Thursday, December 31, 2015

If You're Debating Something With Someone,

and you and the other person completely disagree, neither budging an inch from either of two completely contradictory positions, and suddenly the other person says, "Okay then, goodbye," how do you react?

A) I won the debate! The other person simply didn't have the good manners to admit defeat. (Typical!)

B) That was not a win on my part, it was a failure! Someone doesn't want to talk to me anymore. I've driven them away. In what Bizarro-World is that a win?

C) Could be A), could be B), could be the other person actually has something else to do.

D) Leave me alone!

E) I am intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your blog.

F) Smell my finger.

G) kittiez arr verr nice

H) None of this means anything. Existence has no meaning, it makes no sense, it has no point.

I) That person from H) just needs to get laid.

J) I TOLD YOU TO LEAVE ME ALONE!

K) No rational answer is possible at this point, much more data is needed.

L) Jesus is Lord.

M) Jesus never existed.

N) L) and M) are both nuts, I wish they'd leave the rest of us alone.

O) Aio, quantitas magna frumentorum est.

P) Everything always depends upon your point of view. Heisenberg's principle applies to a lot more than tiny particles.

Q) munkeez arr allso awesumz

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Andrew Brown On New Atheists

Interesting how religious people keep insisting that atheism is a religion -- well, actually it's not so much interesting as it is utterly tiresome. Other than that, I agree with most of what Andrew Brown says about New Atheists. And I'm an atheist. I suspect that Brown may very well be an atheist too, but one of those atheists who insists that they're not atheists, because that just makes things too awkward between them and their theist friends. What good are such friendships, which require such nonsense and insincerity? Maybe they've been denying they're atheists (although they don't believe in God, which of course is the only definition of "atheist," which of course means they're completely full of shit in a completely obvious way) ever since that Archbishop of Canterbury caused such an uproar by publicly admitting that he was an atheist.

Maybe that public admission was the cause of all of this bullshit about not being atheists while not believing in God, which amounts to a campaign to change the meaning of an extremely-old and perfectly-servicable word, "atheism."

Well. Language has never been entirely about making sense, or being consistent, or honorable.

So. I guess there are two, at least two, main categories of atheists to whom I am opposed: the New Atheists, and I repeat, Andrew Brown lists off the main reasons why; and then the atheists hiding among the believers for the sake of cushy jobs. One of whom Andrew Brown may or may not be. Among whom also are R Joseph Hoffmann and the above-mentioned ex-Archbishop of Canterbury, who since that embarrassing admission has insisted that the admission did not mean what it clearly meant, ah, and I see that the current Archbishop is also an atheist who insists he's not an atheist, but a non-believer, which of course means exactly the same thing.

Well, I'm not really opposed to the second group the same way I'm opposed to New Atheists. But their refusal to admit that they're atheists/campaign to re-define the term "atheist", po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to, is very aggravating.

Richard Dawkins Claims He's 'Not Allowed' To Criticize Islam

Which of course is absurd. He hasn't been imprisoned or fined yet for his comments on Islam, his books containing comments on Islam continue to sell by the cargo ship-load, he continues to be invited onto popular TV and radio shows where he continues to be encouraged to speak his mind.

Perhaps what's actually bothering him is that little pissants like me ARE allowed to comment on what he says, ARE allowed to point out that he continues to write and speak about Islam as if all Muslims were extremists, ARE allowed to point out the opposition of most of the world's Muslims to extremism, ARE allowed to point out that most of the soldiers fighting ISIL have been Muslims sent by majority-Muslim countries, etc.

We're allowed to point out the achievements in art, literature, philosophy and whatever else, which have been made over the course of the past 1500 years by some of the billions of people who've happened to have been Muslims. We're free to point out passages from the Koran which we think are nice. We can continue to mock Dawkins for still not having read the Koran, obsessed with Islam as he seems to be.

Maybe it really sticks in Dawkins' craw that a little autistic nobody and general failure in life such as myself is allowed to publicly speculate that maybe what is up Richard's bum is not Islam at all, but... What? More dark-skinned people on the streets and in the classrooms and faculty lounges of Oxford and Cambridge and Canterbury and London than he likes?

I'm only speculating. I'm allowed to do so. And Dawkins' rants about Islam can't be explained by rational thought on his part. The explanation must lie elsewhere.

*sigh* He was so good at biology.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Literally

It literally makes my head explode when people say "literally" when they mean "figuratively."

My head literally explodes, and I die, and I'm buried.

Literally.

Michael Mcdonald and Nancy Sullivan know what I'm talking about. This sketch of theirs satirizing people who misuse the term "literally" is the best thing ever done on the face of the Earth. Literally. It's literally better than baby animals, the invention of writing, Albert Einstein, vaccination and chocolate, combined. Literally.



Every time I hear someone say "literally" when they mean "figuratively," it makes me so angry that I literally slap stone walls, breaking the bones in my hands, and bite iron chains, cracking my teeth, for the next 17 years, howling so loudly the entire time that it wakes up astronauts sleeping in the Space Shuttle.

Literally. Seventeen years. Every single time I hear it. And I've heard it literally 23 trillion times this week alone. Some of the people I hang out with are literally dumber than rocks.

Literally. I have literally seen actual rocks outwit these people and steal their money. Literally.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Last Thursday, I Predicted 'Force Awakens' Would Reach All-Time Top 10 BO This Weekend

It looks like I was wrong. Box Office Mojo is predicting that 'The Force Awakens" will finish the weekend with $1.0906 billion worldwide, leaving it in 15th place, more than $66 million behind the current #10, Minions.

Now, note well, that figure of $1.0906 billion is a prediction, an estimate. It's just a few minutes past 3PM Eastern Standard Time Sunday, a few minutes past noon in Hollywood. The weekend isn't actually over yet. Box Office Mojo's estimate might be low.

$66 million low? Probably not. (PS, 28. December 2014: It was $4,5 million high.)

I got carried away by the thrill of the huge numbers. I lost my head. My only consolation is that it's quite possible that no-one anywhere on Earth actually gives a tiny crap how inaccurate my prediction from last Thursday was.

Dream Log: Mom's Formula 1 Ferrari.

In real life, my Mom passed away a week ago last Friday. Last night I dreamed she was still around and relatively healthy, and had gotten herself a Formula 1 Ferrari and was racing it, or at least driving it very fast on racetracks and getting ready to race. I and a few other people other people were quite surprised about this. She was rushing around from track to track and I could barely keep up. I just wanted to talk to her and see how she was, but by the time I got to one track she was off to another one.

I don't know very much about Formula 1 cars. I assumed that Mom's Ferrari was not a brand-new Formula 1 car and that she was not actually going to race in Formula 1 but in races for Formula 1 cars which were a few years old. How old Mom's Ferrari might have been, I don't know. I saw her driving it on a racetrack just once, and I would guess it was newer than 2000. She drove it very, very fast, broke very, very hard for the corners. The engine screamed and growled, the tires squealed. She was going very, very fast.

I finally caught up with her at her apartment when she took a break between racetracks. Her landlord was being mean to her, trying to get her to move out so that he could rent the apartment to someone else for more than he was legally allowed to charge her. I knew this, but I never learned exactly what the mean treatment was. I wanted to confront the landlord but I was unable to do so because he literally ran way from me and hid. Mom seemed unruffled by whatever it was the landlord was doing. The Ferrari was in a trailer and the trailer was parked in a 6-car garage in Mom's apartment building. There was no sign of any pit crew anywhere throughout the dream. It seemed that Mom was acting as her own mechanic and crew. The garage was mostly empty of cars, but there were a lot of people in it, coming and going and pausing and socializing, as if it were a hotel foyer and not a garage. From some of them I felt an unexpressed hostility, a snobbish awareness of their being in a different social class and looking down on my Mom and me and wishing she would move out of the building. Other people seemed to belong to the same circles as the snobs, but were friendly to us and seemed to dislike the snobs and the landlord and everything they stood for.

I was flabbergasted about the Ferrari, but there seemed no possibility that anyone was going to talk Mom out of doing whatever it was she was doing with it. I wanted to at least make sure that she was eating enough. She looked thin. I found some apple tarts in her freezer. She grabbed one of them out of my hands, microwaved it and ate it, seemed to think that had been a full meal, and went back out to the garage to exercise. Exercise was part of the racing program. Since I was there and it was Mom's exercise time, she and all the other people in the garage expected me to exercise too. So Mom and I both did a lot of push-ups and sit-ups. Mom seemed to be in better shape than I was.

Again, I wasn't sure whether Mom had actually raced in the Ferrari yet, or was just preparing to race, training as a race driver. But every time she drove the Ferrari on a track, whether it was a race or not, she recorded the result with a number which was the product of 6 and a number ending in 7: for example, it might be 102, 6x17. She wrote down each of these numbers with a pencil in a spiral notebook with lined paper. So, she wrote down 42 for one track, 162 for another, and so forth. One time, she broke the rule of multiplying 6 by a number which ends in 7: she wrote down 72 for one racetrack. 72 is 6x12. But that was okay, because the product still ended in 2. I didn't know what the numbers meant. I thought maybe they were the numbers of miles she had driven at each track, but I wasn't sure.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

"Knock knock!"

"Who's there?!" I called back to the voice outside my door.

"A big crate filled with $18 billion in $100 bills, all for you!"

This is great! I thought to myself as I walked to the door. Now that I have $18 billion, all of my financial worries are over. I can live quite comfortably on $18 billion, and have some money left over to help other people!

But when I open the front door, I saw no big crate, and no money anywhere. Someone had played a cruel practical joke on me, making me think that suddenly I was worth $18 billion!

But then I said to myself, Wait a minute! $18 billion in $100 bills?! That would weigh almost 200 tons! And stacked neatly, it would be 15 feet long, 20 feet long and 20 feet high, give or take!

Pffft, yeah! I'd like to see a crate THAT big! I'd like to see the truck that could carry a crate that weighs 200 tons! Yeah, whoever it was, that joker really fooled me, making me think there was a crate with $18 billion in it, right outside my door! Good one, joker!

And, hey, next time, don't try: "It's a somewhat smaller crate filled with $18 billion in large-denomination US bearer bonds!" either, because I happen to know that there are only about $100 million in US bearer bonds still outstanding!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Heeeeeeeelllp Meeeeee!!!!!

On the right-hand side of the page is a badge with a picture of a gorilla holding a kitten. Anyone can click this and donate to my blog.

On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to The Wrong Monkey... lots and lots of money, got off public support, sure would like an agent, one like Andrew Wylie, they call him The Jackel, I'd be rich and famous, pals with Conan O'Brian, Aaaaaand, Jiiimy, Kiiiiimmellll... dating supermodels, preaching socialism, giving to charity, and a lot of people would think I'm swell!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

"That's Not What I Mean When I Say 'God'."

Traditionally, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, God has been an entity who looks like a man with a grey or white beard, lives in the sky and intervenes personally in the lives of people. The Greek god Zeus bears a lot of resemblances to the Abrahamic capital-G God. There's just one letter's difference between "Zeus" and "Deus," Greek for "God."

Today, most Jews, Christians and Muslims believe in a God who differs to a lesser or greater degree from the bearded man in the sky. Sometimes to such a great degree that, instead of "God," they could call it something else, like "physics" or "love" or "gravity."

So why do they still call it "God"? (Lucretius was posing the very same question to pagans almost 2100 years ago.) Nietzsche may have found the answer: he declared, in his book Der Antichrist, in the 52nd chapter:

"»Glaube« heißt Nicht-wissen-wollen, was wahr ist." ("Religious belief means not wanting to know what is true.")

They don't seem to want to know that not very long ago at all, when members of their religions said "God," they meant an omnipotent bearded man in the sky, and not physics or love or gravity. They seem to want to pretend that the bearded man in the sky was always a symbol, of -- something. Something other than an actual omnipotent bearded man who lived in the sky.

It's difficult to talk sense with people who don't want to make sense.

Nothing I've said in this post is a secret, or hard to understand. But many people, maybe most people on Earth, don't want to understand anything of the sort. Some of these people who don't want to understand such things, things which only become clearer and clearer with the passage of time, are intelligent enough that they have to study theology full-time just to keep themselves confused.

I Predict That 'The Force Awakens' Will Be Top 10 Worldwide BO By End Of Christmas Weekend

After Wednesday's box office has been tallied, The Force Awakens stands at #60 all-time with $765.9 million. In order to be in the top 10 after Sunday, it needs somewhat more than an additional $391.4 million. I say "somewhat more" because the current #10, Minions is still in release, with a total of $1.1573 billion. But Minions was released months ago and I don't expect it to do Earth-shattering business over the Christmas holiday.

(Again: in this blog I'm concentrating on worldwide figures, not the North American box office which makes the headlines more often in Murrka than worldwide.)

The Force Awakens made $529 million in its first weekend (plus Thursday-night sneak previews), then $81.8 million on Monday, $78.6 million on Tuesday and $76.5 million yesterday, Wednesday.



Happy Holidays, If Possible

One holiday season back in the 20th century my groceries had been bagged in a grocery store and I was about to leave, and the check-out lady smiled at me and said, "Merry Christmas!"

And I yelled at her: "I'm Jewish!" (I'm not, actually.)

The lady went wide-eyed and stammered, "S-so?"

So, I had been thinking about what it must be like to be Jewish in most parts of the US. I've kept thinking about what it must be like to Jewish here, or Muslim, or black, or black and Muslim, or Asian, or Native American, or gay, or paraplegic, or to stand out from the herd in some other way.

I don't know anything about that checkout lady. For all I know, she could have been sorry she upset me, and might still be sorry, and might have learned a lot since then about Hanukkah, and made a few Jewish friends. Or possibly she was antisemitic and my outburst made her dislike Jews more. Or maybe she herself was really Jewish.

I didn't notice Bill O'Reilly in the store that evening. If he was there, and he heard me, did he think of my outburst as an example of the war on Christmas?

If the war on Christmas is a struggle against the right for Christian Americans to continue to treat non-Christians like 2nd-class citizens or worse, then, yes, it exists. How many Christians, if they read something like that, would go all wide-eyed in surprise, because they really don't believe that non-Christians are discriminated against in the US?

Some years before my holiday outburst in the grocery store, I told a joke making fun of Moses and the Jews wandering in the desert, and a woman who heard me immediately said, "I'm Jewish." I responded to that by immediately launching into a joke making fun of evangelical Christians. I was trying to say that I was not a bigot, that my comedy style was equal-opportunity offensive. She didn't laugh at either joke. In the decades since then I've spent a lot of time wondering what she thinks of me. And I've spent a little time wondering whether she actually is Jewish. Maybe she is, or maybe she said she was as a way of confronting me, because I seemed to her to be an antisemite. And in retrospect it seems reasonable that she saw me that way. The same way that I assumed that the makers of "Family Guy" were bigoted the first few times I watched the show. She and I barely knew one another at the time. We still barely know each other.

And also since then, I've occasionally lied and said I was Jewish. Sometimes when confronted with antisemitism, and sometimes for no particular reason at all. But I'm trying to stop that because I've come to realize that that pretense is offensive to some Jews.

Anyway, Hanukkah was over 10 days ago this year in case some of you goyim were wondering.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Still Don't Care About The New Star Wars, Still Find The Economics Interesting

Box Office Mojo's early estimate on Sunday of the box-office take for the first four days of the new Star Wars movie, Thursday-night sneak previews through Sunday, was low: they estimated $517 million. They've since adjusted that up to $529 million. After Monday's receipts were added, it's up to $610.8 million, placing it at #102 on Box Office Mojo's list of all-time worldwide box office leaders.

Friday is Christmas. The combination of Friday and Christmas and a one-week-old blockbuster movie is leading to predictions that The Force Awakens will do very well on its second weekend. The movie has gotten extremely good reviews, which makes me tend to agree with these optimistic expectations. By the end of Sunday the 27th, the movie may well be among the all-time worldwide top 20 with over a billion dollars at the box office. (Currently Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace is #20 with $1,027 billion.) Certainly, at the very least, it will break the top 50 (Current #50: Independence Day, with $817.4 million.)

It seems possible that it could be in the top 50 before the Christmas weekend even starts.

When the 2005 version of King Kong was released, I was making similarly detailed remarks and predictions about its box office figures. Somebody asked me: Why was I going on and on about this? Was I getting a piece of the movie's revenues? And suddenly I became very embarrassed and stopped talking about it. No, I wasn't getting a piece of King Kong's earnings, and no, I'm not getting a piece of The Force Awakens' revenues. I'm doing this because I find it interesting because I'm autistic. In 2005 I didn't know yet that I was autistic. I'm becoming a little more comfortable with who I am. And other people, of course, can take it or leave it.

PS, 3:52PM: Box Office Mojo now includes the figures for Tuesday, yesterday, and The Force Awakens is up to $689.4 million, 81st place all-time. Holy cow, $78.6 million on a Tuesday.

PPS, 24. December 2015, 1:02 PM: Box Office Mojo now includes the figures for Wednesday. The new one is up to $765.9 million, #60 all-time. $76.5 million on a Wednesday. If it manages more than $51.5 today it will, in fact, enter the Christmas weekend in the top 50.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Baby!

A female stand-up comic on the toob just said: "Men who call us 'Baby'... I think the next time a man sez that to me I'm gonna say WAAAAAAHHHHH!!!" and I changed the channel in anger and said

Wait a minute, Baby!


On the planet I live on, women also call men "Baby" ALL THE TIME.

And there are some people who call EVERYBODY "Baby." Many hipsters did so in the 1950's and I assume that some neo-1950's hipsters do so today. In the lyrics to his 1985 single, John ("Cougar") Mellencamp claimed to know a women who did so, and I quote:

She calls me "Baby"/She calls everybody "Baby"


and for my final exhibit, in the 1974 movie Blazing Saddles Cleavon Little calls

himself


"Baby"!

I don't wish to be insensitive to anyone's problems, but please! female stand-up comic on HBO: some people have

REAL


problems!

Just needed to get that off my chest!

Okay. Feeling a little better now. Thank you.

More On My Problems With Buddhism

Either Buddhism has been erroneously called a religion by very many people for a very, very long time, or it is a religion which recently has been very successfully marketed to atheists.

Just today in an online discussion, I was saying Yu-huh it is too a religion, and this other person, possibly a Buddhist, I don't know for sure, was saying no it's a philosophy, and I indicated that I was tired of the discussion, and the other person said Okay if you don't want to discuss religion...

*sigh* I pointed out that -- *sigh*

I'm so sick of them. "Buddhism is not a religion. We don't worship deities or preach any sort of metaphysics. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for me to go to a temple and kneel in front of a statue of the Buddha alongside some Buddhist monks, and chant and meditate in my quest to attain eternal bliss."

This little tiff started off with a quote from the Dalai Lama: "I believe that the only true religion consists in having a good heart." I replied: "I don't think you need any religion to be a nice person."

The other person tossed me an LOL and said that that was exactly what the quote meant, because Buddhism isn't a religion, and we were off.

It's one thing if you think that the Dalai Lama is a great person and a powerful force for good in the world. Maybe he is. I admit that I can't really judge his personality or his effect on the world objectively, because all of this it's-not-a-religion sticks in my craw.

I happen to like Pope Francis very much. (I didn't right at first, as you can see by reading what I wrote about him in this blog immediately after he was elected Pope. But part of that, of course, was just my own personal disappointment because I hadn't been elected Pope.) I like him more and more.

I'm not sure whether I would like him if he and/or some of his followers started to claim that Catholicism is not a religion and never has been. If, for example, Catholics suddenly started to claim that the belief in the Resurrection isn't really a belief in the Resurrection and never was such a belief, the way that some Buddhists have suddenly begun to claim that Buddhists beliefs in reincarnation -- reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, for example -- are not actually beliefs in reincarnation and never have been.

If you're a Catholic and also an atheist, that's fine with me. Just don't try to tell me that no Catholics believe in anything supernatural and that none ever have.

If you're a Buddhist and you don't believe in reincarnation, I have no problem with that.

If you're trying to tell me that "Buddhists don't believe that the Dali Lama has been reincarnated, they believe that aspects of one Dali Lama are transferred to the next, because they all share one heart," and that I'm just silly for thinking this is a religion and not a philosophy, and for thinking that what you just said has anything to do with reincarnation, then I don't want to talk to you any more.

Not about Buddhism, not right now anyway.

Why? Because I'm always struggling to make sense, and that struggle is difficult for me under the best of conditions. Maybe it's actually much harder for me personally because I'm autistic. Perhaps if I were neurologically-typical I wouldn't loath theology so because it wouldn't pose such a threat to me. Perhaps if I were neurologically-typical and someone were to say to me: "Buddhists don't believe that the Dali Lama has been reincarnated per se, they believe that the ideals of the last Dali Lama have been transferred to the new one. The one who owns the heart," I'd find it fascinating, and we'd be able to discuss it all day and all night and I'd find it all ever so delightful. I seem to remember a line from a poem by Jack Kerouac about Buddhism being delightfully empty baloney any way you slice it. I'm sorry, I can't find that line right now. And often I remember lines completely wrong. (Is that also because I'm autistic?) But assuming that Kerouac did actually write something more or less like that -- is this a matter of some people finding a perfectly good and healthy sort of nonsense in religion?

Is it possible that it's similar to the wonderful stuff I find in Gertrude Stein, which so many people have had to explain so laboriously to each other but which no one ever had to explain to me, which I loved from the first instant?

Maybe. Or maybe I simply have a very good point here and I'm right to call some Buddhists on their nonsense.

[PS, 20. March 2016: Another thing has occurred to me lately: how seldom anyone seems to wonder whether the feats of archery described by Eugen Herrigel in his famous book Zen in the Art of Archery were faked. (Herrigel tells of a Zen master shooting an arrow at a faraway target in the dark and hitting the center of the bulls-eye, and then shooting a second arrow which splits the first one right up the middle.)]

Monday, December 21, 2015

Today, A DJ On Detrot's Oldies Station --

-- or the "classic rock" station, or whatever it is that they call 94.7 FM -- Sometime much longer ago than 10 years ago, I heard a DJ say that a Golden Oldie was any record over 10 years old. I can't recall having heard a record on 94.7 which was less than 20 years old, and I believe the majority of the records they play are more than 30 years old by now.

But I'm not sure whether they call themselves an oldies station.

You see, kids, long, long ago, long before most of you were born, there was this thing called rock n roll, which involved a lot of silliness and occasionally some interesting music. But there was definitely more than music involved. There were also stupid slogans like "Don't trust anyone over 30" and rapidly-changing regulations about the acceptable length of hair for young (under 30) men.

But the hair-length regulations only began to be enforced in the mid-1960's, and rock n roll was around even earlier than that, in the 1950's. Actually, it was around even earlier than the 1950's, but before the 1950's it was called rhythm n blues, and there were very few white performers and much less silliness involved in it. One piece of silliness which began in the 1950's when white kids overran the genre was the slogan:

Rock n roll is here to stay!


This slogan can be seen as early as the movie The Girl Can't Help It starring Jayne Mansfield, released in 1956. The girl in the title was Mansfield, and what she couldn't help was being so very va-voom. If I remember correctly, near the beginning of that movie, a reporter happened upon a couple who were doing some jitterbug dancing to a rock r roll song, and he asked the girl something like

"Say, Kitty, what's the name of that exercise yr doing?!"

and the girl replied something like

"It's called rock n roll, Daddy-O, and it's here to stay!"

You know what? Not only might that not be an exact quote, it might not even be from The Girl Can't Help It. But the point is, it could've been. And the point is also that Bill Haley & His Comets were not in the movie performing "Rock Around the Clock," but they could've been. No, the point is, they should have been. No -- the point is, somewhere I read some stupid rock critic saying that "Rock Around the Clock" was not "real" rock n roll.

What the eff? Is it that 30-year-old thing? Haley was 29 when "Rock Around the Clock" was released, and 31 when The Girl Can't Help It was released. Is it because Bill was a little bit portly?

In 1956 Haley was rocking his fat white 31-year-old ass off. "Rock Around the Clock" is a fine piece of recorded music. The point is, there's plenty of stuff masquerading as real rock n roll which isn't. Take that gruesome assault on the ears released in 1957, which seemingly just won't die, "Jingle Bell Rock." That's not rock n roll, it's not good music of any sort, and it rips off a line from "Rock Around the Clock."

Just 20 years later and 40 years ago already, some of the punk rockers started to make fun of the "rock n roll will never die" bullshit. However, they themselves cultivated a pose of mistrust toward people over 30, and as if that weren't already rock-n-roll-silly enough, they also, at first, enforced hair-length regulations for men. And the only way they could rebel against the older rockers in hair length was to cut it shorter.

It may be hard for young people today truly to grasp how seriously the silliness about distrusting the non-young was among rockers. Even one of the least-silly rock n roll bands ever, The Who, released a record in 1965 with the iconic line: "Hope I die before I get old." A line which keeps getting more and more ironic, because the 2 surviving members of the band are still performing as The Who 50 years later. Any attempt to make it un-ironic must resort to pretzel logic like, "If 'old' means 'lame' or 'no longer skilled,' then Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey have not yet grown old." And it's true that they continue to put on very, very good shows.

But they're old.

But that's not what I came here to talk to you about today. Today, on Detroit's oldies station, a DJ said:

"We want to thank you for spending the year with us, and we wish you happiness and joy in the holiday season. Unless you're a goalie with the Avalanche."

And I think that's a nice message for the kids.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

"Are Religious Believers Stupid?"

Many of them are, yes. And so are many atheists. And the purveyor or purveyors of a blog I recently saw with a post with the title quoted in this post's title -- dumb as posts, so to speak. Another title on their blog is We'll Pay $200 To Charity For Every Muslim Who Can Prove He's Peaceful. You don't need to be Ludwig Wittgenstein to perceive that they're neither especially charitable, nor able to see a peaceful Muslim standing right in front of them.

There's no shortage of stupidity anyplace I've seen. "Well, Steve," you may ask, "have you ever seen Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies?!"

And as a matter of fact I have not. But I have spent some time in some other world-class smartypants institutions, so there.

You may press on and say, "Well riddle me this, Smartypants -- do you think maybe it's kinda stupid of you to spend so much time online with so many stupid believers and stupid atheists who are constantly seeking each other out for the sole purpose of calling each other stupid? Huh?!"

... Maybe. Yeah, now that you mention it, maybe it is.

This Is Me Not Caring That You Don't Care That I Don't Care About Star Wars


Actually, I do care a little bit about the economics. I find that part interesting. According to Box Office Mojo, the new one will gross an estimated $517 million worldwide this weekend. That makes it #141 on Box Office Mojo's list of all-time highest worldwide grosses just since the sneak previews last Thursday. Again, that's worldwide. For some reason, the headlines in Murrka about movie box office earnings tend to only mention North American figures, when very often the worldwide figure is more than twice the North American.

Of course, worldwide box-office itself is often just a small fraction of what a movie actually earns, when one tallies up television, home video and merchandising. And of course, in the case of the Star Wars franchise, the merchandising revenues are especially huge, with books, television series, video games and comic books all having done very well for decades now.

If you're expecting me to give you an exact idea of how well -- I can't. For whatever reasons, the movie biz makes box-office earnings as public as can be, and keeps the other revenues somewhat more confidential.

*sigh* Why can't I have George Lucas' money and still keep my talent, personality and good looks?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Dream Log: Catastrophe

I suppose it's not unusual for people to dream of a catastrophe the first night after their mother dies.

I dreamed I lived in a big house with a lot of other people, mainly relatives, and I had a room of my own, filled with books. It started to rain, and the ceiling of my room started to leak. And water tends to damage books.

And then very suddenly the leak in the ceiling turned into a big hole and rainwater poured through. Through the hole in the ceiling you could see a hole in the roof big enough to drive a truck through it.

People constantly came and went, into my room and back out, many of them dressed in black. Everyone exclaimed about the damage to the ceiling and the roof, and nobody seemed to have the slightest idea about what could be done to repair the damage. Books began to swell up and take on the fungus-like appearance they sometime have after they've gotten wet. There was a big puddle of water on the floor. People splashed through the puddle as they came and went, and the soaked floorboards creaked more and more loudly.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Angela Ver Ploeg, 1934-2015

A photo from 2010. Left to right: Dan, Angela's husband, my step-Dad; Angela; Joan, Angela's little sister, my aunt; Joan's husband, my uncle John.


She was my Mom. She was the toughest person I ever met. She had cancer since 1984, she had stage-4 cancer for years, and she hardly ever complained about it. Over the years she had lots and lots of chemo, but her hair didn't fall out until very near the end. Over most of that time, most people just wouldn't have known that she was sick. She was that tough. She complained about her troubles that little.

Finally, cancer was tougher. This year she spoke very calmly with me about her approaching death. She said she could tell when people were tip-toeing around the subject. Those people didn't understand that they didn't have to watch what they said for her sake. She wasn't upset about it. The rest of us were. A few hours ago she passed away.

She was a great person, very generous in all senses of the word. Her departure will leave a big hole in a lot of us.

Rest in peace, Mom.

How To Get People To Stop Paying Attention To You And Shun You


The only thing wrong with that meme is that other vegans have been telling him the same thing and he always assumes they must be non-vegans because how could a vegan find fault with him? Him?!

JAMES: No-one who is not a vegan can call himself an environmentalist. (ACTUAL QUOTE!)

Class, what is going to be the effect of James' statement? Is it

A) More people will become vegans;

or

B) Fewer people will call themselves environmentalists?

That's right, it's

C) Fewer people will listen to James.

Which is a shame, because James was providing a lot of fascinating information about the food industry. And for all I know, James' information about the food industry may have been 100% correct. But James was wrong in his assumption about who is and isn't allowed to call him- or herself an environmentalist. And he's reinforcing the stereotype about vegans being judgmental douchebags.

I'm sure that if I dug through James' life I could find something which is less than environmentally-friendly. Instead, since I only have one life and I'm trying to use it efficiently, I'm blowing James off and moving on. It's not enough to be right in politics, and everything is political.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bring On The 'Force Awakens' Spoilers

If you see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and you're busting to tell somebody about it, because you loved it that much, or you hated it that much, or for whatever other reason, and you can't talk to any of your other friends because they haven't seen it yet and they'll be furious with you because of the spoilers -- bring the spoilers to me. In fact, we can designate this blog an official Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoiler-friendly zone.

Of course, the reason we can do this is not because I saw a special preview before any of the general public got to see the movie. No. Actually, I am not a Hollywood insider. The reason we can do this is because I don't care much about the movie. I'm not determined to hate it or anything like that. I bear no ill-will to anyone involved in the making of the movie, I'm just decidedly meh about the whole thing. I was 16 years old when A New Hope (aka the first Star Wars movie) was released in 1977. I saw it a bunch of times in theatres in its first run. I liked The Empire Strikes Back even better.

Okay, maybe I bear a little ill-will toward Harrison Ford. ... No. Not really even toward him. I was dragged by friends to each of the first 3 Indiana Jones movies and they weren't really my cup of tea, but I've pretty much recovered from that by now, and I don't allow myself to be dragged off to watch movies any more. I watch what I want to, when I want to, like an adult. I think it's an insult to wood to describe Ford's acting as "wooden," but that doesn't mean I dislike him. I've never met him, nor have I heard anything about his offscreen life which makes me think I wouldn't like him just fine.

I had a huge crush on Carrie Fischer. I know, so did hundreds of millions of other people. But my crush set in pre-gold-lamé-bikini. From the first time I saw her first scene in The Empire Strikes Back, without that awful awful hairdo from the first one -- bam, I was gone.

...What? Oh, right: tell me spoilers. It won't bother me a bit. Hope you enjoy the movie.

mee r munkee. it not fare tu rangutan tu compare donal chump to rangutan

mee r munkee. mee luv yu.

akshly, mee chimp. chimp not akshly munkee. chimp ape. but most peepl call both munkee an ape munkee. that ok with mee. in fact now mee du it tu.

wen mee wer littl munkee, mee got mad wen peeple cawl mee munkee sted uv ape. now mee dont care. wat wurds fore ennyway? wurds fore unnerstan eech othr an say wee luv eech othr an stuf. not for bee big shot cuz yu yuz wurd korrek an munkee yuz wurd rong. or cuz yu spel sumthing korrek. langwuj not uh kontest.

but bee carful, sum peepl git mad wen yu cawl ape munkee. mee no care.

it not fare tu rangutan tu cumpare donal chump tu rangutan. mabee yu think rangutan uglee. that ok, if yu feel that way yu feel that way.

but rangutan not chuze luk like that. but donal chump du that tu hisself.

how donal chump du that tu hisself? sunlamp? rub on tan? nobudee no. but everbuddee no donal chump du that tu hisself.

buy th way -- rangutan also akshly ape not munkee. sum peepl git mad wen yu cawl rangutan munkee. rangutan prolly not care.

rangutan pritty mellow. this make it more unfare tu cumpare donal chump tu rangutan. rangutan not trie munipuhlate yr feer. rangutan not spred hate.

donal chump make it verr verr difkult fore munkee luv donal chump.

uhhhhhhhhh. this verr verr hard... mee luv yu, donal chump. NOW SHUT UP N GO WAY BFORE YU MAKE MUNKEE NOT LUV YU NO MORE!!!!!!!



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dream Log: Mila Kunis; My Brother; Russian-American Fugitive

Last night I dreamed that Mila Kunis and I were hanging out with a few mutual friends, in a building in a woods by a lake which looked as if it might have been a big empty upscale hotel, and figuring out that we liked each other as more than friends. (My social life lately has been spectacular while I've been asleep. While I've been awake it hasn't been as impressive. I haven't actually ever met Mila Kunis.) At first we would sneak away from the others now and then to hug and kiss for a moment. Then we decided to stop hiding it from the others.

Then there was an exchange in the presence of the others -- although nobody seemed to be paying much attention to the two of us -- in which we were both rather emotional, and I did my best to reassure her that I was sincere, and trying neither to manipulate her nor humiliate her, nor was I seeing anyone else. It felt difficult to reassure her, and simultaneously not to appear to belittle her feelings.

Then we had sustained eye contact for a period of more than a few seconds -- remember, I'm autistic, and continuously maintaining eye contact for more than about 1 second at a time does not come naturally to me -- and I was very moved because her eyes were gorgeous, and I hugged her and whispered in her ear that she was gorgeous and she made me very happy. And she whispered: "Is it only my looks?" And I whispered: "No, it's a lot more than that. But to be honest, you're also extremely good-looking, and that's very nice too." After I said that she hugged me tighter.

Then I was living with my brother in a house next to an Interstate exit and entrance. In real life I've never lived in such a location. The landscape was fairly flat, and dusty, and the sun was very bright although the weather outside was cool. The house was small and seemed flimsily-built. There was very little sound insulation, we had to raise our voices slightly to be heard over the roar of vehicles on the highway. Gradually, with the help of more clues, I figured out that the house was somewhere in west Texas. I've never lived in Texas, but I've passed through a few times, and a lot of people I know, relative, friends, acquaintances, live in Texas or have lived there. Although more often in central or east Texas -- from Abilene to Louisiana -- than west Texas. When I figured out where the house was, I remarked to my brother, "I don't have any contacts near here." My brother nodded, but I couldn't tell if my lack of acquaintances unsettled him as it did me.

He and I walked across the road from our house to the local saloon, where we met a group of friendly and hard-drinking guys who clearly were led by a guy who looked somewhat like a younger Hank Williams, Jr, except bigger. He wore a Stetson and sunglasses indoors and out. He spoke with a slight Russian accent. He bought drinks for his buddies and also for me and my brother, although we had just met. He was disappointed that my bother and I weren't drinking faster, but he didn't make a big deal of it. He and I were standing at the bar and laughing about something when suddenly he stopped laughing. He was looking past me to the entrance of the saloon. I turned around and saw one of his crew standing by the entrance and looking very grim.

They all cleared out very quickly. The Hank-lookalike dropped some bills on the bar and apologized that my brother and I couldn't come with them. We heard several pickups outside start up and roar away, spitting gravel.

Shortly after that -- it was still mid-afternoon -- my brother and I were back in our house with a few friends, when someone started banging very hard on the front door. I opened the door and a very angry Texas Ranger barged into the living room, shoving me on the chest and shoulders and yelling for me to tell him where Sergei was. He was clearly convinced that I was only pretending not to know who Sergei was, and pretending not to be Russian. There were now several Rangers in our living room, and one of them barked at the angry one to shut up and go outside. Then he talked to me very calmly. I was wondering whether this was all a good-cop-bad-cop routine, or whether the first guy really was about to flip up because he was so angry. I thought, if this is just a routine, they're good at it, it's a very convincing routine. In any case, after the calm Ranger had spoken with me for a short while, I understood that the big Hank William-lookalike was Sergei, and the Rangers understood that none of us were Russian, and that none of us had seen Sergei before that afternoon in the saloon or had any idea where he and his crew were headed, and that they had barged into the wrong house. The calm cop made the angry one come back inside and apologize to everyone for the mistake. They all left, and none of us back in the house had the slightest idea why they were chasing Sergei.

Then I woke up.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Is Anyone Out There Fluent In Armenian?

The thing is -- I'm not. Not even close. I recently obtained my first Armenian Bible, and I have no idea what sort of a Bible it is. Its ISBN number is 978-1843640660.

Now, I know some of you are shaking your heads and saying aloud, "What the Heck, Steve! Wouldn't it make more sense to get at least close to fluent in Armenian before getting books written in Armenian, ya big goof?!"

For some people, maybe most people, that might make more sense. My method of language acquisition tends to lean less on language courses and textbooks, and more on books written for native speakers, than average. Maybe my method actually doesn't make much sense for me, either, and reflects above all my lazy unwillingness to spend sufficient time in the drudgery of the textbooks. But occasionally, believe it or not, it has worked. Maybe my method makes more sense for someone who is autistic than for someone who is neurologically-typical.

Maybe it makes absolutely no sense at all. Please don't mistake me for an expert on language acquisition.

When I ask what sort of Bible ISBN 978-1843640660 is, I'm wondering what its relationship to the earliest Armenian translations is, and what the footnotes mean -- do they refer to textual variants, or to verses elsewhere in the Bible with similar content, or both, or something else? That sort of thing. I looked and looked for some indication of which version of the Armenian Bible might be considered standard, or even critical, by scholars, but, since I'm not fluent in Armenian, that was hard.

I'm interested in when and how the Armenian language was put into writing. The thing is this: some sources tell me that in the early 5th century, Mesrop Mashtots created the Armenian alphabet and John of Egheghiatz and Joseph of Baghin translated the Bible into Armenian, while other sources tell me that traditionally, the creation of the Armenian alphabet and the translation of the Bible occurred in the early 5th century. The problem is that word "tradition." It's a word very often used by scholars who are well-informed about a topic in the history of a religion, but determined to appear to most of their audience as if they were not well-informed, in order not to hurt people's feelings. For example: the scholar may begin a sentence very loudly by saying:

"Traditionally,


this piece of wood, which has been stored in this reliquary in this church since the 12th century, is said to have been a part of the True Cross," and then complete the sentence by mumbling very softly, "[...]although recent carbon-14 tests have shown that it comes from a tree which died in the 12th century."

So when some sources say that traditionally, Mesrop Mashtots created the Armenian alphabet and John of Egheghiatz and Joseph of Baghin translated the Bible into Armenian in the early 5th century, it makes me wonder whether those sources know something which they're not saying. Something like: those people did create the Armenian alphabet and translate the Bible into Armenian, but not that early. Or: some of the Bible was translated into Armenian then, and the rest later. Or: historians now wonder whether Mesrop Mashtots or John of Egheghiatz or Joseph of Baghin actually existed.

I don't want to upset anyone by wondering about such things. I just want to know what actually happened.

Of course, historians and we laypeople with a special interest in history know that investigating history, wanting to know what actually happened, always upsets a lot of people, no matter how good our intentions are, and that the upset is greatly increased whenever religion is involved. We can apologize over and over for doing what we do, or we can mumble or speak in code whenever we're afraid of offending someone -- or we can be interviewed for shows on the so-called "History Channels" and not worry about having to mumble, because we know that whatever we say will be edited all out of recognition anyway -- or we can grow thick skins and get on with it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Internet Phobia Among Media And Entertainment Elites

"Pray that there's intelligent life somewhere out in space,
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth!"
-- Monty Python, from The Meaning of Life, 1983, when only a few geeks had heard of the Internet.

Recently I saw a television program from Canada, on CBN, about readers' comments on the Internet. Or rather, I saw the first coupe of minutes of it. Everybody on the show, the moderator of the discussion and her several guests, had his or her own online column, all of them had been horrified by the comments on their columns -- many of the comments had been hateful. Also, often discussions developed within the comments which seemed to have little to do with the article published by the author. (The nerve of some people, right?!) -- and all of them had discontinued comments on their columns.

Ironically, as soon as learned this much -- it couldn't have been much more than 2 minutes after the program began -- I changed the channel. I can only hope that later in the program, some other person joined the discussion, who for reasons the moderator and original set of guests couldn't fathom, ran some Internet presence which still accepted comments from the public, and who would explain to them what is meant by such strange terms as "comment moderation" and "blocking."

Some of us who do not draw large salaries writing columns for TV networks or high-circulation newspapers have explored a variety of places on the Internet where the general public leaves comments, and we well know that places where the comments are entirely unregulated do indeed tend to feature many horrifying comments. And so we tend to favor places where the comments are moderated. That is, someone associated with whoever makes the website removes and/or edits comments deemed to be offensive, and blocks some commenters: that is, clicks a button preventing them from commenting further -- usually after several warnings, but at the discretion of the moderator or moderators.

All such moderation involves, of course, subjective judgments about what is and is not an acceptable comment, and who does and does not deserve the chance to comment further. And of course, this leads to a lot of comments which complain about the moderation. Some complain that the moderation is too strict, some that it is not strict enough. Sometimes such complaints can grow rather dreary. Indeed, it has on occasion been known to happen that a commenter has been removed from a forum for no other reason than for complaining about the moderation.

In any place on the Internet I know which involves comments from the general public, whether it's the online presence of a newspaper or TV network which allows the public to comment on the news articles, or some place like Facebook, where the Great Unwashed ourselves are allowed to post things, more often than not in order for others to comment upon what we've posted (I'm picturing those Canadian journalists I watched for about 2 minutes shuddering if and when they ever learn what this Facebook thing they've heard about actually is: a gathering of public comments.), the comments are either moderated, or they're generally worthless. Sometimes both, of course. But moderation is a prerequisite for a chance of a worthwhile discussion.

Those 2 minutes of the Canadian news-talk show were not the first instance I've seen of surprising cluelessness about and horror of the Internet on the part of some of the more successful members of the media and entertainment industries. I can recall 2 instances of this from movies made by directors who seem much more intelligent and highly-educated than average, making their seeming incomprehension of things virtual that much more surprising: In Jonathan Demme's 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, the only character who seemed both heroic and psychologically undamaged, Senator Thomas Jordan (Jon Voigt), refers to "the Internet, sacred sanctuary of idiots and nutters."

As if one doesn't see plenty of idiots and nutters everywhere one turns offline... I certainly don't dispute that there are a lot of idiots on the Internet. I do dispute that they are more omnipresent or influential than they were pre-Internet.

The 2nd instance of Internet-phobia I had in mind is in Steven Soderbergh's movie Contagion, released in 2011. Here, fear and loathing of the Internet is much more pronounced. Here, the Internet almost wipes out the entire human race with its stupidity, because a conspiracy theorist, Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), has an incredibly popular blog, on which he spreads misinformation about a global pandemic, mistakenly claiming that the disease can be cured with forsythia, and also widely and inaccurately discredeting the CDC, which barely manages to save mankind in spite of him. Although criminally prosecuted, the idiot blogger easily makes bail and appears to be above the law.

Again, as if there hadn't been conspiracy theorists and purveyors of harmful non-medicine before the Internet. And as if a not-terribly-bright blogger could manage to garner more attention and more trust on medical issues than the CDC, all because of that bad ol' network of wires and satellites...

Really. A blogger. It'd be nice if we were that powerful. But of course, in the real world, long before a blogger became that powerful and popular, he or she would've gotten a full-time job with the mainstream media, and perhaps begun to rail against online comments and bloggers and the horrible, horrible general public.

Come to think of it, there seems to be a lot of dumb fear about technology in general in smarter-than-average movies. In the movies, how often do AI or robots or nanotechnology or the Internet, or just plain old unrealistically-depicted huge and powerful computers in general, not lead directly to the near-extinction and/or wholesale enslavement of mankind?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Signet Classics Covers From The 1960's

I've harshly criticized nostalgia in this blog, but naturally, I myself am not completely immune to it. To my emotions, certain novels are no longer printed in the correct way because they're not made with the covers they had in the Signet Classics series in the 1960's. For example, Moby Dick:


Naturally, since the Signet Classics paperbacks were so popular back then, I'm not the only one who has these sorts of feelings. For example, consider this tribute posted on Goodreads, and I quote:

"Aren't those covers awesome? And doesn't the paper hold up well, after all these decades, especially in the earlier copies? Aren't some of those afterwards interesting?"

Yes, yes and yes!

Many readers of Signet Classics of that era may recall what a terrible translator of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky Constance Garnett -- really, really awful -- you don't have to understand a single word of Russian to know how badly she translated it -- and yet know exactly what I mean when I say that I mourn the Signet Classics covers which passed away as better translators took over, and that no other edition of The Brothers Karamazov looks like the real one except this:


I was into the Signet Classics well before I was full grown. I moved from the children's section of our excellent small-town library and into the stacks with the books for adults just as soon as I realized that there was no rule against it -- I'm terrible with dates, but this was probably around 1971, when I turned 10. The head librarian was wonderful. She took note of my grown-up tastes in reading material with definite approval.

The people who made the picture for the cover of the Signet Classics in the 1960's were several, and unfortunately they are not named anywhere in the volumes themselves, and least not in the ones I've inspected. I'm not sure, but I think that whoever made the title illustration for that edition of Moby Dick also made this picture:


And this one, too, my very favorite book-cover illustration:


Why my favorite book-cover ever? Probably just because it was my favorite when I was a child, and nostalgia has kept those childish sensations alive in me.

Not that I'm actually a great fan of James Fenimore Cooper. As far as historical accuracy goes: The Mohicans, or Mahicans, didn't die out centuries ago, as Cooper would have you believe. They are still among us today. Cooper didn't write well. There was not a witty bone in his body nor a supple phrase in his soul.

I am a very great fan of Melville, though. I have a copy of Moby Dick which looks like the one pictured above. It was printed in 1962, acquired by me in the 1980's, I think, and the paper, just as the person quoted above from Goodreads says, is very nice indeed, very high-quality, and much sturdier than the binding. Repeatedly, avidly read, certain pages pored over with especially great attention, the volume is coming more and more to resemble a collection of loose leaves in a folder rather than an actual bound book. Likewise, the paper in my Signet Classics copy of Tom Jones, printed in 1964, is very good paper, might as well be new rather than 51 years old, although the book's front cover is gone, worn off many years ago.

It wasn't much of a cover to me. No offense to anyone who treasures it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Enough With This Bullshit About How Atheists Have Never Hurt Anyone

Someone or some group who calls him- or herself or call themselves The Witty Liberal sez or say:

"Muslim terrorists are killing people. Christian terrorists are killing people. Atheist terrorists are posting science articles online."

No. Not so witty. Not after I've read pretty much the same joke 10,000 times and had years to think it over. Dawkins and Harris don't kill people, they just spew hatred, fear and ignorance and support Western governments who kill people for them. Dawkins has written hardly a thing about science since 2004, which is a real shame since he used to be quite good at writing about science.

And the kind of malarkey Harris is writing and trying to pass off as science, talking about how ethics and morality can be scientifically determined, ought to alarm anyone at all sophisticated in his or her understanding of either science or ethics who sees Harris selling millions of books.

The Western democracies remain in contention for the title of world-champion killers, and Dawkins and Harris and Myers say, and Hitch said, that they're not doing enough. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in the war since 2003. Since 2001 tens of thousands of Afghani civilians have been killed and tens of thousands more wounded.

In some atheist groups, many of the comments about Muslims are pretty much indistinguishable from comments made by white supremacists. Comments which say that Muslims -- or, interchangeably, Arabs, despite Harris' absurd assertions about how Islamophobia doesn't exist and if it did there wouldn't be anything racist about it since Islam isn't a race -- are donkey-fuckers and pedophiles, comments which claim that the majority of Muslims support terrorism.

And again, as I've said often already in this blog: most of the people who have been fighting and dying against the terrorist threat which currently tends to frighten Westerners the most, ISIL -- most of them are Muslims.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Religious Situation

Back in the 20th century there was a particularly silly conversation going on among some literary critics and associated buffoons, asking when and if anyone was ever going to write The Great American Novel. Philip Roth made appropriate fun of this pretentious silliness by calling the novel he published in 1973 The Great American Novel.

One of the reasons it was silly was because many great American novels had already been written. But if you insisted on calling one of them THE Great American Novel, well that was also no problem: Herman Melville published it in 1851, and America's literary critics, those monumental wastes, trashed it. It's called Moby Dick. It stands comparison with War and Peace and Don Quixote and Tom Jones and Ulysses and any other Greatest Novel Of All Time you got. Moby Dick is the stuff.

It begins with a page concerning the word "whale" in English and the words for whales in several other languages; then a dozen pages of quotes concerning whales taken from the a variety of sources arranged chronologically from Genesis up to Melville's time; then comes Chapter 1, whose first paragraph contains these three sentences:

"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship."

When I first read Moby Dick I had already been very pleasantly surprised by the literary whaling voyage undertaken before Chapter 1, but when I read the above passage, Melville had me. I knew that he was one of my guys and that I was one of his. It came as no surprise to me when, some time after my first reading of Moby Dick, and then of his novel The Confidence Man and his story "Bartleby the Scrivener," I learned that Melville had been an atheist. Of course he had. The thing about needing the strong moral principle in order not to spectacularly lose his composure and manners had already told me that he was like me.

I came here today to talk to you about the people who make you want to step into the street and lose all control of the angry part of yourself: Christian theologians. I got a book today: The Religious Situation by Paul Tillich, translated from Die religioese Lage der Gegenwart by H Richard Niebuhr.

I have this book because I am weak, in insufficient control of my bookworm tendencies, and because it was free, one of the books being given away at the local library. I knew better than to even pick up a book by Paul Tillich. And when I read on the back cover of this Living Age Books edition, Published by Meridian Books, Fifth printing July 1960, that Nietzsche was one of the book's subjects, I knew even better.

But I'm weak. And so, on the first page of Niebuhr's introduction to his translation of Tillich's book, I read this:

"It is not a book about the religion of the churches but an effort to interpret the whole contemporary situation from the point of view of one who constantly inquires what fundamental faith is expressed in the forms which civilization takes. Tillich is more interested in the religious values of secularism, of modern movements in art, science, education, and politics than in tracing tendencies within the churches or even in theology."

"The religious values of secularism." Cato the Younger falls on his sword, Ishmael (the narrator of Moby Dick) gets on a ship, some poor guy who doesn't know what to do walks out onto a crowded Manhattan street and actually does start knocking people's hats from their heads, or something even less socially acceptable, because he simply can't take it any more, until they drag him screaming to Bellevue -- Melville and I write about it. Maybe I'll take a hint from Roth and write a book and call it The Religious Situation. Or The Moral Landscape.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Sending A Clear And Powerful Message

Handguns are made for killin'
They ain't no good for nothin' else
And if you like to drink your whiskey
You might even shoot yourself

Some why don't dump 'em, people
To the bottom of the sea?
Before some old fool comes 'round here
And tries to shoot either you or me


That's From a Lynyrd Skynyrd song released as a single 40 years ago, "Saturday Night Special." Then a couple of years after that they released an album entitled Gimme Back My Bullets. Then in 1977 several of the band members died in a plane crash. Then in 1987 the band re-formed with several new members, including a new lead singer, Johnny Van Zant, the younger brother of the late original lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant. Before joining the new version of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ronnie had fronted a band called -- .38 Special. In 2009 Lynyrd Skynyrd released an album entitled God & Guns and pal'ed around with Sean Hannity. Johnny has been quoted as saying that the song and title track "God & Guns" is not a direct contradiction of his big brother's song "Saturday Night Special."

Just an indirect contradiction, I guess.

In 2012, the band stopped using the Confererate flag in its concerts and merchandise, because they wanted to distance themselves from racists who fly the flag. Then a couple of weeks later they started flying the flag again because fans had complained.

Back in the 70's, the original band recorded "Sweet Home Alabama" in response to Neil Young's single "Southern Man." Among "Sweet Home Alabama" 's lyrics is the following stanza:

Well I heard Mr Young sing about her [the South]
I heard ol' Neil put her down
Well I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don't need him around anyhow


But Neil was good friends with Ronnie Van Zant. He wrote "Powderfinger" for Lynyrd Skynyrd to record. And lest we forget, there's some powerful gun imagery in "Powderfinger's" lyrics too.

So clearly, the point of this whole post is: how could anybody ever think they were getting mixed signals from Lynyrd Skynyrd about anything?

Does It Matter If Jesus Existed?

Of course it matters. If it didn't matter to so many people we wouldn't discuss it so much.

The question is: how important is it? Many people, historicists and mythicists alike, Christians and atheists and others, seem to think that nothing could be more important: if it were ever proven that Jesus never existed, they seem to think, it would remake our world, from the ground up, in a flash.

These people who believe that the proof of Jesus' non-existence would be cataclysmic don't seem to me to have thought it through very far.

Let's look at the case of evolution. Since well before Charles Darwin's time, it has been plain that the nature and origin of life on Earth do not correspond at all to Biblical accounts. And yet, this has not led to an overthrow of Judaism and Christianity: on the contrary, fundamentalists still do not believe in evolution, and scientifically-literate practicing Jews and Christians have had remarkably little trouble in convincing themselves that the Bible never said what it clearly says, and that believers never took it as literally as they clearly all did until a few hundred years ago.

It's much harder to prove the absence of an historical person 2000 years ago than to prove his or her historical reality. Then again, never have so many people been so obsessed with one possibly-historical person as there are with Jesus. The amount of attention paid to him isn't comparable to that paid to anyone else. The usual standards of difficulty of proof or disproof may eventually be swamped by this tidal wave of attention. So let us say for the sake of argument that some day soon it will somehow be conclusively proven, as conclusively as it's been proven that Piltdown Man was a hoax, that Jesus of Nazareth was invented whole by Paul of Tarsus or created in hindsight out of unclear memories of John the Baptist or what have you, that the person himself is shown to be as legendary as his miracles and resurrection. What will happen?

Why should we believe that people will suddenly behave differently than they have in the past? The fundamentalists don't believe that evolution happens just because some biologists have explained that it does. Why on Earth would they be more receptive to historians showing that Jesus didn't exist?

And as for the moderate and the politically-progressive, academically-up-to-speed believers: they have quite calmly kept their beliefs in the face of evolutionary theory by maintaining that the stories in Genesis of the Creation and the Flood are metaphors, or camp-fire stories handed down from generation to generation and never taken all that seriously until all of a suddenly in 19th-century America the Biblical literalsts somehow very suddenly got it all wrong. Why should we expect a smaller amount of faith-saving mental acrobatics if and when Jesus is proven never to have existed? They will tell themselves and each other that Jesus was understood to be just a story all along -- or whatever else they have to tell themselves in order to be able to continue to believe whatever it is that they want to believe.

Although the progressive believers for the most part, and very, very nearly 100% of the academic Biblical scholars and Christian theologians, still firmly maintain that Jesus existed, even the ones who say that all the stories of miracles are legendary (and often have varying absurd positions about no-one ever having really believed those stories anyway -- until the 19th century in the US when millions of fundamentalists somehow managed to pull firm literalist beliefs out of their butts all at once), even the ones who don't believe in God -- although these latter ones have been much more reluctant to call themselves what they are -- atheists -- since Richard Dawkins started to behave like a jackass and put all this stink on the term "atheist" -- although even these Christians, or "2/3 Christians," as Nietzsche called them, still say that they are quite certain that Jesus existed, and tend to rather impolitely mock all doubts -- even they seem to be starting to hedge their bets a little, as more and more of the stories of the early Christians are proven to be legends, and are beginning to say that it doesn't MATTER whether Jesus existed or not, that what matters is the allegorical worth of the stories about him.

In short, although they still firmly maintain that there is no doubt that Jesus existed, they are already laying the ideological groundwork for the case that they may be proven wrong, by emphasizing more and more that "it doesn't matter" if he existed: what matters is the symbolic worth -- whatever that worth might be; it tends to vary quite a bit from progressive theologian to progressive theologian -- of the legendary stories about him. Christians suddenly switched from believing the stories in the Bible literally to maintaining that no-one ever believed them literally. If they could do that, why would it be at all difficult to suddenly switch from saying that it's certain that Jesus existed to saying everyone understood all along that he was a fictional character in those parables known as the Gospels, and that only those pesky fundamentalists, since just very recently, had ever believed in anything like "Gospel truth."

Monday: "Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia and at peace with Eastasia." Tuesday: "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia and at peace with Eurasia." And only an occasional Winston Smith among the progressive faithful has any qualms or doubts that all is well. That sniveling creep and snitch George Orwell may have fooled millions of readers into thinking that his novels were realistic depictions of Communist regimes, but the Soviet Union actually never was much like that. The parallels between 1984 and Christianity, on the other hand, are many and striking, although, astonishingly, apparently quite unintentional on Orwell's part.

Many naive New Atheists seem to believe that if can be proven that Jesus never existed, superstition will shatter and crash to the ground and a Golden Age of Reason will begin, their descriptions of which sound very much like their families' descriptions of the Millennium. The New Atheist apple has often landed not nearly as far from the fundamentalist tree as it thinks.

I tend to agree, upon reflection, with those who say that it would make little change in the world, at least not right away. I just wish they wouldn't constantly interrupt discussions of Jesus' historicity to say that they don't care about it, because I do care -- not for the sake of huge sudden changes in the world which I don't see coming. I personally am interested in the question of the historical Jesus the same way that I would be interested in any other historical question. I'm interested in history, in trying to determine what happened at such and such a time in such and such a place, for its own sake, in somewhat the same way that theoretical mathematicians enjoy their equations and formulae for their own sake. I just find it interesting to attempt to learn what happened. And if possible to improve the historical record, to make it more accurate and/or more detailed. Some people like detective novels, some like comic books, some like quilts, some like boats. I like old manuscripts and inscriptions and mosaics and other ancient artifacts, and they happen to be what may possibly eventually clarify the historical Jesus question.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

An Attempt To Explain How Horribly Disappointed I've Been By Many Of The Atheists I've Met And Heard About

Not all of them. And I'm sure that some of the atheists I've met, or read, or seen on TV, I don't know they're atheists, because they don't talk about being atheists all day long every day. This is also not including the atheists who don't admit that they're atheists, and call themselves something else which means exactly the same thing, like non-believers or skeptics. Presumably because they're embarrassed by the yokels who are the subjects of this post, and would rather not be associated with them.

I'm an atheist. However, my impression is that everybody has their mental weak spots -- certainly including me. If all I know about person A is that he or she believes in the rapture and all I know about person B is that he or she doesn't trust anyone who believes in the rapture, I tend to think that B is very likely a judgmental douchebag and I probably won't like them, and chances are I might get along with A just fine.

And I'm sorry that A still hasn't recovered from the trauma of his or her fundamentalist Christian or conservative Catholic upbringing. Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner.

Just now when I googled "tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner" to make sure I quoted and spelled it correctly, I came across "tout comprendre c'est rien pardonner," speaking of judgmental douchebags.

And yes, I certainly am a judgmental douchebag myself, but I'm aware of it.

Where was I? Ah yes -- stupid, obnoxious, smug, knuckle-dragging atheists who think that they're smart because they're atheists. Not to mention a few atheists who are actually quite bright in some areas -- Richard Dawkins, for example -- but who still turn on the stupid full-blast when the subject is religion.

It's their one-category mentality which is the major cause of their disappointing nature, I think, and which has lead some to call them "fundamentalist atheists." Just as obnoxious fundies -- and not all fundamentalist believers are of this obnoxious type -- divide the world up into the saved and the evil, New Atheists divide the world up into the atheists and the stupid. In order to maintain such simplistic, black-and-white impressions of humanity, both of these groups of obnoxious twits have to ignore a lot of the things which most of us see, because they're everywhere: the fundies have to ignore the believers who are horrible people and the atheists who are wonderful and kind and good, and the New Atheists have to ignore the stupid atheists and the brilliant believers. Perhaps the need to maintain these simplistic illusions is the major reason why both groups are so remarkably weak in the knowledge of history.

There simply is so much more to people than whether or not they believe in God. If you narrow it down to that and judge people just according to that, you miss the great majority of remarkable things about most people. And it makes you very unpleasant, whether you're a believer or an atheist. Who was Bertrand Russell's best friend? TS Eliot, who was not merely Christian, but extremely Christian. (Come to think of it, that's naturally a point in Eliot's favor as well. Although there's no denying that he wrote well now and then, I've come to have a horror of Eliot because of some of the tendencies which seem to have been associated with his traditionalist religious belief.)