Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Parachutist In Love

For E.G.

The Parachutist’s ripcord is malfunctioning. He is aware of this piece of information, and finds it duly disturbing.
You see, were the Parachutist on ground, in his plane, lying in his bed, sitting on the toilet, eating eggplant parmesan at his favorite Italian restaurant, bedding a young vixen, bedding a few young vixens (one slightly older than the other), practicing the clarinet, making a shopping list, or even playing volleyball (again with young vixens) at the beach, becoming aware of such a piece of information would be easily resolvable. Being however that he is currently falling from a very great height, the information about the ripcord is pertinent.

His instinct is to curse, but not being the swearing type, he decides to pray instead: Praying turns out to be harder to do mid-free fall than one might expect, so he curses.
Being a person who has read a book or two by Deepak Chopra, he attempts meditation: He is going to die. This is evident. He attempts to clear his mind by focusing on the snowy mountain tops that cap the quickly disappearing horizon. Also difficult: Consider G-forces.

What about the man in the colored jumpsuit with goggles and helmet?

The Parachutist’s favorite joke is one that usually only garners polite laughs when he tells it:
Q: How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two: one to hold the giraffe by the neck, the other to fill the bathtub up with clocks.

He has a picture of his nephew riding a horse on his coffee table at home. The picture was taken by his brother, on the boy’s twelfth birthday. The boy’s name is Cody. The Parachutist has tried to teach the boy how to play chess several times and has failed. Once, when Cody was about six, a little marble pawn showed up in his stool. The Parachutist has quit trying to teach the boy chess.

The Parachutist closes his eyes, takes a breath, and then opens them back up again. The earth is very beautiful, and very small from where he is. It is getting larger quickly, which is vaguely alarming. The Parachutist decides it would be better to misinterpret this alarm as exhilaration. ‘Whoop!’ he says.

He’s over a piney region of Alaska. The tree line spreads far and wide, and there are mountains in the distance. The Parachutist tries to imagine himself crashing down through the evergreens. Every snapping twig that he foresees, were he to write a blog about this episode, he may call it ‘Returning to the Earth in a very real way’, and the post would be very spiritual. The Parachutist is a very spiritual person in his own way. He has read books by Deepak Chopra, and always plays Prince music when he beds young vixens.

The Parachutist is pleased with how easily he turned the whole tragic affair into a philosophical one.
He imagines the earth wrapping around him, his body becoming thin and embedded, and he begins to relax his muscles as it all becomes very near, the whistling becoming increased, and the mountain view becoming out of sight. He thinks about the terrain, and tries to picture it without trees. A parking lot. A desert. An ocean. A pile of feathers.

To the ordinary wild porcupine, the grass is gentle and high, and the soil is agreeably moist. It easily absorbs the creature’s small footprints as it pads and sniffs it’s way through the sweet smelling forest, looking for whatever it is that porcupines look for.

Some kind of small bug, I would imagine.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Too Good For His Own Good

Ah, America. We have such good intentions at times. We want people to earn equal pay for equal work. We believe that people should be free to speak their minds in a public forum. We give more foreign aid to impoverished countries than any other country in the world, and encourage our citizens to follow their passions. When Jimmy Carter was done being president, he set about building houses for those in need.

These are great things.

Unfortunately, sometimes our social idealism can go a little too far. According to this story, a nine year old boy named Jericho Scott has been told that he was no longer allowed to pitch because he was too good at it, and was making players on the other teams feel bad.

If officials want to pretend that no one is keeping score in pre-school league sports (they are) that's fine. There's an argument for that kind of easing into a competitive environment. There is no good argument however, for preventing a young and talented boy from honing and enjoying his God-given talent in a forum that is there to teach the virtues of healthy competition, personal endurance, hardwork, and teamwork.

It reminds me of the classic Vonnegut story Harrison Bergeron, which begins thus:

"The year was 2081, and everyone was finally equal.They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way.Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else.Nobody was quicker or stronger than anybody else.All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th ammendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General."

In the story, the strong are forced to wear weights to equalize their physical superiority. Skilled dancers must wear sandbags around their legs, over-intelligent people are fitted with collars that set off sharp noises in their heads from time to time, and beautiful people have to wear ugly masks.

I have no beef with multiculturalism. Whether you prefer our country to be a salad, with distinct ingredients, or a stew with a more homogenized flavor, so be it. If you would like to ease children into a competitive environment by teaching pure love of the game first, that is fine also. But children will have to compete eventually. Perhaps instead of teaching them the ills of competition, maybe we should teach them how to be good sports, and how to accept a challenge. Our kids will grow up in an economy based on capitalist principles. They will have to compete for jobs, mates, and parking spots. Why not teach them how to be good natured about it?

We are still animals, us humans. We're not too far out of the trees, you know. All animals compete. Young lion and bear cubs compete in ways that may appear violent to outside observers. Young humans test their mettle against each other, and eventually against authority figures, just to see what it is that they've got inside of them.

Instead of telling kids no, competing is wrong, why not answer the question they're asking with their competition? Yes, you've got it inside of you. You matter, and you have something to offer.If you don't get the result you want this time, keep trying. There's nothing wrong with getting a black eye from time to time.

Jericho Scott isn't the only one being punished by the decision to ban him from pitching. The kids he pitches against are missing their opportunity to possibly send one of those little leather missiles right back at him. Can you imagine, hitting a home run off the best pitcher in the league?

No doubt giving up a few home runs would help Jericho sharpen his own game as well.

We're not going to outpace evolution. We will always be what we are, and should feel no inclination to be anything else. There may be habits and inclinations and actions that we would be better suited to curb, but largely whether or not we should do so is up to us, individually. To all of those out there who would call people to forsake themselves and aspire towards some higher ideal by fully disconnecting from our true nature, I offer this quotation:

"...No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid. There is an obvious retort to this, but one should be wary about making it. In this yogi-ridden age, it is too readily assumed that "non-attachment" is not only better than a full acceptance of earthly life, but that the ordinary man only rejects it because it is too difficult: in other words, that the average human being is a failed saint. It is doubtful whether this is true. Many people genuinley do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human."-George Orwell, from his essay, "Reflections on Gandhi".

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Anyone Can Pundit.

Much as Barack Obama claims to have fretted over his (in reality non-influential) decision to oppose the Iraq war at the Saddleback forum last week, I too am now plumbing my conscience to discover who I might vote for in November. If no answer in that category is forthcoming, maybe at least I’ll find out what’s clogging the drain.

Our votes don’t count, not that much, but it’s fun to feel like you’re participating in something though, especially when you’re someone like me (who doesn’t follow sports).

I’m essentially a social liberal with certain fiscally libertarian inclinations. Regarding the issues I care about, Obama and McCain are really only offering differences to each other in degrees. Who you vote for is really only a question of how far in the same direction do you want to go.

In spite of the branding given to him by his opponents, Barack Obama is, in fact (as Joe Biden says), an essentially pragmatic politician. Whether or not he used William Ayers’s dreadlocks to climb to power in Chicago is an entirely different question. Obama has expressed a willingness to compromise on drilling, and his views on Iraq essentially boiled down to the same 'conditions on the ground' position McCain was offering, just liberaled up a little bit to appeal to his base. A key component to Obama's platform, if you look carefully enough, is consensus building. Obama’s so called ‘radical associations’ are in reality only a string of practical alliances he used to climb his way through Illinois politics and into the national spotlight.

Obama’s enthusiastic followers can be rationalized: young kids excited about politics in the same way they were excited about Jack Kerouac the year before, or Indie rock the year before that. They can be excused. What the nomination of Biden tells me--other than the obvious statement that Obama needed to put a little experiential ummph in his ticket--Is that he is not a man that is beyond reproach, because there’s no one that’s beyond the reproach of Joe Biden.

Biden’s partition plan for Iraq was one of the only thoughtful Democratic solutions that was offered. He has all kinds of experience in foreign relations (more than McCain), and is equal to McCain in the realm of bipartisanship. He supported bans on partial birth abortion (for the social conservatives), and regretably fell in line behind the war powers act (for those who advocate a stronger executive branch).

These examples are given to illustrate his ability to consider both sides of an issue mind you, not to necessarily state that he ends up on the right side of it.

More important than his ability to think multidimensionally is the fact that he seems to be a genuine straight-shooter; one who will say what he believes in spite of the apparent consequences.

This election isn’t about stark differences, as much as the candidates would like you to believe. If that was the case, we’d be looking at a Ron Paul versus David McReynolds election, but we aren’t. I'm not electing a person who will be lighting a radical new course for our country. I'm electing someone who will keep the thing running mostly as is, with the possibility of cup holders.

I don’t know which way I’ll go in November. It may end up depending on what I had for dinner the night before. Whatever I decide, Biden will be a fun addition to the festivities: whoever McCain picks better be a scrapper.


John McCain has picked Sarah Palin as a running mate. I think this was a good, appealing choice that boosts his reform credentials and adds some charm to the ticket. Of course, conservatives love Sarah Palin so far, so that's another plus for McCain.

Palin won the Alaskan governorship in '06, and has an approval rating around 80%. Even democrats like her. She's challenged corruption in her own party, and won a p.r. battle against oil companies located in Alaska.

It's also awesome that everyone was so sure it was going to be Romney or Pawlenty, with some outside guesses of Hutchinson or Lieberman. McCain did a good job pulling one over on everyone (which of course is a needed trait in presidential politics).

I think both Obama and McCain have made good choices.

Friday, August 22, 2008

It's All Been Done Before In 'Westside Story'

I left a pretty long comment on Mark Daniels' blog regarding a link he offered as a good response to this question posed by Richard Dawkins:

"Is it inconsistent, as Richard Dawkins claims, for believers in God to look for scientific explanations of natural things, if they don’t think it is necessary to seek scientific proof of God’s existence?"

here is my response:

Dawkins's best line against God has always been that (at best) a belief in God is redundant, because a person can get along just fine (or better) without it.

Because a religious believer doesn't look for scientific evidence for the existence of God (there really is none) doesn't necessarily mean that they shouldn't use science to discover things about what is within our ability to understand. Humans barely understand the brain, although we've made great strides. That (the brain) is the most complicated thing that we know of at the moment, and much of what we think we know now will probably be proved wrong at some point. This being the case, and science being a methodical thing, why not just work on that for now? It's only prudent for everyone not to seek evidence of God.

Dawkins uses statements like this to cause doubt and frustration in believers, which is a wonderful thing. He wants the true believers to arm themselves for battle, and to look ridiculous in doing so. Meanwhile, he hopes to convert moderates and fence riders over to his side by using the spectacle such question inspire in the faithful.

I don't think this person offers a good answer to Dawkins's goad. He starts off insulting the objectivity of of scientists who embrace evolution theory, and then goes to rehearse stock dialogue from the I.D. movement that really only amounts to speculation akin to looking for images of the Virgin Mary in a bowl of spaghetti. I've always thought the best (and most humble) answer to questions like Dawkins's is a simple shrug of the shoulders.

Science isn't there yet (to either confirm nor deny) and it probably will never be. Dan Vander Lugt and Richard Dawkins are punching at ghosts, and will never draw blood. To do that, they'd have to step into the ring with each other.

It would be fun to watch two academics pound on each other for awhile.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


my son and I made a very good salad yesterday. It goes like this:

take some iceberg lettuce, put it on a styrofoam plate (use styrofoam because it creates jobs. As patriotic Americans, it is the least we can do).

On top of the iceberg lettuce, put some faux crab meat from your local grocery story. Sprinkle with Gorgonzola cheese and sushi vinegar.

Top off with just a few pieces of sushi ginger, and voila.

This meal is best eaten on the floor in your living room while listening to The Police and playing a thousand games of dominoes in a row. Eat with plastic forks (good for the economy) and drink gatorade. Proceed to lose repeated games of dominoes to your seven year old son.

A good time for everyone.

Monday, August 18, 2008

an excerpt from my interview with a five year old

S: Marvin Hooks, you are five years old. What do you want to be when you grow up?

M: I’m five years old. I’m too young to answer a question like that. I just started riding my bike without training wheels. Ask me again in two years.

S: Marvin, it’s two years later. What would you like to be when you grow up?

M: Spencer, I’m glad you asked. I often go down to the woods behind my house and watch the bats fly around the streetlights. There is at least one bat that does figure-eights, and another that swoops down very low.

S: Why are there streetlights in the woods behind your house?

M: Because there are no woods behind my house. I live in the suburbs, and I can’t say for sure I’ve ever actually seen a tree. The bats in my neighborhood have taken to inhabiting telephone poles and mailboxes. Classic Darwinian adaptation.

S: Do you believe in God Marvin?

M: No one can be certain Spencer, but I try to take it easy on the pork products.

S: In conclusion, is there anything you regret?

M: There have been a few times when I forgot to unzip my pants while urinating.

S: Sounds like dark times.

M: Times to grow Spencer. Times to grow.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Zygote 5

Some of my poetry will be appearing in the fifth print edition of Zygote In My Coffee. I don't remember which poems I submitted for the issue, but if Brian & co. accepted them, I'm sure they're good.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Man of the House

I'm a fan of graffiti. Not so much the randomly scrawled potty-word, or ‘so and so was here/so and so loves so and so’, but a fan of the ornate and anarchical stuff you can find in the cities, or--for the latte crowd--in anthologies of Banksy’s work. I can make a case that this kind of graffiti is a positive sign of a working democracy: Every voice can be heard, even if it be on unauthorized surfaces. Good for us to allow our sensibilities to be challenged in such a way, and good for our government for not curb-stomping the offending artist.

A problem has arisen for me lately, however. I am a young father with a young family. My wife and I just bought our first house in a small suburb last year, and have been refurbishing it slowly but surely, making it our own. We have two boys, one three years old, and one seven. I’ve turned my seven year old on to Banksy (aha! Busted. But I take my latte breve.), and have encouraged art, pluralism, skepticism, and awe in their lives. I encourage them to be themselves, and to ask questions.

These attitudes and encouragements have been effective tools in allowing them to explore the world around and within them. But as I said, My wife and I are in the process of redecorating our house, and my two year old has begun drawing on the walls.

The first offense was with a big, blue sharpie he had gotten off of my work bench in the basement when I wasn’t looking. He drew a line all the way up the stairs, through the kitchen (over the fridge, paused for a loop-de-loop on the oven), and down the hall, ending the piece in a chaotic scramble of sheer existential bliss on the front of the door. I called the piece ‘Quagmire’, and thought it was an insightful commentary on current American foreign policy.

The problem was, we had just painted the living room. Sandpiper brown. It looked really good with the hardwood floors we had just installed.

Okay, I said. I love your art buddy, but don’t draw on the walls, okay? I’m going to have to paint over it if you put it on the walls. I want to keep your art, so could you put it on paper buddy? He shook his head yes, and we repainted the living room.

Then he did it again (luckily that time with dry-erase marker). Then again. We sat him down for a serious talk on the subject of respecting other people’s property, and reminding him of which surfaces were correct surfaces for him to express himself on. We confiscated all of the crayons, colored pencils, markers and finger paint, and put them up on top of the fridge. We would make them available only during ‘art time’, when we could monitor our little revolutionary’s activity.

I tried to rationalize my actions in my head. I’m not ‘the man’, so what I’m doing is reasonable. I’m not oppressing anyone, I don’t need to be taught a lesson by a clever vandal. Besides, he’s just a kid. He needs to respect other people’s things.

But it still felt weird. I felt the tang of hypocrisy, even if it was slight. My wife and I have bought a piece of the system. I own land, I pay taxes. We even joined a fitness club: We’ve got a stake in making this thing run smoothly now.

So no more Black Flag, no more Banksy. It’s all John Mayer and paintings of bowls of fruit I pick up in the art aisle at Target. My punk rock days are over. From making the kids do their homework, to seeing that they wash behind their ears, I am now part of the establishment. I am the man.

Monday, August 4, 2008

advice from the upper brackets

Mark Daniels wrote a good post about things he has learned from his marriage.

While I am relatively new at both marriage and parenthood, I can say that they almost seem to be living entities separate from ourselves. It has benefited me to remain open to being changed by them, and by accepting those changes when they come.

It has also proven beneficial to be willing to consider the kind of advice Mr. Daniels gives. Being a father and a husband are the two biggest projects I've ever been involved with. I will take all of the help I can get.


I've added some new links to the free refill section.

Lodo Grdzak Stays Put and Watches the World Go Round : I became aware of this blog when Lodo Grdzak decided to click on the links in his favorite music category, and found me. After looking at his musical interests, I presume he clicked on the link for Dave Douglas, the great jazz trumpeter (and heir to Miles Davis in my estimation). He left a comment on one of my posts, and I responded and then checked his blog out. Very good writing, very interesting character, very large font, lots of pictures. Check it out.

The Skeptic Society & Magazine: Because Skeptic is one of my favorite magazines, and skepticism should be taught to kids in elementary school. Skepticism (often confused with cynicism) is the thing that keeps our minds functioning and free.

Conblogeration: helmed by a guy named Pastor Jeff. He seems to be decidedly a man of the right, and (no surprise), writes about Christianity alot. If this is a turn-off, I can say that he is also frequently funny and insightful.

and, not a new link, but Brian Foley has a new story called The Hook at Hobart magazine. It's good, and short. You could print it up and read it on the toilet.

More writers should strive for such precision.

when we were boys

When we were boys
We peed on everything
Anywhere, anytime.

We peed on trees
In the woods
On tires flowers dogs
Most pleasantly,
We peed in public pools.
We peed in our beds
And in our good church

When we were boys
We peed on everything.
Anywhere, anytime.

from Mule & Horse

Sunday, August 3, 2008

No Need For Riot Gear

I would imagine that people who bring home made protest signs to townhall meetings probably aren't interested in a healthy give-and-take. Interested or not, that is what Barack Obama offered one such young man in Florida last week:

Good on Obama. Basically, 'I did what I thought was right, and if you don't like the way I handled the situation, vote for another person, or run for office yourself.' No pandering, just straight talk and tough encouragement.

No doubt the protester was a little ruffled by the reception the crowd offered, but it had to be a good experience for him. We are still part of the animal kingdom, and it is necessary for every young person to test their mettle against established powers. This guy happened to find none other than the (probable) next U.S. president to spar with.

And as an added bonus, no one was tazed!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Turnip Day For Democrats

President Bush has the opportunity to put a little umph behind the fine piece of Republican stagecraft that occurred today in Congress.

In 1948 Harry Truman recalled vacationing members of the ’do-nothing’ congress to force them to vote on a slew of issues ranging from civil rights to social security; issues that had become part of Thomas Dewey’s internally unpopular campaign platform. When very little of substance happened--and Republicans were unable to offer the media a justifiable excuse for their vacationing in a time of perceived national need--Truman won a substantial public relations victory for his party, and points towards his eventual (but uncertain at the time) re-election.

With the current Democratic congress scoring below even Mr. Bush right now in public approval, this would be a perfect opportunity for Bush to call a special session of congress (with the vociferous support of John McCain audible in the background) to force the Democrats to pass an energy bill. One vote sent the congress on vacation, and there are still emboldened Republicans giving speeches in the darkened halls of Nancy Pelosi’s Pollitt Bureau at this moment: There’s no reason that that one vote shouldn’t be held over the heads of every congressional Democrat across the nation who voted to adjourn, at least from a tactical standpoint.

hydroplaning towards a brighter future

I have three weeks of summer left with my boys before they both begin school. My oldest will be in first grade, my youngest in pre-school. I’m at home with them during the day mostly, and their absence is going to be weird.

The best way I can describe how I'm feeling is with the following story:

I was in a car accident a few months back that totaled my car. I was driving down a steep hill during a heavy rain, and I lost control and slid into a car that was stopped in front of me. Luckily, no one was hurt, but it was a serious experience. First, when I realized I was hydroplaning, I slowly put on the brakes. They didn’t work, so I tried to drive off the road so as not to run into the cars in front of me. My car didn’t want to turn so I slammed on my brakes,but still hit the car in front of me.

There was a moment between realizing I had lost control of my car and seeing the two less than fortunate futures that awaited me (hitting another car or driving off a steep embankment) where it really sunk in that the strings that I use to manipulate events are really very thin threads. And at that moment, they had snapped.

That’s the closest I can get to explaining how I feel about my sons moving closer to adulthood. It’s not terrible like an impending car crash, but the same sense of fraying threads is occurring. The boys are developing these sharp little minds, and they have these deep wells of curiosity that I sometimes struggle to fill. It’s most noticeable in my oldest son, who is becoming more independent by the day. He’s building models and legos without any help from me. He’s reading books all by himself, and picking up on hidden themes in adult conversations and atmospheres. I can talk to him largely in adult terms, and--with only minimal sidebar explanation-- he can follow.
The evolution of my youngest seems more rapid than of my oldest, because I see him moving through similar stages as my oldest did on the way to where he is at now.

It’s weird, because before my kids, I was really only about living for me. Having kids teaches you--if you’re willing to learn--that you’re not the most important person in the room (not even when you’re the only person in the room). You develop a keen sense of what is good for them, and find joy in their joy and feel pain when they feel pain. When they’re very young, you have them in a protective little sphere where nothing too bad can happen to them. You’re proud to see them testing the edges of their little safe zone, but there’s some anxiety there too.

Of course, this is all premature. It will be a few more years still before I’m an old man doing jigsaw puzzles at his dining room table after work. Until then there is time for countless games of checkers and dominoes, many more bedtime stories, and our stock of band-aids is nowhere near running out. There is anxiety in watching my kids grow up, yes, but there is also hope: my threads are thinning, yes, but in the place of their father’s protective threads my kids are building muscle.