Category Archives: PERSONAL

Guns and Mental Health

In the past when I’ve written on this topic, I’ve peppered every section and argument with links and numbers… this time I’m writing stream of conscious focusing on my thoughts and opinions. However, I’m more than happy to bring up numbers and facts if needed. Because if you have a different opinion, and this is going to be shocking based on this topic, but I welcome debate. Reasoned debate. Because contrary to what pretty much everyone believes on either end of the spectrum, this is not a black-or-white issue (and sadly, liberals who tend to find nuance and shades better than conservatives, are generally pretty fundamentalistly extreme on this topic as well). There is no easy answer, no matter how much one side or the other yells their opinion.

I’ve pretty much stopped being political or inflammatory on social media. It’s generally not worth it. And since the Oregon community college shooting last week, I’ve remained silent on it. Have not commented on the flood of posts that have come through my Facebook timeline, not shared any posts… except one. This one:

There’s a Way to Stop Mass Shootings, And You Won’t Like It

In short, banning guns in the US is nearly impossible, and likely won’t affect mass shootings anyway, banning “scary” guns won’t have an effect since most shootings happen with pistols, most shootings are committed by people who have no prior record and would pass/have passed a background check, are committed by people without a clinical history of mental illness and even so, do we want to have everyone’s mental health records open and searchable? His answer: pay attention to the loners and outcasts! (In brief.)

Then this morning on NPR, I listened to this interview with Malcolm Gladwell:

How Riots May Help Us Understand School Shooters

Also in brief, his theory is that the true psychopaths like Columbine’s Eric Harris already did the “hard part” of starting the movement, and what we have in the years since are disenfranchised loners steeped in a culture of Harris-worship following in his footsteps, with “the threshold that you had to cross to find yourself doing that has gotten lower”. It’s easier to be a follower in a riot than a leader. And the Internet has made it easier for these youths to want to follow in footsteps, regardless of how little the mainstream press glamorizes the shooters.

And then, what finally prompted me to want to say something, was watching last week’s “Last Week with John Oliver” where he had an otherwise fantastic and incisive piece on mental healthcare in the US, he lambasted anyone (focusing on idiot GOP politicians) who says the problem with mass shooting isn’t guns but mental health. Oliver compared bringing mental health into the discussion of mass shootings like vilifying Coke a Cola because it was in a commercial with Bill Cosby, implying gun control has everything to do with mass shootings and issues of mental health aren’t really connected except by association.

Now, I love John Oliver. Heretofore he’s not said pretty much anything I could disagree with. But that really set me off.

Here’s some information:

Over the last couple of decades, gun violence and specifically gun related homicide in the US has steadily decreased! It’s currently at some of the lowest rates it’s been in nearly 100 years. (Pause: Does the US still have a gun violence problem? Hell yeah. Can more be done to lower that? Hell yeah.) But, mass shootings have increased alarmingly. Which means we’re on the right path regarding what we’re doing as a nation on gun crime already (yes yes, more can be done), but on the wrong one regarding mass shootings. Why are mass shootings so different from other gun crime?

Another thing I saw recently, a lot of vitriol on Facebook about concealed carry on campuses, with comments implying the move would at best create random violence and at worst lead to more mass shootings, and bottom line, everyone is less safe! Two thoughts here:

Has the illegality of concealed carry on schools stopped mass shooters who illegally brought guns and illegally murdered people? Why would allowing legally carrying owners onto campuses increase more mass shootings, when someone who wants to mass murder is going to bring guns anyway?

It’s possible the increased chance that a shooter is going to be faced with a concealed carry citizen might think twice about their grand plan to kill as many people as they can until police finally respond. Maybe.

One of the biggest straw men arguments I’ve heard from anti-carry people is that concealed carry people are somehow more trigger happy and will a. cause more damage than they’d stop, and b. would be a distraction at best for law enforcement on the scene.

And then, they turn around and point to the fact that two people on the Oregon campus were concealed carrying, and didn’t run across campus to engage the shooter as somehow ammo (sorry) for their argument against concealed carriers. I’m at a loss to explain that once. In this instant we have two trained concealed carriers who wisely understood they would be a hazard to responding law enforcement and decided to stay in the classrooms they were in to protect their peers should they need to. Unlike the myth that concealed carriers are trigger-happy vigilantes, they showed restraint and care in their decision. It’s a no-win situation that reveals that most anti-gun liberals suffer from cognitive biases just as much as pro-gun conservatives.

Personally, I would feel safer knowing there could be concealed carriers around me.

Another tangent: What about open carriers? Well, in my opinion they’re generally idiots with some kind of chip on their shoulder and power issues. Especially people who carry around AR-15s and other long guns! God, what tools! Seriously!

Now, I can point to individual instances where a citizen has stopped a shooting or some other violence by being armed, like this Youtube video that shows a guy getting attacked by a machete-wielding vet with PTSD, who bashed open his apartment to try to kill him: The resident yelled at him he was armed, warned him, waited until danger was imminent (didn’t go shooting wantonly) then shot the assailant in the legs, wounding instead of killing. But then, I know someone can point out the recent story of a guy trying to stop a carjacking but accidentally shot the victim in the head and missed the carjackers.

I can point to the story of the guy who used a knife to kill or seriously would more than 20 people on a campus, or the entirely ignored by the press other Oregon shooting a few years ago of a guy opening fire in a food court until a concealed carry citizen drew on him, didn’t fire, and the would-be mass shooter fled and killed himself. And someone can show me the recent article of a kid who shot and killed a girl he didn’t like for not letting him pet her puppies.

We can trade individual stories for days on end. But it’s like arguing climate change: Someone can point to record snowfall, someone else can point to record heatwave, but these are all individual datapoints for trends. The trend: climate change is real. And, overall gun crime has fallen and continues to fall, while mass shootings goes up.

Back to John Oliver and his Coke can metaphor, what he (his writers) seem to ignore, a point most liberals ignore: There are over 300,000,000 legal firearms in the US. And nearly all of them are used legally and responsibly. Most gun owners never talk about their guns, never use them except for safe and intended purposes. The fact that a tiny percentage of guns in the country are used for evil is ignored for the point that any gun is used at all.

In closing, what I hate most is the constant cry that “Something must be done about gun control!” Okay, great. What? Tell me what? Most people either say, I don’t know (which is fine, but let’s maybe start thinking about it instead of impotently crying “Do something!”), or if pressed, think all guns can be banned. Personally, I appreciate the rare meme I see about comparing regulating guns like we do cars! Required tests, required insurance, required safety inspections, etc.

As a gun shooter and enthusiast, I’m also a rabid NRA-hater and I’m enthusiastically all for greater regulation and control! (Hey, rabid gun-lovers who wave the Constitution like a magic totem: The document itself states “well-regulated,” dick. Having to take classes, carry insurance, pass checks, register your gun, is not equivalent to “They’s takin our gunz!!”)… (yeah, I know, I just committed an ad hominem fallacy there, sue me.)

But greater control isn’t a panacea for gun crime and certainly not for mass shootings. Something else must be done (in addition!) And people like that blogger I linked to at the top, and Malcolm Gladwell, have touched on the root of the issue with young white male mass shooters: It’s not the guns, it’s not even entirely mental illness: it’s what we do as a society and what we value and how we treat all of us, even the least of us.

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.

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.”

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)

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!

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 devil’s in the details.

(This is part 7 of my, a non-believer’s, reaction to The Alpha Course, an introductory course into Christianity. The beginning is here, and the previous entry, part 6, is here.)

(Update: I just read Stephen Butterfield’s reaction to this night’s topic — if you have to read just one, read his! It’s much better written and entertaining, and the core of our reactions are almost identical!)

(Update 2: I just discovered my iPhone’s WordPress app renamed my blog post the same as a previous post. I just fixed it. Sorry for any confusion.)

Was thrown for a bit of a loop at first: we were supposed to do the section on the Holy Spirit this night, but evidently the two-part Spirit section is being saved for the “retreat” this weekend. This night we discussed Ol’ Scratch, El Diablo, Mr. Mephisto, Dick Cheney, or, the devil.

Before I get into mocking, er, critiquing this night, a word about this weekend’s retreat. I’m looking forward to, in this extended and casual setting, to maybe get into some real discussions with people. I hope so. On the other hand, being a weekend in which people have to drive for 2 hours and spend half a weekend out in the quasi-woods, I have this slight guilt-pang that makes me not want to ruin anyone’s weekend by being a caster of doubt and skepticism. (In a moment, you’ll see why after this night, that lack of desire to spread guilt is increased.)

Which leads me back to the difference I see between Alpha host Nicky Gumbel and the fellow classmates. I have no problem saying that Nicky seems like one of the nicest fellows you could meet, and I would love to spend a day with him. But make no mistake, he’s the enemy. He’s a promulgator of bad reasoning, uncritical credulity, logical fallacies, and out and out lies. Yes, lies. You can’t be as steeped in Christian apologetics as he obviously is, and not have encountered factual contradictions to the things he’s telling earnest listeners as truth. For example, using Tacitus, Josephus, etc. as “contemporary sources” for the historical events of the gospels, when that’s demonstrably, factually not true.

Continue reading The devil’s in the details.

Does God guide us?

(This is part 6 of my, a non-believer’s, reaction to The Alpha Course, an introductory course into Christianity. The beginning is here, and the previous entry, part 5, is here.)

I’m going to try something new this time and write my reaction less than 5 days after the event. Like, the next day, maybe. Well, I’ve started it the day after session 6, but I have recordings of Stargate: Universe and Caprica calling me….

(Update: I failed. See mid-way for a bonus Interlude.)

How Does God Guide Us, Nicky attempts to explain in this session. In general, this was a session full of special pleading and bad rationalizations. Which is a shame, because Nicky seems like a real nice guy, but his logic and critical thinking skills are nearly non-existent.

He starts by telling us that the Bible is a clear-cut explanation of what God’s will is. Nevermind that the Bible is neither clear-cut nor direct, and is responsible for a great many bloody conflicts among Christians over how the Bible should be interpreted. The book has been translated and re-translated into English alone scores of times, each one with some significant differences in literal meanings let alone what someone can infer from them. And countless denominations of the one religion have branched off with different interpretations of key passages. Like I mentioned last essay, putting your instructions in the form of a book written by many authors is probably the least wise method of communicating to your loved children, that I can think of.

Continue reading Does God guide us?

The Instruction Manual?

(This is my reaction to session 5 of the Alpha Course. The first reaction and explanation is here, and last week’s is here.)

Well, I hate to say it, but I think I may have to give this session short shrift; it’s been a week, (such a week), and all I have is my scant notes on the session. (No wonder Stephen Butterfield uses a tape recorder.) And the worst part is that this session is the one I finally spoke up and got involved in conversation!

Ironically, I can impart less about that small group time than any other as I was so busy being involved, I didn’t write any notes. But I’ll try to see what I can recollect. In any case, I’m sure you’re not too disappointed, dear reader, considering the novellas I’ve been writing for my last four session reactions!

So, this session was entitled, Why and How Should I Read the Bible. Nicky Gumbel makes a summary argument for why to read it with the points: It’s the most popular book, the most powerful book, and the most precious book.

First of all, the fallacy of the appeal to popularity can be dismissed by simply pointing out how popular Harry Potter, the Twilight series, Stephen King, and Greek myths are 3,000 years after their original believers, but the popularity of these things makes no difference upon the reality of the material. Popularity does not make a thing truthfully valid. Hey, the Koran is as popular with almost as many people, does that increase its validity and necessity?

Continue reading The Instruction Manual?

Debates may change, but some things never do.

As I’d mentioned in my part three to my Alpha Course reaction, How Can We Have Faith, I volunteered to help judge a high school speech/debate tournament. It was a blast, and I learned some things, myself.

I was hard-core speech and debate in my high school days. (Probably no surprise to anyone who knows me), but full disclosure — by “hard-core” I mean relative to me, not to other kids who were hard-core. For me, speech and debate was the most important activity in my life, and I was decent at it (pretty good in Lincoln-Douglas debate, humorous interp’, and storytelling; not bad in cross-ex [team] debate and some other interp’ stuff). But there were a great many kids much better than me, due to both talent and living and breathing it more than I did. (I must not have been too bad, I was offered a full tuition scholarship from the debate team and accepted a full-ride scholarship from the theatre department a a local state college.)

But anyway, for me, debate was the “good” in my life. It was the only way I had friends, both in my squad and from other schools; it got me engaged in the world; developed some amount of appreciation for logic and proper argumentation; the value of evidence in claims; and gave me a social life. (Even though I was an idiot then, and played the goth/emo attitude before there was such a youth sub-drama, er, sub-genre. Somehow I had it in my head that being depressed and melancholy would somehow make me more appealing to girls and make me seem “deep.” Needless to say, I didn’t get laid until college. Go fig.)

So, this weekend. I judged some tourneys back in my undergrad days, but I think I was still too close to the scene (chronologically) to have different feelings about it. Now, years later, 20… years… later (oh gawd!) I’m a true outsider to the scene, looking back at a snapshot of my youth through the new batch of high schoolers going through the same trials, tribulations, joys, fears, thrills… metamorphosis I and my peers had. And I saw among these kids, versions of me, of my friends, and took comfort in the fact some things don’t really change! The activities, the behaviors, the prater, of these kids were the same as they were 20 years ago (well, except I did overhear one girl explaining to a couple guys what polyamory was; that didn’t happen back then, but that’s not to say we didn’t talk about love and sex back then! Boy-howdy, did we). I was amused by seeing once again all the briefcases and file boxes littering the cafeteria and hallways, and (most) everyone dressed in their best.

And their rhetorical skills still range from pitiful to three-years-away-from-being-a-guest-talking-head-on-MSNBC. I have to tell you, the champion LD debaters were quite impressive! Their level of argumentation, reason, and logic was enviable! It was interesting that in the regular LD rounds, where whether states should eliminate nuclear weapons was debated, the affirmative side OK and the negative side could never make a decent case. But at the champion-level, the affirmative side was calling upon claims to logic and fallacy I didn’t learn until 10 years later, and the negative side made such exceptionally strong cases for keeping nuclear weapons, I had to truly work to determine a winner — and sometimes it was the negative. I’m here to tell you, the kids are alright.

I did find interesting in CX (cross-ex, team) debate some different protocols from when I was doing it. During the first affirmative constructive (the presentation of the case and plan to be debated, and the only speech in the debate that is (should be) completely scripted, the speaker would hand each read page off to the opposition, pro forma. They didn’t ask for it, it was just something that was done. Likewise evidence cards. Back in mah day, if the other side wanted to clarify points you made, they’d ask during the cross-ex portion, and if they wanted to see you evidence, they had to ask (and you had to give it). But there was none of this standardized sharing back then.

I guess that’s good; it forces transparency and honesty. But, in a way, I was kind of peeved. I mean, the old way of having to write fast and listen faster taught me a very valuable skill: tiny, quick writing with lots of shortcuts. OK, not sure how valuable that skill is, but I was proud of it. 🙂

Prayer? Cheese! Ah, that’s power!

(click to read)

(This is part 4 of a 10-part reaction to The Alpha Course. Part One: Twisted history; Part Two: The cruel illogic of substitutional atonement; Part Three: Faith makes mountains of of molehills.)

This week’s Alpha Class was on the power of prayer. This was a particularly… interesting.

But before we get into it, some preliminary info: As you may know, uber-blogger Friendly Atheist mentioned my blog recently! In the comments, someone mentioned a much better British atheist blogger who chronicled his own Alpha Course experience: Stephen Butterfield’s “Alpha Course Reviewed”. If you’re here to read a non-believer’s reaction to Alpha Course, go read his! He’s a better writer and actually had dialog with other attendees. If you’re here reading this because you know me, still go read Stephen’s — it’s better and he writes with a sexy British accent. 🙂 I’ve only read the first few posts of his; I want to be able to write my own reactions unaffected by a better one.

And now, before I discuss problems with prayer, another interlude:

Continue reading Prayer? Cheese! Ah, that’s power!