Friday, December 21, 2007

On the subject of religious hypocrisy

Why is there such a big gap between what we say and what we do?

My wife is going to hate me for again using one of her best friends as an anecdote, but I can't help it. She's a living, breathing object lesson. This friend, an evangelical, had a conversation with my wife yesterday lamenting that Jesus is the "reason for the Season" (if someone says that to my face, I'm going to punch them in the neck ... or I would if I wasn't non-violent). In the same conversation she talked about how she's getting a thousand dollar gun safe for her husband and spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on their already spoiled son. Plus, she complained that her husband probably wasn't going to get her anything good for Christmas.

In the later course of the conversation, my wife mentioned to her that we had tried to cut down on presents this Christmas and had given $400 to our son's school. Before you nominate us for sainthood for doing so, realize that we did it because it was smart, not because we're Warren frickin' Buffet. You can donate to Arizona public schools ($200 for one person or $400 for a couple filing jointly) and get a dollar-for-dollar credit. This is way better than a deduction in that it is money directly off of your tax liability. Plus, you can direct into which programs that it goes. In this case, we told them to use it for any arts-based extracurricular activities.

My wife's friend said that sounded interesting but they just couldn't afford to do that ...... wah? This is the same person who 10 minutes earlier was talking about the thousand-dollar gun safe. For someone to say something like that with no apparent sense of irony is incredible. And, unfortunately, it is not rare. Talking out of both sides of one's mouth is an art that I'm having less and less patience for. Being "Christian" seems to be more about a political movement than a religious one. The bible is selectively touted to justify your prejudice but ignored when it comes to the passages about caring for your neighbor and the poor.


On leaving one of my clients this week, she commented "Merry Christmas ... I AM going to say "Merry Christmas" regardless of what anyone says." She had worked herself into a lather ... not at me, but at "them"." She'd obviously must have just watched the O'Reilly Factor or had received some action item e-mail from Focus on the Family.

This was another of those instances where I just wanted to scream. If I have one more person complain about the "War on Christmas", I may just have to renounce my vow of non-violence. Have you ever complained about someone saying "Merry Christmas" to you? Who has ever known someone who complained about someone saying "Merry Christmas" to them? No one. It's a nonexistent controversy. People can say "Merry Christmas", "Happy Hanukkah", "Happy Holidays", "go piss up a rope", whatever. It won't bother me, because I know, generally, that they are all meant as a kind greeting. But this lady, and others who are so weak-minded as to believe anything they hear, are using "Merry Christmas" as a rallying cry. You'd think they were blacks marching in Alabama in the 60's or were breaking down the Berlin Wall. They can't accept they are the pampered majority so they have to make martyrs out of themselves. But I didn't say any of this to the lady. It would have just reinforced her martyrdom. So, I just said, "Taqabbala Allahu minna wa minkum" and "Joyous Yule" ... OK, I didn't, but I should have.


I think if the true message of Christ was followed by Christians, you wouldn't have screwed-up stories like I just recounted. But people believe what they want to believe. If they don't want to be giving, they'll think up a way to justify that. If they don't want to be tolerant of other religions, of gays, of minorities, they'll think up a way to justify that. And there will be focus groups and pundits who will be more than happy to create controversies that reinforce their beliefs. Because they have a vested financial and egotistical interest in a stoked-up culture war. It's political, not religious. It's not about religious freedom - it's about freedom to shove your particular belief down everyone's throat. Why don't you worry about real injustices in the world instead of creating fake ones?

"That's the true spirit of Christmas; people being helped by people other than me." -- Seinfeld

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Golden Compass

I'm really torn between the evisceration of this movie that it has been getting by some critics and the general approval of the same by CK. I see the valid points of both. The movie does take a lot of liberties with the source material, most notably the order of things and omission of the last few chapters.

And I don't know if my approval is just a product of me being happy to see the transfer to screen of a story that I like. I'm not like a lot of sci-fi fans who bitch about how movies mangle the stories they are based on. I actually liked David Lynch's Dune, though I have to admit it's an ambitious mess. I was just thrilled to see the visualization of one of my favorite novels of all time.

I cannot criticize the look of the movie. I think they did a good job with the daemons, with the bears, with the witches, etc. I cannot criticize the casting - cherry-picking from Casino Royale (Daniel Craig, Eva Green) and LOTR (Ian McKellan, Christoper Lee) and Sam Elliot playing ... well, Sam Elliot. But he's very likable and it's fitting for the role.

Another criticism of the movie by others is that it waters down the message of the books by not calling out the church by name. I don't agree with this criticism. Watching the movie, you'd have to be a moron not to understand what they are really talking about. Generously sprinkling terms such as "free inquiry" and "free will", the point is still made.

Illustrating complicated plot points from the book in a two hour movie is also a problem. So you have characters awkwardly explaining those plot points. This makes the movie a bit talky but I don't know how you can get around that short of having some kind of narration.

I'm not saying that the movie couldn't have been better. It would have been interesting to see what a director like Alfonso Cuaron or Guillermo del Toro could have done with this material. But I still liked it. Grade: B-


Good news on the fantasy/sci-fi front - the rumored Hobbit movie IS going to happen. Peter Jackson will be involved in one way or another. And even better, there will actually be 2 movies. One covering the Hobbit and another, I imagine, spanning the time difference between the Hobbit and the start of Lord of the Rings. For a lot more info on all this, check out Reel Fanatic's write-up

I'm going to try and post my year-end top 10 movies and top 10 acting performances of the year tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

She was a good truck ...

She lived a long hard life -

- 3 major accidents

- 210,000 miles, 12 years

- helped dozens of friends move

- went fishing in Minnesota, went tubing on the Salt River

Gone is my out-dated Janet Napolitano for governor and Jim Pederson for Senate '06 stickers (which are stuck on even older Kerry/Edwards '04 stickers). Gone is my Iowa State and Sierra Club stickers.

I hate cars, but I hated this one less than most.

Taken from me before I was ready because of a bonehead hitting me from behind. Oh well. Hopefully, from this very blog you'll hear of me getting something cool like a Prius or Smart Car. Or maybe you'll hear of me forsaking my driving ways altogether and doing something that doesn't require me to flit about Phoenix all the time and endanger myself and the planet. Who knows. For now, we'll see how long that we can share a car and still do our jobs. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Short Attention Span Theater

Since I seem to be unable to give a bunch of time to any one subject lately, I'll give a little time to several:

Atheism for Kids? -- I haven't finished the book yet and have yet to see the movie, but I'm diggin' the controversy of 'The Golden Compass'. Articles lead with the scary title - "Golden Compass - Atheism for Kids?". Ooh, I hope so. As usual, Christians create a mountain out of a mole hill. Pullman's stories are more anti-Catholic than anti-Christian. But if these stories and movie get a few kids to question blindly following any doctrine, then I'll be happy. I know full well that most of the people making a big deal have not read the books or seen the movie.

I hate cars -- Now, I hated them before the last couple of weeks but getting unceremoniously rear-ended at a stop light two weeks ago cinches it. It screwed up my truck and I'm playing the always enjoyable insurance company dance. Did I mention that I also hate insurance companies? They deserve their own special circle of hell.

Movies -- There are a lot of good movies out there right now. I've yet to see 'American Gangster' and I want to see 'Juno', 'Sweeney Todd', 'Charlie Wilson's War', 'I am Legend',etc. when they come out. I'm going to try and go on a cinematic binge in the next couple of weeks so that I can have some good ammo for a year-end Top 10. Count on the following movies that I've already seen this year probably being in that list: 'Into the Wild', 'No Country for Old Men', 'Michael Clayton', '3:10 to Yuma'. 'Into the Wild' leads in nominations for the just announced The Critics Choice Awards.

I don't heart Huckabee - I truly, deeply feel sorry for anyone that thinks the future of our country should reside with a religious nutjob who thinks that AIDS patients should be quarantined and that 'wives should graciously submit to their husbands' . I vote for quarantining these zealots - an evangelical Ava Maria, if you will.

Books -- Writers should go on strike more often. I am getting a lot more read lately because I'm not parking myself mindlessly in front of the TV as much. Recent reads: 'Golden Compass' by Phillip Pullman (in progress), 'Death of a Revolutionary: Che Guevara's Last Mission' by Richard L. Harris, 'Into the Wild' by Jon Krakauer, and 'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Safe from what?

A few years back, we were looking at new housing developments and we had narrowed it down to two locations. The first location was a gated area, the 2nd was not. That first property was on our list not because of being gated, but rather, despite it. Ultimately, it was one of the deciding factors in us choosing against it. How we looked at it is not the norm, however. A recent article by Barbara Ehrenreich of the Nation has an interesting take on gated areas:

McMansions Meet the Mortgage Crisis
by Barbara Ehrenreich

Another utopia seems to be biting the dust. ... the paranoid residential ideal represented by gated communities may be in serious trouble. Never exactly cool–remember Jim Carrey in The Truman Show?–these pricey enclaves of privilege are becoming hotbeds of disillusionment.

At the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington last week, incoming association president Setha M. Lowe painted a picture so dispiriting that the audience guffawed in schadenfreude. The gated community residents Lowe interviewed had fled from ethnically challenging cities, but they have not managed to escape from their fear. One resident reported that her small daughter has developed a severe case of xenophobia, no doubt communicated by her parents:

We were driving next to a truck with some day laborers and equipment in the back, and we stopped beside them at the light. She [her daughter] wanted to move because she was afraid those people were going to come and get her. They looked scary to her.

...gated communities are no less crime-prone than open ones, and Gopal Ahluwalia, senior vice president of research at the National Association of Home Builders, confirms this: “There are studies indicating that there are no differences in the crime in gated communities and non-gated communities.” The security guards often wave people on in, especially if they look like they’re on a legitimate mission ... Or the crime comes from within ...

Most recently, America’s gated communities have been blighted by foreclosures ... So, for people who sought, not just prosperity, but perfection, here’s another sad end to the American dream, or at least their ethnically cleansed version thereof: boarded-up McMansions, plastic baggies scudding over overgrown lawns, and, in the Orlando case, a foreclosure-induced infestation of snakes. You can turn away the Mexicans, the African-Americans, the teenagers and other suspect groups, but there’s no fence high enough to keep out the repo man.

All right, some gated communities are doing better than others, and not all of their residents are racists. The communities that allow owners to rent out their houses, or that offer homes at middle class prices of $250,000 or so, are more likely to contain a mixture of classes and races. The only gated community I have ever visited consisted of dull row houses protected by a slacker guard and a fence, and my host was a writer of liberal inclinations. But all these places suffer from the delusion that security lies behind physical barriers.

Before we turn all of America into a gated community, with a 700-mile steel fence running along the southern border, we should consider the mixed history of exclusionary walls. Ancient and medieval European towns huddled behind massive walls, only to face ever-more effective catapults, battering rams and other siege engines. More recently, the Berlin Wall, which the East German government described fondly as a protective “anti-fascism wall,” fell to a rebellious citizenry. Israel, increasingly sealed behind its anti-Palestinian checkpoints and wall, faced an outbreak of neo-Nazi crime in September–coming, strangely enough, from within.

But the market may have the last word on America’s internal gated communities. “Hell is a gated community,” announced the Sarasota Herald Tribune last June, reporting that market research by the big homebuilder Pulte Homes found that no one under fifty wants to live in them, so its latest local development would be un-gated. Security, or at least the promise of security, may be one consideration. But there’s another old-fashioned American imperative at work here, which ought to bear on our national policies as well. As my Montana forebears would have put it: Don’t fence me in!

It seems that in our fear-mongering society, we try to achieve security through building fences instead of engaging our community. In the world community, we are making the same mistakes - building fences and failing to engage our world neighbors. The places where I have felt the safest were those where neighbors knew each other - where if you had a problem with someone, you'd go talk to them civilly.

Are people wrong for wanting safety for their family? No. Are they wrong in thinking that ethnic and economic homogeny produce this desired safety? Yes. People are looking for "safety" from immigrants, from low-income people. They are using security concerns to justify xenophobia and racism. Again, they are taking their cue from our country's leaders who do the same on the world stage.

The post-war suburbanization of our society gave us the illusions of security, privacy and space. But it took away our connectedness. War, the environment, poverty - it's all connected. We overvalue material things and undervalue people and nature. Instead of building walls, we should be knocking them down.

"As long as our civilization is essentially one of property, of fences, of exclusiveness, it will be mocked by delusions." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, December 03, 2007


I keep thinking I'm going to have a bit of time to write extensive reviews for some recent movies I've seen (and albums I've bought) but it just ain't gonna happen. So, here are the Cliff Notes versions:

No Country for Old Men I love the Coen brothers and they are probably my 2nd favorite directors behind Kubrick. Fargo has always been my favorite of their movies(Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou? after that). Add No Country for Old Men to that group. It's sparseness, lack of dialog and great cinematography is evocative of Fargo but this movie is definitely it's own animal. While on the surface it's a crime drama involving a triad of great actors (Jones, Bardem and Brolin) chasing each other, it's really about us and what we value and how screwed-up values can ruin people's lives. The great thing about the movie is that it works on both levels mainly because of the strength of those actors and the deft hand of the Coens. Kelly McDonald (Trainspotting), Stephen Root (NewsRadio, Office Space) and Woody Harrelson all give great supporting performances. Grade: A-

For a much better review of the movie than mine, check out Wunelle's blog:

No Movie for Sissies

Raising Sand - Robert Plant/Alison Krauss - Putting the lead singer of "the" definitive rock band together with a bluegrass legend doesn't seem logical or a recipe for success. But producer T Bone Burnett doesn't follow trends, he creates them. He was the genius behind the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and pretty much singlehandely made bluegrass cool. Well, he's struck gold again. Picking a mixture of old rock songs and country songs that are thematically dark, Krauss and Plant both step outside of their comfort zone and create a great album. I've heard they are going to tour in the spring and will even dust off some Zep songs. Count me in. I love Krauss and Led Zeppelin and would pay money to see her put her spin on some classics.

Bee Movie - Oddly, the start of the movie made me think of Into the Wild. Having just graduated from Bee school, the title character, voiced by Jerry Seinfeld, seeks to break out of the expectations that his family and society have placed on him. Granted, he doesn't hitchhike around the southwest and die of starvation in a bus. But other than that, it's the same.

I didn't expect much of this movie and mostly just went because I wanted to go to a movie with the kid and this one was the only appropriate one. But I liked the movie. Sting and Ray Liotta give funny cameos and all the main voice actors (Seinfeld, Zellweger, Broderick, Rock) do a good job. By no means high art, but an entertaining movie with a decent message. Grade: B (get it? I gave it a "bee". hoo-hoo, I kill me)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


"Today a reader, tomorrow a leader." -- Margaret Fuller

As a parent, most of the time, you feel pretty clueless. You do the best you can, try to instill good habits and manners with your child without stunting their creativity. So, it's gratifying when you have those seemingly spontaneous moments where it is obvious that you must have been doing at least something right. One of those occasions was last night about 7:00. It's prime TV viewing time and all three of us are sitting in the family room reading books ... by choice. Alex, at 6 years old, has become a voracious reader and is reading well beyond his age level. He'll probably be reading Harry Potter books within a year.

He could have been playing a game on a computer or watching TV, but he chose to read. But this is not the rule for most kids these days. I was listening to NPR the other day and they spoke of a recent National Endowment for the Arts study which I have excerpted here:

Washington, DC -- Today, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announces the release of To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence, a new and comprehensive analysis of reading patterns in the United States. To Read or Not To Read gathers statistics from more than 40 studies on the reading habits and skills of children, teenagers, and adults. The compendium reveals recent declines in voluntary reading and test scores alike, exposing trends that have severe consequences for American society.

"The new NEA study is the first to bring together reliable, nationally representative data, including everything the federal government knows about reading," said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. "This study shows the startling declines, in how much and how well Americans read, that are adversely affecting this country's culture, economy, and civic life as well as our children's educational achievement."

... Among the key findings:

Americans are reading less - teens and young adults read less often and for shorter amounts of time compared with other age groups and with Americans of previous years.

Less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers, a 14 percent decline from 20 years earlier. Among 17-year-olds, the percentage of non-readers doubled over a 20-year period, from nine percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004.

On average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend almost two hours a day watching TV, and only seven minutes of their daily leisure time on reading.

Americans are reading less well – reading scores continue to worsen, especially among teenagers and young males. By contrast, the average reading score of 9-year-olds has improved.

Reading scores for 12th-grade readers fell significantly from 1992 to 2005, with the sharpest declines among lower-level readers.

2005 reading scores for male 12th-graders are 13 points lower than for female 12th-graders, and that gender gap has widened since 1992.

Reading scores for American adults of almost all education levels have deteriorated, notably among the best-educated groups. From 1992 to 2003, the percentage of adults with graduate school experience who were rated proficient in prose reading dropped by 10 points, a 20 percent rate of decline.

The declines in reading have civic, social, and economic implications – Advanced readers accrue personal, professional, and social advantages. Deficient readers run higher risks of failure in all three areas.

Nearly two-thirds of employers ranked reading comprehension "very important" for high school graduates. Yet 38 percent consider most high school graduates deficient in this basic skill.

American 15-year-olds ranked fifteenth in average reading scores for 31 industrialized nations, behind Poland, Korea, France, and Canada, among others.

Literary readers are more likely than non-readers to engage in positive civic and individual activities – such as volunteering, attending sports or cultural events, and exercising ...

The show went on to discuss the fact that reading online items is not a substitute. Studies of children who spend equal amounts of time online but one group also reads recreationally finds that the offline readers have drastically better reading comprehension and school performance.

So, for those people that think visiting everyday is all the reading you need, you are kidding yourself and you are limiting yourself. And believe me, there are people that think this and have told me so.

Should we be surprised that no one can find Iraq on a map or string together a proper sentence without saying "ya know"? Not in a society where 30-second YouTube clips and text-messaging are ubiquitous. Getting someone to sit down and do one thing for a half-hour is unheard of. We're becoming an illiterate society that laps up anything that our government or FOX News says because we have no historical perspective to compare it with. Anybody that has ever read 1984 or Brave New World can't help but see the parallels.

I'm not saying that you should abandon TV or shouldn't read online. There are great sources in both areas. Just don't shortchange picking up a good book. It's not supposed to be work - it's supposed to be fun. Pick up something you are interested in. Do yourself a favor and unplug once in awhile.

"Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere." -- Jean Rhys

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." -- Ray Bradbury

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Merry Chri$tma$

"Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends.... Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts." -- Henry David Thoreau

"Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need." -- From the movie Fight Club, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk

'What would Jesus buy?' film asks:

Buy Nothing Day is getting a Jesus jolt.

New York-based performance artist Bill Talen assumes the persona of Reverend Billy, often accompanied by a gospel choir, to use the histrionics and cadences of a televangelist (think Jimmy Swaggart) in an anti-consumerism effort to convert people to his "Church of Stop Shopping."

And for this year's Black Friday shopping frenzy, Talen is upping his profile with a colorful campaign promoting a new documentary film about his efforts, "What Would Jesus Buy?"

It will feature "Four Horsemen of the Shopocalypse" riding down Madison Avenue in New York and "elves on strike" at the Grove outdoor mall in Los Angeles, said Morgan Spurlock, who produced the film.

Spurlock, known for placing himself in uncomfortable situations in 2004's "Super Size Me" and his "30 Days" TV series, isn't going with the immersion technique for this project.

"I've unplugged, man," Spurlock said this week. "I've started to walk away from this idea of getting credit card after credit card to get people more gifts."

Spurlock says the campaign and film should appeal to conservative Christians as well as to those on the political left.

"People on both sides of the fence can agree on one thing, and that's that the holiday's gotten out of control," he said.

"We've been convinced that the way to show your love for someone is by what you buy them, by what the price tag is, by what is represented on the receipt. And that's the wrong message to send out," he added.

A review of "What Would Jesus Buy?" in "Christianity Today" questioned whether Talen's act, poking fun at both religion and consumerism, went too far.

"Yes, it's condescending. Yes, it cheapens Christianity," the magazine said, before concluding: "But the whole argument of the film is that our commodity culture has already cheapened Christianity."

Buy Nothing Day was conceived by artist Ted Dave of Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1992, and since then has been championed by Adbusters magazine, said Adbusters campaign manager Paul Cooper.

"It started off as a bit of a joke," said Adbusters editor-in-chief Kalle Lasn. "Environmentalists are really the core base of this movement. But after that there were religious people that came on board."

Cooper calls the day an "open source" event for all types of performance artists and activists. Any effort that generates thought about shopping and consumption is encouraged. Last year, one group wandered into stores wearing shirts that advertised 50 percent off everything in the store.

"There are a lot of people who don't like this weird tradition of hectic shopping and frenzied and angry crowds the day after Thanksgiving," Cooper said.

I'm hardly an off-the-grid type and certainly have not divorced myself from consumerism, but spectacles like Black Friday and the disgusting trend of stores putting up Christmas displays around Halloween sure makes one wonder what's it all about. I'm an atheist, but I can appreciate the complaint of some Christians that the point of Christmas has been lost. That "point" for them obviously relates to Christianity. My "point" is friends, family, food. Either way, the corporate, debt-producing, environment-wrecking, nausea-inducing Holiday season is not the answer for anyone. And any church, any leader, any media outlet or any acquaintance that tells you it is doesn't deserve your attention.

I'm sure I'm a raging hypocrite and you could probably find inconsistencies in my position over the years (probably on my own blog), but I'm trying. I'm still buying gifts but opted for Black Friday shopping in my skivvies, sitting at my computer. I'm going to try to buy local or used as much as possible. If not local, then non-profit, fair-trade, or organic.

Celebrate Christmas any way you want. Give gifts to friends and family if you can and because it makes you feel good, not because you feel society is requiring you to.

For like-minded people, here's a site with some great alternatives:

Buy Nothing for Christmas

"Who covets more, is evermore a slave." -- Robert Herrick

"The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied... but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing." -- John Berger

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Good Weekend

OK, my last 6 posts have all been about what I don't like (evangelizing, Myspace, lack of privacy, Glenn Beck, hubris). Lest you think I'm depressed all the time, here are some highlights of a bitchin' weekend:
  • -- Dinner out with E-Slice (Eric) and the family for his birthday at a small sushi place called Tokyo Lobby. Great straight up sushi plus some goofy specialties like Monkey Brains (deep-fried stuffed mushroom with crab meat and spicy tuna). Top it off with tempura banana with ice cream for dessert. yum.

  • -- One of the best special exhibits that we've ever seen at the Arizona Science Center - Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. It was instructive , had a lot of stuff (doors, windows, dishes, clothes, etc.) and was thematically well put together.

  • -- Lunch Saturday at Uncle Sam's in Phoenix. Big portions and some of the better hoagies and cheesesteaks in Phoenix.

  • -- Used book shopping at Bookman's (a local chain) and Half Price Books. I hit the jackpot today getting 3 Neil Gaiman books (American Gods, Neverwhere, and Good Omens), Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon and C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. I've been in a rut for the last couple of years of buying almost nothing but non-fiction. So, I'm trying to balance out with some good sci-fi.

  • -- Plus, Thursday, I went to my first Suns game of the year - a win versus da Bulls.

So, I do occasionally enjoy myself between bouts of pulling my hair out over our country going to hell in a hand basket. "Can't rain all the time ..." as the Crow would say.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Jesus Saves

A good friend of my wife's, a Southern Baptist, said the oddest thing (maybe not odd for those of her beliefs) in reponse to a tragic event the other day. Her neighbor's 4-year-old had been killed by the family dog - a tragic event that I won't get into the details of as they are not relevant to the story. The friend had went to the funeral service this last weekend and lamented that there had not be enough speaking by the pastor. "All they had done was have friends and family talk about the life of the little girl" (paraphrasing her friend). She said that the time would have been better spent preaching to the people there because at a funeral service is the only time some people get to church. In other words, the time would have been better spent proselytizing. Now, I wasn't there when the friend said this to my wife and if I had, I cannot even imagine my response. But my wife, even though she considers herself religious, just about came unhinged. They argued on the point for several minutes before my wife, in the interests of maintaining the friendship, decided to let it go.

Add on to this the conversation of today that she had with the same friend: Her friend was commenting that their 6 year old son is not eating well, causes trouble and has sleeping issues. In the same conversation she talked about how they go to church every single night of the week and often do not get home till 9:30 or 10:00 at night. She did not see any apparent connection between the two.

A large portion of evangelicals seem to be living a life where your sole purpose is to evangelize and bring more into the fold - ignoring real life, parenting, those around you that don't believe the same. Please explain to me how this is different than a cult.

And my wife's friend is not some crazy person divorced from the rest of society. She is a genuinely nice person who watches Alex whenever we ask. That is the scary part -- she's not the lunatic fringe, she's representative of a lot of church-goers.

I don't want to tell anyone how to live their life, but my thinking is that if you want to attract more people to Christianity, you would be wise not alienate the youth that will be your next generation by shoving religion down their throats 24-7. And secondly, I'd advise not being so strident in interactions with run-of-the-mill Christians who would otherwise be sympathetic to your cause (my wife). And before you accuse some atheists of being strident (Dawkins, Harris), I will grant you that point. But there is a difference, they are not trying to engender a certain belief. There is no fold that they are trying to get you into. They are trying to get you out of the fold ... to look at things objectively.

But even the concept of evangelizing is strange to me. Call me crazy, but you either believe or you don't believe. Someone can't convince you that you believe. Or if you could, would that really count? Would God really buy it if someone had to twist your arm? It even seems to be less about the person being saved and more about the person trying to save someone. This same friend brags about how she goes to church every day and all the things she does at the church as if there is some kind of cosmic score card that will get your more bonus points in heaven because you got all your Christianity merit badges on earth.

"At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols." -- Aldous Huxley

Monday, November 12, 2007

Not in our town!

"If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can't buy" - Proverb

Tony Adkins and his wife, Tracy, began the evening of Sept. 23 at a birthday party for a friend at the Scottsdale Princess Hotel, a 10-mile drive from their luxurious neighborhood near the southern flanks of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

But a few hours later, Adkins, 51, would be running for his life from two armed 18-year-olds from nearby Fountain Hills.

The seed for that night of violence was planted at a party given by the couple's teenage daughter while her parents were at the Princess.

The Adkinses knew nothing about the party, but the noise aroused neighbors. They called Scottsdale police, who sent the teens home about midnight, and summoned the Adkins home.

By 1 a.m., Scottsdale police would be back.

Word of the party had spread fast on My Space, luring more than 100 teenagers, including the armed 18-year-olds, C.J. Norrick and Justin Hansen, and a 17-year-old

...Police told Adkins that would-be robbers troll sites such as MySpace, looking for crowded parties at upscale homes with high-end loot.

Norrick later admitted to police that he and his crew cooked up a home invasion-style robbery of the Adkin's plush 6,000-square-foot home after the party broke up.

...Crime remains rare in Scottsdale. But in the area surrounding 128th Street and Shea Boulevard, crime is so insignificant it is barely a blip on Scottsdale's overall crime statistics.

That is the kind of neighborhood the Adkinses were looking for.

"I came here," he said, "for the peace and quality of life."

..."I've never heard of such a crazy thing in my life," Adkins said of that violent night. "It's also a wake up call. I no longer believe, 'It can't happen to us.' "

Now he protects his home with a sophisticated $10,000 security system, including cameras and monitors that call his cell phone when they detect movement around his home.

"I'm trying to provide my family with as much peace as I can," Adkins said.

Scottsdale people are funny. Oh my god! Crime in Scottsdale? They didn't tell us about that at the rich uptight white indoctrination meeting when we moved here. The line by one of the commenters on the article is pretty funny, "Is that alarm to protect his family - or to protect his home from his dumb teenage daughter?"

A couple of details in the story are telling. A room at the Scottsdale Princess resort goes $300-600/night in non-busy times. Secondly, who needs a 6,000 square foot house for 3 people? It gives you some idea of what is valued by this family.

Now, I'm not wishing crime on anyone and I'm glad no one was hurt. But, come on. No where in this article is it mentioned that the main cause of the problem was them having no control over their own spoiled kid. What kind of moron would post the address and directions to their ritzy Scottsdale home on the online meeting place of every teenage gutterball in America? I'll tell you what kind of moron ... a moron that has parents that give their kids everything they could possibly want materially but none of what they actually need - boundaries and common sense.

The Stepford types that get behind the walls of these gated-communities and think they can just ignore the real world or pretend it isn't there are kidding themselves. They'd be better served saving themselves a few bucks, live somewhere else, and engage themselves in the community around them. That line in The Graduate, "I want to say one word to you. Just one word ... Are you listening? ... Plastics", takes on a new resonance. Originally intended to convey the hopelessness of a world set out for you, it fits here on many levels. First of all, the originally meaning, in that people here believe that money and where you live defines you. Secondly, in a more literal sense, by the preponderance of people with plastic surgery and who use their plastic (credit cards) to live a lifestyle they can't possibly support.

I know it's not fair to paint a whole city with a broad brush, but from 15 years of living in the Valley, I have found very few people who live in Scottsdale who break out of the stereotype of rich, entitled and arrogant. One of the funniest things is all the 30K millionaires. There are a lot of people who live in Scottsdale, are leveraged to the hilt, in debt, and insist on keeping it up just so that people will think they are rich.

They like to profess that Scottsdale is one of the most "livable" cities in America and at some point they must have appeared on some list (but I could find no current lists that say so) because of their schools, so-called lack of crime, and fancy resorts. But it hides an uglier truth of a city hung up on image and schools with well-to-do kids selling heroin and soma.

It's great to take pride in your cities for the right reasons - arts and culture, truly good schools, lack of crime, fair and affordable housing for all income types, etc. Square footage and checkbook balance are not.

"Be careful to leave your sons well instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant." -- Epictetus

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Say Goodbye to Privacy

"Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds." -- John Perry Barlow

A top intelligence official says it is time people in the United States changed their definition of privacy.

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguards people's private communications and financial information.

Kerr's comments come as Congress is taking a second look at the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act ...

Alright, then. That makes me feel a lot better.

Aristotle once said, "He is his own best friend, and takes delight in privacy whereas the man of no virtue or ability is his own worst enemy and is afraid of solitude." Hopefully, I am a member of the former. I fear these dimestore security bureacrats are members of the latter. They take no solace in privacy and figure that no one else does either.

While it's becoming almost impossible to maintain any kind of privacy in our modern world with cameras on every corner, frequent shopper cards, companies selling personal info to othere companies, etc. - it's not the right tact to give the lock and key to those who have consistently shown:

- no ability to keep secrets truly secret
- a proclivity for using personal info for political purposes
- absolutely no ability to analyze the relevant terrorist data that they do obtain

"He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither", generally attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but there is no proof that he ever said it. It matters not. The statement is correct and certainly shows a sentiment that he would have agreed with.

It's a scary world out there but it is made even scarier by insecure tyrants who believe they hold the public's best interest at heart. No, W, I'm not talking about you (this time), but rather Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf - yet another tinpot dictator that we are propping up.

Cartoon courtesy of Chris Slane at MSNBC

Monday, November 05, 2007

Glenn Beck

Apparently, it pays to be stupid (from NY Times):

On his daily radio talk show, Glenn Beck portrays himself as an average guy, a recovering alcoholic and a comedian who regularly injects humor into his conservative politics.

This week he can add another description: very wealthy.

Premiere Radio Networks, a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications, is expected to announce today that it is extending Mr. Beck’s contract. Two sources with knowledge of the deal said it was valued at $50 million over five years, through a combination of salary and profit-sharing from syndication.

In signing the deal, Mr. Beck, 43, becomes the newest — and youngest — entrant into an exclusive club of highly compensated radio stars. The new contract would make Mr. Beck the third highest-paid talk radio host, surpassed only by Rush Limbaugh, the most popular terrestrial talker for two decades and whose show is also syndicated by Premiere, and Sean Hannity, whose Citadel Broadcasting show is routinely ranked second.

The salaries apparently mirror Arbitron’s radio audience measurements, which show that Mr. Beck is the third most popular radio host in the advertiser-friendly 25- to 54-year-old demographic ...

Well, maybe he's not stupid ... but he certainly assumes you are. I don't fault guys like Beck, Hannity and Limbaugh for making money. I fault you guys for continuing to listen to them. These companies wouldn't pay them this kind of money unless they were getting people in the attractive 25-54 demo - the fat, stupid, middle-aged white male. You perceive a country overran by immigrants, blacks, women seeking more rights and you are scared. Glenn Beck comes on the radio, purporting to be a "common man" while making $50 million, and tells you it's alright to be xenophobic and prejudiced.

Shows like his don't assume any intelligence on your part (like Colbert or the Daily Show). They know you are not smart enough to understand nuance or satire. So they deliver it all to you in handy little sound bites so that you can parrot your other stupid friends and have pretend arguments with liberals.

I've always considered myself an optimist and I generally believe there is good in all people, but there are days when I certainly have my doubts. And this is one of them. Don't give guys like Beck, Hannity and Limbaugh a forum for their hate by continuing to listen to their shows and buying their sponsors' products. I certainly believe in free speech and these people have every right in the world to say whatever they choose. But don't make it so that it's profitable for them to do so. In their own vernacular, "let the free market speak". Confine them to low power radio stations and late night cable access channels.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

If a tree fell in the forest ...

... and no one was there to hear it, did it really make a sound?

Have we become so inured to the vagaries of this administration that episodes of the caliber we have witnessed the past couple of weeks don't even cause a ripple?

That a government agency (FEMA) would purposely and without guilt fabricate a news conference with the express purpose of misleading the public is bad enough (we would expect no less of FEMA). That the latest "Mouth of Sauron", White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, would pass it off as an "error in judgement", is priceless. Despite the pretty face, she is the embodiment of evil and makes me almost long for the days of Tony Snow and Ari Fleischer.

On another day, the State Department chose to give blanket immunity to Blackwater guards who were involved in the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians, effectively protecting those guilty from prosecution. It was said that the government did this so as to "get to the bottom" of the episode. A ludicrous explanation, akin to giving a serial killer immunity from prosecution so as to find out why he killed.

Yet another occasion saw the Department of Justice Voting Rights Chief, John Tanner, commenting that "minorities don't become elderly the way white people do: They die first." An unfortunate and uninformed opinion not said in private or off-the-cuff, but repeatedly to conferences of minorities. He used his sharp analytical skills to argue that Voter ID requirements will actually hurt whites more than blacks.

Now, most people, when confronted on such an idiotic remark, would recant or apologize. But, that's not what this administration does. When faced with overwhelming evidence of guilt, they will positively refuse to admit any culpability.

These episodes would be humorous if they weren't completely representative of the last 7 years. You could be sitting outside on a clear day and comment the sky was blue and these jokers would hire people to lie to you and tell you the sky was purple. When you confronted those people, they'd wouldn't admit it was blue but would apologize for you being offended by them calling it purple. Then everyone involved would get a raise and a promotion. It's Machiavellian and Orwellian all at once.

"In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -- George Orwell

"Politics have no relation to morals." -- Niccolo Machiavelli

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Today's Shut the Hell Up Award goes to ...

Pat Robertson.

The surest way of assuring a secular future for our country is to alienate our youngest generation and suck the life out of everything that they may enjoy:

Halloween: Mistake for Christians

No, Pat, you are the "mistake" for Christians. So, keep up the good work, and keep driving people to our side.

You can't ruin our Halloween, though. We had a great time. Alex dressed up as a doctor. I asked what kind of doctor he was. He said he didn't know. I suggested gynecology. Thankfully, he's not old enough to get that joke yet. Michelle is, however, and was not amused.

I carved a sufficiently cool pumpkin, also.

"Tis now the very witching time of night, When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world.
-- William Shakespeare

Friday, October 26, 2007

Into the Wild

"Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth." -- Henry David Thoreau

I'm on a pretty good run of picking movies. I would say that the last 3 I've seen will be in my year-end Top 10. (3:10 to Yuma and Michael Clayton being the other two)

Into the Wild might be the best of the group. A 22 year old college graduate name Chris McCandless, chooses to opt out of the life lined up for him by his parents and society, instead choosing to donate his life savings, ditch his car, and begin a tramp's journey through America that culminates with him in the wilderness of Alaska. For a young man, he seems to have a defined moral code. A code that is influenced by the great authors he admires: London, Tolstoy, Thoreau.

The cast is outstanding. Katherine Keener turns in some of her best work (40-year-old Virgin, Being John Malkovich) as a hippy that Chris befriends. Vince Vaughn tones down his vince-vaughnness a little bit and turns in a good performance in a cameo role. And best of the group, I believe, is Hal Holbrook as an older widower that Chris brings out of his self-imposed shell.

In the title role is the relatively unknown actor, Emile Hirsch. His performance is revelatory and goes a long way towards helping the viewer buy into the character and the movie.

The characters he meets all identify with some part of Chris' life. Keener's character has not spoken to her son in several years and doesn't know where he is. As such, she understands what Chris' parents are feeling. Holbrook's character lost his child in death and sees Chris as a surrogate.

This is Sean Penn's best directing work. He gives the story and lot of space and doesn't crowd it with too much dialog. Penn also wrote the screenplay.

This movie is, quite simply, brilliant. I believe the viewer can take a lot from it. Don't get so caught up in what your are "supposed" to do, or what society expects from you. Don't get caught up in material things. They don't make you a better or more happy person.

This is based on Jon Krakaeur's book of the same name, which itself was an expansion of an article by Krakaeur. While I have read his other works, Into Thin Air (Mt. Everest disaster) and Under the Banner of Heaven (Mormons), I haven't read this. He's a great writer and I've heard that the movie is faithful to the book.

Last but not least is the incredible soundtrack highlighted with 9 songs by Eddie Vedder. Vedder, a close friend of Penn, and a contributor to an earlier Penn movie (Dead Man Walking), perfectly evokes nature and space and longing with his songs, serving as a perfect backdrop to McCandless's journey. Many of the songs even speak directly to the things McCandless strived for, such as the abandonment of the need for material goods - "Empty pockets will/Allow a greater sense of wealth." - in Far Behind. I'm a huge Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder fan and have been every since college. I'm going to get this CD this weekend.

Obviously, this movie comes highly recommended from me. At awards time, I really think this movie may see acting noms for Keener, Holbrook and Hirsch, writing and directing ones for Penn, and soundtrack for Vedder. Grade: A+

"There is pleasure in the pathless woods
There is rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea and the music in its roar;
I love not man the less, but Nature more."

Lord Byron

Sunday, October 21, 2007

California Trip Highlights

All the sordid details of our trip to California:

Day 1-2 - Disneyland

Day 3 - Farmer's Market

Day 3-4 -Manhattan Beach

But, wait, if you act now, you will not only have to look at pictures of yours truly but you will also get recountings of near-encounters with no-name actors and a seemingly endless retelling of every single thing we ate. Most people would pay a lot of money for these things, but you, my loyal blog readers, get this for free. Lucky you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Going to California ...

"Made up my mind to make a new start,
Going to california with an aching in my heart.
Someone told me theres a girl out there
With love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.
Took my chances on a big jet plane,
Never let them tell you that theyre all the same.
The sea was red and the sky was grey,
Wondered how tomorrow could ever follow today ..." -- Led Zeppelin

Just kidding, not making a "new start". Just going to Cali for a long weekend. Disneyland Thursday, Manhattan Beach through Sunday. Hoping to go to the Farmer's Market Friday and maybe Griffith Park to get my James Dean swerve on.

I'll have internet access all weekend and will be blogging often.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Michael Clayton

Expertly written and cast, Michael Clayton is all that you would want in a legal thriller. Part Grisham, part Erin Brockovich. The dialogue is sharp and technical, but not so much that it loses you.

The title character, played by George Clooney, is a "fixer" in a law firm. A "fixer" is an attorney who cleans up messes and gives clients a dose of reality in places where others might try to sugar coat it. He is called in to "fix" one of the firm's own attorneys, a character played exceptionally by Tom Wilkinson. That character is portrayed by the firm as having went crazy, while he maintains he's only had a "moment of clarity". He's been the lead attorney defending a large agricultural corporation who apparently has knowingly hid information damaging to them.

Wilkinson's character's moment of clarity is the realization that he has used the last 9 years of his life defending a company that is knowingly making people get sick and die. A realization long overdue, obviously, and not taken well by the firm who have received hundreds of millions of dollars in fees or by the agricultural company who see the publicity nightmare looming.

Michael Clayton is sent to talk him out of his change of heart but ends up having one of his own. The story works because all of the characters are real and flawed.

The movie is very appealing because it makes the viewer think about their own lives and the choices he/she makes. We all have these moments of clarity. My last major one led to my quitting a management job in a great company and branching out on my own. I'm about due for another.

We may have these moments and choose not to act on them. It's when you get older and keep ignoring those clarion calls, that you slowly lose your integrity and your soul. It becomes easier and easier to lose every bit of humanity that you may once have had. Don't keep thinking there will be a better opportunity or a more convenient time to do the right thing. Right now is the right time to do the right thing.

It's all well and good to decide on changing your life. Frequently we don't have the luxury of being able to afford a change, financially or otherwise. But, how can we afford not to?

What are each of us worth? How much will it take for us to turn the other way, to subvert our integrity? Really, we're all sell-outs. If someone else pays you to do something ... you are selling out. Whores, basically. But, hopefully, we're prostituting ourselves for some greater good. How we are defined as people is largely determined by where we draw the line.

We can frequently rationalize the things that a company we work for does. One person is just a small cog in the machinery ... or so we think. If we knowingly work, buy goods from, or promote a company that is immoral, illegal, unethical, then aren't we just as culpable? Aren't we giving tacit approval with our silence? It is our responsibility as workers to call out our employers when necessary just as it is our responsibility as citizens to call out our government when necessary. Loyalty and patriotism are hollow words if we are propping up unethical people.

I'm not talking about quitting your jobs and joining the Peace Corps. I'm just saying keep your eyes open. It's not about agreeing with everything your co-workers and bosses say, politically or otherwise. People of good conscience can disagree ... and that's OK. But if somebody is being unethical or is endangering someone else, if you look the other way, you might as well be an accomplice.

It's with no apparent sense of irony that I start this discussion after just a couple of days ago telling you about all the perks that I get working for certain people. I believe those are borne out of satisfaction with a job well done, not with any kind of quid pro quo. I've turned down clients who I had ethical concerns about.

Reviewing this movie appears to have been an excuse for me to lecture ... sorry about that. I really liked the movie. Clooney is on an incredible roll. His career right now is a model of what I would hope to do in my own field -- work on projects that mean something, that are provocative and intelligent. When not doing those projects, have fun, do no harm, and make money that will allow you to make more meaningful projects. Grade: A

"This is not a psychotic breakdown; it's a cleansing moment of clarity." -- Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network

Friday, October 12, 2007

Construction Orange

"You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Some weeks you feel like you must be living right ... or that you are just one lucky bastard. Probably the latter. This was one of those weeks.

A couple of days ago, I made $60/hr for 5 hours to stand around and eat donuts. A client of mine who owns a print shop was having a $100,000+ large format plotter delivered to his store and installed by the techs who brought it. It was one of the most complicated devices I've ever seen and took them until noon just to assemble.

Not to get too technical, but my sole purpose there was to make sure that the new device got an IP address from the network so that it could be accessed by all the computers. 5 minute job ... tops! But there was no way of knowing when that 5 minutes would be. So, my client wanted me to be there the entire day. And he wanted to pay me for the entire day. I tried to insist to him that we discount the amount of hours. He would hear nothing of it. He just felt more comfortable having his "computer guy" there while they were setting everything up. He'd had bad experiences in the past with other techs and wanted someone he trusted to watch over everything.

I get that he was not just paying for technical knowledge but also piece of mind. He appreciated the work that I've done for him in tough situations in the past and knows that I always go out of my way to be honest and thorough. And that I'd never overcharge (he's actually accused me of undercharging!).

So, forget all the technical crap, I was basically a DOT worker standing around on the side of the road, "supervising". I just didn't have the orange construction vest.

Speaking of undeserved benefits, one of my clients gave me his extra Palm Treo 700p yesterday. Broadband Internet, Palm OS, QWERTY keyboard, etc. Sweet. I am the master scrounger. This is a $500+ phone and less than a year old. It was bought for his dad, but the dad decided he wanted the iPhone instead.

Yeah, I'm really living the "simple" life. Sorry, but I dig all those crazy toys way too much.

In the past, clients have given me football tickets, baseball tickets - you name it. I mooch with the best of 'em.

Well, not really mooch. I don't seek out any of this stuff. I've just been fortunate. There are some regular clients that I've had for 8 years plus and who I would go do work for any time of the day, any day of the week. And I always bill them less hours than I work. You build a good relationship in any job and there is a lot of things that go above and beyond a normal business relationship. That's probably the biggest aspect of this job that I like -- the close friendships that I've built with a lot of my clients.

Hopefully, my good fortune has something to do with the way I run my business. I don't believe in karma in a mystical sense (I believe Shawn's our resident "karma" expert), but I do believe that in the grand scheme of things if you do good for others, it generally comes back around. But even if it doesn't, it's still the right thing to do.

"Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." -- Steve Jobs

Congrats Al!

2007 Nobel Peace Prizes to:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - Geneva, Switzerland

Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. - USA

"for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change"

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Problem with Atheism

"Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself." -- J.K. Rowling

Second hand, by way of Andrew Sullivan's blog, is noted atheist (but don't call him that) Sam Harris' admonition to atheists to not be so quick to accept the label of "atheist":

"... Attaching a label to something carries real liabilities, especially if the thing you are naming isn't really a thing at all. And atheism, I would argue, is not a thing. It is not a philosophy, just as "non-racism" is not one. Atheism is not a worldview—and yet most people imagine it to be one and attack it as such. We who do not believe in God are collaborating in this misunderstanding by consenting to be named and by even naming ourselves.

Another problem is that in accepting a label, particularly the label of "atheist," it seems to me that we are consenting to be viewed as a cranky sub-culture. We are consenting to be viewed as a marginal interest group that meets in hotel ballrooms. I'm not saying that meetings like this aren't important. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think it was important. But I am saying that as a matter of philosophy we are guilty of confusion, and as a matter of strategy, we have walked into a trap. It is a trap that has been, in many cases, deliberately set for us. And we have jumped into it with both feet.

While it is an honor to find myself continually assailed with Dan [Dennett], Richard [Dawkins], and Christopher [Hitchens] as though we were a single person with four heads, this whole notion of the "new atheists" or "militant atheists" has been used to keep our criticism of religion at arm's length, and has allowed people to dismiss our arguments without meeting the burden of actually answering them. And while our books have gotten a fair amount of notice, I think this whole conversation about the conflict between faith and reason, and religion and science, has been, and will continue to be, successfully marginalized under the banner of atheism.

So, let me make my somewhat seditious proposal explicit: We should not call ourselves "atheists." We should not call ourselves "secularists." We should not call ourselves "humanists," or "secular humanists," or "naturalists," or "skeptics," or "anti-theists," or "rationalists," or "freethinkers," or "brights." We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them ..."

While I agree with a lot of Harris' arguments, he has a tendency to outclever himself sometimes - and this might be one of those occasions. He seems to be getting just a bit hung up on semantics. Whether I call myself an atheist, humanist or skeptic, it doesn't fundamentally change who I am. If an argument or a critique of something (in this case, religion) has merit, should it matter where it comes from? Maybe that's naive on my part. As he says, naming "has allowed people to dismiss our arguments without meeting the burden of actually answering them. And while our books have gotten a fair amount of notice, I think this whole conversation about the conflict between faith and reason, and religion and science, has been, and will continue to be, successfully marginalized under the banner of atheism".

It's too bad that people are not taken on the merit of their ideas, instead of what we perceive them to be. We're too quick to slap a label on them. I certainly am. I've bandied about terms like neo-con, right-wing, liberal, etc. It's a shortcut. People's opinions are hopefully more nuanced than a mere name can capture.

I'd have to agree with him that naming something certainly makes it an easier target. Hence the tendency of some to give the mantle of religion to atheism.

So, overall, I agree with a lot of his comments. Where I could disagree is in his position that we should allow our fear of being label atheists to affect our behavior. Certainly a lot of atheists call themselves humanists or agnostics because the fear of being ostracized. That's a problem with society, not with one's views. If more were not afraid of the label, maybe society would get over it's hangups.

"What's in a name?
That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2) -- William Shakespeare

Friday, October 05, 2007


Bush cares about kids ... right.

Our kids may not have healthcare, but at least our "chidrens do learn". It's just our moron president that doesn't.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

I take Saturdays off for religious reasons

The weather's finally cooled down enough (a chilly 90 degrees) that one can go hiking without evaporating. We checked out a new trail (new to us) at South Mountain Park (the largest muni park in the country). It was a nice trail with lots of elevation changes and great scenery (see pics here). To see even more pics (taken by my 6 year old son), go to Ladybug Writing. My son Alex has a blog now. It's funny in a Steven Wright ironic sort of way (completely unintentionally).

Heading home from the park, we looked for something to eat. The wife and kid decided on Chick-Fil-A. I picked up something from Baja Fresh. As a matter of principle, I try to avoid eating at restaurants that purposely misspell their name for the sake of cuteness. That and the fact that they are not open on Sundays. I'm thinking of starting a discrimination suit. If I want chicken nuggets on Sunday, I should be able to get them! For some reason, lawyers won't return my calls. I'm thinking it might be something along the lines of Coke suing Coke for taste infringement. But I digress.

I kid. Businesses (especially privately owned ones) have the right to run their ship in a manner they see fit, as long as it is not discriminatory. And I have seen no indication that Chick-Fil-A is doing anything too hokey.

I'm just saying. The Christian music piped in and the Winshape posters (marriage retreats, Christian kids' camps) on the wall might make some people feel they are in the wrong place. By the same token, a Christian might feel out of place in Hot Topic with pentagram jewelry and Lamb of God playing. I guess I'm not really criticizing, just observing. When you are not looking for some things, you might not see them. I only started to notice some of the things because I had wondered why they weren't open on Sundays and delved a bit deeper. Their official line:

Admittedly, closing all of our restaurants every Sunday makes us a rarity in this day and age. But it's a little habit that has always served us well, so we're planning to stick with it.

Our founder, Truett Cathy, wanted to ensure that every Chick-Fil-A employee and restaurant operator had an opportunity to worship, spend time with family and friends or just plain rest from the work week. Made sense then, still makes sense now.

Nothing wrong with that, I guess.

And on a completely unrelated note, Dbacks make the playoffs!! Woo-hoo! And we're going to game one of the Divisional Series on Wednesday. I got on the Internet early this morning when they went on sale and was able to get tickets for us and my folks. This is the first time my dad has ever been able to go to a playoff game of any kind and was thrilled when I told him.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

You know you've probably done a movie right when my wife actually likes a Western ... a violent one, no less. The charisma of one of it's main stars, Russell Crowe, is a big reason why. She actually agreed to go see this movie on a "date" night.

3:10 to Yuma is the story of a down on his luck rancher, Christian Bale as Dan Evans, who agrees to accompany a ruthless killer, Russell Crowe as Ben Wade, to Yuma to get on a train and to stand trial. A road movie of sorts -- both characters go through a sort of transformation through the adventures they experience on the trip.

3:10 certainly owes something to recent so-called "revisionist" Westerns like Unforgiven and The Proposition. They all do a great job of turning the classic Western motifs of good and bad / black and white on their heads. Life is shades of gray. I'm guessing W might not like this movie. He likes his Westerns cut and dried - Bush as John Wayne, terrorists taking the places of Indians. Never mind that we are taking those Indians land or are trying to make them more like us. I probably overuse this quote from Unforgiven, but it's one of my favorites and very apropos to this movie:

Munny: "It's a hell of a thing, killin' a man. You take away all he's got, and all he's ever gonna have."

Kid: "Yeah, well I guess they had it comin'."

Munny: "We all have it coming, kid."

Even if you don't think you like Westerns, go see this movie. It's themes of loyalty, honesty and family transcend the genre. The quality of the acting is consistent. Most notably, Crowe, Bale, Alan Tudyk (of Serenity) and Ben Foster as the light-in-the-loafer sidekick to Crowe's Ben Wade.

3:10 to Yuma's based on an Elmore Leonard story (the same guy that wrote Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight). It has a lot of the same moral ambiguity of those stories.

Crowe's character is so charming, intelligent and confident, you are forced to like him whereas you see Bale's character's faults and failures - as he sees his own. Do these characters ultimately redeem themselves and does the movie do a good job of handling it? I believe so, but you be the judge.

The movie is beautifully shot. I guess the biggest surprise of the movie is the dark humor. Not forced punchline type humor, mind you. But rather humor borne of the strange interaction between the characters. I highly recommend this movie. Grade: A

"Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends" -- Gandalf, Fellowship of the Ring

Friday, September 21, 2007


"And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven." -- Bible

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. - Members of a Christian theater troupe are spreading the word that they're irate about Kathy Griffin's off-color speech in accepting a creative arts Emmy earlier this month.

The Miracle Theater in Pigeon Forge spent $90,440 on a full-page advertisement in USA Today that ran nationally Monday, proclaiming "enough is enough."

In accepting the Emmy for her Bravo reality show, "My Life on the D-List," Griffin said that "a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus."

She went on to hold up her Emmy, make an off-color remark about Christ and proclaim, "This award is my god now!"

"We at The Miracle Theater consider it an honor to stand for Jesus today," the ad said. "We may never win a national award. We may never be household names. We may never be seen in Hollywood. Although others may choose to use their national platform to slander our God, we are honored as professional entertainers to stand for Christ."

... Griffin's comments have also drawn ire from the Catholic League, an anti-defamation group that called on the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to "denounce Griffin's obscene and blasphemous comment" at the Sept. 9 ceremony. The E! channel chose to edit Griffin's speech when it aired the taped event last Saturday night.

Griffin, whose standup comedy shows often focus on mocking and dishing on celebrities, issued a statement through her publicist in response to the Catholic League's criticisms, indicating her statements were meant as a joke.

"Am I the only Catholic left with a sense of humor?" she said in the statement.

Russ Hollingsworth, general manager of The Miracle Theater, said members of the theater's cast were tired of celebrities' joking attitudes toward Jesus. The theater is sponsoring a petition on its Web site, Miracle Theater.

"When word reached our cast that a Hollywood celebrity had stood before TV cameras and said such vulgar things about Christ, they were incensed," he said. "It's just not OK anymore to mock Christians and Jesus with impunity."

Griffin was fired in 2005 from her job as an E! Channel red-carpet commentator after joking at the Golden Globe Awards that child actress Dakota Fanning had checked into rehab.

What level of respect should people's religious beliefs be afforded? Is religion fair game for satire or humor? Would atheists be offended by a joke about them? Was what she said actually offensive?

It's nauseating how many athletes and actors thank God for them scoring or winning something. If there was a God, do you think he would really care who won an Oscar or scored the winning touchdown? Griffin, raised Catholic, was playing on the irony of not thanking God. That's funny.

Here's the unedited quote from her:

Upon winning this past Saturday, Kathy said, "Can you believe this shit? I guess hell froze over. ... a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award."

"I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. So, all I can say is, 'suck it, Jesus.' This award is my god now."

I'll grant you that that quote would obviously rile some Christians. But she was trying to be funny ... and I have to personally attest that she succeeded.

Obviously some people would be up in arms if someone said on stage, "suck it, Allah". So, I'm not denying the effect of such statements. But, is there any real reason that people should take it so personally? Like the earlier Danish Muhammad cartoons flap, it's all just a bunch of religious zealots that need to chill a bit. If you are secure in your beliefs, why would you care what Kathy Griffin thought? Don't you think that as Christians, the Miracle Theater could have found a more noble use for $90K than to spend it on an ad condemning Kathy Griffin?

I think I'm asking more questions than answering. But I don't really have an answer for this one. I get why some people might be offended but at the same time wonder why we live in such a screwed-up society where people would be offended by a joke. I get that there needs to be a line. I took offense by the Don Imus comments earlier this year but am not sure he should have been fired. But who's to decide what the line is? And isn't it a moving target? Christians would probably say it wasn't. But discussions of "absolute" morality are for another time.

"Of all the strange "crimes" that human beings have legislated of nothing, "blasphemy" is the most amazing - with "obscenity" and "indecent exposure" fighting it out for the second and third place." -- Robert A. Heinlein

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blog list cleanup

A cleanup of my blog list is way overdue. I've been reading all of your blogs and like the comments I've see from many of your visitors. Here are the ones that I've added to my blog list. From Laura's blog, Sarchasm:

Stupidity is an Equal Opportunity Employer -- You have to like any web address that starts out "stupidass...". I'm sure that was merely coincidental, Donna.

It's My Life - pop culture musings

From Cyberkitten at Seeking a Little Truth:

Journal Wunelle - Movies, politics, religion. That's basically my world right there.

Our dear friend Sadie has a new blog, so I'm updating my link. She's got some outstanding crafts, so check her out: Craftily Ever After

from James at Genius of Insanity:

An Angry Dakota Democrat - I didn't know there were such things. A truly rare animal.

I'm removing the following blogs:

Liberal Desert - Nice blog, just doesn't speak to me.
The Hungry Blogger - Love you Isabella. I think it was originally through finding your blog that I ended up at GWB and in turn Laura and the rest is history. But, alas, she doesn't update her own blog. If you are still out there, let us know and I'll re-add the link.
A bit of this, a bit of that - Again, just not enough posting.
Vern's Blog - link issues
Minor Ripper - ditto

I'm going to keep the following links but will chastise them endlessly for never posting.

Eric's blog - Wow, he blogs never. I swear he's actually interesting in person. :-)
JT's blog - Probably too busy out being a mac daddy to post anything.
Great White Bear - OK, you've been given a reprieve since you just posted something.
Will Brady Journal - Hello Will ... I know you're out there.

Also, I added a new feature on the side of my blog. I had talked about the online library site that I had found awhile ago, LibraryThing. They have a little add-in for blogs that will generate a random list of a few books from my library. So, you'll get a little glimpse into the crap I read and it will serve as a reminder to me on what I still need to get around to reading.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Privatized Tyranny"

On his last day of work, Alberto Gonzales, with a straight face, said the following:

"Over the past two and a half years, I have seen tyranny, dishonesty, corruption and depravity of types I never thought possible ... I've seen things I didn't know man was capable of."

And that was just Dick Cheney he was talking about. You should have heard what he said about Bush! Sorry ... I kid. Gonzales did say those words and they hold a lot of truth. But, just not in the way that he intended.

Speaking of tyranny and depravity, check out the great short film, Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein and Alfonso Cuaron (of Children of Men fame). It does a good job of showing how some leaders use the period of collective shock after disasters to ramrod through those policies that they could not get passed in peaceful times. It compares that to shock treatment and to torture and the effect those methods have on the subject.

"Only a crisis, real or perceived, produces real change." -- Milton Friedman

Mr. Friedman was an advocate of using those times to push through free market policies that wouldn't stand a chance of passing during peaceful times. Guess who liked Miltie and his concepts of "privatized tyranny"? Yep - Nixon, Reagan, Bush. Milton Friedman -- the guy who once commented that "there is no poverty in America".

"The free market is socialism for the rich - [free] markets for the poor and state protection for the rich." -- Noam Chomsky