Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Universal Language

There's this guy I work with, a big, roly-poly good ol' boy (that's the good kind of redneck). Full of Southern pride, middle-aged, somewhat conservative, a truck driver. At a glance, you'd think his musical taste ran from Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to maybe the Allman Brothers Band and Black Oak Arkansas.

I was leaving work one morning not too long ago, when I caught myself and realized I needed to run back into the warehouse for something. I left my car running with the door open and music playing, in this case, the Chemical Brothers' "One Too Many Mornings". When I came back out, he was dancing (I guess you could call it that) next to it. Just happily shaking his moneymaker and gyrating all over the place. As I stared in amazement, he finally turned himself around, saw me and exclaimed, "Man! This is great! What is this?' I told him. "Aw, man! I love this! I tell you what, I could listen to this kind of thing all night! But I just don't know where to find this kind of stuff! Who plays this?" I filled him in a little bit on the genre, told him a couple radio stations to check out and promised to make him some mix CDs of similar music, which he loved. In fact, someone just complained to the landlord of the warehouse complex because he was coming in blasting it too loudly every day.

So there's at least one good ol' boy driving around Virginia, grooving to electronica, big beat and other types of dance music. Who woulda thunk it? It's cool when people surprise you like that, transcending categories, defying stereotypes.

Spotted Dickhead

This is funny. I saw a column in the Financial Times this morning from Gideon Rachman titled "The Hatred of Tony Blair is Over the Top" (no link available without a subscription). Not having read it, I vaguely wondered what that was all about. Then, apparently unrelated, I see this:

Tony Blair said that many of the challenges facing the world today were similar to those that confronted Jesus and Mohammed, the founders of Christianity and Islam.

...“We face an aggressive secular attack from without. We face the threat of extremism from within.”

Arguing that there was “no hope” from atheists who scorn God, he said the best way to confront the secularist agenda was for all faiths to unite against it.

I can honestly say that I woke up this morning not having spared any thought or emotion for Blair in a good, long while, but now it's probably fair to say that my hatred for him is well over the top, too. In fact, I am now fully on board with Harry Hutton's campaign to see this stupid bastard hang. (Also funny.)

Is Our Bloggers Learning?


It's one of the most frustrating aspects of the Villager mentality. Liberals are misrepresented terribly in the media and it's glacially slow in changing. I'm hopeful that it is happening, but the social and professional structure of organizations are very difficult to change without a consciousness of the problems. And I don't see much media consciousness of this problem. And to the extent they understand it, they are misapplying the lessons.

She's complaining that the Washington Post isn't cognizant of/responsive to the "problem" of true-blue actual liberals being underrepresented in the mainstream media. Sigh.

Look, I know she reads Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution more or less regularly, because she links to him often enough. Somehow, though, she manages to miss the posts where he explains these things so clearly:

The Washington Post is a corporation, required by law to make as much money as possible. In order to make as much money as possible, businesses cater to their customers. The main customers of the Washington Post are their advertisers, who are mostly other big corporations. Big corporations, for obvious reasons, like it when people are misled about economic policy, the Great Depression, FDR, etc.

That's really all there is to it.

It's as if someone took a look at the fall lineup for network TV and complained that there were no shows devoted to promoting an ethic of voluntary simplicity. Surely you wouldn't be shocked to find that corporate culture doesn't have any interest in undermining its entire raison d'être. Whence, then, this notion that corporate media exists purely to inform the citizenry in the most objective, comprehensive way possible?

Monday, August 30, 2010


In a rather curious and confused way, some white people are starting almost to think like a minority, even like a persecuted one. What does it take to believe that Christianity is an endangered religion in America or that the name of Jesus is insufficiently spoken or appreciated? Who wakes up believing that there is no appreciation for our veterans and our armed forces and that without a noisy speech from Sarah Palin, their sacrifice would be scorned? It's not unfair to say that such grievances are purely and simply imaginary, which in turn leads one to ask what the real ones can be. The clue, surely, is furnished by the remainder of the speeches, which deny racial feeling so monotonously and vehemently as to draw attention.

There’s nothing in the world more tired than a progressive blogger like me flipping out over the latest idiocies emanating from the Fox News crowd. But this summer’s media hate-fest is different than anything we’ve seen before. What we’re watching is a calculated campaign to demonize blacks, Mexicans, and gays and convince a plurality of economically-depressed white voters that they are under imminent legal and perhaps even physical attack by a conspiracy of leftist nonwhites. They’re telling these people that their government is illegitimate and criminal and unironically urging secession and revolution.

Dennis G. is also correct about the Confederate implications underlying all this talk of "honor" that needs to be restored by Beck's overwhelmingly fishbelly-white faithful. And as I was just saying to Frequent Commenter Noel, one of the oddest things about it is watching how angrily these people deny being motivated by any sort of racial animus. Why do they even bother pretending? I've heard people call the cops on Latinos for sitting in a parking lot listening to music in their car, then "joke" with the cops about shooting them on sight, preferably before they cross the border (because they're all here illegally, of course). Me, I found it a little more threatening to my existential security to hear the cop respond, "I wish we could!" I know people who think all their taxes go toward providing welfare for people who are inevitably stereotyped as speaking with an Ebonics accent, for some reason. I hear them blame lower-middle-class blacks for the housing market crash, deride them for being too stupid to leave New Orleans ahead of Katrina, and obsess over ACORN supposedly committing massive voter fraud to get Obama elected. But don't dare suggest there's a common theme here. All I can honestly figure is that they think they deserve credit for tolerance by not literally lynching anyone or dragging them to death behind a pickup truck.

Hell, it's not even limited to race. I remember once laughing at someone who told me that if Hillary got elected, it would mean "the end of the white male!" She, of course, has long been accused of being a closeted lesbian, even as she was supposedly having an affair with Vince Foster, who she supposedly murdered, no doubt because he was going to reveal her clandestine clam-licking. (Or something. The mind reels trying to hold all this together in one coherent narrative.) I even heard someone just last week grousing about the New York Times fall fashion magazine, because it represents just one more way they glorify homosexuality in their quest to destroy the traditional family. It's got to be exhausting, seeing comic-book supervillains with plans for world domination and destruction lurking in every shadow.

It occurs to me that a simpler way to encapsulate the point Taibbi was making in that passage I've quoted a couple times before is to say that insecure people are simply compelled to pick fights in hopes of assuaging those fears. People who are confident in their abilities and their place don't constantly need to prove things to themselves. I don't think they "get off" on it, I don't think they want the neverending arguments; they're just slaves to their inchoate fears and unable to keep from lashing out. Maybe we need to stop wasting time trying to argue at all and just start slipping some pharmaceutical assistance into their drinks.

The Enemy of My Enemy Wants to Shove Us All Into Ovens

I've learned over the years that when you see someone called a "self-hating Jew", it refers exclusively to left-wing critics of Israel like Noam Chomsky. So what do we call a Jewish woman whose ferocious hatred of Muslims (and blacks) leads her to sing the praises of an actual neo-Nazi group? I mean, I refer to Geller as "a Pez dispenser with breast implants and a shrieking harpy head", but I can see how that isn't quite as pithy, nor does it address the strange psychological mechanisms at work here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

You Know I Hate Every Porn Star That I Ever Met

But Nina Hartley seems to be really cool. PZ points out a pretty good interview with her, but I thought an earlier one she did with Brad Warner was much better. Too many good parts to excerpt. So if you like reading interviews about pornography and religion, among other topics, check 'em out.

Oh, go ahead, you know you want to. Don't worry about looking too eager. No need to fake being dignified. Run, don't walk.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kiss My Grits

You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons.

- Blazing Saddles

I said before that one of the reasons I wasn't all that impressed with Joe Bageant was that he just struck me as a more affable James Howard Kunstler. Heywood crystallizes one of the other reasons for me: he also makes me picture a slightly more avuncular Dave "Mudcat" Saunders. Can you tell which one is which?

I have bitched and moaned for years about the lack of tolerance in the elitist wing of the Democratic Party, or what I refer to as the "Metropolitan Opera Wing". These are the people who talk of tolerance but the only true tolerance they ever exhibit is for their own pseudo-intellectual arrogance.


I am certain I will get personally attacked for this next statement, but in all honesty, I don't care what the "Metropolitan Wing" of my party thinks. I don't like them. The damage the pseudo-intellectuals have done to my party by abandoning tolerance, combined with their erroneous stereotyping of my people and culture, is something that brings out my incivility. In his column, Joe said, "...the smart stuff is being drowned out by a fierce, bullying, often witless tone of intolerance that has overtaken the left-wing sector of the blogosphere." Amen. I must add that this same intellectual arrogance and intolerance overtook the party years ago, and for that very reason, my people in rural America left the tent.

So to those bloggers who believe in a straight-forward dialogue and exchange of ideas, God bless you and thank you. Together, you're coming up with a lot of good stuff, and frankly, much of it has been helpful to me. At the same time, those Democratic bloggers, who have appointed themselves as intellectually superior and believe the only way to win an argument is to shot the loudest with personal attacks, you can go to Hell.

Most educated American liberals, however, believe simply being progressive makes them, by default, the nation's saviors -- morally and intellectually right in all things. As proof, they read more and, allegedly, are more open minded than most conservatives, except when it comes to their daughter dating a redneck named Ernest who lives in a trailer court behind the strip mall. They are certainly among the educated class in a country known for its lousy schools and a dull, sated and unquestioning public. Education and access to education are now our fundamental class delineators. Higher education is now for the privileged. And that privilege, almost regardless of profession or career, is a future that depends on government. Liberal or conservative, it matters little. In fact, this privileged class votes Democratic more predictably than the working class, Hispanics or Blacks.

So when educated liberals look up from their copy of The Nation or the Jon Stewart show, they behold a chilling sight: Beefy mobs waving teabags and demanding tax cuts to help pay for new schools and bridges, Sarah Palin emerging from the ashes of the McCain campaign to become the high priestess of the uncurried tribes, with a Mormon named Glenn Beck exhorting millions of fundamentalists to seize the country. They feel that something has gone terribly wrong with America.

Immediately they conclude that it is the American people's fault through their backwardness, incomprehension and misdirected anger, and that maybe it serves them right for not rallying behind the flying progressive standard..."Ah yes," they wailed, the people have let us down. They are absolutely disgusting!" liberals agreed. And they still agree. Read the comments on Huffington Post or Daily Kos.

Or look at the arrogance of Barack Obama's characterization of American heartlanders "clinging to God and guns." Which we do. However, implicit in his statement was that both God and guns are indicators of an ignorant loser class. When opponents scalded him for his remarks, he justified them by pointing out he had said, "what everybody knows is true." Meaning everybody in his class, the educated liberal class.

Fellows, err, excuse me, "fellers", I'm a fairly ordinary guy myself. I generally wear t-shirts and ragged cargo shorts (or jeans in the cold months). I don't even own a dress shirt, slacks or shoes, and I'm not sure where I last saw my one tie. Got me a scruffy beard and longish hair that only gets trimmed every several months. Never owned a new car in my life; my current ride has over 400K on the original engine. I've repeatedly chosen to do grunt work rather than take higher-paying office jobs. I may listen to opera and classical music, but I have Southern rock and old blues on my iPod too. I've lived in your home state of Virginia my whole life, and I currently live in a small redneck town that makes Mudcat's hometown of Roanoke look cosmopolitan by comparison, so I'll measure my gen-yew-wine Southern bona fides against y'alls any time you want, and I'm here to say: you're both full of shit.

Where to even begin? Mudcat, ol' buddy, it's amusing to read this Foxworthy-in-a-foul-mood article from a couple years ago and see how ridiculously, stupidly wrong you were. Obama was going to lose Virginia for not pandering more to appeal to rural whites? Wrong. His efforts to get out the vote via the Internet were quixotic? Wrong again. And you get paid to be a political consultant?

Bonus fun: he apparently thinks Obama actually gave a shit, deep down in his heart of hearts, about "social justice and economic fairness", and just failed to articulate that well enough. Yet another progressive who insists on projecting what they want to see onto the man, only to act shocked when he acts like the pro-corporate, bought-and-paid-for tool of Wall Street he's always been. Then, this self-appointed Southern spokesman, with his battle-flag bedspread and one-piece jammies with the ass flap hanging open, acts like Democrats are the ones to blame for the "cultural wedge" between them and the Scots-Irish vote. Motherfucker, there's no way you could possibly be that goddamned ignorant, so I'm forced to conclude you're being disingenuous on purpose. Nixon correctly saw that idiots like the rural Saltine crackers you so desperately want to idealize would happily ignore their own financial well-being if they could at least feel superior to faggots, feminazis, furriners and niggers, that they would be so busy taking the crumbs from Republican hands to feed their insatiable, resentful, inferiority complex that they'd hardly notice their jobs all being shipped overseas by the same people who pat them on the head and praise them for being the moral backbone of society. Hell, it's hard to begrudge the man for seeing a golden opportunity and grabbing it with both hands. And I'm still waiting to hear someone reconcile this fabled common-sense, no-bullshit, straight-shooting, deep-fried heartland wisdom that I'm supposed to genuflect before with the fact that these people have shelves sagging under the weight of countless bottles of snake oil, and pockets perpetually empty by means of every shell game, sleight of hand, cheap card trick and distracting shiny object that hucksters flash in front of their faces.

Joe, ol' pal, if you honestly think the legions of imbeciles and Randroids at Glenn Beck's bizarro-MLK rally in Washington today, these Rip Van Winkles who snoozed through eight years of the big-government, profligate-spending Bush administration, only to conveniently wake up in mid-January 2009 with some throbbing, fiscal-conservative morning wood, give a drizzling shit about tax cuts for schools and bridges rather than simply wanting to make sure that those you-know-whos don't get their swarthy mitts on any government money, then I'm afraid you've spent too much time in the Central American sun without a floppy hat. Fucksakes, man, most of them think public schools are fascist-communist indoctrination camps where children are taught how to desecrate the Bible and have orgies with barnyard animals! And goddamnit, I'm really getting sick of having to defend Obama here, but it was clear at the time that his comment about "clinging to God and guns" referred to the same phenomenon we just addressed: people who spend their time in mortal fear of nonexistent federal stormtroopers coming to confiscate their Bibles and hunting rifles, never managing to notice that the people spreading these rumors are the same ones whose economic philosophy is responsible for there being no more decent manufacturing jobs available for them. But oh, yes, by all means, don't say anything that might suggest that you think people could stand to rethink some convictions or change anything about themselves, you fancy-pants, big-city, add-your-preferred-gay-baiting-epithet-here liberal. Don't challenge the gospel of Southern exceptionalism, nawsir. I swear by the treasonous bones of Bobby Lee, I wish someone would show me the uptight P.C. liberal who is anywhere near as insecure and hypersensitive as your typical "Southern by the grace of God" yahoos.

And can we finally dispense with the idea that education is something to act ashamed of? Well, first, actually, let's define our terms more clearly. Most of what passes for "higher education", that is, most of what people go to college in order to achieve, is a meaningless diploma that will allow them access to a world of pointless office work and imaginary numbers where they can earn enough of a paycheck to start paying down the massive debt accrued in the process of earning that meaningless diploma in the first place. Okay, perhaps there is a reason to be a bit ashamed at having bought into this scam in the first place.

But I never went to a four-year college. I took classes for fun at community college for a few years, for a grand total of less than a thousand dollars altogether. But aside from the enjoyment I got out of philosophy class, I don't consider that time to be all that important. Most of my education, such as it is, has been self-directed. Yes, it's true, I sit at home on weekends and read books that no one else within a few neighboring counties would be interested in rather than hanging out at the general store shooting the shit about guns, NASCAR and Jeebus. I don't make an issue of it, but if that ruffles your feathers, if that somehow offends you and makes you want to spit in the dirt at my feet, squint and grumble, "Boy, yew think yer better'n me?", well, fuck the hell out of you, Festus. I don't have time or patience to worry about validating your delicate self-esteem. I accept, like Socrates, that the only thing I really know is how little I actually know (gosh, should I apologize for referencing some faggoty-ass Greek philosopher instead of Lynyrd Skynyrd?) But I do my best to try to know what I'm talking about on any topic I want to bring up, and I'm always aware that I could be wrong.

Simple, right? Aren't all adults like this? But as Heywood says so well, the problem with the "uneducated" folk isn't that they don't hold an advanced degree, or that they don't read obscure political or philosophical tracts, it's that they have a narcissistic, childish mindset that insists on reality reshaping itself in accordance with their inchoate wishes. Higher education isn't necessary to live a good life or be an intelligent person, but pulling your head out of your ass most certainly is. And therein lies the rub: they really do believe, contra the received wisdom, that they are entitled to their own facts, not just their own opinions. They act like brainwashed cult members, only seeing and hearing what they want to see and hear, deriding anything that tells them differently, however gently, as enemy-liberal-queer propaganda by definition, proudly asserting that they knew all that's worth knowing by third grade, and to top it all off, they demand to be respected and approved of for being fatuous, cement-headed morons. It's not enough to let them be themselves and do their own thing. You have to constantly agree that yes, your knee-jerk prejudices and half-baked opinions are far superior to anything I've read in a book or thought up myself. You're right, I'm some kind of pathetic city-slicker because I'm not interested in car engines or chewing tobacco. Lincoln's bewildered complaint from a century and a half ago about slavery still rings true:

Even though the Southern people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider their demands, and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of our duty, we possibly can. Judging by all they say and do, and by the subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us determine, if we can, what will satisfy them?

Will they be satisfied if the Territories be unconditionally surrendered to them? We know they will not. In all their present complaints against us, the Territories are scarcely mentioned. Invasions and insurrections are the rage now. Will it satisfy them if, in the future, we have nothing to do with invasions and insurrections? We know it will not. We so know because we know we never had anything to do with invasions and insurrections; and yet this total abstaining does not exempt us from the charge and the denunciation.

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: we must not only let them alone, but we must, somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. [Applause.] This, we know by experience is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches, we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only; cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly -- done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated -- we must place ourselves avowedly with them.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose.

I once briefly worked with a pair of rednecks, Alan and Phil, the middle and youngest, respectively, of three brothers. One day, they came in to work positively jubilant, bragging about something they'd accomplished. It seems they'd pulled off a scheme to frame their eldest brother for something so that Phil could steal his girlfriend while he was in jail. But wait! There's more! The reason they were so gleeful about it was that they had peddled their story to Jerry Springer's people and had been contacted about appearing on the show (I don't know if that ever panned out for them). This was their dream, to throw chairs and punches at each other on national TV in front of a crowd of howling fucktards. But I'm supposed to act embarrassed over knowing how to read and think beyond the confines of clannish identity politics. Right.

To further flesh out the character of these fine, upstanding salt-of-the-earth Myrrhkins, let me add that I once had the dubious pleasure of hearing Alan pontificate one day, shortly before the 2000 election, about how Ronald Reagan was the greatest president we'd ever had. I wonder if Bageant or Mudcat would care to take a stab at guessing what this inbred cretin could have possibly found appealing about a president who did absolutely nothing to benefit him or his kinfolk? I'm sure it had nothing whatsoever to do with race, I can tell you that.

I could have easily enough been like that. Like I said, I live right in the epicenter of it. My immediate family, while not ignorant rednecks, are the most rabid, insane teabaggers you could ever hope to avoid. Don't even fucking try to tell me about arrogance and intolerance. No amount of joking about cousins marrying or trailer parks comes close to being as stifling and oppressive as living among these people while daring to be different.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Snicker snort hee hee:

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 by Axl Rosenberg

Genetics and puberty, I guess. Life ain't fair. Oh, wait, you mean lately?

When I saw Megadeth a few weeks ago, the band sounded great — but Dave Mustaine’s vocals sounded about as appealing as the idea of watching a porno flick starring Billy Milano and Snooki.

Bear in mind that we're talking about a guy who, in his prime, had one of the most grating nails-on-a-chalkboard voices of all time. When Megadeth recorded their version of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" for the Nativity in Black tribute album in 1994, good ol' Ozzy was said to remark upon hearing it, "Whoever's singing that needs to get a fucking day job." This is a guy who was once described as "sing(ing) like he's getting a vacuum-cleaner enema" during a positive album review in a guitar magazine. How could it possibly have gotten any worse?

Anyway, fuck him in half. Even if I could attempt to tolerate his voice for the sake of the music, his terminal case of gargantuan throbbing assholitis makes me not want to bother. He used to be somewhat libertarian/independent in his outspoken politics (Perot supporter in '92), but after getting born again again (apparently the first time, in the early '90s, didn't take), he veered sharply right and kept on trucking. This is from an interview in 2007:

“I know I’m not making any friends at the U.N. with this album,” Mustaine continues with a harsh laugh. But, frankly, he’s not too worried. Like many born-again Christians, Mustaine favors the interpretation of the Book of Revelations that views the founding of the United Nations—and its eventual demise—as part of a series of prophesied events that will inevitably lead to the Second Coming. “I got saved a few years ago, and I believe what the Bible says, that the U.N.’s gonna fall. In order for the predictions in the Book of Revelations to take place, it’s gotta fall. I don’t ever expect to go there, except to look where the building used to be, you know? I’m hoping that someone’s going to pull the chain, and that’s where the butthole of the United States is, and it just disappears!”

...There’s righteous fury galore on “Amerikhastan” and “Washington’s Next,” two songs that take extreme issue with what Mustaine sees as the Bush Administration’s half-assed policies on immigration and the Middle East. Asked his opinion on the ongoing Iraq War, Mustaine pulls no punches.

“We needed to drop a really big bomb on that country about 16 years ago, and then we wouldn’t be having this problem,” he growls. “I think Bush made a tragic mistake invading Iraq. I voted for the guy, so I’m absolutely ashamed of my vote, but it was better voting for him than John Kerry. The fact that we’ve been humiliated to the degree that we have, because of our president’s ineptness… I think in America right now, there’s a lot of hope for the future. But I also think that our country has never been hated as much as we are right at this moment.

Yes, the guy who thinks his Christianity would be compromised by sharing a stage with a band whose name he disapproves of thinks we should have nuked Iraq in 1991. I'm sorry, but what could the Devil do that would be any worse than that? Fucking idiot.

Asked about his own drug use, which sent him to rehab several times over the past two decades—he also briefly died in 1994 from an overdose of Valium—Mustaine rolls up his sleeves, revealing two pale, sinewy arms completely devoid of needle marks. “I never shot up, actually,” he says. “No, I gotta take that back—I did for one day, and it was so disgusting. I thought, Now I know why y’all suck dicks to shoot up!” He laughs. “You stick a needle in your arm, and the next thing you know, there’s a dick in your mouth!”

Charming (though I can't say I follow the logic in that statement. Whatever.) What makes me sad is to think of all the talented musicians who have died far too young from drug abuse. This cockbiter probably still has enough residual pills, heroin and cocaine in his bloodstream to get you high from a transfusion, but here he is, like an indestructible roach, still plaguing the metal scene with his atrocious voice. I repeat, life ain't fair.

Hungry Ghosts

I'll dedicate myself to pissing on John Calvin's grave for as long as I live. I still think he's one of the most malignant influences on American culture, period. But it's only fair to acknowledge that he may not be entirely to blame for our insane attitude regarding work, as a new book asserts:

People in the U.S. often pride themselves for working more than our European counterparts. Why do we work so much in the first place?

There aren’t any historical or cultural reasons for it. Americans famously had more leisure time than the Japanese back in the 1960s. I would say if you did a survey of most people who are in their late 50s or 60s, they will tell you that they take fewer vacations than their parents did. Now why did that change? It wasn’t because of the Pilgrims. People work hard in America, but there was a period where leisure time was increasing. I quoted Linda Bell and Richard Freeman in an article they wrote about what happened during the ‘90s. There was nobody to stop you from working longer. There was no government check, there was no union check as there is on excessive work as there is in Germany or elsewhere in Europe. These institutional checks are gone. So people feel like lab rats: "If I work an extra 10 minutes over the person in the cubicle next to me, then I’m less likely to get laid off." It’s a very rational response.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Room 101

In a recent post,"On Christian Horror and Atheist Dread" author Mike Duran makes the rather broad and erroneous claim that Atheist horror centers around the fear of "The Great Void."

"A world without meaning and purpose is the ultimate horror. A universe that arose by chance, exists without meaning, where lives plummet toward annihilation is the worst kind of horror."

I would, in fact, assert that the fear he describes is at the heart of Christian Horror and in the entire Christian faith if not all faiths. It is what drives the religious screaming to their church pews and confessionals, clutching their bibles to their bosom. It is what makes them cling to faith and stubbornly resist reason. The atheist simply accepts the void as reality and moves on with his or her life.

...There is nothing to fear from non-existence because you will never experience it. You cannot experience nothingness. You will never "feel" not being. So what's to fear?

Or, to invoke one of my favorite ancient Greeks again:

Epicurus also believed (contra Aristotle) that death was not to be feared. When a man dies, he does not feel the pain of death because he no longer is and he therefore feels nothing. Therefore, as Epicurus famously said, "death is nothing to us." When we exist death is not, and when death exists we are not. All sensation and consciousness ends with death and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fear of death arises from the false belief that in death there is awareness.

This is such a simple idea, but paradoxically so hard for people to adjust themselves to. I was raised, like most people, to accept the idea of a soul and an afterlife as perfectly obvious (my mom was a typical lapsed Catholic of her generation, who found the casual, hazy, nonjudgmental, nondenominational religious beliefs of the New Age movement to be much more to her liking). I remember how jarring it felt to me at first to be forced to consider a materialist point of view, and like a lot of people, I took my initial knee-jerk aversion to what I perceived as a "meaningless" worldview to be a worthy objection, as if any affront to my vanity was ipso facto invalid. You still hear this all the time from people who reject the idea of atheism or materialism, that it was too depressing for them to contemplate for very long. But I say as gently as I can to them: the universe does not need your personal permission to be what it is.

How many there are who still conclude: "life could not be endured if there were no God!" (Or, as it is put among the idealists: "life could not be endured if its foundation lacked an ethical significance!") – therefore there must be a God (or existence must have an ethical significance)! The truth, however, is merely that he who is accustomed to these notions does not desire a life without them: that these notions may therefore be necessary to him and for his preservation – but what presumption it is to decree that whatever is necessary for my preservation must actually exist! As if my preservation were something necessary! How if others felt in the opposite way! If those two articles of faith were precisely the conditions under which they no longer found life worth living! And that is how things are now!

- Nietzsche

The sticking point seems to be that we take for granted, probably as a lingering inheritance of our monotheistic history, that meaning is something that has to be given to us (by a god, obviously), that has to be bestowed upon the raw clay of matter; otherwise, matter just sits there, inert and lifeless. But meaning does exist. It exists as an ongoing project between us, a social reality. Isn't this obvious? Think about the things that have made your life worth living. Why should they be any less enjoyable or meaningful just because they're not absolutely guaranteed to exist forever in some form? Why should the fact that something ends cancel out the fact that it began and endured in the first place? Life itself has no inherent meaning, in the sense that life itself is not a symbol of something else. It isn't a signpost pointing the way to someplace else. It just is. And yet, the basic material conditions of life, supposedly so desolate and hostile, have produced at least one type of creature with a certain type of brain capable of thinking conceptually and symbolically, capable of living lives devoted to concepts like art, beauty and love. We grew and developed out of those conditions, and we dissolve back into them. Fearing what it will be like after you're dead is akin to fearing what it was like before you were born. It's just a confused way of projecting yourself into situations where "you" can't even exist.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ain't the Boss of Me

NY Daily News:

Opponents chanted "No mosque, no way!" and carried signs reading, "9-11-01: Never Forget," as Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" blared over loudspeakers.

Would it be too much trouble to ask that our star-spangled dimwits actually read the fucking lyrics to that song? Would it?

G-U-I! L-T-Y! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

James Wolcott:

Yes, Clemons' deceits and trespasses are worse than anyone expected--we don't needn't run through the entire litany of his chest-thumping professions of innocence and marital infidelities--but putting him behind bars, what good will that do? Apart from giving journalists malicious delight and talk-radio sports jocks another opportunity to roll out their prison-rape jokes, the inevitable references to the hulking cellmate who's usually given a black name, har har. Whatever the outcome of his trial, Clemons is hardly some menace to society, and I hate the punitive zeal that animates so much of the media and the online inferno, that girds so much of American society. We lock up too many people as it is, our incarceration rate a national shame and a global disgrace.

I don't have anything important to add. It's just always good to see someone else disgusted by the carnival-like atmosphere that pervades the spectacle of a celebrity arrest/trial/jail sentence. Frankly, I'm much less concerned about the comeuppance due to Martha Stewart, Lindsay Lohan, Roger Clemons, or even O.J. Simpson than I am about the ease with which ordinary people turn into such bloodthirsty voyeurs, as if they haven't been able to sleep for ages, knowing these villains are out there roaming free.

And yes, it certainly is an interesting window into the American psyche, this gleeful obsession with criminals being victimized by big, black rapists. Perhaps some historians and psychologists could examine that perennial theme in more depth.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Aghast Temptation

I get the reference, but, you know, it's still probably just a little bit tone-deaf to use the word "cock" in the title of a post celebrating the Catholic Church. Just a bit. But read on, and you'll discover that self-awareness does not seem to weigh all that heavily upon Valle's God-besotted head in any event.

Look, I understand how “recent events”—ahem—might cause anyone to hand in their walking papers. Droves of people all over the world are doing just that because if you are a baptized Catholic, your name is still counted in the figures. People who are P.O.’d about Holy Mother Church’s complicity in the global rape of children are filling out convenient online forms and getting themselves counted out, officially. I have been tempted to do so myself.

But too many people lately seem to have forgotten the spookily great and possibly “cool” parts of Catholicism. I’m a big fan of saints, miracles and devotions. My late-night reading tends towards such subjects as incorruptible corpses and ex-nuns whose struggles seem to mirror my own. I own (and enjoy) many volumes of Lives of the Saints, who tend to meet their ends in rather unfortunate ways, but joyfully. I stumbled upon a copy of The Secret of the Rosary at a church library sale, and by the end of the book I was thinking, St. Louis de Montfort, you’ve made a believer out of this lady. I’ve become a card-carrying member of the Confraternity of the Rosary; I wear a sparkly Miraculous Medal; I carry (and use) a custom-made rosary in my purse.

I’ve been to church more in the past year than I have since leaving for college. I’m not just taking Pascal’s gamble—well, not solely. The church’s recent troubles (along with my own) actually seem to draw me closer. I suppose I like losing propositions. I root for underdogs, usher live insects outside, snatch mice from the jaws of my cats and set them free.

Rub your eyes. Shake your head. Look again. Yes, she really said that. She really presented it as: on the one hand, a horrifying epidemic of rape and child abuse, with complicity reaching the highest levels. On the other hand, some super-kewl clubhouse rituals, awesome books and shiny trinkets (and her own narcissistic agonizing over being "tempted" to display some signs of a moral conscience). Decisions, decisions!

Ah, but lest you begin to recoil in horror, remember, she roots for underdogs! Like one of the most powerful, obscenely wealthy criminal organizations in history in their battle against the oppressive forces of law and basic human decency. The poor Church, just a helpless little mouse in the jaws of the, uh, kittycat of secularism.

If you're not already sick from being exposed to the noxious idiocy of this vapid twit, go and read Barry Crimmins's four-part series on his own experiences within the Church and then come back and read her again and see how you react. Projectile vomiting is a good sign that you're not a monster.

Territorial Pissings

The Guardian:

You may not want to know this – and it would be sensible to wait until after breakfast before reading any further – but, apparently, lots of German men nowadays routinely sit down to pee... Stand-up men, let it simply be said, are messier than their seated brethren – and almost never bother to clean up. In some German homes, little notices are tacked to the underside of the toilet seat so that seat-raising males are reminded to consider their options.

Heh. I'd like to see someone suggest this to American men. As far back as I can remember, I've heard it used as a gay-baiting insult to say that a guy sits down to piss. Further confirmation of the idea that ultimately, the real problem most macho, macho men have with gays is that they're perceived as acting like women. Gender traitors, if you will. Real men spray like tomcats, goddamnit.

Friday, August 20, 2010

At His Head a Grass-Green Turf, At His Heels a Stone

Isn't it time we stopped wasting valuable land on cemeteries? Talk about an idea whose time has passed. "Let's put all the dead people in boxes and keep them in one part of town." What kind of medieval bullshit is that? I say, plow these motherfuckers up and throw them away. Or melt them down. We need that phosphorous for farming. If we're going to recycle, let's get serious.

- George Carlin

I've always expressed a wish to be cremated when I die, but I'm open to persuasion that green burial is the way to go:

But hardcore green burial devotees like Mary are not particularly fond of cremation because of the energy costs involved in incinerating the bodies and the pollution it creates. You could drive across the country and halfway back on the energy used to cremate someone. And mercury from dental fillings released into the air with incineration adds up to somewhere between 1,000 and 7,800 pounds of mercury, a quarter of it floating back to earth. Greensprings would rather have your body -- your whole body -- going back into the earth.

Plus, there's a whole lot more romance and poetry in the whole imagery of burial and the grave. An urn full of ash just doesn't quite fire the imagination in the same way, does it? In any event, having already specified exactly how I want to go about shuffling off this mortal coil, let me take a moment to further address the ritual corpse disposal issue. I like Richard Grant's idea in American Nomads, where he tells his wife that he wants to just be left in the desert when he dies:

"If you can fix it, let me die somewhere in the desert. I hate the idea of dying in the hospital, and I don't want to end up in a cemetery. Terrible waste of calories. Just leave me out in the desert to get recycled."

"That's illegal," she says, which I hadn't realized. "But okay."

The coyotes break the silence from time to time, yammering and howling in the distance, somewhere down in the canyons. I might feel differently when the moment is at hand, but it doesn't sound like a bad fate right now - to fuel the wanderings of these splendid animals, and the flight of vultures, and get picked clean by ants, and then to enter the bodies of ant-eating lizards and lizard-eating birds and coyotes, while my bones crumble into the soil and nourish a cactus or a juniper tree. It's enough reincarnation for me.

I'm partial to the mountains on the East Coast myself, but the sentiment is the same. I trust that one of you can make sure that happens if need be.


In an excellent essay on the often-underappreciated value of friendship and the high estimation intellectuals have placed on it throughout the centuries, Daniel Akst works in references to Asimov, Aristotle, Emerson, Thoreau, Byron, Freud, Cicero, Goethe, Bacon, Montaigne, Wordsworth, the Beatles and Tony Soprano, just to name a baker's dozen, but somehow manages to ignore Epicurus! As Ebonmuse once summarized it:

Epicureanism put the emphasis on pleasure, not as mindless hedonism but as reasonable indulgence in the good things available in life. Valuing intellectual pleasure more highly than sensual pleasure, it recommends the cultivation of friendship, an ethic of simplicity, and an attitude of tranquility in the face of life's trials. Ironically, "epicure" in popular parlance has come to refer to a connoisseur of food and drink, which Epicurus arguably considered the least important of life's pleasures.

But that's a minor quibble. It really is a great essay; there's too many good parts to even excerpt.

I agree that Barbara Ehrenreich's "cult of conspicuous busyness" is the most corrosive factor that prevents people from developing and maintaining more meaningful relationships outside of their immediate families and spouses; hell, I think it's responsible for ruining all sorts of leisurely pursuits, from artistic appreciation to writing worthwhile letters. I nodded vigorously and murmured, "Preach it, my brutha", as he decried the "remorseless eroticization of human relations that was bequeathed to us by Sigmund Freud." I huzzahed to see him turn his attention to our "wildly inflated view of matrimony", i.e. our ridiculous romantic notions that our spouse should be our soulmate, our One True Everything. And I was pleasantly surprised to see someone else suggest that it might not be completely crazy to turn down a chance at a higher-paying job if it meant having to move and leave a close circle of friends behind. I used to think that as a teenager, and quickly dismissed it as me being weird.

Part of what I like so much about the Epicurean mindset is that it avoids idealizing friendship out of an ascetic aversion to all that icky, earthy sex. There's nothing "higher", "better" or "deeper" about love that doesn't involve sex, it just emphasizes different aspects of human interaction, and for some people, intellectual stimulation is just as, if not more important, than physical infatuation. The impulse to reproduce oneself is conjoined with the impulse to preserve oneself as the most basic, preprogrammed urges common to all life. And while humans are just as much animals as any other species, conscious reflection and selective choosing among pleasures is much more refined, for those of us who enjoy taking a little bit of elitist pride in ourselves now and again. If need be, sex is something you can have with a total stranger you pick up in a nightclub. But it's a lot more rare and valuable to find people who can alternately invigorate and challenge you intellectually while resonating with you emotionally.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Same as It Ever Was

Raw Story:

Nearly one in five people, or 18 percent, said they think Obama is Muslim, up from the 11 percent who said so in March 2009, according to a poll released Thursday. The proportion who correctly say he is a Christian is down to just 34 percent.

Probing a more universal measure of knowledge, Gallup also asked the following basic science question, which has been used to indicate the level of public knowledge in two European countries in recent years: "As far as you know, does the earth revolve around the sun or does the sun revolve around the earth?" In the new poll, about four out of five Americans (79%) correctly respond that the earth revolves around the sun, while 18% say it is the other way around. These results are comparable to those found in Germany when a similar question was asked there in 1996; in response to that poll, 74% of Germans gave the correct answer, while 16% thought the sun revolved around the earth, and 10% said they didn't know. When the question was asked in Great Britain that same year, 67% answered correctly, 19% answered incorrectly, and 14% didn't know.

Bob Harris once provided a slightly more in-depth analysis of similar gobsmacking statistics, but I don't remember enough details to track down the post. Basically, though, he showed pretty conclusively that no matter what the specific issue, 20-25% of the population can be counted on to be just insanely ignorant, even when it comes to things you thought were utterly beyond debate or misunderstanding. So take a deep breath and relax. One out of every four or five people is eye-poppingly, jaw-droppingly, heart-stoppingly ignorant. 'Twas ever thus.

Update: Bob graciously raises the property value on this here blog by about a thousand percent by checking in and letting me know where I could find the post in question, and it's even better than I remembered it! To wit:

65% couldn't describe the basic facts about Watergate
56% think in war, the media should support the government over questioning it
48% say the news media acted responsibly during the Clinton Wars
45% characterized Watergate was "just politics"
43% attended religious services in the previous 7 days
40% believe the media was biased in favor of Bill Clinton
35% say the government should not fund stem cell research
34% think Rock and Roll has had an overall negative impact on America
33% believe a wife should "submit herself graciously" to a husband
30% say the Bible is the "actual word of God" to be taken literally
29% think people will be "more likely" to afford college for their kids in 2020
28% disapprove of labor unions on principle
28% say the government should have the right to control news reports
27% believe divorce is "morally wrong"
26% thought various disasters in 1999 might "foreshadow the wrath of God"
26% think grade-school teachers should be allowed to spank their kids
24% describe themselves as interested in what celebrities think
21% told a pollster they'd never met that they had cheated in a relationship
21% say justice was served in the O.J. Simpson case
20% approve of the how the Catholic Church handles pedophilia
20% believe that the killing of civilians in Vietnam was "relatively rare"
15% were upset at Diana Spencer's death like "someone you knew"
12% think the United States should have a British-style royal family
11% stockpiled food and water in advance of Y2K
11% think "Titanic" was the best American movie of the 20th century
11% would like "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" as their personal physician
10% would eat a rat or an insect on a "reality" TV show
10% think it's advantageous to be a woman in American society
10% believe Oswald acted alone
10% say they are "very likely" to become rich someday
8% could not name a single TV network
8% fear they are "very likely" to be shot or badly hurt by a stranger
7% think Elvis is possibly still alive
6% say Garth Brooks is the best male singer of the 20th century
5% are ?very afraid? of thunder and lightning
5% would be "more likely" to buy food labeled as genetically modified
3% wanted to see the questions on "Millionaire" become less difficult

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Everything Dies

So, we've recently learned that printed books and blogs are both dead. Anything else? Any more traditions or trends on their way-- oh, what's that, Wired magazine? Gasp! The web itself is dead? Goddamn! How can it-- ? What the-- ? I just saw it yesterday, and...*sniff*...and...oh gods, we were just talking about how we had finally gotten to a good place and there was still so much to look forward to! *Sob*

I hereby proclaim the death of fatuous, sensationalist proclamations of death from hipsters who can't be bothered to differentiate between hyperbole and analysis. Let the word go forth.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust

Noted without comment. Chalmers Johnson:

Thirty-five years from now, America's official century of being top dog (1945-2045) will have come to an end; its time may, in fact, be running out right now. We are likely to begin to look ever more like a giant version of England at the end of its imperial run, as we come face-to-face with, if not necessarily to terms with, our aging infrastructure, declining international clout, and sagging economy. It may, for all we know, still be Hollywood's century decades from now, and so we may still make waves on the cultural scene, just as Britain did in the 1960s with the Beatles and Twiggy. Tourists will undoubtedly still visit some of our natural wonders and perhaps a few of our less scruffy cities, partly because the dollar-exchange rate is likely to be in their favor.

If, however, we were to dismantle our empire of military bases and redirect our economy toward productive, instead of destructive, industries; if we maintained our volunteer armed forces primarily to defend our own shores (and perhaps to be used at the behest of the United Nations); if we began to invest in our infrastructure, education, health care, and savings, then we might have a chance to reinvent ourselves as a productive, normal nation. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening. Peering into that foggy future, I simply can't imagine the U.S. dismantling its empire voluntarily, which doesn't mean that, like all sets of imperial garrisons, our bases won't go someday.

Instead, I foresee the U.S. drifting along, much as the Obama administration seems to be drifting along in the war in Afghanistan. The common talk among economists today is that high unemployment may linger for another decade. Add in low investment and depressed spending (except perhaps by the government) and I fear T.S. Eliot had it right when he wrote: "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper."

Postmodern Love

What's good about both the Stanford study and the durability of even not-so-cool sites like eHarmony is that being proactive about connection is no longer viewed as unromantic or loserish. Somewhere along the line, enough friends and friends-of-friends started meeting cool people and even falling in love to make the "Let's just say we met at the deli" cover story moot.

But as eHarmony's new campaign makes clear, love -- or even a really good hookup -- isn't always a simple matter of what matches up perfectly on a survey. "What if you were loved for you?" it asks. What if? What if we had a way of finding people who share our interests and like our pictures, so we could be out dancing instead of sitting at home lonely? And what if, along with all the practicality and purposefulness and monthly fees the Internet brings, it turns out we still hope, in our hearts, for something approaching magic?

A friend of mine semi-shamefully admitted to me once that she had tried eHarmony out, like she was half-expecting me to burst out laughing and flash the L-for-loser sign at her. My attitude about online dating has always been, why the hell not? Her biggest complaint about it was that "people lie" about themselves in that environment. Yeah? And? Like they don't do that anywhere else?

More than half of all marriages end in divorce, and who knows how many serious, committed relationships don't even make it to marriage before they dissolve. Basically, the odds are overwhelming that whoever you're currently with is not The One For You. Of course, the biggest problem with that is the idea that people meeting in their twenties or thirties and staying together for several more decades till death does them part is normal, but anyway. The point is, most traditionally-formed relationships are doomed to collapse at some point, so why stigmatize those who want to try to take a slightly more scientific approach to dating?

Most of us probably meet our prospective partners either through work or mutual friends, which in many instances can provide a paltry enough dating pool. Shy people who don't necessarily enjoy making the social scene are even more screwed. Whereas on the Internet, you can easily find groups devoted to whatever bizarre hobby or fetish you enjoy. Whatever constellation of traits and beliefs are most important to you, there's almost certainly people out there who match up pretty well with them. Of course there's much more to a relationship than how it shapes up on paper, but I can't help but think it's an improvement to already know you have so much common ground to get started on.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Center Cannot Hold

Morris Berman:

I have always been a great admirer of Isaiah Berlin, the Russian-Jewish-British political scientist who spent his life cautioning the West about the dangers of coercive systems such as that of the former Soviet Union. In his famous Oxford University inaugural lecture of 1958, "Two Concepts of Liberty," Berlin defined "negative freedom" as freedom from; it is the freedom to do what the heck you please as long as you don't infringe on anyone else. "Positive freedom," on the other hand, is freedom to; it is the freedom of a directive ideal, one that holds up a vision of the good life (whatever that might be) and encourages--or forces--people to conform to that image. Going back to at least the 17th century, negative freedom is the Anglo-Saxon conception of what it means to be free; and as far as Berlin was concerned (as a good British subject--he became Sir Isaiah the year before his inaugural lecture), that was the only freedom around; the other variety, he believed, was inevitably dangerous. The only problem is, without a positive vision of the good life, the good society, what are we? How could we be anything else except a ship without a rudder? This, to me, is the Achilles heel in the Berlinian edifice, for negative freedom finally affirms nothing--as the example of contemporary America clearly demonstrates...

There is no doubt, of course, that "vision" can get out of hand; this was Isaiah Berlin's whole point. But what Berlin failed to understand was that lack of vision can also get out of hand, as Harvey Mansfield makes abundantly clear.

I don't think Berlin "failed to understand" that point; I think he simply accepted that we might not be able to hammer out any sort of consensus on what the good life is, how we can achieve it, or what we need to do and when we need to do it. Just like how it was understood early on that a functioning democracy required an informed and engaged citizenry, the possibility (or even likelihood) of failure was always part of the deal. The price of freedom and all that.

And of course, Berlin wasn't merely focused on extreme examples like the former Soviet Union; his point was that when an Enlightenment-derived faith in the ability of reason and science starts to assume that social questions can be investigated and their answers determined with the same sort of accurate practical results that the natural sciences had demonstrated, a refusal or inability to get with the program in any way would eventually lead to some sort of oppression "for your own good", since you were obviously too mentally ill or otherwise deviant to clearly see what you needed to do to fulfill your proper role in the scheme of things. It's the same reason why Sam Harris's latest endeavor has caused such a furious uproar.

Agreement on the nature of the "good life" and the means of living it is never going to be workable beyond small groups anyway, in my opinion; certainly not on the level of a modern nation-state. How could it?

Corpulent Punishment

I heard someone earlier ranting about how often you see obese people in Walmart riding around on those electric mobility scooters, sometimes even having the audacity to be buying groceries despite being fat enough already, and it got me thinking.

It's no surprise, is it, that the states with the highest obesity rates so closely track with the poorest states in the nation? I mean, it's fairly obvious when you think about it, that poor people with shitty jobs (if any) and much less control over their own lives often have to settle for eating whatever's cheapest and most convenient. Poor people don't always have time to exercise regularly. For some reason, they can often be depressed, if you can believe that, so in addition to sapping much of their vim and vigor, it may lead them to binge on comfort foods for momentary pleasure, which makes them feel worse about themselves, and on and on it goes. Yet some people think the problem is that we don't do enough to shame fat people. Because if you just constantly remind them they're fat, you see, (something that frequently slips their mind) they'll be motivated to lose weight. I suspect this is the brainchild of those gifted psychologists who think that calling depressed people whiners and losers will cheer them up.

I used to work in a shipping warehouse with a female truck driver who was, to put it clinically, morbidly obese. She was also very pleasant and friendly, and despite the fact that my farouche nature makes it so that I would be just peachy, thanksmuch, if we could do away with small talk and vapid pleasantries, her cheerfulness was infectious enough that I didn't mind reciprocating her hellos and good mornings.

Having come in for criticism all my life for my aforementioned farouche nature, I would have expected that my coworkers would have been even more kindly disposed toward Janet and her attempts to warmly engage everybody she saw. I would have also been wrong. Most of them grunted in response to her greetings, contemptuously refusing to even turn in her direction. They looked for excuses to blame her for being late arriving, even though we all knew full well that unpredictability in this business was the norm. I guess her excessive weight was slowing the truck down or something. She used to make a little noise when exerting herself lifting, something between a gasp and a wheeze, and this was cause for no end of mirth among those who nudged each other and waited eagerly to hear it so they could snort and snicker and sarcastically imitate it sotto voce. She had to have been aware of all this, but to her credit, she never gave the bastards the satisfaction of seeing it bother her.

Too aloof, too fat. Too gay, too foreign, too black, too whatever. Assholes will seize on any pretext they can to be all the asshole they can be. The supposed trigger is often irrelevant or interchangeable. Some people just can't be happy unless they're in a pack, attacking someone who doesn't fit in, reflexively punishing people who run afoul of cultural norms.

I enjoy staying in shape. I feel better when I exercise, and having been through a lengthy period of time with untreated rheumatoid arthritis, where the inflammation plus the cortisone injections left me feeling bloated and lethargic and depressed, I was all the more determined to take advantage of my ability to work out once medication made it possible to do so again. You might think that I could easily be one of the evangelistic type of fitness enthusiasts who have no sympathy for anyone overweight -- if I could sculpt myself back into top shape after all that, what's your major malfunction, fatass? But you'd be wrong.

Put simply, part of not being a Christian, to me, means not giving a shit about the supposed seven deadly sins. Gluttony may give you all sorts of health problems, and it may make your mundane daily activities much more difficult than they need to be, but how does that adversely affect me? You're the one suffering from it, why in the world should I take it personally? I just stare in amazement at tossers like this who foam at the mouth over something that doesn't impact their own lives in the slightest, using a pretense of moral superiority to thunder and rage like a good little Puritan. I get annoyed by laziness when someone I'm personally depending on lets me down somehow because of it. But what kind of zealot gets outraged about laziness as a general principle?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Die Hinzu-Lügner

Reading Ross Douthat's astoundingly feeble attempt to justify opposition to gay marriage only made me think of a passage from Nietzsche:

[O]ne lied, mendaciously inventing reasons for these laws, simply to avoid admitting that one had become used to these laws and no longer wanted things to be different. The same process occurs, and always has occurred, in every prevalent morality and religion: the reasons and purposes for habits are always lies that are added only after some people begin to attack these habits and to ask for reasons and purposes. At this point the conservatives of all ages are thoroughly dishonest: they add lies.

1,000 Words

From the people who brought you this brilliance.

Accept No Invitations

And introverts are better at thinking in their heads than on their feet. However, even if you contribute to advances in the sciences, technology, the arts, and the humanities, just being an introvert comes with a stigma. You may be passed up for a promotion because you don't speak up more, or seen as a snob because you don't attend a social event, or assumed to be depressed because you want to reflect rather than talk.

Introversion and extraversion have long been seen as normal variations of personality, and there's physiological evidence for these differences. Research shows that the brains of introverts are more active than those of extraverts. This explains why introverts limit how much comes in, while extraverts go where the action is.

I've been thought to be everything from rude to depressed to mentally retarded as a result of being introverted, but I'm glad to see that science has finally confirmed what I intuitively knew all along, that I'm just a goddamned genius, bored to tears by the banality of the chattering monkeys all around me.

Seriously, though, I'm also what I like to think of as the positive manifestation of the omega male. I've done a lot of what society expects of you: maintained a long-term relationship, fulfilled responsibilities, achieved reasonable success, and so on, but I never deeply identified with that role, and consequently feel free to reject it now. I'm not competing with anyone for anything. I'm indifferent to status. I'm content with my little routine, and that's all that matters. So I'm not really bothered by the fact that introverts don't get their due; why would we want the attention and intrusion that would accompany acceptance?

The thing is, the majority of what constitutes relationships is simply companionship. Most people just want someone else around to share even the most ordinary experiences. Romance quickly loses its flash and euphoria and settles into sitting around taking each other for granted, and friends provide a way to be distracted from thinking about anything substantial. Me, I'm enough of a loner that I just really don't need much companionship at all. I enjoy other people's company, but only to the extent that it's stimulating; otherwise, it doesn't take long for me to get irritated by the imposition on my personal space. There's enough cavernous space in my head for me to live there quite comfortably, thank you. Like Machiavelli, I'm content to be left alone with books and music:

When evening comes, I return to my home, and I go into my study; and on the threshold, I take off my everyday clothes, which are covered with mud and mire, and I put on regal and curial robes; and dressed in a more appropriate manner I enter into the ancient court, of ancient men and am welcomed by them kindly, and there I taste the food that alone is mine, and for which I was born and there I am not ashamed to speak to them, to ask them the reasons for their actions, and they, in their humanity, answer me; and for four hours I feel no boredom, I dismiss every affliction, I no longer fear poverty nor do I tremble at the thought of death; I become completely part of them.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Xerxes Rising III - The Reckoning

As I settled down to read through the beginning of the propaganda campaign to bomb Iran, I said to myself, I said: "Self, how long will it take before we hear you-know-who invoked?"

Three paragraphs, baby. I'm glad I didn't put any money on it, because even I wasn't that jaded!

In these conversations, which will be fraught, the Israelis will tell their American counterparts that they are taking this drastic step because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people.

Extra bonus Hitler!

“In World War II, the Jews had no power to stop Hitler from annihilating us. Six million were slaughtered. Today, 6 million Jews live in Israel, and someone is threatening them with annihilation. But now we have the power to stop them. Bibi knows that this is the choice.”

However, I did mostly agree with this quote from Netanyahu:

“You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs,” he said. “When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the world should start worrying, and that’s what is happening in Iran.”

In Iran, huh? Again, I remind you:

Incredibly, President George W. Bush told French President Jacques Chirac in early 2003 that Iraq must be invaded to thwart Gog and Magog, the Bible’s satanic agents of the Apocalypse.

Honest. This isn’t a joke. The president of the United States, in a top-secret phone call to a major European ally, asked for French troops to join American soldiers in attacking Iraq as a mission from God.

Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”

However, Noam Chomsky reminds us that it's true, no sane person should want Iran to have nuclear weapons. Of course, he also reminds us what sorts of things, besides a military attack, could be done about it, and why they never will be:

No sane person wants Iran to develop nuclear weapons; or anyone. One obvious way to mitigate or eliminate this threat is to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East. The issue arose (again) at the NPT conference at United Nations headquarters in early May 2010. Egypt, as chair of the 118 nations of the Non-Aligned Movement, proposed that the conference back a plan calling for the start of negotiations in 2011 on a Middle East NWFZ, as had been agreed by the West, including the US, at the 1995 review conference on the NPT.

Washington still formally agrees, but insists that Israel be exempted -- and has given no hint of allowing such provisions to apply to itself. The time is not yet ripe for creating the zone, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated at the NPT conference, while Washington insisted that no proposal can be accepted that calls for Israel's nuclear program to be placed under the auspices of the IAEA or that calls on signers of the NPT, specifically Washington, to release information about "Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel." Obama's technique of evasion is to adopt Israel's position that any such proposal must be conditional on a comprehensive peace settlement, which the US can delay indefinitely, as it has been doing for 35 years, with rare and temporary exceptions.

At the same time, Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, asked foreign ministers of its 151 member states to share views on how to implement a resolution demanding that Israel "accede to" the NPT and throw its nuclear facilities open to IAEA oversight, AP reported.

It is rarely noted that the US and UK have a special responsibility to work to establish a Middle East NWFZ. In attempting to provide a thin legal cover for their invasion of the Iraq in 2003, they appealed to Security Council Resolution 687 (1991), which called on Iraq to terminate its development of weapons of mass destruction. The US and UK claimed that they had not done so. We need not tarry on the excuse, but that Resolution commits its signers to move to establish a NWFZ in the Middle East.

...One practical step in this direction is establishment of NWFZs. Another is to withdraw support for the nuclear programs of the three non-signers of the NPT. As often, rhetoric and actions are hardly aligned, in fact are in direct contradiction in this case, facts that pass with as little attention as most of what has just been briefly reviewed.

Instead of taking practical steps towards reducing the truly dire threat of nuclear weapons proliferation, the US is taking major steps towards reinforcing US control of the vital Middle East oil-producing regions, by violence if other means do not suffice.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I Predict a Riot

As we enter our ninth year of the War in Afghanistan with an escalated force, and continue to occupy Iraq indefinitely, and feed an endlessly growing Surveillance State, reports are emerging of the Deficit Commission hard at work planning how to cut Social Security, Medicare, and now even to freeze military pay. But a new New York Times article today illustrates as vividly as anything else what a collapsing empire looks like, as it profiles just a few of the budget cuts which cities around the country are being forced to make.

...Meanwhile, the tiniest sliver of the wealthiest -- the ones who caused these problems in the first place -- continues to thrive. Let's recall what former IMF Chief Economist Simon Johnson said last year in The Atlantic about what happens in under-developed and developing countries when an elite-caused financial crisis ensues:

Squeezing the oligarchs, though, is seldom the strategy of choice among emerging-market governments. Quite the contrary: at the outset of the crisis, the oligarchs are usually among the first to get extra help from the government, such as preferential access to foreign currency, or maybe a nice tax break, or -- here's a classic Kremlin bailout technique -- the assumption of private debt obligations by the government. Under duress, generosity toward old friends takes many innovative forms. Meanwhile, needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk -- at least until the riots grow too large.

The real question is whether the American public is too apathetic and trained into submission for that to ever happen.

I've felt for a while now that we're likely to see some form of large-scale civil unrest in the next couple years, as it becomes more and more evident that the American way of life that so many people take as their guaranteed birthright is never coming back. But while I'd be glad to see a pitchfork-bearing mob marching on Wall Street after swinging through Washington and robbing the World Bank, I fear it's much more likely that any violent uprising will be comprised of reactionary teabagger types lashing out at someone with less power than them (as is always the case with authoritarian bullies). I wouldn't be surprised to see some sort of racial incident being the flashpoint for a larger riot, probably involving immigrants. I'd be very glad to be wrong.

Look at them and see what they are like:

they move as though a wind were pushing them,
they rest as though a hand had stopped them.

In their eyes is the oncoming darkness
sweeping across summer's fields
before the storm.

And Murderize Them What Not Can Proper Speak the English!

Words fail me.

It's just fortunate that our angry artist didn't specifically complain about people speaking Spanish as well, or this would have qualified as an above-ground detonation of an I-bomb (ironic bomb), and our retinas would have been fried by looking directly at it.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

Today, not only in peasant homes but also in the city sky-scrapers, there lives alongside the twentieth century the tenth or thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcism ... What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance and savagery!

- Leon Trotsky

There's this old lady I know. I heard her scoffing last week at the story about scientists calling climate change undeniable. This is coming from someone who consults the Farmer's Almanac to see what the weather is going to be like for the next few months.

She also believes that WD-40 has analgesic properties, and uses it the way most people might use Bengay. I suspect this might have a bit to do with why her skin looks like old luggage that's been left outside in the rain for months.

A lifelong smoker who frequently has coughing jags that sound like she's choking up bits of her lungs, she nonetheless claims that her doctor says she has the health of someone in her twenties.

Oh, and despite being a typical Christian who thinks God is personally intervening in her life on a regular basis, she firmly believes the thing about the Mayan prophecies of the world's end in 2012.

Stephen Hawking (who's becoming a real downer lately, it must be said) says we need to make steps toward colonizing space if the human species is going to have any chance of long-term survival. I just wonder how he would ensure that we don't carry our inherent deadly stupidity out there with us.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Everywhere in Chains

Phil Oliver states a truism:

Happiness is more likely to flow from simplicity and richness of experience than from the accumulation of material possessions.

But Steve Hagen preemptively asked exactly what we mean when we talk about "simplicity":

I once spoke at a retreat in which people had gathered to examine, among other things, the idea of simplicity -- more precisely, living the "simple life". One of the speakers was a woman who had spent a number of years living in the countryside in Wisconsin, raising a family. Many years ago, she and her husband decided that they would go off to the country and live a simple life. By choice they didn't have a phone. They didn't have electricity. They didn't have plumbing. They raised two children. And they surely led a simple life because, having so limited their activity, they made few demands upon their environment and upon the world.

Most of us at the retreat probably had a clear sense of what is meant by a "simple life". It meant living unpretentiously, humbly, and efficiently; above all, it meant being self-sufficient and not tied into or dependent on some massive, external "infrastructure". Yes, we all knew what the simple life was, even those of us who didn't live so "simply". But as we discussed the idea of simplicity, we began to see a great deal of complexity in it. After all, here were our friends, clearly leading a simple life - we all recognized that they did - but when it was time to do the dishes, they had to have already cut some firewood, which had to already have been cured and hauled into the house. They then had to stoke a fire, pump their water from the well, heat the water on the stove, pour it into a pan, and regulate its temperature by mixing it with more cool water from the well. Then they could do their dishes -- after adding some homemade soap.

By contrast, those of us who don't live quite this "simply" load our dishes into the dishwasher, add store-bought soap and push a button. Yet we most often think of the lifestyle which includes a dishwasher as being the more hectic and complicated one. We call the first lifestyle the simple life, the second a rat race. But where's the simplicity? Where's the complexity? Clearly they are two. But if they are two, how are they two?

I've known people who quit the rat race to go live on a hippie commune or take up some similar kind of back-to-basics lifestyle, only to still be plagued by the same old frustrations and unhappiness, which always told me that simplicity was a state of mind, not necessarily related to external circumstances. You can find contentment almost anywhere, but if you don't already have it in your mind, sitting in a cabin in the woods with nothing to do but grow and prepare your food, among other menial chores, isn't going to magically make you feel that way, especially once the novelty wears off. Self-sufficiency itself is one of the biggest illusions there is. You'd think more reflective people would realize this, given as they are to contemplating the myriad ways all things are connected.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Recline of Western Civilization

Richard is talking primarily about the China blogosphere, but what he says is of course applicable to blogging in general, and it reflects a similar sentiment I've started to see expressed with increasing frequency; namely, that blogging itself is outdated, obsolete and generally not what the cool kids are doing anymore (in the comments, his exchange with Bob Page fleshes out the theme a little more).

Twitter has obliterated what I used to use the blog for, namely sharing links and offering some commentary. And the China blogosphere is so fragmented it’s much harder to be heard above the din. The fact that I’m caught up in my own issues (I’m planning to launch my own small business soon; I’ll keep you posted) hasn’t helped make this blog more productive. But even if I were as productive as in 2003, the site would be in decline. China blogs are too many, and blogging in general is becoming increasingly antique.

I do miss the “golden age,” from 2003-2005, when I could open a thread before bedtime and wake up to 300 comments. But that required full-time posting and, at its peak, the help of three or four other bloggers all putting up copy throughout the day.

I was running down the blogroll last week, and I saw where Micah Ian Wright of the Propaganda Remix Project had stopped the site's blog over three years ago:

C'mon... this blog is, like, dead, already
Come Join Me On Facebook

I found blogging on Facebook to just be a LOT easier than using Blogger... maybe if I get super famous or something I'll start a -real- blog, but if you're just a friend or a fan (or an enemy) looking to touch base, Facebook is the site where you'll find me.

My first thought was, what the fuck does "easier" have to do with it? Where does "effort" enter into this format at all? You mean I have to save a totally different bookmark for Blogger? And then I have to log in and everything, even if I let my browser save my ID and password? OH GODS THE PAIN MY CLICKY FINGER CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!

Seriously, I remember way back in the mist-enshrouded days of, oh, just under a decade ago when a couple friends and I were talking about building a blog/website from scratch, and what a godsend it seemed like by comparison to go to Blogspot with a name in mind, get a URL, choose a template, and start blogging five minutes later. I can understand people simply preferring Facebook for whatever reason, but it seems insanely spoiled and lazy to act as if it's too much trouble for people to come to a blog to read your thoughts as opposed to a Facebook wall, just like it flabbergasts me to see how people act as if emailing is a laborious chore when you could just be texting instead. If only we could have electrodes implanted in our brains that would process and distribute our thoughts for us so we didn't have to go to the excruciating effort of typing them by hand...!

Like I was just saying about the prophesying of the printed book's extinction, I think we've always been infatuated with portentously declaring the death of traditions and trends, when often all we mean is that they don't have their glitzy novelty anymore. I can understand why people would say that about blogs, but to be honest, I rarely find the mega-blogs worth reading anyway, so I really don't care if they start to suffer precipitous drop-offs in traffic and commentary (comments at huge political blogs are comparable to YouTube for sheer inanity) as users flock to newer social media. They tend to be lowest-common-denominator sinkholes who only link to other members of the blogosphere's upper-class, so good riddance in any event. (Though if someone like Atrios started posting exclusively on Twitter, would it even make a difference in his writing style?)

At any rate, it greatly amuses me to think that I could already be some sort of dinosaur by preferring to stick to blogging and email for communication. A digital Luddite. But I prefer a small audience anyway, which is why I make zero effort to promote this space. Aside from the apparent correlation between number of commenters and lack of intelligent discussion, I like being able to actually talk back and forth with those who do comment; I wouldn't want to have to take a removed role of regulating trolls and refereeing fights. And I imagine I can't be the only one who prefers a format that allows us to attempt to make Proust look like a haiku poet with our witless ramblings. Hasn't anyone considered what will become of all the windbags if no one reads blogs anymore? We'll be right back to bothering you in person again, that's what.

Let the majority move on to twatting and friending each other silly. Those of us who remain can possibly settle down to making blogging into something more artistic and substantial, free of trendy, superficial attention.