It's kind of an awesome syndrome to have, because it totally explains everything.
Everything. Seriously. Freak out.
Like my undying fixation with toast. My inability to understand (or even care about) small talk. My "go thither" body language. My almost unworldly ability to lose everything. (I've left my car at the gym, walked home, then panicked when my car wasn't in front of our house the next day.) "Asperger Syndrome" explains why I didn't have any dates in high school. It explains why I'm idealistic and have a thing about defending children and animals. And why I was President of Library Club. And why I failed as a pie shop waiter. And why I can't do some stuff right.
Total explanatory power. That, my friends, is a heck of a cool syndrome.
Freaky: When I was little -- like two -- I had a crew-cut and glasses, and I spoke with perfect diction. I resented "baby talk", and told people so, even correcting their mispronunciations. My mom says people called me "Little Professor". And here's what the wiki thing says about Asperger Syndrome:
Children with AS may have an unusually sophisticated vocabulary at a young age and have been colloquially called "little professors"...
Of course, "little professor" is a nice way of saying, "annoying nerdlet who needs to shut up", but it explains, as I say, a lot.*
I can relate to people now, but couldn't do it very well as a high schooler. Fact is, I've learned to "act" -- literally, "act" -- like a normal adult. I figuratively wear a "WWNPD?" bracelet. ("What Would a Normal Person Do?")
In social situations, I constantly try to act like I suspect a normal person would, even though I don't understand why they do it. Normal People? You're aliens. I study your ways, for they intrigue me.
My wife now knows why I don't like light, gentle touch, or why interruptions are greeted with an immediate, and unwitting, over-fierce reaction. (I'm working on all this, I promise. This diagnosis is no excuse for mistreating people.) I am now a Syndrome Guy, and it's weird, but I'm kinda relieved.
(I'm feeling sick. I have immense nasal drainage, which actually sounds like a cool name for my next album. Anyway, I'm not up for writing. Here's something from more than a year ago, if you're new-ish to these parts.)
Alan, in his book, points out that Al-Qaeda is almost impossible to stop. This is, in large part, due to the way its message works, and the way the work gets carried out. And he's absolutely right.
So, in the service of national defense, I propose the following, in order to effectively neutralize the movement. Let's get Al-Qaeda to...
1) Complexify the message
Right now, it's so simple, it can pass from one to the next, and be easily grasped by the uneducated, the young -- everyone. This is dangerous, because it's highly contagious, and people on the street feel capable of enlisting others in the cause.
2) Construct a less "flat", more hierarchical structure
Currently, small, underground groups can move nimbly and autonomously, complicating efforts to thwart them. A more regimented, stratified approach, where some members are left thinking, "I can't know enough to do anything" would bring the movement to a halt.
3) Foster "expert" culture, and barriers to entry to the expert class
Promote the idea that the message is not only highly complex, but only some can truly understand it. Construct extensive barriers to entry to the presumed expert class. Promote idea that cells lacking a certified member of expert class, it is not equipped to be activated.
4) Focus on knowledge, rather than doing
Complexification and expert-class development will make cells spend immense amounts of time studying the work, even debating theories of the work, rather than doing it. Better yet...
5) Equate STUDYING the work with the work itself
The cells are called to ACT, of course. But if we can convince operatives that the work, itself, is in trying to understand the complexity of the work? They'll be effectively neutered. We need to get them to spend large amounts of time in study, gathering to study, believing they don't know enough, hiring new experts to teach them again and again, and attending teaching events.
They'll actually believe they're doing their work when they attend events held by experts. This will render the cell, and the whole movement, harmless! Convince them that the most radicalized, militant among them are merely called to bring other non-activated members to the cell events.
6) Sabotage cell multiplication
VERY important! Cells that operate under simple principles, with motivated operatives, devoted to multiplication? Very, very dangerous, fast-growing, and pop-culture endangering. We must stop this in its tracks, and this is done in multiple ways:
A) Foster egos and small-time celebrity. By convincing operatives to set up individual fiefdoms, fewer autonomous cells will be activated. Rather, the emphasis will be on building larger individual cells with numerous unactivated members.
B) Make the basic structure highly difficult to replicate. Al-Qaeda cells currently are, by necessity, simply-structured and easily replicated. Propagate idea that for cells to begin, planning, experts and capital must be simultaneously accumulated. Expert motivational speakers will be necessary, plus paid staff with highly specific training and talents. Operatives will see massively "successful" large cells, and attempt to duplicate them, with very limited success because of the huge inputs required. This will greatly inhibit growth.
C) Convince philosophically-aligned, but non-active, members to choose from among most entertaining, high quality, cells that offer services for them. Not only will this engender a harmless, internal focus, it will require IMMENSE amounts of resources and energy.
7) Make operatives really, really busy.
Replace simple, animating mission with lengthy lists, charts, and programs for cell maintanance. Convince them that this institutional maintenance is, actually, the mission, itself.
This will leave them will no actual time for conducting actual mission.
8) Get Al-Qaeda to seek governmental approval.
Offer tax incentives if necessary. The larger cells, requiring large edifices, will also require tremendous amounts of capital. This will also allow a measure of control, to threaten the cell's tax status, thereby threatening funds for internal programs, when necessary.
Better: They'll consider actual operational cells that exist without this governmental approval to be, themselves, invalid!
9) Co-opt Al-Qaeda with the larger culture.
Once members are convinced that cell maintenance and study are actually their "mission", the rest of their lives can be harmlessly integrated with the culture at large. They'll be indistinguishable from non-members, and, because of their new understanding of "mission", effectively equivalent to non-members.
10) Convince members to wear Al-Qaeda t-shirts with funny sayings and stuff.
It'll work to thwart an evil message. It even works with the good ones.
My friend Pablo and I came up with a genius new invention-thing.
I'm a little absent-minded, and lose stuff ALL the time -- but now? Now I won't. Thanks to this new invention-thing. It's something I think you'll want to purchase -- not just for you, but for loved ones.
Qumran, or However You Spell It, Near the Dead Sea (AP) --
Scholars here are abuzz after new biblical fragments were discovered. "Now, everything adds up," says Ehud Oren of Hebrew University. "It all makes sense, now. By the way, it's pretty awesome that we keep finding stuff in this awesome cave."
This find includes original, previously lost, texts from the biblical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Scholars, in a collective statement, admit "some surprise" but they now see how the American church is squarely "on the right track."
"We found these fragments with Jesus telling his disciples to grab some serious real estate, build it, and try to attract people to it," the statement says. "He even throws around the term '250 billion bucks', which corresponds to the net real estate holdings of American churches at this very moment. It's freaky," they say.
"He has some side conversations with the Pharisees, too, where he tells them he's really all about, above all, being theologically astute, learned, and correct. In these fragments, he's real into arguing about 'predestination' and having the right hierarchy set up and all that stuff," the report says. "It was a real emphasis."
There's even a reference to wanting his followers to market mint candies with scriptures inside. "He told some businessmen, 'If it reaches just one person, it's worth it.'"
"It's now clear, ultimately, that Jesus wanted his followers to prize knowledge, seize on academic differences, split 33,000 times, and set up parallel institutions across the street from each other," the report says. "So we're right on track."
There will be new verses to memorize, like John 47:12: "And lo, you need to collect some money from yourselves, and then spend a full 85 percent of it on congregational maintenance," and Mark 57:2: "Check this out, disciples: Some day, I'm going to let you guys satellite uplink yourselves."
The scholars say the new texts emphasize the need for a permanent, professional class of experts to figure out what Jesus really meant, like when he said his teachings were actually "easy". (Matthew 11)
"We're looking at a fragment now that continues on from where Jesus said all commands were summed up with just two, about loving God and neighbor. Turns out, in the fragment, Jesus goes on to say, 'Well, those two, plus a bunch of other ones, but you'll understand those later when you get a Bible put together and start cutting it up in verses and stuff.' -- that's what it says. So we're right on course," the statement says.
"Turns out, we've been smack-on when it comes to 'taking stands' for stuff. Previously, we didn't have Jesus saying anything about 'taking stands' here and there, but now - in the new Matthew 73 -- he goes down a long list: Take a stand against Hollywood, against welfare reform, and against 'The Shack'."
Scholars point to the new Matthew 73:12: "I know I said, I am the Truth, and I'll always be with you, but I want you to act like the truth is this dainty, fragile thing that can only exist thanks to your personal heroic efforts to preserve it. Take a stand, and then a bow."
"We're hitting on all cylinders," the report concludes, citing the ongoing divisions and spending to justify expert debates over the Bible. "It all makes sense now."
I was on the air, talking about how hard it is for people, it seems, to find places to get married. It's expensive to use church buildings these days -- even for people who've been "members" for years.
Caller: Well, I'm on staff at our church, and there's a good reason we charge $500 for people to use the building for a wedding.
Me: That's what the church charges members who've actually paid for the building over the years?
Caller: Yes. It's really expensive to run the power and clean up and everything.
Me: Of course it is. So if the pastor wants to have a "Let's Celebrate Our Grads!" night in the sanctuary, do you have to pay $500?
Caller: Well, no, because that would be an official church function.
Me: Okay, I'm just curious: Joining members of your church in holy matrimony in front of witnesses and God isn't an official thing?
Caller: No, that's an extra thing.
Next caller: I draw up the wedding policy at our church. I thought I'd call. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
Me: Okay...I was just wondering -- I mean, it came up: Do you charge your own people to use the building for a wedding?
Caller: Yes. You need to understand, it costs a LOT to run the power, the lights, the maintenance of a building. It's very expensive.
Me: Yeah, I'm sure that's true. So, like, if your youth pastor schedules an event in there, like a lock-in or something, does he pay for it...?
Caller: No. (laughing)
Me: Okay...help me understand...
Caller: Youth ministry is part of the church.
Me: Okay. That's cool. But a wedding ceremony isn't? Even if the people are members for years, and helped pay for the building, and the pastor's been there two months...?
Caller: It's because it's youth ministry.
Me: You know, that's cool, but I'm not even sure that youth ministry is mentioned in the Bible. And weddings have a --
Caller: Yeah, but it's an extra thing. People have to pay for that.
Next caller: I can speak for our church. If we DIDN'T charge, we'd have people lined up, wanting to use the place every Saturday for years.
Me: But if they're people who are members, and paid for the building, and it's theirs, too, shouldn't it be free and celebrated and --
Caller: It would be too crazy if you just let people do that.
Me: But if they paid for it to start with --
Caller: You have to charge a fee to discourage people from using it.
Next caller: I'm in charge of our sound and lights ministry, and it's a big church, and it's a big hassle to have to go in there and do a wedding.
Me: Sure, I understand. If they don't want sound, though, could they just schedule --
Caller: I don't think so. It wouldn't be an official church event.
Because there's nothing more fun than forcing people to look at your own photo albums, here's an online version.
I can't force you to look at it. I can't even force myself to think you'd want to. But here it is.
Oh, the places you'll go!