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Author Archives: beaucoupnada

I Don’t Believe It Was a Dream

Atheists on Twitter are planning a Coup de Hell (#CoupDeHell). I wish I’d thought of calling it that, and I wish I could say it was a new idea. It dates back at least to Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s self-proclaimed bulldog, who, according to this, related the events of a supposed dream:

[Huxley] had recently had a dream, he claimed, in which he woke up after death to find himself sitting in a vast and luxurious subterranean hall attended by waiters whose braided coats did not hide their forked tails. He gave a smart tug to the nearest tail, whereupon the waiter turned round and asked politely, “Yes, sir, what can I do for you?” Huxley ordered a drink and, since the room seemed somewhat warm, suggested that perhaps the drink might be iced. “Certainly”, said the waiter, and shortly returned with the order. Sipping his drink luxuriously, Huxley made a query of the waiter: “I suppose I am not wrong about where I have come to?” “No, Professor, this is hell”, he was answered. “But surely there has been a good deal of change?” he asked. “This doesn’t at all agree with what we used to be told of the place.” “Why, no, sir,” the waiter replied, “Hell isn’t what it used to be. A great many of you scientific gents have been coming here recently, and they have turned the whole place upside down.”

If Huxley’s account of hell is as true as any other, then the Coup de Hell likely has been underway for centuries.

Being an atheist, I don’t believe hell is real (except for Hell, MI and Hell, Norway). I also don’t believe that Huxley actually had that dream. I think it was a rhetorical flourish to amuse his friends. It makes too much narrative sense to have been a real dream.

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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in atheism

 

If You Can’t Hate on Child Rapists…

Some indeterminate number of thousands of atheists held a rally for reason in Washington DC this weekend. I would have loved to attend, but I suffered a lack of sufficient funds.

Most of the speakers and comedians and musicians who took the stage at the rally hail from Western nations, and hence the religions with which they are most familiar are Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, probably in that order. So it makes sense that, while discussing the insensibility of religion, the Abrahamic faiths took most of the hits, with Christianity getting the lion’s share (yes, that was deliberate). But that’s just what would make sense. I haven’t seen the rally talks and I’ve not seen an objective accounting of which religions were targeted and how often.

That certainly won’t satisfy the put-upon resident of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, who complains that atheists get especially “jacked up” about Catholics. Because the Catholic church deserves not just respect, but deference. Unquestioning deference.

This short, dishonest piece by Donohue provides a wealth of material deserving of scorn, but I’ll focus on one issue. Donohue complains about Tim Minchin’s Pope Song, which he quotemines the lyrics egregiously. The lyrics Donohue includes in his piece are these: “I don’t give a f*** if calling the pope a motherf***er means…You see I don’t give a f*** what any other motherf***er believes about Jesus and his motherf***ing mother.”

You see that ellipsis up there, right after the word “means”? The entire rest of the verse follows that word. The sentence is “I don’t give a fuck if calling the pope a motherfucker means you unthinkingly brand me an unthinking apostate.” Donohue had to cut out 69 words to get from “means” to “You see…” Those 69 words are important, but they undermine Donohue’s case that the song is about Catholic people in general and not about the pedophilia scandal that will not die due to the level of pervasiveness it apparently achieved through the hierarchy’s insistence that the church’s reputation is more important than the safety of children.

Then there’s the next verse, the one that starts with “You see,” that states explicitly that Minchin is not complaining about the rank and file Catholic, as Donohue wants his readers to believe. “You see I don’t give a fuck what any other motherfucker / Believes about Jesus and his motherfucking mother / I’ve no problem with the spiritual beliefs of all these fuckers / While those beliefs don’t impact on the happiness of others.” See? If you’re not raping children, he’s not talking about you. Unless you’re covering for the child rapists, because he rightly thinks that child rape is wrong.

But Donohue doesn’t want his readers to know what Minchin really sang about. He wants them to avoid the song, and he wants them to think the reason is that it’s vulgar and not that it has an important message buried in all those fucks and fuckers. He certainly isn’t going to mention that the song is about the RCC’s pedophilia coverup, because the sooner he can get his followers worked up over Tim Minchin calling the pope a motherfucker and Richard Dawkins exhorting atheists to ridicule religion, the less likely it is that he’ll have to deal honestly with what the reason rally was about.

Donohue concludes, “Catholics take note: The fact that the atheists always attack us more than any other religious group is a backhanded compliment. They know who the real enemy of hate is, and who they must defeat. They don’t have a prayer.”

I’ve already handled Donohue’s persecution complex, but I don’t think the Catholic church is an enemy of hate. It’s an enemy of anyone who doesn’t fall into line with its dogma. The RCC can call its dogma “love,” but for those of us in the real world, words mean things, and much of what the RCC would inflict on the rest of us does not look, sound, taste, or feel like love.

And as for atheists not having a prayer? Why would we want to waste our time with that? We’ve got better things to do.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in atheism, language

 

A Little Reciprocity for Once Might Be Nice

Pacifists pay taxes that fund wars they don’t support.

Lower middle class people pay taxes that offset the costs of tax cuts for people who make more in a week what the LMC people make in a year.

Atheists pay taxes that help subsidize religious entities’ tax-exempt status.

In the meantime, funding for all levels of public education is gutted to help balance state budgets, and teachers are scapegoated as being somehow “rich,” all while corporations find ways to pay as little in taxes as possible.

One tiny little concession to help women get access to birth control (thereby keeping the abortion rate from being as high as it could be) and the beneficiaries of the above get bent all out of shape.

You’d think they want pregnancy to be unwanted and dangerous.

 

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How Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy ruined The Tree of Life for me

Sometimes seeing one film right after another can influence your opinion of both films. I recently saw “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “The Tree of Life” within a period of a few days, and the latter film suffered for it.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” was adapted from the classic novel by John LeCarré about a Soviet spy infiltrating MI-6, affectionately known as The Circus, and the efforts of recently un-retired spy George Smiley (Gary Oldman) to identify the mole. Tinker Tailor is an intricately woven tapestry of characters and subplots and myriad tiny details that seem to lead nowhere but which, taken together, eventually reveal the traitor. The film’s pace feels slow, especially at first, but characters are introduced and the story moves between subplots in a way that suggests that the filmmakers expect the audience to be at least as intelligent as they are.

The cast of Tinker Tailor, almost a Who’s Who of British actors, brings its collective best to the game. Oldman earned his first Oscar nomination for his subdued portrayal of Smiley, a lesson in breaking rules and defying expectations. He seems to disappear into the shadows, never calling attention to himself, the way an experienced spy would behave in the real world. He is the embodiment of self-control, and still the audience sympathizes with him.

Mark Strong gives probably the most physical performance in the film and the most heart-breaking scenes center on his Jim Prideaux. John Hurt as Control portrays a head spy’s descent into paranoia, however justified. Benedict Cumberbatch continues his streak of incredibly intelligent characters, even if Peter Guillam isn’t in the same intellectual league as Sherlock Holmes or Stephen Hawking. I could go on about the cast (including Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Kathy Burke, et al.), and maybe another time I will.

I wanted to like “The Tree of Life,” and if I had seen it before Tinker Tailor, I might have. Malick took some enormous chances with his epic experiment. “The Tree of Life” wants to be a grand poem that explores the meaning of life in astonishing and beautiful ways. The cinematography expertly captures the gorgeous imagery, and the cast is excellent. Brad Pitt gives probably his best performance since Fight Club, and Jessica Chastain shows yet again why she’s getting so much work—she can do just about anything.

The story gives viewers very little to grab onto; this film feels like a mix of memories, dreams, and fantasies. As such, it’s loaded with metaphors, some of which are insultingly ham-fisted. The Tree of Life might have been a breath of fresh air after watching a truly stupid film, but on the heels of a film like Tinker Tailor that requires the viewer to run (or at least jog) to keep up with it as it seems to stroll, the Tree of Life’s theme of grace versus nature feels as solid as vapor.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Films

 

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A Belated Note on the Color Pink, and Related Musings

When I was very young, maybe four years old, my mother owned and operated a fabric store. This was convenient for a number of reasons, but it came in especially handy when I decided that I wanted a rag doll. My mother allowed me to choose whatever fabrics I wanted from the remnants, and there were plenty of choices. An off-white for the face, an orange and yellow stripe for the body, green for the legs, and an alternating medium- and dark-brown herringbone fabric that I cut into strips for the hair. It was a pretty ugly doll, but I loved her.

And there wasn’t a stitch of pink.

Later, after I’d been exposed to more advertising aimed at little girls, I decided that I wanted my room painted pink. Pepto Bismol pink, but a little more garish, if you can imagine. After my father and brother had put in the time and effort of coating my walls like an esophagus and nearly had their vision permanently altered, I pretended to like the result. Later, when I was able to change the paint myself, I painted it a light blue. I still wasn’t happy, but it was a significant improvement.

I remember being enamored of the pink on pink on white on pink rooms for girls that I saw in advertisements, but now I wonder if that “preference” wasn’t just distaste for the boys’ rooms that were being advertised. I don’t think I’ll ever know with any certainty. Regardless, I now look back with regret on the ease with which I allowed advertisements to affect my taste.

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the pink phenomenon and the little girl (Riley Maida) whose complaints about the uniformity of pinkness in girls’ toys got so much attention on YouTube and on the news. I’ve also been thinking about Benjamin Radford’s response that girls are supposedly biologically predisposed to like pink because dolls are pink, or some nonsense like that. I’m not going to extrapolate from my experience with my rag doll onto every other girl, because that would be stupid, but if I were to do that, it would at least be an extrapolation from a real experience, whereas Radford’s conjectures are based on… nothing.

After considering my ugly ragdoll and the fondness I still have for her, I realized that it was my involvement in making her that made her special to me. And I felt sorry for my friends who didn’t have a mother or sister or aunt who could make them ragdolls of their own. They didn’t get to exercise their imaginations with the creation and design of their dolls. Even Build-A-Bear doesn’t fully address the problem, as everything still has to fit a standard template.

The inhibition of children’s imaginations isn’t limited to girls. Target had an ad this past Christmas that featured a boy giving growling voice to a destructive monster that turned out to be a stuffed reindeer. Cut to the father, watching with dismay, as his son has to settle for using his imagination. Cut to toy dinosaur, the solution to Dad’s problem. And it was Dad’s problem, because the kid looked like he was having fun.

There’s a reason children like to play in cardboard boxes: They can be anything. You want a fort? Here’s a cardboard box. You want a tank? Here’s a cardboard box. You want a cave? A dollhouse? A car? An airplane? A haunted house? Here’s a cardboard box, and it can be all of those things and more.

The inhibition of imagination doesn’t stop at childhood. Look at menswear in any department store. The color palette is pretty limited, and it takes a daring man to wear anything but the most conservative of colors to an office job.

Or consider romance. Valentine’s Day is next month, and the ads will reflect advertisers’ own limited imaginations. Men should buy the women in their lives jewelry, flowers, and/or chocolate. You might see some ads pushing cars or travel, and there might be ads by small businesses trying to push their wares.

Madison Avenue has been so successful at pushing the Big Three of “romantic” presents for women that when Howard Dean ran for President of the United States, Diane Sawyer took him to task for buying his wife a rhododendron for her birthday. I don’t remember his answer, but I hope it was something along the lines of “You’re not my wife.” Dean is a true romantic: He ignored all the advertisers, he listened to his wife, and then he bought her something that she said she wanted. What could be more romantic?

So, why do advertisers try to condition people, starting in early childhood, to limit their imaginations? If I’m going to speculate on the basis of nothing, I’ll have to say that it’s either because the advertisers themselves lack imagination, or they think that our lack of imagination will make their jobs easier. I could be wrong. If there’s a better explanation, I’d like to hear it.

In the meantime, I’m going to use my imagination.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2012 in gender/sex issues, marketing, media

 

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Imagine No Religion

Last night, Cee Lo Green sang John Lennon’s “Imagine,” but he changed the words to a single line and incurred the virtual wrath of people who respect the song as it was written. The line he changed was “and no religion too.” Accounts vary on exactly what he changed the lyrics to, but it was something along the lines of “and all religion is true” or “and all religions too.”

I’m biased. I think John Lennon was one of the best songwriters and lyricists in the English language in the 20th Century, and possibly of the history of the English language. You can see growth in his lyrics from the early Beatle days when he played with the multiple meanings of words (“Please Please Me”) in simple—or sometimes not so simple—love songs, to the later Beatle era, when drugs and war and the FBI keeping tabs on him made life not so sweet. You could see a bit of cynicism creep in (“Sexy Sadie”) as well as political activism (“Revolution”). After the Beatles broke up, his lyrics for the most part became more thoughtful and as a result, more powerful.

He wrote “Imagine” early in his solo career. In my opinion, this is about as close to perfect as a pop or rock song can get. Its message of simple peace (or peaceful simplicity?) is set to a simple, clean melody with a simple, sparse arrangement. The lyrics don’t challenge the listener’s vocabulary, but as with the melody and arrangement, that’s where its power lies. Using simple words, he challenges beliefs, and more importantly, acceptance of the status quo. If we can imagine a different world, we can build a different world.

Lennon’s lyrics display an elegant sensibility of positive and negative. There’s also a parallel construction to the lyrics that cannot be accidental. The only significant variation in the structure of the verses occurs in the third and final verse, when instead of imagining the absence of heaven in the sky or of religion, he imagines a “brotherhood of man.” It’s difficult to imagine that Lennon’s choice of words was anything but careful and deliberate.

Which brings us back to Cee Lo Green.

If Lennon’s lyrics had no connection from line to line, that would be one thing, but if one considers the words just prior to altered line, “nothing to kill or die for,” or even the entire second verse, Green’s change renders the song nonsensical. People kill and die for their countries, and they kill and die for religion. As far as I know, no one has killed or died for Scientology, but a) I could be wrong and b) there’s still time.

Green has attempted to explain the change as expressing support for everyone being able to think or believe what they want. There are two problems with this explanation. The first is that religion does not allow its adherents to think whatever they want; religion tries to convert people of other religions, so it isn’t conducive to the freedom of thought that Green says he wanted to convey. I don’t know if Lennon made a distinction between religion and faith, but it seems clear that Green does not. Also, if his altered line was “all religion’s true,” then he’s specifically discouraging non-belief.

The second problem with Green’s explanation is that it reads false. The only reasons to change a line by one of the world’s most (deservedly) respected lyricists is if you don’t believe what the line conveys or if the line offends you. Green obviously does not believe the line, and I think it’s more likely than not that he is also offended by it. That’s fine. That’s his prerogative. And it’s my prerogative to be offended by the unintentional irony he injected into one of my favorite songs.

John Lennon invited us on a journey of imagination, and Cee Lo Green was willing to go on this journey, but not all the way. He’s willing to imagine no heaven, no hell, no countries, no possessions (as he wears a fur coat and what appears to be a half ton of gold), no need for greed or hunger, nothing to kill or die for—but religion? No, Green won’t even imagine no religion. So, how can he imagine nothing to kill or die for? How can he imagine no heaven or hell? And if he imagines that all religion’s true, then how can he imagine no countries?

Green says he meant no disrespect by changing the lyrics. I think he probably thought the largely religious American public would appreciate his pro-religion lyric and the denouncing of his lyric change surprised him. Not that he cares about my opinion, but any respect I had for him, even as an influence on other musicians, has taken a nose-dive, not only for the thoughtlessness of his lyrical alteration, but for the poor reason he gave as an excuse for it.

After the fall of the Berlin wall, Leonard Bernstein changed the lyrics of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony from “An die Freude” (Ode to Joy) to “An die Freiheit” (Ode to Freedom). It was controversial at the time, but he had a good reason for it, and never suggested that there was any problem with the original lyrics. I mention this because Beethoven’s 9th is my favorite Symphony. I’m not completely adverse to changing the lyrics to my favorite music, but I do have to understand the reason and believe that there’s nothing else to it. Bernstein gave a reason I understood, and I believe there was never anything else to it.

I don’t understand Green’s stated reason, and I’m unconvinced that there isn’t more to it.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2012 in atheism, media, music

 

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Cognitive Dissonance

I was driving home this evening and noticed a protest of sorts–people holding signs over their heads. It wasn’t Occupy [whatever], so I was curious about the object of ire. I saw a sign:

McCAIN DOESN’T REPRESENT ME

Oh, this is promising, I thought. McCain doesn’t represent me, either. I don’t remember ever regretting not voting for him.

McCAIN ENEMY OF THE CONSTITUTION

I can see that, but I can see that about a lot of politicians.

As I got closer to the protest, I saw that they had a long banner resting against their legs. I assume they would hold it over their heads if any media were there shooting video or taking photos. I finally saw the message:

McCAIN LEGISLATES LIKE A LIBERAL!

Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

Oh, that’s funny.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2011 in politics

 

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