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Saturday, November 5, 2011

When No Means Kill?

I've blogged before about my son's version of the Pledge of Allegiance, but for those of you who don't hang on my every post (Why the hell is that anyway? Maybe it's my overuse of the parenthetical citation)...I'll recap it for you. During the Pledge, he covers his heart with his right hand, like every other kid in school. Just before they are to recite the words "under god", he takes his right hand from his chest and slides it up to cover his mouth for those two words. He then casually returns his hand to his chest to say the important part, "...with liberty and justice for all."  This was not something I had talked to him about. The first time I saw him do it was during his fifth grade "graduation". Before that, I had not given much thought to him reciting the Pledge. It was something he had come up with on his own, and I have to admit...it made me very proud.

He is in sixth grade now, and is still doing the same thing each morning. A few weeks back, a few of the students noticed him covering his mouth during the Pledge and confronted him after class. Their question: "Do you believe in god?" My son's response was simple: "No". This did not sit well with a few of his classmates. After some pushing and name calling, it seemed the incident had come to an end. When my son came home from school, he didn't mention any of this to us. Later that night, he was playing games on Facebook (Yes we're "awful" parents...we let our sixth grader use Facebook) when a string of threatening messages were sent to him by two of his classmates. I am not going to share the entire message thread, but I will say that on more than one occasion he was sent, "I am going to kill you tomorrow" (After one of those my son asked, "why, because I'm an atheist?"...to which the boy replied, "No dumbass, because you don't believe in god. I don't know what atheist means"). It was after this last comment that my son came to me and explained what was going on. He was very frightened. He couldn't understand how his simple answer of "no" could anger anyone so much. I wish I didn't...but I do. There's nothing worse than seeing you child hurt or afraid.

I was able to contact the parents of both children and the situation was diffused. However, one of the mothers said something that really shocked me. When I explained to her that it seemed the "genesis" of the disagreement was that my son doesn't believe in god, she replied, "Oh, well we're Catholic. I can see why my son got confused." CONFUSED!!! WTF'nF!!!  I don't think either one of these two boys intended to kill my son. But I do think religion is teaching them they are superior to other people. Not that their ideas and beliefs are superior...but THEY are superior. That seems very dangerous to me.

We allowed our son to stay home from school the next day. When he did return to school, the boys apologized to him. All was forgiven. The incident has not deterred him from telling people what he believes however (which was something I was concerned about). A few days later, we were approached at the local mall by a pair of Boy Scouts and their troop leader. They asked him if he was interested in joining, he said, "I'm an atheist, and you don't accept us. I don't want to be where I'm not wanted." As we walked to our car I had a few tears in my eyes. He's also still covering him mouth during "under god". He'll be okay.

I shared the story on Google+ and received many kind words from the people who read it, including Penn Jillette. He later mentioned it towards the end of a Penn Point video he did about atheists being bullied (video below). The video brought a big smile to my son's face. He had one of those "hey, I'm not alone" moments watching it (which, as I've mentioned before, is what Penn's radio show did for me). Penn's a great guy. My heart goes out to that family in Cincinnati he talks about in the video. You are not alone either. We (atheists) all love you.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Royal Road to a New Hobby

Over the last few months, I have done nothing besides work, and then come home...and work on my book. I mentioned in a previous post that writing a book was harder than I realized, and I think that's partially because I am trying to force myself to finish it as fast as possible. Where's the fire!!! The book will get done. I don't need to rush it. It seems that hurrying through is a bad idea (I'm not that good a writer to begin with). So I'm gonna slow down a bit. Spend a little more time with my wife and son. And...I've decided to pick up a hobby.

I'm trying to learn card magic. I don't have any objective other than learning something new that I currently have no clue how to do. I've been a fan of magic for some time now, and I want to give it a shot. Yesterday, I went to the local magic shop and met a really cool guy named Dennis Haney (he owns the shop). I told him I was just starting out and was looking to buy a few decks of cards. He started to suggest that I pick up "The Royal Road to Card Magic", just as I began telling him that I've had the book for years...but never bothered to open it. I told him that Penn had suggested the book online, and he told me how Penn tells everyone to pick that book up...and they never do. He was extremely kind and offered to help me out and give some pointers if I was interested. I'm going to take him up on this offer. Way too often I jump into something like a ball of fire, and wind up missing some important stuff along the way (you should notice a pattern here...see paragraph one).

You see, the last time I tried to learn a new hobby, I grabbed a guitar. I was so excited to get started. My father is a good guitar player and several of my friends were really good guitar players, so I wanted to jump right in and start playing songs. I learned the basic chord shapes and went online to find tablature (a cheat for people who can't read music) of songs that I liked and was playing pretty quickly. But it was all too fast. I don't know any scales and as I already hinted, I have no clue how to read music. I wanted to be able to play songs right away. As a result, I am a guy who can strum chords to several songs and sing along (poorly) while playing...and that's about it. Basically, I'm a candidate for "front man" in a Toby Keith cover band. I don't want to rush through this time. With the card magic, or the book.

So...today I begin. It's all day working on the overhand shuffle (and probably several days after that). Hopefully, I've learned my lesson. I'm a "married with kid" guy who is inching closer to forty years old every day. It's about time I start learning some lessons.

I'll leave you with a creepy video starring the aforementioned Denny Haney (created by his daughter...and filmed in the Baltimore location of his magic shop).

Monday, September 26, 2011

What I do believe

I often feel that I spend so much time explaining why I don't believe in a god, that I never get a chance to share what I do believe. What follows are two of my favorite ideas in all of science.

"We are all Africans"...


 ...and "The stars died for us"...



Making us all African Stardust. I've gone into more detail about what I believe previously (you can find it here), but I can't get these two particular ideas out of my head. They are truly beautiful.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Recycled Words

I have discovered something over the month or so that I have been writing my book, "Too Stupid To Be an Atheist". It's not easy to write a book! I have no shortage of words and ideas, I just have no clue how to organize them into something coherent. It's a challenge...one I am enjoying, even though it is frustrating at times. Anyway, I haven't added anything new to this blog for almost three weeks now. That is basically not going to change, because other than this opening paragraph, the words that follow are nothing more than articles I wrote a few years back for a poker training website called Pro Poker School (I wrote them under my PokerStars account name...marlowe1974...an homage to Raymond Chandler's fictional detective Phillip Marlowe). I don't play much poker anymore (although I do miss it). Maybe rereading these articles will get me back in the mood...although I spend most of my non-work, non-family time writing my book, so I don't really see that happening.

One other note before the regurgitated articles. I am attempting to create (and sell) a new line of t-shirts soon (OK..I'm not spending ALL my time writing).  I'll put something up about that in the next few days. All I'll say about it right now is that as an atheist, I spend a lot of time talking about what I don't believe in. With these shirts I want to highlight what I DO believe. I think people will like it (or I hope so anyway).  Okay, until then...here are the poker articles:


POKER CHAOS THEORY

I guess I should start off with a short bio. My name is Joe Swam and I live in Belcamp, Maryland. I am married and also the proud parent of an eight year old son (Jeffery). There are no casinos in Maryland, so I play poker almost exclusively online, save for the occasional trip to Atlantic City. I also made a trip to Las Vegas this summer. As far as my poker experience goes, I have been playing since the early part of 2006. I missed the whole "Moneymaker" boom, and really got turned on to poker by Celebrity Poker Showdown that aired on Bravo (how metro is that?). Anyway I began playing on PokerStars towards the end of 2007. I made a few deposits and really didn't have alot of success initially. Then in February of this year (2008) I won an $11 buy-in Razz tournament for $188. It was a few days after that I would have my biggest poker achievement to date. My wife controls the finances in our house (this should sound familiar to any married guy reading this) and for whatever reason, she has banned the internet. This could be for several reasons, but for the sake of decency will say that she believes I would do nothing but play poker online (and, she's almost right). This fact forces me to play poker online at my parent's house (did I mention that I am 34?) Anyway...a few nights after my razz win, I was at my parent's house for a "visit". The weather was pretty rough that night. An ice storm had caused my parents driveway to resemble a hockey rink. Instead of leaving when I had planned (around 8PM), i was FORCED to stay longer and decided to play some more poker (darn!). I entered an $11 buy in no limit hold'em tournament. It was about five hours later when my K 5 off suit beat the J 5 off suit of the only other player remaining at the final table. The first place finish (with a field of 1314 players) was good for a $3,022 pay day, alot of which made my trip to Vegas possible (I wish I would have left more of it on Stars...oh well). This is my favorite poker memory, not just for the obvious reasons (winning a big field tourney, the cash, etc.), but also because had it not been for my parents driveway, I would have never played. I think the fact that I couldn't go anywhere anyway, caused me to relax and focus on playing solid poker (something I have not always done since). I would like to make some new poker memories in the coming months, hopefully including winning a seat to next year's WSOP main event. I think that would be an incredible experience. I also think it is an attainable goal with the help of propokerschool.com.

marlowe1974

NOTE: I didn't win a seat to that year's WSOP main event (or any other year's for that matter).

Freedom for Poker

I have not played much poker online since the final tournament of the Gank Open. The reason is a combination of a promise I made to my wife to not be quite so obsessed with poker, and a change in my job that has forced me to make some sacrifices in my “downtime”. I don’t currently have money on any of the sites that I play at, so I figured with the second season of the Gank Open starting up this weekend, that it was time to reload on Stars, and also make my first deposit on Lock Poker (that is after all where this season’s tournaments will be held). My preferred method of deposit has been the prepaid Visa gift cards that seem to be in every store that you bother to walk in. However, over the past few weeks, I have not been able to find any of the All Access Visa cards that I was buying. They have all been replaced by a new type of Visa card that specifically states “not for ATM or gambling” on the back. Of course I failed to see this on the first card that I bought, and was very frustrated when PokerStars kept rejecting it. I haven’t scoured the state or anything like that, I have only gone to a handful of places actually, and I am confident that eventually I will find one of the cards that work. But the whole ordeal has me frustrated with the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) and even the way in which people are showing their opposition to the Act.

Poker Is a Game of Skill

On the PPA (Poker Players Alliance) website, they list several studies stating that poker is a game of skill, not chance. The UIGEA deems a “bet or wager” to be the risking of something of value on “the outcome of contest of others, a sporting event, or a game subject to chance…”. It goes further to exclude fantasy sports leagues from this definition because “All winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants and are determined predominately by accumulated statistical results..”. I would never argue that poker is not a game of skill. However, while skill may be the largest factor in success in poker or fantasy football, chance does in fact play a role. This is what the “nanny state” types are trying to “protect” us from. The human mind has difficulty accepting as fact events that take a “longer than observable” length of time to prove (think Evolution..), and the truth is, that in the short term, luck can play a significant factor in success at poker.

True Freedom is the Freedom to Make Mistakes

I think that a better way to fight against the UIGEA is with a moral argument. We shouldn’t try to differentiate poker from other table games or slot machines. We should instead insist that we be given the freedoms that are granted to us by our Constitution. In order to be truly free, people need to be allowed to make choices about how they spend their time and money. This will lead to some people making the wrong choices. That’s okay, it’s how we learn. Providing a big umbrella of protection creates larger problems for society by eliminating the need for people to take responsibility for their own actions. This is what our country is turning into. There are several states that have proposed “sin taxes” on video games and television equipment, one state (Louisiana) has even considered calling their version “No Child Left Inside”. We shouldn’t have to fight to make our own decisions, but we must if we wish to remain a “free” country. Today it’s internet poker and Grand Theft Auto, but what will it be tomorrow?
marlowe1974

Poker Books No Help

Since I have gotten married, my level of fitness has been dropping like the stock market. In an effort to reverse the trend, I have been spending the last two months exercising a minimum of two times a day. I have also been eating much better. However, the other day at work, I pulled a muscle in my back while bending down. This has put a stop to the working out for the last week. I was forced into bed to rest my back. With the Million Dollar Turbo Takedown looming this weekend on Stars, I thought that this would be a great time to catch up and read some of the books that I have collected in my poker library. I made it through three this week alone. "Every Hand Revealed" by Gus Hansen, "Tournament Poker for Advanced Players" by David Sklansky, and I reread "SuperSystem" by Doyle Brunson.
Much to my surprise, when I woke up this morning (Sunday), my back felt good enough that I decided to go for my usual walk (approx. 4 miles). With an improved back and all the poker information I'd taken in throughout the week, I was ready for my first shot at the Turbo Takedown. I played pretty tight through the first levels, took down a few pots (mostly small, one big) and cruised in to the first payout level. Then just before the next payout level, well, I'll let you read for yourself...

PokerStars Game #21517691654: Tournament #200801026, 5000FPP Hold'em No Limit - Level XI (500/1000) - 2008/10/26 17:05:20 ET
Table '200801026 85' 9-max Seat #1 is the button
Seat 1: AWice (17985 in chips)
Seat 2: rickettz (20482 in chips)
Seat 3: dav63302 (5350 in chips)
Seat 4: marlowe1974 (6200 in chips)
Seat 5: youplay2bad (4785 in chips)
Seat 6: hmay111 (11998 in chips)
Seat 7: ZockerClaud (8685 in chips)
Seat 9: Russian-fish (8975 in chips)
AWice: posts the ante 100
rickettz: posts the ante 100
dav63302: posts the ante 100
marlowe1974: posts the ante 100
youplay2bad: posts the ante 100
hmay111: posts the ante 100
ZockerClaud: posts the ante 100
Russian-fish: posts the ante 100
rickettz: posts small blind 500
dav63302: posts big blind 1000
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to marlowe1974 [Js Jd]
marlowe1974: raises 5100 to 6100 and is all-in
youplay2bad: folds
slowik444 is connected
hmay111: folds
ZockerClaud: folds
Russian-fish: folds
AWice: folds
rickettz: calls 5600
dav63302: folds
*** FLOP *** [8c Qh 9d]
*** TURN *** [8c Qh 9d] [2h]
*** RIVER *** [8c Qh 9d 2h] [Qc]
*** SHOW DOWN ***
rickettz: shows [9c 9h] (a full house, Nines full of Queens)
marlowe1974: shows [Js Jd] (two pair, Queens and Jacks)
rickettz collected 14000 from pot
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 14000 / Rake 0
Board [8c Qh 9d 2h Qc]
Seat 1: AWice (button) folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 2: rickettz (small blind) showed [9c 9h] and won (14000) with a full house, Nines full of Queens
Seat 3: dav63302 (big blind) folded before Flop
Seat 4: marlowe1974 showed [Js Jd] and lost with two pair, Queens and Jacks
Seat 5: youplay2bad folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 6: hmay111 folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 7: ZockerClaud folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 9: Russian-fish folded before Flop (didn't bet)

I guess I am supposed to take solace in the fact that I had the best hand when all the money went in. I guess no matter how many books you read, you can't avoid some bad luck. Oh well, back to the drawing board. And work.
marlowe1974

Monday, September 5, 2011

Two Really Good Flicks!!

This will be short, but I had a few things whirling around inside of my head...so I wanted to share them. I watched two great movies this past weekend.  I don't know if you call what follows a review, but I have a thought or two about each that I wanted to share.

The first was "The Tillman Story", a documentary about former NFL star, turned national hero Pat Tillman. The military lied to Tillman's family about how he died (he died of fratricide...or "friendly" fire).  The film is about the family's search for the truth and their attempt to get the government to admit the cover up (SPOILER...the government doesn't).  Two thoughts.  First, watching this story made me want to be a better person.  Not a better American or a better Atheist (it seems that Tillman was an atheist), but a better person!  Tillman seems to have been an honest, heroic guy who loved life and lived it to the fullest.  The other thought I had about the movie was that conspiracies and lies are so hard to cover up.  This was a story about one family exposing a military cover up of the death of one guy (albeit, a famous guy) and they completely busted them on it.  Towards the middle of the movie, they receive an internal document from an anonymous source that gives "new life" to their investigation.  The government is made up of so many people and it's extremely difficult to get that many people to keep a secret.  It's just one more reason to laugh at Area 51 cranks and moon landing deniers.  Somebody would have come out with credible evidence if either one of these groups had a leg to stand on. Anyway, it's a great movie...watch it!!

The second movie was "Red State" by Kevin Smith.  I'm a big fan of Kevin Smith's films (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, etc).  This is a story about a very fundamentalist Christian family who make the Westboro Baptist people look tame. There's a kidnapping and a stand off with the Feds...it's crazy!!  The movie is great and a real departure from Smith's other movies.  Red State is a movie made by a moderate Christian (Smith) calling out the extremist whacko Christians (you know, the ones who shoot people outside of abortion clinics and protest military funerals).  It's exactly what you don't see happening in the Muslim world, where so many (including non-Muslims in our country) always seem to be apologizing for them.  Smith does anything but that here...the movie is awesome!!

I watched both of these movies twice this weekend (really working hard on that book, huh?).  Do yourself a favor and check them both out.  You won't be sorry.  Like I said at the beginning, this is a short post...but it's all I have right now. Okay, back to that book...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Irene

I've been busy working on my book, so I haven't written a post in almost two weeks. But for anyone who is interested, I have made some decent progress on "Too Stupid To Be An Atheist", and I am optimistic that my goal of having it completed by the end of the year is looking good. (Side note: I have created a Facebook page for the book and a Twitter account if you are interested in checking them out).  Ok, enough of the self promotion.  On to the post...

Hurricane Irene hammered away on the east coast over the course of the last several days.  High winds, storm surge and torrential rains have left at least 42 dead and caused that has been initially estimated between seven and ten billion dollars (yes, that's with a 'b').  My personal "Irene experience" was minor compared to many (I live in Maryland, about thirty minutes from Baltimore, if you were curious).  Our yard was covered by fallen branches from trees and our power was interrupted for about 24 hours.  I also had a very brief day at work on Sunday due to no power.  Luckily, we made it through unscathed.  But it was a powerful storm and many people weren't so lucky.  To appreciate the size of the storm, check out this amazing video of Irene from space:



Many people I know (either in "real life" or on social networking sites) were upset at their weather person (it doesn't get more PC than weather person) for not getting the timing right or predicting a bigger storm than we actually got.  People ignore the fact that it wasn't that long ago in human history (the first weather satellite was launched a little over 50 years ago) that a few trees being leveled in your backyard would be the first warning that a bad storm was headed your way (ok...there might be some hyperbole in there).  We knew about Irene well in advance.  A guy I work with is always saying, "the weatherman is the only guy who can be wrong a hundred percent of the time and still get a hundred percent of his salary".  This is unfair (of course, I should point out that this is the same guy at work who complete bought into Harold Camping's most recent prediction...he may be suspect).  Weather predictions are getting more and more accurate all the time.  But it tough to predict what is going to happen more than a few days out.  In fact, here's a quote from a weather guy in a really good Freakonomics article on the subject: “We have no idea what’s going to happen [in the weather] beyond three days out.”  So to cut this rant short, GIVE THE WEATHER GUY/GAL A BREAK!!!

The other thing that drives me nuts is the number of people without electricity praying for the lights to come back on.  Okay, I get it...you want your power to come back on.  Mine was out for a day as well, and I wanted it to come back on as bad as anybody (I don't need much, but I need air conditioning and my internet connection).  But I have a few questions for anybody who found themselves "praying for power".  First, if prayer works (and I assume you think it does, or you wouldn't be doing it), why didn't you pray before hand for your power to not go out?  Better yet, why didn't you pray for the hurricane to miss you altogether?  Also, how would you feel if you found out the crew working on restoring your power had stopped working and was praying instead?  Do you think the power would come back on quicker that way?  I have a sneaky suspicion that you would be pretty angry if this happened (but, I'm wrong a lot).  If that did happen and you were angry, wouldn't that be an admission on your part that prayer doesn't work?  I'm not telling you not to pray.  I'm just asking you to think about it.

That's all from me...Peace (oh and did I mention the Facebook page for the book...."Like" it here)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

God, No!!


My Mom and Dad are my heroes. They are everything to me and I owe my life to them (literally!) After my parents, there is a group of people whose words or actions have been inspirational to me. I consider them heroes as well (I suppose you can say they are a "notch" down from the 'rents, if the rankings are important to you.) Some of them are people I actually know in real life...my Uncle John for example. I worked with him at his auto garage when I was thirteen. He is the hardest worker I have ever seen!! I've done a poor job of following the example he set, but I'll never forget the love he showed me by sharing it. Many on this list of heroes are people I've never met...like Charles Darwin. Not only have I never met him, but I'm not going to meet him (he's dead..seriously, check his Wikipedia page). But his theory of evolution informs so much of who I am and what I believe. (If more people in our country accepted it, no one could be a racist anymore...We are ALL AFRICANS!!)

Near the top of this "secondary" list of heroes, is definitely Penn Jillette. I've gone into detail before about what Penn's radio show meant to me (a big deal!!). But it's more than just the radio program. I own the seasons of Penn & Teller's Bullshit! on DVD. I watch all of his video blogs, the older Penn Says and the current Penn Point. He's written many articles that you can find online on a wide range of topics...from his thoughts on gas guzzlin' Hummers to his favorite candy. In 2008, I saw the live show in Las Vegas (my first chance to meet the man...and move him off the Darwin, "never met" list...visual evidence below.)



So, when it was announced that he was writing a book on atheism, of course I was "all in". I've read other books he has written...his novel "Sock" (which is SO unique and great) and his poker book, "How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker: The Wisdom of Dickie Richard". I preordered a copy of his new book, "God, No!: Signs You May Already be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales", for my Nook the first day it was on the Barnes & Noble site. When the Center for Inquiry in Washington D.C. announced that he would be making an appearance at George Washington University to talk about his new book (his ONLY such East Coast event), we bought tickets right away. I waited up until midnight the night before the book was released to make sure that it was "delivered" to my Nook. Once I confirmed that it had been, I couldn't help but start reading it (did I mention that I wake up each morning at 4 AM for work.) Are you getting the idea yet?

I had read about half of the book before the event in D.C. last night. It was a very entertaining Q & A between Penn and moderator Melody Hensley (Executive Director of CFI-DC). He told some of the stories that he shares in the book. My wife and I took our eleven year old son...yes, I'm the parent who takes his 11 year old to hear a magician tell stories about his adventure in a gay bath house in San Francisco, circa 1981 (I didn't want your "Father of the Year" certificate anyway...being a Dad isn't something you get an award for). Once the talk was over we got the opportunity to go on stage to meet Penn (not just us...everyone who wanted their book signed got to meet him). Once we got there, I thanked him for retweeting all of my Penn Point announcements (he does retweet them...his twitter feed is @pennjillette ). He responded with, "That's you?!? You're the guy?!?" I've been so moved by so much of what he's done, it was CRAZY for him to use the words "the guy" to describe me. He was kind enough to sign my Nook, sign a three of clubs for my son (Penn & Teller always use a three of clubs in their card tricks) and posed for a picture with Jeffery and I (see below...we're calling it "Two and a Half Atheists").



Afterwards, my son was very excited. "He recognized you Dad...he recognized you!!" (kids are funny). I'm probably not qualified to write a real review of Penn's book. But I can tell you that it is GREAT!! It's Penn doing what he does best...sharing his heart and thoughts in an honest way. He writes in an easy to read, conversational style. He tells amazing stories about some of his life experiences. In the stories he tells about his family, you can feel his love for them in every word. It made me laugh out loud (that has ONLY happened before while reading "Fletch" by Gregory McDonald and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson) and made me cry (which admittedly is easier than I am proud of). I've read many books about atheism. I love the books by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. They are wonderful to read and you should read them (well...if you're interested in atheism you should). But Penn's book is the only one that's moved me to tears AND laughter. It is full of "heart" and that is why it is my new favorite. But if you've read this post (and I assume you have...who skips to the end of my blog posts?), you are aware that I may be biased. He's a hero of mine. And now that I am attempting to write my own book on the topic, it has inspired me to be better. THANKS PENN!!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Blast from the Past


I have been hard at work writing my book, "Too Stupid to be an Atheist", so I have neglected this blog for the past week or so. This post is not going to change that much. I was reading some internet articles/blogs earlier this week and one reminded me very much of a blog post I put on MySpace (remember that) and I wanted to share both of them here. First will be my post. I wrote it almost four years ago (September 5, 2007) and was the first "blog" post I ever wrote. It went something like....

This will be a great way to start off my blog. Hopefully no death threats will ensue, but if they do, it will prove one of my points. I recently watched Superman Returns. This in not the Superman of my childhood (Christopher Reeves), but an updated, metrosexual version. Aesthetics aside, I couldn't help but notice the way that Bryan Singer (director) had turned the last man of Krypton into a Christ-like figure. Arms out to the side, crucifiction (and Scott Stapp) style, looking down on Earth. Marlon Brando (or God) telling him that we wish to be a good people, we just need him to show us the way, and that is why he has sent him to us. I have to admit, I was really turned off by this. Superman is a comic book superhero. He stands for truth, justice and the "American way" (pre -Bush administration). That American way is about liberty, freedom and secularism (see Thomas Jefferson). I didn't like the spandex clad hero of my youth converted into a religous figure. I imagined a world where a myriad of televangelists asked for and received millions to help spread the word of Superman. I could see teary eyed villagers claiming that they had started to eat a grilled cheese sandwich, only to discover that the face of Clark Kent could be seen on the bread (then them selling it on eBay). What a disaster. And then it hit me. This would never happen, and for one very important reason. No one over the age of ten believes in Superman. He is just a character of fiction. And this is what makes him superior to any religous icon. Not believing in him means that no one flies a plane into a building, or shoots someone outside of an abortion clinic in his name. It's not possible that people would blow themselves and others up over a difference of opinion over whether he was really the son of Jor-el or not. Believing in him might mean less homophobia in the world, mostly because Brandon Routh gives off such a gay vibe in this most recent film (no argument is perfect). No one could believe that some ancient text was the word of Supes, and then proceed to judge how well others live their lives based on those words. All he does is teach us how to help and care for others, and how to fight for freedom and justice. I was very fortunate to have parents who served as excellent role models. Not everyone is so lucky. I guess my point is that works of fiction (new or old) can serve as a guide to morality and it's compass, but that it turns bad when we believe those stories to be "true".

Nice, huh? I wouldn't change much about it. Anyway, enough about me. Click here to see the article I read earlier this week. I don't want to copy and paste their entire post, but I will share the last blurb...

While Superman is certainly an iconic hero, he never asked anyone to worship him. Even after Superman died to protect the people of Metropolis and came back to life, he never asked anyone for anything. Why? Because he’s an imaginary character, you dumbass. Superman is as real as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and snipe hunting. God is also an imaginary character…and approximately five billion people on earth believe he (or another form of him) exists. It might be time to start the cult of Superman…because he’s better than God in every way.

I like their post better, but mostly because of the pictures (I like pictures). I actually prefer both Batman and Iron Man as superheroes (no supernatural abilities...super rich guys with character flaws fighting bad guys). But Superman is a perfectly adequate fictional character (and he played a big role in "defeating" the real life KKK). There's also way less violence in Action Comics #1 than their is in the Bible (i.e. little kid friendly). Anyhow...I know this is a cop out and not a "real" blog post. It's the kind of recycling that would make Al Gore proud actually (which is never my goal). But writing this book is important to me. And it is dominating most of my thinking right now. I'll try to have something "fresh" here next time...no promises though. Some of my MySpace and Tumblr blogs were pretty decent (I may share one more).

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Me...a writer?


I went overboard character-wise in my last post...and I liked it. It has me thinking that I want to try my hand at writing a book. Not a terribly long book, but a book nonetheless. I found a cool site called Smashwords that makes it easy for independent authors and publishers to get their work out to a larger audience. They do this by taking a plain text file and converting it into an ebook in most of the different formats (epub, pdf, mobi, etc). Then they sell your book, on their site and on other major online retailers like Barnes and Noble (of course, they keep a percentage for themselves...only fair). I could make my book available for free or I could charge as little as 99 cents for it.

Of course, it takes more than a website and an electronic format to convince people to buy a book. You have to have a solid idea, one that is not being covered by every other author out there. One idea that I have been pondering for some time comes from a television show I saw in 2004 (It stuck with me). It was called John Safran vs. God. The clip that's had me thinking is this one:


I should add that I don't find this video particularly offensive...after all, Safran is a comedian. I'm not sure how serious he was when he made this comment, but I do know that this attitude is prevalent among believers. I want to write my book about atheism from the perspective of the average Joe (literally). You obviously don't have to be a genius, or even know that much about science to not believe in a god (it does help a little). There aren't a lot of books on atheism being written by guys who flunked out of college and work blue collar jobs. So it will be with this video in mind that I begin the process of crafting my first book. I also want to expand on my last post about the what, who and why of I, and recount my path to atheism (or my return to atheism, since I was born one). I will do my best to provide updates on my progress. I don't often stick to commitments like this, but THIS TIME I think I'm serious (just like every other time, right). So to make up for the length of my last post, I'm cutting this one short...after all, I've got a book to write!!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What/Who/Why am I?


Many of my posts start out as random thoughts I have while driving alone. This is just a sneaky way of saying that I talk to myself in the car. As far as I know, asking questions is exclusive to humans (so I assume that answering our own questions is something only we do as well). But I could be wrong about that. In fact, the default position you should hold on anything I say is that I am probably wrong. I work in a grocery store for fucks sake!! I barely graduated from high school and briefly attended the local community college, ONLY so I could earn limited playing time on the school's basketball team. I am a proverbial fountain of misinformation. But like all humans, I have questions. So I try to come up with answers. Answers that can certainly change when better information comes in. They may change five years from now or they may change an hour after I post this and someone makes a more compelling argument. They are not etched into a tablet of stone. They are the best I can do right now with my undersized prefrontal lobes, but they evolve (it's actually the best thing I can say about them).

What am I?

We covered that I work in a grocery store, but that is not the "what" I am asking about here. One thing I know about humans (I am a human...we covered this above also) is that we are a collection of atoms. The average 70 kg human being (that's 154 lbs in the jolly US of A) contains about 7 times 1027 atoms. That's a seven followed by 27 zeroes. But I am much bigger than the "average" human being. In fact, I am almost twice as big as this "average" human. That's 14,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms!! But that number means almost nothing to me. It's just too big. So lets just call it "oodles" of atoms. The most abundant elements in the human body are Oxygen (65%), Carbon (18%), Hydrogen (10%) and Nitrogen (3%). These four elements alone make up 96% of the human body by my math (I double checked it on a calculator). Where did these atoms come from? Well, one of my favorite quotes EVER comes from physicist Lawrence Krauss:

"Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements - the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life - weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.

    He mentions evolution. Human beings are certainly the result of evolution (even though 4 in 10 Americans reject it). Anatomically modern humans first appear in the fossil record 195,000 years ago in Africa. In this sense, we are all Africans (there is a great t-shirt that has that exact line on it, and the quicker everyone accepts it the closer we'd be to making racism go away). And no, we didn't evolve from monkeys!!! We are more closely related to modern apes (gorillas and chimpanzees) than to monkeys, but we didn't evolve from apes either. We share a common ancestor with apes. This common ancestor existed five to eight million years ago. That species diverged into two separate lineages: one of which led to chimps and gorillas, the other which led to hominids and ultimately...us. But this isn't a post about evolution. I'm moving on.

    So to sum up...I answer the "what am I" question like this: "I am a human being, the product of millions and millions of years of evolution among primates (not to mention the 3.8 billion years since life began as single cell organisms). I am also a collection of "oodles" of atoms and these atoms came from the explosion and violent death of stars."

    Who am I?

    This question seems tougher. "What" is more of a nuts and bolts question, like "what is a television?" The "who am I?" question seems more like "how do you tell one television from another?" To start with, I am the offspring of my parents. I received half of my genetic code from my Dad, and half of my genetic code from my Mom. They each received half of their genetic code from their mothers and half from their fathers (my grandparents). We could keep going with this, but you're smarter than me and I know you understand it (because I do). In this sense, my parents are my co-creators. They also gave me all the love and encouragement in the world. This means everything to me. This is a good start (in my case, a great start...and it could only go down from there).

    But that's not the whole answer. If everything about me was a result of being my parents' child my favorite musician would be James Taylor (Dad) and I would really dig foreign movies, in particular ones from the Middle East (Mom). I've got nothing against JT (I enjoy his music every now and again), but this doesn't describe me at all. As a human (see above), we have a unique ability to reference ourselves. We are aware of our existence in a way that other animals aren't. If you don't know what I mean by this, put your dog in front of a mirror and see what he does with the reflection. This is not only useful at a fun house, it seems to play a big role in my answer to the "who" question.

    Each and every day we take in massive quantities of information. We see, we hear, we smell, we taste...(once again, you get it). Each one of these data points gets stored away for later use. We then "make" connections between these points. It's these connections that decide what things we like and don't like. They remind us which events in the past have brought us joy and which ones have brought us sadness. And we have been collecting this information since day one. I was first formally exposed to this idea of the self referential brain in Douglas Hofstadter's book "I am a Strange Loop", but I think I kind of viewed it that way before I read it. This is how I come up with my answer to the "who" question. Let me give an example that is fresh in my mind:

    The other day, my family and I were watching the movie Parenthood. It was on one of the premium cable channels, so when it ended they immediately started another flick. The next movie (much to my wife's chagrin) was Purple Rain. Of course, Prince is the star of Purple Rain. As much as she wanted me to turn it off immediately, I lobbied and talked her into watching the very beginning of the movie (he plays Let's Go Crazy at the beginning...more on that in a moment). I don't have any idea what causes my wife's aversion to Prince. Some back story questions are best left unanswered. I do, however, know what goes on in my head when I think of Prince. I remember that my (older) friend Rick snuck the VHS copy of Purple Rain into my house while my parents were at work. They had heard the movie was for a more mature audience and didn't think I should see it yet (I disagreed). I also remember that Prince played a few songs in the first Tim Burton Batman movie in the late 80's. I then think of an interview I read with Prince in TV Guide at the time Batman was being released in theaters. I read the interview while waiting in a checkout line with my mother at Basics & More behind the Harford Mall (long since gone...it's a Best Buy now). He was dating one of the stars of the film, Kim Basinger. She cut the interview short by bringing a jar of honey into the room, which prompted Prince to let the interviewer know that it was time for him to leave. I also remember not fully understanding at the time why a woman bringing a jar of honey into the room would make him want to end his interview. For a short time, I delivered frozen food for Schwan's. We were asked to introduce new products to customers...something that was not always easy for me (I wasn't much of a salesman). One of the new products was an ice cream bar called Let's Dough Crazy. As an ice breaker, I would point out to customers that Schwan's, like Prince, was based in Minnesota, and that as a tribute to him they named a product after his second greatest song. Naturally, the customer's curiosity would lead them to ask me, "what's the greatest Prince song?", at which point I would tell them Raspberry Beret and let them know that I also carried Raspberry Swirl bars on my truck if they would rather have them. (For the record...I wasn't lying to them when I said that Raspberry Beret was my favorite Prince song...I meant it, but it was dishonest to suggest that the ice cream bars were a tribute to him). Corny? Yes!! But these are just a few of the things that pop into my head when I think of Prince. I could go on longer, but I'll spare you (just know that I am listening to the two previously mentioned songs on loop as I type this).

    Does this idea of connected memories and self reference answer the question of "Who am I"? It does for me. So since I "summed" up my answer to the last question, I'll do it again here before I move on: "I am my parents offspring and I get half of my genetic code from my Mom and half from my Dad. I am also the collection of memories and experiences that I have stored in my brain that I reference back to and make new connections with each and everyday."

    Why am I?

    This question is a problem for me. I think the question assumes that there is a purpose to our lives that is defined not by us, but by a higher power. A higher power that I don't believe in. I can't answer the question in that way. But I will answer it...albeit, in my own way.

    The answer I gave for the "who am I" question is also true of the answer I would give for, "who are my parents?" Through experiences and memories, they developed a bond to one another that we call love. I don't know how much we humans understand about "love", but I think it has something to do with these memories and experiences. It also has to do with chemical reactions in the brain and a biological imperative that all living beings have to reproduce. When you meet a person you are interested in, you may not be thinking to yourself, "WOW, I really would like to reproduce with them", but your genes are. So it's the balance between "love" and biological imperative that my parents felt in 1973 that is the first part of my answer to the "why" question.

    The second half is one you have to find for yourself. It's what gets you out of bed everyday. Or maybe what keeps you in bed everyday. For me, I am certain that part of my "why" is another biological imperative. The one that wants to care for and raise my son. For some it may be their job or a hobby. Maybe even a loved one. I imagine that to some extent, all of these things would answer each of our "why am I" question. But I don't believe there is any "big picture" or "grander" answer to the question. You beat all the odds and won the genetic lottery by being born. What you decide to do with that, and what purpose you want to assign to your life is up to you.

    So to sum up the "why" question: "I beat the odds and sprung into existence because of "feelings" (emotional and biological) that my parents had that made them decide to reproduce. These same "feelings", some emotional and some biological, define my life's purpose."

    Okay...that's my attempt to answer life's "big questions". I could have saved you some time and just posted this:

    "I am a human being, the product of millions and millions of years of evolution among primates(not to mention the 3.8 billion years since life began as single cell organisms). I am also a collection of "oodles" of atoms and these atoms came from the explosion and violent death of stars."

    "I am my parents offspring and I get half of my genetic code from my Mom and half from my Dad. I am also the collection of memories and experiences that I have stored in my brain that I reference back to and make new connections with each and everyday."

    "I beat the odds and sprung into existence because of "feelings" (emotional and biological) that my parents had that made them decide to reproduce. These same "feelings", some emotional and some biological, define my life's purpose."

    But what's the fun in that. I have been thinking about this all day and I wanted to get it down as quick as I could. But I'm done now...I've more Prince to listen to. I'd like feedback to this one if you are so inclined. If you think I am wrong or even are crazy enough to agree, let me know. Of course, you are under no obligation to respond (you knew that)...but it would be nice if you did. Especially if you disagree. Maybe I'll learn something new. As I said at the beginning, these beliefs aren't etched in stone...they can change when better evidence comes in. (Note: I didn't attempt to answer the when or where am I questions, because they don't seem very interesting and I hoped we could all figure those out on our own...once again, I could be wrong).

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Comedic Timing


    I loved Penn Jillette's radio show. It was easily my favorite hour of each and every work day. Of course, it was during a time when I drove a frozen food delivery truck for 12-14 hours a day, but I'm not damning with faint praise here. It was a wonderful show and I miss it. I miss it so much, that I listen to an episode each morning (via podcast) during my 3-4 mile walk. It's like using a time machine to travel back and "re enjoy" your favorite thing (I realize that DVD's and CD's and plenty of other media do this also, but we can talk about them another time).

    This morning's episode was from March 20, 2006 and the two "big topics" were Patriotism and Patents (Penn would often start out with a main topic or two, but the show was free-form and the discussion would often go in many nutty directions). At one point the conversation between Penn and Michael Goudeau (co-host and juggler extraordinaire) drifted to Space Shuttle launches. It is then that Penn gives credit to NASA for discovering the mathematical equation for comedic timing. This equation for comedic timing is "the difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound over a distance of 3.7 miles." I had completely forgotten this and it was great to hear it again. Penn wrote in more detail about this in he and Teller's 1997 book, "How to Play in Traffic". The excerpt (it's long, but worth reading) can be found here. Penn and Teller also covered this on an episode of their Showtime show, Penn & Teller's Bullshit! Here's a clip...



    The Penn Radio show exposed me to so many great things that I didn't know about. Norman Borlaug, Bob Dylan's "Up to Me", the amazing jazz piano playing of Mike Jones (who I got to see perform before the P&T live show in Vegas), Paul Provenza and The Aristocrats movie, and of course, Monkey Tuesday and "Bacon and a Kiss" airlines (if you weren't a listener...you won't understand). But it was more than that. Hearing Penn and Goudeau talk openly about being atheists was everything to me. I didn't know any other atheists in "real life". I had only told my parents and a few close friends that I was an atheist. After I found that show, I was able to tell everybody...because I no longer felt I was the only one. The episodes of Penn's radio show can be found on iTunes here. Give it a try...it is my ALL TIME favorite bit of entertainment.

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    The Green Room


    There are few television shows that I make it a point to watch. I do watch Capitals hockey regularly during the NHL season, but the number of "shows" that I watch with any regularity are very few. I will drop many things, however, to watch any episode of the following:

    Then last year a new show emerged that got added into my TV mix right away. That show is The Green Room with Paul Provenza. "The Green Room" is basically a panel of the funniest comedians around, taking about...COMEDY...with Provenza (perhaps the funniest of them all) serving as the host. Each episode begins with the warning, "if you've ever been offended by anything, don't come in", which is the way I think every show should begin. They tell jokes and stories (this was the trailer for the first season)...



    ...and even play a little music occasionally...



    Among the guests from the show's first season were Drew Carey, Eddie Izzard, Larry Miller, Roseanne Barr, Bob Saget, Andy Dick, Dana Gould, Bobby Slayton, Paul Mooney, Jonathon Winters, Robert Klein, Rick Overton, Tommy Smothers, Martin Mull and Penn Jillette (I've told the "thermos" joke that Mull shared on his episode enough times that I've lost count).

    Anyway...I'm bringing this up because the first episode of the second season airs tonight (July 14th) on Showtime at 11 PM EST, and stars Judd Apatow, Garry Shandling, Ray Romano, Bo Burnham and Marc Maron along with host Provenza. If you aren't familiar with Paul Provenza, he was the director of the Aristocrats movie (which he made with Penn Jillette...one of my favorite movies ever!!) as well as a long time actor and comedian. This is a funny clip of him talking about religion and atheists (by the way, Provenza is an atheist...there's more of us than you realize.)



    Okay, enough from me. Give the show a chance...you won't be sorry. But only if you've never been offended by anything.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    The "Skeptic" Machine


    I'm trying to raise my kid as a skeptic. The public often confuses a "skeptic" with a cynic. This couldn't be further from the truth. Skepticism is (according to Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine) "a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas - no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position. Ideally, skeptics do not go into an investigation closed to the possibility that a phenomenon might be real or that a claim might be true. When we say we are "skeptical", we mean that we must see compelling evidence before we believe. Skeptics are from Missouri - the "show me" state. When we hear a fantastic claim we say, "that's nice, prove it."" This is what I mean my raising him as a skeptic, and there is nothing cynical about that. I prefer raising him as a skeptic to raising him as an atheist. He'll make his own choice on theological matters later...for now the message is, "what is the evidence?", and he can apply that to everything.

    Fortunately for me, one of my son's favorite shows has always been Scooby Doo (not the live action movies...the older cartoons). I know, you probably don't think of the show as skeptical, but you should. In every episode of Scooby Doo (older ones at least...some of the newer stuff, not so much), the teen detectives look into some supposedly supernatural claim (ghost, zombie, vampire, etc...) and it always ends the same....the mystery gets solved and it is never a monster or ghoul, but instead some janitor in a mask or some dude with a movie projector. Of course, Scooby and Shaggy are BIG TIME superstitious, but the rest of the gang always start out on a search for a natural explanation using the "skeptical" method (something more of the aforementioned public should consider using.)

    My wife and I have felt this way about the show for years, only recently have I discovered that other people feel the same (other's mention it online and their posts are superior to this one). Tim Minchin even references the show in his beat poem "Storm".




    I've introduced him to many "supernatural" heroes (Superman, Thor, Hellboy...), and he enjoys them. He also knows he can't fly or see through walls. No one believes in any of that. I think that's why Scooby Doo remains one of his favorites. Of course it's fiction, he understands that (the dog talks for goodness sake). He also understands the method the "gang" uses to solve the mysteries, and he knows that "skeptic" is something he CAN be. He may also have a thing for Velma (he gets it honest...and who could blame him/us?).

    Sunday, July 3, 2011

    Degrees of Creation


    I was doing some typical web surfing the other day and I came across an article about Charles Darwin. It was one of those "This Day in History" type of articles. The date referenced was July 1, 1858 and the blurb read:

    "1858: The Linnaean Society of London listens to the reading of a composite paper on how natural selection accounts for the evolution and variety of species. The authors are Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. Modern biology is born."

    I read the article and was just about to move on, when I started reading the comments section (why do I do that!!!). One of the folks who commented contributed a real "gem" that included this:

    "... Einstein came along and showed everyone the universe had a beginning . . . which any logical, unblinded person know means there is a beginner."

    BACK AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER!!! That's what I am supposed to do...but it never happens. I posted the following in reply to him:

    "I'm sure you would concede that by this "logic", your beginner would need a creator also. And then he/she/? would need yet another "beginner". I'm not bothered at all by people daydreaming their lives away, pondering the "six degrees of creation"...as long as you don't want it forced on my kid or want the government to endorse it. I prefer the humble position that doesn't claim to know all the answers, before all the evidence is in."

    There hasn't been a response by the original poster and I don't suspect that there will be (not for any reason other than he has more of a life than I do). But I like my "degrees of creation" line. I don't know if it's original (I doubt it) so I shouldn't claim it as mine. But the argument from creation seems to always come back to "How can you get something out of nothing?". Always ignoring the fact that their answer, "God did it", requires us to believe that the creator arose out of nothing. To quote Penn...What the fucking fuck!?!?!? So while it may be a fun distraction to ponder any number of supernatural beings (hey, I love comic books...I read about superpowered dudes in tights all the time), I don't think it is helpful to close your mind and decide that your (not provable) answer is the right one. Call it faith and be done with it. Or if you think the answer to the theological question is knowable, search far and wide for the evidence that is required to prove it. Just don't claim that our lack of understanding or some ancient text authored by man is that evidence. Because it's not. You're going to have to do better to call it science.

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    "Cultural Education"


    Now that Jeffery has graduated from elementary school (see previous post), I figure it won't be long before hanging out with good ol' Dad is not the cool thing to do. So I am trying to take advantage of our free time this summer by creating, what I'm calling, a "cultural education" program. As part of this program we are watching a movie each night that I have deemed "essential" to the development of a young boy (and basically "essential" means it was a movie I liked when I was growing up...it's a scientific list). There is no master list, we are choosing them each night as we move forward. And if the truth were told, there is no real educational agenda either...I just want to spend time with my kid before he is interested in other things besides his "old man".

    So far we are four days in, and we've watched Meatballs, The Usual Suspects, The Crow, and Wayne's World. I've learned up to this point that we should probably stick with comedies. He liked both the Usual Suspects and the Crow (Crow better), but he was much more into the comedies. We'll be sticking with them for the most part. I think tonight we are going with Spaceballs.

    I haven't posted a blog in over a week, partially because I've been spending more time with the kid (which is awesome). I do want to mention that I got to see Gilbert Gottfried perform his comedy act in Baltimore with my wife. WOW!!! What a great show. I am a big fan of live entertainment and a HUGE fan of Gilbert. In my head I have a list of people I'd like to see live before I die (or they die, whichever happens first), and I can now scratch Gilbert off the list (more on the rest of this list later). He was very kind afterwards and posed for a photo with me (see below..I'm the fat one on the right). It was my first trip ever to a comedy club (kind of like my "cultural education" for the summer) and I think making Gilbert my "first time" may have ruined all future acts for me. I don't see how anybody can top that.



    A sample of the genius of Mr. Gottfried...



    Until next time...

    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    Fifth Grade


    My son, Jeffery, "graduated" from fifth grade yesterday. I don't remember having a "graduation" ceremony when I was socially promoted to sixth grade, but it may have happened. At first I thought it was kind of a silly idea, but anything that allows me to dote on my son a little more is cool with me. While I was sitting in the crowd watching, two things happened that really struck me and I thought I would write about them here (you know, because everyone gets a random thought in their head and runs write to the internet to "blog" about it...I'm an arrogant pig).

    First, when I was in fifth grade I stopped saying "god" in the Pledge of Allegiance. It caught the attention of the teacher, who promptly sent me to the office and my parents were called in. I've covered this in a previous entry. I've NEVER told Jeffery this story. But yesterday during the Pledge, I watched him take his hand from his heart and place it over his mouth during the "under god" part. WOW!!! I mean, I know I'm his co-creator, but I thought that only meant he had a 50/50 shot of turning out fat and ugly. I was surprised, not only that he did it, but that he did it with much more style and "grace" than I did. I started getting real animated after a few days of not saying the word, trying to draw attention to myself. Not him. It wasn't a cry for attention, just a private statement he was making...it was perfect. We talk about religion and science and he knows how I feel about them, but I've always told him that he should form his own opinions as he gets older. Looks like maybe that time is now.

    The other thing that really got me was a fellow classmate of his. One student from each class got up to give a short, prepared remark about their time at the school. One of the students (I don't remember her name...and even if I did I wouldn't post it here) was a young girl from a Muslim family. She gave a nice speech about how she had struggled with math and the teachers had helped her improve. She also mentioned that she wanted to be a doctor when she got older. All of these things were said with her hair uncovered and styled. She was also wearing a leopard print dress that came down to about her knee. The freedom that she has here to wear clothes that she likes and to dream of becoming whatever she wants (freedoms she may not be able to have in the Middle East)...that's something for all of us to celebrate. I so often ramble on about the lack of freedom that we have in our country (think drug war, gay marriage, etc...IT STILL CAN GET BETTER), but it was nice to be reminded that, in so many important ways, we really are a free nation.

    That's it...all I got. My kid is heading to middle school...I'm getting older (and fatter). I am contemplating a return to volleyball to get myself back into shape. More on that in another post. Congratulations Jeffery!!! Your dad loves you, more than you know.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    Is it the Pic, or the Policy?


    The only news you get right now is about Congressman Anthony Weiner's sexting scandal. It's a funny story, no doubt, but I don't care about him flirting electronically with women (it's not even real sex dammit!!!). I guess I feel bad for his wife and it may be important to discover whether or not any of the recipients of his "crotch shots" were minors, but it doesn't change my view of him as a politician. I don't even care about him lying about it to cover it up. It's his personal life, not a political issue (I do think him mentioning Al Queda when he was still going with the "I was hacked" story is a political issue though, and that deserves scrutiny). But there are many other reasons to throw criticism at Congressman Weiner.

    For example, Weiner was one of the biggest supporters of Obamacare. Check this video of him basically telling Democrats to be more public in their support of the bill.



    I must say, it's funny now to hear him use phrases like "hiding under our desk" and "elephant in the room" (you know that old gag where you pull your hip pockets out, unzip your fly and then pull...well, you get the idea). But after all of that support, he sought a waiver from the bill for his constituents in New York. He wants to see if the city can save money and have more control over it's own destiny. HIGH COST AND LIMITED CHOICE WERE PART OF THE OPPOSITION TO OBAMACARE!!! Weiner has a 100% rating from the AFL-CIO for his "pro-union" voting record in 2010 (he also has a 96% lifetime rating). I think I've covered my thoughts on unions before. His commitment to "green issues" is also a concern for many who realize that Global Warming, while real, is not the biggest issue that the world faces (and also one that we can't just throw fists full of money at with no good results). I could go on, but you get the "picture" (you see what I did there).

    If what matters to us about politicians is there personal life, then guys like Weiner and Arnold Schwarzenegger should be a dream for us (don't forget, Billy Clinton also). I think something else matters. An elected official tweeting a picture of his junk is a great bit on a late night talk show. But Weiner's real problem is his policies...not that he's a pervert. He's a big government idiot with Socialist leanings (it's why he got elected in New York). We need to drop all the puritanical crap and go after politicians for their bad political ideas, not their bad personal judgement. Weiner has plenty of both, but only one matters to me.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011

    Mutants!!!


    Some thoughts are running through my head now that I've returned home from seeing X-Men: First Class. The first thought is that you NEED to see this film. Matthew Vaughn is the director and he does an awesome job (he was also the director on Kick-Ass...another great "superhero" film). The story is tight, the special effects are superb and all the actors are great. I'm not going to do a full scale review of the movie (I tried that with Ghostbusters and I think I failed miserably), but I do want to talk about the X-Men briefly.

    Products of the "next phase" of human evolution, the main characters in the X-Men all have "special" or "enhanced" abilities due to random genetic mutation, the same process by which humans have evolved over MANY MANY years (and by "MANY MANY" I mean decidedly more than six thousand). They have the ability to read minds or manipulate metal with their thoughts (each character is unique...hey, maybe they aren't that different). But they are seen as outcasts. The people who run society (mostly politicians) are scared of these "unique" individuals, and they concoct things like "Mutant Identification Programs" or even try to kill the mutants off (this may or may not be part of the story line in X-Men: First Class...I'll never tell). Nothing scares people in power more than individuality. And if you've been exposed to any of the comics or movies you know that not all of the mutants respond to these threats the same way.

    But even as a fan of comic books, I don't think I've been exposed to them enough!!! The themes covered in the stories (racism, diversity, antisemitism, religion, LGBT, etc.) are important and worth thinking about more. The message I take from the X-Men is this: We are ALL different and we each have our own quirks and "weirdness", but that doesn't make any of us better or worse than anyone else...just different. It also doesn't make one group right or one group wrong (this was written about much more eloquently by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch this weekend in the L.A. Times, check it out here). But don't take my word for it, or anybody else's for that matter. Check them out yourself. You certainly don't need me to interpret them for you (there's nothing more insulting then someone telling you how to interpret a story...you don't need to go to a big fancy building and put money into a plate to have them explained to you). The best art teaches us about life, and I think the X-Men do that in a fun and amazing way. And while I've always been a casual fan, I don't think that I have given them the attention that I should (I mean, comic book characters whose powers arise from genetic mutation?!?...what have I been doing all this time?). This doesn't mean that the guy who wields that green ring won't be my favorite comic book character anymore. It just means I'm gonna get a little deeper into the world of Professor X and Magneto. MAN, that seems like a good thing!!!

    Sunday, May 29, 2011

    May 29th

    Today, May 29th, is my birthday (hence the title). It's a birthday I share with several famous people. Patrick Henry, for example, was born on May 29th. He's significant to me because he coined the phrase "Give me liberty, or give me death!!", which is celebrated often by Libertarians and people who believe in the Constitution (oddly enough, Henry opposed the Constitution). The great comedian Bob Hope also shares a birthday with me (or I share one with him...he did come first).

    But the list isn't all heroes and sunshine. John Hinckley, Jr. was also born on May 29th. On the Wikipedia page of today's birthdays it lists Hinckley, then a comma and the phrase "American attempted assassin". Not only a creep for attempting to assassinate Reagan, but a failure to boot. Biologist Paul Ehrlich has been beating his "bat-shit crazy" environmental drum since the late 1960's. He's made more failed "doomsday" predictions than Harold Camping, and his fear mongering is a major reason that we can't have a rational debate about climate change to this day. Many people mention John F. Kennedy on the short list of great presidents in our country's history. I'm not one of those people (I covered some of my disliking of Kennedy and his "great" speech in a previous blog entry here).

    There are some other cool people that I share a birthday with. Daniel Tosh (of Tosh.0 fame), Al Unser, Sr. (race car driver), John Archer (the magician who fooled Penn and Teller on their "Fool Us" show in England), LaToya Jackson (crazy person) and Stacy Keach (actor) are on the list. I used to hope that sharing a birthday with Eric Davis (one of my favorite baseball players ever) meant that I could one day be a Major League baseball player. But the truth is that all I share in common with any of the people on this list is parents who were horny in August the year before we were born. It doesn't mean anything, but it is a fun way to look at history.

    To celebrate today, I'm gonna eat some South Park themed cupcakes and take a trip with my wife and son to The Stoogeum (Three Stooges Museum) and eat lunch at the Jon's Bar & Grill in Philadelphia (which is also the birthplace of Larry from the Three Stooges). Maybe it's not as significant as the Space Shuttle Discovery docking with the International Space Station in 1999 (the first ever by a shuttle with the ISS, took place on May 29th), but it will be to me.

    And for everyone who says Happy Birthday to me today (thank you by the way), I want to leave you with this story that Penn Jillette told that involves the phrase. See if your idea of "Happy Birthday" doesn't change after this: