought only 10 or 15 minutes had passed, but three hours had gone by. And I remember just shouting, 'Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!' "

The bliss Cox felt was mingled with awe—the Holy Spirit was inside his very own body. That helps explain Pentecostalism's historical appeal to the poor and marginalized: rural Southerners, African-Americans and, more recently, Hispanics and other immigrants. It is burgeoning in the developing world. "For people who feel overlooked, it provides a sense that you're a very important person," observes Harvey Cox of the Harvard Divinity School. By the same token, people with social aspirations preferred other churches, but nowadays Pentecostalism—the faith of former attorney general John Ashcroft—has lost its stigma as a religion of the poor. And elements of Pentecostal worship are invading other denominations, a change that coincided with the introduction of arena-style screens in churches, replacing hymnals and freeing up people's hands to clap and wave. Naturally, there is some attenuation as you move up the socioeconomic scale. Babbling in foreign-sounding "tongues" turns into discreet murmurs of affirmation. "An atmosphere that is joyous, ecstatic and emotionally expressive is appearing in all kinds of churches now," says Harvard's Cox, "even if it's not labeled Pentecostal."

Empowerment requires intensity of effort; Americans like the idea of taking responsibility for their own souls. This may be why Buddhism—a religion without a personal god and only a few broad ethical precepts—has made such inroads in the American imagination. "People are looking for transformative experience, not just a new creed or dogma," says Surya Das, a U.S.-born Tibetan lama whose spiritual journey began in 1970, when he was a student from New York's Long Island named Jeffrey Miller. "The Ten Commandments and Sermon on the Mount are already there." In most Buddhist countries, and among immigrants in America, the role of the layperson is to support the monks in their lives of contemplation. But American converts want to do their own contemplating. Stephen Cope, who attended Episcopal divinity school but later trained as a psychotherapist, dropped into a meditation center in Cambridge, Mass., one day and soon found himself spending six hours every Sunday sitting and walking in silent contemplation. Then he added yoga to his routine, which he happily describes as "like gasoline on fire" when it comes to igniting a meditative state. And the great thing is, he still attends his Episcopal church—a perfect example of the new American spirituality, with a thirst for transcendence too powerful to be met by just one religion.

People like that could become panentheists, too—a new term for people who believe in the divinity of the natural universe (like the better-known Pantheists), but also postulate an intelligent being or force behind it. To Bridgette O'Brien, a 32-year-old student in the recently created Ph.D. program in Religion and Nature at the University of Florida, "the divine is something significant in terms of the energy that pervades the natural world at large." Her worship consists of composting, recycling and daily five-mile runs; she describes herself as "the person that picks the earthworms off the sidewalk after the rain to make sure they don't get stepped on." Those seeking a more structured nature-based religion have many choices, including several branches of Druidism. "I talk to my ancestors, the spirits of nature and other deities on a regular basis," says Isaac Bonewits, a 55-year-old New Yorker who founded one of the best-known Druid orders. Wicca, the largest Pagan sect, with an elaborate calendar of seasonal holidays and rituals, is popular enough to demand its own military chaplains. Un-fortunately from the political standpoint, Wiccans refer to themselves as "witches," although they do not, in fact, worship Satan. This confusion led President Bush, when he was Texas governor, to urge the Army to reconsider allowing Wiccan rites at a military base, with the comment "I don't think witchcraft is a religion."

Unlike Buddhists, Catholics cannot take sole responsibility for their souls; they need the sacraments of the church to be saved. But they, too, have experienced a flowering of spirituality, especially among the "John Paul II Catholics," who were energized by the late pope's call for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Since it arrived in the United States in 1957, the "cursillo" movement has initiated more than a half-million American Catholics into the techniques for seeking a direct communion with God. Cursillo, which means "short course," involves a three-day retreat of silent contemplation and lectures that lean heavily on the spiritual vocabulary of evangelism. Also on the rise is the Adoration of the Eucharist: shifts of silent prayer, sometimes round the clock, before the consecrated host in an otherwise empty church. (You can do the same thing over the Internet; one site says it received 2.5 million hits in a year for its unchanging Webcam image of an altar and a monstrance.) "It's been surprisingly popular," says Robert Kloska, director of campus ministry at Holy Cross College in Indiana. "You wouldn't think in modern society there's such a yearning for silence and mysticism, but there is."

Kloska is less enthusiastic about the other manifestation of spirituality he sees on campus, an affinity for "high-energy, almost charismatic prayer and worship." Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which got its start in 1967 when a Duquesne University group on a weekend retreat felt a visitation by the Holy Spirit, now runs thousands of prayer groups in the United States, where worshipers may speak in tongues or collapse in laughter or tears. "Young people got tired of hearing that once upon a time people experienced God directly," says historian Martin E. Marty of the University of Chicago. "They want it to happen for themselves. They don't want to hear that Joan of Arc had a vision. They want to have a vision." It's a little more problematic when the Holy Spirit visits during a regular mass. Clayton Ebsch, a retired technician, was enthusiastic when a charismatic priest took over Precious Blood Parish in Stephenson, Mich., even after some of his friends left for more-traditional parishes. Still, he found that speaking in tongues didn't come naturally. "It was just unfamiliar, speaking gibberish and jibber-jabbering," he says, although he sees one virtue in it: "It humbles you."

The Vatican seems ambivalent about these developments. On the one hand, the church wants to keep the allegiance of adherents who have been deserting to evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Three quarters of Hispanic immigrants to the United States are Catholic, but the figure drops to about half by the third generation in America. On the other hand, the raison d'etre of the church is to mediate between the faithful and God. The future Pope Benedict XVI summed up the Vatican's attitude back in 1983, when he wrote of the relationship between "personal experience and the common faith of the Church." Both are important, he said: "a dogmatic faith unsupported by personal experience remains empty; mere personal experience unrelated to the faith of the Church remains blind." In simpler terms: Let's not get carried away here. Emotions come and go, but the mass endures.

The quest for spiritual union with God is as old as mankind itself, uniting the ancient desert tribes of Mesopotamia with the Christian hermits on their mountaintops with American pop singers at the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles, poring over the esoteric wisdom encoded in early Jewish texts. And who can begrudge it to them? Well, David Blumenthal of Emory University's Institute for Jewish Studies, for one. His view of the aspiring scholar Madonna is that "anyone who claims to be a Kabbalist and then sings in public largely in the nude is hardly a Kabbalist." The mystical impulse in Judaism—kept alive for centuries by the tiny, fervent band of Hasidim, but long overshadowed in America by the dominance of the rational, decorous Conservative movement—is reasserting itself. The founding text of Kabbalah, the Zohar, conveys the message that God's power depends on humanity's actions. God needs our worship. "It's the same impulse behind Zen Buddhism, Tibetan masters, Hopi Indians," says Arthur Green, rector of the rabbinical school at Hebrew College in Boston. "The ancient esoteric traditions might have something to teach us about living in this age." Even at Hebrew Union College, a citadel of Reform Judaism, provost Norman Cohen admits that "what the Kabbalah can teach us—how to have a relationship with God—has to be treated seriously."

The Hasidim pray ecstatically; they dance with the Torah; they fast to achieve a higher spiritual state, and they drink wine for the same reason. With their distinctive black frock coats and curly sideburns, they are a visible and growing presence in New York and some other cities. Orthodox Judaism, of which they are a branch, is on the rise among young Jews who trade Friday-night dances and shrimp egg foo yung for a more intense religious experience. Orthodox Rabbi Irving Greenberg calls the phenomenon "Jews by choice," reflecting the reality that Jewish practice is no longer a tribal imperative. In a world in which practically every religion has its own cable-TV channel, to step inside a synagogue becomes an existential choice. "To me, that is the revolution of our time, and I don't mean just Judaism," Greenberg says.

In fact, the same issue is very much on the minds of America's Muslims. Forced to define themselves in the face of an alien—and, in recent years, sometimes hostile—majority, the second generation especially has turned increasingly observant. Unlike their parents, they may attend mosque several times a week and pray five times a day, anywhere they can unroll a prayer mat. It has not been lost on them that the way to fit in in present-day America is to be religious. "When our parents came here in the 1960s or '70s there was a pro-secular culture," explains Yusuf Hussein, 22, who was born in Somalia but came to southern California as a teenager. "For us, being a Muslim is the way to forge our own identity, to move forward, to be modern."

Islam emphasizes the unity of all believers, so American-born Muslims are shedding the cultural accouterments of the many countries from which their parents came, or the political freight of African-American converts. They are intent on forging a purer and more spiritual religion. "It's easier being Muslim and African-American than just being African," says Imam Saadiq Saafir, 60, whose journey took him from Christianity to the Nation of Islam and then to orthodox Sunni Islam. Muslims pray to God without the intervention of a priest or a religious hierarchy; he is never farther away than the Qur'an, which is the direct and unmediated word of Allah. "There are many ways to be spiritual," says Megan Wyatt, a blond Ohioan who converted to Islam three years ago. "People find it in yoga. For me, becoming a Muslim gave me the ultimate connection to God."

So, a generation after the question was posed, we can certainly answer that God seems very much alive in the hearts of those who seek him. We have come a long way, it would appear, from that dark year when the young Catholic philosopher Michael Novak was quoted in Time, saying, "If, occasionally, I raise my heart in prayer, it is to no God I can see, or hear, or feel." To make the point, we gave Novak, who is now 72 and among the most distinguished theologians in America, the chance to correct the record on his youthful despair. And he replied that God is as far away as he's ever been. Religious revivals are always exuberant and filled with spirit, he says, but the true measure of faith is in adversity and despair, when God doesn't show up in every blade of grass or storefront church. "That's when the true nature of belief comes out," he says. "Joy is appropriate to the beginnings of your faith. But sooner or later somebody will get cancer, or your best friends will betray you. That's when you will be tested."

So let us say together: Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Sh'ma Yisrael. Allahu Akbar. Om. And store up the light against the darkness.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Autopsy unable to pinpoint cause of death
Associated Press
Posted: 1 hour ago

Niners offensive lineman Thomas Herrion collapsed and died shortly after playing in San Francisco's preseason game Saturday night against Denver. (Rocky Mountain News, Joe Mahoney / Associated Press)

DENVER (AP) - The cause of offensive lineman Thomas Herrion's death cannot be determined until toxicology tests are performed, a process that usually takes three to six weeks, a coroner said Sunday.

The 23-year-old offensive guard for the San Francisco 49ers collapsed in the locker room Saturday night, minutes after the team's exhibition game against the Broncos on a 65-degree evening in mile-high Denver. He was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead shortly after.

"We didn't see anything happen," 49ers defensive lineman Marques Douglas said. "I sat by my locker and prayed for him."

Howard Daniel, an investigator with the Denver coroner's office that performed an autopsy on Herrion, said nothing was readily apparent about why he died.

"There's no conclusion, pending further studies," Daniel said.

The death once again spotlights how dehydration and obesity affect athletes, especially the huge linemen who play in the NFL.

Herrion was 6-foot-3, 310 pounds - fairly average for an NFL lineman, but considered obese within standards routinely accepted by the medical community.

"Our thoughts are with the Herrion family and the 49ers," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Sunday. "We have been in contact with the 49ers throughout the day to offer our assistance and to learn the details of what happened."

Herrion, who played in college at Utah, was on the field for San Francisco's 14-play, 91-yard drive that ended with a touchdown with 2 seconds left in the game. After the game, he was noticeably winded as he walked off the field, but didn't look much different than teammates who played beside him at game's end.

The death comes a little more than four years after offensive lineman Korey Stringer of the Minnesota Vikings died of heatstroke during a training camp practice when the heat index soared to 110.

NFL teams since have increased efforts to teach players about how to manage the heat. On Saturday night, temperatures in Denver's thin air were in the mid-60s with 50 percent humidity, although experts say heatstroke can happen even in cool weather.

It is not known whether Denver's mile-high altitude could have contributed to the death. As a college player at Utah, Herrion played games at high elevation and would have been more used to those conditions than many.

In 1979, St. Louis Cardinals tight end J.V. Cain died of a heart attack during training camp. Chuck Hughes, a Detroit Lions wide receiver, died of a heart attack during a 1971 game in Detroit against the Chicago Bears. In April, Arena Football League player Al Lucas of the Los Angeles Avengers died of a spinal-cord injury after making a tackle.

Herrion, a first-year player with the 49ers, spent part of last season on the San Francisco and Dallas practice squads. He also played this season with the Hamburg Sea Devils of NFL Europe.

Herrion played in junior college at Kilgore College in East Texas. Travis Fox, the offensive coordinator at Kilgore, said Sunday he shared an apartment with Herrion for two weeks this summer. Herrion had returned to the school to get in shape before reporting to the 49ers.

Fox said Herrion never struggled during intense drills in 97-degree heat. He added that the lineman had no injuries or health problems while playing at Kilgore.

"The young man was in shape," he said.

Herrion's nicknames at Kilgore were "Train" and "Big T." Fox said he was called "Thunder" in Germany because his head was too big for a regular helmet.

Fox said Herrion always talked about his niece, and family was a big motivation for playing.

"When he got here," Fox recalled, "the first thing he told me was, 'I'm going to make this team and buy my mom a nice house."'

How to impress her friends
By Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro

About to meet her pals for the first time? Our experts share how to pass this critical test with flying colors... and have her be even more proud of you.

Remember the Buddy System? Supposedly, pairing up with a classmate would prevent you from wandering off/drowning/abduction on dangerous field trips. As an adult, the Buddy System has a new life-saving function... either you systematically win over her buddies, or else expect a budding romance to die a quick death. Sure, she likes you, but to really endear yourself to a new sweetie, you have to impress her picky elder sis, long-tenured best friends, and a slew of cubicle mates. Any schmo who sits quietly can earn passable marks from her pals ("Preston's alright, I suppose"), but with conscientious effort, a chap can score gold stars, with bonus points of friendly jealousy ("What a catch! Does he have a brother, or clone?"). With that in mind, below are the ways to amaze (note: Don't forget to wear a clean shirt).

Know the names
Learn (and if you're short on working brain cells, rehearse) her friends' names beforehand and sprinkle them liberally throughout the night. If you can't remember two or three important names, then the logic goes, how mindful will you be on birthdays and anniversaries? Similarly, reference any inside info you know about her chums to break the ice ("Janice, I heard you ran away from home to join the circus. What was your act? With that great smile, obviously not the bearded lady.").

Open the wallet
Ask a lobbyist: Spending a little scratch is the timeless way to curry favor, even if the rapport is flat and the chitchat forced. No one suggests you must pick up the group's entire tab or arrange helicopter transport for all concerned, but can't a gent take care of the nightclub cover charge or treat her gang to a round of ice-cream sundaes? One crisp Jackson buys instant gratitude and amity, so even if your personality bombs worse than the House of Wax remake, rest assured, you'll still receive some points ("He's rude, crude, and lewd, but I will say this... he's not cheap.").

A smattering of flattering
The second easiest method to impress: Compliments, compliments, compliments. Offer some fashion kudos to her roommates and acknowledge the great work her best bud is doing at the non-profit. Even better, score points by offering kind words about your date to her friends while she's in the ladies' room: "She's terrific, but you all already know that." When such praise is repeated back to her later, the positive effect is doubled.

Don't go for the grope
Incidentally, park that libido in Toledo. Despite her fetching curves, tone down the PDA and ixnay the open-mouthed kissing during outings with her friends. Mild affections are great, but syrupy "pookie-wookies" and all-too-obvious tableside groping make her cohorts feel like a bunch of third wheels... which won't win you any points.

Wallflower or Man of the Hour?
Don't wait to be grilled with questions; fight any shyness and jump right into the mix. Get everyone involved in the conversation and turn an awkward meet-and-greet into a charming group experience. Foster confidence with a couple of her intimates by offering some candid insight out of earshot from your date ("When I first called Deanna's to ask her out, I nearly wore out the pound sign re-recording that message until my excitement wasn't so obvious.") Want to really go for it? Stir the ladies to a tizzy with a hush-hush announcement you know will get leaked like a Hollywood scoop ("Don't say anything, but I'm asking her to go away with me for the holiday weekend.").

Follow up with a flourish
Whether by email or telephone, always comment afterward on what a delight it was to meet her friends. A few gushy words about her inner circle demonstrate that you are interested in her life as much as her tan lines. Had a little run-in with her dyspeptic pal Barbara? Don't blatantly lie, yet restrain from using your most colorful profanity. Instead, soften it with a little self-deprecation ("Barbara and I may have gotten off on the wrong foot, but I probably opened my fat mouth at the wrong time..."). At this early stage of dating, it's not worthwhile to squander precious wooing capital on a clash of personality. If you're still at it a few months later, then, by all means, unleash your torrent of honesty about bossy Barb—don't worry, your darling will likely have some choice words about one of your boorish buds as well.

Top 10 dot-com flops
By Kent German

The most astounding thing about the dot-com boom was the obscene amount of money that was spent. Zealous venture capitalists fell over themselves to invest millions in Internet start-ups; dot-coms blew millions on spectacular marketing campaigns; new college graduates became instant millionaires (albeit on paper) and rushed out to spend it; and companies with unproven business models executed massive IPOs with sky-high stock prices. Of course, we all know what eventually happened to this world. Few of these companies actually made enough money to recoup that cash, and when their investors fled to the hills, these start-ups died dramatic deaths. These are the celebrity victims of the new-economy bust.

1. Webvan (1999-2001)
A core lesson from the dot-com boom is that even if you have a good idea, it's best not to grow too fast too soon. But online grocer Webvan was the poster child for doing just that, making the celebrated company our number one dot-com flop. In a mere 18 months, it raised $375 million in an IPO, expanded from the San Francisco Bay Area to eight U.S. cities, and built a gigantic infrastructure from the ground up (including a $1 billion order for a group of high-tech warehouses). Webvan came to be worth $1.2 billion (or $30 per share at its peak), and it touted a 26-city expansion plan. But considering that the grocery business has razor-thin margins to begin with, it was never able to attract enough customers to justify its spending spree. The company closed in July 2001, putting 2,000 out of work and leaving San Francisco's new ballpark with a Webvan cup holder at every seat.

2. (2000)
Another important dot-com lesson was that advertising, no matter how clever, cannot save you. Take online pet-supply store Its talking sock puppet mascot became so popular that it appeared in a multimillion-dollar Super Bowl commercial and as a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. But as cute--or possibly annoying--as the sock puppet was, was never able to give pet owners a compelling reason to buy supplies online. After they ordered kitty litter, a customer had to wait a few days to actually get it. And let's face it, when you need kitty litter, you need kitty litter. Moreover, because the company had to undercharge for shipping costs to attract customers, it actually lost money on most of the items it sold. raised $82.5 million in an IPO in February 2000 before collapsing nine months later.

3. (1998-2001)
The shining example of a good idea gone bad, online store and delivery service made it on our list of the top 10 tech we miss. For urbanites, was cool and convenient. You could order a wide variety of products, from movies to snack food, and get them delivered to your door for free within an hour. It was the perfect antidote to a rainy night, but Kozmo learned too late that its primary attraction of free delivery was also its undoing. After expanding to seven cities, it was clear that it cost too much to deliver a DVD and a pack of gum. Kozmo eventually initiated a $10 minimum charge, but that didn't stop it from closing in March 2001 and laying off 1,100 employees. Though it never had an IPO (one was planned), Kozmo raised about $280 million and even secured a $150 million promotion deal with Starbucks.

4. (1998-2001)
For every good dot-com idea, there are a handful of really terrible ideas. was a perfect example of a "what the heck were they thinking?" business. Pushed by Jumping Jack Flash star and perennial Hollywood Squares center square Whoopi Goldberg, Flooz was meant to be online currency that would serve as an alternative to credit cards. After buying a certain amount of Flooz, you could then use it at a number of retail partners. While the concept is similar to a merchant's gift card, at least gift cards are tangible items that are backed by the merchant and not a third party. It boggles the mind why anyone would rather use an "online currency" than an actual credit card, but that didn't stop Flooz from raising a staggering $35 million from investors and signing up retail giants such as Tower Records, Barnes & Noble, and Restoration Hardware. Flooz went bankrupt in August 2001 along with its competitor

5. (1997-2001)
eToys is now back in business, yet its original incarnation is another classic boom-to-bust story. The company raised $166 million in a May 1999 IPO, but in the course of 16 months, its stock went from a high of $84 per share in October 1999 to a low of just 9 cents per share in February 2001. Much like, eToys spent millions on advertising, marketing, and technology and battled a host of competitors. And like many of its failed brethren, all that spending outweighed the company's income, and investors quickly jumped ship. eToys closed in March 2001, but after being owned for a period by KayBee Toys, it's now back for a second run.

6. (1998-2000)
Though is another flop that has been given new life by, its original incarnation proved that dot-com flops were not restricted to U.S. shores. Founded in the United Kingdom as an online fashion store, was beset with problems and mismanagement from the start. Its complicated Web site, which relied heavily on JavaScript and Flash, was very slow to load at a time when dial-up Internet usage was the norm. Boo spent wads of cash to market itself as a global company but then had to deal with different languages, pricing, and tax structures in all the countries it served. The company also mysteriously decided to pay postage on returns, but even more importantly, sales never reached expectations. eventually burned through $160 million before liquidation in May 2000.

7. (1999-2000)
Like Planet Hollywood and, proved that celebrity endorsements are worth nothing in the long run. Backed by sports greats John Elway, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretzky and $65 million, MVP sold sporting goods online. Founded in 1999, the company grew to more than 150 employees, but a high-profile partnership came to be a liability. A few months after its launch, entered into an $85 million, four-year agreement with CBS in which the network would provide advertising in exchange for an equity stake in the e-tailer. Yet barely a year later, CBS and its online affiliate killed the agreement because failed to pay the network an agreed-upon $10 million per year. The game was over for soon afterward, and SportsLine took over the domain.

8. (1998-2001)
The Walt Disney Company felt the sting of the dot-com bust with its portal Started in 1998, was a combination of Disney's online properties and Infoseek, in which the Mouse had previously acquired a controlling interest. Though it was meant to be a "destination site" much like Yahoo, had its own little quirks, such as content restrictions against adult material. Disney was never able to make popular enough to validate the million spent on promotion. In January 2001, was shut down, and Disney took a write-off of $790 million. still exists, but it carries only feeds from other Disney Web properties.

9. (1999-2000)
Unlike the other flops listed here,, an online community for teenage girls, didn't wait till the very end to wave the white flag. In fact, at the time of its October 2000 closing, the company had not run out of the $22 million it raised. And on a more bizarre note, the end came only 46 days after a flashy San Francisco launch party. Though Kibu had started to attract traffic from its target demographic (incidentally one of the fastest-growing segments of Web users), company officials said they decided to shut down because "Kibu's timing in financial markets could not have been worse." Kibu was backed by several Silicon Valley bigwigs, and they sent a strong message about the financial prospects of other dot-coms by bailing on Kibu so soon.

10. (1999-2000)
Last but certainly not least, the story of was good enough to become the documentary, which chronicles its brief life. Envisioned as a Web site for citizens to do business with municipal government, GovWorks was started by two childhood friends in 1999. One was the flashy salesman, while the other had the technical know-how. At first, the future seemed bright as they suddenly found themselves worth millions of dollars each and rubbing elbows with the politically powerful. But you can guess what happened--everything that could go wrong soon did. Personalities and egos clashed during long work hours, one partner was ousted, technology was stolen, and they never got the software to work as it should have. A competitor eventually took over GovWorks in 2000.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Celibate Celebs: Some Aren't Promiscuous
The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Britney Spears was 18 when she lost it. So was Marcia Cross from "Desperate Housewives." Ozzy Osbourne was 14. His daughter, Kelly, was 16. Gary Coleman? Well, he might still have it.

Other than Steve Carrell as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," celibates are tough to find in Hollywood. And when they are, the formerly Very Special Topic has become part of the meticulous image-crafting required of today's celebrities.

"We're so interested in it because it's different for everyone," psychologist Joyce Brothers told The Associated Press.

Spears, now very much pregnant and married to Kevin Federline, once famously proclaimed she was saving herself until marriage, prompting years of has-she-or-hasn't-she speculation. In a 2003 interview with W magazine, the pop star finally revealed she had — with Justin Timberlake, two years into their relationship.

Sorry, Kev.

"She made a big fuss that she was not going to give up her virginity, and then apparently she did," said Brothers, "but I was not there to know for sure."

No one is truly certain about the big V except the celebrities themselves, making chastity declarations a vague publicity stunt that stars can use to portray themselves as innocent and pure, according to Elayne Rapping, professor of pop culture and media studies at the State University of New York, Buffalo.

"It's a way to differentiate yourself from the mainstream Hollywood image of everybody sleeping with everybody else," she said.

Unlike Spears, fellow blonde bombshell Jessica Simpson ostensibly kept her promise. "The Dukes of Hazzard" star was the poster teen for abstinence during the beginning of her career. Simpson often pledged to save herself for marriage before she and Nick Lachey ever became "Newlyweds" — although Lachey admits he didn't do the same.

"Virginity is such a personal thing," said Brothers. "You can't judge anyone on it. A lot of young women feel they want to save themselves for the man who they think they'll love forever."

Long before Spears and Simpson, Brooke Shields was Hollywood's most famous virgin.

In the controversial 1978 film "Pretty Baby," a 13-year-old Shields played Violet, a child prostitute whose virginity is auctioned off. In real life, Shields didn't lose it until age 20 to "Lois & Clark" actor Dean Cain while the two attended Princeton University, according to Cain.

When it comes to virginity in film and TV, Rapping said, abstinence has become the new innocence. In the 1980s and '90s, screwball comedies such as "Porky's," "The Last American Virgin" and "American Pie" entirely revolved around doing the deed.

Losing it for fictional TV characters formerly merited Very Special Episodes. Conflicted "Doogie Howser, M.D." remained a virgin until season three, introvert Dawson Leery waited until season five on "Dawson's Creek" and Donna Martin famously saved it for seven seasons on "Beverly Hills 90210."

Not anymore. Nowadays, characters like Seth Cohen on "The O.C." and Ephram Brown on "Everwood" are only able to hold out until second season sweeps.

"All of this has become a new way to sell sex when sex has become commonplace and fairly uninteresting," said Rapping.

Former NBA player A.C. Green made no secret of his decades-long drought. Neither did "Diff'rent Strokes" star Coleman, who told Us Weekly magazine he was still a virgin in 1999.

"For men to be virgins, we think it's negative," said Brothers. "We think that there's something wrong with them. At the same time, we think when a woman gives up her virginity too early she's a bit of a tramp."

Green was only two years shy of becoming a "40-Year-Old Virgin" himself before marrying in 2002 at the age of 38.

The virgin jury's still out on Coleman, now 37 — he didn't respond to an interview request.

"It's come full circle," said Rapping. "There's more intrigue when people identify themselves as virgins or celibate or whatever. People have gotten bored with the endless display of graphic sex."

"But then," Rapping quickly added, "they pretty much have sex, anyway."

10 Dumb Moments in Sci-Fi Cinema
By Adam Berliant

There aren't a lot of good reasons to be a science fiction freak.

Sure, the genre gets respect, not to mention box office yield, but the poor innocent fans are still depicted as lifeless, dateless, and wearing Vulcan ears.

So, this list is dedicated to the sci-fi fan. It's our stab at the 10 incredibly dumb things that occurred in otherwise really successful sci-fi movies in recent times. Don't look for B-movies or classics here. This is where the blockbusters went wrong.

There aren't a lot of good reasons to be a science fiction freak.

Sure, the genre gets respect, not to mention box office yield, but the poor innocent fans are still depicted as lifeless, dateless, and wearing Vulcan ears.

But, and we say this with love, sci-fi fans often deserve the reputation. Once people overhear some pale guy with wizard hair explaining how a light saber simply isn't possible, as the exposed plasma from the device would irradiate every living organism with a 5-kilometer radius, what are people supposed to think? "Sexy?"

Yet, part of being a sci-fi fan is being its harshest critic, and so we can't help ourselves. Its part of the fun to discuss what was and wasn't good science fiction. And to be clear, this has nothing to do with one's ability to enjoy a movie. Did anything in "The Fifth Element" make sense? No. Did it kick ass? Yes.

So, this list is dedicated to the sci-fi fan. It's our stab at the 10 incredibly dumb things that occurred in otherwise really successful sci-fi movies in recent times. Don't look for B-movies or classics here. This is where the blockbusters went wrong.

Imperial walkers attack the rebels
The Empire Strikes Back"

Why it's so dumb:
So, the same company that brings you the dark side of the force and the death star decides that tall, slow, off balance elephant thingies with laser beam-shooting tusks are the best way to ferret out the rebels from their underground fortress? Darth Vader may have been a patsy, but we all know he wasn't that stupid. If ever a huge planet destroying technology was the appropriate choice, this was it.
Why we don't care: Seeing the walkers come into focus in the rebel binoculars was the moment when "Star Wars" fans realized that "The Empire Strikes Back" might indeed be cooler than the original. That scene alone could be the reason we paid to see four more.

The aliens need "Signs"

Why it's so dumb:
So many sci-fi fans have heard this one that it's almost bad form to mention it, but the blunder is pretty simple: Aliens navigate the vastness of space and find life on a puny planet. Then it turns out they need cornfields on that puny planet to point them to fresh meat. The only thing that made sense about the scenario is that the aliens wanted to eat Mel Gibson first.
Why we don't care: As every sci-fi fan can tell you, "I want to believe."

John Hurt feels better, so opts for breakfast

Why it's so dumb:
"Oh, thank goodness the acid-blooded crab thing fell off my face. Hey, do I smell scrambled eggs?" Despite a ship full of highly-intelligent technical and science people, the crew of the Nostromo decides not to quarantine their alien-toting buddy long enough to make sure there were no problems along the lines of, say, stomach erupting alien babies.
Why we don't care: A hundred space horror movies later, including three more "Alien" flicks, a lot don't remember how terrifying "Alien" was in 1979. And while the movie was good and creepy up to this point, the "man gives birth" scene was the moment when the movie went from just scary to the scariest movie you had ever seen.

Skynet sends a new and improved Terminator
Terminator 2: Judgment Day"

Why it's so dumb:
There were at least 50 smarter, easier alternatives to whacking Sarah Conner and her unborn son other than sending back the hit-machine to the land of big hair. And after screwing up the first time, why would they try again after Sarah has had years to train both herself and her military mastermind child? How about sending a good old T-1000 back to Sarah's great, great, great grandmother's house around 1880? What would Kyle have used to fight? A musket?
Why we don't care: The relentless pursuer is a suspense theme predating the written word, and for good reason. "T2" felt like high-budget vindication for all of us who actually saw and enjoyed "The Terminator" the first time around.

Jeff Goldblum uploads a virus to save the world
Independence Day"

Why it's so dumb:
"Independence Day" had already lost all credibility when Will Smith climbed into an alien spacecraft and after a few moments, figured out how to fly the thing. But dumb turns to laugh-out-loud ludicrous when Jeff Goldblum conquers the aliens with a floppy disk, in an absurd homage to "War of the Worlds." He should have just stuffed a peanut butter sandwich into the disk drive. It would have had the same odds of working.
Why we don't care: Because we like absurd homages to "War of the Worlds." Part of loving sci-fi is recognizing moments that only other sci-fi fans will recognize. The only thing better would have been if Orson Welles did a voiceover for "virus uploading" rather than simply seeing the words on the screen.

Dr. Brundle tries out his fly machine
The Fly"

Why it's so dumb:
Jeff Goldblum's character is smart enough to defy physics and biology in every conceivable way, including appearing attractive to Geena Davis, but he isn't smart enough to keep his equipment free of household pests. But honestly, that's not the dumbest part. The dumbest part is that he rationalizes ever stepping into the thing. If Goldblum's "Jurassic Park" character were there, he would have said, "Don't be an idiot," and the movie would have been over.
Why we don't care: "The Fly" was a movie with the world's easiest gimmick: Watch a guy turn into a fly. There should be more movies like this. Watch a guy turn into a lobster. Watch a guy turn into an oyster. This is what science is all about.

Velociraptors come off like geniuses
Jurassic Park"

Why it's so dumb:
Jaws was a thoughtless eating machine and scared the swim trunks off of us, so why did we need dinosaurs fresh from the debate club? The book read perfectly well with the dinosaurs just being very, very hungry. The raptors, despite having acorn-sized brains, seemed to have no problem navigating a vast building they'd never been in before in order to corral Sam, Laura and the kids in the lobby. Maybe the T-Rex came in and ate them just for their severe lack of credibility.
Why we don't care: You'd be challenged to find a single person from the "Land of the Lost" generation who didn't love some part of "Jurassic Park." And besides, it was nice to see the computer generated image technology put to use in a ways other than aliens and terminators.

Agents throw punches at Neo
The Matrix"

Why it's so dumb:
Anything that happens to you in the Matrix happens to you for real, right? Thus verifying the theory that if you die in your dream, you're really dead. So why then do the Agents decide that shotguns and kung-fu are the best way to take out Neo? If the Matrix is such a savvy computer, wouldn't, "Neo is in New Jersey, good-bye New Jersey!" be a pretty obvious solution?
Why we don't care: Most sci-fi fans had read William Gibson's "Neuromancer" many years earlier, and "The Matrix" finally helped visualize what the hell was happening in that book.

Superman turns back time
Superman: The Movie"

Why it's so dumb:
This is the classic problem with any time travel plot. If Superman can turn back time, why not turn it back a few years, find Lex Luthor, and break a few fingers? Instead, Superman turns back the clock just enough to save Lois from a not-so-shallow grave.
Why we don't care: Actually, we do. This one is just too dumb.

Jodie Foster and company pass the alien MENSA test

Why it's so dumb:
Intelligent creatures from across the universe go to great lengths to let humanity know they exist in an otherwise great movie called "Contact." Life from distant galaxies intelligent enough to capture our rays, translate them, then dramatically send us the blueprints for a wormhole machine, somehow found it necessary to put those blueprints on a flattened piece of origami.
Why we don't care: "Contact" was (finally) the insightful and thought provoking sci-fi movie fans had waited more than a decade for (with all due respect to "Species"). And most fans removed their Vulcan ears in honor of Carl Sagan while watching it.