Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

We Can't Unite Around God

Today I tuned into Glenn Beck's radio show just in time to hear him deliver a message  along the lines of (I don't have the quotation) 'we need to unite around god; our theologies don't matter but we have to unite in our common faith.' etc., and then went on to say that god does not advocate violence and that the god we should find strength and unity in would guide us through peaceful change.

Glenn said it much more passionately and  articulately than I did, but that was the bottom line of his thought.

I am sympathetic to peacemakers, and I am sympathetic to Glenn Beck. I think he's really funny at times, and there are things we agree on.

Uniting around God is not one of those things.

In his quotation (I wish I had it, if I can come up with it I'll post it here), Glenn advocates for uniting around a single god in spite of our theological differences, but then he states that god does not advocate violence.

I would ask Glenn, 'how do you know that?' Because God is ultimately a projection of some aspect of ourselves. The God of the people who flew the planes into the twin towers obviously advocated violence. The god of the old testament (slay the canaanites, stone the heretic and woe be the first born sons in Egypt) clearly advocated violence. And what act of violence is more gratuitous and nonsensical than sending your own son on a mission to be tortured and murdered for the vicarious salvation of others?

There are hippy-dippy peaceful gods made up by hippy-dippy peaceful people, but they won't unite us either. God will not unite us, because we all worship different gods, and none of them exist. When we worship gods we are worshipping ourselves devoid of all accountability.

So, you ask, if we can't unite around God, what can we unite around?

I say we unite--more or less--around the principles that Glenn Beck claims are character traits of his god; namely, belief in  the virtue of honest inquiry (Glenn loves to quote Thomas Jefferson's 'question with boldness the very existence of God' line), respect for our shared humanity, respect for individualism, the belief that all should be free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, and a shared scorn and hatred of tyranny, oppression, and anything else that dampens or limits mankind's potential to pursue those goals. In short, humanism. It's what religious folks are always essentially talking about anyway when they lift up the more 'enlightened' elements of their faith, and at least the dictates of humanism are grounded in reason, and not just dictates bounced from us to some invisible satellite in the sky and then back down to us again.

Glenn is close, but there's an invisible man standing in his way.

"...but at least after death you're not nauseous."

 One of the best final scenes ever:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

You Can Make A Crowd Clap

you can make a crowd clap by saying conservative things
you can make a crowd clap by saying liberal things

you can make a crowd clap by saying there in no god
you can make a crowd clap by saying 'god is great!'

you can make a crowd clap by being subtle
you can make a crowd clap by being blunt

you can make a crowd clap by stroking them
you can make a crowd clap by poking them

all that is fine, all that is great,
as long as you remember;

no amount of wishing can fill a christmas stocking
and a monkey with an erection is always in love.

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Negative Catechism

Inspired by a section from Sarah Bakewell's 'How To Live: A Life of Montaigne', I thought it would be fun to make a list of personal failings and things I'm no good at.

here we go:

I'm not very good at keeping up with regimens; exercise, house cleaning, reading, writing, keeping regular dates, performing regular activities, etc. I don't know anything about cars. I couldn't change brakes, spark plugs, or oil to save my life. I can change a tire, but I don't enjoy it.

I'm not good at baking things; all of my cooking acumen is reserved for the stove top. I'm bad at taking criticism, generally a sore loser, I have a hard time standing up to my appetites, and don't generally like other people's children. I don't like small talk and am not good at it. I'm not a fashionable dresser, and don't give much thought to the decorations in my environment. I don't like shaving, so I don't do it. I don't like to get haircuts, so my hair is often out of control. I bite my nails, and am a nervous eater. I pop my knuckles. I am impatient. I often vent my anger against people who don't deserve it, and am overly annoyed by bad eating habits. I am fat. I am moody. I get sick often. I don't like to take direction. I'm overly ambitious and jealous. I fart a lot. I am overly judgmental. I don't know any foreign languages. I'm bad at math. I'm no good at carpentry. I'm not athletic. I don't know the Latin names of any flowers or insects. I have terrible a terrible allergy to timothy hay that renders me basically useless for two months out of every year. I don't know the names of very many trees. I can't play any musical instruments or sing very well. I am not thrifty. I am addicted to caffeine. I don't sleep well. I can't fix electronic things. I don't like camping, partially because I feel compelled to shower every day. I don't like to play cards. I don't understand magic the gathering or pokemon, or any other card game like that. I'm no good at video games. I'm not a strong swimmer. I walk kind of funny. I often think I'm smarter than I am. I don't like to get up early. I don't like to account for anything I do, unless it's something that I want to brag about. I have bad teeth, am bored by classical music, and have no desire to go on a road trip.

I invite you to leave your own negative catechism in the comments below.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Riot Kiss

This is one of my favorite images ever:

via the elegant ape

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I Kind of Sucked This Week

Now, I'm not a superstitious guy, but on Sunday night I had a dream that there was an angry rattle snake on my front porch. I knew I had to do something about it, even though my neighbor told me to leave it alone. I thought, 'If I just let this thing go, it's probably going to hide in the bushes and attack one of my kids when they're out playing'.

So I went into the house, got a chair, and came back out to...I don't know, chair the thing to death. Maybe I was going to make it sit in the corner or something. You know how dreams are.

When I raised the chair up, the snake twisted around and sprung at me, and I felt a wetness on my arm where it made contact. Then I looked at the snake, which was back in its coiled position. I noticed it didn't have any teeth. 'Thank God', I thought, but then I realized my arm was throbbing. The teeth had come out in my arm! I thought, 'I probably should keep this to myself', and then I picked up the snake (now disarmed), and put it through a paper shredder that was plugged in near the steps. It shredded just like normal paper, except it was green.

Throughout the week, I have had some bad luck, learned about some personal shortcomings that I had hitherto not been aware of, and made some mistakes. Of course, the dream didn't signify that I am actually 'snakebit' or anything, but it's hard not to entertain the thought.

There were good things this week, too. I received some good encouragement from a few respected sources, did a handful of things competently, spent some good time with my wife and kids, and got some reading and writing done. I guess it's just easier to dwell on the unlucky and bad things.

That, or I really am cursed...

Sing it, Frank:

Monday, June 13, 2011

Law School

I'm used to jumping into things, and then challenging myself to finish what I started.

It's partially why I proposed to Abby when I was eighteen, and partially why our marriage has been able to grow with us, and us with it (the other part to our success, if you're curious, is that Abby is similarly driven, and we are passionate about each other).

This cavalier attitude has gotten me in trouble, sure. But it also got me into college, was the impulse that said, 'why not?' to creating 3 beautiful children, got me into the human services, and led me to learn how to ride a unicycle.

I don't back down. It's not in my character. It's a point of pride for me to finish the things that I start. I am driven.

That being said, I am backing down from my latest proclaimed project; I will not be going to law school.

It doesn't hurt as bad as I expected it to. Although I started off in the normal way (announcing to everyone that I was going to law school), the post-manic research has led me to determine that it's not a good fit for me right now, and may not be something I can succeed at (regardless how much I enjoyed Boston Legal).

My family needs me right now, and I've been plowing through projects since I've been married. I've never 'just' been a dad, husband, and guy with a steady job. I've always had some kind of scheme up my sleeve. I've always been working on some arbitrary monument.

But I'm tired. The success demon isn't as attractive as he once was, either; I think I'm more comfortable than I'm ready to admit. But, like the guy at the shelter told me the other day, I'm not sure I know how to be comfortable.

Like all of my other projects, it will take practice.

So, I won't be applying to law school. I'm going to try to maintain what I've already got and stop trying to collect new tricks all the time. Even if it kills me.

Can it kill me?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Public Speaking

I am a decent public speaker. I think part of the reason I am a decent public speaker is that I know I am a decent public speaker. Like a good singer, I know my range; Tom Waits doesn't try to hit Mariah Carey notes, and I'm not trying to inspire the masses like Barack Obama. I'm mildly amusing, I convey information clearly, and I'm likable in my way.

The best advice I ever got as a writer is 'write the way you talk'. Similarly, I can give any aspiring public speakers out there similar advice: talk the way you talk; It's tempting to pick up a kind of speaking persona that isn't your own, but don't do it. Bravado is forgettable. Be real, and people will listen to you.

I've had the opportunity to talk a lot recently on behalf of the homeless shelter I work at, during tours and various events and meetings. It's very fun. It's fun to feel out your audience, and fun to try to get to 'tough customers' in the crowd. As a skeptic myself, I appreciate the urge to throw up a pokerface when someone is talking to you about things that may be emotional, or controversial, or unfamiliar to you. But there is a path to everybody's heart and reason, and it's fun to try different approaches to climb the craggy exterior of some hold-out's indifferent countenance.

A final rule: Believe what you say. Lying is harder work than telling the truth, and if you're insincere, most people will catch on eventually.

Whether or not public speaking is something you're interested in, the takeaway from this post is that you don't need to be a genius in order to be effective. Competence counts. Sure, maybe we'll never be absolutely brilliant at everything we apply ourselves to, but we can at least leave a few scuff marks on the wall. 'anyone can play guitar', you know, or--as my former colleague and blogging friend Malcolm Varner might say--you've got to live, learn, and apply.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Andrew Sullivan Sums Up 'Weinergate' Perfectly.

I agree with this completely. There's nothing I can add to it:

"Weiner has not resigned and, frankly, I see little reason why he should. No one, so far as I can tell, was harrassed, no one was abused, no actual sex even took place at all. I'm not sure one can even find any hypocrisy here. Moreover, if online flirting is unforgivable, why isn't off-line flirting unforgivable? And what really is the difference? Apart from pictures that can be used to humiliate - and even blackmail.

Yes, I realize that one congressman recently swiftly resigned over a Craigslist shirtless pic, but that was a stupid response then and it remains a stupid thing now. It was and should have remained a matter between him and his spouse. Given the result of NY-26, maybe even the GOP is regretting its bout of puritanism now.

...I don't view this as a partisan matter - I find it impossible to condemn Larry Craig out of hand and feel for Ted Haggard. And they were clearly acting hypocritically. There was also a shred of public reason for their humiliation. I don't see any broader argument being invoked here, except partisan revenge.

Should Weiner have done this? For an elected public official, it was unwise, inappropriate, stupid. For a human being, it remains well within the bounds of, well, human.

Yes, he absolutely should not have lied. He should never have lied. But he has now also copped to his lies. It would take a particularly pitiless person to pile on some more. And I am grateful that even Andrew Breitbart seems to have drawn the line there."

Well, maybe there is something I can add to it. I am a blogger after all.

I'm certainly not willing to abandon my support for Anthony Weiner--one of the greatest, most articulate lions of liberalism we currently have--because of our culture's voyeuristic puritanism. Not long ago, I listened to Rush Limbaugh opining the fact that there are no heroes anymore, because our culture is so invasive that it's impossible to keep our personal foibles out of the public eye. He said it destabilizes the country.

I disagree. I'm glad that we are collectively coming to realize the myth of the saint. When we believe in saints, it makes it impossible for us to do the right thing, because we leave 'the right thing' to the saints. 'Who am I to get involved?' we say, 'I'm just a normal person'.

Well, newsflash, we're all normal people, with all kinds of idiosyncrasies; someone has to get involved.

Anthony Weiner has definitely gotten involved, and the country is better for it. For what it's worth, I've got his back.

cross posted at Kos.


I have to amend my title because of this. The new title of this post will be 'Andrew Sullivan Sums Up 'Weinergate' Perfectly, before Summing It Up Terribly'.


Now I'm getting called out for defending Anthony Weiner:

"And now that the truth is out, now that we know that Weiner is a weiner and all the accusations against him are true, do the Kossacks berate and chastise Weiner for his misdeeds?  Do they hold him accountable? Do they admit to being willing dupes to his obvious lies?  No, instead they pretend that what he did wasn’t so bad, that he’s just human and society is being unfair to him (yeah, I’m talking about you Spencer Troxell and your “our culture's voyeuristic puritanism” bullshit. Fucking Idiot). There are the rare exceptions - well done labradog, although so many of the commentors to your diary completely and depressingly miss the point - the overwhelming majority of Kossacks have proved themselves to be Idiots."
 You've got to appreciate the guy's passion.


This post was the second most popular diary over at the Daily Kos yesterday. Pretty cool.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Everybody Snores

I got into work around 6 am yesterday morning, and was greeted with two big, burly guys arguing about whose snoring is worse. Excerpt:

Man 1: Motherfucker, your snoring kept me up all night! You need some of those breathing strips or something!

Man 2 (to man 3): He thinks he doesn't snore at all, but he snores louder than anybody! I just don't complain about it!

Every married couple should be able to understand where these guys are coming from.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"A Pure and Clean Confidence"

from 'How To Live: A Life of Montaigne', by Sarah Bakewell:

"Montaigne's view, on balance, was that both victim and victor should take the path that entailed placing maximum trust in the other--that is, like good Christians, the defeated party should seek mercy and the victor should grant it. But both must do this boldly, with an 'open countenance,' free of cringing and submissiveness. A 'pure and clean confidence' should characterize the situation on both sides. Montaigne would have found his ideal encounter in the scene that took place in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, when tanks moved in to supress a demonstration. One man, incongruously carrying an ordinary shopping bag, stood calm and still in front of them; in response, the first tank's driver stopped. Had the man been cowering or trying to escape, or, conversely, had he been yelling and waving his fists, it would have been easier for the driver to kill him. Instead, the man's 'pure and clean confidence' brought out a similar resolution in his opponent."
June 5, 1989, Tiananmen Square:

Saturday, June 4, 2011


I think all you need to know to appreciate the following is that Jack is the name of my 5 year old son.

This was my wife's most recent status update on Facebook:

"Jack just asked me if we could get a hillbilly. He said we could keep it outside & then let it in later. Kids, the things they say."

It's been a long time since I've laughed that hard.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Atheist or Agnostic?

I call myself an atheist, but the fact of the matter is a little more complicated.

I feel comfortable saying I’m an atheist, because whenever someone asks me if I believe in God, I assume they are talking about their god, so I say no. Their god is a projection. Your god is a projection. If I had a god, it would be a projection too. In fact, I have a model in my mind of the kind of god I would believe in if I did believe in god, and that god is a projection before it even gets out of the gate. So, no, I don’t believe in your god, my god, or their god. I am an atheist, but if you asked me what kind of god I would believe in I could tell you, and you wouldn’t be surprised to see that my god looks as much like me as your god looks like you and as their god looks like them. We could have fun going down that road.

There are some gods that I am not just atheistic towards in my attitudes. I become downright anti-theistic towards gods that create hells for non-believers, gods who encourage and reward faith over reason, and gods who create value systems for the world to live by out of whole cloth. Gods who allow ‘sin’ to be passed down genetically from generation to generation, gods who give us brains and then punish us for using them, gods who give us moral compasses and then ask us to believe things that we know deep inside are immoral and bad for us, and gods who are proponents of vicarious salvation all do poorly with me. I am not just an atheist to these gods: I am part of the opposition. I am nakedly hostile to them. To the god who says ‘love me...or else’, I say...

There are other gods that I feel warmer towards. These gods are nicer, like the people who believe in them. Nice people have nice gods, isn’t that strange? There are no perfectly nice gods though, because there are no perfectly nice people. We all have idiosyncrasies, dark spots, and desires to punish ourselves and people who we don’t approve of for one reason or the other. I find these gods among more socially conscious and liberal people more often than not. There are some gods that make no sense at all to me. These are often found in more socially conscious liberals as well, but usually they’ve made it a little farther along in college.

So I am an agnostic because I know about as much about the divine origins of the universe as you do. I am an atheist because all of the best guesses of all of the best (and worst) guessers seem far less likely than guesses that don’t involve any gods at all.

And I am a blogger because I feel compelled to share every random thought, idea, opinion, or hypothesis that bounces through my pretty little skull with the general public.