Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pray the ‘cane away

SilvermanI watched a clip this morning of Dave Silverman, the president of American Atheists, on a Fox business show. Supposedly, they asked him on there to talk about what atheists do to prepare for disasters such as Hurricane Irene, but it quickly turned into a full-frontal assault on his atheism.

I think Silverman is pretty cool. I’d say that he can be sort of in-your-face, but he’s fairly respectful about his opinions. What others see as mocking, he simply states as fact. He says, “There isn’t an invisible man in the sky,” and they yell, “You’re mocking us!” He says, “No, I’m not mocking you, I’m just telling you that you’re delusional.” haha Love him or hate him, he doesn’t get nasty. He just states his opinion and moves on from there.

Silverman memeI first became familiar with Silverman when he appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show, and Bill made his famous statement about “the tide goes in...the tide goes can’t explain that.” I never tire of watching it, and you can see the pertinent part at around the 1:45 mark in that video (but the whole thing is worth a watch). That clip is notable for two reasons. First of all, Billo’s ignorance is astounding. We CAN explain the tides. It has to do with that little thing called gravity, to which we are all quite beholden. For him to use that as his proof of God’s existence made me howl with laughter.

Second, that one short clip spawned not one, but TWO Internet memes. Two...two...two memes in one! The first one was the shot of Dave Silverman reacting to Billo’s tide bullshit. His look of puzzlement became the “Are you kidding me?” face that is used often in Net cartoons. The other one was the O’Reilly tide bullshit itself, which resulted in a whole slew of “you can’t explain that” jokes. My own contribution was “Beer goes in, urine comes out. You can’t explain that.” There were dozens of them, and they were quite funny.

Anyway, back to the Silverman interview on the Fox business show. This was almost surreal to me. They get him on there because they’re curious about how atheists prepare, which is bizarre in itself. Do they think atheists are some sort of alien beings, or what? Any intelligent person preparing for such a thing will make sure that they have candles, water, canned food, and for a hurricane, they will batten down the hatches. They actually seemed to think it was strange that he wouldn’t pray about the thing. He tried to point out that such a thing does no good. He asked the shrill harpy woman if she thought God would stop the hurricane, and she actually said no. He was like, so if he’s not all-powerful, and you don’t think he can stop the hurricane, why waste the time praying instead of actually doing something? Her answer seemed to be something about how it provides comfort to people. His comeback was “So do drugs.” I couldn’t help but laugh.

O'Reilly socksI was also amazed by how they just totally went after him. The whole hurricane prep thing was thrown out the window right at the start, and they went all pit bull on why he doesn’t pray and why he’s mocking people who do and telling him that he lives in poverty because he has no spiritual life. I honestly am perplexed that they would think that Silverman somehow isn’t protecting his family enough because he’s not praying for them. The one guy brought up the example of a priest boarding up the windows on his church and praying for his parishioners. It seems to me that if the priest thought prayer really worked, he wouldn’t bother boarding up the windows, he’d just use all that time to pray really really hard. What a ludicrous argument! What do you think is going to protect the building and the parishioners more: the prayer or the boarded-up windows?

I genuinely have no problem with anyone who wants to pray; I understand that it is a great comfort to many people, and that it is a form of meditation. What I do have a problem with is people who pray without any action to back it up. If that priest had taken the route I mentioned and gathered everyone in the church without boarding up the windows and spent the time praying, we’d probably think he was putting his parishioners in harm’s way, wouldn’t we? All those stained glass windows, blown out because of hurricane-force winds, razor-sharp shards of glass flying through the air. Pretty dangerous, right? Board up the windows, actually DO something, and then go ahead and pray if that’s what you want to do.

I’ve told the story here before about once hearing a woman say “I’m glad I have God to make decisions for me so I don’t have to make them myself!” Not taking charge of your own life, not doing anything to protect yourself from natural weather phenomena, not getting treatment for your child’s leukemia because you’re counting on your god to heal them...that’s not being saintly and devout. That’s being stupid.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I got a letter

KV Memorial LibraryThis is just a quick update on my entry about Slaugherhouse-Five and the efforts of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library to get the book to kids who can’t get it in their school district (due to the action of some rather small-minded people). Almost immediately after I made my donation, I received this email:

Thank you so much for the donation. We are doing the best we can to handle a ridiculous situation in a classy way. I believe you are our first donor from South Bend. My sister actually works at IU South Bend (but she lives in LaPorte, which is where I was born). Anyway, thanks again for the donation. I think we all feel good about being able to do something when it seems like we have little to no control over other things that are going on in the world right now. At least we can help kids to have access to Vonnegut.
Best regards,

I thought that was so cool. I loved what she said about trying to do something when there are so many things beyond our control right now. She’s exactly right. The current insanity with the teabaggers and those who would try to push their narrow-minded theocratic bigotry onto the rest of us is sometimes beyond frustrating. Making a small donation might not seem like much, but it might mean that a kid gets to read the book who wouldn’t have gotten to read it otherwise. With such small actions, empires are toppled.

Okay, that might be exaggerating a little, but the principle is there and it is sound. Ignorance breeds fear and hatred, and if anyone discourages you from asking questions or from reading a particular book, look at them with narrowed eyes of suspicion, for they are not to be trusted. Ask yourself, “What do they have to hide? Why don’t they want me to ask questions?” Speaking from personal experience, I can also tell you that chances are good that there will eventually be a backlash, perhaps of apocalyptic proportions. I wasn’t raised to be a foul-mouthed smartass left-wing heathen, but look how I ended up! haha I’ve seen it happen with other kids, too, and I have to admit that it delights me. Hey, look...your kid is more like me than like you! Ahh, sweet revenge.

Books B&WAnyway, we all have our own personal hot-button issues, and my two main ones are probably anti-vaxxers and those who would ban books. They make me very, very angry. Find me an anti-vax book burner, and I’d probably implode. I know they’re out there, too.

I wrote back to Julia and told her how I came to donate, and sent her my blog entry. I said that I would apologize for the language, but I suspect that Mr. Vonnegut wouldn’t mind. She found that amusing.

Off to do a few chores, then over to Shane and Matt’s for a little more pool time. The window of pool days is narrowing, and that makes me sad, but I want to enjoy the waning summer as much as possible.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dreaming is free

Construction womanLast night, I had a dream. It seemed at the time that it was a pretty good idea for a TV show. A dramedy.

In my dream, a fairly young, fairly attractive woman lost her job and went to work at some sort of male-dominated job. Construction, or something like that. I don’t recall if this was part of my dream, or if I elaborated on it in a half-awake state, but she may have been a professor and she was a single mom. (There would be some back-story there...why is she a single mom? Why did she lose her job? Was there a scandal, or was it just downsizing? Did she not publish enough?)

At the job, she had to prove herself. She did so by being a hard worker, and by being tough enough to handle the stupid, discriminatory comments hurled at her. Apparently, there was little supervision at this job site, because the guys had a clubhouse where they could go hang out, play pool, watch porn, and drink beer. My heroine was able to hang tough and deal with all this, and even was able to teach them a few things about the trajectory of the balls while playing pool, how to brew a good beer, and even give them some information about just how things work in the porn movies...things like the money shot, and fluffers, and stuff like that. She was a virtual font of information about anything and everything, and even helped them work on their cars. I’m not sure how she gained that knowledge, but I’d write it as if it came from her dad.

She earned their trust and loyalty, and became a valuable member of the team. At first, the guys derided her and did their best to get rid of her, but she won them over with her knowledge and sense of humor. When they hurled nasty comments her way, she took the comments in stride and gave as good as she got. The guys came to appreciate her moxie and her sassiness, and some of them came to love her a little bit.

Or else they gang-raped her on the pool table the first day. It could go either way.

Note: This is in no way based on personal experience (although I’ve worked with a lot of guys over the years, and it was almost always a positive thing). It really did come from a dream I had last night. Sadly, considering the state of reality TV, I can actually see this scenario appearing on some network at some point. Maybe I should copyright it!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A banned book

VonnegutLast night, I finished Slaughterhouse-Five, and I wonder how I ever managed to miss reading it all these years. From the moment I started it, I’ve been doing contortions in order to kick myself in the ass for never reading it! I honestly thought I’d read it back in high school, but unless my memory of it was completely wiped in the subsequent years, I didn’t recall any of it.

I’ve had it on my Kindle for a while, and was finally moved to read it because of the recent news story about a school district in Missouri banning Slaughterhouse-Five because of a complaint from one fundamentalist parent. Apparently, this parent felt that the book included “false conceptions of American history and government or that teach principles contrary to Biblical morality and truth.” Jesus Squeeze Us, where do I begin?

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote the book about his experiences in WWII, especially his time in Dresden when it was bombed by the Allies. I honestly don’t see how an eyewitness to the bombing gave a “false concept” of it. I suspect it’s more of this parent thinking that a novel that lays out in sometimes excruciating detail the horrors and destruction and sheer awfulness of war just doesn’t jibe will with his jingoistic “my country right or wrong” schtick.

As for the part about being “contrary to Biblical morality and truth,” I almost feel sorry for this guy who doesn’t quite seem to get that not everything in this world hinges upon the Bible. Almost, but not quite. Because he is perpetrating his ignorance upon not only his own child, but upon every other child in that district, simply because the novel offends his sensibilities and his belief system. (At this point, I’d like to say a posthumous “Well done!” to Mr. Vonnegut—a fellow Hoosier—for getting this prig’s union suit in a bundle right up his tight ass.) I also wonder if he thinks the biblical concept of holy wars and Godly vengeance and smiting your enemies is fine and dandy?

Is this a novel for grade school or middle school kids to read? No, I don’t think it is, because there is some rather graphic imagery and language in it, as well as themes that are better understood by those who are older. High school kids? Absolutely. Especially those young kids who, for whatever reason, are unable or incapable of furthering their education and find themselves with no other option but to join the military. Any kid who commits to being cannon fodder in wars just or unjust should get an idea of how it’s probably going to be.

What’s that? I should “support our troops?” You keep saying that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means. I believe we need to compensate our troops appropriately and well, and we need to give them excellent medical and psychological support when they get back, as well as a chance to go back to school if they want to and get a good job no matter what level of education. However, I think the best way to support them is to not send them off to stupid wars in the first place. WWII wasn’t a stupid war, of course, but the horrors of any war don’t change over the years. Any parent who cheers as their kid marches off to war in Iraq or Afghanistan is fucked in the head, if you ask me.

Vonnegut2But I digress. Vonnegut wrote a chronicle of his time in Germany, in a city which we bombed the hell out of, killing tens of thousands of civilians. His writing is clear, concise, matter-of-fact, and conveys the sheer madness of it all, and he was there. I think Vonnegut earned the right for people to read his story, including young people who are on the verge of entering the voting population and the merry world of adulthood.

Whenever I read stories about books being challenged and/or banned, I wonder what the challengers are afraid of. In this case, it seems to be him being afraid that his child will be subjected to some harsh truths, ones that don’t fit tidily into what he has tried to teach at home; he seems to be afraid that such knowledge might cause questions, ones that I suspect he is afraid that he can’t answer. What is really sad to me is that some of these questions truly have no answer. Sometimes we can only speculate, especially when it comes to things like war and hatred and man’s inhumanity to man, whether in the name of political righteousness or religion.

War is an ugly business (and sometimes I’m quite sure that ‘business’ is very much the correct word), and any book that gets young adults to think about just how goddamn ugly it is is fine with me.

Vonnegut3I’ll wind this up with a happy ending. When the ban in the Missouri school district was reported, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis received funds from an anonymous donor (no, it wasn’t me!) to send a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five
to any student of appropriate age who wanted to read it in the district. Donations have been plentiful enough that they added this on their page:

Due to the overwhelming response we have received from supporters, the KVML is putting our additional donations toward the creation of a banned book exhibit for the KVML and a Banned Book Response Team to help other communities when the hint of banned books arises. We’ll share with them a toolkit for how to deal with the situation based on what we have learned from this situation. Many, many volunteers are stepping forward to help with this important cause. The KVML extends our thanks to all of you for your support in helping us protect First Amendment rights. Thanks to you, we’ll be ready the next time someone tries to mess with Kurt Vonnegut.

Damn straight. I’ll be making my donation. If you’re so inclined, I’m sure yours would be appreciated, too. We cannot cave to those who would banish ideas from our classrooms and disallow questions that they don’t want to answer...questions that everyone should have the right to ask.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Happy Fun Pool Time™

Beth, ShaneI’m sure that no one will fault me for sporadic posting as I enjoy what is left of the summer. In fact, I hope you are enjoying it, too! Things have been fairly busy as we try to cram in all those things you only get to do in the summer, whether it’s a minor league game (South Bend Silverhawks, coming up this Friday), an outdoor concert (The Whistle Pigs at the Studebaker Museum), or just catching a few rays and reading on the deck.

One of this summer’s standouts has been spending some time over at Shane and Matt’s house, which has a super-fantastic in-ground pool! (My strange expression in that picture is because I realized that as I was hunkering down to get in the picture with Shane, I was sticking my ass out all the way to Memphis. I made adjustments. Note my Route 66 huggy!) Hmm, as I try to recall the timeline, I think they moved in late last summer, so they didn’t try to get the pool up and running last year. Once they got it in tip-top shape this summer, they’ve been incredibly hospitable and generous in allowing me to come over and enjoy the pool on these warm and sunny days. (Some of them have been very, very hot, and the pool felt especially good on those days!)

To show that Cousin Shane and I are more alike than not, neither of ever learned how to swim. Oddly enough, I’ve always enjoyed being in the water, whether boating or just bopping around in the ocean or a pool. I just like to be able to touch bottom with my toes, and I don’t like having my head underwater. I’ve tried to be a little more adventurous, and got dunked by the ocean waves a few times in Florida. I also took a spill this past weekend, and got a snootful of water (man, I hate that). But Shane and I kind of encourage each other, and we get on our floaty noodles and head out to the deep end. Matt and Ken are also very encouraging, and Matt told me, “You’re probably swimming more than you realize.” That gave me the rather silly and unrealistic notion that I was hanging out in the pool like a boss. Fuck, yeah.
Anyway, it’s really been a lot of fun, and this past weekend, they even had a pool party! They cooked burgers and brats, and I took baked beans and some munchies, and others brought snacks and desserts. Everything was really good, despite some afternoon rain. Later in the day, it cleared up enough that some of us were able to hop in the pool for a little while. They had enough food left over that they decided on Round Two the following day, and it ended up being just the four of us and Sherri, a friend from Shane’s work--she was really cool and nice and funny!

We’ve got a few more good days before they close up the pool around Labor Day, and I hope to get over there once or twice more. It’s been some very pleasant days with great company, great talk, relaxation, and listening to some great music. Thanks, Shane and Matt! You guys are peaches! We hope to return the favor later in September, with a little cookout and perhaps a bonfire. We should be getting into some good bonfire weather around that time!

I hope your summer has been as pleasant. Those of us who live in a northern climate know how the winding down of summer feels, and it is very much a bittersweet feeling. It seems like they go by faster and faster, too. I love the advent of football, but I hate to say goodbye to summer. ::sigh::