Thursday, December 3, 2009

The jolly old atheist

I have to admit something...I love Christmas. According to the AFA, I am supposed to be making war on it, but I must be a backslider. I hear a lot about how hard the holidays are on some people, and I do not doubt that this is true. Having to get together with a dysfunctional extended family, or be alone cannot be fun. For some it is the oft-forced Christmas cheer, especially in some office settings, or the incessant playing of the same 20 Christmas songs. Happily, none of these is a problem for me.

I enjoy the pagan parts of the season, the secular parts, and even, to some extent, the spiritual parts. I don't handle the preaching well, but that can be avoided reasonably well. My workplace does not have any massive after hours Christmas party that anyone is forced to attend. My floor has a carry in (must remember to get the Andouille and the tasso out of the freezer this weekend, I am bringing jambalaya.) As I am a one man department, it is nice to be included in a larger group, as a one person carry-in is simply brown bagging. Last year, my boss took the three people under him out for dinner, but there wasn't any politicking, just good food and company.

My wife and I get along pretty well with both sides of our families. There are in-laws that I don't share a lot of interests with, but no-one particularly obnoxious (well, almost, but it is a relaxed season and I can generally just ignore him.) Certainly none of the cat-fighting and back-biting I hear about from others. This year the travel for the family get-togethers is pretty light and the timing for them is pretty good, so all is good on the family side.

I hear people complain about the crowds in the malls, and about how nasty people are when shopping, but I have experienced very little of this. I understand that lines will be longer, that at least one person in the line ahead of me will have completely forgotten how to exchange money for products, but I go in with that assumption and don't let it bother me. I find that if you go to the malls in a nasty mood, you will notice the others in the same mood. I tend to go in a good mood, and I usually meet other people who smile and joke about things. Sometimes I really believe that one can choose their mood, so I choose to have fun.

There is certainly some godawful Christmas music out there, and I was hearing in the first weekend of November, which was annoying. My advantage is that I don't listen to the radio, so I don't care if all the stations have switched to Christmas must a month ago. I play CDs, so I can choose what I listen to. When I do decide to listen to Christmas music, I pick the music I listen to. At work I have about 11 hours of seasonal music on my PC. I hit shuffle, and between answering calls, leaving the office to fix this or that, I can get through the month without hearing any song more than 3 or 4 times, unless I choose to (never get enough of Blues Traveler's Christmas, or No Doubt's Oi to the World. )

Now to the best parts of Christmas. I enjoy the music, and when we go to a larger event, I can even sing aloud without anyone throwing things or calling for the police. I enjoy the secular music, I enjoy the traditional music, I enjoy, in small doses, the novelty songs, I enjoy the edgy and/or slightly bitter songs. I have Celtic songs, blues songs, jazz songs. My mix includes the Chieftains, Nat King Cole, Dr. John, Jethro Tull. Good stuff all!

There are favorite Christmas movies. We only watch a few, so we don't get over-saturated with the various awful TV and movie presentations. (Always remember Sturgeon's Law: "90 percent of everything is crud.") We love to watch the Alistair Sims' version of A Christmas Carol, love to hear Boris Karloff in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to see Edmund Gwynn in the original Miracle on 34th Street (admittedly, there are very few things I do not enjoy Gwynn in) and It's a Wonderful Life, while it got played to death when it was in the public domain for a while, is still a great movie, with a wonderful message, if a bit cloying. (OK, I realize that three of these are in black and white, but what's wrong with that, you $#@# whippersnappers! Get off my lawn!)

Food. A big word in just four letters. DeBrand's chocolates. Macadamia nuts. Pistachio nuts. Nuts. Attacking assorted nuts with nutcracker and picks, fun for both the nuts and the memories. Pies. Pumpkin. Blueberry. Mince meat. Rolls. Honey baked hams. Another turkey, just for the heck of it. Sweet potatoes. Some green beans, just to make Jill happy. Aaah. This year may even include some home brewed beer, which I haven't had for several years.

Memories. Listening to our kids going through their stockings, not realizing that we could hear them from our bedroom through the heating ducts. When your kids are about 3, and they get so excited by each present that they have to show everyone in the room and don't want to open the next present because this one is so cool. The few times when I actually got it right with one of Jill's presents. You know the times. When it isn't on her list, but is something truly special. OK, I didn't manage it often, that's why the memories of those times is so special. Coming back from Thanksgiving and putting in the Christmas music for the first time in the season and singing for hours on the way home...each in their own key.

So in the end, to reiterate, I love Christmas. I know that it was a pagan holiday that was converted to Christian holiday was transformed during the Victorian era into what we think of a traditional Christmas and has become a marketing tool. I know all that, but I still love it, so to steal from the lyrics of Jackson Browne's The Rebel Jesus:

So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It seems to start earlier every year

Halloween is over and it is now time for the festive season. You know what that means don't you? You are right, it is time for the 2009 War on Christmas to begin.

I have seen my first "Keep Christ in Christmas" Facebook group, and the AFA (I think I need to start a "Get Family out of AFA" group) has its brand spanking new Boycott GAP This Christmas site up, apparently because GAP doesn't do enough to commercialize Christmas. (I would link to the site, but why help boost its visibility?)

Christians have forgotten, of course, that there was no Christ in Christmas. They took a pagan holiday and in the 4th century they shoehorned their own religious symbol onto it. Of course, most Christians haven't forgotten this...they never knew it in the first place. Somehow they missed the fact that their celebration focuses around such pagan symbols as fir trees, holly and mistletoe.

Christians, of course, feel rightly persecuted. The courts keep bringing up that damned Constitution and Bill of Rights whenever Christians try to enforce Sharia, oops, I meant Christian law. Non-Christians might be a bit confused at where all of this Christian persecution is. They have not, of course, been reading the New Christian Dictionary. The NCD's definition of "persecution" is "anytime we don't get things exactly our way!"

Some pollyannas might suggest that we could just all celebrate the holidays in our own personal ways, respect each other's beliefs or lack thereof, but it is just that sort of backsliding, politically correct, liberal hogwash that will, to paraphrase the late great George Carlin, " infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war."

Friday, September 11, 2009

NO ONE is forgetting 9/11, you idiots!

Now, I don't mean the readers of this blog are idiots. Let's get that settled right now.

I was in the car a fair bit today, and as about the only radio station I can get is the local talk radio station, I was lucky(?) enough to get to hear Glen Beck, El Rushbo, as well as our local host Pat White. All made a big point of "I have not forgotten 9/11 !!!" Guess what, no one has forgotten 9/11. It is not some sort of conservative only anti-holiday.

Of course I remember where I was on Sept. 11, 2001. I remember watching the second plane hit the tower; I remember seeing the towers fall. I remember the stunned daze that I was in all day.

What the various conservative radio heads fail to understand is that it is quite possible to remain angry about 9/11 without feeling that this required them to:
  • Have agreed with everything that President Bush did or said after 9/11/01.
  • Feel that torturing is acceptable for this country.
  • Feel that holding civilians in perpetuity, without charging them, or even letting them know why they are being held.
  • Think that this gave Bush an excuse to start a war that he had been planning for since well before the towers fell.
I love my country, I am a patriot; I don't think that requires that I also be a jingoist, or ignore the fact that Bush's "leadership" consisted of using 9/11 to further his own political agenda.

Conservatives, this is one American father that refuses to let you redefine "patriot" to mean "vote Republican or leave the country" any more than I will accept your redefining "family values" as "jingoism, sexism, racism".

Thursday, September 3, 2009

For Conservatives, message more important than solution

UNESCO is trying to reduce the number of abortions and the spread of HIV through new guidelines for sex education. But for US Conservatives and Evangelicals this is outrageous! Because the guidelines actually suggest teaching children about sex and contraception, in age appropriate ways, rather than simply screaming "S-s-s-s, well, you know, THAT STUFF, is nasty...nasty, nasty, nasty!! You shouldn't do it! And if you do, and something bad happens, remember that we told you so! Ha!", Conservative Christians are outraged.

For these Christians (not all, I realize, but a politically powerful group of them), stopping the killing of unborn babies is important enough to kill doctors for, to bomb abortion clinics for, and to vote for a Republican no matter what else he stands for, but it is not important enough to actually try to solve the problem. Maintaining their outrage is more important than solving the problem.

The US has one of the highest rates of abortion in the world. Conservatives would like us to believe that this is because of lenient laws on abortions. If you look at the numbers worldwide, however, you see that the rate of abortion is tied closely to the level of sex education, even in countries that have lenient abortion laws. The math is quite simple, comprehensive sex education does not increase the rate of teen sex, nor does it lower the average age at which teens become sexually active. It does, however, lower the rate of teen pregnancies and slow the spread of STDs. In other words, it works.

For many Christians, however, the fact that something works is meaningless. It is all about sending the right message. The message, for them, is more important then the problem, and far more important than the solution.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Bush Theocracy

If you are still unsure that we just spent eight years living in a theocracy, these briefing covers from Donald Rumsfeld to Bush and a few select others should leave no doubt. When Bush called his personal war a "crusade", it wasn't a misstatement, it was him speaking literally. These "Worldwide Intelligence Updates" are captioned with Bible quotes (despite being a Christian, Rumsfeld sticks mainly with the Old Testament for his quotes, see my last post.)

Among the quotes used are:
  • Isaiah 6:8 "Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me." Of course, Ayatollah Bush did not send himself, except for photo ops, he sent American troops to die in his place.
  • Psalm 139:9-10 "If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. O LORD" This superimposed on an image of a plane launching from a carrier. (Apparently the actual quote wasn't good enough so Rummy had to patch on "O LORD".)
  • Ephesians 6:13 "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand."

The capture, and eventual execution by a puppet government, of Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with "regime change", he was using the military for a hit. The cover from April of 2003 shows an image of Saddam Hussein with the quote from 1 Peter, "For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men." Notice that the quote doesn't say that you should send in the army to snuff the ignorant men, but that "by doing good" you will silence them, but hey, that part must have just been metaphorical (Christian-speak for "a verse I don't like" or "a verse that is obviously wrong".)

Notice how strict constructionists care much less about the sanctity of the constitution when they can use their power to try and silence the infidel.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Christians and torture

"But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." Mathew 5:39

This is certainly the first time I have posted a Bible verse on this venue, and I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the next one, but it seemed appropriate in light of the results of a recent Pew Survey.

You can read the full details on the site, but to sum it up, the more often a person attended church, the more likely that person was to support using torture against terror suspects. I cannot say that I am surprised by the results, as my own anecdotal experience would certainly say the same, but I like to think that the Midwest is an aberration. Apparently not.

Admittedly, this particular verse is ignored by Christians so much that they don't even try to create bizarre apologetic twists for it, they just pretend that it does not exist, like Matrix fans and the purported sequels.

I know that I haven't read the Bible as much as some, but my memories of Christ's teaching tend to revolve more around loving thy enemies and caring for the poor. How have Christians come to the point where they translate those teachings into "Torture the infidel" and "Unabated Capitalism uber alles" (with a soup├žon of "Don't let gays marry" thrown in for good measure)?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Not WWJD, but WSJHD

That is, What Should Jesus Have Done:

Friday, April 10, 2009

Another loss in the gaming community

Just over a year after the death of Gary Gygax, we have now lost Dave Arneson as well. I never had the opportunity to meet Dave, as I did Gary, but it is sad to see that the two who created Dungeons & Dragons, and so revolutionized gaming, have both passed on, far too early.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Audiobook updates

I have reformatted and updated my audiobook page. Numerous short stories, a completed book and several in progress works are listed.

I have also started a podcast of Victorian Penny Dreadfuls. It is starting with the orginial Sweeney Todd story, String of Pearls.

I welcome any comments on my readings, or on material.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Bishop's Hypocrisy

Bishop D'Arcy has chosen not to attend the University of Notre Dame’s graduation ceremony, where President Obama is scheduled to deliver the commencement speech and receive an honorary degree. “President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred,” said D’Arcy, head of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, in a written statement.

"Hold human life as sacred"?? What a crock. Bishop D'Arcy feels that Obama is unworthy to share a stage with because Obama has not taken enough steps to oppose abortion and has removed the strictures and restrictions from government of funding stem cell research. Of course for the Catholic Church, unborn (or preborn as they now try to spin things) life is sacred, much more sacred, of course, than actual functioning human beings.

D'Arcy has no problem continuing to be a part, and an important part of a Church that protected and enabled child-molesting priests for who knows how long. A Church that is willing to publish and promote outright lies because they would rather have AIDS remain an epidemic in Africa than have someone break the Eleventh Commandment "Thou shalt not cover thy winky with a rubber thingie". A Church that will not sanction abortions in cases of ectopic pregnancy, when there is no chance of a viable fetus and every chance of serious, possibly fatal, complications to the woman. This is the Church that excommunicated the doctor and mother of an 80 pound nine-year-old child who aborted the twins she was carrying as a result of being raped by her stepfather. Obviously, for the Church, the lives of actual living breathing people, especially female people, are not worth much, but a fetus, not that is a life that must be held sacred!

D'Arcy has published no criticisms of the Pope re-instatement of a Holocaust denier as a Bishop. To be fair, once the criticism got loud enough, his Popeness did say that the guy should, eventually, maybe, renounce his claims. . . But no hurry!

This comes as no shock to many women, who realize that the Church has rarely considered them more than breeding sources for future Catholics and sources of evil temptation to us weak, weak men who fall for their wiles. After all, St. Paul warned us about them, and we all know that the Church, as well as their Ptotestant brethren, are followers of Paul's teachings far more than Jesus's. That Jesus guy had a bunch of crazy ideas about loving thy enemy and helping the poor, and where is the profit in that crap?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Halfway between star dust and worm food

Turning forty made me feel old. I was not depressed about it or anything, but I wasn't "young" anymore and, with two kids not yet in their teens, having time of my own seemed amazingly far away. I would be fifty, five-o, before the rugrats would be out of the house. In my wallowing in self-pity moments, that seemed like Matlock watching and bland food time.

As I have approached, and finally caught, that previously bemoaned milepost, and I find myself almost gleeful. One kid is graduating from college in a few months, the other will start college a few months after that. My parenting duties have altered considerably. While they are not eliminated by any means, nor will they ever be, they no longer have to be the first thought on awakening and the last thought ion the evening.

I am healthy, if not in particularly good shape. My digestive system has not become a troublesome issue, it is still able to handle the most of the experiences that my taste buds decide to give it, whether it be spicy jambalaya or a pilgrimage to White Castle. I haven't tried to find out if it can still handle half a quart of scotch in a sitting, but I also haven't felt the desire to try it for a number of years. I am quite willing to attribute that to a modicum of wisdom gained, rather than of an ability lost.

Jill and I have, for a while now, had more time to spend together, just the two of us. I look forward to this excitedly, Jill with a bit more trepidation :) For the first time in over twenty years, our evenings and our weekends require us to fill rather than being a laundry list of "what is going on this weekend?" It will take us some practice to get the hang of this new found personal space. We are out of practice at this whole "free time" thing. But even if it is merely spending an evening together on the sofa watching someone murdered politely in some quaint English village, it is great to be able to do it.

I look forward to spending more time on hobbies, be it gaming, World of Warcraft or recording for Librivox (which I have started recently and am enjoying very much, but then I always liked the sound of my own voice!)

So today will be spent on black cakes and canes with turn signals but, for me, it is a day I have been looking forward to!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Birthday, Poe

Two hundred years ago today, a child was born who would, in the course of a too short and over troubled life, help spawn the detective story and the science fiction story. One of his stories would generate public interest in cryptography and cryptograms, another would inspire a sequel by Jules Verne. Amazingly enough, these are not what Edgar Allan Poe is best remembered for today.

The macabre was Poe's best remembered milieu. The Raven, an ode to a love lost to death, is Poe's best remembered work and has an football team named in its honor and has inspired a song:


a Simpson's episode:

via videosift.com

and innumerable readings.


His other macabre and Gothic stories have been made into films of varying quality, but largely entertaining. My favorite scene being from a portmanteau script of The Black Cat and the Cask of Amontillado in which Peter Lorre, drunken and shabby, has a wine tasting contest with the superbly coiffed and dressed Vincent Price.

To this day, the true cause of Poe's death is not known. His death, after being found collapsed in the streets of Baltimore, dressed in someone else's clothes, was enough to cause the staid citizens to shake their heads. Things were not helped when one of his literary enemies (Rufus Griswold, a name destined to be attached to a villain) managed to, under a pen name and using forged letters as evidence, ascribed his death to alcohol and opium. As Poe's literary executor, he included a libelous "Memoir of the Author" in future editions of Poe's works so that the lies continued to spread and became the accepted version of Poe's life.

Today, his stories can still give chills. Raise a toast (but not an opium pipe, we now know) to a great author, one whose books have long outlived the libels spread about him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

You were never a number

It was sad to see that Patrick McGoohan had passed away. I realize that as I get older, the stars I enjoyed as a kid are getting MUCH OLDER, but logic cannot stop wistfulness. The Prisoner is still one of the most inventive and thought provoking TV series of which I know. Very 60's, very mod, with wry humor and seriously twisting plots, it starts as a spy series, and wanders into science fiction and surrealism.



It is too bad that he couldn't have lived to see the revisiting of his series on AMC (or maybe it is a blessing, remakes can be an iffy proposition.) Now I have to head over to Netflix and queue up the series. I would buy it, but last time I checked on it, it took 8 DVDs to show 17 episodes and it cost more than I was willing to pay. (Looking it up, I was wrong,it is 10 DVDs!)

Honey! Do you want to visit Portmeirion this summer?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Audio Gutenberg

Something I found, while looking for the information in the last post, was LibriVox. This is a project that puts the same Public Domain texts that Gutenberg has worked to provide into Public Domain audiobooks, read by volunteers. The reading quality is good, if variable, and they also are looking for more readers, for short works, individual chapters or whole books.

I have heard several books and stories so far, from Arsene Lupin stories to the excellent Uller Uprising by the late H. Beam Piper. Many of my favorite older books, Burroughs, Sherlock Holmes, Jules Verne and Poe are already available. I am glad to see that they include some of the newer translations of Verne, which are superior to the old translations which have been recycled over and over because they are Public Domain.

For those of us who enjoy the sound of our own voice, this looks like a great opportunity! My kids no longer want me to read to them and grandkids are, with any luck, still a few years away. Now I can read to the whole world! Well, a few people in it anyway. Take a look at LibriVox if you like audio books.