Monday, January 31, 2011

Things I Like About The Republican Led House (so far)

I like the idea of reading the constitution before every session.

I like the idea of requiring each bill that is passed to demonstrate what area of the constitution sanctions it.

I also like John Boehner better than Nancy Pelosi. I disagree with some of Boehner's proposals, but he strikes me as a decent guy, and generally sincere in his political stances. It was touching the other night during the State Of the Union when he allowed himself to become emotional when President Obama paid tribute to his rise from 'sweeping floors in his father's Cincinnati shop' to speaker of the house.

I am often critical of republicans and republican ideas, so I wanted to make sure I wrote about a few points of agreement and approval.

Hopefully, I'll be able to add to this list quite a bit over the next few years.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

You've Got to Keep It Sexy

My number 2 most popular post of all time, according to blogger's stats function, is the following image of my receding hairline:

Apparently, a lot of insecure guys google the term 'receding hairline', and end up at my page. I sympathize with this impulse (as you can see from the above photo).  In the name of earning this post even more hits than the last one featuring my funky recess, here are a few more terms that insecure guys will flock to: penis size. back hair. love handles. Mariah Carey.

You know; whatever keeps'em coming back.

And just for the record: my first most popular post was a response I made to an itchy conservative dogmatist who challenged my claim that there was an underlying racial component to the tea party movement. Not only did I provide ample evidence in my rebuttal to him, I also provided one of his colleagues (or possibly him, using a pseudonym), one of the more unequivocal intellectual ass-kickings that I've had the pleasure of handing out since I've been a blogger. In order to encourage more google hits from folks like Bill Stevens, I offer the following searchable terms: Ronald Reagan in a wet t-shirt, gun porn, and, you're not racist if you went to high school with a black guy, right?

my third most popular post thus far has been a fairly recent one: 'How Atheism Led Me to Social Work'.

What do I learn from all of this, other than the fact that guys are worried about their hairlines, Saul Alinsky was right about the humorlessness of ideologues, and that atheism and social work are not two topics you typically find being addressed at the same time?

It's difficult to say, but I might sum it up this way: you've got to keep it sexy.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Are You Scared?

Laying in bed the other night, my wife and I talked about my movement away from religion. My wife, since I met her, had always held religion at something of a distance, and only engaged in church going to indulge me (I was pretty religious in the beginning). On the subject of God, she has consistently said she thinks there is something to it; on the subject of organized religion and the divinity of holy books, she has always been highly doubtful. If she is the middle, I have traveled from her far right, to her far left during the course of our marriage.

After a moment of silence, she asked me, 'Are you ever scared to say and write the things you do about religion?'

'No', I said after a second of consideration. 'I used to be sometimes, but not anymore'.

There was a time when I would worry--those 3am moments when you're the only one awake and your mind is flooded with 'what ifs'--but that time has passed. The religion I was raised around smelled vaguely of fire and brimstone. As  I grew older, my religion became more liberal--more about 'thou shalt' than 'thou shalt not'--and God seemed more compassionate to me. Kurt Vonnegut's Jesus became my own eventually, and that Jesus wasn't here to condemn as much as he was to point the way. Once I tossed the whole thing out the window, I was pretty far removed from that easy-to-caricature, old-time-religion God anyway.

Strangely, part of the reason that I am not afraid of the reprisal of any possible god for my current unbelief is that I expect that a good god--the religious folk who would condemn me to hell as a heretic and atheist always say that their god is ultimately good--wouldn't punish me for my honest dissent. I find Christianity to be inherently immoral. I have known many, many, wonderful Christians, but my claim is not that it is their religion that makes them good. They are good. If they use their religion to express their goodness, that is fine, but I can't believe that they derive the source of their goodness from the holy bible, which is a mixed bag at best.

The other religions aren't even an option for me. I was raised in a Christian nation, surrounded by Christians.  There is no chance that I would ever be tempted to internalize the myths of any other culture as literally true.  I don't believe in any of the Gods that have been proposed to me, because of lack of evidence, lack of credibility, or both. I am not afraid of the reprisal of any of these possible gods because the gods that I have heard of have either been vindictive, snot-nosed little tyrants, or perfectly reasonable libertarians who seem to trust their creation to get on without too much intervention from them. There's no point in even trying to appease the first kind of god, and the second is already hip to' all that is the case'.

So, no, I'm not scared. I have too much faith for that.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


It just occurred to me that I haven't blogged about the newest arrival to our family yet.

Langston James Troxell, born December 20th:

(Langston, throwing a militant baby fist into the air)

So far, he's a pretty laid back baby. We've taken to calling him 'The Dude', because he only cries when he's hungry, or when he wants to be held, and then not very intensely.

Jack, our middle son, is very loving towards Langston, and spends a lot of time doting on him. Jack is a natural caretaker, and will be a very good big brother. He sings to Langston, throws away diapers for us, and spends a lot of time just looking at him, and laughing at the little baby faces he makes.

Spencer likes Langston too, although he is not as persistently interested in him as Jack is. He will hold Langston from time to time, and even walk around with him, but is mostly business-as-usual. He's a cerebral guy, and usually has his own thing going on. He's nine years older than Langston, and I expect him to be a good resource for Jack and Langston both when they (inevitably) find themselves not in the mood to talk to Abby or I about any of life's inevitable problems. Also, what better way to stay plugged into the zeitgeist than through a cool older brother?

Abby and I are very happy, and feel like our family is complete. For now...It has occurred to me that we're pretty good parents, and that family life is something that we both enjoy. So, I'm not opposed to swelling the brood a little bit more, at some future date.

Stay tuned.

Monday, January 17, 2011

How Atheism Led Me To Social Work

More often than not, when you ask a person in my field--I work in a homeless shelter--what motivated them to join up, it is reasonable to expect some variation on the following answer: I was called to it.

Without a doubt, the religious faith of folks in my line of work is a factor. Whether it was a person who has 'been there' and wanted to give back, or a person full of empathy and awareness of the shortcomings of our system, and got the little nudge that they needed from their respective church, mosque or synagogue, religious faith tends to motivate; That is wonderful, that is fine. We need as many good people as we can get, whatever the motivation (and there are many inspiring religious folk in this field: try to maintain a disdain for the faithful when you see all of the wonderful services the faithful offer in the homeless community; it's near impossible).

I offer my own testimony as both that of an interesting exception, and in the hopes that other secular folk might be inspired to get involved as well.

The spirit that led me to my current station was the realization that there was no other kingdom, and there was no greater glory to be found in the needless suffering of my fellow primates.Learning that there was probably no hereafter moderated many known (and unknown) masochistic tendencies I possessed in my religious life. To know that 'this is probably it' lit a fire under my ass to do something good with my life, to hell with treasures in heaven.

Homelessness offends me on different levels. On one level, I'm offended by the sheer callousness with which mankind can treat his fellows. In a society with a supposed safety net, an awful lot of people end up hitting the concrete pretty hard. I am also offended for selfish reasons. Isn't it obvious to everyone, that if you want yourself and the people you love to be safe and sound and free from the twin sins of want and ignorance, maybe it would be a good idea to make sure our neighbors are safe from them as well?

I feel a sense of urgency compelling me to try to contribute positively to our current (and only guaranteed) situation, and since I am able to do this kind of work, why shouldn't I?

Ideas have different effects on different people. Religion encouraged in me--as I believe it encourages in many people--an acceptance of suffering as part of god's plan, and--sickly--as a gift in some cases. As an atheist, I assure you that I don't look for divine meaning in the suffering of sentient beings. I look to find ways to minimize suffering for myself, and for others, and to maximize general well-being. I'm not working towards a utopia in the sky, or a utopia here on earth: I don't believe in either thing. I do believe in optimal states, however, and think that is an attainable goal worth working towards.

I have met many great people of faith working in this field. It's softened me, and has opened my mind to the possibilities of collaboration with people of different viewpoints and belief systems. Something that has saddened me, however, is how under-represented secular groups and individuals are in homeless service. This is something that I would very much like to see change. If you're an atheist, agnostic, non-theist, bright, or free-thinker, or have some connection to such a group, why not think of a way to volunteer in this field that could definitely use your time, money, and creativity?

cross posted at KOS.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Because I Have Spent All Of My Blogging Time This Week

discussing the social cause and effect of the recent events in Arizona with my blogger pals, I haven't had time to finish my planned Thursday essay. That essay, entitled 'How Atheism Led Me To Social Work', will now appear on Monday.

Until then, please enjoy this picture of quite possibly the cutest kitten ever:

And a song that is appropriate for any occasion:

And, finally, the coolest news story of the week:

NASA has found a giant, 'somehow living', green blob in outerspace. Awesome.

I'll see y'all on Monday.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Andrew David King Weighs In

on the 'obligatory mudslinging' that has followed the crimes of Jared "in-dire-need-of-execution" Loughner.

"But the point remains that it’s more a matter of readily available and early treatment for mentally unstable individuals like Loughner that’s needed–not further restrictions on the tools by which he committed the atrocity. You can keep chopping off all the dead leaves, or you can water the plant for once."


"I don’t have any use for populist rage and witch-hunts, whether they’re of the Beck and Palin sort or the liberal sort, and neither do any other independent thinkers. Just because speech is offensive– or crass, or hateful–does not make it illegal. There is no constitutional right to never be offended, and for that we can thank the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, those supposed poster children for the Tea Party’s principles, for ensuring this holds true on both sides of the fence, regardless of what misguided journalists and pundits have to say."

While I heartily endorse King's 'water the plant for once' point, I do have to disagree with him regarding the restriction of automatic weapon purchases. It's undeniable that we would probably have had a few less bodies on our hands if Loughner had needed to reload more often. More gun regulation may also have prevented someone with a sketchy past and mental health record like Loughner from purchasing these weapons in the first place...but then, if the laws regarding the confinement and treatment of mentally disturbed individuals weren't such in this country that a person almost needs to be in the middle of committing a horrendous act before they can be removed from the general population (or forced to receive treatment), maybe Loughner wouldn't have been able to buy any guns in the first place.

But the overall point--that many liberals are being just as reactive as members of what Bill Maher rightly calls 'The Pee Party' (tea party activists are always peeing their pants over some oversold 'threat to liberty')--is spot on, and needs to be heeded.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What I Take Away From Saturday's Arizona Rampage

I vented my initial reaction to the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords on facebook:

'Alright, I've changed my mind on the border fence: I'll support it, just so long as it goes around Arizona too.'

Viscerally, this was satisfying. It's easy to look for scapegoats, and it's very easy to pin calamity on out-groups, especially when there's--at least--a loose connection. After sleeping on it however, this is where I'm at:

Even if it turns out that this lunatic was a huge Glenn Beck fan, I don’t think it’s appropriate to blame the tea party for this. Crazy, violent people will do crazy, violent things: if it wasn’t some weird ‘currency’ fixation, maybe a Katy Perry song would’ve done it.

If anything should be learned from this incident, it should be the following 3 things:

1) automatic weapons are way to easy to get a hold of in the U.S.
2) We need better mental health services in this country.
3) American students shouldn’t be able to leave high school without some training in psychology and critical thinking: If more members of our society were able to reason clearly, maybe fewer folks would be willing to offer up these ready-made John Birch fantasies for the mentally ill in our society to cling onto, and maybe there would be fewer folks out there ready to cling onto them.

There will be incidents like this in any society. The best thing to do is to figure out ways to make them happen as infrequently as possible.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Sound Of One Hand (In A Fashionable Leather Glove) Clapping

Spencer Troxell: So, the question remains: How many hats does a man need?

Lodo Grdzak: And what is the sound of one hand clapping?

So, that's like, what, seven?

My relationship with fashion has been very casual. In elementary school, I liked to wear t-shirts and underoos with my favorite cartoon characters on them. When I was in a church play in 5th grade, and all of the guys in the play went into the church locker room to change into our costumes--and I realized that I was the only person with the Tazmanian Devil on his underwear--I abruptly changed my style, and began to wear button up shirts more often, and plain old boxer shorts.

Then I read Jurassic Park in 6th grade, fell in love with the character of Ian Malcolm, and because of the following snippet of text, I decided to adopt his fashion philosophy:

"Ellie said, "Isn't it a little warm for black?"

You're extremely pretty, Dr. Sattler," he said. "I could look at your legs all day. But no, as a matter of fact, black is an excellent color for heat. If you remember your black-body radiation, black is actually best in heat. Efficient radiation. In any case, I wear only two colors, black and gray."

Ellie was staring at him, her mouth open. "These colors are appropriate for any occasion," Malcolm continued, and they go well together, should I mistakenly put on a pair of gray socks with my black trousers."

But don't you find it boring to wear only two colors?"

Not at all. I find it liberating. I believe my life has value, and I don't want to waste it thinking about clothing," Malcolm said. "I don't want to think about what I will wear in the morning. Truly, can you imagine anything more boring than fashion? Professional sports, perhaps. Grown men swatting little balls, while the rest of the world pays money to applaud. But, on the whole, I find fashion even more tedious than sports."

Dr. Malcolm," Hammond explained, "is a man of strong opinions."

And mad as a hatter," Malcolm said cheerfully. "But you must admit, these are nontrivial issues. We live in a world of frightful givens. It is given that you will behave like this, given that you will care about that. No one thinks about the givens. Isn't it amazing? In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought."

Wearing all black and gray in middle school was both a boon and a curse: It was a boon in the sense that my decision to wear all black made it easier to make due with only a couple of pair of pants, t-shirts, and big black boots, and because (I thought) it made me look mysterious. My fashion choice also coincided with the rise of Goth-rock, so I became a de-facto member of that clique for awhile (until they realized that I was really just a big, happy-go-lucky nerd, and promplty ejected me).

My next conscious fashion decision came around mid-high school. There was a guy a year or two older than me named Dan Puckett that I thought was profoundly cool: he liked good music, and yet was popular. He had a distinct style of his own, and yet wasn't shunned by the herd. On top of all of these things, he seemed to like me, which was exceedingly rare among the cool kids. He liked to wear crazy, shiny shirts, and--hero-worshipper that I was--I decided to copy him. I don't know how much he minded being copycatted. I distinctly remember asking him one day whether or not he was going to change his style now that a handful of kids (I wasn't the only one) were copying him. His response: 'What, am I going to wear a fucking toga?'

I was still in the end stages of this style when I met my wife. She was a manager at a movie theater that I was working at. I purposefully made sure to wear each one of my five or six shiny shirts each time I came in to watch a free movie in the evenings that she worked, just to display my stylish versatility. She liked them--or at least she said she did because she liked me--and it encouraged me to buy more.

After we got married at the age of 19, I decided my attire needed to grow up a little bit. I began wearing white t-shirts and khakis a lot, and a lot of button up department store shirts. I was also--in an attempt to both elevate myself above other folks and find some kind of workable life philosophy--reading up on buddhism and aesthetic christianity, and thought the more plan look suited this more contemplative lifestyle. What we read and talk about is also part of our personal fashion.

Then I went to college, and stopped really paying attention to how I dressed too much. Function was key. I wore whatever clothes were in my closet, and didn't think too much about it. I stayed in the fashion desert for about 8 years; that's how long it took me to graduate.

Now, I'm graduated, and I find myself thinking about clothes more. I bought a derby, and have recently acquired a pretty nice trench coat and a nice pair of leather gloves. I wear vests, button up shirts and ties, and blue jeans a lot. My favorite footwear is a big, brown pair of wolverine boots. This ensemble may sound like it clashes, but I think it works for me.

I am paying more attention to the way I dress as I grow older. I don't think it's because I'm becoming shallower (although that could be the case), but I think it's because I'm feeling calmer. And more confident. I'm only twenty-nine. The frontal lobes are finished developing somewhere around the twenty-fifth year, so I'm only recently in possession of a complete brain. The hormones have calmed down, and most of the bodies that they left on the battlefield of my late teens and early twenties have been swept up and either buried, or ground up into decent summer sausages. Clothing is fun. Wearing a suit is fun. Because I am still a subversive at heart, the more dressed up I get, the more iconoclastic I feel: I am not someone who should be dressed respectably. Putting on a tie is like going undercover.

So, who knows how many hats a person should own? My guess is that you should either own none, or quite a few.

But that could just be my demon talking.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Everything In the Medicine Cabinet Has Expired

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people."-Karl Marx, a.k.a. 'the serious Marx brother'

For years, my medicine cabinet was full of many useful painkillers. I could use these drugs to assuage fears, narrow my focus, and bat away unwanted thoughts and feelings.

Chief among my drugs of choice was religion, and I am currently two years clean. Most Americans are recreational users of religion. I however, was a junkie. What's worse, as an evangelical christian, I was selling on the streets. Like all lucky users however, I bottomed out, and decided some things had to change.

Much like a heroin addict will use methadone to kill some of the separation anxiety from their preferred (but much deadlier) drug of choice, I guess I turned to deism to help me cope with the loss of a personal god and the promise of heaven; at least in deism, you still have some divine oversight (deism is to emerging atheism what training wheels is to your child's bicycle). But, as Kanye West so brilliantly puts it on his latest album, 'We said we'd drink until the pain's over; but what's worse, the pain or the hangover?' Eventually I had to face down my transitional drug as well. It wasn't nearly as bad as the religion. Once I realized that I was using deism to cope with my divine separation anxiety, I soon got that much subtler beast back under control as well.

And now I'm clean. Totally clean. It's a new feeling. I feel like life I'm a new employee at a new job, in a new town. Yes, from time to time the religious equivalent of my 'booze brain' does come calling, asking me to consider various magical solutions to any number of personal issues. Ultimately, I say no. That atavistic part of my soul, looking for patterns and signs where none exist, is an unnecessary burden. I'm born-again in a sense. These past few years have been my first attempts to look at life through a non-supernatural prism. It's been wonderful. Things that had been dulled by repetitive sacramental consideration have received a new sheen when appreciated for their own sake. Filtering everything you see through the lenses of religion may be exciting for some folks, but I object to it for the same reason Roger Ebert objects to 3-D: It's unnecessary, and so much of the color is filtered out.

Once, I asked a guy that I used to work with--a recovering addict--how many hats I should have. I had just bought a derby, and was a little self conscious about wearing the same one all the time. This guy had tons of hats, so I thought he'd be a good person to put me straight on the subject.

'Spencer,' he said, 'I'm a recovering addict. I don't do the drugs anymore, but the thing that led me to do the drugs is the same thing that leads me to buy hats. It's the compulsion. Instead of feeding it with dope, I'm giving it hats.'

That wasn't the answer I expected, but I think I needed to hear it. I suppose that as a person in a different kind of recovery, I should be on the lookout for what kind of hats I'm feeding my compulsion with. I'll let you know what it is when I find it, but until then, here's to a life without unnecessary sedatives and 3-D glasses.