Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Whoa....somebody's comin'...somebody's comin'!
Baby: The other other white meat!

I was reading a post on one of my favorite blogs, Hemant Mehta's Friendly Atheist earlier today, on the Freedom From Religion Foundation's recent billboard campaign in Florida. I wholeheartedly support the effort, as I am completely for the separation of church and state as well as the desire to let other non-believers know that they are not alone. There are a shit-ton of us, and we'll gladly stand right beside you, or even allow you to buy us a beer.

As I've said many times before, I completely support the right of the individual to believe or not believe whatever they please. I've recently converted to Pastafarianism myself, not out of any real conviction that the Flying Spaghetti Monster (sauce and cheese be upon Him) actually exists, but rather because it makes just as much sense as any other religion. And at least, with the FSM, you get to eat really well, drink a lot of beer and dress up like a pirate instead of going to church: Three of the biggest goals in my life down in one move. And, on the off chance that Our Noodly Lord (basil and garlic be upon Him) does exist, I get to go to the Beer Volcano and Stripper Factory in the sky. It's a better version of Pascal's know, because of the beer and strippers. That combination makes anything better. (Seriously, think of ANYTHING at all off the top of your head. Now add beer and strippers. See?!)  But I'm off topic yet again. Point: individuals can have any religion they want, but the U.S. government, by design, cannot make or pass any law that endorses or decries any of them and therefore must act in a secular fashion for the common good. So, good on ya, FFRF. Keep it up.

Now, on to the real meat of this piece. (heh. Meat. Piece. I will NEVER tire of dick jokes.) In wanting to read a little more on subject of the FFRF's billboards, I clicked through to a story on Tampa Bay Online  covering it. It seemed a little biased against the FFRF, but nothing too extreme and that's really par for the course, so no surprise there. Toward the end of the article, however, a quote brought up something that's been bugging me awhile:

"David Clarke, a Tampa psychologist and author of several Christian books, says he supports the right to post these billboards but 'feels sorrow' for the sponsors at the same time. "Without God," he said, "life is meaningless and there can't be any real morality.'"

 I really don't have a problem with religious folks feeling sorrow that I haven't embraced a (or more specifically their) god. Nor do I have too much of a problem being prayed for (I used to, but generally the sentiment comes from the heart. It's pointless, but harmless all in all. I do, however have a BIG problem being prayed at, which happens far more often.). I suppose if I truly felt that everyone who didn't believe the same way I did wasn't going to the Beer Volcano, I'd be sad about it, too. The thing that has really cottaged my cheese for a long time, even before I fully let go of the idea of God, however, is Clarke's last sentence: "Without God," he said, "life is meaningless and there can't be any real morality.'" Fundies have been claiming the moral high ground since forever, so there's no real shock to it, but I'm going to offer yet another counter argument, if only because this dude is supposedly a psychologist and should know better.

Clarke and others of his ilk argue that religion (around these parts that means Christianity, but really, the sentiment is pretty interchangeable across the Big Three) is necessary because God lays out the way we ought to live. Through the bible, humanity is given its moral compass, and without believing that there's a god to please, a heaven to aspire to and a hell to avoid, we'd all just go around stabbing each other, raping anything that moved, and eating babies. And that's just asinine.

Morality isn't a religious mandate, it's a biological one. We come from a long line of social creatures. Long before we built cities to live in, we still lived in groups. Over the long millenia to get us where we are, our morality has evolved. We ought to treat others well because we're all connected as a species, and its the best chance we have of surviving and thriving. We all have the same basic desires (with a few kinks thrown in here and there according to personal tastes): food, shelter, love, happiness, etc. It really doesn't take a divine revelation to tell us what's good and what's not. It's the Golden Rule at its simplest: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That was around long before the idea of Jesus (they just kinda shoehorned it in there. Gives the J-man a little more philosophical heft.), and with any luck it'll be around long after it, too.

To quote Penn Jillette: "Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around."

I live a life without god, and it is devoid of neither morality nor meaning. I aspire to kindness, though I may fail here and there. I treat people well. I give to charity. I help my brothers and my nieces with their homework. I've helped feed and clothe those less fortunate than me. I make my friends laugh. I do these things not so that I can be rewarded after I'm dead (though I will take a couple of bucks now, if you're giving it away), but because it makes me happy to do so. (It's not completely selfless, to be honest, since I enjoy the feeling it gives me to help someone out, and since I would hope someone would do the same for me if I needed it) I have never raped or murdered; I don't intentionally harm people at all. The last thing I ever stole was when I was a kid, and I felt terrible about it for a long time, even then not because I felt God would be angry at me, but because I stole something that belonged to someone else. The wrongness of the act was instinctual, not simply because I felt as though I would get in trouble. (Though I did, in the end. God's got nothing on my mom when she's pissed. I owe a lot more of my morality to her than to any god, that's for sure.)

So, that takes care of the morality. As for meaning: I have a lot of joy in my life. There are people I love and who love me. I have a wife I depend on and who depends on me. I have beer, cheesy midnight movies, Tom Waits music, Martin Scorcese, stand-up comedy, sunsets, glacial caves, romance, bromance, Shakespeare, Vonnegut, birthday parties, etc. etc. etc. Most importantly, I have the consequences of my actions, both good and bad, and I'd much rather make people smile. All that is enough for me. I don't need heaven, and wouldn't want it. It wouldn't be heaven if there's a hell, it would be unbearable. And if you think otherwise: fuck you, you selfish prick. :)

I don't want to say that I'm better than religious folks because of all this, that would be unfair. I'm better than some and not as good as others, the same as anyone else. There are plenty of believers that have had an amazing positive impact on just my own life; to discount them would be unthinkable. My point is we shouldn't be good because we want some big payoff from the cosmic slot machine; we should do what Aristotle, Santa and Bill Murray have told us to do all along: Be good, for goodness' sake.

And so, I leave you with a reading from the Loose Canon, one of the holiest books of Pastafarianism. Specifically, from the Random Number of Not Commandments, Suggestions:

"2. Thou ought not do stuff thou already knowest is wrong, like killing, lying, cheating, stealing, etc. Dost thou really need these carved into a rock?"

May your sauce be forever warm. RAmen.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Stop being a faggot and let gay people get married already!

I figured I should weigh in on the recent awesomeness of California's Prop 8 being overturned. It's a shame it passed in the first place, but it's great that its death has brought so much attention to how stupid it was. I caught a few minutes of a rant that our good friend and fear-mongering Christ Crusader Pat Robertson threw out just awhile after the news broke, and he said, with his usual aplomb:

"The homosexuals want to destroy the church and they want to destroy doesn't matter how sacred an institution is and how important it is to society, as long as there can be a confirmation that this lifestyle is acceptable." I get to rant a little. (It's been too long...let me just get on my ranting shoes here and dance a...well, a sad, awkward little jig since not only am I white and have no rhythm, but I'm a spastic diplegic and my legs don't work so good to begin with. Still, I try, dammit.) Let's take just this little snippet of Mr. Robertson's ideology and work with it on its own, shall we? (If we took the whole damn thing, I'd pull a Scanners and no one wants to clean brains and hair off stucco.) He says, firstly, that homosexuals want to destroy the church. Some do, I'm sure. I'm a straight, married man and I want to destroy the church. A lot.

Let me qualify that last statement: I have a problem with religion as an idea, sure. After a lot of self-searching, I just couldn't rectify the stories with reality anymore. It requires that you accept something as fact based on absolutely no quantifiable evidence, and it's got a lot of crazy ass stories that are just, when you get right down to it, silly. However, I am a firm believer in individual rights, and one of those is the right to believe whatever crazy ass thing you want (or the right not to), so long as your belief does no harm to anyone other than yourself. You or I can harm ourselves all we want. I smoke and drink, and I know these things can harm me, but I don't force others to do the same.

And this is where religion as an institution comes in. Imagine no religion, as one of the better Beatles once said. Would we still have war? Absolutely, we're animals, after all, and animals fight for territory and survival. That's one of the nastier aspects of evolution, but it's an observable fact. Can't blame that all on religion. But would we have terrorism, most of which is largely based on fanatical religious beliefs? Probably not. No fanaticism, no fanatics. Wars would be a lot more honest, I can tell you that: "My dick's bigger than yours! BAM! Dead."  Would we still have child molestation? Sadly, yes. Psychological aberrations are not the sole realm of the faithful, and I'm sure plenty of people have touched kids without god telling them it was ok. But would we have the powerful shuffling them around like some twisted Find the Pedophile shell game; or worse, outright denying that the perpetrators did anything wrong? Nope. No church, no parishes to ship them to. We'd have to deal with the family and friends of said criminals and nothing more. And pedophiles, once they're exposed, tend to lose friends fast.  I'm not going to go into the denial of positions authority to women, but suffice to say that the argument there is not in religion's favor, either.

So, that's why I want to destroy the church. I'm not going to take any steps to do so beyond pointing out the inherent goofiness and hatefulness of it all, because it's not my place to tell anyone what to believe, nor do I want that job. And so, we come to Robertson's argument about gay people wanting to destroy the institution of marriage. This one's really easy to refute: If they wanted to destroy marriage, why the hell would they be fighting so hard to get married? They'd do like that creepy guy you went to college with: Bang a whole lot of anonymous strangers and spend their 30's dating people ten years to young for them, all the while calling you stupid for wanting to settle down. And I'm sure some of them are, the same as some straight folks do. Funny, how if you take any group of people and stack 'em up against any other group, you find a lot of the same kinds of people. I wonder what that could mean. But I digress. Gay folks want to get married for the same reasons that straight folks do: TAX BREAKS! And, you know, love. Making a commitment like that to someone you love and being recognized for that commitment by the country that you live in is a powerful thing, and they just want the right to it the same as any of us. Trust me, as a married man I can attest to the fact that life is a whole lot easier when someone's got your back.

So, gay people obviously have no problem with the sanctity of marriage. And as to the sacredness of it, or of the church, I'm not sure to which Robertson is referring (I can guess, though), that's a meaningless word in terms of legal governance. Sacredness implies holiness which implies religion, which can not be endorsed by the government of this country in any form. What's sacred to me may not be sacred to you and vice versa. And it probably isn't, at least not to the point of ticking every box the whole way down.

The only reason to deny homosexuals the same rights as anyone else is bigotry, pure and simple, and the judge who made the ruling pretty much said just that:

"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis,the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional."

Boom. Suck on that, Pat Robertson. Perhaps if the bible weren't so dead set against oral sex, he wouldn't hate gay people quite so much. I sense a little green-eyed monster on your shoulder, Pat. And he's in a sequined thong, dancing to "It's Rainin' Men"  and he's FABULOUS. (Damn right, that's a Pat-Robertson-needs-a-blowjob joke. Doing a post about gay marriage and not having a joke about fellatio is like having a rainbow with no pot of gold. Man that was a good simile.)

Conclusion: Pat Robertson is an ass. But he can say and believe whatever he pleases. He can hate gays and think they're causing earthquakes and ruining marriage and all other kinds of crazy shit. That's the beauty of the United States constitution. Another beautiful part of it: The whole separation of church and state thing. So, while you can personally believe with all your heart that we're all going to hell for eating meat on a Friday, you cannot pass any legislation prohibiting any other person from grilling up a steak before Full House starts. (It used to be on Fridays. Remember T.G.I.F? Man, those were some terrible shows.) And you cannot, despite your fervent, deep-held religious convictions, enforce any law denying gay people any right that everyone else enjoys. At least not in  Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C.
 Yeah, I know, it's not much, but it's a start. I'm from Massachusetts (Go Sox!), so that makes me proud. But I live in Texas, and I realize that gay marriage won't be legal here until they're forced to make it so. Hopefully rather sooner than later, but we'll see.

And today's title comes from both myself and Louis C.K. We both grew up in Massachusetts, and I'm sure he used many of the same words I did when growing up. We called each other "faggot" and "queer" (or to be more specific, "quare"), but we had no idea what it meant. We didn't know what gay was. There was no hate behind the word. To quote Louis, "You called someone a faggot because they were being a faggot. If I saw two gay guys blowing each other, I wouldn't call them faggots, unless one of them was being a faggot, like "People from Phoenix are Phoenicians....Hey, quit being a faggot and suck that dick!" I hope we come to a place in my lifetime when that word has as little venom behind it as it did when I was seven.

I leave you with a quote from John Adams, 2nd president and one of the people most instrumental in forming the union we now live in: “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded upon the Christian religion." Ooooh. Burn.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

But I can't stop eating peanuts...

Lost has been over for about a month now. It's a bummer, since my Tuesday nights were pretty much built around it (that's not sad, damn it. It's Tuesday. What do you do on Tuesday nights? Yeah, thought so. And occasionally, I get to do it on a Tuesday night, so, you know, nyah nyah.). But, for better or worse, the creative team behind it got to end things on their own terms, and I was reasonably satisfied. I may have had a few problems with the final season leading into it, and the end had more saccharine than substance, perhaps, but it was still better than a lot of stories out there. My thanks to the talent both in front of and behind the camera for one hell of a fun ride.

The end of Lost has left my TV-time kind of up in the air. I watch a lot of movies and read a book or two a week; I'm not really big on television for the most part, though, beyond The Simpsons and an occasional Law and Order: SVU marathon. I watch a few shows semi-regularly, but there's nothing that I pursue with the damn near religious fervor with which I devoured Lost every week. But I've come to an interesting realization lately, given a mind now clear of the Smoke Monster: Television is damn good again.

You know, not if you're speaking in percentages. If we're talking parts of the whole, the good stuff is like the two Wonka bars that Charlie got to open during the contest, and the thousands that all the other kids in his class plowed through like greasy, irritating, inexplicably multinational locusts (seriously, were they in England or America or what? The Buckets were American, but all Charlie's teachers seemed to be British, that Slugworth guy was clearly Heinrich Himmler without the moustache, the architecture looked post-Chernobyl Soviet, and Willy Wonka...well, he was Gene Wilder, and that's just awesome.) is, say, anything with Jim Belushi. Most of the stuff on channels (son of a bitch, cable had 60 channels when I was kid and that was impressive. And my parents only had like 4. And no internet. It's a wonder I wasn't brought up by wolves.) I get on my overpriced digital cable package is still dreck at best and has made me actively dummer (see, I misspelled "dumber." Fact.)  at worst (anything on MTV -with the exception of one show that I'll get to in a minute, any and all network sitcoms, America's Next Top Whatever, you get the picture), but there are a few really awesome shows out there. Shows that are smart, funny, disturbing, deliciously creamy and filled with nougat. Here are a few I've been catching up with lately, and why I've allowed them to rot my brain and ruin my eyes (according to my grandmother, anyway. Nana was a swell lady who'd do anything for us grandkids, but dang,  if it wasn't The Commish, she didn't want anything to do with it). You may enjoy them as well.

Dexter.  I can't say enough good things about Dexter. It's funny, creepy, tense, gross, thrilling, weird, and other adjectives as well. I read and enjoyed the first book in the series by Jeff Lindsay (the first season of the show is more or less the plot of the first novel) a few years ago, but I didn't really give the show a shot until recently. I watched the first four seasons over the course of a week or two, and now I can't fucking wait for the season premiere. Michael C. Hall rocked the house on Six Feet Under with his subdued portrayal of David, a character you could just feel waiting to explode at any given moment, but Dexter Morgan is a role he absolutely owns. A serial killer with severe sociopathy is a character that would be almost impossible to like, but Hall has us rooting for this guy every step of the way. And season four's Big Bad, a seemingly loving, suburban father whose killer exploits hold a cracked mirror to Dexter's own (or maybe it's the other way around) gives us John Lithgow in what may be the finest performance of his career. I know the dude was the bad guy in Buckaroo Bonzai, and that's fantastic in its own right, but Lithgow is absolutely chilling as Trinity here. Way to hit the mark, Dick Solomon. (heh. Dick. Whew, I didn't think I was going to be able to fit one in this post. Heh. Fit one in. Two for two!) Also, you get to see Julie Benz's boobies a couple of times. So, you know, that's pretty great, too.

Mad Men. This is a show I watched a few times on the first go around, and while I dug it, it didn't really hook me. I picked up the first two seasons super cheap when my store closed down, so I gave it another watch. This show is fantastic, full of macho bravura and old school femme fatales  from a cast of characters as twisted and dysfunctional as anyone on the Sopranos, and steeped in a history close enough to our own time for us to be able to recognize the things that would shape the late-20th and early-21st centuries emerge and begin to take hold. It's like the first Back to the Future, if they showed you all the fucking that you totally knew was going on behind those damn hoop skirts.  Also, it made me not hate Vincent Kartheiser. Well, yeah, I still do, but I hate his character, which you're supposed to. So, mission accomplished, Angel's kid. Back when he was on Angel, his character was so damned whiny, I wanted to actively make the actor's life uncomfortable. Not in a legally culpable way, mind you. Just, you know, give the dude a wet willy on the bus or shit in his mailbox or something. And two words: Don Draper. That is all.

MTV gets one prop from me for Warren the Ape. I loved Greg the Bunny for the month it was actually on, I bought the series on DVD and still watch it pretty regularly, and the IFC film parodies with Greg are hilarious, so thank you, MTV, for bringing back my favorite degenerate-ego maniacal-drunken-sex addicted-Shakespeare-quoting-helmet-wearing monkey puppet. Also, since it's on basic cable this time, they've been able to bring back some of the edginess and raunchiness that made the original shorts so damn funny. Watch it, please, so it'll stick around for more than 12 episodes this time. Also, I miss Tardy Turtle. Fox has the rights to him, and some bastard stole the puppet, so we'll probably never see him again. Crayons do indeed taste like purple. Bonne chance, my special green friend. >squeak<.

Also, Comedy Central has become my new hero for two separate reasons: 1. Tosh.0, a show which, while basically a youtube comments section with a few less "lolz fag"s, is one of the damned funniest half hours I've seen in a while. 2. They brought Futurama back last week! And not in the uncomfortable, kinda funny but still mostly unsettling direct to video movie format it's been rocking lately, but in an honest to crap, weekly half hour format. And it's funny again!  WHOOOOOO!!!!  I've been a Futurama fan since it came out a decade ago, and it wasn't fair that it got shafted, shuffled around, and basically just buried by Fox time and again. On its best days, Futurama rivals The Simpsons  in its prime for sheer funny per ounce, and on its worst, it's still got an alcoholic robot with a taste for hookers and a freaky, kinda Jewish lobster monster whose abject loserish-ness  makes me feel better about that one time I threw half a meatball sub away, changed my mind half an hour later, pulled it out of the trash, microwaved it and ate it since, come on, man it was pretty well wrapped up and it was still totally good, shut up.

There are a few other shows on tap for me, too. I'm finally getting into Breaking Bad, which is excellent (did you know that the dad from Malcolm in the Middle, who is the main character on Breaking Bad, was also in two episodes of the Power Rangers? And not the hip, flashy Power Rangers they've got now, but the cheesy, freaked out, unsettlingly Japanese Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. True story, man. That makes him OK by me), and I'm also working my way through some stuff I always meant to watch but never got around to, like Deadwood and The Tudors. Bottom line: I'll never be Lost again, and that makes my eyes rain (Simple Jack! Goddamn I love me some Tropic Thunder), but there are some really talented folks telling some really great stories on the idiot box these days. Television as a medium is slowly, sometimes painfully, but finally beginning to reach the level of art form that until now (save a few notable exceptions) had been reserved for film. Hell, one of the last episodes of Lost was even directed by Mario Van Peebles. That's right, Mario Van Peebles  as in Solo. That shiver you felt just now was your brain having an orgy of awesome with the rest of your body.

Today's title, by the way, comes from a quote by Orson Welles: "I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts."  Orson Welles was a huge dude, so to be fair, you could probably change "peanuts" to "cake" or "honey glazed ham" or "fistfuls of cookie dough" or "whole goats, raw." and the sentiment would be the same.

Rosebud out.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here...

I've been ruminating a lot lately on the subject of religion; in my case, specifically the absence of religion. I was raised, as I've said, in the grand New England tradition of lapsed Catholicism. We went to mass for the Big Four occasions: weddings, funerals, Christmas and Easter. And every now and again when someone had a baby and wanted to recreate the best scene from The Godfather with a christening, we'd put on our suits and wake up early. But even as a young child, it was clear to me that the ritual was always more important than any actual meaning behind it: We stood when the father said this, we knelt when he said that, and we sang the same songs at the same time every mass. And we shook hands, and put money in the basket. And thus began my lifelong pondering of exactly why it was that I not only had to get up early on Christmas (which I was going to do anyway, c'mon, I was a kid) but why I had to put on my nice clothes and sit in an admittedly cool-as-hell looking building for a couple of hours before I got to open any presents. And why it was that some people did the same thing every Sunday, most of the time without getting presents at all.

To this, or some variation of it, my grandmother would reply because God sent his son to earth to die for our sins and  because of this...original sin...manger...Baby Jesus, etc. As soon as I was old enough to think critically on at least a basic level, say 4 or 5, and continuing for the better part of two decades after that, I had one thought kept drifting through my head whenever I considered such a thing:

"I didn't ask anyone to do that. I just got here. And they NAILED him to a big "T" for it? Damn." That's a hell of a lot of pressure for a kid to cope with.

These days, I approach the subject of god in much the same way that one of my heroes, the late great George Carlin did. George turned his criticism toward just about everything sacred in the world during his long career, and Joe bless him for it. He, along with many other great comics, helped people (myself included) to realize the fun and the silliness inherent in being human. The ways in which we take ourselves seriously can be very funny.One of George's favorite things to skewer was religion, and how it really made no sense at all.

When The Onion asked a bunch of celebrities the big question, "Is there a God?" back in 2000, George responded with this:

"No. No, there's no God, but there might be some sort of an organizing intelligence, and I think to understand it is way beyond our ability. It's certainly not a judgmental entity. It's certainly not paternalistic and all these qualities that have been attributed to God. It's probably a dispassionate... That's why I say, "Suppose He doesn't give a shit? Suppose there is a God but He just doesn't give a shit?" That's the kind of thing that might be at work."

After many years of reflection, study and searching of my conscience, I have to come to a similar conclusion myself. It's why I refer to myself as an "agnostic at best,"; not to suggest that being agnostic is the absolute best thing I can be, but that since I allow for the possibility of, as George put it, an "organizing intelligence," most would call me such, and that's about as far into it as I'm willing to go. There may have been something that racked the balls (Heh. Racked the balls. Dick joke achieved.) and hit the cue, but it doesn't have any money riding on the game. You know what? I'm really proud of that metaphor. It's going in my Big Book of How to Explain Stuff Using Words That Are Usually Used for Other Stuff. Now if I could figure out a metaphor for that title, I'll be golden.

Penn Jillette, in his web series Penn Says gives an interesting answer to the "atheist vs. agnostic" debate, suggesting that "agnostic" answers the epistemological side of it, that is whether it can be known if there's a god, and "atheist" answers the belief side, whether or not one believes there is. So, you can call me an agnostic atheist, or an atheist agnostic, or you can just call me Keith. Or Superfly. Yeah, call me Superfly. Awesome.

I've brought all this up for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I've just recently come to terms with it on an emotional as well as intellectual level. I've made peace with it (for the most part, anyway)  in my own mind, and that's brought a sense of relief to me that is new and exciting, and I want to talk about it. And in exploring that, a few things from my childhood come to mind that get the ol' rant-engines purring.

I've mentioned it before, but I was born with cerebral palsy. Spastic diplegia, to put a finer point on it. My brain doesn't control my musculature quite right, and as such every muscle in my body is, to a greater or lesser extent, constantly in a "spastic," or tense state. I can't straighten my legs all the way, I walk with a limp, and my equilibrium is shot all to hell. My handwriting also sucks, but no one writes by hand anymore, so that's really not much of an issue. Being a disabled person, I invariably hear a certain phrase from people whenever I bring up my condition. It's a phrase most of the disabled community knows all too well: "God made you special for a reason."

The first time I heard it, it came from the best of places and with the best of intentions, from my mother. I was at the age when kids start to notice differences amongst themselves and can be very cruel to one another about them, and it was her way of saying "Fuck those little bastards, you're gonna show 'em." (She also said exactly that more than once, but if you're five, you can't say that in school, so I always had the God thing to fall back on) I was grateful to hear that. I'm still grateful when it comes from her. At that age, it was comforting. I was special. I was part of a grand design.

Now, some 20+ years later, I still hear that phrase, or some variation of it, on a regular basis: at work from customers, from passersby engaged in polite conversation, or from the weird Jesus pamphlet lady at Wal-Mart that I swear has to be following me around. One of the many differences between five year old me and 28 year old me, though, is that 28 year old me is sick and tired of it. As, I suspect, many of us are. It's upsetting and offensive, whether or not the intentions of the speaker are good. The cold truth of it is that I got a raw deal when I was born. I was born far too early, there were complications, I was deprived of oxygen for too long, and my brain was damaged. That sucks. But it's the way it happened. But I'm not bitter about it anymore. Not like I was when I bought into the old sky cake dodge (thanks for that one, Patton!). I was pissed about it then: God made me special? What the hell for? He needed someone who can't walk a straight line, ride a bike, and can't really swim that great? He needed someone to get stared at by damn near everyone he walks by? Hell of a grand design there, chief.

Once I was able to accept the reality of it, I was able to deal with it in a much healthier way. I was able to look back and see that my parents never let my condition keep me down. They insisted, my mother doubly so, that I could do damn near anything I wanted to. And I saw my friends that never let it color the things we did beyond "Hey, you walk kinda funny. That's cool, let's go play Mario." I played soccer and baseball as a child, I ran around in the woods, got dirty, got hurt, tore shit up, and was generally a healthy, happy, pain in the ass little kid. And I continue to be pretty much the same to this day. And I am thankful for it.

And now I think of that phrase again, and of some of the other kids I've met throughout my life. The kids who had CP ten times worse than I do, awesome kids who couldn't walk at all and sometimes could barely speak. Or the kids I met in the children's ward at the hospital during one of my many surgeries, kids who had barely got to live and were already dying. And I think of all the kids who are beaten down, who haven't eaten in days or who lose limbs in wars they can't understand. As George said, "If there is a god, he's at least incompetent."

"God made you special." and "God help those poor kids." It's all bull. Write a letter or start an argument, or donate a buck to UNICEF , United Cerebral Palsy , the American Cancer Society or any other charity that actually does help. Tell a kid a joke and make him laugh. You won't be interfering with God's Plan. There is no sky cake and there is no God. The universe is an infinite wonder, and we're an amazing blue speck in the vastness of it all. We are special, however. We are wondrous creatures. We can ask questions and build things, and write stories and sing songs. We're all here together, and we have a responsibility to make the best of this life.

P.S. : I promise my next post will be funnier.

Monday, May 31, 2010

This is the business we have chosen...

I'm a writer. Not professionally; not really, anyway. I've made probably a couple hundred bucks in the last ten years based directly on something I've written and a good portion of that was made writing freshman comp. term papers for the math majors in college. (Cheating is wrong, kids, but dammit, daddy's crippling addiction to fruit-by-the-foot is not going to pay for itself. By-the-foot has no meaning when you're blowing through 2 or 3 furlongs of strawberry kiwi in a weekend, your IKEA coffee table looking like an accountant's wet dream --the paper stuff it came on looks like adding machine tape, keep up, here-- Remember, kids, Bubble Tape is a gateway drug!) Wow, I sure do love the parenthetical asides...anyway, I'm a writer. Crafting words into something interesting, thought-provoking, funny, or downright unsettling is what I'm good at. It's what I want to do for a living when I grow up.

That last sentence is something that has given me pause lately. I've been unemployed for a few weeks now, and I wouldn't recommend it. I'm bored as hell most of the time, and I've got no money spend, which is what I usually do when I'm bored.  I've had a lot of time to think these days, though, which can be a good thing. I'm looking down the barrel of 30, and though the trigger hasn't been pulled quite yet, the hammer is sure  as hell cocked. (Heh. Cocked. Dick joke quota met; moving on...) And it occurs to me that I've already grown up. I pay bills, I shower semi-regularly without someone having to force it on me, I'm married and looking forward to having kids soon, and I LIKE eating vegetables. I became what society would term a functioning adult sometime in the last few years without realizing it. And that's cool.

Paying bills aside, being a grown up is working out well for me. I dig married life; it's really cool knowing you've got someone to love that loves you back and that, to throw in an obligatory nerd metaphor, you've added a Sexy Elf Mage to your party that has a lot of attributes your Dark Paladin Thief or whatever doesn't have. It's also nice to know that if they want to leave your party, it's going to cost them a shitload of mana...or whatever. Listen, I'm not good at RPGs but I couldn't make a Ghostbusters reference here and make it work. I tried saying that it's like when the Ghostbusters added Winston Zeddemore to the team, but then I realized that I'd be comparing my wife to Ernie Hudson, and that brought up a lot of feelings I don't know how to deal with. Point: being married is cool and my wife is awesome and way hotter than Ernie Hudson.

And I can't wait to read Alice in Wonderland to my kids, to teach them to read it themselves and fill them with the things they'll need to take on the world, and a lot of other things just for funsies; Like a working knowledge of Batman's utility belt, or why a land shark is man's greatest enemy. (if you have to ask why, you're already dead. I'm sorry. Candygram.)

But realizing my adulthood is also a very sobering thing. I'm a grown up, but I'm not writing for a living. To be honest, I'm not writing much at all these days. And that's something I intend to change right now. I may have to be a salesman (something I'm very good at, to my surprise) to pay the bills, but I'm going to be a writer by trade from here on out. A trade, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary (I love the internet. Makes citations so damn easy.) is "a personal occupation, esp a craft requiring skill." Well goddamn it, writing is my trade, and I intend to show it. I'm going to pimp this damn blog for all it's worth (or you know, I'm actually going to show it to people other than my wife. Hi, sweetie.), I'm going to actually work on the projects I've been tossing around in my brain the past couple of years, and I'm going to continue to hone my craft until my prose is so razor sharp, it'll cut you up so bad. I may not get paid for it again for a long while, but if my time as an exhibitionist at the bus station has taught me anything it's this: Exposure is the first step to pepper spray success. Sure, sometimes you're Moe Greene and you get a bullet in the eye, but that dude built Las Vegas.

You can look forward to some interesting bits and pieces here in the coming days and weeks. I'll continue to post my mad ravings as always, but I'll also be posting some of the stuff I'm working on. I've got the wheels spinning now, so jump on, kids, we're taking this fucker all the way to Fresno!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Meat is murder; Tasty, Tasty Murder

For those of you who have missed my angry, rambling insanity style of writing lately, I intend to be back on top form with this one. As you may know, the titles of my posts usually relate in some backwards, barely coherent and yet slyly clever way, to the content of said posts. This one is no different. It is not, as may seem at first glance, about my status as a raging carnivore. I love meat, everyone knows that. It's not news. It's delicious, full of protein, and it reminds me that, despite my status as a relatively unknown shouter of obscenities on the internet, I am actually on top of the food chain. This post is not about delicious cows. It is instead about sacred ones.

I realize I'm a little late to the party on this one, but the whole South Park/Mohammad controversy really had me steaming. You all know what it was about by now, so I'm not going to rehash the details. Suffice to say, it had me sincerely cheesed off.

I'm not going to direct anger at Comedy Central. They pussied out, for sure, but not arbitrarily. There are a lot of talented people that work for them, and they all have families and friends and other people they don't want beheaded or blown up. I'm sure if I were in that position, I'd back off, too. Live to fight another day, I dig. Instead, I'm going to direct my sweet, rich hatred where it belongs: at the groups who think that their sacred cows give them the right to deprive anyone else of the feeling of safety.

Coleman, the butler in the Dan Aykroyd/Eddie Murphy film Trading Places (well worth watching, simply for the genius scene of Dan Aykroyd in a filthy Santa suit, eating a salmon whole while picking nylon fake beard threads out of it. The best moments in life really are the little moments.) says toward the end of the film, while disguised as a Catholic priest, "I always say religion's a fine thing, taken in moderation." I tend to agree with this opinion. I have nothing against religion in and of itself.  I may be, as I've said many times before, an agnostic at best who finds the whole practice a little silly on a personal level, but I respect the right of an individual to believe whatever they please. In many cases, religion allows an individual to connect with a certain side of himself (or herself, let's be equal here), giving him or her the opportunity to explore the deeper philosophical bits and pieces of the human existence, a practice which I am most definitely for. It helps fill a void, I get that, and sometimes I even envy it.

Me? I tend to get my philosophy from other sources. I believe that when I die, I'm going to go to the Island from Lost and kick it with some polar bears and crack a few cold ones with the Smoke Monster. "But K-Dawg," you may say, "Lost is fictional. It's a story made up by some guys in a room some place. It's not even real!" To which I will reply, knowingly, "Exactly."

Point:  Just because you believe it's sacred doesn't mean I have to. We can still be friends.

You can believe in Jesus, or Buddha, or Mohammad, or Brahma or whatever you please, and I can believe in The Island. If it helps us ponder the mysteries of humanity and the inner workings of the cosmos, excellent. Hell, even if it just gives us something to do once a week, there's nothing wrong with that either.

And you have every right to think that I'm silly for believing a TV show is real, and for wanting to go there when I die, and I have every right to believe that you're silly for believing the stories that you believe. We're all still here together; we just don't have to hang out on Sundays.

These extremist groups continue to threaten and provoke because we back down every time. The best defense against jack holes like this isn’t more retaliatory threats, which is something I've seen a lot of in the little research I did for this piece--violence does indeed beget violence, after all-- it’s not letting them silence us. Everyone has a right to their belief system, or to the lack of one. Believe in your sacred cows, shine on you crazy diamond. I don’t have to believe in them, too, and I DON'T have to treat them with kid gloves. And you can take offense at that; it's a perfectly normal human response. But the moment you threaten violence against me and others who don’t believe what you do, you lose the right to be treated fairly and with respect. And the fact that these threats in particular were made by a group in America makes it doubly so; it's a place where we pride ourselves so much on our citizens' right to free speech, we put it right at the top of the damn Bill that lays the big ones out.

Freedom of speech means just that: You can say what you want, and I can say what I want, even if we're both full of crap. You can disagree, you can debate, you can argue, but you can not threaten. Period. And the moment we give in to a threat of that nature, we give up a little bit of that freedom. It's kind of like erosion: One day, you got a nice piece of beachfront property, a nice little bungalow with a nice wooden deck off the back. It's great to sit out there and feel the summer breeze and drink some lemonade or a little rum punch and just generally enjoy the hell out of being alive. You lose an inch or two a year, big deal, man, it's just an inch or two. Then, before you know it, you're on the news with a sad, confused look, your kick-ass Ray-Bans having left a tan line around your face that makes you look like a doofus, and damn it, no one looks good in a Hawaiian shirt and flip flops,what the hell were you thinking? And the video of your house falling into the ocean is on youtube with a jillion hits, right behind that one where they try to blow up the whale and Moby Dick rains fiery death from above with chunks of his fat whale ass.

Damn, that shit was funny. In both instances, and in the one above--you know, free speech. Pay attention. No, stop looking up the whale video. You've seen it nine times already. Did you not even come close to getting the point of know what, screw it.--Point:  hindsight is 20/20.

And to my Hindu friends: I'm not picking on you more than anyone else, I promise. I admire your people, your rich history, and your Mahatmas (means "great souls", apparently. Thanks, Wikipedia!)... and I love your curry. Sacred cow is just a great term. And if any of you guys wants to go for a hamburger with me, I totally won't narc on you. We're cool, bro.

Queequeg out, bitches.

(Seriously, no one got that reference? I know no one even read the book in high school, but shit, man, even the Cliffs Notes has the list of characters in it. Read a book, goddamn it!)

The Internet Killed the Video Store...

In my mind and in my car, we can't rewind we've gone too far. Oh-ah-oh-oh-a-oh...and so on.

So, I'm in my 2nd full day of unemployment, which sucks. For those of you who don't know, which, since no one reads this blog o' mine anyway, is no one, since I know, so...So, this is for the parts of me that don't know, like my spleen, who very likely does not know, since he's a bit of a layabout and doesn't really contribute anything worthwhile to the conversation. Yeah, you heard me, Frank. (My spleen's name is Frank. My gallbladder is named Jeff, by the way, and my liver is John Wayne, because he's a fuckin' hoss, that's why.) Anyway, up 'til this past Monday, I ran a video store for a national chain that, while it shall remain nameless, is probably easy enough to guess, since it's the one going out of business; Though the other guys are probably not far behind...

The video store is a thing of the past, as many have said, and we have the internet to blame. Web-based rental programs, digital delivery, on-demand programming, etc. I oughta be pissed, but I'm not. Looking for a new job sucks, and it's something I haven't had to do in years. And the current unemployment rate makes the market unkind to everyone and especially unkind to the disabled (even the ones who can kick your ass. Bring it on, man, I'll cut you! I swear to god, I'll cut you!), but the writing was on the wall long before the wall got knocked down. And the writing said "Boobs," but that's because I was the one who wrote it there.

It's evolution of the marketplace, pure and simple. Can't get mad about progress, man, otherwise you're grandpa bitching about kids on his lawn and their damned music. And if Back to the Future has taught us anything, it's that you can't be your own grandpa. And that we don't need roads. And that the Cubs will one day win the World Series. And that Marty, you gotta come back with me! Man, that was an educational piece of cinema right there.

My point, insofar as I have a point, is that this sort of thing has always happened. New technology, new methods of delivery, new means of production, or whatever, have always come along and put their predecessors out to pasture. The automobile put the horse and carriage people out of business. The gun relegated the sword people to traditionalists and hobbyists. The wheel put the Drag Heavy Shit Really Far people down. And the fire guys moved the Eat Our Food Raw and Freeze to Death Consortium out of the way. It happens. 

Convenience is a big motivating factor in what products and services succeed these days. Netflix and On-Demand have that in spades: Push a button on the TV remote, and bam, you got your Avatar or Sherlock Holmes in no time. Stop watching porn for a minute and move that arrow to the other open tab in your web browser and click a button and bam, the entire third season of Full House is on its way to your door. Why you were watching porn and then immediately decided you needed the entire third season of Full House is between you and God, but yes, you should be ashamed.

Redbox is a little less convenient, but they were smart about it: Eliminate the overhead (they just have a minimal stock and repair staff for any given area), and stick these damn things where people are going anyway. They're mainly outside grocery stores, convenience stores, and McDonald's. And if I know the American populace, on any given day, they're either going to need to buy gas, groceries, or a Quarter fucking Pounder with goddamn Cheese. (sorry, I felt that my usual obscenity requirements were lacking with this post. Had to level it out before I started punching pictures of unicorns.) Smart. I'm not a big fan of Redbox personally, since I'm an indie movie nerd, but they did it smart, and good for them. And good for the VOD folks and the gang over at Netflix, who I will be signing up with very soon. You can't beat their selection, I have to admit. Any place you can rent Casablanca, Lucio Fulci's Zombi, and episodes of Fawlty Towers in one place is pretty damned impressive.

I've been hearing a lot about digital delivery replacing physical discs entirely lately, too. It may be the way of the future, but I don't see packaged media disappearing any time soon, honestly. It's for the same reason that book stores are still around in an increasingly paperless world. There are too many old school geeks out there, like me, who love to brag about the size of their dicks collections. There's something satisfying about having a big ol' floor to ceiling bookcase full of the literary classics. So, too, is there something satisfying about having one full of DVDs or shiny new blu-rays (Those little blue cases are so goddamn cute, I could stab the pope!) 

Maybe the reason is some form of penis envy, but I'm not that Freudian. I like to be able to see and touch and feel and taste what I spend my money on; be it a book, movie, barely legal Asian prostitute, or 2 and a half keys of the finest Bolivian marching powder on God's green earth. (I can't feel my teeth, but I can see through time. It does not end well for any of you, by the way.) I'm not old-fashioned in many things, but with a physical manifestation of the financial transaction in front of me, I feel like I maybe got a little closer to my money's worth. And if not, at least I can make a kick ass bunch of tiny frisbees.

Plus, no one pays for downloads, dude. What is this, 1995? (If you laughed along with that, then you are also the reason I am unemployed, and should immediately send me 10 dollars).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Your Lucky Numbers Are: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42; or Instant Dharma's Gonna Get You...

OK, let's get it right out in the open from the get-go. I'm an unabashed Lost fan. As anyone who knows my taste in movies and literature and such can tell you, I really enjoy a good mind fuck, (I also enjoy it if it involves my mind in only the very limited sense. Like screaming "Wheee!" over and over again quietly to myself during sex.) and for the past 6 years, Lost has provided that weekly Scanners moment of head-splody goodness I need to keep from killing everyone in the world. Yes, it very often becomes a victim of its own grandeur and yes, most of us that have stuck with it are pretty much obliged to watch to the end whether we like it or not, but despite its problems, it's still managed to swallow my soul.

I'm a nerd, to be sure, but very rarely do I succumb to the desire to really let go. Case in point: Star Trek. I loved the 2009 movie. It was one of those rare fusions of action and sci-fi that really got both parts right. (J.J. Abrams, the film's director is also one of the creators of Lost, by the way) And who doesn't love Patrick Stewart? Before he was hamming it up with hilarious results on Family Guy and American Dad (Watching one of this generations finest Shakespearean thespians as an animated version of himself hold two bowling balls to his chest and proclaim "Look, I've got girl boobs!" is one of the crowning achievements of my television watching career.) he was Captain Something Something Picard on Star Trek. And then he was Professor Goddamn X. You want to talk about handi-capable? The dude's in a wheelchair for sure, but he can kick your ass out through your mouth with the power of his mind. He doesn't need the parking space closest to the store. He can make the store come to HIM. WITH HIS MIND. Read the Americans With Disabilities Act a little closer, man. It's not there to make our lives easier at all. It's actually a cleverly worded piece of legislation enacted to restrain dudes like Professor X and me from just straight up murdering all you normals and then sleeping with your wives. The fine print really screwed us on that one. Lesson one: always read what you sign. Caveat Emptor, man.

Anyway, my wife talked me into watching some of the original Star Trek series, which is something I've always resisted. Don't get me wrong, I love Shatner. It's probably going to be mentioned at my funeral: "That guy in the coffin sure did love Shatner," they'll say. And then, hopefully add, "I wish he didn't owe me so much money." The man has become a comedic genius completely by accident, and it's all thanks to Star Trek. But I never felt nerdy enough to really get into a 60's sci-fi series with cardboard sets and evil twin goatees. But my wife controls the boobies, and the boobies control me, so I gave it a go. And you know, I really enjoyed it after all. A little heavy handed with the allegory, perhaps, but over all it's campy fun at its best. There's even an episode with a gangster planet, where everybody looks and talks exactly like Virgil Solozzo from The Godfather if he had brain damage. Now that's a very fine piece of tiramisu if there ever was one.

What was I talking about? Cake? Wait...right. Point is, I'm able to enjoy Star Trek here and there, but I'll never put on a costume and go to a convention. Why? Two reasons, really: Against all odds, I'm allowed to have sex somewhat regularly, which I'm pretty sure gets you thrown to the Rancor or something at those things (yes, I know that's Star Wars, and yes, I know it's sad that I know that), and I can enjoy something without letting it take over my existence. Nerd heresy to be sure, but I've been able to enjoy a smattering of science fiction here and there as a side dish to my main courses of Shakespeare and Dickens and whatever author is printed in Playboy this month.

Then Lost happened. I resisted it for a long time. Years, even. But then my wife borrowed the first three seasons on DVD from my brother-in-law. (side note: I'm sensing a pattern here. Either my wife likes nerdy things as much as I do or she's making sure that, if there were ever the remotest desire for adultery in my mind, no one would sleep with me because all of my tools of seduction would involve either William Shatner or the Smoke Monster. Or both. Yeah, that's hot. Wait...shit.) At first, I liked the show well enough. Interesting take on the Robinson Crusoe/desert island thing. Cool flashback stuff. I wonder what else is on. Then came the Others. And the Smoke Monster. And the Hatch. And the Numbers. The goddamn numbers. The title of this post will tell you what they are, but not what they mean because I don't know what they mean. And I doubt that I ever will. Even if, during the series finale in 3 months time, the creators of the show pull a Zack Morris "Time Out," come on screen and say "Hey everybody, here's exactly what the numbers mean. Sorry we fucked with your head for so long. Time in!" I think my brain would refuse whatever explanation was offered. There's no way it can live up to the hype I've built in my own mind. Even if they're really part of the mathematical formula for chocolate pudding forever and free blow job robots. (Bad Robot! heh. Saucy Robot, maybe.)
I've spent too much time postulating and reading theories other fans have come up with regarding the numbers, the smoke monster, Fake Locke, Desmond and time travel/alternate realities, Jacob and the Man In Black, etc. etc. that my brain will literally shut down at whatever reasoning the writers have come up with. Even if it makes perfect sense. Even if it's poetic and beautiful and brings tears to my eyes like no work of fiction has ever done since My Girl (He was just trying to get her ring back because he loved her! And then she tried to put his glasses back on when he was dead...because...because...he can't see without his glasses! BWAHHHH!!!! I LOVE YOU MACAULAY CULKIN!), I don't think I could ever accept it. This show has become my Star Trek. And all because it started out as a story of adventure and survival, and they added in the crazy drop by drop, until the sci-fi center of my brain was tripping so much balls that I didn't know whether to shit or go blind. (A very strange expression, I've always felt. It seems easy enough to do both. After all, if something were happening that would cause you to have to choose between the two, you'd probably have already done both before you realized it.)

Here's to you, creators of Lost, for sneaking a science fiction series up on us so stealthily that we were well into our secret man crushes on Sawyer before we even questioned why the fuck there was time travel on a show about a plane crash.

But, basically, if I've sold my soul for anything less than a Ferrari and unlimited water slides, you're going to read about me in the paper the next morning. I'll have done something unspeakable either to or with a polar bear. Either way, it's on your heads.

Ben Linus out like a motherfucker.