Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Harold Ramis @ Heeb

A good interview.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Satan Is Not My Only Motor

Is there a better house cleaning album than 'Weight' by The Rollins Band? I can't think of one. For years now, Henry Rollins has helped me keep my counters clean, and my wife happy. Thanks, Henry. If I can ever return the favor, hit me up.

Now, if you'll excuse me, It's hero time! Time to shine (and wax, and dust, and do the dishes...)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Divine Parenthood

This morning, I woke up thinking about baby Jesus in the manger. Very cute, very hopeful. What a nice story. Babies are wonderful. As a father of two beautiful young boys, I am well aware of the anxiety and anticipation that comes with signing up for parenthood.

The disturbing thing about the baby Jesus story that for some reason I hadn't connected until this morning, is that Jesus the man ends up being crucified (according to Christianity) for the sins of mankind, at his father's behest. That's not a happy ending for baby Jesus.

Aside from the absolutely illogical and primitive concept of the scapegoat, Jesus's story, if told from a biblical perspective, is one of terrible parenting.

I ask you, fellow parents: Would you subject your child to such a brutal symbolic act? I suppose it's not surprising that we're talking about the same parent that asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, allowed Job's family to be murdered, and requested that all parents mutilate their children's genitals to be in 'the club', instead of giving out secret decoder rings, which are much cooler and way less painful.

Since I have become a parent, the erosion of my faith has quickened. Who would ask their children to believe there is a devil out there, always angling to get them? Who would tell their children that they are born in a sin so black that some man 2,000 years ago had to be murdered on their behalf? Who would tell parents of children with chronic illnesses or serious birth defects that 'This is your cross', and 'God only gives us pain that we can handle'. Who would deliver their children into the hands of charlatans and maniacs by teaching them to blindly believe the doctrines of a primitive faith, and to refuse to arm them with wonderful tool of skepticism?

In a Time Magazine debate with Francis Collins, Richard Dawkins said, "If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed." I have not heard a truer sounding statement about God or a possible God in my life. On reviewing the actions of the God of the Christian bible, it's nearly impossible not to come to the conclusion that he doesn't stand up to that criteria.

My Christmas wish this year is that my children remain healthy and happy, and that every parent out there channels whatever resources they have inside them to be the best Parent possible.

Jehovah certainly hasn't set the bar very high, but that's no reason for us to give up on ourselves. In the absence of obvious role models, it's upon us as individuals to step up.



cross posted @ The Daily Kos as 'The Dark Side Of The Christmas Story'

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

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
Fences;
Most pleasantly,
We peed in public pools.
Shamefacedly,
We peed in our beds
And in our good church
pants.

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Maybe The Dingo Ate Your Baby Jesus

Christmas was a big deal at our small Southern Baptist church when I was a little boy. It was, in fact, the event of the year. Understandable, when you consider that John 3:16 (for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.) was the bible verse that practically under girded our entire theology.

Christmas was a big deal: wreaths, gatherings, revivals, plays in full costume, activities, feasts (no dancing or drinking), cinnamon and merriment; all with only a slight whiff of brimstone. There was a huge Christmas tree that stood in front of the baptismal behind the preacher’s podium. Little girls wore emerald dresses with white stockings and red ribbons to services, and the preacher’s nose and cheeks were rosy and red like Santa’s, which seemed festive around Christmas time, but were (in actuality) that color all year round.

Our church’s biggest point of pride was our nativity scene. We were a suburban church, and thus were not immune to the arms race of Christmas yard decorations that only escalated year after year. The secular stuff was easy: Neon reindeer, giant blow-up snowmen. Strobe lit sleighs. The religious stuff took a little more tact.

Our nativity scene was the biggest & most detailed of all the churches in the area. A large, hand built manger. There was a thick bed of yellow, welcoming hay. All of the figures were made of realistic looking wax, and the whole scene was lit up from below by three well placed spotlights. A small fence had been built around the display, and on the weekends--when the church offered free hot chocolate to anyone who attended bible study, member or non-member--one of the parishioners brought in an alpaca from his farm to lend some realism to the scene. Subtle organ music piped in through two speakers at either corner of the set up, and the conservative, white lights that adorned the outline of the church created a perfect frame for our little attraction.

It was a sight to behold. Cars would stop to look at it. It was even featured in the community journal one year. Our whole congregation pitched in with maintenance. We were very proud of our nativity scene.

That’s why it was such a big deal when our baby Jesus went missing.

The pastor called a church meeting to see if anyone knew anything. He had arrived at church one morning earlier in the week, and it was just gone. No one could imagine who would’ve stole the baby Jesus.

Some of the teenagers in the church suggested that maybe it was a couple of Goth kids that lived down the street. No doubt if they took it, it was in the woods somewhere; probably hanging by it’s neck from a tree, graffitied with lewd words and Marilyn Manson makeup.

Unfortunately, the Goth kids down the street were the son and daughter of the local Unitarian minister, so it would do no good to confront them over any part they may have had in the disappearance of our infant savior. The Unitarian minister would say that his children were being unfairly singled out because of their chosen style of dress, and it would create unneeded tension in the community. So that option was out.

But let me digress.

My whole life, I have been a cat owner. I like that they mind their own business, and that you can forget they are there if you want to. Every now and then you will seek them out and pet them, and every now and then they will sit on your lap. Other than that, cats are virtually invisible roommates.

Recently I bought a dog for my kids, and it was a big adjustment for me: Dogs are very needy, and very active. They want your attention constantly. They bark, they need to be taken for walks, and taken outside early in the morning and late at night to relieve themselves. Also, if you don’t want your house to smell like them, you have to give them frequent baths (which is harder than it sounds).

But my kids love the dog, and I like the dog, so I adjusted. I also learned a few things:

1.) If I were single right now, having a dog would be the best way to meet women. Even more so than when you are walking around with a newborn, strangers will come up to you and talk to you about your dog. They will even bend down and pet your dog, and not mind if your dog licks their face. I’ve never seen anyone bend down and pet a baby, and I can only imagine what would happen if they did and the baby licked their face.

Many attractive women have approached me while I walk my dog, in a park or on a trail, and started warm, familiar conversations with me, simply because I had a dog. It’s true. If I were single, my dog would be bringing home the strange.

2.) Everyone’s dog is good with kids. When you’re at a park where there are dogs and kids, and the dog people are communing with one another, inevitably in the description an owner will give of their pet will include some variation on the following: ‘Oh, and Blue is great with kids.’ I hear this all the time. Sometimes people will ask if a person’s dog is good with kids, other times an owner will volunteer the information for no reason. There doesn’t have to be a kid around for miles. It can be two sterile couples who hate kids and have never seen a kid in their life standing around talking about a dog, and the owner will say, ‘Oh, Blue loves kids.’ and the person listening will nod approvingly.

I have never heard a person say,‘oh man, Blue is great, but she hates kids. Actually, I’m surprised she hasn’t killed your little toddler over there already. Great dog, but it sure loves to disfigure kids.’I haven’t heard that yet, but surely, somewhere out there is a dog that hates kids.

I would even be happy to hear about a dog that only humors kids. ‘Oh yeah, Blue is great with kids, but he/she doesn’t really like them. But don't worry. She's really polite about it.

Kurt Vonnegut (whose novels are a big blur to me now) wrote somewhere about a woman who left her kid alone with a starving Doberman pincher, and the dog ate the kid. Edward Gorey made a little book about a woman who dresses her newborn up in a realistic looking bunny outfit, and watches with terror as a pack of dogs tear the little thing to pieces. There are all kinds of horror stories, in both the news and in literature, about dogs. But you never encounter some place in between Dog Loves Kids<--->Dog Kills Kids. Where are the people with dogs in the middle of that spectrum?

I mention all of this dog stuff in the middle of my Christmas reflection, because thinking about this strange relationship between dogs and kids is what brought that Christmas crime scene of my past back into my conscious mind.

The church members shook their heads about the theft of the baby Jesus, but did nothing. We all just assumed it was the Unitarian Goth kids, and left it at that. The pastor put a jar in the foyer to raise money to order a new baby Jesus for the nativity next year, and perhaps some closed circuit cameras. We moved on with our lives.

But thinking about dogs just now got me thinking about another suspect.

The pastor had a German Shepherd named Sheltzie. While the pastor was upstairs in his office, Sheltzie was permitted to prowl through the church, and around the property. Sometimes some of us kids would go up to the church after school to play on the swingset, and to toss a ball to Sheltzie. Sheltzie was really good with kids.

But I remember one day, not long after the baby Jesus went missing, that one of my friends was throwing a ball at Sheltzie in the yard while I was laying in the sandbox staring up at the sky.
“Hey Spencer!” He called.
“Yeah?”
“Help me find the ball! It just rolled off into the woods!”
“Okay!” I said, and I got up and headed towards the woods. My friend was there at the outskirts of the little wooded area at the edge of the property, standing on his tippy-toes looking for his ball. I ran towards him to help out, but slipped on something and came crashing down to the ground. I stood up, brushed myself off, and looked at what I had slipped on. I picked it up.

I was going to yell, “Hey, I found your ball!” when my friend called out, “Never mind! I found it!”

I looked down at the thing that I held in my hand. It was roundish, colorful, and kind of waxy. There was a strange, earthy odor to it.

I looked at it, looked at Sheltzie; so innocently jumping up around and chasing after my friend, who was holding a tennis ball above his head and running in circles.

I shrugged, and dropped the weird little ball of wax, and ran to join my friend and Sheltzie in the field. I made no connections between the object and our disappeared lord. In fact, I soon forgot the incident.

That is, until now.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Peanut Head: A Cat's Life


Peanut Head was old. When he was born, his head was shaped like a peanut, and he carried around an unusually funky odor for awhile. Eventually his fur came in more fully, the smell went away, and a very unique personality began to emerge. He was a feisty and loyal cat. He would leave dead moles and birds on my parents front porch as gifts. He enjoyed walking around the chain-linked fences in our suburban neighborhood, tormenting all of the dogs. While the dogs would bark impotently at the outrage of a feline on their property, Peanut Head would plop down just far enough away from the fence to be sure he was safe, and lick himself in a leisurely, methodical fashion. He was kind of a neighborhood cat, and we're pretty sure he was getting his bread buttered at other houses than ours. He had the system figured out.

We gave away all of Peanut Head's brothers and sisters, but kept him. I'm not sure why we kept him, but I'm glad we did. When he was a kitten (and I was still a kitten), We would play a game together where I would lower my head to just within his reach, and he would stand up on his hind legs and bounce into my chin. He was a good lap cat most of the time, but he had a mercurial streak, which I respected. One time he climbed up into the engine of my mom's van, and when she started it, a fan blade chopped his ear off. He was a skanky cat, especially towards the end. But he ruled the street my parents live on. I liked to think of him as the godfather of the neighborhood's cats. Every so often, he would seem to take some stray kitten under his wing, you know, to show it the ropes. They would hang out for awhile, until the day that (I guess) the apprentice cat was ready to go off on it's own. Peanut Head had a sense of community.

He was around through my teenage years, when my entire body was in revolt against itself. So, as is the case with Pearl Jam and Kurt Vonnegut, Chuck Taylor shoes and Mr. Outt (the cool math teacher), I'll always remember Peanut Head with a special fondness. We always remember fondly those who remained faithful allies even as the mortars fell.

Rest In Peace, Peanut Head. Sorry about the crappy name. You were a pretty fucking awesome cat.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Teaching Your Kids How To Think, Not What To Think

An old essay of mine is getting some new traction over at The Daily Kos. The insights are rolling in. Thanks to all of the Kossacks who are commenting.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Prostitution and Society

A typical response that I get when I tell people that I’m for the legalization of prostitution is the following question (which I suppose is intended to be rhetorical):

‘How would you like it if your daughter chose prostitution as a career?’

To which I reply,

‘I probably wouldn’t like it, but I probably wouldn’t like it if my daughter chose to work at a fast food restaurant either.’

The point being, I would want my child to choose a career that would be likely to make them feel happy and fulfilled. As a civil libertarian, I believe most career paths and life choices should be on the table for everyone, whatever my personal opinion of those different occupations may be. As a pragmatist, I can’t help but think the illegality of prostitution (and many other taboo things) only pushes them underground, where seedy environments and unethical people only serve to worsen matters. I believe that our country’s neurotic history with sex is unhealthy.

Much as certain puritanical attitudes have unnecessarily submerged other elements of our carnal nature beneath the deep waters of repression, they have really tried to bury our sexual nature in a place that only angler fish and dead mobsters will ever have a chance to see it. But as is the rule whenever we decide to ignore a part of our true selves, it will manifest itself later in a way that is often ugly and violent. Our darker aspects* become angry when they are ignored, and can manifest themselves in our lives, our communities, and our public policies, in strange and unsettling ways. If there was any one recognizable theme of our previous century, it was this: The truth will make us face it. What is hid in the dark will be brought to the light.

A section of Marie Stopes’s ‘Married Life’ can be used as anecdotal evidence for this unhealthy attitude. The portion of the book where she is discussing the way a married man might compare his wife to a woman whom he ‘bought love from’ previously is telling on a variety of levels. On the most superficial level, She quotes sources who refer to prostitutes as ‘automotons’, seeming to agree with the verdict, and later in the book seems to endorse the ending of the ‘social disease’ of prostitution, although she thinks the movement would be better served if it possessed a deeper understanding of some of the less obvious perks to hiring a prostitute (companionship, gaiety, sympathy, etc).

I don’t want to judge the goodness or badness of sex work. What I am judging (negatively) is our collective response to prostitution, and our handling of the issue. There is such deep and complex neurosis associated with the issue, that it’s hard to imagine that we all don’t internalize the stereotypes and clich├ęs and negative public attitudes that relate to the field. I imagine that just as it is possible to hold an enlightened view of working in fast food, or in a bank, or as a dancer, or as a wrestler, it is also possible to hold an enlightened view of working in the sex business. Marie Stopes is write to note society’s attitude towards women & sex as unhealthy. For so long (and still today) many view a woman who has engaged in sex as somehow soiled, and woman-as-a-tool-for-man has also been standard operating procedure for too long.

Maybe our cultural attitude towards sex, and towards the role of woman isn’t in an ideal enough spot to give a full throated endorsement to the legalization of prostitution, but I would say that leaving the business in the shadows is worse. It reinforces notions of shame, ugliness, and woman-as-commodity, and leaves the defining of the practice to far less sophisticated minds. Those who philosophize in the shadows are more likely to form and advocate worldviews that will expand the darkness, rather than eradicate it.

So what can we do to prepare our society for the inevitable legalization of the sex trade? Well, conversation always helps. Transparency is a big plus. If we were to fully embrace the idea of the welfare state, we could move away from the sad fact quoted in the popular women's health book Our Bodies Ourselves that ‘…poverty is the major force that drives people, especially women of color and runaway teenagers, into prostitution.’

We are still a Capitalist Nation; even if we are so only in a mixed-model sense**. The deepening of our commitment to the welfare state, where leisure is respected, incomes are equalized, and a strong and well funded safety net is set firmly in place, will not eliminate prostitution, but it will go a-ways to eliminating the base kind of prostitution that is referred to in the OBO quote. A re-commitment to the Welfare state, and an emerging cultural understanding of both human sexuality and religion (both are evolving) will go ways to eliminating what is bad about the current state of the sex business, and (perhaps) ennoble what is good about it.



*Darker, because we keep them in shadows, not because they are ‘evil’ or ‘sinful’

** Show me a 'pure' system, and I will show you a stone slab trying to pass as a boat.

cross posted at The Daily Kos

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald

On this date in 1975, 95 people died when the Edmund Fitzgerald sunk to the bottom of Lake Superior.



My parents gave me an LP of this song when I was around five or six, and I remember sitting in my room and listening to it, cross-legged on the floor, creating mental images to accompany the song's narrative. Aside from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was the first real national disaster to capture my imagination in a serious way.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Old Men Bathing

Old men bathing
Nipples sagging
Pubes, matting.

Steam rising
Eyes drooping
Moustache, white.

Toes inspected
Fingers pruning
Teeth soaking.

Pubes, matting
(Unseen but felt
Cautiously.)

Book pages yellowing
Toilets flushing
Antacids dissolving.

Country music playing
Synapses firing
Eyes unfocused.

Hands over face,
Moisture from brow,
Balls sagging.

Liver spots widening
Balls sagging,
Pubes, dripping.

America is singing,
Children are frowning,
Old Men are bathing.

From 'MULE & HORSE'

Friday, November 6, 2009

Whew...

...It was a long week. Help me out, Miles:



I work with a guy who said he saw Miles Davis when he came to Cincinnati back in the early seventies. He said it was 'pretty neat', and thought it was interesting to see Davis play with his back to the audience. I told him that I had heard Davis would play with his back to the audience in certain southern venues to protest racist policies, but another co-worker interjected, saying, no, Davis played with his back to the audience in order to focus, and to support the band. Again, another instance where I could probably dispel any wrong ideas with a quick google search, but, alas, it was a long week.

Oh, and if 'pretty neat' seems like an understated way for my co-worker to explain what it was like to see Miles Davis, please keep in mind that I'm writing from the midwest, where understatement and politeness is the order of the day for suburban liberal types. My co-worker would've probably described being part of a moon mission or meeting Jesus in the same subdued tone.

So, when I tell you it was 'a long week', you probably have a better idea of what I mean.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Terrible Poetry Jokes

"A horse walks into a bar where Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound are drinking.

BARTENDER (to horse): Why the long face?

WHITMAN (to everyone): I, too, am a horse.

POUND (to Whitman): Shut the fuck up."

-From Terrible Poetry Jokes, by Peter LaVelle

Monday, November 2, 2009

Father Of The Year

When I have a headful of ideas and a half-dozen or so bullet-pointed story boards and first paragraph rough drafts on the back burner, and an inadequate amount of time to complete any of them in, I feel a little frustrated, but in a good way. It's akin to the feeling I had when I was a teenage boy full to near-bursting with semen, and no girl would look at me. I figure this feeling is better than the one I'll likely get at the other end of the spectrum, when I'm all dried up and liver-spotted, and the only ejaculations that will be coming out of me in any sense will be sad, coughing clouds of dust, like the kind that shoot out of the exhaust pipes of junkie old cars in Harold Lloyd movies.

So, until the time is ripe for me to find out what is on the other side of all of that uncarved stone, I'll think about Kafka's Eleven Sons, and appreciate the imperfections in creation, and try to accept that not every job is going to get done, and some of the jobs that do get done may have been better off having never gotten started.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

First Post Of November


The end of Fall is bittersweet, but I guess Fall is a bittersweet season. It's a season for exploring old graveyards, taking hayrides around local farms, listening to Bonnie Prince Billy, Reading Edward Gorey books to your kids, riding bikes, wearing jackets, catching leaves as they fall from trees, and taking late night walks around the neighborhood while the sky is on fire. It's getting too cold to get away with wearing just a jacket or a sweatshirt around town, and the cold air is also making it more tempting to stay in bed too long. Regardless, this has been a good Fall for my family and I, and I'll be sad to see it go.


Trick-or-treating was a success last night. Luckily for the kids, we won the battle over whether or not they should wear clothes beneath their sheer Halloween costumes. It was a little chilly out there!

There are always fewer people trick-or-treating than I would prefer, and many of those that are participating (teenagers)often seem to do so in a mindless, greedy way. My kids (patting myself on the back) 'get it', and it was fun to walk around with them as they 'oohed' and 'aahed' at all of the other kids' outfits, and appreciated all of the creepy decorations.

I love the way the leaves smell right before Winter. Here's to a good November:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

George W. Bush: Friend of the HIV Afflicted

Andrew Sullivan celebrates the lifting of the HIV travel ban:

"The ban has been in existence for 22 years, pioneered by Jesse Helms, resisted by the first Bush, signed into law by Bill Clinton, legislatively repealed by George W. Bush and now administratively ended by Barack Obama."

Notice that it was Bill Clinton that signed this regressive piece of legislation into law, and notice that it was George Bush the elder that resisted it, and George W. Bush who actually began the repeal process. It's not surprising that President Obama is on board with doing the right thing in this matter, but in reality, it was President George W. Bush that did all of the heavy lifting.

Just making sure credit is parcelled out appropriately.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Swiss crackdown on 'suicide tourism' ...

Whatever things Switzerland may be doing right, this--in my opinion--is not one of them. I find it exceedingly creepy that this could even be a headline.

money quote:

"At the root of the Swiss Government’s initiative is a fear that the cheerful Heidi-and-cowbells image is being tarnished by suicide tourists."

Yikes.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Medicine Cabinet Recommends

1. Read the poem 'Fireman' over at Thieves Jargon. It's by a guy named Stephen Williams, and it's one of the better poems that I've accepted in my role as TJ's poetry editor.

2. Terry Gross's most recent interview with Nick Hornby was thoroughly enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the part where Hornby talked about explaining religion to his children.

3. "Little People- A Tiny Street Art Project" is pretty cool, and worth checking out. My dad used to be into model trains, and I was always captivated by the tiny citizens of his train table. I fantasized about having my own train table, not because I cared too much about trains, but because I thought it would be really cool to create strange and surreal worlds for those tiny people to inhabit. This 'little people' project really excites the part of me that is still in touch with the little boy I used to be, but in a fun way that the man I have become can identify with too.

4.Away We Go. My wife and I just watched this movie the other night. It's sweet and thoughtful, with some really poignant and funny moments.

5. Is Epicurus Right About Sex?. I found this link over at Russell Blackford's blog. I spent some time a couple of months ago reading through the literature of Laveyan Satanism, and, in the end, it was really only the thread of epicurean thought that runs through the religion that appealed to me. Objectivism leaves me cold, and I get bored with Nietzsche fairly quickly. Epicurus resonates, and questions about sex are always fun.

6. Logicomix is a graphic novel about Bertrand Russell that I've been enjoying lately. It's perfect bathroom reading. I keep my copy on the bookshelf next to our bathroom, so keep that in mind if I ever offer to loan it to you. Really, the bathroom is my favorite place to read. In the tub or on the pot, you want to have quick access to a lot of good books. Logicomix made the cut for the bathroom bookshelf. That is the highest honor I can bestow upon a book.

7. I discovered The Killer Tortoise via Jerry Coyne's blog, and have't been the same since. You just get a certain sad picture of the predicament of turtles. Eagles drop them on rocks. Cars run them over. They End up in soup. Eagles use their cars to run them over so they can put them in their soup...it's a dire situation. It's good to see a tortoise taking such an agitative & empowered track. Good for the tortoise, and good for America.

8. Get down with the Dicty. What is a dicty? Check it out.


9. And in the spirit of number 8 on the recommends list, here's a song that my kids and I both like:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Climbing The Google Charts

While doing some research on a project for work, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a google search of 'FDR Bill of Rights' puts my blog post on the subject in the number 3 spot. Here's the link, if you want to move me up higher on the list.

What's also gratifying (in a small way) is that I'm higher on the list than rushlimbaugh.com's entry on the subject.

Oh, and worldpolicy.org? I'm right behind you.

FDR'S BILL OF RIGHTS:

"It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens."

-From his State of the Union Address, 1944.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Who I Am

I am taking a Women's Studies course with my sister this Autumn at the University of Cincinnati. Our first assignment was to write a self-identity paper, explaining who we are through the lens of our ethnic/sexual/gender/class identity. My identity paper is below. The last line exists because my professor had made several sexist comments about men--she called us 'simple'--before triumphantly quoting Sojourner Truth's famous 'Ain't I A Woman' speech. The potential for hypocrisy among the self-proclaimed enlightened is never to be underestimated.

I am a white, lower middle class (or upper lower class) male who is married with two children. I am primarily an institutional liberal when it comes to politics, am mostly heterosexual in my sexual orientation, and don’t derive my self-definition too strongly from any tribal membership.

I understand that the above statement regarding self definition may be more easily available to me as a function of my white/male/primarily hetero privilege.

I have never fit in too much with any group. I’ve always been kind of a lone wolf and individualist. I’ve never had a group of friends, but have had friendships with individual friends who typically do not know each other and usually belong to separate groups of friends. I’m the guy they hang out with when they’re not hanging out with their clique. This used to bother me, because the order to conform and to belong/collectivise (my word) seems to be strong in our culture, but I’ve become used to my iconoclastic status. I’m even a little proud of it.

I am not proud to be an American, but I’m happy to live in America. Not because it’s ‘America’ so much as because I’m happy to be alive. I’m not proud of my ethnic heritage, because it’s as accidental as my nationality. I’m a member of the democratic party, but I’m not a sexy liberal, meaning that I think Che Guevarra was an asshole, and tend to spend most of my time in political argument defending our welfare state and neo-liberal foreign policy agenda, rather than arguing for radical change of one sort or the other.

I’m not religious either. My wife and kids and I have been going to a local Episcopal church because we like the preacher (he preaches love and service rather than fire & brimstone), and because neither my wife nor myself benefitted from being members of any tight-knit communities while we were growing up. My wife and I are both black sheep, and we would like our kids to be able to navigate society more successfully than we have.

I may have all of this white/male/hetero privilege in a theoretical fashion, or may be expected to benefit from it statistically, but I think I may have equalized many of those white/male/hetero perks by being myself.

I’m interested in people as individuals, and cringe when people don’t seem to be interested in me for the same reasons. I don’t like stereotypes, groupthink, or strong group associations in people. I believe that I have succeeded in life because of who I am and because of the work I have done, not because of some kind of hidden identity-advantage. I believe that my failures are my own too.

Most of the encounters I have had with people with strong group identifications have been somewhat uncomfortable. My personal bias is to believe that the more evolved minds among us will always rely less on group affiliation, generalizations, and stereotyping, simply as a function of an increased capacity for complex processing. As a function of this bias, I tend to get cranky with folks who view themselves and others as microcosms of a larger unit rather than as individual beings who aren’t guaranteed to validate our personal prejudices.

I’m proud of my role as a father and as a husband. I identify myself as person who is capable of thinking, rather than as a person who is a member of this or that group because he thinks one thing or the other. Mainly, I identify myself as a growing individual, capable of feeling, loving, learning, and creating.

And ain’t I a woman?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Koalas

^
Koala bears are so cute, why do they have to be so far away from me?-Mitch Hedberg
^
Mitch Hedberg's koala routine popped into my head this morning while I was working on a project for school. Being the type of person who prefers to be doing anything but what I should be doing, I decided to head over to wikipedia and do some research on Koala bears, because I didn't feel that I knew as much about them as I should. How much exactly should a person know about koala bears? I'm not sure I can answer that, but I'm definitely closer to the mark now than I was before.
^
Turns out Koalas are one of only a small number of mammals that have fingerprints, so they are not above the reach of the law. They also have incredibly small brains and bifurcated genitalia. The parts of their brains float around inside of their skulls in some kind of fluid, not attached to anything in particular. They are especially susceptible to chlamydia and pink eye (the pink eye is a result of being pooped on by birds while they are engaged in their up to seventy-two hour sleep sessions). So, when they're not passing STDs back and forth like a poorly rolled joint at a Dave Matthews Band concert, they are sleeping cozily in a torrential downpour of bird doo-doo. Koalas: easily the most unchristian animals on planet earth.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Finding A Place For Religion

Browsing through the archives over at Richard Dawkins's website, I found this comment about how hard it is to talk Hindus out of their beliefs. Funny:

"I don't know anything about Buddhism but I was brought as a Hindu and the major way in which it is different from the big 3 monotheistic faiths is UTTER INCOHERENCE. You could make practically any statement about Hinduism and it would be true. Hinduism teaches reincarnation, but not really. Hinduism has a million gods and goddesses, but they are all contained in a holy trinity - no, wait, it's all just one God - no, wait, there is just one god and there is ONLY god and everything from that pebble to the tapeworm in your belly is just various manifestations of the One Holy One.

The best I can say is that it's truly a free-for-all... you can believe whatever you wish and call yourself a Hindu. I have openly been an atheist since I was 10, and I've always been told that's Hinduism, too - at the "highest level" of Hinduism, there's no god belief at all. When Christian missionaries try to convert Hindus, they're often baffled to see Hindus listen interestedly to stories of Jesus and then cheerfully add a picture of Jesus to their list of Gods to worship.

I once challenged my father - who is very into Hindu philosophy - to make a single moral statement that would contradict Hinduism without a doubt. But a very popular interpretation of Hinduism is to believe that everybody, even murderers, thieves, rapists and lawyers, are here to do follow their Dharma (occupational principle) and do their Karma (ordained task), so they're never held *personally* responsible for their misdeeds. Hey, I'm a thief, this is what I do for a living! There are judges and gaolers and policemen whose job it is to throw thieves in jail, sure, but it's all as impersonal as can be, and ideally, nobody is supposed to harbour ill feelings towards anybody else.

It's very frustrating. It's also the reason why it's impossible to debate a Hindu."
- comment left by Wendelin, in the debate points section of Richard Dawkins's web site.

That same element of hinduism that frustrates Wendelin is very attractive to me. From what I understand, one of the core principles of hinduism is that all people create a mythology to explain things that cannot be explained to themselves, and this explanation often takes the form of a religion. Now that I have whittled away all of the fluff and pretension of my former religious self, I find that what is left is small, but significant. No one knows if there's a God. The people I have met, and the writers that I have read (and indeed, the selves that I have been) who admit this have all been much more open minded to new ideas, much more comfortable with themselves and others, and far more prone to take this life as seriously as it deserves to be taken.

The end result of religion's attempt to explain the unexplainable is failure, but I think there is something heroic and beautiful in the attempt. Religion predates science. The seeds of philosophy lie in religion. Religion has been the main way in which we have explained morality and art to ourselves up until this point in time.

And now religion wavers. It has built itself an unsteady tower. The architecture of this final product is surreal, and painted in bold colors. The artists holding the brushes are too many to count. They are people of all sexes and races. Some have painted as a way of seeking, some have painted to project themselves, to find themselves, to honor tradition, to unify, to divide, to destroy. Our fingerprints are all over religion. It's mankind's atavistic tail.

In the end, religion hasn't told us anything about any possible gods, but it has told us quite a bit about ourselves. We want answers and comfort, and will often make them up if we have to. We are creative, we are stubborn, we are flexible, and we acknowledge that there is a morality, and a bigger view to take. Mankind has a lot of work to do, and instead of throwing away all of our old tools, maybe we should keep them. If not to be sharpened and used again, then maybe at least as reminders of who we are and where we come from, and, possibly, to use as blueprints for future designs.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Climate Change

The sun is careless.
It’s a layman in a dark closet
Holding a blowtorch
To a fine fabric.

Were I to look towards someone
For tips on industry,
It wouldn’t be the sun.

But the sun is industrious.

It is a self-contained energy source,
Burning constantly, churning out
Heat and flame,
Blind of it’s own idiot strength.

The sun is industrious,
But it doesn’t know anything
About jazz, or about art, or about beauty.

It can’t even see the stars (those brilliant
Dead messengers)

Through the continuous blaze
Created by it’s own snapping pistons.

Frankly put,
I’m wary of things that promote
Sweat in others,
But do not sweat themselves.

And as it were,
All the best things
Happen in the dark anyway.


from MULE & HORSE

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Outrageous

I'm probably too young to identify with this song as much as I do, but, man; 'I'm an ordinary player in the key of C'. Listen:



I'm beginning what I hope will be a long and fruitful career in the human services tomorrow. I'll gratefully accept any encouragement and good will you have to offer. I'm a little nervous, but mostly excited. My wife has been working full time for the past two years so that I could go part-time at work and finish my degree. I'll never be able to adequately thank her for that, and for the opportunity to spend so much quality time with our kids over the past few summers.

I'm very lucky to have such a solid support base.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Don't Be So Certain

"One of the most important things in life is what judge Learned Hand described as 'that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right.' If you don't have that, if you think you've got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide."-Saul Alinsky

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mr. President: Bring The Evil

Mr. President,

It may have been brought to your attention by now that a certain segment of our country—mainly in the Midwest and the South—think that you are a bad, no good, evil man, bent on destroying our country; or, as Bill Moyers so aptly summarized their feelings about you the other night on his show, they think you are “a black nationalist from Kenya smuggled into the United States to kill Sarah Palin's baby”. The unfortunate thing about this is, of course, that this isn’t an adequate definition of you at all. You seem to be a decent man, not some kind of scheming pawn of some ingenious reptilian new world order plot. Not only do you seem to be a decent man, but you also seem to be a political pragmatist. You’ve conducted yourself reasonably since you’ve been in office, and have gone about instituting your policies in a reasonable fashion, seeking consensus almost to a fault.

Yet these people are still fuming. I think I have a solution to deactivating some of their antipathy: You need to do something evil.

It’s just that there’s nothing very sexy or insidious about healthcare reform or addresses to school children. Once you get past the hyperbole and down to brass tacks, one of these issues is really wonky (healthcare) and the other is silly (school addresses). These people think you’re a tyrant, Mr. Obama. They want you to come after their guns, force them to get down on a prayer mat and face Mecca, or to insist that every American turn their basement into a gay disco once a month. They expect you to force their children into some kind of Hitler Youth/Acorn hybrid after school program. They want to hate you in a really bad way, and you’re selfishly not making it easy on them. You’re forcing them to make so many silly things up about you, when all you really need to do is to commit some kind of small atrocity. Do something evil, Mr. President, just one thing, and give these unhappy people a cathartic experience. They’ll be able to say, ‘see? We told you!’ and we’ll say, ‘well, you’ve got a point. We agree with President Obama on healthcare and Cap-and-Trade, but he sure did drown a grocery bag full of puppies in the Potomac".

These people need to let off some steam. Hell, maybe after you commit your one time despicable act, they’d even be willing to sit down and talk issues (or at least go back to their day-to-day lives watching police procedurals and listening to talk radio). You’re stubbornly not giving them any red meat, Mr. President, and these dogs are hungry. They don’t like having to make all of this stuff up. Creativity is hard, and blind hatred is so easy.

So, get to it sir. Insist that every American put one of those little Chik-Filet car finder thingy’s on their car antennae. Put Spike Lee on money. Smack John Boehner across the face. Take on a few more wives. If you don’t like any of my suggestions, I’m sure you could enlist an endless number of elite liberal writers to concoct something even more outrageous.

I have faith in you, Mr. President. I look forward to hearing you peal out your thoroughly practiced maniacal laugh during your next live address to a joint session.

Sincerely,

Spencer Troxell (a citizen)


cross posted at The Daily Kos

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Medicine Cabinet Recommends

1. For anyone interested at all in addiction studies, stand-up comedy, or honest memoirs, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Richard Lewis's The Other Great Depression.

2. I certainly hope the president caught the essay section of Bill Moyers Journal last Friday.

3. On a related note, check out this video of Al Franken demonstrating his conflict resolution skills in a moment that could've easily become tense:



4. Roger Ebert wrote a wonderful essay a couple of weeks ago about his experience with alcohol addiction. Recommended.

5. Have you seen the film Happy-Go-Lucky? It came out last year and my wife and I just got around to it. It's basically a character study of a fundamentally decent & upbeat woman named Poppy. We drop into the film as she's riding a bike, and leave as she's sitting in a boat. What happens in between is more or less day-to-day kind of stuff, but the key to the film is getting to know the characters, which we do. I liked it. Great script, great acting, big humanity.

6. "Giant Rat Found In 'Lost Volcano'": The headline says it all. A team of BBC filmmakers discovered the thing--reported to be the largest rat on earth--while filming for the show Lost Land Of The Volcano. Nifty.

7. I've been listening to all of my old Elvis Costello CD's lately. It's been a weird hankering. Maybe I'm pregnant. I recommend picking one up (a Costello CD, not a surprise pregnancy). I recommend 'King Of America', but any would probably do.

8. Willie's Reminiscence of his favorite teenage make-our record over at Willie's World struck a sentimental chord in me this morning. The comment I left on his post:

"Good post, Willie. Ah, making out for hours to music. It was such a fun way to pass the time back in the day, but would that ever happen today? No, and [I] think it's a testament to our young innocence that it ever did.

The first concert my wife and I ever went to together was a Men At Work 80's flashback concert, and we made out through the whole thing, which was around two hours long. We even garnered a few jaded comments from some of our older fellow concert goers, but we didn't care. making out was fun, and besides, if we stopped making out, I would've had to think up something clever and impressive to talk about, and I knew that was off the table. I was too ga-ga in love, and witty banter requires a cool head."

9. Gravity: Only A Theory.

10.Okay, in honor of Labor Day, please enjoy this video of the hardest working man in show business, as he earns one of the many paychecks he accumulated throughout his life:




Happy Holiday to all of my fellow working stiffs!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Nothing Revolts, part 1

By Spencer & Spencer & Jack Troxell

preface

Hello! I've decided to do something a little bit different this month.. Typically I'll go for ten posts a month (give or take a couple), and this month will be no different in that regard. The only exception will be that instead of posting pieces one at a time, I am posting most of this month's pieces today, because they are part of a series.

All summer long my sons and I have been constructing a story about the end of the world. It has had very many different versions, and I've posted one of those versions below. It didn't work very well as a night time story because it got the kids all riled up because they were always coming up with different funny and inappropriate things to insert into it, instead of going to sleep. Eventually, it just became a running conversation about another world that engaged their imagination and has now been written down.

I hope you like it. It's called 'Nothing Revolts', and is cut up into nine pieces below.

*As a side note, the character of Francis Coffey is a regular in the stories I tell my kids. They like him, so I always try to find a way to squeeze him in.*

Nothing Revolts, part 2

INTRODUCTION

Lots of people write stories about the end of the world. This story is about the beginning of the world. Well, to be more technical, this story is about the beginning of the beginning of the world.

Let me explain: At the beginning of everything, there was nothing. There was no space, there were no minds, no thoughts, no dreams, no rocks, no flowers, no birds, and no light. There wasn’t even darkness. There is nothing to say about this time, except that absolute nothingness can only be sustained for so long. This being the case, eventually, nothingness gave way to something. That something’s name was Otis. Otis was an organism. He was very small, and hard to notice (not that there was anything there to notice him anyway). Otis was glad to be something. He was the first something ever, which was no small feat. He reveled in his somethingness. But, just as nothingness inevitably leads to somethingness, so too does somethingness inevitably lead to more somethingness. The spigot of somethingness is not easily turned back off.

So Otis was pleased to be something, but eventually, being the only something became lonely. So Otis self replicated. He didn’t do it consciously. In fact, he was asleep when it happened. It was a jarring experience. It was strange. It woke Otis up with a loud ‘Bang!’ Have you ever wet the bed? You know how embarrassing that can be when your mom comes to change the sheets in the morning? Well, that’s how Otis felt when he woke up, except he didn’t have a mom to be embarrassed in front of. All that there was, was Otis, and this new something. It was a little thing; a little Otis. Otis liked this little thing. He called it The Universe. And what has happened since that time is very complicated scientific stuff, so we won’t go into it too much here, because I’m just a simple storyteller. Go ask your college professor about this stuff. Write a letter to the president. Listen to some music and stay up late. I always fall asleep in lecture halls.

So, I can’t tell you all about the nuts and bolts about what has happened since Otis wet the bed, but I can tell you that it follows logically that the more somethingness there is, the less room there is for nothingness. It’s a simple matter of cabinet space. As Otis grew, and as The Universe grew, and multiplied into more universes, and each of those universes gave birth to other somethings (and on and on), eventually Nothingness began to feel a little crowded. Sure, there are things that don’t exist, but they aren’t exactly ‘nothing’, are they? They don’t exist. That makes them something. In fact, things that don’t exist irritate Nothingness the most. Nothingness was okay with Somethingness at first. In fact,

Nothingness kind of liked Otis, and thought his first few little Universes were quite cute. Nothingness thought these Universes were cute in the same way you might think a baby sitting next to you on a long bus ride is cute. But imagine that first baby being followed by a second? And a third? And a fourth? And all the while babies parents seem to move farther and farther away from these little babies, inching their way, smiling, calmly, up to the front seat of the bus. And then, at the next stop, the parents get off! And you’re left there with the babies! And they’re crying, and pooping, and spitting up all over your new slacks. This is how Nothingness began to feel about Somethingness.

Over the years, Nothingness’s feelings intensified, yet Nothingness, as is to be expected, said nothing. When we say nothing about our feelings, they become angry. When we stuff them into the cellar and pile old newspapers on top of them, they get cramped and cranky, their skin becomes pale and their eyes heal over. Their teeth get scraggly, and they become dysfunctional and destructive, like a chimpanzee who has been tied up in a burlap sack for too long. Even a peaceful Bonobo might try to take a chunk out of your ass if you tied it up in a burlap sack for a couple of hours.
So Nothingness did nothing about this strange experience it was having--feelings, consciousness--and it was not properly equipped to deal with it. So it did the first thing any other unthinking mass does in response to discomfort. It began plotting a revolution.

Nothing Revolts, part 3

Davis

Davis was a human boy, about eight or so. He had a dog he called ‘Dogwin’, because when he received Dogwin (a hyper, needy jack Russell/Collie combo), he had just finished reading ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’, and, well, you know how young minds work. Davis was intoxicated with the idea of adventure, and what better adventure partner to have than a hyper, needy, ADHD jack Russell Collie combo named Dogwin?
There might’ve been one better partner in Davis’s estimation. A girl—eight or so—named Gwendolyn, who lived down the street, and had long brown hair, was covered in freckles, and was missing one of her front teeth. Davis would’ve liked to have her on his adventure team very much. He would even let her carry the map.

Little did he know, he would have that opportunity shortly; Indeed, within a matter of days, Davis’s adventure team would consist not only of Gwendolyn, Dogwin, and himself, but also Davis’s little brother Pete, a talking rock from outer space named Sam, a magician called Francis Coffey, and a heat averse demon named Liffick.

Who says there’s nothing to do in the suburbs?

Nothing Revolts, part 4

SAM

Sam, the aforementioned talking rock from outer space, was moving very quickly through space, on a trajectory that would end abruptly in Davis’s backyard. When Davis picked him up out of reasonably sized crater in his backyard, Sam would be a lot smaller than he had been when he had begun his mad streak across the universe.

Why would Sam (a generally easygoing piece of space debris) be shooting towards Earth at such a pace, when he had never left the Oort cloud in his entire existence?
It was because of the encroachment of Nothingness that Sam was in such a hurry.

Nothingness had had enough. Nothingness had become militant. It had bought a camouflage jacket. It grew an afro. It burned its bra. Nothingness was pissed, and it wanted its stuff back. It had been reabsorbing somethingness back into nothingness for millennia now, and it had finally arrived at our Universe. By this point, it had gotten quite efficient at nihilization, and it scared the minerals out of Sam.

He had to find someone to tell about this. He didn’t know who he would tell. There was always someone to tell when things went bad, right? Somebody could always get things under control. Sam was going to find someone. He was just a big rock (soon to become much smaller). What could he do?

Nothing Revolts, part 5

Sometimes, when upset, adults like to say certain words that they learned while they were kids. These are words that they tell kids that they’re never supposed to say. But due to the frequency in which adults use these words, and the emotion that usually accompanies their use, kids can’t help but learn them. And because they know they’re not supposed to say them, they enjoy saying them even more.

Davis was sitting in his backyard, practicing a few of his favorite of these choice words on Dogwin, whose head cocked in curiosity at the spectacular gusto with which Davis enunciated these little spine curling taboos, when there was a white hot flash before his eyes, and a searing pain that spread through his right hand. Funny, that at that particular moment, it wasn’t a swear word that popped out of Davis’s mouth, but an apparent non sequitur: ‘Cheese puffs!’

When Davis came to, there was a funny smell. His hand ached, and Dogwin was cowering beneath the slide. He looked around the yard, and saw a small hole near the sandbox. There was smoke rising from it.

‘Uhhhnnn…’ came a voice from inside the hole.

Davis focused his attention on the steaming hole. ‘Hello?’ he said.

‘ahhh…’ said the thing inside the hole, and then added, ‘huh? Ohhh…oh no. So tiny. So tiny. Mrggg…’

Davis, who was braver than Dogwin, inched towards crater. He put out a few flaming blades of grass with his thumb and forefinger and looked inside. There was a rock. With a face. It was a rocky face, but still, two eyes, two nostrils, two lips, two ears. The cloudy, blinking, and disoriented looking eyes zeroed in on Davis’s face, squinting. ‘…It’s coming.’ Said Sam, and then fainted.

‘Wow!’ thought Davis. ‘I’m glad my parents aren’t home.’

Why was Davis glad his parents weren’t home? Well, because parents are often very stupid. As you get older, you start to value ‘getting by’ above ‘getting it’, if you know what I mean. Davis’s parents weren’t totally stupid. They were actually pretty smart. They were nice, they worked hard, they read books and threw cocktail parties. They were stupid in a certain way, but in the same way all adults who hoped to ‘get by’ were stupid. All adults become ‘company people’ in one way or the other as they get older. What is a company person? A company person is someone who tows the line at work, is careful not to ask certain kinds of questions or share certain kinds of thoughts. A company person gives more money at church every Sunday than they give as tips at restaurants. A company person has joined a political party. A company person folds their socks. A company person is worried about the lawn.

So, Davis’s parents were stupid, but in a totally forgivable way. Davis would be stupid like that someday too. On some level he knew that. But, Davis also knew that there were just certain kinds of information stupid people cannot handle. You can put knowledge of talking space rocks into that category.

Nothing Revolts, part 6

There is a kind of magic available to this world, although most do not know about it, and many of those who do know about it do not know how to access it. The man walking towards Davis’s house knew how to get to this magic. You simply reach into the space between spaces, and see what the other side has to offer you.

How do you do this? You reach between two objects at a distance proportional to the magic you would like to gain. Magic is not ‘done’ so much as magic is given. Magic is not an adjective. It is a noun. When your hand disappears into that space between spaces, sometimes it will come back out with nothing. Sometimes it will come back out with something. Sometimes it will not come back out at all, because magic is handed over by things on the other side. Sometimes those things do not want to share.

Sometimes they want your limbs. Once upon a time, there was a thriving black market on the other side of magician hands. When put in your soup, their fingernails were rumored to have what we will call a ‘potency effect’. The size of the magic that can be obtained is proportional to the space created for the passage of that magic by the hopeful magician. Most magicians begin small, and work up larger and larger immunities to the paltry miracles they are handed from the other realm. They make their spaces bigger and bigger, until eventually, either they are pulled into the other side (never to return), or something creeps out.

This is what happened to Francis Coffey, the person who was quickly approaching Davis’s house with a tall, pale demon gingerly in tow.

Luckily for Francis he was not pulled in. He had heard stories about such incidents, and when a warm, desperate hand grabbed onto his own, he startled seriously. But the thing whose hand grabbed his own didn’t want to tear Francis Coffey to pieces. He wanted to get out of hell. The creature, whose name was Liffick (tall and pale, following lazily behind Coffey), was a demon, and he was averse to the heat. He hated it. It made his skin itch. And hell was entirely too loud. He also had no interest in the torment business. Somewhere throughout time he had gotten a hold of a book from the human realm about a place called Alaska, and thought it would be more his speed; Cold weather & Fishing.

*

Q: Why were Francis Coffey and Liffick walking towards Davis’s house?

A: Because this story would not be as interesting without them.

*

Francis: Come on, Liffick. We’re going to be late if you keep trudging along like that.

Liffick: This is absurd, Francis. I didn’t pull myself out of hell just to be in some silly story.

Francis: But I think we should be in this story, Liffick. Remember too, it wasn’t by nothing that you pulled yourself out of hell; you used my hand.

Liffick: A technicality.

Francis: Come on, demon! Be in this story with me, and I’ll personally fly you to Alaska. You’ll enjoy it. Trust me. Being in stories is fun.

Liffick: Well, I suppose I don’t have much say in the matter, being that this joker keeps typing, and I keep walking. I’ll just hope that I’m destined to end up in Alaska.

Francis: What, you don’t believe in free will?

Liffick: What? Free will? Of course not! You’re telling me you do?

Francis: Absolutely. The story’s not completely written yet, see? We’re only on part 6. He doesn’t know totally where this is all going to end up yet either. Maybe if we actualize ourselves on these pages the way he feels we should, things’ll end up alright, and you’ll end up in Alaska.

Liffick: Well, I suppose that’s a point.

Francis: And besides, it’s the flexible reed that doesn’t snap in the current, right?

Liffick: True, but it doesn’t end up too far from its roots, either.

Francis: Look at it this way: If we upset him, and don’t work ourselves into the story right, he might get frustrated, and stop typing. What would that be like then? No one’s going to end up in Alaska that way!

Liffick: Well, I agree with you I guess, even though I don’t have much say in the matter. Okay then, looks like we’re going to be in this story then.

Francis: That’s the attitude!

Nothing Revolts, part 7

Astronomers all over the world were having a hard time describing what they were seeing when they looked into their telescopes. It was nothing. But that’s not entirely accurate. It wasn’t as if everything had been wiped out of space so much as space itself had been wiped out. There was nothing. Not even an abyss. It couldn’t be compared to anything at all.

-what is it?
-it’s nothing.
-what, it’s all gone?
-No. It’s not even that.
-Move over, let me see…oh…
-see?
-Nothing. Mary, come over here and look in the telescope.
-Did you find something?
-I did. Well, Andrew did. Look.
-What is it?
-It’s nothing.
-What, like in The Never Ending Story?
-No. Just look…
-okay..oh.
-That’s what I said.
-Yeah, that’s what he said…

The nothingness was advancing at all points. It met up with itself where small galaxies once were. It touched points all around. It was so much bigger now. Only one (relatively) spot to fill and all would be as it had been.

Nothing Revolts, part 8

‘Whatcha dooin’?’ asked a voice through Davis’s privacy fence. It was Gwendolyn.
He had been poking the unconscious Sam with a stick. The rock was still glowing a little bit. ‘Hey, Gwen!’ he said. Jump the fence! Check this out!’
The sound of squeaky metal springs compressing, a momentary silence, some more squeakiness, except faster, and then a ‘humph!’ sound. Gwen was now in the backyard.

‘Whoa, damn hell! What is it?’ She said, savoring the bawdier aspects of kid-speak.
‘I don’t know. I think it’s from space! It hit me in the hand and knocked me on my ass!’ Davis said.

‘Whoa.’
‘Yeah. Whoa is right.’
‘It has a face!’
‘You bet your damn ass it has a face.’
‘Holy hell.’
‘Is it alive?’
‘It was like a minute ago.’
‘You’re bleeding!’

Davis looked at his hand. Yes, he was bleeding. The rock thing had scraped past his hand on its way to the ground. His hand was bleeding, and sore now that he noticed it, but this information was eclipsed by the fact that Gwendolyn was holding his hand, inspecting the wound. Her hands were warm and wet. Davis imagined she had been gripping the handlebars of her bicycle rather tightly. He pictured her white knuckles wrapped around the little rubber stoppers, her face an expression of pure determination (as always) as she pedaled furiously towards her chosen destination.
‘Woah, dude. You’re bleeding a lot! You didn’t know that?’ She said.
‘I didn’t really notice, I guess.’ He said. ‘It’s not that big of a deal.’ Davis said.

Gwendolyn nodded appreciatively. Toughness was a virtue to her. They locked eyes momentarily.

‘ugh.’ Came a voice from the hole. It was the rock.
‘Hello?’ said the children as they approached the steaming hole in the ground.
The creature’s eyes were open. They stared intently at the children, thinking they were quite ugly, but would do.

‘It’s coming!’ he said rockily.
‘What’s coming?’ asked Gwen.

’Nothing.’ Said the rock, and passed out again. Davis and Gwendolyn exchanged glances, but were interrupted in whatever they were going to say by the sound of gravel crunching in the drive way. The kids’ eyes widened, and they knew what they had to do.

‘Get something to pick it up with!’
‘What?’
“I don’t know! Use your shirt!’
‘No, it’s too hot! It’s still glowing!’
‘Then…bury it!’
‘What! That will kill him?’

‘What makes you think it’s a boy?!’ Car doors shut. The sound of gentle adult laughing wafted over the fence. Davis’s parents were home.
‘…Okay! Get a shovel! Over there! By the shed!’ Gwen ran over to the shed and picked up a small gardening spade. She threw it—saying that she ‘tossed it’ would be too generous—at Davis, who ducked, turned around and picked it up, and began frantically filling in the hole with surrounding dirt. He tried to leave a little space that Sam could breathe through. The gate to the fence opened, and Davis’s parents walked in. They had bags in their arms that were full of colorful drinks and foodstuffs for the night’s cocktail party.

Nothing Revolts, part 9

It is at this moment in the story that I have some very grey news. I’m not sure I want to tell it to you, but I suppose I have to, since you have already come with me this far. As is often the case in real life, our climax has fizzled out. It has come to nothing. What has happened is this: Just as our planet’s astronomers were beginning to notice the impending nothingness, and just as Davis and Gwen had begun to get a feeling that they were in for something really big, and just as Francis Coffey and his demon turned onto Davis’s street with souls bent on adventure, Nothingness began to recede, replacing everything it had absorbed. It was not because of ennui that this occurred. It wasn’t because Nothingness was afraid it had left the gas on back home. It was because Nothingness had an epiphany, which was as follows:
“I am absorbing things into myself. I am nothingness. If I am nothingness, where are these things being absorbed into exactly? And who is this ‘I’ that I am referring to? Nothingness isn’t an ‘I’. Uh oh, ha ha. I appear to have pulled an Otis. How funny. How funny. I am something. Aren’t I something? Yes, I am.”

And Nothingness (now something!) paused. It paused for a good long time. And then it started spitting things out, and walking backwards.
I’m sorry about that, dear reader. I know you expected something spectacular. Hell, so did I. But as I said, this is often the way things go. You want to battle dragons and rescue princesses, and sometimes you discover you’re just fifth business. You’re sweeping the floors. And that’s okay, because maybe there’s no such thing as dragons, and if there are, why is battling them the de facto best course? And isn’t the idea of damsels in distress kind of outmoded anyway?

Life can mean whatever you want it to mean. It is in your power to view your world in whatever way you want. It is in your power to try and be the best version of you that you can muster. Notice I say ‘try and be the best version’, not ‘be the best version’. This is because all you can do is try. You’ll probably never be that perfect person. But I would say that perfect person probably isn’t perfect anyway. They’re too rigid. Too scripted. I would say that you, whatever you are, are probably way cooler than that perfect person that you would like to be. We get glimmers of the big picture from time to time. Sometimes strange and beautiful things fall into our back yards. Treasure these moments, but know that they’re not the whole story. Not by a long shot.

So, Davis won’t be battling the Nothingness. So what? Battles are boring. There are always battles in stories. I’d just as well have things the way they ended up. Besides, how many kids do you know that have talking space rocks?

THE END.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Less Famous Founding Father Quotes, part 2

"Don't get me wrong; I love being a founding father. I'm just sad I'll never get to hear Elton John sing 'Tiny Dancer'."-Alexander Hamilton

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Baby!

Abby, you know I'm not a religious man, but it's difficult for me to believe that two parts that fit as well as we do came together by accident. Thanks for nine wonderful years of marriage. Here's to many more!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What We Can Do

He was far from a perfect man.

There is a better version of ourselves that we can pursue. There are deeper meanings we can invent for our lives. There is nothing written (worth reading) that says that a person must never fall down or err, or speak the wrong words at the wrong time. We're allowed to fail. It's what we learn from that failure that matters.

Call whatever larger meaning you discover for yourself whatever you want to, but do it the respect of answering it honestly. "By their fruits you will know them". Whatever you think of Ted Kennedy personally, the words he spoke at his brother's eulogy make me want to the best version of myself I can be. Listen:



A few more thoughts:

Everyone will be mulling over Kennedy's legacy this week. We'll hear every opinion under the sun as to whether or not his policies were good or bad*, what kind of man he was, and how he fits into American history. It will all be very interesting. What interests me right now is something that occurred to me on the ride back from my sons' soccer practices tonight. Kennedy's story is a great example of the notion of redemption. Kennedy made many mistakes in his life, and inherited a significant family legacy. It wouldn't have been surprising if he had fallen into a certain kind of despair, wallowing in his own degeneracy and defeat, as other members of his family have done. But that's not what he did. Through a variety of tribulations, he seems to have learned from his mistakes and misfortunes, rolled up his sleeves, and went to work. He fought ferociously for what he believed in, but not in a way that belittled his opponents. He passed a significant amount of landmark legislation, much of which I agree with, and think made our country a better one.

The notion I'm taking away from Senator Kennedy's passing tonight is that redemption is possible, and that a life surrendered to higher notions is a life lived right, a life deserving of redemption.

*Kos has a good piece up about Kennedy that I agree with and recommend.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Going After Glenn's Sponsors

Does anyone else think it's lame of the Daily Kos to target Glenn Beck’s sponsors? It seems weak to me, and it irritates me that it is working. If you want to challenge someone on ideas, great, go to battle. But going after an ideological opponent's well-being, or trying to shut them up by narrowing their platform makes me question the confidence you have in your own rationale. If Glenn Beck has demonstrated anything to us, it's that integrity is not a prerequisite to successful mob incitement.

American companies believe in making money, so they’ll respond to public pressure. If Glenn Beck goes away because of this (he won’t), It doesn’t mean you've won the argument. It means you’re better with the thumb-screw.

Personally, I’m thinking of boycotting any company that gives into the Kos’s bullying.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Reverse Racism

The other day as I was driving to work I heard a caller to a local talk radio show refer to a particular black public figure as a 'reverse racist', and a wire was tripped in my mind.

The phrase 'reverse racism/reverse racist' is a silly meme that is often employed by white racists to describe racist actions perpetrated by (usually) black people. Usually, the so-called ‘reverse racist’ act is some kind of tame or ironic observation, often the so-called ‘reverse racist’ is somehow calling out some kind of institutional white racism, or has been embroiled in a controversy for standing up for themselves against such mechanisms. Sometimes, the ‘reverse racist’ is actually a racist, or has actually committed a racist act(and the offended white person, who is more desperate to call a black person out on racism because they feel that somehow the crimes of the white power structure throughout history have been piled heavy upon their shoulders. They feel that the insistence of our current society to ‘be nice’ and judge people ‘by the content of their character, not the color of their skin’ is somehow an undue burden). People who call out ‘reverse racism’ are the same people who can also be heard saying ‘I’m not racist, but…’. These people have black friends. When asked around black people who their favorite actor is, they may say ‘Denzel Washington’, or ‘Will Smith’, if they’re feeling ecumenical.

The problem at hand is, however, a linguistic one. Even if the label of ‘reverse racist’ is actually applied to a real racist (there are racist black people), the term ‘reverse racist’ is confusing. If a person is racist, they are racist. Wouldn't a 'reverse racist' be someone who goes out of their way to help a person of a different race, or to erase an existing racial barrier?

There’s something weird going on under the surface of the 'reverse racist' label. It seems to imply that racism originated with white people, and any other kind of racism is somehow reactionary racism, impure racism. In one sense, you could think of it as a preference by the claimant for David Lee Roth to Sammy Hagar.

All people are subject to tribal urges, to a greater or lesser degree. Some folks have stronger, more malicious strains than others, with the focal point ranging anywhere from ideology to geography to race. If someone is being racist, feel free to acknowledge it. But please, try to respect your native language by not infusing it with unnecessary silliness (people who call out ‘reverse racists’ are often the same people who feel horribly oppressed at their being a Spanish option when they call customer service*).

If you are white and were offended by this post, let me ask you this: when a black person (public citizen or private) is acting in a ‘racist’ way, among your group of friends/families/associates, are you usually the first person to notice it? Just curious.



*On a (somewhat) unrelated note, aren’t you glad that the Brits are starting to stand up for their healthcare system? It’s about time.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What's The Other Guy Saying?

In an interview with Sean Hannity to promote his current book ‘God Is Not Great’, Christopher Hitchens was forced to observe, ‘You give me the awful impression, I hate to have to say it, of someone who hasn’t read the arguments against your own positions’.

And so it seems to be as well for a widening portion of our population. There are men and women who have made a living turning their ideological opponents into straw men, and then handing those straw men off to an enraged and unhappy herd for destruction ritual. This method of making a living has spread as larger and larger chunks of the American population seem to seek out confirmation of their own biases and suspicions, putting membership in some mythologized tribe above what is right (and even what is true).

Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot give you credit for hearing the arguments of your opponents as repeated by your favorite populist rage outlet. Liberals, Moveon.org is not a good place to read about what Rush Limbaugh is saying. Conservatives, Rush Limbaugh is not a good place to hear about the most recent piece of legislation being supported by the Obama administration. There are usually smart people on both sides of any issue (if indeed there are only two sides!) And Rush Limbaugh and Moveon.org are not among them. It’s not that they aren’t smart (they are), it’s just that they act in bad faith. They have a victory other than the spreading of raw truth in mind, and their particular success depends greatly on the degree of inflammation they can inspire in your heart.

There are thoughtful and honest people of all ideological stripes out there, but they’re often drowned out by the circus of louder and more entertaining voices. Whatever side you may hold on any number of issues may be the best position, but please, consider your sources before you take action, or open your mouth. The voice of Authority, be it that of a founding father or religious text, is not a sufficient buttress for an intelligent argument. The facts must be looked at. Contrary opinions must be examined in a fair way. There has to be discussion. We must understand in a larger sense, that we are human animals, and are subject to some very powerful reaction cues and genetic motivations. Above all, seek to understand yourself.

Whatever position you decide to take on any issue, remember to ask yourself what the other guy is saying, and to sincerely seek out the most reasonable iteration of that stance.

Your best mind does not lie in your gut, and there is no device as liable to affirm your own secret wishes and suspicions as prayer.



My friend Phil has more to say on the subject. See here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bob Inglis Should Be The Republican Face Of The Healthcare Debate

The people of South Carolina should be proud to have someone like Bob Inglis representing them. The Republican party needs to churn out some more leaders like this:



This guy should run for president.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is This Your God?

So, my youngest son comes running into the kitchen this morning saying, 'Come here, daddy! Come with me! You've got to see this!', and I can hear my oldest son yelling from the bathroom, 'Seriously, Daddy! Check this out!'

I let my four year old lead me down the hallway to the bathroom. There's an excitement in the air. My little boy lets go of my hand and runs up to a strip of wallpaper that had been torn away a few days prior. He points to a black smudge on the wall and says, 'It's Jesus!'

My oldest says 'It is!' in enthusiastic assent. I squint and lean in. I see exactly what they're talking about. 'Huh. Wow. That does look like Jesus!' So I sent my wife a pic message of our little miracle. 'OMG!' she replied. 'It's Jerry Garcia!'

My son asked me if I thought it was really Jesus on our bathroom wall. 'Well,' I said, striking my best Ward Cleaver tone, 'It seems like a strange way for Jesus to make contact with us, don't you think?'


'So you don't think it's real?' my son asked.

'I don't.' I said. ' No. I think we just notice things that look like faces. Like those creepy faces I showed you in the wood panel in grandma's basement. It's part of our programming to notice patterns. Plus, remember that we just watched that episode of 'This American Life' where they were taking pictures of Jesus in the sun? And then we saw 'Henry Poole Was Here' a few weeks before? Your mind was primed to see something like this.' I also said something about evolution creating moths with wings that could fool predators into thinking they were large, threatening eyes. 'That makes sense.' he said. 'But why do the faces usually have a beard?'
I didn't have an answer for him at the moment*. I just said, 'hm. That's interesting. It does seem like the faces always have a beard.' I looked at my son, he looked at me, and we both shrugged our shoulders.

We'll be papering over Jesus by the week's end. I really don't like the idea of the good lord watching me while I use the toilet.




*I've since decided that the reason we hear more about Jesus and Lady Fatima appearing on Grilled cheese sandwiches and in water stains is probably because religious people are more likely to be on the look-out for signs, and are probably more subject to confirmation bias in that area. Also, who would report that Harold Lloyd had appeared in their oatmeal?