Sunday, March 22, 2009

Farther, My God, to Thee

This doesn't surprise me. Shouldn't it be a given by now that the people who talk the most about their faith (or whatever their hobbyhorse is) are trying to convince themselves of its validity more than anyone else?

There are lots of books to read dealing with the evolutionary roots of religious faith, or more broadly, our conceptual ability that allows us to have abstract ideas about invisible men in the sky who want you to behave a certain way. One thing I've taken away from all those is the suspicion that deep down, there's some part of the brain that just refuses to buy into whatever conceptual fantasies the cerebral cortex dreams up. No matter how much we can dazzle ourselves with our own bullshit theories, we know somewhere underneath it all when we're just pulling ideas out of thin air and adding a lot of wishful thinking. Obviously, in the ancestral environment, the ability to accurately perceive empirical reality and react to it would have been absolutely necessary, and I imagine this is what kicks in when faced with life-or-death situations. When believers find themselves hooked up to tubes with a heart monitor beeping nearby, suddenly all that blithe talk about heaven and Jesus doesn't have the same hypnotic power anymore.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Right of the People to Deliver Roundhouse Kicks Shall Not be Infringed

Apparently all those Chuck Norris jokes have driven the man insane.
During an appearance on the Glen Beck radio show he promised that if things get any worse from his point of view he may “run for president of Texas.” The martial artist/actor/activist claims that Texas was never formally a part of the United States in the first place and that if rebellion is to come through secession Texas would lead the way.

He continues; calling on a second American Revolution; “…we've bastardized the First Amendment, reinterpreted America's religious history and secularized our society until we ooze skepticism and circumvent religion on every level of public and private life.
How much more will Americans take? When will enough be enough? And, when that time comes, will our leaders finally listen or will history need to record a second American Revolution?

Personally, I think we should sell Texas back to Mexico before this happens (it's something we should do on general principle anyway; this just makes it more imperative). Let Mr. Skintight Jeans fight the drug cartels for his independence.

Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun

It's funny seeing comments on a liberal blog like Digby's that buy into the idea that a bunch of beer-bellied yahoos with hunting rifles are going to fight off the government when they come to round us all up for re-education camp for whatever reason. Not as funny as hearing Wayne LaPierre (wonder what the NRA rank-and-file think of that Frenchie name) remix Mao's famous slogan about power and the barrel of a gun, but still funny nonetheless.

At a time when technology wasn't much more advanced than cannons and muskets, it made sense for a young, weak nation with hostile natives on one side and an angry empire on the other to see value in the idea of citizen militias where every able-bodied adult knew how to use a gun (though the idea that ordinary people could perform just as well in actual battle as trained soldiers didn't last very long). Two and a half centuries later, though, if the state wants to annihilate you, well, you're as good as dead. Sorry, that's just how it is. Maybe you Wolverines-wannabes should stop stroking this apocalyptic death wish fantasy of yours where you have to live in caves taking potshots at army troops while stockpiling first-aid kits, 55-gallon drums of rice and beans, and bartering with rolls of toilet paper, and just keep on working with the imperfect system we have to keep things from ever getting to that point.

Besides, get the fuck real. Why would it ever come to that? Why would the government ever feel the need to crack down in such a heavy-handed way? We are talking about the same sedentary, bovine American populace here, aren't we? Is someone planning to outlaw beer, porn, potato chips and cigarettes? Because there isn't a whole lot else that would ever get this nation off the sofa and marching down the street with pitchforks. We just learned what kind of tyrannical administration we had been living under for the past eight years, and this news was greeted with a collective...yawn. Like Matt Taibbi said about the 9/11 Truthers, this kind of thing would only be necessary in a nation where the people were actually a threat to govern themselves.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Unintended Consequences

Okay. Obligatory disclaimers:

I am all in favor of reading for challenge as much as contentment and escapism. I wholeheartedly concur with Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living. Turn off the tv, the computer, and go read a book, preferably one that gives you a new way of looking at or thinking about the world.


Yes, they sure did read some subversive material back in the sixties. And what good did it do? The hippies turned into the yuppies. David Brooks's BoBos. The fucking New Agers, for fuck's sake! I see a lot of smug back-patting about stopping a war that they didn't really stop, but I don't see a whole lot of lingering influence from those incendiary authors among today's graying boomers. Didn't we hear about how the world would be different once they started running things? Yeah, um, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the two boomer presidents. Stick that in your bong and smoke it.

Where are the Germaine Greers, the Jerry Rubins, the Hunter Thompsons, the Richard Brautigans -- those challenging, annoying, offensive, sometimes silly, always polemic authors whom young people used to adore to their parents' dismay?

He then - unwittingly, apparently - answers his own question.
A new survey of the attitudes of American college students published by the University of California at Los Angeles found that two-thirds of freshmen identify themselves as "middle of the road" or "conservative."

The hell you say. Kids who grew up listening to their boring old parents, aunts and uncles droning on about Woodstock and Haight-Ashbury found that the best way to rebel was by becoming...conservative? Who'd'a thunk it? Has anyone thought to make a sitcom based on this idea yet?

I do agree with the professor quoted who sees this sort of pedestrian mentality in students as being reflective of growing up during the years of conservative backlash from 1980 onward. Really, why should they care about reading for its own sake? What good is that going to do them in the "real" world? Don't we all know successful businesspeople who are just plain dumb? And don't we know intelligent, well-read, creative people who scrape by on minimum-wage jobs because no employer gives a shit about that liberal arts degree? I mean, of course I wish it weren't so, but this is the logical end result of a Puritan culture that only cares about practical, lucrative results. It's not today's students' fault that they've internalized those lessons all too well.

Today's toddlers and infants, though -- those little tykes should be very entertaining in a couple decades.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Saturday Shuffle

  1. One Day as a Lion - Wild International
  2. Kyuss -- Demon Cleaner
  3. The Future Sound of London -- Slider
  4. The Dead Milkmen -- The Thing That Only Eats Hippies
  5. Salt -- Beauty
  6. Supreme Beings of Leisure -- Never the Same
  7. Yoav -- Club Thing
  8. Wino -- Silver Lining
  9. Meshuggah -- Entrapment
  10. Martha Wainwright - I Will Internalize

Awesome. I just downloaded the new Wino record this past week. That and Kyuss have me feeling like busting out all the stoner rock I have. Just feels like springtime music to me.

Yoav is an interesting artist. Born in Israel and raised in South Africa, he developed a unique way of playing guitar:

“It was summer solstice and I’d gone with my guitar and some mushrooms into Central Park. The plan was to zone out and lose myself in my playing. For some reason, I started banging out rhythms on my guitar and I got really into it. There was this school field trip of 7 or 8 year old kids walking by and they suddenly started dancing to what I was doing. I was playing these crazy drum ‘n’ bass rhythms and they were whirling around me like trance hippies. It was incredible. I felt like I was DJing with my guitar.”

Yoav had stumbled upon his new direction. “As a songwriter, the guitar limits you to strumming or picking. It’s very different if you can write something to a beat. I tried to translate dance music to guitar. I started pounding it, learning what I could do with it, using it as my decks. You can get an assortment of kick drums and snare drums by hitting it in different places or a synthy sound by playing with feedback. The more I did it, the more possibilities I found. It became all-consuming for me.”

Supreme Beings of Leisure are basically Morcheeba with slightly more world music influence. Not terribly original, but still enjoyable.

Two bands from Sweden, Salt and Meshuggah. One alt-rock, the other extreme metal.

I love Martha Wainwright's voice. I'm torn as to whether I should start stalking her or Beth Orton first.

Friday, March 06, 2009

This Is the Sort of English Up with Which I Will Not Put

Thanks - I think - to Scott for reminding me how mortifying yet sublime it is to see Doug "I Am All That is Man" Giles have his way with the English language. This column isn't even his "best" work, but it reminds me that I need to check in with the Metrosexual Ted Nugent more often.

I was going to make a crack about how he mixes metaphors, but then I thought, no, "mix" can't really do justice to what it is Giles actually does. After all, doesn't "mix" seem pretty harmless, or even beneficial? Don't you think of things like CDs or recipes, where mixing different ingredients leads to something even better?

No, this is something far more malevolent and sinister. It's like...Doug is the fog on the information superhighway that causes fifty-metaphor pileups. He should call his column "Giles Mountain" with warning signs telling you to turn on your lights and watch for slow-moving vehicles. Besides, a mountain has a vaguely phallic image about it, and we all know how much Doug loves to stress what a heterosexual, macho, non-gay, 100% U.S.D.A. red-meat, un-swishy, predatory testosterone factory he is.

Smack My Bitch Up

Don't repent to a bruise
He says that he still loves you
Tell me why does he hit you?


I seem to know a lot of fucking assholes. I guess I'm just lucky.

Anyway, I had read a few different articles about the whole Chris Brown/Rhianna situation, and I was struck by something that was reinforced by my conversations with different acquaintances when the topic came up -- it's strange how quickly people look to express their anger and frustration at her for putting up with his abusive behavior. "If she's too stupid to leave him, the bitch deserves what she gets" being a common sentiment.

Deserves? Maybe if you use it in the sense that yes, her failure to do something to end the abuse will predictably lead to more beatings until she's in a coma or the morgue, but obviously they mean it in the sense of a moral judgment, as if the victim is just as contemptible as her attacker. I just don't get that. A minute ago, she was an innocent person minding her own business as far as you knew; now it's only fair if she gets beaten repeatedly for not reacting the way you want her to?

I don't understand why people like this act as if their sympathy is a precious resource that must be conserved as much as possible. Why is it so hard to recognize that the psychological aspects of people in abusive situations isn't quite so cut-and-dried for them as it is for an outsider? Why isn't the reaction more along the lines of just hoping that her friends and family can help her through this? I'd personally rather be angry at the fact that nice, easy-going people get taken advantage of and victimized by worthless sacks of shit like Brown than to be angry that not everyone walks around with a hard-as-nails attitude, ready to fight at the drop of a hat.

Of course, to be generous, it could be a form of self-protection itself -- when people feel powerless to affect a situation, it's probably easier for their peace of mind to wash their hands of it and walk away than to continue to feel upset about it but helpless to stop it. Still, blaming the victim is a pretty cowardly and shitty thing to do.