Category Archive: Social

Mar 27

We Have to Create a Better World

Richard Carrier - We Have to Create a Better WorldChristianity is simply false.

But what do we do then? What do we believe? … Since this world isn’t the way we’d want it to be, we have to make it the way we want it to be. This world isn’t protected by any supreme justice or caregiver, there is no infallible wise man to turn to, no divine hero to love us, and we aren’t going to live forever. So we have to create those things.

We have to create justice, and care for each other and the world we live in. We have to find and give and receive love from each other. We have to be the hero. We have to give our lives meaning. We have to protect life, and invent technologies of immortality — metaphorically (in the way people’s words and actions live on in their consequences and memorials), and literally (through medicine, and the science of life extension and resurrection). And until we invent any real immortality, we have to accept the way things are and make the best of the short lives we have. We have to love life rather than fear death. We have to respect life rather than treat it as disposable.

We have to do all of these things. Because that is the world we want to live in — and no one else is going to do any of this for us.

–Richard Carrier
Why I Am Not a Christian

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Mar 03

How Do We Help the Mentally Ill? How About Ourselves?

Homeless Woman - Mentally IllI had a very disturbing — and ultimately sad — experience yesterday with an young mentally ill woman.

A Family Walk

I was with my sister, and we were visiting my niece and great-nephew. We were taking a walk to the park where we were going to have lunch. Now, my niece lives in very poor area with a lot of recent immigrants. There’s also a lot of drug dealing and other illegal activities going on, if you want to look carefully enough to notice.

As we walked down the sidewalk, we passed by a young woman who was focused very intently on the street. I figured she was waiting for a connection or something. So I didn’t think much about her. But as we cross the street, I noticed that the woman was now following us.

The Mentally Ill Woman

This could have been just a coincidence, but the woman was following rather closer than made me comfortable. As we crossed the bridge that went over the nearby creek, my sister decided to stop and look at the water. As we all stopped — including me with the baby in the stroller — the young woman stopped and waited uncomfortably until we continued on.

Then she continued to follow us.

At that point, I stopped and motioned, in a friendly manner, for her to go around us. As our eyes met, I could see a combination of confusion and terror. She started to move past us, but then shook her head, turned around and left in the opposite direction. She never said a word, although as she left, she seemed to be asking for permission.

The reason I asked her to go around us was that I didn’t know what was going on. Having a baby, I figured it was best to confront the situation straight on. I was pretty sure I was dealing with a mentally ill person at that point. And it is generally better, if possible, to define the reality of the situation rather than to leave it to their minds.

Helping the Mentally Ill

But it was heartbreaking. The woman was lost in most senses of the word. And even though a mentally ill person can change on a dime from nonthreatening and needy to menacing and violent, I still felt that I wanted to do something to help her.

Most people are, understandably, afraid of the mentally ill. They are unpredictable. Just the same, they are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. She not only seemed like someone who was likely to become a victim, she seemed like she had already been a victims many times before.

My Own Confusion and Fear

When we returned, she was gone. I hope that she has a caretaker and that there was just a temporary mix-up that found her confused on the street. I wish I had done more at the time. My focus was on the protection of the baby. But looking back now, it’s hard to see that this young woman wasn’t badly in need of protection, and in as much as she was capable, asking for it.

It’s hard to know what to do to help the mentally ill. Going back at least to “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” we know that when you don’t share the same reality, it can be impossible.

But all last night, her face — the confusion, the terror — haunted me. I was in a position to help her, but I didn’t — because of my own confusion and fear. There has got to be a better way for a society to work. There must be some way to encourage the best things in my personality and discourage the worst.

I feel that yesterday, the worst aspects won out without the best aspects even showing up for the fight.

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Feb 26

Observe the Writer in Its Unnatural Habitat

Mall of America

Anybody out there want a free vacation? Plane tickets, hotel room, and $80 per diem included? Plus a nice $2,500 check?!

Well, all you have to do is win the Mall Of America’s “Writer-in-Residence” contest.

The Mall of America — pride of Bloomington, Minnesota — is turning 25 this year, and they’re looking for writers to capture that undefinable “Mall atmosphere.” (Um, it’s a mall.)

Submit your 150-word proposal at contest page before 10 March 2017. No previous publishing experience is required. And be creative! As the entry page says, “Heck, if you can make the assignment work as a musical-comedy screenplay, by all means make it so!”

Selected semifinalists will advance to an elimination round, amping their proposal up to a daunting 500-800 words. That’s around 50 Tweets, but life is full of challenges. Be brave.

The Mall of America Gig

So what, exactly, is the “in residence” part? I’m glad you asked. That’s where the real fun begins. You get five eight-hour days hanging around the Mall, and you are supposed to write about it. Not in some corner office! Oh, no. Here’s how it works — from the Official Contest Rules page (PDF):

Winner’s workspace will be located in a common area space within Mall of America. The core daily work hours will be 11:00 am to 7:00 pm. While the Winner will be encouraged to take breaks from writing to explore the Mall, post on social media, eat and find inspiration, the Winner will need to be physically present at the writer’s desk for no fewer than four (4) hours per day. The Winner’s ongoing work may be displayed in almost-real time on a large monitor at the workspace.

The work product may scroll continuously throughout the day for passersby to view. Content will not be displayed on the monitor until it has been submitted by the Winner and approved by a Mall of America Marketing representative. The Winner must submit new content of no less than 150 words, to be displayed on the monitor at three (3) mutually agreed upon times each day. Winner’s written work must not be inaccurate, derogatory, incompatible with, inconsistent with, or otherwise contradictory to the Mall of America’s desired presentation of the Mall or the patrons, tenants, licensees, invitees, or employees of the Mall.

Essentially, it’s a zoo with one animal: the lone ad copy writer in its unnatural habitat. Parents can bring their children to observe the writer as it types, stares blankly, types, stares blankly. “Look, Billie, it’s going to forage for food!” I’m tempted to apply for this, but unlike a zoo chimpanzee, I would not be allowed to fling poo.

What Would Be a Good Mall Story?

If you didn’t have to write ad copy, there’s lots of interesting people at malls. The workers, for one: security guards, janitorial staff, those unfortunate young women working at Hot Dog on a Stick. Obvious tourists (although the Mall isn’t as big a draw for them as it was back when). Teenagers with nothing else to do.

There are also old folks, in almost every large shopping mall, who go walking in the morning before stores open. I don’t know which mall started this, but it’s pretty common. It’s a way for the seniors to get some exercise on a surface which is smooth, under climate controlled conditions, and without crowds knocking them over. They’ll usually finish their walk at some little store where they can get coffee and doughnuts. Those are interesting people; I’ve met a few.

Where Have All the (Ad Copy) Writers Gone?

But ad copy? Are ad writers so lousy now you need an open contest to find any new ideas? Malls are surrealistically creepy, and always were — that was their appeal, once they spread like gangrene. Ooh, check out the pus, it’s so strange! Capitalism made blatant, with only the feeblest attempts to resemble anything human — a sad tree here, some soothing music there.

To go biblical, these contest runners are desperately trying to pour new wine into old wineskins. Reanimating an abomination that never should have existed at all.

My Personal Mall Story

Naturally, being a Minnesotan, I have been to the Mall many times. One time, I went to go see a movie. Mall of America has got movie theaters, kiddie rides, bars, the whole deal — just like most mega-malls.

A while before, a friend had given me some marijuana brownies he’d made from homegrown weed. On my movie trip, I was riding the bus, planning on munching popcorn, and I thought this was the perfect time to eat those brownies.

I got to the Mall a bit earlier than planned, and the brownies were kicking in. Very strongly. So I decided to hang out in a sporting-goods shop. I like sports uniforms; they freak me out less than the garish stuff sold in most stores.

I saw a Minnesota Twins jersey I suddenly, really, wanted. I almost bought it. Then I remembered — there was another, competing sporting goods store about 300 feet away. I thought I should comparison shop. So I noted the price and headed for the other store.

The other store had a similar jersey, and I almost bought that one. Until I remembered I’d come there to comparison shop. What was the price in that other store? I’d forgotten.

You can see where this is going. I wandered between those stores — perhaps five times each. Finally I realized it was time for the movie, I was way too high to comparison shop, and I should just buy the damn jersey. Which I still have. Consumerism!

Think Outside The Box, While Inside a Box!

Come up with a musical-comedy screenplay. Or why not a comedy routine? A sarcastic, hipster slag on anyone insufficiently cool to realize how cool the Mall is? Everything is permitted. Nothing is forbidden. Assuming approval from Mall of America Marketing, of course.

I remember, during our high school graduation ceremony, the outgoing principal giving a speech about creativity. Don’t be afraid to dare new ideas, he said. Think different. Be a rebel. This contradicted every authoritarian ruling he’d decreed during my years at school, in a way. But in another way, it didn’t.

Think differently — for money. Be creative, dare to dream — for money. Change the world — for money.

So, have at the contest, folks! Be the zoo writer! Be innovative and new! Just keep in mind:

Contestant acknowledges and agrees that Sponsor may use Submission without the approval of Contestant throughout the world, an unlimited number of times, in perpetuity in any and all media, now known or hereafter invented.

That’s true even if you don’t win. But hey, you get a chance to write in your cage for five days.

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Feb 21

Dark and Silent

Dark and SilentThis is a prose poem I wrote back in 2010. It is the last poem that I’ve written. What I find shocking about it is that it isn’t bad. It isn’t great. I’m not a poet.

I don’t have the patience for it. Every poem I’ve ever written contains parts that don’t quite work. I think the change in tone of “It allows me” is too abrupt. But I could work days on that problem and never solve it. People think writing poetry is easy because there aren’t many words. It’s quite the opposite.

What I doubtless most like about this poem is how it sums up my intellectual loneliness. The people of my intellectual caliber are not interested in the things I am interested in, and the people who are interested in what I am interested in are so far beyond me that I can learn from them but not share with them.

On the plus side, I feel infinitely more cheerful than I did when I wrote this. But the questions do remain.

It is dark here. The moon but a sliver sharp enough to sew. I see it reflected clearly on the lake — its surface calmer than stretched linen. And silent. Even, it seems, the raccoons are gone. Field mice a distant memory. My only light — shining down on The Passionate Shepherd to His Love from page 18 of The English Reader — escaping my windows into the vacuum of night. It allows me to notice the missing sixth stanza; the different, inferior source; the modernized language. And I wonder: did I travel so long to get here? To reread poems I have memorized? To quibble dumb with editors over what every literate person needs to know? To accept the dark — the silence? This is where my long journey has led? My greatest hopes that wildlife return to scratching and the new moon to full?

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Feb 16

Problem with Funny Business Names

Funny Business NamesI hate “funny” business names. They are usually puns. For example, here in the Bay Area, we have Site for Sore Eyes Optical Store. Look: I get it. When I first saw there was an eye doctor named “site for sore eyes,” I thought it was amusing. And there are other ones that I’ve thought were fairly clever. There’s the sporting goods store (Guess what they specialize in!) called “The Merchant of Tennis.” Or the “Church of Cod” with a little Jesus Fish symbol. Or best of all a fish & chips place called “A Salt & Battery.” Clever names all!

And then there are names that while clever are just a bad idea. There’s the hair salon named “Cubic Hair.” And the ice cream shop called “The Sweet Dairy-Air.” And most of all, the fishing supply shop “Master Bait & Tackle.” In addition to these all being coarse, they don’t make sense. What exactly do pubic hair, derriere, and masturbate have to do with what they’re selling. (If you know, please don’t tell me.)

This all came up because Will told me about a routine by comedian Brian Regan. Here is the routine that someone shot off a TV:

The problem with these clever names is that they are only ever clever once. After that, at least for me, they become annoying. What’s more, it reminds me of a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They are all going to head to Camelot. Then there is a musical number with knights at Camelot dancing arm in arm. Finally, King Arthur says, “On second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.” And that’s what I think of when I see an ad for Site for Sore Eyes. Do I really want to trust my eyes to such silly people? (Of course, I know intellectually that this isn’t the case, but gut reactions matter regardless of what many think.)

So if you come up with a really clever name for a dry cleaning business, I hope you are a comedy writer and not dry cleaner:


There are, of course, truly great names that are clever, coarse, and effective. The best example is French Connection UK, better known as FCUK. But that works especially well because it flatters their customer demographic about offending their non-demographic.

Alternately, some names work as a pun or not. A good example of this is Book Passage, a book store just down the road from me. But notice, it isn’t meant to be funny. It is just meant to be taken in a number of ways, each of which are appropriate to the business. It is also a great book store.

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Jan 24

Conservative Mum: Portrait of a Serial Troll

Conservative Mum: Artist's RenderingYesterday morning, I started getting a series of tweets from someone calling themselves Conservative Mum — who I assume is who she says she is. I ignored the first one. It was a link to Elizabeth’s most recent post about the Phoenix Women’s March. Conservative Mum added, “What a pathetic show of stupidity- NOTHING was stolen from you triggered freaks.” It’s bizarre. What does the march, much less the article have to do with anything stolen? And “triggered freaks” just scream, “I listen to hate radio! I never talk to actual liberals except to yell at them!” I know the type.

But I looked on her main page. The header is of a gaudy sunset with the sun’s light as God and “BLESS YOU” display (but cropped because Conservative Mum has important trolling to do and can’t be bothered to set up her page properly. The point is clear: she is Real Christian™. But in case you were wondering, instead of a picture of her, there was an image that tells us, “The only Difference Between a Radical and a Moderate Muslim is… The distance they place between themselves and the bomb..” (All formatting errors in original.) It is a terrible crop of a cartoon stolen from Conservative Papers.

Can you feel the Christian the love, brothers and sisters?! Can I get an “amen”?! Here is her Twitter description in full, exactly as it is formatted:

Historian/Archeology/Ancient Lit. Mum of 3, Libs don’t waste your Alinsky spew on me-Christian does NOT =Won’t fight tooth & nail against EVIL List=BLOCK

Conservative Mum: American, British, or Professional Troll?

There is no location listed, but she claims to be an America. She does, however, use words like “mum” and “arse” that are more associated with the British. This could certainly be an indication that Conservative Mum is a professional troll, but I think it is more likely just some woman who immigrated here. There are two obvious possibilities. Some people leave the UK because they think it is too liberal (socialist). Also: immigrants to this country are often trapped by conservative rhetoric, because it does sound good. The problem is that the Republican Party is not at all interested in what they claim to be interested in.

Twitter Trolling Expands

Despite my silence on her first tweet, she couldn’t leave it alone. I soon got this one:

I don’t care that there are people out there who hate me or think whatever about me. One thing that age has brought is a very clear sense of who I am. I’m not stupid and I’m not insane. But I don’t care that Conservative Mum thinks I am. Just the same, I’m not keen on such people wasting my time. So I tweeted back to her far more politely than she deserved, “What did I ever do to you? Did I make you visit my site? Did I tweet insults at you? Please leave me out of your trolling.” Instead of simply going on her merry, she tweeted back:

My Disgusting Lies

That made me a bit angry. What disgusting lies am I putting out there? This wasn’t a conversation, it was a rage therapy session for this pathetic woman. I tweeted back to her, “By your tweets, you’re a vile human being. I feel that Christian love radiating from you.” And then I blocked her. But she followed up with this, obviously not intended for me but just to get her rage out:

Real Men

This is actually why I am writing about this. I know what she means by “pussified.” She likely thinks it the ultimate insult. But what she’s clearly thinking is that “real” men are of the type so insightfully and brilliantly analyzed by David Futrelle. To me, the archetypes of real American manhood are Rick in Casablanca and Jake in The Sun Also Rises. These are men who are comfortable with themselves. They aren’t men who run around whining that they could get a girlfriend if only the feminazis hadn’t poisoned modern women.

I happen to be a rather typical male myself — much more Jake and Rick — but even more like Don Quixote, having something of an insane chivalric code that I live by. What I most definitely don’t share with the stereotype of the Real American Man™ is any need to prove my manliness. Because Rick, Jake, or anyone else doesn’t define what it is to be real man; I do; and so does every other man who is confident enough to be himself and not some meaningless stereotype.

The Hollow Life of Conservative Mum

I am truly sorry for Conservative Mum. She’s a Trump supporter. Good for her! But instead of being happy that her candidate won the election, her twitter feed is filled with bile. If you can’t be happy in triumph, when can you be happy? Of course, I’m sure that Conservative Mum would tell me she is happy — she’s just fighting the good fight, “Christian doesn’t mean backing down to feral evils”! But I don’t buy that. I analyze because it is my nature. She trolls because she has found a voice. The problem is, it is such a cliche that it can’t possibly be authentic.

Lou Reed wrote the following about heroin addiction, but it applies just as well to trolling addiction:

You know, some people got no choice, and they can never find a voice to talk with that they can even call their own. So the first thing that they see that allows them the right to be, why they follow it. You know, it’s called bad luck.

It Takes More Than 140 Characters

Bad luck indeed. Conservative Mum would be welcome to comment here. But I doubt she would have any more to say than the slogans and bile that fit so well in 140 characters. Two references to Saul Alinsky! His name has only showed up 3 times in 8,000 articles on this site. And every time his name did come up, it was in reference to conservatives’ obsession with him. I’ve never read Rules for Radicals. Of course, I’m sure Conservative Mum hasn’t either. Alinsky is just her favorite liberal boogeyman. What a sad, sad tiny world to live in where you don’t even know what it is you’re so terrified of.

But you know: some trolls have no choice…

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Jan 08

The Great Snake Oil Sermon

Snake Oil SermonYesterday, we had a service for my brother Eric “Randy” Shultz, who died on 21 December 2016 at the age of 59. We did it at his conservative Baptist church. And I thought it was perfect — for Eric. It actually annoyed me a great deal. But before I get to the Snake Oil aspect of the whole thing, let me tell you something a bit more personal about the Good Christians™ who spoke at the service.

They all made a point of telling this story about how Eric had told them on first meeting them, “My friends call me Randy, you can call me Eric.” And then after they got to know him, they could call him Randy. But here’s the thing: that wasn’t really true. Everyone really crying at the service called him Eric. Whether you called him Eric or Randy depended on when you met him.

Eric vs Randy

When the first person brought up this “his true friends and family called him Randy” nonsense, it caused a slight stir in the church because his caregiver (and really, effectively his mother the last decade of his life), my younger sister, and I had already spoken with great emotion while referring to him as Eric. I got the impression that the man who first said it realized that he had blown it. But then two other people told the same story. Not one of these pretenders showed a hint of any emotion.

I am very often struck at just how callous Christians are. They’ve found their entry into heaven so they don’t really have to give much of a damn about other people. Oh, they’re nice enough. When I talk to them, they treat me the same way I would a terrorist at the birthday party of their child. There’s really only one way that they “care” about others and that is to get them to buy into the bankrupt spirituality of easy redemption. And need I remind everyone that this would been seen as sacrilegious by the early Christians who didn’t actually believe in the “one weird trick” to get into heaven.

The Sermon

And that leads us to the sermon that the pastor gave. By the standards of these things, it wasn’t that bad. For one thing, it was only about 20 minutes long. And there was a fair amount about Eric in it. But all the Bible quotes were from the Book of Revelation. I’m not fond of that book. You will note when I wrote about my brother, I culled from Matthew — about the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those are the things that sum up Eric. So why Revelation?

Well, part of it is the whole “salvation on the cheap” that I so hate about most modern Christianity: Eric is with God, just as Hitler is now if he let Christ into his soul in that bunker. But mostly, it was all a big sales pitch. Pastors know that most people who go to funeral and wedding[1] ceremonies are not Christians, so it’s a great opportunity to make the sales pitch. “Today I’m offering you such a deal: just “believe” and Tinker Bell will give you everlasting life!”

I don’t need to be sold on the concept that Eric is a better place. His life was painful. Death is the absence of pain except in the minds of evil theists who think that not “believing” means you will be tortured for eternity. And I don’t like the fact that Christians use these mournful occasions as sales opportunities. I especially don’t like it when I know that I’m expected to make a pretty sizable donation.

As the sermon went on, I kept adjusting the amount of money I was going to give. But in the end, I gave the amount I had decided to give at the beginning. That’s because it was a sermon and service that Eric would have liked. And ultimately, it wasn’t about me. But I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I should have been medicated.

Afterword: Ignorant People

At one point during the sermon, the pastor said, “Most people think that AD stands for ‘After Death,’ but it actually stands for…” And my younger sister and I said, in unison, “Anno Domini.” That is Latin for “year of our lord.” And after the service I heard some people talking about how interesting that was. It boggles my mind. Even at 8 years old (when I independently came up with the “After Death” idea), I understood that it would leave about 30 years that are in this no man’s that no one ever talked about. No one ever said, “Oh, that happened in 12 DL.”

Am I a sinner? Sure. But I’d rather be an arrogant bastard than a simpering idiot.

[1] As Rick says, “Weddings are funerals with cake.”

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Jan 07

Eulogy for Eric Shultz

Eric as a Child With Family

[My brother’s memorial will be happening as this is published. I will read this at it — if I am able to. I have yet to be able to read much of any of it without breaking into convulsive sobbing. -FM]

I am not a Christian.

Having said that, I read the Bible an awful lot. I like the teachings of Jesus — in his calm reflections and in his fiery rhetoric. I would pick up a sword for him, because his cause was just. His cause was that of my brother Eric, who is, I think, a symbol for us all.

Please forgive me for quoting a bit of scripture from may favorite part of the Bible: The Sermon on the Mount. Even in translation, its poetry is unmistakably brilliant. But it is the content that I want to focus on. (This is from the New American Standard translation, which my seminary friends tell me is about as close to the Greek as one can find.)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.

He opened his mouth and began to teach them, saying,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied…”

It’s hard to know where to stop. I would like to continue on to, “You are the salt of the Earth” and then, “You are the light of the world.” And I could get very political as Jesus does later in Matthew 5 and throughout Matthew 6. But I’m not here to complain that it is the evil world that killed my brother with a thousand cuts.

Eric was the gentle. That, I always knew. But as I became reacquainted with him over the last several years, I saw that he was also poor of spirit, mournful, and starving and thirsting for righteousness.

Bonding With My Brother

We bonded over film, comic books, even sports. These were the few areas where he would still let me in. And it was with much pleasure that over the years — it was a slow process — that he allowed me more inside his inner world, which was rich.

We made a curious pair. Eric was extremely smart — as smart as I am but without the ostentatiousness, which is my shield as much as reserve was his.

This caused some annoyance on my part, although I look back on it now and see it as charming. We would go and see a movie together. And afterward, as we waited for the bus, I would ask, “So what did you think of that?” And his response was, “Good.” I would push it, “What did you think of the part where Iron Man has to fix a turbine and Captain American has to pull the red lever at just the right time?” “Good.”

But his whole approach to seeing a film was different than mine. When we sat down in the theater, I saw a film. Eric entered another universe. He became lost in the film — to the point where I often had to jab him to get him to stop talking to the characters. He was especially prone to scoffing at the hubris of evil characters. You know the kind of scene in a James Bond film where the villain explains his evil plan for world domination. Eric would mutter, “Yeah, right!”

Meanwhile, I was focused on the jump cuts, bad bits of dialog, poorly rendered CG, and theme — oh, how critical I am on that score. I was offended for all of Christendom by the film Man of Steel.

Eric’s Special World

But I envied Eric. He not only got lost in the films, he was also aware of all the technical aspects of the films. He was just far more forgiving. I know this because over the years, he had more to say. If he’d been given another five years, he might have turned into as big a blabbermouth as I am.

Indeed, our last conversation was the liveliest that we had ever had — just a few hours before he died. It was about how Jack Kirby was the true brilliance behind Marvel Comics and how Stan Lee was an evil hack. Okay, that’s my side of things. Eric was sympathetic to both men. But he was generally a nicer guy than I am.

I know that the gentle are blessed in a metaphorical sense. And I hope that they are blessed in a concrete sense. Eric deserves that.

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Jan 02

Teaching Don Octavio How to See Reality

Don Juan DeMarco and Don OctavioI haven’t seen a deed, but I assume this villa is yours… [Someone who says otherwise] has a rather limited and uncreative way of looking at the situation.

Look, you want to know if I understand that this is a mental hospital? Yes, I understand that. But then how can I say that you are Don Octavio, and I am a guest at your villa, correct? By seeing beyond what is visible to the eye.

Now, there are those, of course, who do not share my perceptions, it’s true. When I say all my women are dazzling beauties, they object. The nose of this one is too large. The hips of another, they are too wide, perhaps. The breasts of a third, they are too small. But I see these women for how they truly are: glorious, radiant, spectacular, and perfect — because I am not limited by my eyesight.

Women react to me the way that they do, Don Octavio, because they sense that I search out the beauty that lies within them until it overwhelms everything else. And then they cannot avoid their desire to release that beauty and envelop me in it.

So to answer your question: I see as clear as day that his great edifice in which we find ourselves is your villa. It is your home. And as for you, Don Octavio del Flores, you are a great lover like myself, even though you may have lost your way… and your accent.

–Don Juan
in Don Juan DeMarco

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Jan 01

The Joke of Existence: Happy New Year!

The Joke of Existence - The Nihilist by Paul Merwart

I generally think in terms of days. This is why I manage to make at least 365 foundational errors every year: each day I choose to continue on being conscious of the universe. But today, let’s consider this whole year that we look toward. Are we really all going to sit through the whole thing? I think it makes the question of continued survival more stark. Yes, I can make it through the next day. But the next year? Given that we know it will be much like last year, it’s hard to answer in the affirmative.

The Meaning of Life

Many people ask, “What is the meaning of life?” That’s a stupid question. Can you honestly look forward or back on your life and see any meaning in it? I don’t want to upset anyone who really hasn’t been paying attention, but life is meaningless.

For most people, I stand as an object lesson for never allowing a teenager to read Schopenhauer. So I’m on record — repeatedly — about my belief that the continuance of life — the will to live — is an irrational thing. But one needn’t be rational in all things. Indeed, I write more about the irrationality of humans than I do Schopenhauer. One of the easiest ways to annoy me is to tell me that humans are rational. They aren’t — even in little ways.

It’s because of this that I have a thin reed to hang onto as I continue into the future. Perhaps you will find it helpful.

You Make the Universe Worse

I have a great love of anti-art. This is the kind of art that is created only for the process itself. So an example of anti-art might be a digital music device programmed to destroy itself before playing any of the music it was programmed to play. It is art explicitly created for no one. And I am a work of art created for no one. (When you get into ontological matters, it gets hard to distinguish between the implicit and the explicit.) I like to learn things, gain skills, create stuff — all while knowing that they are all ephemeral.

An enormous amount of the universe’s energy has been used to fight entropy and create me. And then I exist for a period of time before giving into entropy. Ultimately, I will have taken very useful energy and turned it into heat, which is a decidedly poor energy source. The universe will be more chaotic after I’ve gone than it was before I existed. So the universe has greatly harmed itself for the purpose of creating a machine that understood for a short period of time that universe was doing this.

And that is hilarious!

More Than You Think

It’s even more hilarious when you consider that the vast majority of people on earth are too caught up in their delusions of meaning to even know the joke exists — much less to get it. And that’s to say nothing of billions of years of evolution of creatures that didn’t get the joke.[1] So why not hang around for another year?

Think of yourself as conscious toxic waste. Wouldn’t you want to hang around as long as possible soiling your environment? But if you don’t like that analogy, you can feel good that most of the damage that your existence has done to the universe has already been done. Maintaining your wasteful machine is pretty cheap. And depending upon how funny you think your existence is, maybe it’s a net positive.

Existence Is a Joke

We are all a joke. If more people understood that, maybe we would live in a more just society. Because when you know that existence is a joke, you also know that it has nothing to do with justice. Your existence is a waste of elementary particles. In this next year, thousands of children will be burned alive. And a trust-fund baby will get the biggest ego stroke on the planet by being the leader of the “free” world. Try not to think of that. Focus on what a waste you are in this universe. That might get you through to next year when I promise I’ll have a whole new reason for irrationally continuing on.

[1] Or maybe all these “lesser” brains did and do get the joke. Maybe this whole self-awareness thing makes the joke harder to get. Maybe when a female mantis is biting the head of her mate, she is laughing up a storm, thinking, “Can you believe this?!” The male might be thinking the same thing in its final milliseconds of consciousness. For the record, I suspect that no mantis, dog, or cat actually gets the joke. But they do have us beat in not thinking themselves rational. Biting the heads off your mate is just what you do.

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Jan 01

William Blake on Birth — For the New Year

William Blake - BirthThe Angel that presided ‘oer my birth
Said, “Little creature, formed of joy and mirth,
“Go love without the help of any thing on Earth.”

–William Blake
“The Angel That Presided ‘oer My Birth”

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Dec 31

Random Ramblings On Sports Fandom

SportsIt’s that magical time of year when Minnesota’s city park employees turn tennis courts and baseball diamonds into hockey rinks.

How do they perform this amazing transubstantiation? (H/T: Catholicism!) Well, there are several complicated steps. I shall endeavor to describe them as best I can.

  1. Remove tennis net or baseball bases. Put in storage.
  2. Get fire hose. Attach to fire hydrant.
  3. Spray court or field with water.
  4. Wait a day.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as necessary.
  6. Get hockey goals out of storage. Place in park. Number of goals depends on size of park; however, number must be divisible by 2.
  7. Empty park trash cans weekly.

How to Make Friends Through Sports

I am from Oregon, originally. So I grew up playing baseball, basketball, and football. Hockey? Not so much.

When I was about to move here, I stopped at Powell’s Books, a wonderful store in Portland. I found a book titled “50 Ways To Make Friends In Your New City” (or something like that).

I am terrible at making friends (largely because I don’t trust humans, which is a prejudice, but not an unjustified one). So I picked up and read the book. In Powell’s, it’s completely acceptable to grab a book, sit at the cafe, have coffee, and read the whole book. Pay for your coffee. And put the book back where you found it. These are the rules.

The book had lots of advice I couldn’t use. “Join a local church.” That’s a fine notion for some, not really my speed. “Change your political views.” For example, if you’re moving to Houston, become a Republican; if you’re moving to Seattle, become a Democrat. Well, I’d rather join a church than switch my party loyalty. My cultural background is quite mixed: Québécois, Irish, English Catholic, and some Native American. All have different traditions. One thing they have in common: they don’t switch political sides. That’s a no-go.

But this was a piece of advice I liked, “Root for the home team.” Yes! I can do that! And I did.

Minnesota Sports Are Cool

I had many fun evenings cheering along with Minnesota sports fans, in stadiums and bars. The Twins were quite good for a long while, and rekindled my childhood love of baseball. The Timberwolves are never good, but it’s kind of a shared misery thing.

Even the Vikings were fun. At least they were until I heard one too many fans complaining about “Culpepper & Moss”: a quarterback and wide receiver “team.” Daunte Culpepper, the quarterback, had a crazy strong arm. Randy Moss, the receiver, had the eyes of a wary small mammal. They’d glower out from under his facemask. He had a bizarrely balletic mid-air grace.


Imagine a clever chipmunk watching two dogs snarl at each other over some piece of meat. As they pace around and bristle their fur, our chipmunk friend dashes in, grabs half the meat, and disappears up into its tree before the dogs know what hit ’em. The dogs, furious, bark like mad. Tough luck, guys! Dogs can’t climb trees!

This was Culpepper-to-Moss. It was, as one writer put it, the pro football equivalent of every kid’s favorite football play drawn up with sticks in dirt, “You go long, and I’ll hit you.” The skinny kid runs as fast as he can. The quarterback throws a bomb. The skinny kid jumps in the air, and, even if about to get tackled by three guys around him, he corrals the ball with one hand and cradles it to his body.

This happened almost every Vikings game! And it was fantastic! But Vikings fans started complaining about “Culpepper & Moss.” I didn’t get why, at first. Then I did: they were both black. Football fans are pretty damn racist. So I stopped watching football.

(The Vikings also gave me one of my favorite sports memories. Another receiver, Cris Carter, had a contact lens pop out. As Carter was one of the football’s most respected players, referees paused the game. For two full minutes, giant behemoths from both teams were crawling around, looking in the turf for a contact lens. This was a wonderful thing to watch.)

But Not Hockey

I’ve enjoyed the Minnesota Wild, too. Or enjoyed other people enjoying them. Because, honestly, I don’t “get” hockey.

Not that I don’t appreciate the sport! It’s full of skill, drama, tension. Players do amazing things while skating at high speeds — even while skating backwards!

(My favorite hockey players are the goalies. People are hurtling a harmful projectile at you. Your job is to go “No! I can’t be hurt! Stop, projectile, stop!” For similar reasons, my favorite baseball players are catchers.)

However, I don’t “get” hockey: for the same reason anyone “gets” anything, whether it be a religion or cuisine or whatever. I didn’t grow up playing hockey! If you fire-hose-spray a city park in Oregon, you have a muddy park. In Minnesota, in winter, you have a hockey rink. So everyone plays hockey. That’s one subject in the fine Pixar film, Inside Out, directed by Minnesotan Pete Docter.

I don’t ice skate, and never will. I’m not training for any hobby which includes, as a practice requirement, “falling down repeatedly.” Fallen on ice lately? It’s very hard. It kills people! No ice skating for me. So I’ll never “get” hockey. (Or sadly, curling, which is much more up my alley, but still requires ice skating.)

Other Ways To Enjoy Sports

I used to work helping take care of disabled adults, and there was one guy I’d bring to Twins games. The guy didn’t talk and didn’t sign ASL. It was virtually impossible to communicate with him. He’d allow you to help him with some things, resist other attempts to help, that’s pretty much all the feedback you’d get.

He’d agree to let you load his wheelchair in the van for a Twins game. I don’t know why. With people who don’t talk or sign, I’d still talked to them. My reasoning was that it doesn’t take any effort to do so, and I have no clue what they’re picking up on the other end. It may be pure syllabic gibberish. They might understand every word. Or something in between. If they want me to stop talking, they can push me away.

So we’d go to Twins games, and who knows if this guy actually liked baseball. But there was one thing he clearly liked. (Keep in mind, this guy had a grumpy expression 99% of the time.)

If the Twins scored — and the crowd went wild — this guy would crane his neck around, look at all the cheering people, and start laughing. Belly laughing. He didn’t make laugh sounds, because he didn’t make sounds, but his chest would heave and his mouth would smile and tears pour from the corners of his eyes.

I suspect, though I do not know, that he found sports fans hilariously ridiculous. As, indeed, we are.

Nothing At The End

Now’s when I’m supposed to wrap this all up and make it come together, right? Nope. That’s for real writers. I’m posting on a blog!

There’s a local minor-league baseball team, the St Paul Saints. Yes, uninspired name, but they have a long history of inspired promotional gimmicks. At one, Mascot Night, there was a mascot from a pre-employment screening clinic. The mascot was a pee cup. Cup-shaped, yellow on the lower half. This was one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen.

Some years, the Saints do Atheists Night. It has various skits in-between innings. One had two random fans racing around the foul territory, with obstacles to overcome. As they raced, the PA announcer described what symbolic meaning each obstacle represented. Such as, for a mudslide, “it’s the primordial ooze!”

When one was first to the finish line, our PA announcer said, “The winner gets…” and froze. For 15 seconds. Then intoned, “What?! Did you think there was a reward at the end? It’s an atheist race! There’s nothing at the end!”

Nothing at the end here either, I’m afraid. Enjoy sports if that brings you closer to others. Remember, they are a bit silly. (But most hobbies are. Nothing wrong with that!)

Skate in the park if you live in a frozen place — if your home is warmer, enjoy it being not so damned cold. And have the merriest New Year you can.

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