There Are No Foxes in Atheist Holes

I read an absolutely fascinating and terrifically-written article today:

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/28/my-faith-what-people-talk-about-before-they-die/

First of all, this lady is my new favorite chaplain.  To be fair, I didn’t have a favorite chaplain before this, just a favorite Chaplin.  But now I have a favorite chaplain, and it’s her.  Her absolute compassion and humanity shine through in this article, and I truly wish that more people were this thoughtful about their faith.  But aside from the inspiration I drew from the article, I also reflected on a most-likely-unintentional point that Ms. Egan (if there’s a more proper title for a chaplain, feel free to inform me) made here.

One popular fallback of the self-righteously religious is the oft-heard phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

Before going on, I’d like to direct everyone to http://militaryatheists.org/, where you can learn all about the many, many atheists serving in our military.

This phrase is always invoked to get the stubborn atheist-on-the-street to realize that, in the direst circumstances, they’ll figure out that they really believed in a god all along.  The general myth seems to be that in our last moments, everyone abandons the convictions they held in life (no matter how important they were) and embraces Jesus.  I say Jesus, because I’ve never once heard this tripe from a non-Christian (which may just have to do with my geographic location).  So what I find amazing about Ms. Egan’s experience is that it not only shatters the myth of the repentant atheist, it turns the myth on its head and makes it do a little dance.  We don’t have any images of atheists breaking down in tears and realizing that they’ve wasted so much of their life fighting the inevitable acceptance of a personal lord and savior.  Instead, we find a much different narrative: the faithful on their deathbeds looking to the earthly and very tangible loves that they’ll be leaving behind.

I think it’s truly beautiful how Egan ties this narrative in to her idea of a god, and I completely respect her faith.  And one of the reasons I respect it so much is that it makes her god very real, in the way that matters most.  She doesn’t care if everyone shares the exact same ideas she does, nor does she seem to care if we all interpret a very old book the same way she does.  Instead, she finds her god in the common experience of love and human bonding that we all share.

And I don’t have any problem with that god.

Up next: Dolphins, friend or foe?  Tonight at 11.

XXX Elephant-on-Donkey Action

It’s election year.  That wonderful time when Americans remember their civic duty and turn out in record numbers to vote.  And a time when we all engage in serious, thoughtful debate about the direction our nation should take over the next four years.

Oh, sorry.  I confused election year with the So You Think You Can Dance finale.

Most people are capable of seeing that the country is drifting farther and farther apart, politically, with the moderate voices in the center being completely drowned out by the screaming coming from either side.  This isn’t news.  It’s been happening for over a decade.  The issue seems to be that no one realizes that it’s a serious problem.  And I don’t mean that no one is paying lip service to the fact that it’s a serious problem.  Because everyone is.  But no one is actually doing anything to change the conversation.  Instead, they’re just yelling harder in the hopes that the other side is going to magically crumble into dust.

Unfortunately, I have to be somewhat partisan and lay the blame for this at the feet of the Republicans.  They were the ones who started this by creating the “Moral Majority”, which has since spiraled out of control.  By tying themselves so intimately to the conservative Christian block of voters (who have a scary amount of money at their disposal), they guaranteed that they would never be able to put forward a candidate with any moderate views on social issues.  The result is that John McCain (circa 2000) can’t win a primary but John McCain (circa 2008) can.  All he had to do was completely throw out his previous platform, built on compromise, campaign-finance reform, and generally sensible (if still conservative) views.  Oh, and he had to make Sarah Palin his running mate.  Meanwhile, any congressman who may be willing to reach across the aisle has to be willing to say goodbye to his seat, because they will lose any hopes of funding for their next campaign.  Anyone who can’t see how the Republican party has been hijacked by extremists is living in a dream world.

And Democrats don’t come out of this looking too great either.  While the party has managed to maintain a fairly healthy shape (yes, a party that doesn’t act as one solid voting block is functioning well), many Democrats have sunk to the same rhetorical level of their Republican counterparts.  I’m seeing more and more posts on Facebook and other online forums that characterize Republicans as “evil”.  Instead of trying to reach out to the few remaining moderates in the party in an effort to bring things back in line, Democrats are helping to create a wider gap.  And dialogue has become all but impossible.  Any debate devolves into both sides screaming, “You’re lying!”

This isn’t how a two-party system is meant to work.  The system was created with the idea that compromise between the parties would not only be possible, but that it would be necessary for the government to function properly.  And historically, the last time issues got this divisive, we ended up having a civil war.  I’m sure there are some people out there who would be able to make the historical argument that this divisiveness is just a continuation of a conflict that never really ended.  But they’re way smarter than I am, and I’ll wait for them to write the books.

In the meantime, I’d like to believe that it’s possible for dialogue to start again.  For Republicans to stop engaging in scare tactics.  For Democrats to stick to their guns without stooping to petty arguments.  We’re meant to be able to have debates about politics without hitting someone.  Maybe we can try to get back to that.

Not all Newspaper Columnists are Created Smart

Yes, I have a blog.  And yes, it’s been a few months since I last posted.  Blame my hectic work schedule or my complete lack of motivation to post anything: your choice.

At any rate, I’ve gotten a tiny bump in motivation from this article:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/not-all-college-majors-are-created-equal/2012/01/12/gIQAfz4XzP_story.html

Now, Ms. Singletary seems like she has all her ducks in a row today.  I have no idea what she was like in college, but if she was even close to this ridiculously stuck-up, I’m sorry to hear that she missed out on all the fun bits of school (and life?).  She seems to be laboring under the impression that life is a game, and your score is quite literally based on how much money you’ve made.  If you have a job making a lot of money, you’re winning.  If you’re in the arts, you’re losing.  And who cares about the human element, right?  Life isn’t about whether you enjoy what you do every day.  It’s about whether you can get into pissing contests with your old friends at college reunions.

And I don’t wholly blame the author for her views.  She’s been conditioned by the relatively recent change in how we perceive a college education.  A university education was never supposed to be mandatory, at least not until recently.  University was where you went if you wanted to further your education and generally increase your knowledge.  When you went to school, you didn’t necessarily need to know what field you were going to go into, but you’d generally know that you were going to university in order to pursue an intellectually demanding career path, in medicine, the law, the sciences, and even politics (back in the day, that used to demand some intellect).  Today, you are expected to go to college if you want to work anywhere above the sales floor of a major retailer.  As a result, we have this cultural expectation that college is about preparing us for the “real world” (as opposed to the vastly underrated imaginary world), and that our professors are supposed to get us jobs instead of educations.

Jobs are great.  And there’s nothing wrong with centering your life around getting a good job to get more money so you can have better stuff.  Go for it.  If that’s what makes you happy.  This seems to be the crucial point that Ms. Singletary missed in her article.  Your job isn’t just about the paycheck (as someone who worked their way up through the newspaper business ought to know).  It’s about how you feel after a day of work.

Up next: Why that common household item not more than two feet away from you is giving you cancer.  News at 11.

Performance Art, My Ass

Someone linked this story on Facebook (I don’t know if that’s ironic), and I felt compelled to comment.

http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2011/10/marni_kotak_gives_birth.php

For those of you who are too lazy to read the article, here’s the summary: this woman is planning on giving birth in an art gallery.  As a piece of performance art.  She will follow up on this by chronicling the child, dubbed “Baby X”, through its developmental years.  Now, far be it from me to say that what she’s doing isn’t art.  Heaven knows, I don’t need anyone coming after me for past projects I’ve been involved in.  What I will say is this:

Fuck.  You.  Lady.

What this woman is doing goes beyond unethical into grotesque and reprehensible.  I don’t care what point she’s making.  For all I know, it may be a valid one.  I certainly don’t get that from her generic rant about Facebook turning the personal into the consumable, but maybe she’s got something worth saying.  I don’t know.  And I really don’t care.  Because whatever point she is making is being made with a human being.  This child isn’t the subject of her art, it’s the medium.  She is quite literally using the baby-to-be as paint on whatever her metaphoric canvas is.  Now, there’s been a lot of interesting choices in medium lately.  Artists have been using pig’s blood, urine, human feces, semen, and a host of other ridiculous things to create works of visual art.  Fantastic.  Whatever floats your boat.  Go for it.  There’s one crucial difference here.

This child is a sentient life form without the capacity to consent to anything.  If a scientist decided to use an experimental drug on their baby just to see what the side effects were, it would be called abuse.  And that’s exactly what this qualifies as.  This child is being used in this piece of performance art without its knowledge or consent.  Beyond that making for one fucked-up upbringing, it damn near qualifies as rape.  Now, I’m the last person who’s going to go around touting the moral bedrock of “family values”, but there is a line.  And this woman is crossing it.  Big time.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, where the fuck is this kid’s father?

Artists are in a unique position to send a message to an audience in visceral, unexpected ways.  The best art shocks and provokes its audience.  But if all art is going to be a commentary on the human condition, then it needs to have an element of humanity in it.  This borderline sociopathic plea for attention certainly lacks that, and it is beyond appalling that any gallery was willing to put this on display.

Damn Greedy Hollywood Liberal Trash Grumble Grumble Grumble….

I’ve been fascinated, but mostly appalled, by the recent contract disputes Fox has been in with the principal voice actors of “The Simpsons”.  The appalled part comes from both Fox’s unbelievable treatment of six actors who defined an iconic set of characters, making untold amounts of money for the network, and the knee-jerk reaction most of the public have whenever they hear about actors getting in contract disputes.

Let’s be really clear: $400,000 an episode is a lot.  I would be thrilled to be making a fraction of that for any acting endeavor.  But that doesn’t mean that the cast is automatically barred from complaining about how they’re treated.  Let’s put a few things in perspective.  First, the cast of “Friends” received $1,000,000 per episode for the last season of shows, and they received royalties for the last five seasons.  “Friends” was immensely popular.  It generated (and still generates) a ton of money for its network.  “The Simpsons”, by comparison, has run for 23 seasons and generated billions in franchise revenue.  That’s more than double the length of the “Friends” run, and it’s impossible to tell how much more money the franchise generates.  But it’s not too hard to imagine: just think of how often you see Homer on a t-shirt and how often you see Ross and Rachel.  So what’s this dispute over?  The greedy, narcissistic voice actors wanting a salary increase?  Refusing to take a pay cut?

Not even close.

What the knee-jerk people of the internet completely miss when they read into the dispute is that the actors have all agreed to take a massive pay cut.  The only caveat is that they want to have a share of the profits that the show makes.  That’s right.  After 23 seasons on the air, the principal cast members don’t receive a dime in royalties.  The royalties all go to the network and the producers, despite the fact that many of those people have nothing to do with the actual creation of the show.  So the actors are asking for a small share of the royalties, which means probably somewhere in the 1-3% range.  More towards the 1%.

Fox’s demands for a salary cut, coupled with their refusal to even consider sharing the profits of the show with the cast, show the most amazing level of disrespect for the actors who have helped to make them all that money in the first place.  I’ve only seen it matched by the brainless chanting of “overpaid Hollywood actors” seen on the internet, where people seem to forget how much these six people have done to define a show that’s literally spanned generations of fans.  What they do is not easy- Dan Castellaneta alone voices dozens of characters on the show, in addition to providing the iconic voice of Homer.

Now the very latest news is that an agreement has been reached, and it unfortunately looks like the actors may have been bullied into accepting the cuts without receiving royalties.  If this ends up being the case, it’s more than a little depressing.  It will be the network getting away with treating the talent of their biggest franchise like the hired help.  It isn’t about numbers; it’s about respect.

Whales, Mermaids and Bullshit

So most people have probably seen this post going around Facebook.  If you haven’t, here it is:

A while back, at the entrance of a gym, there was a picture of a very thin and beautiful woman. The caption was “This summer, do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?”

The story goes, a woman (of clothing size unknown) answered the following way:

“Dear people, whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, seals, curious humans), they are sexually active and raise their children with great tenderness.
They entertain like crazy with dolphins and eat lots of prawns. They swim all day and travel to fantastic places like Patagonia, the Barents Sea or the coral reefs of Polynesia.
They sing incredibly well and sometimes even are on cds. They are impressive and dearly loved animals, which everyone defend and admires.

Mermaids do not exist.

But if they existed, they would line up to see a psychologist because of a problem of split personality: woman or fish?
They would have no sex life and could not bear children.
Yes, they would be lovely, but lonely and sad.
And, who wants a girl that smells like fish by his side?

Without a doubt, I’d rather be a whale.

At a time when the media tells us that only thin is beautiful, I prefer to eat ice cream with my kids, to have dinner with my husband, to eat and drink and have fun with my friends.

We women, we gain weight because we accumulate so much wisdom and knowledge that there isn’t enough space in our heads, and it spreads all over our bodies.
We are not fat, we are greatly cultivated.
Every time I see my curves in the mirror, I tell myself: “How amazing am I ?! “

So this story has been circulated for a couple of years, and I’m guessing that it’s probably completely fabricated.  For some reason it’s become ultra-popular this time around, probably due to the picture of Tara Lynn that’s being posted with it.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that the story is just as shallow and judgmental as the media it claims to criticize.  Now, let’s get one thing really, really, really, really, really clear: there is nothing wrong with bigger girls (or guys, for that matter).  But there isn’t anything wrong with skinny girls (or guys) either.  The entire point of this maybe-fictitious rant is to put down one group of people in order to make another group feel better about themselves.  And it says far more about the person who wrote it than it does about the people they’re attacking.

The real message that should be getting around to women and men of all sizes is “Different strokes for different folks.”  It’s that simple.  Someone, somewhere finds you unbelievably sexy.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t see pictures that look like you on magazine covers; I guarantee that someone, somewhere thinks that you’re beautiful.  In fact, I’ll just bet that thousands upon thousands of people find you attractive, and that you may even find someone in that legion of you-admirers who you think is sexy too.  Everyone has different tastes in body types.  For example, I don’t find that picture of Tara Lynn to be a huge turn-on.  That doesn’t make me a shallow, judgmental, chauvinist bastard.  I’m a shallow, judgmental, chauvinist bastard for totally different reasons.  But if you know me, then you know that I am- how shall I put this? -slight of frame.  A woman like Tara Lynn (whose beauty I can still appreciate, even if she’s not my big-gulp of tea) could quite literally crush me.  Call me old-fashioned, but that’s not really what I envision when I think of good sex.

But.

There are thousands upon thousands of men (and women) who probably think that Tara Lynn is one of the sexiest women on the planet.  And many of them would find my “type” of woman to be not at all sexy.  Which is great for everyone, because there’s less competition all around.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with an article that’s meant to pump up the self-esteem of larger women.  That’s fantastic.  I love that.  But that isn’t the only thing this story does.  It pumps up larger women at the expense of skinnier ones.  It isn’t enough to just be a whale with years of wisdom accumulated in various fatty deposits on your body (don’t even get me started on how stupid that metaphor is).  You have to also make all those evil little mermaids feel like shit for going to the gym.  It’s the “Real women have curves,” argument.  Which I detest.  Saying “Real women have curves,” makes about as much sense as saying “Real dolphins have a bottlenose.”  I don’t know what the hell a “real woman” is supposed to be, but I know plenty of women with lots of different body types.  I don’t think of any of them as not being women.  So I guess they’re all real women.  Same goes for men.

Had this posting been solely about promoting feeling good about your body, no matter what size it is, I would have had no problem with it.  Wherever you feel comfortable and healthy is great.  But insecurity is always ugly.

Oh, it’s on.

I love my apartment.  It’s wonderful.  Except for this one thing.

Every 3 days (I swear that it is this regular), a single fly gets in the apartment.  I’m still not sure how, because all my windows are closed.  But it happens.  There’s no real harm, except for the harm done to my reputation with the people on the rooftop across from me, who have seen me madly swatting at the air.  He flies around.  I open a window and wait for him to fly through.  Then I close the window.  But three days later, there’s another fly in here.

I’m convinced that there are only two possible explanations for this: A) It’s the same fly coming back every three days.  B) The flies are mocking me.

Either way, I’m through with this shit.  So focus all your eyes on this, you little six-legged freaks.  Next time you come in, I’m packing heat.  I’m not opening the fucking window.  I’m actually going to leave it closed just so you can slam your body futilely against it as you flee.  I will not make your death painless.  No RAID or electric swatters.  Poison sugar is definitely a possibility.  Slow-acting acid in the fruit bowl.  Maybe flypaper.  Then I’ll fucking tweeze your legs off and blind your compound eyes one lens at a time with a pin.  So if there’s more than one of you, your little friends are going to think twice before flying in here again.  And if it’s just one of you, it’ll still be enjoyable for me.

You hear that, you tiny, annoying little bastard?  Don’t fuck with me.