Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bobby Jindal Is A Moron

I actually think he's an idiot. Seriously. I'm starting to think that all the Republicans are idiots and not simply a deceptively group of nasty individuals. Who can be this stupid?

But then I remember that the American People as a collective - an aggregate of guttural torpidity -is stupid, too, so it makes sense that politicians would say monstrously idiotic things, because they know people will believe them.

But whatever, here's what Jindal - the de facto head of the Republican party it seems - said last night in the traditional other-party-rebuttal after Obama's speech to Congress:

“Today in Washington, some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us. Those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina — we have our doubts.”

If it's not obvious, wasn't it George Bush who ran things when Katrina struck? And wasn't the government's poor response the fault of the leaders of both parties at every level - federal/state/country - and not the government's structural inability to respond?

Yeah, Bobby Jindal is a moron. Tell everyone. Seriously. Ask your fellow Republicans what they think. I can't say this enough but the GOP lately has been wandering around saying horribly unintelligent things. If you support this party, please comment and tell me why. I can't understand it.

(To be fair, the Democratic Party hasn't been terribly impressive either. While they've been as legislatively ineffective as their elephantine cousins, though, they haven't been saying things that make you question reality.)


Monday, February 23, 2009

Street Preachers at ASU

For the last 8-10 days, two guys have been making regular appearances on ASU's campus engaging in what is colloquially referred to as "street preaching." I've listened and dialogued with them multiple times (more listening than dialoguing) and a few things they've said have peeked my curiosity. The guy I talked to was John, and I never found out the other guy's name. John has crutches because he tore his right ACL, which probably sucks. Also, they were out in front of Coor Hall today accompanied by a number of police officers. I'm interested to know if the cops were preemptive or if there had already been an incident. Whatever.

(I'm going to say right here, just for Ben, that there will be metaphysics in this post as I talk about God and stuff. See, Ben, I DO love you.)

One thing that was very much apparent listening to John and his friend over the course of a week and a half is the belief that God wants us to go heaven, a common notion and one held by John and his friend. What bothers me is the logic, which I'm sure many Christians don't attend to: to want something is to lack that something; to lack something is be imperfect; God is a perfect being; thus, God cannot want us to go to heaven, or else he's not, as normally presumed, a perfect being.

There are those who would assert that logic, like everything, is the product of God and thus he is not susceptible to it. Of course, God gave us things like logic, speech, curiosity (and free will?) so we could discover for ourselves various conclusions about our existence. Obviously he's hoping we'll lead ourselves to faith in him. So, in the course of things, we will necessarily be employing a bit of logic (hopefully a lot) and naturally God will, at times, be in the hot seat. He must realize the limits of faith and so it seems a foregone conclusion that logical reasoning will constitute a large sum of our investigations. Hence his susceptibility to logic; otherwise, what the hell's the point?

A second idea that snatched my interest is the notion that God made everything and controls everything and so we are all subject to his will, a passage that John's friend was apt to repeat at the end of every segment he presided over (which got kind of annoying when he was attempting to draw in people at the intersection of College and University because he would say it every 45 seconds). Aside from what I already mentioned previously about God' seeming inability to want (How does he have a "will" if he cannot want? Further, if he lacks a will, is he perfect?), a few things jump out of my skeptical brain.

First, I wonder about the leap from God creating and controlling everything to our being supposed to submit cosmic authority to him. Just because he has the biggest stick doesn't mean he's right - a la Stalin, Caesar, Reagan, Bush, other dictators/totalitarians/fascists/bleh.

Second, this seems at odds with the notion that God gave us free will so we would come to him of our own accord. It's well-documented throughout the latter half of the Bible that God wants us (if he can want...) to choose him freely, without being forced. So then why isolate and emphasize his absolute power and control? Or that we're all going to hell for sinning (which is another favorite mantra of John and his friend)? This is the same tactic rulers use to subjugate populations, to bring them under an iron heel. It forces us to believe: if we don't then it's our loss and we go to hell - which blows. So aren't I forced to believe in him? (Enter Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov...if you like that book, I guess. Ben does, if I recall.)

A third point of interest was what John and I discussed while standing outside Coor Hall today: objective morality. He dialogued in support of an objective morality, "proved" by God, the Bible, Jesus, etc. I tried to wrest the conversation away from a particular instantiation of objective morality towards a more general conversation about whether objectivity exists or matters.

His view was typical (and I don't mean that condescendingly but literally): God gives us objective truth: without him we wouldn't have it; thus, we need him (notice how this doesn't argue for God's existence but for God's necessity; just because we need him doesn't mean he's there). My view was that objective morality might not exist. He rejoined with a question about how we, in that case, determine right and wrong, good and evil. I suggested the bigger club would write the history. Naturally, he wasn't pleased.

So I talked at length, explored really, about some ideas floating in my head. I thought about how we humans are so afraid of a nonobjective reality that we refuse to entertain subjectivity. We refuse to ask "What if?" We're probably afraid, I suppose, of navigating a world without a safety net from which to operate. Objectivity gives us that net, for if we have a solid, tenable base from which to work, self-justification becomes that much easier (and humans must have self-justification or we explode).

Moreover, how do we convince people to help each other if all we can rely on is power and not objective reasoning? I'm not sure. Humans have spent a great deal of time killing each other and wandering within religion rather than considering subjective realities.

And why not develop a system based on nothing and try to argue cogently for its instantiation? Certainly any tenacious skeptic will refuse to entertain anything grounded in subjectivity (even if backed up by copious amounts of logic), but we only have to appreciate them to a point. It's not a perfect system, but we've just seen that nothing will be perfect, maybe not even God, so we should all just pick something and run with it.

John, however, didn't seem to appreciate my ideas, but he was clearly aware of their severely rational nature, as evidenced by his tactic of slightly altering the subject or calling out to other people in the crowd that had since gathered to listen to us talk (it's really interesting how many people just stop by and gather closely, occasionally jumping in to vigorously and aggressively defend one side or the other). I'd apparently stumped him a few times, or at least moved too fast for him to put it all together (which isn't fair I realize - and I sympathize with him for I find myself unable at times to process everything presented to me; I sometimes need to write it down so I can properly digest it as a whole). I imagine it doesn't help, as well, that I've spent a lot of time considering God and religion, and many more ideas, perhaps, than John has come into contact with.

On that last point: I've listened to a lot of street preachers, more so since coming to ASU - they're everywhere. I'm very familiar with what they're going to say both initially and in response to various attacks and arguments. I'm also aware of the rhetorical tactics they use to get people to think twice about what they believe, especially about right and wrong. For instance, John gave me an opportunity to walk up and start talking to him by asking the passing students if they were any atheists around. I responded affirmatively and knew that he was going to immediately ask about how right and wrong are developed for me and all sorts of things about Hitler and the Nazis to whether or not I've broken any of the Ten Commandments. They tend to run through the same lines of thought while trying to deconstruct the non-Christian's views to "show" that they're of little value. Having this knowledge, it was easy to see where he was going and thus direct the conversation to my advantage and whims.

In any case, God and his Bible have a lot to offer in terms of logical puzzles. Most of them are irresolvable (as far as I can tell) and leave one in a state of constant perplexity. Sadly, many Christians (and let's not forget Jews and Muslims and they're attendant religious paradoxes) don't bother to work through them. Of course, this is really a critique of most religious people, even "hardcore" ones, who are completely ignorant of their own system of thinking. They say they're Christian but are unaware that they've admitted to the severe subjugation of women and the idea that slaves should not rise up against their masters but should sit tight and wait for heaven.

People will argue, naturally, that such notions are era-relevant, meaning they don't relate to modern times (most of the stuff in Leviticus is usually lumped into this group of "outdated precepts"). An obvious rejoinder is to question which precepts are phased out and when; also, why were they accepted into the Biblical cannon if they were time-sensitive? Why didn't God talk to someone and get things updated during, say, the 18th century? Why wasn't there a prophet every hundred years or so that would take the old and the new and save the wheat/cut the chaff? Certainly God with his limitless magisterial powers could make any of the above happen. He sent Jesus, didn't he, floods and all that stuff?

But it doesn't appear that John nor his friend have taken the time to sort all these things out, though, to be fair, I didn't directly talk to John's friend, but from what he was saying I could imagine the similarities to John.

John asked me at the very beginning why I was an atheist. I told him that all decisions are made on the basis of probability because nothing can be known with absolute certainty, a notion to which he assented. I then said that based on everything I've seen, read, discussed, and digested, it was more likely that either God didn't exist or if he did, his nature was radically different from any evident within the Western religious tradition.

After agreeing to the original idea about probability governing decision-making, he didn't appear to feel qualified to respond. I think he asked the girl next to me about Hitler.

(I should add here that Eastern religions, with their courage to embrace and revel in the contradictions and paradoxes obvious in our existence, get closer to the mark, I suppose.)


Bush, Bush Go Away

Another State Press article: It was my second one. I recall it being pretty solid until the paper printed it, at which point it lost some luster after unnecessary (and somewhat puzzling) edits and cuts. But whatever. It was still pretty good after that. I suppose one should bear in mind that it was run just a few days after Obama's inauguration.

If you’ve been paying attention to the opinion pages of some of the popular (i.e. larger) newspapers during the week preceding the inauguration and the days that have followed, something will have been painfully clear: we, as a nation, want to forget George W. Bush and just get the hell on to the next guy.

The popular (i.e. larger) newspapers I’ve been perusing (which I’ll name so you can laugh at me for thinking they were/are worthy of reading) are The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post. Excluded from the latter group’s susceptibility to derision, of course, is The State Press.

A statistical analysis (one I won’t bore you with) shows that the opinion columnists are more concerned with what Obama should do than with showing Bush the door; or with ruminating nostalgically on inaugurations; or prognosticating. Or pretty much anything other than Bush.

If we grant that opinion pages tend to follow the American psyche (because opinion columnists are a part of that psyche and are unique in that they operate outside of normal journalistic constraints on bias and neutrality), then this seems to be pandemic throughout the nation.

The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in “Exit the Boy King,” describes the inauguration crowd watching Bush’s helicopter fly away: “They wanted to make absolutely, positively certain that W. was gone. It was like a physical burden being lifted, like a sigh went up of ‘Thank God.’” She goes on to relate it to the catharsis of Greek drama, the emotional/spiritual release of, well, all that stuff people felt the last eight years, from the opening tip (the 2000 [stolen?] election) to the final buzzer (the crowd chanting “Nah nah…goodbye” at the inauguration).

By all accounts, the nation wants to forget. People are tired of thinking about anything Bush-related and they’re pushing him out entirely. Such categorical defenestration, though, means the national memory is ridding itself of not only Bush mistakes but also Bush successes.

But we shouldn’t forget, we can’t forget. If we do, it’s a disservice to all those who suffered the mistakes of the last eight years. I’m not, though, advocating war crimes tribunals against members of the Bush administration, but merely positing that a sweeping refusal to remember the past is a preemptive condemnation of the future.

A week after the inauguration, it’s easy to use Obama and Optimism to push past the Bush-saga, but the lessons history offers are irreplaceable and free. We need to take what we can get, learn from it, and work to make a better future.

If we push the Bush years away so absolutely, then we’re going to repeat the same follies that made us want to forget in the first place. Scary as it sounds, in four to eight years we might find our National Psyche suffering from another mismanaged presidency, making strong attempts to wipe it away. We can’t allow that to happen.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Channelling Mr. Wallace

Horne wants me to start putting my ASU State Press articles on here and, as usual, I can't say no to him. I'll put up the ones that have already run in some sort of loosely constituted chronology - which means whenever I just get around to throwing them up, adding some pictures and clicking buttons.

David Foster Wallace, in “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” spends a good deal of time talking about the nature of television consumption and the effect it has on people. He presents, to us, that we’re being watched, a lot. Every time we leave the house, other eyes look at and judge us, wonder about us, he says. We’re aware, though, because we, too, stare and ogle at strangers on the subway, in their cars, on sidewalks and in restaurants. We watch and are watched in turn.

And some are better than others at being watched. Some can take the light of the stage, the prying eyes of a faceless crowd – and others can’t: they fail, flounder, at the thought of anonymous voyeurism. In the same way many of us fail miserably in front of the camera, the man with a clipboard encouraging us to ‘act natural’ (and us struggling to make that contradiction a reality), the same way many of us feel under the gaze of strangers, wilting in the heat of other humans.

Wallace describes the ability of those people who can stand the heat as “watchableness”; they appear “unself-conscious,” able to “bear the psychic burden of being around other humans.” While they may be a wreck internally, externally they’re able to operate as if under no pressure at all to live up to the expectations of others, of society – and regular self-conscious people decline to bear this burden.

According to A.C. Nielsen and Co., 99% of American households own a television and it is on six hours a day; the average American (in all households, television or not) watches nearly four hours of that total six. When we watch television, we see people who are unself-conscious, acting natural in front of millions of people who are gawking and gaping at their furniture. They possess the watchableness we only dream about. And the more television we consume, the more we’re convinced that, in Wallace’s words, “the most significant quality of a truly alive person is watchableness.” Bearing the psychic burden of others appears, to us, integral to the pursuit of a meaningful, human (i.e. social) existence.

As television consumption emphasizes our social liabilities, our individual realities become more unpleasant. Our self-consciousness is intensified after consuming daily reinforcements of our own inability to respond naturally under observation, four hours a day, twenty-eight a week, one hundred and twelve a month…you get the picture. This increasing self-consciousness makes reality more unbearable, and so we seek escape (perhaps, more escape). We desire other worlds, fantasies, places to which we can flee to get away from it all, our nagging wives, nagging jobs, distant children – everything; we escape, if only for thirty minutes.

And that’s the hook: we begin to escape from reality to television because television made reality more unpleasant. That repudiation of social contact, which originally led many of us to television, is exacerbated by it, so that we’re reliant more and more on television to help us escape. It’s the irony of ironies: the very object that prolongs our suffering eases it temporarily. It’s like a salve that reopens the wound as soon as it’s done working: there’s no restorative effect – it’s a tourniquet for the pain of self-consciousness, unwatchableness.



So I think I might throw some Google Ads up on this baby and see what happens. I realize how aesthetically unpleasing it will be, or should be, but I've been talking to some people and I thought I'd give it a try. It's not guaranteed to give me much of anything, but I mise well try.

So, you know, don't throw up when you see them, I guess.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Where's the line between funny and racist?

I'm not sure if this is a racist photo. I don't think it is. I think it's funny. But then I have to ask myself "Why is it funny?" My answer: I don't know. Maybe it's the frowning black people (frowns are funny and the deeper and more ridiculous the frown, the funnier it is; and maybe black people have a better physical makeup so that frowns are deeper and more ridiculous; does that make me racist?). The word "shenanigans" is clearly funny in itself. I think what might make it funny as well is this: a bunch of serious people wearing serious clothes, frowning, and the word "shenanigans" is like BAM. Is it funnier because they're serious and black? I don't know, maybe. Is that racist? I don't know.

Then again, why is there a random white guy in the back right? Am I racist for thinking he's a little out of place?

Would this be nearly as funny if it was all white people frowning? I'm not sure. I think "no," but why? Why is it funnier if it's a bunch of black people? I think it falls back to the notion that "black" physiology makes for deeper, more ridiculous frowns. Also, maybe it's that we always think about black people protesting something or other and so we think of older black people as frowning all the time (because racism gets better only slowly). Of course, is it racist to think of older black people as frowning about racism all the time?

I just don't know. But that picture is damn funny.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I Told You

So you know how people are always crying about how dangerous football is? About how too many people get injured and that they almost die and that stuff is really serious and awful?


By proportion, in America, a greater percentage of people die in horse racing than any other sport. Yup. 128 deaths per 100,000, which beats out skydiving (123), motorcycle racing (7), and the Pussy Sport boxing (1.3). So yeah, football's not dangerous at all. And that's logic. [Please, someone understand I'm being facetiously stupid, here?]

I need to say this next one because it speaks to all the dumb white people out there, because only dumb white people 'play' this sport. 180 people die a year, worldwide, due to sports fishing. Let me repeat.

180 people die a year due to sports fishing.

And, as we all know, only white people get into boats and run around a lake speed fishing. This is the highest number of deaths per sport per year. Dumb white people drink and fall over the boat, hit their head and drown. No joke. That's the given reason for the high death rate. That's the leading cause of death in the Official Dumb White Person Sport. Falling into a lake. And dying.

So take that football. Pssht. Pussy sport.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Doug Collins Everybody...

"Anytime Detroit scores more than 100 points and holds the other team to below 100 points, they almost always win."


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Something that Needed to be Said

Kevin Durant is incredible. It's a shame he's not in the All-Star Game.

That is all.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

But I love taking notes...

So there's a couple of people in one of my lit classes who doodle and draw, all the time, the whole time. Occasionally they slump in their seats as if to change the inevitably monotonous routine. They seem mirror images of one another until you look closer, though. The first one, the guy, only draws outside of the margins of the notebook paper he's using for "notes." He clearly thinks he should be writing something down, so he keeps the white space clear just in case he feels like being a student. He even asked me today what he missed in class on Tuesday, as if some external action might contradict and change the internal mechanism. But of course he knows he won't actually take notes. He's just going to continue drawing. (He might, ahem, love coloring [even if it's spelled all British-like in the picture].)

The second one, a girl, draws everywhere. She's inside the margins, outside, up, down, everywhere. I swear I've seen her almost draw past the page onto the desk a few times, though she caught herself each time. This girl is not deluding herself at all. She's not taking any notes, and she knows the future is bleak for that situation changing. If it makes up for anything, though, she does draw class-related things. Today she was drawing "Huck Finn" in beautiful, calligraphic lettering with a light purple pen that she bought who the hell knows where. We've been on Huck Finn/Mark Twain for a two weeks now so her last few pages are riddled with "Jim's" and "Huck's" and "Twain's" within and without the margins.

But hey, at least she's not deluding herself. Notes are for losers, and she knows it.


Awesome cartoon from around the time Israel killed itself some Palestians


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Some Updates and Thoughts

The Delay. I've been away a while, obviously, and it's really been the fault of the new semester. I have one more class than I did in the Fall, but that's not quite what's keeping me busy. It's that I'm taking four literature classes and a 200 level French course - so I've got at least 60 pages of reading to do every night, with the occasional writing assignment (which come often, considering the volume of classes with involved writing elements), and all the while I'm studying French and trying to sound less and less like some stupid white kid trying to speak a foreign language. Certain words and phrases are coming along better than others. If it involves a "tr" or a "pr," then fuckin' forget.

Obama. What to say about Obama. Well, he's done better than anyone could have expected, considering what we all thought about his naivete with Congress and what we perceived as a steep learning curve. He's pulled only one punch thus far that I've noticed, and that was his refusal to call out the centrists on Capitol Hill for destroying a stimulus bill that was already too weak to begin with. But hey, before that he said "I won so stop bitching, GOP," "My bad, I take responsibility," and "Kobe Bryant is the best player in the world." And yes, he actually said that last one.

But where did Obama go wrong? Well, it came rather late into his Presidency, thus far - meaning a few days ago. He said, roughly, "Pass my stimulus bill or there will be catastrophe." Now, that's fuckin' bullshit, Obama, and you know it. Fear-mongering is never a good thing; it's always bad. If you have to use fear to further an agenda, then you should let that agenda slide, or, if it's the only way you can convince people of what you're saying, then fuck the people - they don't deserve whatever it is you're trying to push. So, please, no fear-mongering. Those ball sucking bastards for the last eight years gave us enough of that shit.

Philosophy. Another thing I've been pondering is probably more in line with what Philippi's been suggesting lately: some philosophy. Now, this is religious philosophy, and maybe he wasn't interested particularly in that aspect of philosophy, but that's what he's getting.

I've been thinking about the Grand Inquisitor's story, a passage (a long one, too) in The Brothers Karamazov (a book by Fyodor Dostoevski) where Ivan Ilyviecheksfiehfiejsl tells a story about Jesus coming back to Earth because he sees mankind suffering and wants to end it. Aside from not raising the question of why he waited so fuckin' long, the story talks about the central issue in Christianity, a question that all Christians need to answer before they continue putting their faith in whatever the hell it is they put faith in:

Why do humans suffer?

It's that simple (and complex) of a question. You can't be a Christian without answering this question. And if you "are" and haven't, you're a moron. But think about it: why do humans suffer? How can religion, Christianity specifically, account for the horrible horrors humans have suffered for, um, ever? In the story above, the Grand Inquisitor asks this very question, repeatedly, of Jesus, who says nothing. Eventually, Jesus walks up and kisses the GI and then leaves. The point is that love is the answer, and always will be, but that doesn't really answer the question, and I think Dostoevski knew that. He was just as confused as the rest of us. He was attempting to be a good Christian but had doubts, lots of them, because he's really fuckin' smart, and smart people read the Bible and wonder about a lot of things.

In 1981, Rabbi Harold S. Kushner attempted to answer this question and wrote a book about it called "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." His basic premise is that for humans to be human we have to have the free will to choose between good and evil. That, he sort of assumes offhand, is what makes us human. And for this to obtain, God has to let there be evil in the world; he has to let us choose for ourselves. Thus, bad things happen to good people because humans make bad choices. (Notice how nothing is ever God's fault? I've yet to see a theologian come out and say "Well, shit, guys, we never thought of it: a BAD god! Why, we never thought that was even possible!")

Aside from annoying the shit out of me, I think Kushner's got some problems. First, he assumes that free will is what makes us human, and I'm not so sure - about what makes us human, that is. He may be right, but being "human" seems to be so complex that to sum it up with a simple idiom about free will seems dissatisfying. And it also negates the very real possibility that we even have free will. Read up on determinism and see if you're not a little bit interested.

Second, he assumes that God has to be an inherently good figure, a premise for which there's little evidence. Of course, there's little evidence for the contrary, that God's an inherently evil figure, but that's the point: we got nothing. We've got a shitload of good things going on and a shitload of bad things going on: who's to say he's one or the other with any certainty? Who's to say he's even there at all?

And third, he assumes an omni-benevolent God that somehow gets around the paradox of watching bad things happen to humans while having the power to stop it. If a God is all-good, then he can never do anything wrong or evil or bad. Thus, he can't possibly watch us all suffer; it would go against his nature and his ability to do something about it. So belief in a God that's omni-benevolent seems difficult: God loves us unconditionally and can never do anything wrong and yet lets us shit on ourselves with reckless abandon.

In the scheme of things, this is just another paradox that theologians know about it, everyone one of them, but refuse to talk about it. Seriously, ask a pastor/preacher/religious-guy-waving-a-bible-in-your-face about some paradoxes involving God's perfections and he'll give you the run around - or better yet, he'll say we can only understand God analogously, and thus we can't know the answer to everything. But we can still put unconditional faith in God?

You might not be interested, but if we presume to know God analogously, then we might as well give the whole thing up: analogical predication can't work. Ask me later if you're interested in the ten minute explanation.

So this all gets us back to why humans suffer and how a Christian needs to satisfy the question before adopting supreme faith in God. Kushner's got some funky ideas that are easy enough to understand to get him on the best-seller's list but he doesn't really satisfy. His system would work, I suppose, if we consider God to be imperfect, to be one of us. Maybe he's just really powerful, but not ultimately, (WARNING: Latin phrase ahead) in extremis. He wants us to live and be free and so he watches us, like an ant farm, and intervenes occasionally but makes everything difficult to know and understand, even himself, and so we're left to wander to the world wondering if he's there at all.

That's a possiblity, and certainly one that's been entertained on occasion, but here's why it bothers me: if God is this way, just a watcher and an occasional actor with finite power, then why should I even care what he thinks? He's just me but with a bigger stick. He's another powerful politician. He needs to do something to get my vote, and until he starts feeding the poor and fixing that big hole in the middle of the world called Africa, I'm not voting for him.

Now, normally I would introduce another religious question and talk about it...and then another one...and probably another one. But I'm sure I'm the only one interested in this stuff. Hell, most Christians don't give a shit, so why should anyone else? Anyways, here's a photo for you.