Gun control, redux

Naturally, like many people, my thoughts have been on the topic of gun control of late. Naturally, if you know me, I have opinions on the matter.

However, you may be surprised to hear, my thoughts have evolved a bit.

But first, a metablog word: So, as you can see, it’s been nearly a year since the last time I’ve blogged on here. There are various reasons. One was the chilling effect that incident a year and half ago had on me. (Huh. I was going through the archives trying to find a reference to that incident, and can’t find one. Except where I vaguely refer to it. I guess it was so chilling it left me too skittish to even refer to it when it happened. Probably wise. Suffice to say, someone who vehemently disagreed with a political opinion of mine tried to get me fired from my day job. Tried very hard. And it had the desired effect: I censored myself a lot more. That person won. They limited my freedom of speech by making me afraid to speak. I’d say that’s a tool of the fascist, but that may or may not be libelous if I meant it.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah. I have also not blogged, even the banal stuff I promised because, well, Facebook is just too darn easy! Find a good article, hit “Share,” write a sentence or two: bam! Instant validation. When you can do that 20 times a day on various topics, why bother spending time in a long-form essay format.

But (coming back on topic) some issues and thoughts require careful consideration and discourse. And gun control is one of those topics.

Looking through my archives, it seems I’ve shared a few words on the topic before. Here’s most of the good ones:

I packed a lot of good facts and statistics in those posts, which is good since, today, I want to give more broad strokes. Not to say I want to avoid facts, but I want to avoid being too redundant.

Here’s my thesis statement right off: I’m pro gun, anti-gun culture. Pro gun control, anti-gun abolition.

These are not mutually exclusive opinions, despite what the more reactionary liberals would have you believe. In fact, usually whenever I state that I’m pro-gun and anti-extreme gun control, and support concealed carry, the reaction that more than half the time that comes from a reactionary liberal is:

Oh, so you think giving everyone guns would make us safer?!

I swear, the next time I see someone respond with that (and that’s a literal quote from one individual and nearly verbatim from others), I’ll ban/unfriend their rear. That is a textbook slippery slope, straw man logical fallacy. In no way have I, nor the NRA for that matter, nor any reasonable gun advocate I know, has ever suggested, or even implied, everyone should be given guns–or even that everyone should own a gun at all! In fact, most people probably shouldn’t.

I can’t speak for all gun ownership advocates, but I’m in favor of reasonable gun control. Meaning: yes, ban fully-automatic weapons. Ban assault rifles. Ban whatever can’t be reasonably used for hunting and home/self defense. In addition, I feel, everyone who owns a gun should have to take gun safety and usage courses, pass an exam, and re-certify every so many years, just as we do for driving. Also, mental health background checks should be considered, especially if there is a history of schizophrenia or anti-social personality disorders (sociopathy and psychopathy).

Now, can that position in any way be confused with: Let everyone have guns!!1!

Here’s the crux: Liberals tend to think the whole issue can be solved by banning guns. That somehow our culture will be more civil and less violent without guns. Just like how banning drugs has made people stop using drugs and dealers stop profiting off drugs. (That last was sarcastic, in case you didn’t notice.) But it’s not as simple as that.

Examples: England has outlawed almost all private gun ownership. Yet they have a terrible black market gun trade and high rates of gun-related crime. Meanwhile, Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership, but extremely low gun-crime. Why is this?

People hate this, conservatives more than liberals, but on this topic, liberals hate it as much as extreme conservatives: The solution is complicated. It comes down to culture.

Face it, America has a violent, arrogant, thrill-seeking, short-sighted, selfish, adolescent-like, near-sociopathic culture. It’s mirrored and reinforced in our entertainment, it’s validated by the corporatocracy which defines our values, it’s evident in our brief history, and it’s exported by our military empire.

Add to that, we have deplorable, embarrassing, social care and safety-net system: the worst insurance-care healthcare system of the civilized world, massive poverty for a western nation, we treat drug addiction like a crime instead of a disease and thus exacerbate drug-related crimes, terrible mental health screening and care–our social structure is abysmal, which is why people often turn to crime, violent crime at that. Countries like Switzerland and most European countries, actually abhor violent culture and entertainment, care about their social structure, have higher education rates and put a premium on education, and strive to make sure their populace is physically and mentally healthy and happy. England, unfortunately, aside from their national health service, has a culture far too similar to the U.S. (thanks Thatcher!) and so suffers from much of the same cultural ills.

What I’m saying, is the problem isn’t the guns, it’s the people. We could ban all guns in the U.S. outright, but that’s not going to change the culture. We would simply have an out of control black market gun trade, and an increase in gun violence just as illegal drugs lead to violence connected with its illegal trafficking.

I agree, we should make it harder for people to get guns that can do a lot of destruction in a short amount of time. But what we also need to do is stop making human game preserves, or as they officially are called: gun free zones. Because if someone is intent on doing gun violence, you think making some place a gun free zone is going to deter them?

What can deter people intent on doing mass violence is the threat of an armed populace.

Yeah, I just heard that aneurysm blow in dozens of liberals.

Again, I am in no way implying giving people guns. Read my paragraph above on what I believe people should have to do to be able to own a gun.

Concealed carry requirements, for example, not only require people to understand gun safety, but also when and where the use of armed protection or reaction is necessary. People who are responsible gun owners, who have legal concealed carry licenses, are people who tend to train often and respect the tool. The scenario of some wanton cross-fire shootout among civilians pretty much only exists in (our violent) movies. It just doesn’t happen in real life.

What does happen in real life, is responsible gun owners have stopped mass killings.

Here’s a site which this fellow (an anarcho-capitalist, ugh!) has researched mass shooting events across the country, sorted the ones in which the killers shot at will until stopped by police, and ones in which an armed civilian got involved. The result:

The average number of people killed in mass shootings when stopped by police is 14.3

The average number of people killed in a mass shooting when stopped by a civilian is 2.3.

[…] it makes perfect sense if you think about from inside the mind of a heroic civilian with a concealed carry permit. It goes something like this:

“Holy crap! that guy shot that other guy.”
“He’s just going to keep shooting people.”

And the shooter goes down.

Quite a few cases went something like that. In fact, I found only one example of a shooter stopped by civilians who killed more than 3 people. Jared Loughner killed 6 people in Tucson, Arizona before he was tackled by two civilians. Maybe it’d have been less if one of those two men were armed.

Police react to shooting events as fast as they can, but unless there happens to be a few around the corner, it takes them as long as it takes a killer to empty three clips of ammo at least, to respond. Usually, as that site shows, mass shootings end when the killer is finished and commits suicide. But like he illustrates, an armed, trained civilian can react and stop a mass shooter in enough time to same many lives.

But the Aurora shooter had body armor! A civilian would have had no effect and possibly kill more people!

Perhaps. But we know two things, especially about Aurora: 1. no one confronted the shooter and a lot of people died and a lot more were wounded. 2. in other shootings in which the shooter was wearing body armor, the shooter stopped shooting at other people and focused on the civilian.

Example: The Mark Wilson response to David Hernandez Arroyo’s mass shooting. Arroyo had already killed two people and was about to kill his own son, when Wilson, a civilian, shot him. Arroyo, instead of shooting the unarmed son, turned on Wilson and chased him down instead. Wilson was, sadly, ultimately killed by Arroyo. But his action saved at least one life, taking the shooters attention until the police was able to adequately respond.

Also in Colorado, when church security guard Jeanne Assam took her personally owned concealed handgun and fired on a man intent on mass murder, the guy’s plans were instantly thwarted (he certainly didn’t expect armed resistance at a church!) and he killed himself (instead of doing so after killing many).

That site I linked above details many such instances in which an armed civilian turns what could have been a news-making mass shooting into a page 3 shooting event.

As for the Aurora, Colorado shooting, obviously we can’t know for sure what would have happened if there were an armed civilian or two in there. But here’s what I see would likely have been a worst-case scenario: Holmes would have started firing. Two, three, maybe five people get shot. The two poorly trained armed civilians pull their guns and fire, both hitting another two to four civilians (with concealed carry size handguns, most likely seriously wounding but possibly killing them). Holmes focuses on them long enough to kill them, and then continues. Instead of 12 dead and 60 injured, maybe 15 dead and 63 injured. Yes, every life is tragic! But is the final result that much worse?

More than likely, what would have happened: Holmes fires a few times. An adequately trained armed civilian realizes what’s going on and takes a kneeling position behind a row of chairs and fires back. Holmes stops shooting indiscriminately at fleeing people, and focuses on the shooter. He can’t see the shooter much better than the other way around, and has to try to locate and approach him. Meanwhile, more people are safely escaping without being shot at. A full minute or two passes while civilian and Holmes trade shots. Eventually, maybe Holmes kills the brave civilian (although, in nearly every single case but 2 of civilian opposition, the civilian is unharmed), but in that time, dozens of people were able to flee. Final result: maybe 4 dead and 12 injured. Still tragic, but significantly less so.

It’s also been shown that some shooters, when their plan goes south and realize there’s quick and unexpected opposition, flee instead….

Well, that’s my take. But what about the Second Amendment? Shouldn’t we be allowed to have AR-15s and assault rifles and high capacity clips and body armor to protect the republic from a corrupt government, like Jefferson and other Founding Fathers intended?

Well, at one time (one of those links above?) I would have possibly agreed. But when you really think about it, it’s far too late for that. No matter how many AR-15s the populace has, if the people wanted to revolt against an evil government, they would have as much chance against the U.S. military as an ant has against a tactical nuke. Gun hoarders and Idaho compound residents expecting to rise up against the government: yeah, give up the delusion. The only thing you’ll be any use in is if all technology stopped working and the world descended into medieval-like chaos, or Red Dawn comes true. And that ain’t bloody likely. No, if the government becomes so corrupt that we need to rise up, you better darn well hope the military is on our side, and that’s not going to happen. And if it does happen, the military coup will be swift.

That being said, it’s possible that the U.S. has avoided corrupt(er) and evil(er) governments thanks to the prophylactic threat of an armed populace. We can’t count the number of times something didn’t happen, so who knows how many times the Second Amendment actually prevented a fascist regime. (One can argue that that very threat has contributed to the plutocratic government’s more subtle corporatist military-industrial-complex takeover that influences our culture.)

But, water and bridges. As it is now, the Second Amendment just doesn’t matter any longer in the sense that guns are needed to protect liberty. The people vs. the standing military (something the Founding Fathers very much did not want) has already been terribly lost.

So, in conclusion: better (i.e.: smarter) gun control, and massive culture reformation are the only ways we’ll prevent gun crime.

Tinker, Tailor, FBI.

Now that I’ve had a chance to see both the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and J. Edgar, I want to make some comments before they’re out on video already for a year or two. It’s so rare that I get to see Oscar-potential movies while they’re actually in the theaters (last year, I had a three-movie-marathon with True Grit, The King’s Speech, and . . . I forget . . . all in one day (thanks to a regular theater, a 2nd-run theater, and a re-release to a wider audience). But I digress.

First, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as directed by the director of the original Swedish vampire film that made me think vampires could be interesting again, Let the Right One In. A truly inspired bit of daring movie-making, that one. With TTSS, he brought along his truly wonderful talent at evoking atmosphere and style, but I was rather underwhelmed by the film as a whole. There’s really nothing I can pinpoint as any one particularly weak point (except maybe the somewhat impenetrable script — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If everything else is good, and I get a sense that the plot is making sense, I can let a dense script I’m not immediately grokking wash over me knowing I can watch it again some other time for the details). But even the script isn’t a failure by any means; the dialog was well-written with the tension-filled spareness of a Pinter play.

The acting was also quite good all-round — but I wasn’t blown away. Which is my failing. For months, I’d been so worked up about this film, about Gary Oldman, that I expected a tour de force performance. What I got was skillful subtlety, and natural and believable underplayed drama. Well, except for John Hurt, but then, his angry forcefulness was exactly what was needed and entirely appropriate for character and tone.

This asplosion not in any film reviewed here. Or, anywhere.

Did I not like it as much as I was hoping because, what, I was expecting a Bourne movie? Bond? Mission Impossible? No. I’m familiar with the book (though I haven’t read it) and the original production, so I knew it was going to be a realistic, non-explody, spy film. I loved The American, for example, even though — no, because — it was stark and understated and atmospheric and tension-building and virtually no actiony-action. (I’m actually the only person I know who liked The American.) But then, I really didn’t know what to expect with The American except that it’d been described as a European-like film — which is a plus in my book! I simply, for some unknown reason, went into TTSS with high expectations — and they were ironically fulfilled in that it’s an excellent film, but not what I expected.

Then there’s J. Edgar. I pretty much got exactly what I expected with that film, and that may be one of the reasons for its surprisingly low RottenTomatoes score (although Ebert, who I almost always agree with, gave it a high 3.5 arbitrary stars). It was a rough, uneven, hit-and-miss film with much unfulfilled potential. Part of the problem is Leonardo DiCaprio. I can’t buy him. I recognize he’s a good actor who takes on challenging roles, but he’s . . . so . . . it’s the very weird dissonance he creates in my mind where I can’t decide if he did well or not, like one of those “magic eye” pictures where if you work at it, the 3D image will pop out at you — but usually, it’s just lingering on the edge of being and you know you can bring it into focus if you try. . . . Anyway, that’s DiCaprio for me in any adult role he’s in. He was great in Gilbert Grape, perfect in Titanic, quite wonderful in Gangs of New York. But I could just barely accept him in Shutter Island (good film!), though, I’ll admit, I accepted him in Inception. But as J. Edgar Hoover, I just can’t quite bring my opinion of his performance in focus, but I’m pretty sure I see the outline of an opinion that he was out of his depth and gave a pretty 1.75-note performance. His squint gave the other .25.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the makeup! OK, DiCaprio’s was passable, but what the heck was the Play-Dough and stipple monstrosity that was “Clyde Tolson”? It looked like Odo came back from Deep Space 9 with chicken pox and a bee sting allergy. Also, the film skipped around in time indiscernibly. It wouldn’t have been a problem if it had been two or three very different time-lines that went along at their own, but chronically forward, line — but there were points in which it skipped around in time just enough where you couldn’t quite tell by any visual cue if it went forward 1 year or 15 before skipping back 30.

Those flaws aside, the story surrounding Hoover and his longtime companion and possible lover, Clyde Tolson, was nearly perfect in its level of intimacy, its tone, and its anxiety. They played it quite well. Although, unfortunately, there’s one scene in which they have a fight resulting from Hoover’s repressed fear and Tolson’s sense of betrayal, in which they’re rolling around on each other and despite the sincere drama of the moment, I couldn’t help but hear Mark Russell in my head singing, “Sexual, subli-MA-tionnn . . . sexual SUB-li-ma-tion. . . .” It was just too contrived and blatant. But, as a whole, as I said, it was well-done and dramatic as I couldn’t help but cry a little at the end in Hoover’s bedroom.

But, being the Marxist that I am, I couldn’t help but see the movie from another perspective. Most of Hoover’s career was, as was depicted in the film, an obsession with a war against terror, I mean, against the Commie Menace. Now, I know Clint Eastwood, socially and politically, is a complex guy who has a foot in both the liberal progressive and the conservative camps, so I’m not terribly certain whether he wants us to cheer for Hoover and his elimination of communism in America (after all, the only depiction we get of the people Hoover fought were legitimately dangerous and violent anarchists — which, by the way, is a different ideology from communism), and no glimpse of American socialism of the 1910s through 30s that wasn’t through Hoover’s eyes, or whether he wants us to realize Hoover’s view is a skewed and ideological one. Is Eastwood taking it for granted that the audience knows who Emma Goldman was and what the Chicago union strikes were all about? Or does he side with Hoover’s ideals, but just not as neurotic about it as Hoover was?

In any case, I booed (mentally) with the 1919 anarchist bombings, sure; but, when Emma Goldman, the mother of American anarcho-socialism, appeared (and with such an eerie likeness that I questioned the accuracy of Maureen Stapleton’s portrayal of her in Warren Beatty’s epic film, Reds), I cheered! She’s a hero in my book, and a movie very desperately needs to be made about her. (Probable sociopath Ayn Rand got a sympatheric TV movie made about her, but Emma just gets cameos.) But as I was saying, in this time of the 2nd great-ish depression, thinking about the fascist iron fist that was brought to bear down on the nascent socialist movement in America during the 1st Great Depression, makes me frustrated and angry. People today have no clue that, especially before WWI but continuing into the Depression, the socialist party was a viable and legitimate party in America with supporters from all walks of life (except the wealthy capitalists, the politicians they bought, and the police they used to protect them), from Woody Guthrie to John Steinbeck to Albert Einstein.

If the development of modern capitalism had been mitigated and wasn’t allowed to take complete dominance in America in the early 20th century, I’m just guessing here of course, but I seriously doubt we’d have the boom-bust collapse of the economy across the predominately postmodern capitalist world we have now. (But then, to be fair, capitalism was needed then in order to get us to a state where it can destroy itself by making capital wealth ownership by the few, unnecessary. Which is the state we’re now in, with capitalism self-destructing.) But, if socialism had been allowed to remain side-by-side with capitalism — even if in a lesser role — and share the “base,” then when capitalism collapsed as a viable socio-economic model, viable and evolved socialist models for the 21st century could’ve been ready to take over. Yet, thanks to the war-on-pinkos waged by the likes of Hoover (and McCarthy, whom, according to this film, Hoover disliked greatly), all reasonable ideas of socialism were lumped in with the violent anarchists and eradicated as one boogey-scapegoat. And, while Hoover’s pet project and legacy, the FBI, became enviable in the realm of criminal investigation, I’m less than pleased about how corrupt, like most of government, it has become. (Although, really, with all the bugging and wiretapping the FBI was doing in the film, often for Hoover’s own secret personal files, I guess they really haven’t changed all that much!)

So, what was Eastwood’s point? Does he share his contemporary, Beatty’s, leftist sensibilities and made Hoover into a murkily depicted ideologue who changed history on his own terms? Or as a flawed hero who but for being sadly repressed (I know, fortunately, Eastwood’s liberal progressive opinions on homosexuality) and conflicted, did the right thing, badly? I can’t tell. And I don’t think that ambiguity, useful in arthouse films, is a good thing in this very Hollywood biopic.

No Dragon Tattoo? No Hamlet or Requiem, either.

Here soon will be the release of another major studio remake of a popular and critically acclaimed foreign film, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” And already I’ve had the debates with people over the inherent “evilness” of remaking foreign films into English versions. “Why should anyone bother,” some people say. “After all, there’s already perfectly good English subtitled versions available on DVD and Netflix. American remakes are just crass ploys to make money and cater to dumb Americans who can’t be bothered to read,” so the argument goes. Invariably, in these debates in which I offer the counterpoint to this position, in which I offer that not only are remakes not evil, but are inherently good, I end up pissing people off for some reason. I hope to be able to make my case here, for your consideration, and I’ll try not to offend, if you’ll bear with me.

If you believe no one should remake movies, especially foreign films, then you’re an arrogant elitist.

Gawdangit, I just did it, didn’t I? Got offensive? I’m sorry, but honestly, I can’t think of another way to describe the belief that, sight unseen, even before it’s finished, a movie can be judged as unworthy of existing because it dares to use a pre-existing script as its source. If works of art and/or entertainment are inherently bad for that reason, then why do we bother doing Shakespeare? Why do we get all excited about this version or that version of Hamlet? Why do we discuss our favorite version of Romeo and Juliet? Why is it OK for a director to make a version of a work of Shakespeare that’s “more accessible” to modern audiences? Where’s the cries of, “If you can’t be bothered to understand Elizabethan English, you don’t deserve to watch Shakespeare?”

Why are there countless CDs of countless classical works of music arranged in countless ways and performed by countless ensembles and orchestras and soloists, and no one bats an eye about that? Isn’t the London Symphony Orchestra’s 1968 recording of Beethoven’s 9th good enough? Why do we need the Cleveland orchestra to do it too? It’s been done already, why bother?

Look, I get it. I’m a card-carrying elitist myself. Subtitles are far preferable to dubbing, NASCAR is for rednecks, wine appreciation takes a sophisticated palate. I used to think foreign films are “better” than American and if you don’t like them, then go back to your “American Idol.” Maybe it was my Marxist education, maybe it’s my education and experience as a stage actor and director, or maybe I just realized after seeing one too many incomprehensible and pretentious art-house film, that there’s nothing written in the immutable laws of nature that says foreign films are inherently better, and that film is somehow prohibited from being remade like we do plays and music.

Why do plays get a pass? The usual response is: Because they’re made to be performed live, that’s the expectation. OK, sure. Then why make movies of plays? Anything by Shakespeare to Tim Rice. From Othello to Death of a Salesman to The Producers. Why does a play not, once it’s been made into a film, get the remake embargo? But more importantly, what law of nature says it’s verboten to give the same allowance to a movie?

“Because the Americans just want to make money.” Sure they do. So do the French and the Swedes and the Germans. Very few people, no matter what language they speak, put a film up for major release without the intent to try to make some money off it. But OK, let’s say that the American studio producer is just a cynical d-bag who sees a successful foreign film and decides, “Hey! Let’s make it here and get rich(er)!” The film doesn’t then just appear from out of the will of the producer. It needs a script writer, it needs a director, it needs cinematographer and costume designer and actors. Are some of the above, and the scores of others who appear in a film’s credits, completely mercenary? Will do anything only for a paycheck? Sure. But I would hazard that most of the people involved in the creative part of the film, not just the grips and the seamstresses, actually care about their craft. Gasp! Yes, it’s true! They do. Most directors, most actors, take on projects and roles because something about it speaks to them. Something about the themes is compelling, something about the characters is interesting, and so the creators do it for the same reason the director of a play stages another version of Macbeth, the same reason an actor portrays another version of Willy Loman.

Do you think that Rooney Mara took the role of Lisbeth in Fincher’s “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” simply because it’s a paycheck? Or maybe because, as an actress, she lives to play interesting and compelling characters, and wants to see what she could do with the role the same way a stage actor wants to play Lady Macbeth? Don’t you think director Matt Reeves took on “Let Me In,” the “remake” of “Let the Right One In,” only to become rich, or, like a theatre director, is compelled to want to bring to life an interesting work in his own way? Should creators of art be prohibited from plying their craft and using their own vision simply because, “Nuh-uh, that film has already been done, bucko! No one can do it again!”?

I find it interesting that the people who railed against the American version of the novel Låt Den Rätte Komma In seem to have no problems with the fact that the original Swedish film is a translation of a novel in the first place. Hey! They story’s been done already! If you can’t be bothered to read the book, you don’t deserve to see the film!

“Well, Americans just can’t read and are lazy so they hate subtitles and that’s why they’re making an American version.” OK, see all the above — it still applies. But you know what? So what if some, many, people don’t like to read their movies. Me, I’m fortunate in that I can read fast and have great comprehension, which allows me to quickly read the words then look up at the facial expressions and listen to the tone of voice. But I’m lucky in that way. If I had to read slower, I would hate subtitled films, because it’s a film! I get most of my enjoyment from the film by looking at what’s going on, looking at facial expressions, hearing the inflection of voice. And so do most people. Does that make them lazy? Uneducated?

And when you come right down to it, if a film is all that great, that much of a masterpiece, then answer this: Is it better for the film not to be seen at all if it can’t be seen in the “original” subtitled version? If your answer to that is “yes,” then you are exactly the definition of an arrogant elitist.

Finally, really, what in the world does it truly matter if someone remakes a film? Does it do you any harm in some way? Are you being forced to see it? Are you being taken against your will to the remake? Really, who the eff cares. Especially if the originally is still around and available. In fact, very often, an American remake of a foreign film gets the original a bus-load of attention and new fans it never would have before. Virtually no one but the most edgy j-horror fans knew of “Ringu” before the American remake, “The Ring.” Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of Americans who have seen and appreciate “Ringu” only because they heard of “The Ring” is more than double-quadrupled from before the remake. After an American remake, the original often gets repackaged, re-released (or even released in the first place!) and finds its place on shelves and Netflix where it wouldn’t have before.

Oh, but, maybe that’s a bad thing? Maybe you don’t want more people to know about the original? Maybe you want to be part of the exclusive in-crowd who knew X was cool before it became popular? If so, guess what: arrogant elitist.

I really started this with the intention to be calm and friendly, but something about arguing (even against an imaginary opponent… boy am I sad!) against the presumptive arrogance that a movie is “bad” without anyone having seen it, for nothing more than the sin of being made into English by an American, just really gets my blood boiling. I need a nap.

Mmm, smells like scorched earth!

So, there’s a bit of drama going on in atheist circles dubbed “gelatogate.” The Angry Astronomer has a decent, and not very angry, explanation of the deal on his blog; but in brief, here’s the deal:

Christian local businessman pops over to the annual free “Skepticon” conference to see what’s going on. Thinking, understandably so, that it might be all about skepticism on UFOs and ghosts and whatnot (which it somewhat is), he’s treated to a few minutes of Sam Singleton’s parody act of a holy-roller revivalist sermon, not promoting gettin’ saved, but parodying religion and promoting skeptical atheism — and the crowd participating in the parody by, not yelling “amen!,” but rather “goddam!”

So, said Christian businessman runs over to his neighboring gelato and smoothie business and posts a sign reading:

“Skepticon is not welcomed to my Christian business,

where it remains for anywhere between 10 minutes (he says) and two hours (others say), possibly violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The near immediate result? Atheists with access to the Intertubes (purt near ev’rybody), went apoplectic and completely decimated his online rankings on such social media services as Urbanspoon, Yelp, and Google reviews. I mean, decimated. (Although, will taking a store’s ranking down to 1 star, or 5%, or whatever on one of these, really harm a business? Especially in a town that’s not very social media savvy? Meh, doubt it. But it’s still something that would make a struggling businessperson’s stomach turn to water.)

So, he posted an notpology on his Web page: a very thinly veiled “please lay off, m’kay?!” apology. After that made the rounds of critical mockery, he posted an extensive and reasonably sincere-sounding apology over on Reddit, where his infamy across the world was begat. Some atheism/skepticism bigwigs and muckymucks accepted the apology. Others did not. Boy-howdy, did they not. And this is where my opinions on the matter begin….

As this drama played out, plot twist by plot twist, my own views changed somewhat with each new development.

  • Posted the sign: I freaked-the-flip out.
  • I learned he posted it after watching some undeniably inflammatory and reverse-offensive Sam Singleton: I nodded my head sagely and with tee-pee’ed fingers murmuring, “Indeed. Quite understandable, wot!”
  • The notpology: “OMG hes such a lyingjerk!!1!”
  • The full apology: “Ah, good show, old bean!”
  • JT Eberhard’s non-acceptance: “Yeah! Totally! We ride!… whoa… wait a second… Really?”

See, JT Eberhard’s a quickly-growing muckymuck of atheism in his own right. He’s the driving force for the first three years of Skepticon and is a very vocal opponent, and mockerizer, of religion. And nearly all the time I agree with nearly everything he posts (although, I find his frequent use of profanity completely unnecessary and juvanile… but whatchya gonna do). Yet, I’ve decided that in this late stage of this already getting old issue, his approach (the first “non-acceptance” post linked above, and his ironically-titled follow-up: “We Have No Choice But To Invade Gelato Mio” is wrong and likely do to far more harm than good. (But FSM help the person who tries to suggest JT might be wrong about something, unless you already happen to be in his inner-circle of friends. You take your metaphorical life in your hands. But, here goes….)

There is a time and a place and a need for bulldog firebrands. And, in JT’s day job, I rather think his style of take-no-prisoners scorched-earth approach is necessary! As he’s “a campus organizer and high school specialist with the Secular Student Alliance,” I believe he has to work on a daily basis dealing with some absolutely terrible bigotry from people in positions of unquestioned authority toward kids who have little to no defense against the religious intolerance they face. He has to defend students’ rights, legal and ethical, to express their beliefs and even form legally-allowed student clubs and associations which are constantly under attack from school administrators. Atheist students, especially those still in the closet and in much need of vocal and voracious support, need people like JT and his “give no quarter” single-mindedness. And I celebrate him for it!

But, there’s also a need, and a time and a place, for choosing one’s battles, deciding when discretion is the better part of valor, and allowing the “enemy” to slink away with a noggin-bump, instead of nuking them from orbit and then salting the earth for good measure. Yes yes, I know, JT’s actual demands are:

“Tell me bigotry is unacceptable.  Tell me offense is not the same as breathing life into prejudice.  Tell me that punishing somebody for disagreeing with you or thinking your beliefs are silly is immoral.  And tell me you will make a donation that will actually help make the world a better place rather than inviting us to patronize your business for an insignificant discount.”

…and they’re not unreasonable demands, really. (Well, there’s valid debate over whether demanding a struggling small business owner [who is likely in great debt and probably not even paying himself a wage — if the average situation of small business owners is applicable in this guy’s case] make a large personal donation is unreasonable or not. Although, I can see how that 10% discount the guy’s offering might be seen as patronizing and a cynical ploy to simply help his business.)

But it’s not just the demands themselves as much as it’s the inflammatory approach and words JT uses. The demeanor, the tone, the insults, the mockery he uses, feels to me less like a noble battle, and more like curb-stomping the local bully after getting a lucky break and jumping him when his back was turned. And while in the battlefield of protecting students from bigoted school boards and principals and teachers, for the sake of establishing proper laws and rules and making sure they’re enforced, one does not concede the battle until the other side gives unconditional surrender. But in the battlefield of public opinion, media, the general public, that approach does the atheist “movement” far more harm than any possible good.

In the minds of the general public, they see a situation where a local businessman does something, and are shown by the outraged minority that the something was discriminatory and bigoted, we now have the upper hand. We now are seen by many people as having rights and that there is discrimination that goes on, and the general public (including liberal Christians), now have the seed planted in their head that discrimination’s not cool and we’ll call them on it. They themselves may not disagree with the bigotry, but at least they may be thinking about the repercussions of it and may even be questioning the bigotry itself as something they never really thought about before. It’s not a big win, but it’s progress.

Then, the guy apologizes, and the atheist community at-large generally, and publicly, accepts it. What happens? The general public and the liberal Christians have their preconceptions of the angry, religion-hating atheist challenged! We’re shown as reasonable, ethical, diplomatic, and perhaps even calmer and more sane than your average holier-than-thou religious leader and spokesperson who appears on FOX News. Now they’re more willing to listen to what we have to say, to consider our positions, to truly rethink their bigotry and not just the outward acts of discrimination. Now they’re willing to concede issues and work with us in other issues.

But then, what happens when prominent atheist spokespersons demand heads on spikes? (Metaphorically.) The walls redouble in size, the shields go to maximum, and the us-versus-them mentality is reinforced. The general public and the liberal Christian (which, really, by and large, are greatly overlapping Venn Diagram circles), believe their preconceptions are well-founded and continue to ignore our valid complaints and criticisms.

If we let this one bigoted business owner go, probably not having had a real change of heart but just a show of one, what do we really lose? If we accept his sincere-sounding apology and let him off with tail tucked between his legs and a stern “Okay, off with you — but we’ll be watching,” is that really so terrible if it means we gain great PR and the willing and open ear of millions of other people? So he’s not beaten into submission — but will anything we do really, possibly, change his “heart”? Do we seriously think that we can possibly convince this guy he was truly wrong by continuing to berate and insult and bash him and demand things of him? Will that make him, and many like him, watching this, see the light? Have a true conversion?

No, it will not. No amount of continued battle against him will truly change him or others, and will only harden them all to us. But diplomacy, some forgiveness, leniency, will not only be more productive to our cause in the long run and on a wider scale, but may actually do more good in setting this guy on a path to the real and sincere atonement that is currently being demanded at the point of a verbal spear.

*blog post image taken from this lifehacker post: “Venting Frustration Will Only Make Your Anger Worse.”

Response to Deceptive Leafleteers, and Christianity in General

Okay, forget what I previous wrote about Bertrand Russell. In fact, forget everything I’ve written here about religion. One of the best responses I’ve read to evangelicals and their tactics and arguments is this one I came across on Facebook today by a fellow named Conrad Hudson. Below is his post:

Deceptive Campus Leafleteers

Was feeling feisty today so stopped to reprimand some street preachers who were giving out information on Jesus under false pretenses. If your message is that good, you shouldn’t have to deceive to spread it. The first one took his tongue-lashing with dignity and silence. The second one to stop me only wishes he did. You asked for the story, here it is.



Guy A:  “Would you like a basketball schedule?”

When I turn this over, it looks like a religious document. Why did you offer me a basketball schedule and then give me a religious document?


“Because it’s important.”

If it’s so important, why didn’t you offer it to me directly? Why did you try and sneak your message in on the back of something else?


“Because then people wouldn’t take it.”

Yes exactly. And yet you have today decided that I don’t have the mental capacity to make my own decisions on what I do and don’t want. You’ve taken position of arrogance that you know so much better than I, what I need, that you’d rather trick me in to chancing upon your information than give me a chance to make my own decision. Can you see why I might find that disrespectful to me and my fellow students?



Further, if this message is so important, if it truly is backed up by evidence, if it bears fruit in the lives of those who embrace it, then it should be able to stand up on its own. The message of God shouldn’t need to trojan horse to be considered by his own creation.



You’re not here to help give me information about the basketball season, you’re taking advantage of my desire for that information to give me something else, something you want to give me, but haven’t given me an honest proposal which I can decide on. If you were a business that would be called bait-and-switch, and it would be illegal. But you’re not selling anything, so it’s not illegal, it’s just dishonest, and frankly hypocritical for a follower of a diety who commands truthfulness. I think these issues are important, and I like talking about them, but I’m not going to take your information because I don’t appreciate the way you’re approaching my campus.



Stay warm, and take care.


And I walked off.  Then, this other guy starts making eye contact with me at the other end of the block. I don’t cross the street on my own campus to avoid people, and they were over there anyway.

Guy B: “Hi there, would you like a basketball schedule?”

No, I wouldn’t, and as I explained to your friend, here’s why….lists off an abbreviated version of the above.


“Can I show you a scripture that explains why I’m doing this?”



“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. – John 5:24 so it says here that God gave us the Bible so that we could have everlasting life.”

Ok, that’s very nice that he said that’s why he wrote the Bible, but if another book also says it was written so I could have everlasting life, how do I know which one is true? What evidence should I base that judgment  on? Isn’t it reasonable to expect evidence to be available in order to decide which book or claim to put faith in? You would probably say that God gave you the ability to reason, so would you agree with Thomas Jefferson who once said, “Question with boldness, “Question with boldness, even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the [the use of] of reason, than that of blind-folded fear” or faith?”


“Do you believe in God? How about Heaven or Hell?”



“Can I ask how you came to not believe?”

Sure, I found a lot of things that made sense if God existed, it explained a lot of mysteries, but there were some things that didn’t quite fit with the real world too. So I started looking, not for things that I could fit in to the assumption of God’s existence, which there were plenty, but for evidence that implied God did actually exist, specifically and necessarily. I didn’t find any, so I decided that belief was unjustified.


“Can I share some more information with you?”

If it’s that evidence that God does exist that I mentioned earlier, I would be most excited to hear it, yes please!


Proceeds to try and claim the bible’s internal writing prove it’s divinity. 

Freshly armed with historical facts from Dave Muscato’s talk at SOMA, I proceed to rip each argument apart, and growing weary of countering each argument as it was brought up in response to the previous one’s failure, got him to admit that:

a) The fact that Darth Vader’s rise to power was prophesied by the Jedi does not mean the Star War’s canon is real

b) Harry Potter’s internal consistency and the accuracy of its manuscript to the author’s intent is not good evidence for its reality.

c) The age of the Iliad does not justify using it to create a belief system

d) His evidence was no better than theirs


Sooooo, let’s try and get back to the original question, do you have any evidence that I should accept the proposition of God, Heaven, and Hell?


Of course he wanted to try more and more approaches instead of admitting he didn’t have any evidence, so I took the opportunity to force him to admit the following, none of which he was happy about but was forced to concede because they were based on his own words and flowed naturally from his attempts to defend the Bible’s contents. 


a) God is really emotional sometimes, and his temper get’s away from him and needs to be talked down


b) We are more loving than God. The Bible says 1) God is love 2) love is not jealous 3)God is a jealous god. So we are expected to love our fellow human beings more deeply than God loves us, because he embodies only the agape form of love and does not hold the full range of positive feelings toward us that other forms of love require.


c) God’s patience with the men, women and children murdered and the virgins raped by the Israelites was slightly less than it currently is with us. A patience that apparently causes him to do absolutely nothing for more than 2000 years despite promising to be basically “right back” (Matthew 16:27-28)


d) Jesus was not that worried about keeping families together nor advocating peace. Having previously insisted that not a single thing in the bible was metaphor or figurative, he simply promised to look in to this passage in Mathew 10:

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father,  a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”


e) He would never punish his child with fire, death, or permanent shunning, based on whether or not they choose to obey, even if he had provided a way to avoid it, he would not continue to stoke a fire in his house for the express purpose of irreversable punishment but God is just to do so.


f) God created hell, and continues to allow it’s existence for the express purpose of punishing people with it, even though he could create a less horrific option at any time, or simply let someone die and have the absence of heaven be the punishment.


g) God killed himself, to satisfy  a debt he owes to himself, because of a contract he made with himself, which being capable of all things he could change at any time since we already established he’s capable of being two contradictory things at the same time. Further unless God is subject to a universal morality outside himself, there is nothing compelling him to use blood in order to alleviate sin,  a crime, punishment, and recompense all defined by himself.

He tried to claim that because God set up this contract before mankind existed it wasn’t immoral. I pointed out that

1) he could have easily chose a less gruesome, more loving option, one that didn’t so coincidently line up with desert tribes animal sacrifice customs, and

2) making a decision before a circumstance presents itself does not alleviate one of moral responsibility, as he readily agreed that making a decision to punch all people wearing red shirts in the face before having noticed he was wearing a red shirt would not absolve me of punching him in the face now that he had violated my rule.


h) Jesus did not actually make the greatest sacrifice ever made, since he knew he was going to be resurrected. Even though he would only be resurrected if he was sinless, he was both incapable of sin and fully aware that he would not sin so his sacrifice was less than that of any human who’s ever given up their life for another with no promise of immediate resurrection. (he really didn’t like that one, but wasn’t willing to admit that Jesus could have sinned or been ignorant in order to get out of it)


i) That even though his opinion doesn’t matter, and it’s not his judgment  it’s God’s, he does have to agree that it’s justice for a human to suffer in hell for all eternity if they have sex out of wedlock, even if the rest of their life is completely virtuous. He has to hold that belief or contradict God.  (It would actually be more virtous if he was simply afraid of God’s wrath, avoiding a bully’s beatings, but he’d rather be a pious accomplice in this entirely unequitable sentence.)


j) He has no actual justification for preferring his translation of the Bible over all the others, besides that it better aligns with the teachings his church believes.


k) If his friend owed him a debt and he intended to forgive that debt out of love he would simply forgive it if it was in his power, without setting up a perpetual punishment for failure to comply. But God isn’t getting rid of the debt, namely the death that is the wages of sin and the damnation that follows, he’s demanding obedience in exchange for the debt, if you fail, you get put on a payment plan that never ends.


After each of these, I offered to return to my original question of what evidence existed that suggested God is real. Anything that we should look to that is not used by any number of other supernatural claims, that actually implies why his belief is true.


Finally he had had enough and I needed to get to class, so he offered to give me information to get in contact with his Pastor to hear more.

I kindly, but honestly explained that thus far he’d failed to offer even a single bit of evidence of what I originally requested, so considering that he represented his church and seemed well versed in it’s teachings, it didn’t suggest that my time would be well spent rehashing this conversation with his pastor. But I gave him a SOMA card and earnestly encouraged him to contact me if they did in fact have any evidence, as I would eagerly accept legitimate evidence for God and Jesus and humbly repent.


He didn’t want to do that, he wanted me to call  his pastor because he was a busy guy and it would be better if I called him.

I asked him, do you have any evidence on which to assume that I am in fact less busy than your pastor? He didn’t but wanted to insist that it was me who was ‘checking out’ so I took the opportunity to make him admit one more thing:


l) the fact that his pastor wouldn’t call me but would take my call meant that the decision was not in fact mine, but ours, meaning that if his pastor did have convincing evidence to share he was making the decision not to share it with me, and let me burn in hell, since I was most willing to listen.


With that he reluctantly took my card, and I encouraged him to call or email me should he come across that evidence we’d been searching for today.


Look I’ll give this guy credit, the conversation was incredibly civil and well-intentioned. He knew his pitch well, and knew scriptures by chapter and verse. He stood out in the cold and talked with me for some time, and I thanked him for his sincerity and care but also pointed out that despite all that love and concern he was showing by being out here, he was somehow able to simultaneously believe that I deserved to burn in hell forever if I didn’t sign the license agreement on the Yahweh/Jesus v2.0 software installation, and I found that a disturbing thing for him to think about another human being. Realizing he was simply outmatched today (it didn’t take much, I’m no theologian, these are glaring issues for someone with a critical eye), he agreed that it was simply his belief, he believed it on faith, and didn’t have an external reason for having faith in that instead of something else or nothing at all, he simply thought faith was a good thing to have, and this was the thing to have faith in.


We said cordial goodbyes and shook hands.


The lesson here is that you shouldn’t debate consumer feedback on your marketing tactics. 



Here is the website of the church these gentlemen belong to.

They are building their own little empire right here in Kansas, with mass printing, for sale of course, based on the promise the secret to getting in to heaven. They are contructing a new 700 seat church building and have their own education system from elementry through university where “Degrees offered include pastoral theology, elementary and secondary education, missions, and church ministry.”


It looks like it was no fluke that the nice gentlemen I spoke with knew his stuff, Barnabas Smith is the Assistant to the Pastor at  Heritage Baptist Church.

The Platonic “Why I Am Not a Christian”


Freethinking, and atheism itself, is as old as ancient Greece and Rome with Epicurus, Seneca, Emperor Marcus Aurelius. . . . But there are few comprehensive essays critiquing the idea of a creator omni-god, Yahweh and Jesus in particular, that’s as thorough and reasoned as Bertrand Russell’s 1927 essay, “Why I Am Not a Christian.”

What he wrote in that famous essay is nothing new, not today and not even in 1927 — but he examines the basic and common claims for God, the “first cause” claim, the moral argument, the justice argument, from design, etc., and dismantles each one. Then, goes on to touch on how the teachings of Jesus are not nearly as wise and good as people like to think.

While many writers since Russell have written exhaustively on these subjects (and more, such as the ontological argument for God and the Kalam first cause variant), Russell’s essay serves as a hallmark on the topic.

I imagine a theist reading this and quipping, “You’re treating Russell’s essay as dogmatically as you accuse believers and our Bible.” Big difference between what Russell wrote and the Bible: these standard arguments in favor of atheism, unlike revealed religious scripture, don’t have to be told to you or taught — anyone capable of reason and logic can come up with the exact same thoughts as Russell, independently and in solitude. In fact, a great many atheist, including myself, have done exactly that. Before I even heard the names Dawkins or Hitchens or Bertrand Russell, as a believer questioning all I’d been taught to believe, I’d come to all the same conclusions as Russell (and Epicurus and Seneca and Hitchens), and eventually discovering, “Hey! What I thought were great insights, are old hat! Millions of non-believers have arrived at the same conclusions I have — except some of them have written them into exquisite books.”

Everyone is born an atheist, with lack of belief in any gods. The luck of what culture you’re born in and what parents you’re born to, determine what revealed, unquestionable dogma you’re indoctrinated with. You’d never know anything about hell, Jesus, Yahweh (Kali, Allah, Buddha, Confucius, Krishna, Zeus, Pele, etc.) unless someone told about it and taught you to believe it as truth. But you can be born into any religion, any culture, with any background, and if you give it honest thought, you can come to the same realizations on your own as these great thinkers.

Only in America.


Had an interesting day last week with a significantly important coincidence:

So we spent two hours at work last Wednesday doing our annual insurance benefits review. For two hours, with our insurance broker and our Aflac rep, we discussed how much our insurance costs. How many thousands our deductible is. What’s in-network and what’s out. Whether ER visit costs get rolled into the hospital stay coverage or not. What conditions allow for supplemental insurance payouts and whether it follows you and your job. Tips and hints on how to try to get the insurance company to authorize and pay out for treatments. Etc. etc.

(Interesting note provided by the Aflac rep: 70% of bankruptcy cases in America are due to medical costs. And 50% of those — the bankrupt had medical insurance.)

So, two hours of numbers and facts and complex conditions surrounding how your life can be slowly destroyed by medical bills instead of quickly destroyed. Now for the comedic coinkydink:

That very morning, on the way to work, I was listening to a recent “Sword and Laser” scifi/fantasy book club podcast with a conversation with multi-bestselling and award winning author Robert J. Sawyer. And when asked how old he was when he was able to start writing full-time, he said he was writing full-time in his early twenties. Why? Because he’s Canadian. He expressed that, like him, a lot of Canadian writers and other artists are able to even have careers as artists, are able to work on their art from an early age and get good, developing their skill and talent early, allowing them to have decades of quality output far in excess of American writers and artists for primarily one main reason: socialized healthcare. As a young man, Sawyer never had to worry about giving up his talent and dream in order to find and work at a job doing not at all what he wanted to do in order to have healthcare. Sure, there were times he had to eat pretty skimpily, but that’s doable. Paying thousands of dollars for an illness or accident isn’t.

Award-winning Canadian author (among other things) Cory Doctorow once expressed similar arguments on an episode of American Freethought. He said now that he had a family, he’d never live in the U.S. again, never not live in Canada or the U.K., so that his daughter would never be without healthcare. He told a story of how when traveling across England, his daughter started developing a bad fever. They stopped in a town and saw a doctor who examined her, wrote a script, they picked it up, and were able to continue on, and they never had to fill out papers and only had to pay a couple of dollars (equivalent) for the medication. He and his wife get to thrive in their dream jobs because aren’t forced to work for healthcare.

I can’t say who because I didn’t ask permission to say, but I know someone in Canada who had a car accident not long ago. They were taken to the ER by ambulance, were examined, treated, and released with great care. They were provided with a new shirt because theirs had to be cut off, and, reimbursed for the cut shirt. All they had to do was show their Canadian citizen health I.D., and they got all this treatment without paying a dime or filling out paperwork.

Oh, of course, taxes pay for this care. But I once compared how much taxes I pay (sales, income, property) with a relative who lives in Canada (higher sales but no income (or property — one of the two, I forget)), and at the bottom line is we pay about the same in taxes.

…except they don’t have to pay what I do in health insurance premiums and deductibles and medical co-pays and out of pocket bills…. So, who wins here?

In every modern country in the world: the citizens do. In the U.S., and only the U.S., health insurers do. And the so-called healthcare “reform” that was recently passed? That “Obamacare” (which can be called “Newtcare” since it’s the same reform proposed by the House Republicans in the 90s), it actually put insurers in better position to make more money while hurting small businesses and much of the people. But, small wonder considering how many millions of dollars politicians, from both parties, get from insurance industry lobby.

Do I hear someone yell, “If you love Canada so much, why don’t you move there!“? Oh, I swear I wish I could, I really very much wish I could. But it costs to move and I’m too far in debt with student loans.

Oh, did I mention that, like most of Europe, most of higher education in Canada is also as free as their healthcare? They have this crazy idea that a healthy and educated citizenry is somehow good for the country on the whole. I know, crazy, huh?

Update: Well this is funny!
Note the date of today’s post — September 2011. Well, after posting this post, my blog automatically created a set of “related posts” links (see below). And lookee what’s likely still the first suggested link.

It’s a post I did in April 2009 about the same author(s) talking on different podcasts about the same thing. I’d totally forgotten! Wow, so much has changed in the last 2 to 3 years, huh? Oh I’m laughing til I cry.

Actor’s nightmare; guitarist’s dream


For 25 years, ever since high school and I got involved in drama and speech & debate, I’ve had frequent “actor’s nightmares,” where I’m expected to perform on stage and I don’t know the lines or what I’m supposed to do. I get them probably twice a month for all those years — sometimes less frequently, sometimes more.

Naturally, it was at its worst back in college as a theatre undergrad, but resurged in an altered form as an English grad student as I’d have to present papers in classes and conferences. It’s a very anxiety-inducing dream that can leave me unbalanced for the rest of the day.

But last night I had the most involved dream yet of a new type of dream I’m having more frequently: I’m wanting to play guitar in public, at my real-life meager skill level, and I really really want to but for one reason or another I’m being prevented from doing so.

For example, last night, I was challenged by someone to play in a sort of battle of the bands. Two of my friends played drums and bass, and we’d set up — but technical difficulties kept preventing my playing from being heard. I saw myself playing what I really can play: power chords and fretting within a couple of basic rock/blues scales. No rock star ability, nothing special, just my own embarrassing skill — but I so desperately wanted to be heard. Yet, the volume controls wouldn’t work, the amp kept turning off, the sound cable kept shorting. It was just as frustrating and anxiety-inducing as being forced to perform but not having the lines. Weird.

Also interesting is the guitar I was using was some cherry red Strat I didn’t care much for, not the AXL Badwater I very badly covet, nor the Squier Affinity Tele I actually own. Weird as well.

(image taken from here)

CelticBear returning?

free speech?

Sadly, not as much as I’d like. I’m still very skittish after the incident that happened last autumn that prompted me to give up expressing my opinions publicly; and then, at work yesterday, I had to deal with someone who seems to be obsessed and has been harassing people here at work multiple time a day for weeks. Then there’s the guy from Montreal who’s been sending crazier and crazier death threats to skeptics and atheists around the world, and has begun being seen at skeptical events.

There are some real effed-up people out there, and I’m not too keen on making myself a bigger target.

So, if I start posting again on here, it’ll probably be mostly banal stuff. Yeah, I’m sorry to say, I give in to terrorist threats. That’s not to say that what I’ll post here might not be of interest — it will be to me. :) And I’m really itching to post some thoughts on how culture is created and how it affects the way we think and believe, but I’ll probably keep it all at a higher, theory level and try to stay away from things that may trigger personal buttons of this-person-doesn’t-believe-the-same-things-I-do-so-I-must-fuck-with-their-life!

I keep thinking I’m an idiot and a fool for putting my thoughts and opinions out there for people to read; but then, that’s like blaming the rape victim for wearing a skirt and leaving the house. I’m not advocating violence, I’m not advocating revolt or rebellion, I’m not advocating hate, I’m not advocating irresponsible actions — if I’m advocating anything, it’s for people to think critically, skeptically, and outside your comfort zone. I express opinions and share uncommon info because I want to, primarily, to express myself, but also to give people a chance to look at the world they live in just a little bit differently. Do I deserve to be harassed and terrorized for that?

(comic by Nina Paley)

Soylent Green and corporations have less in common than you think.

Well, I’m breaking my self-imposed blog embargo for this missive. It’s been rattling in my head for a while and I just need to get it out.

It started with something a friend of mine said recently. A group of us were ragging on corporations, and someone commented about something vile a corporation recently did, and the friend quipped, “It’s almost like corporations were made up of people.” The subtext to his sarcasm was to imply that it’s silly to discuss corporations as if they’re some separate entity from humanity because, after all, corporations are made up of people and, evidently, will only do the same good and ill that humans do.

Unfortunately, despite what the conservative-leaning Supreme Court thinks (vis-à-vis “Citizens United v FEC”), corporations aren’t people. They are a collection of people, that, like any collection of people, make a gestalt that is very different than the sum of its parts. To claim to not be able to analyze and critique (and judge ethically) corporations as a separate thing because they’re made of people, is utterly meaningless. By that rationale, nothing could be said about anything within the realm of human culture and creation because, after all, it’s all made by, or made up of, people. Like all forms of human culture and its production, corporations can — and should — be analyzed and critiqued as a concept that acts separate and apart from humanity in general. Why?

Think of it this way: Would you walk into a library and find a literary book club in progress and expect it to behave and have the save motives and agenda as, say, the group of Ultimate Wrestling fans that show up regularly at the local sports bar? Or how about the local Baptist Bible study group versus the local Society for Creative Anachronism group? They’re all made of people, yes? But any group of people with a shared goal, or interest, is going to A. be very similar to other groups that have the same goals and interests; and B. be very different from groups with different goals and interests. Similar groups will be similar enough that you can usually talk about that kind of group using generalities, and different groups can be different enough to be able to critique them as altogether different entities. This sounds silly and obvious when stated like that, but it’s the ridiculously obvious reason corporations lend themselves to separate and justified deconstruction and critique apart from the motivations and behaviors of people in general.

One of the reasons should be obvious: self-selection. Particular type of people with particular types of demeanors, attitudes, outlooks, ideologies, will choose to associate themselves with others of similar types, under the banner of a shared goal or interest. You will find particular types of people at a book club and different particular types at the sports bar. Oh, sure, there will be cross-over. The occasional mixed-martial-art fan may also be a Jane Eyre fan, and the occasional Nicholas Sparks fan will be seen at the sports bar. But the exceptions point up the rule.

And so too with corporations. Particular types of people seek and earn MBAs and become stock traders and managers and accountants and whatnot who gravitate toward the corporate culture. And the larger, the more multi-national the corporation, the more the individual dissolves and melds into the background of the homogeneous culture of the corporation. Those who don’t fit in or are different than the corporate culture demands, either self-select to leave the culture, or get pushed out for not fitting in — not being a “team player.” And so the corporate culture self-reinforces and insulates itself even more in order to achieve its goals and realize its agenda.

And what is the corporation’s goals and agenda? All groups, organizations, have goals and agendas. The book club, the Bible study, the sports cub, the football team, the knitting circle, the SCA group, the anti-vaccination group, the local skeptics’ club, the Young Democrats, the Future Business Leaders of America… all groups that have come together for a shared interest have an overarching goal. And what is the corporation’s? Profit, pure and simple. Profit by means of selling a product or service to as close to 100% of the market share as possible, and by any means it can get away with. In fact, legally, a corporation can’t make operating decisions that would knowingly deprive the shareholders from making money. As observed by Robert Hinkley in “Redesigning Corporate Law,”

Distilled to its essence, [the law] says that the people who run corporations have a legal duty to shareholders, and that duty is to make money. Failing this duty can leave directors and officers open to being sued by shareholders. This explains why corporations find social issues such as humanrights irrelevant – because they fall outside the corporation’s legal mandate. Secondly, these provisions explain why executives behave differently than they might as individual citizens, because the law says their only obligation in business is to make money.

Well, you can’t make it more plain than that. Corporations exist to make money; and civil liberties, human rights, decency, laws, are all obstacles that must be worked around and, wherever possible, ignored and broken, in order to reach its goal.

A corporation, because of its self-selection and its over-aching goal that all members of the corporation buy into, makes the corporation act as something individualized and apart from humanity. In a way, a corporation is like a person — a sociopath. An amoral being without empathy or remorse, single-minded and manipulative, and dangerous. Capable and willing to do any harm necessary if it means getting what it wants.

In society, when an individual sociopathic human does harm, we punish them. We take them out of society. When a corporation does harm, what happens? The corporation may get fined, it may get sued. But as the link above explains, that’s just a cost of doing business. The corporation will likely continue on without a hitch, especially if it’s a multi-national where its finances are in the Cayman Islands, its management is in Dubai, and its production is in China. Some CEO or manager may become the face of “the problem,” get slapped on the wrist, leave the company — but the company persists as juggernaut. (And the CEO likely will be just fine as well, don’t you worry. Most corporate CEOs and managers sit on the board of directors of other corporations in an incestual game of musical chairs. Boards that hire on a new CEO from another corporation who leads the company for a while, makes several million, gets a few million more as a severance package even if he does a poor job, where he’ll move on to oversee the hiring of a CEO in another company he helps run.)

Oh, and by the way, most of the people on top, the CEOs and managers and directors of the board, aren’t generally people who started out at a community college and worked full time and took classes until they Made It. No, that group at the top, who shuffle around the companies and hand each other favors, are the type of people satirized in this “Note of Appreciation from the Rich.” So when the top of the corporate structure is led by these hereditary, dynastic, feudal lords, and the bottom 95% is constructed of those who strive to be like those at the top — you get a very particular type of culture.

Corporations are, in general, evil in the same way a psychopath is evil. (In fact, it’s estimated that an inordinate amount of corporate leaders are, in fact, sociopaths and psychopaths. Why? Again: self-selected culture.) So, like all and any construct of human creation, the corporation is something that has its own agenda, goals, motivations, effects, and sub-culture, which is perfectly open to deconstruction and ethical judgement.

For more, excellent analysis of why we should analyze and deconstruct any element of human culture, see Roland Barthes Mythologies. It’s actually very short, and a fascinating read.


2011: Posting the first — and last-ish.

I’ve kept my resolutions for a whole day already! Wee, I’m on a roll!
I’ve deleted or hidden around 15 Facebook people/pages, 8 RSS feeds, and 6 podcast feeds. What I’ve kept are only media involving sci-fi, writing, literature, general philosophy, and technology news. That so means that this blog will probably go to sleep for the year, seeing how the general subject matter of CelticBear has been politics, religion, and related topics that I’m trying to minimize in my life right now. I do need to finish the last two posts in my Alpha Course analysis so that can be put to bed — but after that, this blog will likely be inactive for 2011.

In the meantime, I plan to do a lot more blogging of SF, writing, literature, reviews, and scholarly stuff. And for that, I’m using my blogs: GrogMonkey and Tragic Sans.
Right now they just mirror each other; I need to decide on how to separate their roles and make them unique. Shoulda done that before today.
Anyway, so there’s the update.

Have a good year!

Be it resolved…

This has, without a doubt, been an absolutely terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Probably the worst one, evah! (The only, and I mean only, bright spot was I finally got my Masters Degree in English . . . and even that’s pending until next year when I pay for and turn in super-expensive copies of my thesis and pay the rest of my school bill — not counting, of course, student loans I need to start paying on.) The badness is butting right up to the very end of the year in the last days. There’s been serious financial difficulties; there’s been a scary person, terrorizing my private and work life because they were offended by a political opinion I expresses online; there’s been legal scares; I’ve failed to make any progress on any of my writing career goals; our beloved family pet died; and the turmoil associated with completing my previously mentioned thesis. This year can’t end soon enough.

With the coming of this completely arbitrarily demarcated new year and new decade (contrary to popular opinion, decades begin on “1” years, e.g.: 2011, not “0,” e.g.: 2010), I need to make some serious changes; I need to refocus, re-prioritize, and start anew. As someone I don’t recall said, “If you want things to be different, you must do something different.”

Part of my problem is frakkin’ Facebook. It’s an evil, evil bane on productivity and a facilitator of my getting distracted and bent-out-of-shape about subjects that, while are important, serves only to make me upset and completely unproductive in regards to what’s even more important in my life: my nascent, budding writing career that I hope to make into a viable “second job,” with aspirations of it being my main job within a couple/few years.

In addition to the craptacular events that have sideswiped me and/or made me utter a general “WTF, world? W. T. F.?!” every other week, it seems, I recently read a blog post by writer/director Kevin Smith: “SMonologue #2.” The first half he discusses “Clerks 3″ and the cost/process of investing in a movie idea and making it happen. But the important bit is the last half, in which he writes:

Continue reading Be it resolved…

Atheism Resource

It’s official, I am now a regular contributor to the new, up-and-coming blog site for atheism advocacy: Atheism Resource.

Their… er, I guess our tagline, is: “Big questions deserve big answers.” In that spirit, my first offering over there is a two-part essay on atheism and its role (or lack of) in determining ethics and meaning to life. Big enough for ya?

I end the essay with what I think is one of the best observations about appreciating life from the humanist perspective, by Paul Kurtz.

Well, go check the site out, it has some great contributors (me notwithstanding), including the incredible and impressively intelligent and well-read (if somewhat crass and crude) JT Eberhard. He’s embarrassingly young for being so enviably sharp and effective, and even lives in the same town as I do. While I will always be some curmudgeony blogger, I fully expect JT to become one of America’s foremost advocates for rational atheism. People will one day in the not-too-distant future be including Eberhard in the same breath as Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.

Anyway, I hope I can add something of value, or at least interesting, to the discourse. T’would be cool for Atheism Resource to at least place around the likes of The Friendly Atheist and Debunking Christianity. (…whom we need to get plugged by on their sites, hint-hint, Adam. *grin*)

Hmm, maybe we can be looked at as the BoingBoing of atheism?

Darnit, Jim, I’m a doctor — not a faith healer!

(This is the 10th edition of my Alpha Course reaction. For the first and all past posts, see the Alpha Page.)

Hopefully this will be a short post as well; I don’t seem to have that many notes for this session. I think Nicky is kind of winding down a bit as he’s coming to the end of the course.

One side remark: In small group, it’s been brought up a few times that people wished there was an additional, more advanced course than Alpha. There is. It’s called seminary school. It’s basically this, except in Greek. :)

Well,let’s get right to it….

Does God Heal Today?

Right at the beginning of the video, Nicky starts talking about what’s called, “words of knowledge.” This is basically any kind of information a person believes they receive from God/Holy Spirit about another person, their ailments, their concerns, etc. In Nicky’s example of experiencing an American faith healer, John Wimber (more on him in a second), the preacher handed out words of knowledge like, a woman here has a bad back, a man here has a back that’s been hurting him, etc. No way! A huge room full of people, and there are some with bad backs? You need the Holy Spirit to tell you this? The preacher then mentioned “a woman who’s barren.” According to the CDC, 10% of women can’t conceive. Tell a congregation of people that “there’s a woman whose barren,” and if there’s more than 10 or 20 people, you’re going to get a hit.

Speaking of “hits,” these words of knowledge are really nothing more than “cold reading.” It’s basically where psychics and faith healers, throw out vague, ambiguous, somewhat common ailments, names, information, that will likely hit on someone in the audience, fishing for a response.

Continue reading Darnit, Jim, I’m a doctor — not a faith healer!

Sending humans to do a deity’s job.

respect(This is the 9th edition of my Alpha Course reaction. For the first and all past posts, see the Alpha Page.)

After last week’s monster of a post, you’ll be glad to hear that this week’s will be shorter than usual. But first, a couple of semi-related things I’d meant to refer to in earlier posts but missed.

In the last post, I briefly discussed (due to the subject of “speaking in tongues,” or glossolalia), the concept of left and right brain hemispheres, and how one controls language and the other is the emotional center. Sometimes the emotion, to convey it to others or even to express it for one’s self, the language centers of one half of the brain need to be bypassed in order to “speak” directly to the emotional regions of the right-brain.

Well, here are a couple of absolutely fascinating videos which address this dual-brain dichotomy.

I Can Smell Your Spicy Brains!

The first is an excerpt from a show about the brain, and features Alan Alda interviewing a doctor and a patient who has had the connection allowing the two brains to communcate, severed. The results are fantastic:

There used to be a model of “understanding” the human, the personality, called dualism, that was the accepted and simply assumed model since Plato at least. Philosopher René Descartes did a lot of work on the subject, so we’ll often hear it refered to as “Cartesian dualism.” It’s basically this: The brain and the mind are two separate and distinct entities. The mind is a result of the spirit, or animae, and operates with the influence of, but apart from the physical brain. Of course, this belief, utterly philosophical (and religious) and not based on any hard evidence, makes sense to those who believe in the soul, spirits, ghosts, etc.

The problem is, we know without a doubt that everything about the person, behavior, personality, wants and desires, fears and memory, are all derived from the physicality of the brain. We know this because the brain can be manipulated, whether from internal damage (disease, stroke, etc.), by injury, and by experimentation (surgery, drugs, focused magnetic resonance), and any changes can create marked and stark changes in the “person.”

Continue reading Sending humans to do a deity’s job.

Spirit in the sky. Now with lots of videos!

(This is the 8th edition of my Alpha Course reaction. For the first and all past posts, see the Alpha Page.)

Oh boy. I’m going to try to keep in reigned in, but this is going to be a doozy edition (as if the previous novels haven’t been). Wife and I attended the weekend Alpha retreat which included three Nicky videos and discussion sessions after each one. Plus, there’s the whole weekend experience surrounding it to talk about.

Camp Galilee

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I went to Camp Galilee Methodist Church Camp when I was a teen. It was a very formative, wonderful experience, and the crest of my religious belief. Saturday, we had two Nicky and talk sessions (one of which rather emotional), and nice bonfire. So Sunday morning, after a terrible sleep on a horrible mattress in a rather nice cabin, I was exhausted. But after a tasty breakfast, everyone went down by the lake for a devotional and I stayed up at camp to read a bit from Paul Kurtz’s Affirmations: Joyful And Creative Exuberance; a humanist “devotional.” Then I had a moment to write this:

It’s 8:30 on a beautiful morning here at Camp Galilee. It’s overcast, cool, slight breeze, the tease of rain in the air. For me, that’s a perfect morning. I’m sitting on a park bench maybe 200 feet from the pavillian where when I was a camper here, 15 years ago, we had our nightly services and testimonials and music and song. I gave my testimony as a Christian there at age 17. It was sincere, and I felt I was filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, I know it to have been a very human, very wonderful, self-created emotionalism. It was an incredible feeling, one that I can just touch with the “tips of my fingers” when I performed in plays, sometimes when I watch an effective play or movie, hear a particular song. It’s an awesome feeling, this kind of pathos, no less wonderful because I had it in during a period of religious delusion. I actually treasure that time; I’ve come to terms with it. I’m glad it’s in my past, and I feel I now understand the emotion better, and I’m extremely glad I can have bits of it when I can enjoy touching art or feel awe and wonder at some amazing aspect of the universe. And having that past experience, I can relate better to other humans who continue to feel that emotion in connection to a religious belief. I can understand their not wanting to even entertain the idea of giving that up. The shame of it is, though, that one does not need to give that feeling up. And, like the “mysteries” of the universe, science, reality, understanding it does not eliminate the wonder and, dare I say, goodness of it.
A formation of Canadian geese just flew over, honking the entire way. A few moments ago I heard the call of a buck. All around me is the sound of the wind through the trees, dead leaves shifting and tossing, and nuts falling from trees to crash to the ground or bonk on a roof and roll off. Earlier in my life I used to do this — sit and just listen to nature. It was the best part about camping as a Boy Scout, taking those moments. I’m thankful for this moment right now, this feeling of refueling.

Just a few more words about camp before I move to the meat of the weekend:

Continue reading Spirit in the sky. Now with lots of videos!

Alpha Update

My continued apologies to anyone looking forward to upcoming alpha posts — I assure you, they’re coming. The next one, the 3-posts-in-one from the weekend retreat, is nearly finished! Sadly, technical difficulties are preventing me from finishing. (I’ll be looking for a public WiFi tonight, though.) :)
So, stay tuned; they’re coming!

Remember…er, the 5th of… oh! November!

In honor of the upcoming simulacra of a holiday, Guy Fawkes Day, I’m reposting the blog post I did last year for it. Enjoy!


In honor of Guy Fawkes Day this Nov. 5th (Wiki link)* are a couple of links for light reading:

A recent musing of mine on anarchy and democracy: link

An excellent (and scary-sad) collection from Classically Liberal of examples of police stateabuse and misconduct.

* Like most things in postmodern culture, this topic is well filled with contradictions. Guy Fawkes, for example, was not truly an anarchist (as far as I can tell). He, along with his cohorts, were simply p.o.ed that Catholics were being descriminated by the Protestant British government and decided to get rid of it, hoping to establish a Catholic-friendly one. (*sigh* what, religious violence again!?)

Guy Fawkes ironically became a symbol of later anrchistic movements despite his basically being just a religious terrorist.

Guy Fawkes was also appropriated by the British cultural hegemony as a symbol of celebrating the God-protected and ordained rule of proper British royalty. (Much like how Hitler propagandized his surviving the Valkyrie assassination attempt as a sign that God protected his divinely ordained Third Reich. [I may have just Godwined myself, but it just goes to show that anyone and everyone can and does invoke God’s favor when things go well for them.])

And now there’s this Anonymous group appropriating Guy Fawkes to protest Scientology. Interestingly, as this is a quasi-religious fight, this may actually be a more “appropriate” use of Guy’s image… if not for the fact that what they’re really doing is using the image created by the film “V for Vendetta”. They’ve taken an image crafted for entertainment consumption, based on a hyperreality of an appropriated image, of a man whose purpose has been fictionalized by one group and celebrated for it’s failure by another group for ideological justification…

Ow. Jean Baudrillard is probably laughing in his grave over this a-historical postmodern pastiche! (I think I see a scholarly paper in this!)

On voting.

Once again, it’s the season where I’m absolutely inundated with requests — no, demands — that I vote. I’m told it’s my civic duty. I’m told in haughty, self-righteous, proud acrimony that if I don’t vote, I have no right to complain, as if my freedom of speech is revoked should choose to not select a career politician who I despise less than the other guy to “represent” me — when none of these people I’m told to select from actually represent me.

So, am I going to vote next week? Actually, yes. But, with caveats, and I’m more than happy to explain why.

First, a little parable:

Three wolves and six goats are discussing what to have for dinner. One courageous goat makes an impassioned case: “We should put it to a vote!” The other goats fear for his life, but surprisingly, the wolves acquiesce.

But when everyone is preparing to vote, the wolves take three of the goats aside. “Vote with us to make the other three goats dinner,” they threaten. “Otherwise, vote or no vote, we’ll eat you.”

The other three goats are shocked by the outcome of the election: a majority, including their comrades, has voted for them to be killed and eaten. They protest in outrage and terror, but the goat who first suggested the vote rebukes them: “Be thankful you live in a democracy! At least we got to have a say in this!”

Voting is a right. People fought and some literally died for he right to be able to vote in fair elections for such things as fair taxes, appropriate laws that are meant to help society function, and people who would represent them in a government by, of, and for the people.

But on most scales, that’s not what we have. We have a government where the higher up you go, the less you, as a person, are being represented so much as being governed in the interests of corporations. The congresspeople, the president, the massive support system that runs the federal government, are paid for by corporate profit — sanctified by the recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend as much money as they wish to make sure the politicians vote in their interests. In fact, the only politicians at all that get to that high of a level, that get their name on the ballot, are politicians that, regardless of the R or the D next to their name, will support corporate interests over those of the people.

These people do not represent me. I don’t not wish to associate a vote, by right and purchased by many people braver than I who gave their lives to give me the privilege and not the obligation to do so, to any of these people. A vote for a less vile, less corporate-owned, less dishonest, politician is not an exercise in freedom and liberty and civic duty — it is an insult and a mockery of freedom and liberty.

My right to vote quite certainly includes my right to choose to not vote, if that represents my opinion that the people who are my forced choices do not represent me. If I despise both options I have to vote for, I will complain about either one of them regardless of whichever one wins, and I should not have to be compelled to associate myself with either repugnancey in order to be granted the boon of being able to complain about them.

Especially when what I complain about is not just the puppets that I’m forced to choose between, but the entire corrupted and perverted system that puts only bought-and-paid-for corporate tools as my choices for representation.

Indeed, there are people who don’t vote, not because they are exercising their right not to, but because they’re too uninformed, detached, and unconcerned about the process, the system, civil rights and duties. You know what? They too have a right to complain! All people have an inalienable right to speak their mind (granted, so long as it does not directly incite harm to others), regardless of whether they participate in the farce.

I may pity and scowl at them in my own elitist, condescending way for not being involved and interested and engaged in the process, the events, the system that essentially controls their lives. But they still have a right to complain.

The parable above is often used to illustrate what’s called the tyranny of democracy. The idea that the minority must concede to will of the majority for no better reason than because they’re the majority. We all know this is on many levels wrong and unethical. It was seen during segregation, where the racist views of the majority violated the rights of a minority. We can see it today in such things as California’s Prop 8 in which the rights of a minority were eliminated by a majority vote.

If you ever found yourself in a vastly outnumbered minority, and the majority voted that you had to give up something as necessary to your life as water and air, would you comply? When it comes down to it, does anyone really believe it makes sense to accept the authority of a group simply on the grounds that they outnumber everyone else? We accept majority rule because we do not believe it will threaten us – and those it does threaten are already silenced before anyone can hear their misgivings.


I agree with the position. Majority rule; minority suffers. That’s all well and good so long as you’re part of the majority. But everyone belongs in someone else’s minority group. What happens when the majority on a given position, or condition, votes to remove a right of yours? How fair is democracy to you then?

As an anarchist, I believe ultimately in the removal of all coerced obeisance to the will of another group, whether that group has the force of greater numbers, or a monopoly on violence (the state). But, like Marx who understood that capitalism was a necessary step on the road to socialism, then communism, I understand we’re likely not going to have mass anarchism (nor communism) within my lifetime. The state is here, and it’s not going anywhere, any time soon. And the structure of representative government, as corrupt and flawed and manipulated as it is, should at least somewhat be made to work for the people and not for corporations, whenever possible….

So, I’m going to vote next Tuesday, despite the fact it will be a violation of my integrity. (I don’t believe in the very system itself, I shouldn’t support it with my participation.) But, living completely on the grid, within the culture, subject to the will of the hegemonic cultural logic, and millions of other people have no choice — so I’ll go ahead and cast votes where, and only where, I have a choice in which I think one option is ethically acceptable, and not because it’s the alternative to a worse option. If neither option represents my beliefs, it’s not getting my approval simply because of some non-existent obligation to have to choose one.

What gets my goat, is how so many of the people who wallow in self-righteousness and decree that you’re unAmerican and not worthy of the right to free speech if you don’t vote, are people whose entire civic consciousness, entire political activity, entire involvement in the world around them, begin and end with that 30 minute exercise once every couple of years — maybe only every four years. And of course, that just the way those in power like it. Convince people that they’re actually capable of changing things, get rid of bad and install good, improve the system, by making them think that all they need to do is vote for person A or nearly identical person B, whose differences are those that make people bicker while ignoring the fact the rot goes down to the roots. Make people think that voting equals change, and just shuffle the same agents of corruption and dominance through the offices while the very system itself that underlies the main problems gets blissfully ignored.

So, if you’re one of those who sticks your nose into the air with superiority because you go out of your way to vote for a new boss, same as the old boss, save your breath on me. I’m going to participate in the farce. But you better anticipate some write-in names on my part.

In space, no one can hear you Trick or Treat. Sad, really.

Ah, Halloween! Sadly, as an adult, I find October passes by much too fast with my barely able to enjoy the season before it’s gone.

But in my mind, Halloween will always evoke the memory of grade school in Westminister, Colorado: paper skeletons with brass brads for joints and bloody paper weapons taped onto their hands; lawns of dead and crackling leaves; gray skies and a chill air, sometimes with a little snow on the ground; that big, old house several blocks away with the unkempt yard and odd, metal star attached to the chimney, a house that begged to have a role in a Bradbury story with overly inquisitive kids. Halloween was my favorite holiday in the middle of my favorite season.

I don’t do much to celebrate any more, and that’s my loss and my fault. But often, when possible, at the last minute on that Halloween night, I’ll try to at least watch an appropriate film before the clock ticks into the month that begins the season for family and food. This year, I have a weekend in front of me and no thesis or papers to keep me from taking a couple evenings to enjoy the spirit of the holiday.

Here’s what I think I’m going to try watching:

“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is an absolute requirement, period.

“Coraline” should be a good one. We’re hoping to get the kidlet to watch that and maybe “9” (the animated film, not the musical) with us.

Then, once she’s off to bed, the pool of possibilities are: “Shaun of the Dead” (hilarious, plus Wife likes it, too); “Zombieland” (though I did already watch it again a few months ago); haven’t seen “Splice” yet (supposed to be good); “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (hey, I liked it [despite Keanu], lay off); “Alien” (more on that in a moment); “John Carpenter’s The Thing” (haven’t seen that since I was 13); maybe “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (also been a long time, and it may be another with-the-kid movie).

Something you didn’t see in that list — slashers. I hates slashers. Ridiculous plots, horrible acting, nihilistic and pointless violence, no redeeming qualities whatsoever. With a couple exceptions: The first “Scream” was not bad, but mainly because it was the first postmodern slasher with a unique take on the genre. And I’ve seen a couple of the “Saw” movies, and while it’s nihilistic violence wrapped in a veneer of moral didacticism and life affirmation (ROTFL), the mechanized tortures remind me of the computer games “7th Guest” and “Phantasmagoria,” and the convoluted and complicated plot with looping timelines is really kind of intriguing. I’m curious to know if the clever yet highly impossible timeline coinciding-plots were planned from the beginning or have been kludged together for each film.

My favorite editor, Ellen Datlow, discusses her Halloween film pick, “Alien” on this page. Interestingly, one of my favorite SF authors, John Scalzi, dismisses “Alien” as unscary in his Filmcritic article. (While I disagree with him about its non-scariness, I have to say, I’m completely with him on why he finds the kind of film he does find scary, to be so.) I first saw “Alien” when I was about 13 or 14, and it scared the flip out of me.

(Although, not as much as seeing Kubrick’s “The Shining” did at 12. To this day, the image of Nicholson’s Jack limping through the snow with the shiny-bladed ax, chasing Danny, gives me jeebies of the heebie variety. That said, I still think Kubrick totally f-ed up what truly made the novel frightening, even more so now that I’m a husband and a father — the idea of a good man who slowly crumbles into insanity, and you’re not quite sure how much of it is within him and how much is supernatural influence. Kubrick’s “The Shining” starts out with an unhinged Jack and puts all the horror on the actions of the hotel. Even as a teen, reading Stephen King’s novel, I could understand the brilliant way he made the horror come from out of the character drama. But I’ve really digressed….)

Yeah, “Alien.” It scarded me! I’ve always realized because, even though it was sci-fi, it was entirely believable and realistic. Plus the hard SF’ness was uber-cool. But, I started watching it again a couple weeks ago, and I realized something disturbing: The script for the movie, the dialog, really sucks! Bad. Yet, the acting is superb! So natural, so believable, that they were able to take a bad script and make you believe it despite. The directing was so well-done, the pacing and mood and film-work, that it entirely enhanced the actors’ valiant effort — culminating in a truly effective film that one remembers as perfect despite the near-embarrassing script. Man, if Joss Whedon had been a script doctor back then, I can’t imagine how truly perfect it could have been. (I understand Ridley Scott is planning to make a prequel film. Note: he wasn’t involved in any of the sequels (although Joss was). I hope he gets as good of a cast as “Alien” had and even a marginally better script.)

Between that film, and OMNI magazine (hey! An Ellen Datlow degree of separation!), I’ve loved H.R. Gieger’s art ever since.

So, those’re my thoughts on Halloween at the moment. I think I might read some Poe to kiddlet this weekend. That’d be a cool tradition to start. :)

The daily…weekly…occasional journal by someone you don't know.