Friday, December 31, 2010

Ginx’s Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions

10. Help others by pointing out their flaws.

9. Stop calling people names, unless they’re being really retarded.

8. Spend more time talking with friends and family in a condescending tone.

7. Get out of debt by killing whoever this “Sallie Mae” person is.

6. Learn something new every week, even though I know everything.

5. Stop huffing paint, for real this time.

4. Volunteer at the local SPCA as a euthanizer.

3. Stop using words like “nigger” and “faggot” to shock people, only to make a point.

2. Travel less.

1. Go to the gym and criticize people there for being vain.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Music Monday: Electric Light Orchestra

ELO is the best of the rest. They have the most top 40 hits on Billboard of any band that never had a #1 single, with 27. With 13 studio releases, they have sold over 50 million albums, not including singles. And while their commercial success is unquestioned, their continued popularity after their dissolution is a testament to the mark they left on music.

This is also perhaps the only band which spawned a literal sequel, which formed after Bev Bevan left to drum for Black Sabbath and then wished to reform the band after ELO's demise. Since the name "Electric Light Orchestra" was co-owned by singer, song writer and guitarist Jeff Lynne, Bevan formed ELO Part II. Lynne wasn't interested in reforming ELO, since he was busy working with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty as "The Traveling Wilburys."

ELO's sound is hard to define, as it combines many musical genres. Often described as rock with a classical influence, they also found quite a following among fans of disco. Their music is often heard in movies and television commercials to this day.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mythical Interview: Odin

GINX: I’m truly honored to have one of my personal favorite gods talking to me tonight, and on Christmas Eve no less.

ODIN: It’s nice to be talking to you.

GINX: I’m a huge fan of your work... Santa Claus.

ODIN: Obviously you don’t know the whole story.

GINX: Even if I did, I imagine I would have forgotten by now. I would love nothing more than for you to share with me the history of the origin of Santa.

ODIN: I remember like it was this afternoon... a day for me is a millenium to you. The year was 1822, the winter was bleak and spirits were blue. This god of magic and rhyming lore revealed himself to Clement Clarke Moore. He’d never heard of me before, let alone my young son Thor. I sung him a poem, it was hardly witty, and Santa was born in New York City.

GINX: That didn’t really clear things up.

ODIN: What do you mean?

GINX: Well, I was hoping for a bit more information, though I didn’t know you inspired the poem “The Night Before Christmas.”

ODIN: Actually, it’s called “A Visit From St. Nicholas.”

GINX: Okay, noted. But, I mean... I was expecting you to explain the symbolism.

ODIN: It’s just a poem. I didn’t realize Americans would run with it like they did.

GINX: Boy did we. But I was thinking, like, how your horse has eight legs and Santa has eight reindeer, or how you’re old and have a beard and Santa is old and bearded.

ODIN: Are you saying I’m fat, too?

GINX: No, you’re actually pretty gaunt.

ODIN: Well, I never eat. I only drink.

GINX: Ah, the old “liquid lunch,” carried to its extreme.

ODIN: Something like that.

GINX: So you aren’t Santa?

ODIN: You idiot, there is no Santa.

GINX: Ugh, it’s like I’m 8 years old all over again... I guess there’s no such thing as the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, huh?

ODIN: There was a Tooth Fairy, until you guys cut down the forest she lived in. Then she got despondent and turned to heroin, and now she just kind of keeps to herself.

GINX: That’s depressing.

ODIN: Did you think we were only going to talk about Santa?

GINX: Well... sort of. I figured you would explain the confusion.

ODIN: I’m not usually an honest god. I very rarely tell people my real name when I meet them. People used to recognize me all the time because of the one eye.

GINX: I think it was worth it for a drink from Mimir’s well.

ODIN: Maybe, though knowing everything isn’t all its cracked up to be. I miss the mystique of not knowing.

GINX: I guess with paganism being so unpopular now, you don’t get recognized as often.

ODIN: Not at all. It’s weird... I used to be famous and every one was asking me for help. This farmer wanted rain, that farmer wanted a new plow, this king wanted more land, that king wanted a beautiful queen who would birth him many sons... eventually I just got sick of all the attention. Now, hardly anyone has heard of me.

GINX: That’s not true, Wednesday is named after you.

ODIN: Do you know how few people know about that?

GINX: I don’t, but I imagine you do.

ODIN: Very few, my friend, very few.

GINX: So which is better, fame or anonymity?

ODIN: It’s hard to say. Even the gods are cursed with the desire to want what we don’t have. When I was well known, all I wanted was to be able to walk down a road and have no one recognize and bother me by asking for stuff. Now, people purposely avoid making eye contact with me. But you know what? I think I prefer being unknown, because privacy is great, even if I have to pay for things or spell my name when I’m waiting for a table at Red Lobster.

GINX: Those are some good biscuits.

ODIN: I hear they’re divine.

GINX: So... since you aren’t Santa Claus, I’m basically winging it at this point, since all my questions are obsolete now.

ODIN: If you want, I can talk about it more. It’s just... I so rarely get to speak with people these days, it’s weird to be talking about a piece of work I made 189 years ago. I’ve grown as an artist.

GINX: I understand. My favorite band was Nirvana, and I know Kurt Cobain hated playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and they were only around for like 3 years after that song got big before he killed himself.

ODIN: I guess that’s comparable...

GINX: Sorry, I’m an idiot, I’m just trying to relate using the rudimentary experience I have. I wouldn’t know what it’s like to be famous. I wasn’t even popular in school. Plus my name is really easy to spell.

ODIN: Yeah...

GINX: I am floundering here. This interview is turning to shit.

ODIN: No, you’re doing fine.

GINX: Okay. So... how are things in Asgard?

ODIN: It’s good. The kids are growing up so fast. The wife has been busy with her weaving.

GINX: That’s nice. What have you been up to lately?

ODIN: Well, I’ve been busy. I don’t know if you’re aware, but I’m still a very active deity. I may not be in a workshop with elves making toys for the good girls and boys, but I have my hand in a lot of human endeavors. Like... being interviewed.

GINX: I do appreciate you taking the time to do this.

ODIN: Again.

GINX: What?

ODIN: This is the second time you’ve interviewed me.

GINX: I am pretty sure I would have remembered you.

ODIN: I have so many names. The Hooded One, the Frenzied, the Wanderer, the Father of Wealth... I had the Romans call me Mercury, and the Greeks before them called me Hermes.

GINX: Oh! Hey, sorry, I didn’t recognize you.

ODIN: Happens all the time.

GINX: Huh... you’re a tricky one.

ODIN: I have been called “the Deceiver.”

GINX: Well, you earned it.

ODIN: Indeed.

GINX: Huh... so you really did move up in the world. I remember introducing you when you called yourself Hermes as the messenger of the gods.

ODIN: I hate that title.

GINX: No doubt, it’s nothing compared to “All-father” and “King of the Gods.” You’re like the intern who used to get coffee for everyone and now runs the whole company.

ODIN: I guess, in a sort of... ridiculously over-simplified modern allegory.

GINX: Boy is my face red. Why didn’t I recognize you before? I swear you weren’t missing an eye.

ODIN: I was sitting at an angle, you couldn’t really see I was missing an eye. I’ve gotten good at hiding it over the centuries.

GINX: Yeah, and to be honest, I wasn’t really looking at you. I usually have to watch what I’m typing because my use of the keyboard is horrible, even though I’ve been on a computer almost every day since I was a little kid. It’s kind of like how I still miss the toilet sometimes when I piss standing up, even though I’ve done it several times a day for over 20 years now.

ODIN: I have to say... it’s never boring when I talk to you.

GINX: I take that as a compliment. I think it’s important to say memorable things, even if it’s not self-flattering.

ODIN: Better to be remembered by any means necessary?

GINX: Yeah, I think so.

ODIN: There’s more truth to that idea than you could ever know.

GINX: Yeah, I was told by Dionysus that being remembered makes you an immortal.

ODIN: Why would you ever want to be immortal?

GINX: Are you kidding me? I don’t buy all that garbage about how it would be better to not be immortal. I wouldn’t get sick of living, ever.

ODIN: But the immortality of the gods isn’t about living.

GINX: What do you mean?

ODIN: Being an immortal... I can’t even express to you the vast differences between being a god and being a human. I think the biggest is choice. Humans have it, gods don’t.

GINX: What?

ODIN: For all our power, we are slaves to destiny. We are chained to the inevitability of unavoidable actions. For me especially, since I know all things both in my troubled past and my doomed future, my existence is like being forced to act a tragic part in a play I have already seen. I am not free, and I am helpless to do anything but fulfill my role.

GINX: Wow... so even this interview, right now, is being done against your will?

ODIN: Essentially, yes.

GINX: I’m terribly sorry.

ODIN: Don’t be. This isn’t the tragic part. This is a trifle, a miniscule moment in time that I suspect will not even be a part of the events that flash before my eyes on the eve of my demise.

GINX: I’m not sure how to take that.

ODIN: It doesn’t matter, take it as you wish. You are utterly insignificant, but you are free, and I would trade places with you if it were in my power, even though you lack anything remotely resembling an idyllic life in your own eyes. To me, you are living the dream, because all I dream of is living.

GINX: I am... just... dumbstruck.

ODIN: And I envy you for having the ability to not even know what to say next.

GINX: So, let me get this straight. You don’t recommend I become a god?

ODIN: I don’t mean to ruin the surprise that is your fate, but you are not going to be a god. I can tell because your future is hazy. You will be remembered by loved ones, those close to you. When they pass, your spirit will be completely free yet again. There will be nothing chaining you to the world, and you will be infinitely happier for it.

GINX: Well, at least there’s that.

ODIN: Why would you ever want to be a god?

GINX: Actually, I wasn’t too interested in the idea. I’ve flirted with the notion, but I guess I just viewed immortality as being something different. I would like to live forever, and never grow old, remaining young and virile until the end of time. I don’t need the powers or the worship or anything like that.

ODIN: You don’t want to be a god, you want to be a vampire.

GINX: Eh, I’m not too keen on blood.

ODIN: Well, vampires aren’t real, anyway.

GINX: Just the same.

ODIN: I too share in your desire to live forever in eternal youth in the world of man. At this point, I would settle for just a little something to help me forget.

GINX: Ahh, now I see why you drink.

ODIN: Indeed.

GINX: You should smoke pot, talk about memory loss.

ODIN: What do you think I’m drinking, beer? I drink a potent alcohol that is infused with cannabis and psychedelic mushrooms.

GINX: The fact that you’re a god of poetry now makes sense.

ODIN: The more you know, the more it all seems connected.

GINX: I guess so.

ODIN: You know, you called me here to talk about Santa Claus... I figure I owe you a bit more. Have you heard of Amanita muscaria?

GINX: Nope.

ODIN: You know those red mushrooms with white spots? They’re a common motif among gnomes and sometimes even Christmas ornaments.

GINX: Oh, okay.

ODIN: They cause hallucinations, and I decided to make Santa dress in red and white based on their appearance.

GINX: I’ll be damned.

ODIN: And you know stockings?

GINX: Sure.

ODIN: Well, I used to tell the children of Scandinavia to put out sugar cubes for my horse to eat this time of year, because I always scheduled a trip through there. And I had them do it overnight so I wouldn’t have to see them, since it was back in the days when I didn’t want all the attention I was getting. I would reward them with candy in their socks. What they didn’t know is, my horse eats sugar and shits candy.

GINX: That’s... kind of messed up.

ODIN: It’s perfectly safe.

GINX: Yeah but... your horse craps candy? That’s weird enough, but you would leave it for children to eat?

ODIN: Oh please. It’s cleaner than most of the garbage that is mass produced in factories today. It sure as hell had no high fructose corn syrup in it.

GINX: So, what about the milk and cookies of today?

ODIN: Like I said, there is no Santa Claus. The parents are taking a bite from the cookie and drinking half the milk.

GINX: Oh, right.

ODIN: Still, I don’t regret the Christmas tradition I started. The gift-giving in particular is great for businesses. I’m a huge believer in capitalism.

GINX: I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree on that.

ODIN: Oh please. If you’re such a commie, why do you hate Yahweh so much?

GINX: What?

ODIN: Yahweh is a huge communist. He goes around telling people it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, that you should sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, even his early church functioned as a collective, pooling their money together as a group.

GINX: Maybe Yahweh is a communist, but I don’t believe those things either, and I certainly don’t hate gay people or think women are inferior or that belief in Yahweh is the most important thing in the world. I’m certainly not a collectivist, either. I think people should be allowed to have wealth, just not so much that their children and children’s children never have to lift a finger and do anything while other people work two jobs and can’t even get by.

ODIN: Well, you just don’t see it like I do.

GINX: How do you see it?

ODIN: I see those rich spoiled snobs as marks.

GINX: What?

ODIN: The rich are ripe for the picking. They’re arrogant, ignorant and soft, which is the perfect recipe for exploitation.

GINX: Let me get this straight... rich people exploit the poor, so I should then turn around and exploit the rich?

ODIN: The rich don’t exploit the poor. If you exploit the poor, all you can ever get is what they have, which is basically nothing. You have to exploit people who have something if you ever want anything.

GINX: Why do you have to exploit people at all?

ODIN: You don’t have to, especially if mediocrity is acceptable to you.

GINX: Maybe that’s why I will never be a god, I just can’t bring myself to exploit people.

ODIN: Don’t kid yourself. Even if you learned how to exploit people, you’ll still never be more than a branch on someone’s family tree.

GINX: And you’d still trade places with me if you could?

ODIN: In a heart beat.

GINX: That’s a lot to think about. I don’t know what to say.

ODIN: Then don’t ruin the moment. I’ll talk to you again later.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Season's Greetings

For lack of a substantial post until at least next week, I'm wishing happy holidays, a euphoric Yuletide, a wonderful winter vacation, a sensational Saturnalia, a mirthful Mithras' birthday, and an exceptional X-mas to all.

My gift for you guys will come after the new year, and while I won't tell you what it is yet (I'll be honest... I haven't even shopped for you yet), I can promise you this: 2011 will bring a change to this blog. New look, new name, new topics, but sadly the same old blogger. Sorry folks, I just can't afford the therapy necessary to change, so this is as good as I'm going to get.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Music Monday Tuesday: Local H

I completely forgot about my blog for the past week because I got really into Minecraft, and it just moved from Alpha to Beta. If you have no idea what I’m talking about… it’s video game stuff. When I have a new video game, I tend to shut out the rest of the world for a week or five. Hence, I forgot all about Music Monday.

I shall flagellate myself 100 times so I won’t be so quick to dismiss my responsibilities in the future. In fact, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to come up with a themed post for every day of the week, that way the thinking for, “What am I going to post today?” is done for me.

Local H is a two-man group, plain and simple. There’s not much I can say about them beyond the fact that they can make a Britney Spears song rock hard. Growing up in Indiana, I saw them open for a lot of bands I went to see (Local H formed in Illinois), and more than once they were better than the headliners (I’m talking to you, Buckcherry).

They have a sound that transcends their simple make-up, and quite frankly… I’m a sucker for mid-90’s rock. I swear that the next “Music Monday” will feature a band that didn’t form in the 80’s and hit it big in the 90’s (or that isn’t a murderous ring leader).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Two Dudes: Standing

The Echochamber of Faith

Perhaps one of the primary reasons I feel nothing for religion is I cannot stand universal consensus. If everyone in a group agrees with something, I am instantly suspicious. I am especially weary if people outside the group have different ideas on the matter, but the group refuses to consider them.

I thrive on diversity of thought. I get off on it. I need my fix when it comes to new ideas. I can’t consume the same old stale concepts day after day. Some people find comfort in this sort of thing, but I don’t. I consider it to be intellectually incestual.

In some sense, religions operate in an echochamber. Tradition finds a cozy home in religion, a warm spot to curl up and sit motionless for decades, even centuries.

Sure, there’s discord within any given religion. There is never complete agreement when two or more people are involved in something. However, there is (from my perspective) an unhealthy amount of blind cohesion where religion is concerned.

Take for example the much maligned Catholic Church. I have never met a Catholic who supported priest abuse, and yet I meet very few Catholics who even really recognize what the problem is. I hear the same arguments:

“The Catholic Church is too large to control what every single one of its thousands of priests do, and it’s really a small number who are the problem.”

These are both true statements, and I couldn’t agree more. If a company that ran a daycare had an employee abuse children, I wouldn’t attack the company itself… unless it moved that employee to another daycare facility in another state, where they continued to rape kids.

You see, the real problem is not even addressed in the arguments made by Catholics. The problem wasn’t that the abuse occurred in the first place. In fact, the biggest problem wasn’t even that the Catholic Church covered it up. The travesty was in facilitating the continued atrocity of child molestation.

So why is this not a problem in the minds of Catholics? Because this is not how the problem has been presented when talking with other Catholics. If you repeat something stupid often enough, most people (especially religious ones) will simply believe it and repeat it.

I suspect the primary problem with religious thought is the company kept by most most religious people. Most tend to associate with those who are like them, and in mixed company, it’s considered culturally unacceptable to discuss religion and politics.

Weird, because that’s the only things I enjoy talking about…

But there’s a reason for this: Churches and political parties (what’s the difference, really…) don’t want their members discussing their ideas outside the group.

Well, that’s not entirely true. They don’t want people debating anything that might lead to a member being exposed to different opinions, but they do love recruitment. In a sense, members are encouraged to “share” their ideas, but not to engage in “debate.”

Herein lies the malevolency. How can it be socially acceptable to try to convince others of your ideas (or rather, the ideas which have been shoved down your throat and are then regurgitated for others), yet it is unacceptable to engage in a discussion where the ideas of multiple groups are considered?

It’s a delightfully brilliant solution for maintaining a conservative view of the world, but it doesn’t do much for allowing people to progress and grow in their views. But then again, when has intellectual growth ever been the goal of religion?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Music Monday: Charles Manson

I’m a sucker for outsider art, and you don’t get much more outsider than Charles Manson.

He was born “no name Maddox” to 16-year-old, unmarried runaway Kathleen Maddox in Cincinnati, Ohio. By the age of 32, he had spent over half of his life in prison or reform schools.

Despite having very little formal education, he scored above average on prison issued IQ tests. He is particularly renowned for his uncanny social engineering skills. He is most famous for having convinced a small group of followers to engage in the Tate/LaBianca murders, which were carried out to spark a panic which Charles Manson hoped would result in a race war.

Manson had met and befriended Dennis Wilson, founding member of the Beach Boys, and recorded numerous songs with him before the murders. After his arrest, Manson released some of these previously recorded works as “Lie: The Love and Terror Cult” to pay for his defense. Manson continued to record music after his imprisonment, but like so many recording artists, his first album was his best.

The Beach Boys recorded their own version of “Cease To Exist” as “Never Learn Not To Love,” without crediting Manson, and bands including Guns ’n Roses and The Lemonheads have also covered Manson’s songs.

Regardless of what you think of the man, you can’t deny that some of his music is great. Sanity is a highly overrated trait for artists, anyway.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ethics vs. Morality

When discussing morality and what it is, one must concede that it is entirely possible that morality does not exist. In fact, quite a strong argument can be made that morality is merely a human construct, a completely artificial concept.

However abstract it may be, “morality” is a perfectly acceptable moniker for the basic idea behind “proper action.” At this point, it may be useful to discuss very briefly the delineation between morality and ethics.

Ethics is larger than morality. Morality is system of proper behavior. The subjective nature of “proper” is what makes morality so flimsy. Ethics, on the other hand, is much broader. Ethics can encompass extra-moral behavioral systems, such as utilitarianism or consequentialism, as well as morality systems.

Perhaps the largest shortcoming of morality is how culturally biased it is. Beyond the very nature of what actions are considered “morally acceptable,” even the question of “what sort of action should be defined by morality” is one of great confusion.

Take sex, for instance. Modern Western thought attaches quite a bit of morality to sex. However, several cultures place few moral boundaries on sexual behavior. This idea may be hard to grasp for the average Eurocentric thinker, for while a liberal may not condemn pre-marital sex or homosexuality as immoral, it would be remarkable to find someone who would publicly argue in favor of rape or pedophilia.

Yet, there are many cultures throughout history which have reveled in both, seeing nothing wrong with either. In truth, the things we attach moral significance to can change as often and as quickly as the weather.

To provide some perspective, consider this: food is a moral issue in nearly every culture and religion. Because Christianity has shrugged off the morality attached to food, the Western world has been bequeathed a sort of apathy for consumption ethics – excluding the late addition of a stigma against alcohol and other intoxicants.

However, this absence in traditional moral views has not stopped the re-emergence of food morality. Beyond prohibitions on psychoactive substances, there is an undeniably passionate movement against the consumption of animals. To a vegetarian or vegan, one’s food is most certainly a matter of morality.

And that’s the rub: one person’s deep moral convictions can so easily be considered by their neighbors as a matter of simple indifference.

Another primary difference between morality and ethics is that a moral system need not truly be a system at all, but rather a hodge-podge of behavioral preferences. Morality is a patchwork ideology that is less (or not at all) concerned with “Why?” A moral code simply states what actions are acceptable without any need for explanation. Ethics can be quite the opposite: many ethical systems are built upon ideological principles, however compromised they may become.

Take, for instance, the ethical principle, “Do no harm.” The idea is simple enough, but there is enough ambiguity for a vast spectrum of ethical systems to emerge from this core doctrine. Is one allowed to use force in order to prevent harm? Is it implied that one should not harm only humans, or are our vegetarian friends extending this courtesy to animals? Moreover, how far removed from a harmful action is one permitted to be before one loses accountability?

Buying a pair of jeans may not seem like an action which pertains to morality, but if those jeans were knowingly made through the use of slave labor, is this still the case? These issues are what makes ethics simultaneously more meaningful than morality and more difficult for the average person to put into practice effectively.

Morality is ethics simplified. Rather than saying, “be good to others,” morality seeks to codify precisely which actions one ought to perform in order to be good, while ethics leaves the specifics largely up to the interpretation of the individual. In a sense, morality is limited by the wisdom of those who spell it out, while ethics is limited by the judgment of those who adopt it.

Despite both of these methods for dictating behavior, there is a third thing to consider: the unpredictability of humanity. We are beings that defy systemization. We can be told to do something from the day we are born, we can consciously accept it as true and right, and we can turn around and do the exact opposite when confronted with the opportunity. We are capable of doing regrettable deeds.

There is no way of knowing how any of us will act in any given situation, even one we have been in before. We are influenced by our every-changing wants, desires, passions, vengeance, even the simple condition of whether or not we think someone else is looking. Of course, not knowing for certain how we will act is no reason to reject the idea that one can prepare or train oneself to do what is “right.”

Not only do individuals fall short of their instilled moral and ethical teachings, but there are those who are able to rise above their imperfect and misguided ideologies. Perhaps the most damning characteristic of morality is that it leaves so little room for circumstance, while ethics provides for the basis of transcending an oversimplified view of the world.

We are all told from the day we are born that lying is wrong, and yet we all come to the same conclusion: lies are not necessarily wrong. Now, we can waste time discussing stupid little lies involved wives and how they look in a pair of jeans (which has nothing to do with morality, just opinion), but my favorite example of moral deception involves civil disobedience.

You are a German in the 1940’s who sympathizes with the Jews and you decide to harbor a family in your attic. If the Gestapo come knocking on your door and ask you if you know of the location of that Jewish family, are you obligated to tell the truth?

This example also illustrates the last concept I believe people must consider when making moral and ethical decisions: consequences. It’s easy to argue that you shouldn’t turn in that Jewish family, but many people would do it. Are they horrible people? Well, let’s consider the consequences of lying in this case.

Lying can protect the fugitives, but it can also endanger yourself and those you know. If you are discovered to be harboring criminals, you stand to be punished for doing “the right thing,” because it is clearly not seen as being the right thing to do by those looking for Jews to exterminate. To tell the truth and turn them in is a safe choice, but you have to ask yourself: can you live with your decision to save your own ass at the expense of others?

I would like to think I would take the risk of suffering the consequences of doing the right thing instead of the certainty of my own personal safety in exchange for subjecting others to injustice. However, I can see how both sides can easily be argued as valid.

In any case, I think it’s fair to say that one can blend both morality and ethics to create a comprehensive ideology that is both clear cut for simple matters and open to interpretation when faced with more complex scenarios.

However, how many of us truly sit down and think about this stuff? How many of us are concerned with the fact that morality is black and white, while ethics paints with shades of gray? Are most of us even spending a great deal of time considering the ramifications of hypothetical scenarios? Or, are most of us simply living our lives as best we can and making decisions based on intangibles while on the fly? How often are we confronted with a difficult decision which we have time to deliberate upon?

In the end, I have a feeling most of us are just reacting to a strange and confusing world the best we can, and that morality and ethics are merely post hoc justifications for choices we make after little consideration.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Questions About Ghosts

Last year, when driving from my parents’ home in Indiana to my previous home in Philadelphia over Christmas break, my wife and I stopped in Pittsburgh to hang out with her friend and spend the night. My wife’s friend is working for a production company that is making a series for TV about going on location to haunted houses to “document” ghosts.

Now, they were kind enough to let us bring our dog to their meeting, and our dog was a loud, annoying mess. The problem was, I came up with some questions that I thought would be too rude to ask. Since I don’t care if I insult any of you guys who believe in ghosts, I thought I’d throw them out there and see what you think:

1. Why aren’t ghosts naked? Are their clothes cursed to wander the Earth for eternity as well, and what does an article of clothing have to do to deserve such a fate?

2. Are there many instances of ghost animals, considering how many more animals there are than human beings?

3. Can ghosts masturbate? Is this what “ectoplasm” is?

4. Do ghosts sleep? Can they dream? Do they have nightmares of living people?

5. If the sea level rises, will ghosts float higher?

6. If you die in space, will your ghost drift around forever?

7. Can angels kill ghosts?

8. Can anyone see ghosts, or are they only visible to attention whores?

There’s Nothing To It

One of the strangest arguments leveled at atheists by Christians is that atheists believe everything sprang from nothing, and that this is illogical. To my knowledge, no atheist I have ever heard of has made this argument. However, we as human beings don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. To truly appreciate this argument, you must transport yourself into the mind of a Christian.

The book of Genesis attempts to clearly explain the creation of the world. Atheists, on the other hand, make no particular claims. Atheism, after all, is merely a lack of belief in gods, so the only thing one can assume about how an atheist views the universe is that the divine had nothing to do with it.

Christians make quite an assumption when claiming that atheists form their views based on science, perhaps assuming this based on the atheist rejection of religious myth. This may be a fair assumption, though it should be noted that an atheist cannot automatically be tied to current scientific consensus.

For example, the general consensus is that “The Big Bang” is the beginning. Personally, I’m a bit skeptical of this egotistical view of our universe. It seems to me that every time humans have believed something we are a part of is either central or alone, we find out we are wrong, and that we are simply in one of many. Suffice to say, I view the Big Bang as not the beginning of everything, but merely the beginning of our universe.

For argument’s sake, let us assume this universe is everything, or at least that we may reason through infinite regression that there is something from whence everything comes. Is it necessary to name such a thing “God,” despite having no knowledge about it whatsoever?

Historically, philosophers have called this “prime mover” a god, despite the inherent problems with doing so. The most immediate dilemma is, “If everything is caused by God, what caused God?” After all, gods are a rather complex concept: gods have consciousness, which is far more complex than simple matter.

In a universe where even a rock’s existence must be explained, how can something as intricate as God be the first thing in existence? And from whence did God come?

Asking such questions will garner one of a couple non-answers from the faithful. You will generally get ridiculous replies, such as: “God is eternal and without end, and therefore needs no beginning.” However, this is no more to the point than saying, “Because we said so!” After all, if something as complex as a god can simply be, without any explanation, then why can’t something as simple as lifeless matter simply be, without explanation?

If I were walking along a path and saw a rock, and next to it was a god, I would be far more apt to wonder, “Where did that god come from?” while paying little mind to the rock. Maybe that’s just me…

Stranger still, the faithful sometimes speak of how atheists believe that “everything came from nothing,” while believing the very same doctrine themselves (in psychology, this is called “projection”). According to Christians, God didn’t roll up His sleeves in some workshop and forge the universe… he simply “spoke it” into being, according to Genesis. Until you can show me a cupful of spoken words, I think we can agree that this is an instance of creating something from nothing.

When a Christian says this, they are trying to turn the tables on atheists. They are trying to bring the atheist around to the Christian point of view, to say, “You believe no different than me, I simply call the first cause ‘God.’” They may also be trying to diffuse the atheist’s ideology in their own mind as being no different than their own belief by erecting a simple strawman in lieu of actually asking an atheist what they think.

These two strategies are often at work in modern Christian apologetics. The Christian mindset is to try to make differences seem irrelevant. These tactics are also at work when Christians claim that “atheism is a religion.” Since Christians often views atheists as simply being anti-religious rebels, the idea that atheism is a religion ought to make the atheist re-evaluate their stance.

Here’s the problem: none of these bolster the flimsy arguments of the Christian, they are merely rhetorical distractions erected in defense of a baseless belief.

The modern Christian becomes highly abstract when discussing God. God ceases to be the anthropomorphic being that walked with Adam and Eve in a garden, as clearly described in the Bible. God no longer resides above the firmament, opening doors so that water rains down on a flat Earth. In essence, the Christian God has evolved beyond the Biblical God, not because of Christian doctrine, but out of scientific necessity.

Despite glaring scientific proofs against the ideas set forth in the Bible, the belief in God persists by continually having God retreat to the unknown. The modern abstraction of God bears absolutely no resemblance to the medieval or ancient descriptions, partly because those views are incompatible with what we know about the universe today.

This is particularly odd, because our knowledge of God has not changed one iota in this time. From a Christian perspective (Mormons and some other sects excluded), revelation has ended, so we have no new knowledge of God, and yet our conception of Him has changed so radically that the modern concept of God is utterly unrecognizable as YHWH of the Bible.

As this God of the gaps in our scientific knowledge continues to retreat to the dim, faintly understood regions of our understanding, perhaps God will return to the nothing from whence He sprung, one day left with nothing unknown to hide behind, and exposed as the Nothing many of us have suspected He has been all along. Then, we shall all be atheists, worshipping Nothing, and we can get back to answering the questions we have without the need for divine labels.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Provocative Provocation #1

I tried doing a “Discussion” series, but I think I was asking questions that were too tame to warrant a response. So, I’ll give it another shot, this time I’ll be my usual assholic self rather than politely civil. So, let’s get on with it then.

I don’t think “being gay” is genetic. In fact, I don’t think anyone can “be gay.”

Anyone care to disagree?

Almost a Philosopher

The word “philosopher” literally means “lover of wisdom.” If this is our working definition, then I am by no means a philosopher. I just don’t love wisdom. I like wisdom, but I don’t want to be tied down to one form of epistemology just yet.

Wisdom means many things to many people, and it is perhaps my perception of what wisdom is which makes it vaguely unappealing. I associate wisdom with the elderly, with tradition, with “common knowledge.” I see wisdom as being what old people believe.

Now, I don’t know if I just live in a particularly unique time (though I doubt it), but I think old people are completely full of shit. I would argue they are the ones whose way of thinking has been compromised by lazy beliefs like pragmatism, gradualism, and customs.

At this point, if any of my older readers are offended, don’t be. I think of “old” in this case as being a completely mental state, not a physical one. You know you are getting old when you cease asking “Why?” and start asking, “Why bother?” This is the point at which one has clearly allowed the world to beat them into submission, and it can happen chronologically early in one’s life, or never at all.

So, if you are in fact “old,” whatever you age, I recommend you go start your car and suck on the exhaust pipe for a few minutes. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Okay, now that those quitters are gone, I can address you, my fellow idealists.

While I’m no philosopher, I love knowledge. I’m sort of a… gnosiophile. That is never going to catch on. I never really liked labels, anyway.

I suppose I have been particularly lucky in my life to be surrounded by very stupid people. This has allowed me to learn volumes about the world that I might have otherwise never known.

“But Bret, shouldn’t you want to be surrounded by intelligent people if you want to gain knowledge?”

I try to surround myself with intelligent people, but it just doesn’t work. I managed to marry one, but for the most part, I don’t find a lot of intelligence in others. Then again, I know now that we don’t choose our friends. Rather, our friends merely got to us first.

However, there is so much to be learned from a fool. For one thing, fools are particularly easy to manipulate. If a fool won’t do what you suggest, you need merely to suggest the opposite of what you would want, and voila: they will do your bidding. And it’s wonderful to have a fool do something which I can observe without consequence to myself.

Arguably the easiest way to learn is to make mistakes, and while I have made more than my share of errors, I have learned even more from the follies of others. For instance, I need never waste the time, money or bodily damage of getting a tattoo or piercing, because I allowed the fools around me to try it out first.

I’m not particularly clever, but since the average person is particularly stupid, I need merely be slightly above average in order to dwarf most people intellectually. Lucky for me, I am also not threatened at all by people who are smarter than myself, though I find that I learn only limited things from truly intelligent people.

I used to wonder why this was the case, why those who make me feel incredibly dumb by comparison never seemed to impart their knowledge to me. Then it struck me that intelligence is not contagious. It cannot be transferred via mental osmosis. It cannot even be taught. In fact, I reject the very idea that anyone can be taught anything.

Teaching never occurs. A good teacher teaches no one, they merely present the information necessary for one to learn. Learning is a completely internal, personal experience. Learning is not listening, it is reflection on what one has heard. A fool could be surrounded by geniuses twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, for every year of their life, and in the end… they would still turn out to be a fool.

Now, you can hang around intelligent people for a long time and come out sounding intelligent, but this is a very different thing altogether.

This is not to say that others cannot aid in the learning process of others, but it does require a fundamental shift in how most people view learning. Personally, I remember mistakes very well. I don’t know why, and I am positive this is not universal for all people, but when I see someone fail at something, I know not to do it. I simply learn best by observing and critiquing the actions of others before trying it myself.

Frankly, I’m glad the world is not full of people like me. I am not a pioneer, and a world full of my clones would advance at a mere crawl, if at all. I rely on bold fools for my continued education, not to mention amusement, while I rely on those smarter than myself to provide me with small, yet vital insights.

In fact, the only people I can’t figure out a use for are people like me: philosophers. Perhaps this is why I loathe the idea of being one…

Monday, December 6, 2010

Music Monday: The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips are like a fine wine: they get better over time. Initially forming the year I was born, 1983, the band didn’t really hit it big until a decade later in 1993 when “She Don’t Use Jelly” became a radio hit.

Initially an acid-punk band, they changed their sound throughout the 90’s. Their 1997 release of “Zaireeka” is arguably one of the most unique musical projects released by any band. It is composed of four CD’s, and is designed to be played simultaneously on four stereos in the same room to create sounds and harmonics otherwise impossible on a single CD.

By 1999’s “The Soft Bulletin,” their raw sound had given way to a highly polished, polysymphonic wave of electronic rock. This was further refined for 2002’s “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” the band’s tenth studio album, which is routinely picked by rock music magazines and critics as one of the best albums of this century’s first decade (what are we calling it, the naughts?).

While their success has been highest in the latter part of their career, my favorite song by them is “Christmas at the Zoo,” which has my favorite lyrics of any song ever written.

The Flaming Lips - Christmas At The Zoo

Bilal | Myspace Video

Immune to the Truth

Religion has a strange relationship with disease. The way I see it, you can break up the history of their relationship into two parts, pre- and post-germ theory.

Most modern people probably cannot fathom a world where humans don’t understand what disease is. Most people are unaware of “miasma theory,” and I imagine most people think humorism is some sort of science of comedy.

Our scientific understanding of disease was greatly limited before the modern era. Various individuals throughout history have proposed ideas very similar to germ theory, from ancient Hindus to 11th century Muslim scientists. In the West, we credit Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek with the discovery of microorganisms, after his work in the 17th century improving the microscope allowed him to be the first to observe them.

Despite these and many other early guesses, germ theory took a backseat to many other ideas regarding disease. To be fair, not all disease is caused by foreign pathogens, but it was the work of people like Joseph Lister in the 19th century that led to the rise of hygiene, the development of antibiotics, and the lengthening of billions of lives.

Germ theory was highly controversial before becoming perhaps the most widely accepted scientific idea to date. Germ theory was not only opposed by the advocates of other scientific explanations for disease, religious leaders and low level preachers of every stripe came out against it with vigor. It was only after incontrovertible positive results came of it that most religions begrudgingly abandoned their skepticism, and even then (as well as now), some ceased to relent.

Religion is a proto-science, a systematic attempt by people to explain things. One of the central beliefs in Christianity is, like it or not, the idea that disease is demonic. While most modern Christians have largely abandoned this literal view from the Bible, the implications remain.

For example, it is not uncommon for Christians (especially among themselves) to blame disease on sin. Perhaps the easiest and most publicized instance is AIDS. Many a conservative preacher has blamed AIDS on sin. After all, you get AIDS from gay sex and intravenous drug use, so you can only get AIDS through sin, right?

It’s not difficult for Christians who are largely unaware of reality and immunology to hold this belief. They don’t think beyond the initial premise, they merely accept it. God clearly created AIDS in order to punish the sinful.

What about the child with AIDS who got it from their mother, who was raped? What about people who got AIDS from a tainted blood transfusion? Are these just the collateral damage of God’s handiwork? Moreover, why would God punish homosexuals with a disease that only half of them can transmit? Wouldn’t God, in His infinite wisdom, create a disease that lesbians could catch, or is God, like most Americans, only disgusted by the idea of two dudes?

On another note… where in the Bible does it say, “Thou shalt not do drugs?”

Only certain brands of Christianity believe very firmly that everything that happens to us is our own doing, but nearly all believe in the power of prayer to heal (either alone or in tandem with real medicine). This has always struck me as odd, dating all the way back to my childhood days as a believer.

Why would a people, who claim to love God above all else, be so gung-ho against dying? I mean, I know Christians condemn suicide, but getting sick seems like your free ticket to eternal bliss. If you honestly and truly believed in Christianity, why would you fear death? What is so terrifying about spending the rest of eternity with the Big Guy upstairs? Why would you pray fervently to avoid going to heaven?

Often, I hear the phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” implying that a fear of death will bring one to faith. And yet, Christians are told not to fear death, that the afterlife is more glorious than any of us can imagine, and still they fight off the end in every way they can. I would venture to guess, then, that there aren’t a lot of Christians on deathbeds.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Two Dudes: More Questions

The Ginx Challenge

There are a fair number of wagers made by atheists regarding the existence of gods, but I would like present my own challenge.

First off, I am a man of modest means. I cannot offer a million dollars or fabulous prizes to entice you. In fact, I have nothing to give… or do I?

Rather than offer material excess (which wouldn’t be an appropriate prize, anyway, given the nature of the challenge) I can offer myself. If you can convince me of the existence of god(s), I will join your religion.

But wait, there’s more. I’m well aware of the fact that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. So, I also am offering my own personal actions for a day to each participant. If you so desire, you can request that I do whatever you want (within reason…) for an entire day.

If you want me to sit in meditation for 14 hours straight, I’ll do it. If you want me to attend some kind of church service (excessive travel expenses paid for by you, of course, as I am still a man of modest means), I’ll do it. Anything short of violating the law, I’ll do it (and maybe I’ll even break a few laws here or there, if I feel I can get away with it… I’m talking to you Rhastafarians).

Also, if you feel there needs to be more prep time, I’m willing to make some concessions. I’m willing to read books that more than a day to finish (I am a very slow reader).

My hope is this: because I am not offering something that I stand to lose, I have no vested interest in trying to “debunk” your religion. I am not presenting this as a challenge to you, it is a challenge for me – the challenge being that as an atheist, I have never “experienced god/spirituality.” This is a personal challenge to see if I am even capable of being religious, and it is an opportunity for believers to share their faith.

This challenge is open to anyone, and I encourage anyone interested to contact me:

Hate Crimes

The legal definition:

Hate Crime - threats, harassment, or physical harm motivated by prejudice against one’s race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability

I’m not a biblical scholar, but I have read the Bible several times, and I’m on my second complete reading of the Quran. While I’m not an expert, I know what I’ve read, and I know this: if these books had been written today, they would be considered hate crimes.

Of course, if they had been written today, they would not be as popular as they are now, because these are by-and-large shoddily written, self-contradictory diatribes of blatant ignorance. On second thought, they would find a decent audience among Tea Partiers and Glenn Beck viewers.

Ignoring all traditions and practices that have sprung up around these “holy” books , the books themselves are guilty of promoting some of the most vile and petty ideas to ever stain the human mind. Mass genocide, the treatment of women as property, the explicit calls to kill people for being homosexual or worshipping different gods… these are the hallmarks of the Abrahamic religious texts.

This is no accident; it is by design. Most religions function not by channeling emotions like love, but by standardizing emotions like hate, and religions usually define themselves not by the good deeds they perform, but by the things they oppose.

“But Ginx, doesn’t that mean you’re a religious Atheist, since you hate religion.”

I would certainly be a religious Atheist if I hated religion, but I don’t; I hate religious people. Not all of them, mind you, nor most of them. Rather, I hate those special individuals who treat their religion not as a club they have joined, but as a club to beat others over the head. Moreover, I don’t harass or threaten religious people (let alone physically harm them or destroy their property).

There’s just something fundamentally ignorant about hating people you don’t even know. That’s why I believe in order to really hate someone, you have to get to know them first. How can you hate (or treat differently) someone based on something so inconsequential as skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or religion?

Now, I’ve heard (and even made) the argument that something like religion is a choice, and it is. But frankly, it’s not like joining most religions means that someone condones all manner of bigotry advocated by their holy book or perpetrated by unsavory elements in the flock. Moreover, there is a compelling case for homosexuality being a choice.

I don’t want to get into whether homosexuality is choice, but I would point out that I consider it a “choice” in the same way that eating sushi is a choice; anyone can do it, only some people will like it (either naturally or through acquiring a taste for it), and it disgusts some people who haven’t even tried it. However, I can honestly say that it is supreme ignorance to hate someone for being gay, as ridiculous as hating someone for liking sushi.

But I digress. I originally titled this post, “Religion is a Hate Crime,” and indeed some are. However, such a statement is itself prejudiced. Not all religions are particularly hateful, and even if they were, I can imagine one that wasn’t. In fact, I need look no further than a Christian phrase to define the concept behind it: love the sinner, hate the sin.

Oh wait, that isn’t actually Christian… Mahatma Gandhi said it. Nothing like that is written anywhere in the Bible, but that hasn’t stopped Christians from appropriating it to soften their brutish creed. I suppose Christians need to give the archaic Bible an update… but I’m sure God doesn’t mind. God loves people who take the initiative, after all: God helps those who helps themselves.

Hold on… it was actually, “The gods help those who help themselves,” until Benjamin Franklin appropriated it from Aesop and made it singular. Again, there is nothing like this in the Christian holy book. The Bible version?

Thus says the LORD,
“Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind
And makes flesh his strength,
And whose heart turns away from the LORD.”
- Jeremiah 17:5
It’s no wonder Christians are so ignorant of what’s in the Bible… you can’t read this stuff and remain impressed. There is a reason is why most of the modern religions have dropped the vast majority of their bigotry: most aren’t even aware it’s there. It’s as though the Bible is a License Agreement on a piece of software, and Christians just scroll to the bottom and click “Accept” without reading it. The next thing they know, Google Chrome is installed in their brain…

But I digress, yet again. There is a certain presence of anti-hate crime sentiment. “Every crime is a hate crime,” some say, and why should we treat crimes differently if they are committed against a loved one or against a targeted stranger? This is a valid concern, and I don’t necessarily believe in special punishments. Rather, it is a distinction, a way of defining the nature of a crime. It would be tantamount to saying, “Well, should we call anything ‘rape,’ because isn’t every crime doing something against someone’s will?”

What’s more, hate crimes can actually be worse than a normal crime. Say you hurt someone because they slept with your wife. This “crime of passion” isn’t something you could spontaneously repeat, though it is a crime. Now, suppose you hurt someone because they are... a red head. You are a greater danger to society than the person who hurt someone who did something directly to them. In fact, you are potentially a danger to every person with red hair. Society has an interest in this distinction.

Photo courtesy of, at the suggestion of the first commenter.

Furthermore, the most heinous crimes against humanity tend to be large-scale hate crimes. Genocide and other forms of systematic persecution are very real problems. They occur in the form of institutional prejudice, and there is always some component of bigotry against entire groups. And therein lies the problem: when anyone can look upon a group of people as a singular whole, they will fail to see the individuals, and it will be easier to mentally dehumanize them in order to justify abuse.

And that is the mechanism behind hate crimes which is so insidious: it makes it possible to hurt large amounts of people.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Two Dudes: Tofurkey

Music Monday: The Toadies

Music Monday: The Toadies

After two 11 hours drives, I listened to a lot of music in my car last week. And one band stuck out as being particularly obscure, yet they have several songs that will have people saying, “Oh, I love this song.”

The Toadies are a band out of Texas who have only a few studio releases, despite having formed in 1989. They broke up in 2001, though I learned just recently (while doing research for this short blurb) that they reformed and released an album in 2008, though I haven’t heard it.

Interesting note: the final video I posted, “Hell Below/Stars Above,” features the late Elliott Smith on piano.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ending The War

Today is Thanksgiving, November 25th, and tomorrow is the biggest shopping day of the year, the official start of the bloated Christmas season: an entire month of commercialized material excess and gratuitous religious iconography, both Christian and pagan.

Manger scenes, Yule logs burning for Thor, and Santa (whoever he is, be he Saint Nick or Odin) will be common sights where ever you go for the next month, not to mention salespeople resisting the urge to pierce their eardrums with candy canes when "Frosty the Snowman" plays for the 500th time that day in the store.

There's also a spark in the air that can mean only one thing: it's the beginning of the war on Christmas. You know, that time of year when evil secular atheists foam at the mouth with anger over the celebration of the birth of Mithras Jesus.

Despite America being saturated with Christmas cheer for a solid month, Christians breathlessly throw their arms in the air with mock outrage at any complaint regarding the separation of church and state, let alone any atheist's attempt to voice their opinion or feelings on the matter.

In reality, there is no war on Christmas, only a war on secularism, and it ramps up around the holidays. It's odd, really, because Christians are always saying that this is the time of year when we should put differences aside, but apparently they really mean, "This is the time of year atheists should just shut up."

It's an odd situation, because most atheists I know celebrate Christmas. If I were a petty asshole who was part of some religion, perhaps I would recommend that people stop celebrating Christmas, or that atheists should fight legal battles over public displays of religious iconography. I just don't care, because secularism and atheism are not a religion, and I know nothing bad is going to happen just because Christians are having a good time.

There is a fundamental difference I have noticed between atheists and Christians. While not a tried and true rule, Christians get really upset when other people are having a good time doing something they don't do. They're threatened by homosexuals getting married, premarital sex, blasphemy, other religions, people without religion... all sorts of victimless "crimes."

On the other hand, I don't care. I don't care if people celebrate Christmas. In fact, I have never even heard of an atheist who believes anything even resembling the idea that Christmas should be abolished or attacked, so where does this "War on Christmas" nonsense come from?

Quite simply: Christianity just works that way. Personally, I would like to call a cease fire, but as is often the case, this was a war started by Christians, and they have no desire of ending it. But why?

Well, to understand the artificially manufactured war on the artificially manufactured holiday of Christmas, you have to get to the very heart of the psychology behind Christianity. To put it bluntly, Christians love to be victims. They need to be victims. They imagine themselves as pious, noble beacons of light shining in a dark world that is out to extinguish them. They imagine themselves hanging up on a cross alongside Jesus, suffering at the hands of brutal oppressors.

Does the fact that Christians are the overwhelming majority in America change anything? No. Does the fact that Christmas is not actually under attack make any difference? Not really. Does the idea of Christians standing up for their Lord and Savior give them a huge faith boner? You betcha.

So it's like this... Christians want a war on Christmas, and atheists don't seem to be willing to fight it. Christians need to feel oppressed (because their faith tells them they will be), while no one is stepping up to oppress them because, frankly, it's scary to stand up to such a large and violent group of crazy people. The solution? I have no idea, but I hope it involves chocolate.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Music Monday: Franz Ferdinand

I used to do top ten lists for music, but my mp3 collection was decimated after I had to reformat my computer. I figured that doesn’t mean music has to disappear from my blog. So, every Monday I’ll spotlight an artist or band I like a lot, and post a few examples of their better work.

Fair warning, I am a sucker for popular singles, so hipsters can save the criticism: I have no indie cred and I don’t want any. It looks sticky, anyway.

My favorite band that still produces new music, Franz Ferdinand is not one musician, it is the name of a Scottish alt-rock band named for the Archduke of Austria whose assassination resulted in World War I. Many people have heard and seen the music videos for “Take Me Out” and “Do You Want To,” and “No You Girls” was prominently featured on an iPod commercial.

I would describe their sound as David Bowie meets Queen in a grunge-themed disco. It’s been called “dance-punk.” While I suppose it wouldn’t sound bad being piped onto a dark club’s dance floor, I think it’s great music to drive to or have in the background while doing just about anything. A fair number of my blog posts are written while listening to them.

So, without further build-up, here’s a few Franz Ferdinand songs:

Contagious Ideas

Buddhism is arguably the most attractive religion on the planet to anyone willing to give it a chance. Sure, there are hurdles in its reality that I can’t bring myself to jump over, but there is something fundamentally different about Buddhism.

For one thing, Buddhism is the first salvation faith (though I imagine this is not what a Buddhist would call it). It was the first major world religion to really coin the idea of death as something that could be overcome by the average person. Other major religions shared this basic concept to some extent, primarily the Egyptians, but their religion was highly focused on the nobility and monarch. The average person was not mummified and prepared for their transport into a blissful afterlife.

Instead of relying heavily upon rituals of appeasement, Buddhism is a path defined by one’s personal search for knowledge. What’s more, Buddhism likely had a heavy influence on the salvation faiths that followed.

It is a fairly well known fact at this point that Eastern religion found its way into Mesopotamia centuries before the time of Jesus. It’s also accepted by most scholars that Christianity could have been influenced by Buddhism. Even devout Christians are obliged to admit that Buddhism is particularly influential in the Gnostic sects and Manichaeism.

While much of Buddhism’s influence is found in the apocrypha, some found its way into biblical canon. Both Buddha and Jesus were conceived to virgins by divine means. The birth of both was preceded by a bright light in the sky. Both abandon their lives and families to practice ascetic lives of wandering with disciples, preaching in towns and staying in the homes of strangers. While Buddha calls himself the great father with sons of light, Jesus calls himself the son of the great father and “the light of the world.” Both call their ideologies “the way” or “the path.”

The evidence continues to mount when looking at the historical iconography. Early Christianity used Buddhist imagery. The wheel with eight spokes (a symbol of the Buddhist eight-fold path) is seen in this satellite view of St. Peter’s Plaza in Vatican City:

This seems quite comparable to the Buddhist eight-spoked wheel:

But The Vatican might just be a coincidence, right? A little harder to simply write-off is this piece of graffiti from the ancient city of Ephesus:

Written next to the Greek word “ichthys,” meaning “fish,” this links early Christianity (of an undetermined sect) with Buddhist iconography.

In fact, it is likely that Jesus knew of this connection. Those three wise men who were so eager to meet him at his birth go largely unexplained in the Gospels. Why would Persian magi have any interest in a Jewish Messiah?

In all likelihood, the magi were Zoroastrians who had been in contact with Buddhists. Jesus was born roughly 500 years after some estimated years of Buddha’s death, and many believed this was when the Buddha would return. They were likely looking for Maitreya, the reincarnation of Sakyamuni (the Buddha). Would it be such a stretch to suggest these Zoroastrians, who are attested even in the canonical gospels, may have played some role in the formation of Jesus’ ideology?

There is also the small matter of many early Christians believing in reincarnation. Origen and Augustus of Hippo believed in reincarnation for a time (or their work was redacted by later theologians to appear as though they changed their opinions). Many Gnostic sects not only believed in reincarnation (Sethians and Valentinians, for example), they sought a personal need to attain the knowledge that makes one capable of transcending the material world… which is awfully reminiscent of Buddhist enlightenment.

Nor was the influence one-way. Indian religion (for example, Mahayana Buddhism) was influenced by Christian missionaries (like St. Thomas) who set up Christian communities in the East. There are even radical and unfounded (though entertaining) claims that Jesus himself travelled to India during the decades of Jesus’ life that are undocumented by the gospels.

At this point, it is important to note that some of the underlying claims are speculation, as the life (or very existence) of Jesus are subjects of extreme historical controversy, bias and tampering. Centuries of suppression make any analysis of early Christianity sketchy at best, and direct influence is difficult to prove or disprove.

It is possible that two groups of human beings experiencing the same world independently came to the same philosophical conclusions. Mathematicians in both Mayan and Indian cultures came up with the concept and representation of “zero,” and the Aztecs and Egyptians both built pyramids worlds apart. However, we know with certainty that ideas (along with goods) passed between the less disjointed ancient worlds of the East and West, compared to the largely isolated New World.

Mani is one particular figure who perfectly exemplifies an attested East-meets-West thinker. A 3rd century Iranian philosopher who wrote in Syrian Aramaic and Persian, Mani’s theology was the basis for Manichaeism.

Even later, medieval Norse mythology was heavily influenced by Eastern theology. The Norse Aesir and Buddhist/Hindu Asura are linguistically linked, as are many of the names and functions of various gods. They also share a belief in reincarnation which can be escaped (Buddhists seek Enlightenment, Norse seek to die in battle… a slight divergence).

I suppose my point is that ideas are catchy, or as the Buddha would put it: a single flame can light an infinite number of candles.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Too Offensive? #1

I think this is the perfect series for me, because I think it’s okay to say anything.

So, my first “Too Offensive?”

Would it be too offensive for atheists to print up placards of people being burned at the stake, stoned, or just generally being oppressed by religion? Might as well have some slogan signs too, like, “Death Cult,” or “END CHRI$TIANITY,” or “Your God Took His Mom’s Virginity.”

Too offensive?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Two Dudes: Tea Party

When Are Kids Ready?

As a young adult who is atheist, one of the great concerns facing me and my wife is that one day, we will have children, and we will inevitably have to have “the talk.” No, not the one about sex (I’m gonna let Cinemax handle that one).

When should we talk to our kids about Star Wars?

It’s a sensitive subject. How young is too young to bring up “the force?” What if they have questions that I can’t answer, like “Why can’t I have a light saber?” or “Why are there no Ewoks at the zoo?” or “Is Daddy going to turn into Darth Vader because he has breathing problems?”

Well… I guess those are easy: you’re too young (plus they don’t exist), Ewoks have sentient intelligence and don’t belong in a zoo (plus they don’t exist), and daddy is just asthmatic (though sometimes he does want to kill you… so eat your vegetables).

The truth is, it’s never too early to introduce your children to Star Wars. You just have to do it right.

You might ease into it, perhaps playing songs from the original score at appropriate times. At birthdays, play the upbeat song in the Cantina (you know… do DO do DO do doodly doo do do, doodly do, do do do do-ooo doo). Luke’s theme makes for a good waking up music, or for dramatically staring out over a desert at a binary sunset. And Darth Vader’s theme is a great soundtrack to the in-laws visiting.

Also, be sure to pipe the original score in its entirety through headphones on you or your wife’s pregnant belly, so the baby can become familiar with it in utero. You really can’t start too early.

You might also throw some memorable quotes into your conversations years before exposing them to the actual films themselves. I can’t think of a more appropriate thing to say when staring up at the night sky with your child than, “That’s no moon…” If you find yourselves sitting down to eat a meal with vegans: “I have a bad feeling about this…” or perhaps, “It’s a trap!” And encourage your kids to call people they don’t like “scruffy looking nerf-herders,” unless the person is fat, then they should call that person “Jabba.”

Also, it will really help their grammar and syntax if you talk like Yoda as much as possible.

The bottom line is this: atheist children should not feel left out. Remember, it’s your job as a parent to screw them up and fill their head with unreal fantasies and over-simplified notions of right and wrong. Luckily, the Star Wars movies are there to help, so take full advantage of them and your children’s trusting nature.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Are You Gonna Eat That?

I imagined a fictional conversation the other day between all the religions of the world. After Christianity, Islam and Judaism managed to get all the others to leave in a huff, a strange set of bedfellows emerged. Islam and Judaism ganged up on Christianity. While it was initially over the worship of multiple deities, it came around to diet.

Then it struck me…

How do Christians know not to eat dirt, or poison, or feces?

This seems like a stupid question, but in Christian logic, it makes perfect sense.

As an atheist, I am confronted with the same comments, criticisms, hate mail, and bumper stickers as other atheists. I think my fellow non-believers will agree with me that Christians seem to think that atheists are (or that atheism will make one) immoral, or have no basis for ethics, or perhaps some variant of the notion that we’re just irreligious/angry at God because there’s something we want to do and can’t give up to become Christian.

I’m straight and faithfully married. I don’t steal. I don’t hurt anyone. I don’t kill. I don’t even read Harry Potter books. There is literally nothing keeping me from becoming a Christian, besides the fact that I feel absolutely nothing for the divine.

And while I hate to state it again, it is true that atheists are less likely to be convicted of crimes. Clearly being atheist isn’t making people do bad things.

So how is an atheist guided?

Well, how does a Christian know what to eat? The New Testament may hint that fish, bread and wine are acceptable, but what’s stopping Christians from sprinkling hemlock on it?

Just as many independent factors have an impact on a Christian’s diet, many independent factors have an impact on an atheist’s ethical system (if you even believe in such a thing).

So what’s keeping Jews and Muslims from publicly condemning and ridiculing the obese West for its foolhardy eating habits? Perhaps they are saying such things amongst themselves, but they seem reasonable enough not to make such a hyperbolic statement publicly. Or maybe they just realize a Christian’s diet is based off of parental habits, advertising, school options, general geographic location, personal preferences… many things, just not their holy book.

This kind of confounds me, because just as most holy books do not define every minute detail of one’s diet, a religion’s holy book does not provide the whole of one’s moral code. There are always ancillary traditions to be upheld, as well as gray areas open to interpretation, and one cannot underestimate one’s upbringing.

The bottom line: religion does not have a monopoly on morality, and for that I think we can all thank the gods.

Wednesday Word: Judiasm

Judiasm: sexual climax achieved by/with a Hebrew

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jerk Theory

As the world’s premiere scholar on misanthropology (the study of mankind’s hatred for each other), I feel it is my duty to come up with theories that explain the hateful behavior we experience every day.

And so, my loyal readers, I present to you: Jerk Theory.

Jerk Theory operates on one principle: the old adage, “Nice guys finish last.”

The “logic” behind Jerk Theory is simple. We as a culture acknowledge that assholes get their way, ergo being an asshole is one way of “not finishing last.” Since being nice and accommodating leads to one being taken advantage of, it stands to reason that being an intolerable jackass who will not budge on anything will result in increased success.

Now, I’m not suggesting that being a jerk will actually increase one’s success. Rather, I am suggesting that many people are jerks as a self-defense mechanism.

“But Bret, what about ‘You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?’”

First of all, that is not actually true. You will literally catch more flies with vinegar than with honey. Try it.

Second, you’re forgetting the basic message of that quote, which is that people can be manipulated. You aren’t catching flies so they can be your pals, you’re doing it to destroy them. In point of fact, jerks use such manipulative practices like flattery all the time. What makes someone a jerk is not the fact that they are constantly being rude and mean, but rather it’s their intentions.

Think of it this way: if a guy joins a feminist group in order to pick up chicks, is he really supporting women’s liberation? Even if he stands up and talks about how smart and great and amazing women are, if his intention is solely that of getting women in bed to be used as sexual objects, he’s being a jerk.

But this doesn’t have to be how the world works. Nice guys don’t finish last because that is the natural order of things, they finish last because we let them. Women predominantly date jerks, not kind, patient listeners. And while I’m focusing on the male/female dynamic, the same is true in nearly every other field: business, science, academics, politics… we tend to give more credit to the one who fights tooth and nail than we do to the one who patiently waits their turn and considers the needs of others.

We can actually choose to change this paradigm. How? Well, many women have already started doing so, by realizing they don’t have to settle for a jerk. When it comes to the bedroom, nice guys often do finish last, and maybe this is why women will sleep with a nice guy more than just the one time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Myth of the Rational Man

Economics always blew my mind. Not because it’s difficult or complex or particularly deep, but because I didn’t know they taught religion in schools these days.

The central myth behind most of the modern schools of economics is the concept of “rational actors.” Preached about by Priests of Logic like Gary Becker, this theory makes one of the most grossly ridiculous claims I can imagine: namely, that human beings act logically.

Look, folks, I could bore you with pages of serious examples, but all I need to do is point out that millions of people watch a channel called “MTV,” which stands for “Music Television,” yet it never plays music. Illogical people watching an illogical channel… millions of times every day.

Okay, I don’t think I convinced you. How about this: pogs. Yes, pogs. Remember those circular pieces of cardboard with a picture on them that kids paid good money for in the 90’s? What about “The Macarena?” How did a gay, Latin dance craze catch on in nation of xenophobic fag bashers? There is also no accounting for the likes of Lady Gaga.

When I look around at humanity, I see a lot of things… just not logic. Sure, we can use logic, just as we can be good to each other. We know 1+1=2, but it’s another thing entirely to say that human beings act rationally.

What’s particularly odd about all of this is that I doubt any of these logic cultists can explain to me what a logical decision actually is. It would be ridiculous to say that people act in their own best interests, or that people make decisions which benefit their family or society. Of course some “do,” though you’ll find a lot less thought goes into most decisions made by the average person than any of these ivory tower eggheads put into the analysis.

Man is a rationalizing animal, not a rational one. We do as we please, and most of the thought occurs when we are called to account for our deeds. Sure, sometimes we stress about a particular choice for a great deal of time, weighing the pros and cons, consulting friends and advisors, maybe even turning to religion’s ethics or rituals in pursuit of the answer. But are you going to all this trouble when you pick which pasta you buy at the supermarket?

These are miniscule choices to us, minor forks in the road which compose the very backbone of entire schools of thought. Strangely, these rationalist advocates also hold firm to a seemingly paradoxical view: liberty.

I believe in liberty. I lived in Philadelphia too long not to. It had nothing to do with dusty old buildings where crusty old men framed our nation; rather, I believe in liberty because of the people living in Philly today. The wandering drunk who seemed to age a decade over the course of just a few years of living on the street. Crackheads sparking up in broad daylight as school kids walked past. The men chased by police into the backyard of a friend of my wife’s on two separate occasions.

People will do as they please. Even with laws telling them not to, people will largely do what they want. For those making the wrong choices, even tougher choices await them, and if it were up to these confused rationalist-libertarians, no one would get any help. You should sink or swim based on your own rational choices, I guess.

Try asking these rationalists about people who are out of options. What is someone with no rational choices to do? “Well, they shouldn’t have…” is how they’ll usually start. These pro-liberty individuals who believe logic dictates human behavior suddenly don’t care too much for liberty, they care about you doing the “rational” (i.e. “right”) thing… which is undoubtedly what they’re doing. What's worse, their post facto chiding is worthless to those without a time machine.

I’ve noticed another trend among these believers in the faith of liberty and logic… they’re almost all Caucasion men from middle or upper class families.

Well, that was your mistake there, ma’am: you should have been born a white guy. Then, when you make the exact same decisions you made as a minority or woman, you can absolve yourself of any responsibility or punishment. While black men are arrested at record rates for drug charges, white men are doing drugs more often with fewer arrests. While women are being told to keep their child, the men who impregnated them live freely.

This is the privileged liberty of those who tout rationalism. The lucky few leading charmed lives, who convince themselves (i.e. rationalize) that they deserve what they have because of all the intelligent and rational choices they made. I don’t know about you… but it doesn’t seem logical to me. What more damning evidence for the folly of this philosophical faith is there?

Besides, if the world is full of rational actors, where was I during rehearsal?
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