Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Who you gonna call?

I just picked up Ghostbusters on Bluray. It has long been one of my favorite movies, but I haven't watched it all the way through in several years. You never know what to expect re-watching one of your childhood favorites as an adult. Penn Jillette once shared a quote by Eddie Gorodetsky (a very funny guy who is one of the writers on Two and a Half Men) about the entertainment of your youth. His quote goes something like are unable to be objective about any music or movies that you watched or listened to five years before or five years after your first blow job (or thinking about your first blow job). Basically, all the memories from that period in your life are tainted by nostalgia. I have to say that I think there is a lot of truth to this (there is no other reason for me to listen to Slaughter still), and I just assumed that this was why I loved Ghostbusters so much. But when I put it in yesterday, I realized that it meant so much more to me today than it ever did as a kid. Let me explain. (what follows is a movie review by a guy who works at a grocery store and knows nothing about movies...or anything else for that relax already!!)

Less than five minutes into the film, Dr. Peter Venkman (played by Bill Murray) is doing research on psychic powers and ESP (extrasensory perception) with a pair of students. One is a very attractive female and the other is a nerdy looking guy. His test consists of holding up a card with a design facing away from the two subjects. They are asked to identify the pattern on the card using only their psychic abilities. Every answer that the pretty girl gives is "confirmed" by Venkman as true, while each answer given by the guy is pronounced wrong (leading to a small electrical shock). This is about as scientific as all research on ESP is. I am disgusted by people like John Edward who take advantage of grieving people by passing themselves off as "psychics" (yet I watch him every time he is on TV..don't ask, I'm weird). It's not quite the same thing, but I like how the movie dismisses "psychic powers" as junk.

After losing their university funding, Venkman and his two partners decide to continue their research by creating the Ghostbusters, a paranormal extermination business. After finding a building and a vehicle, they receive their first distress call/customer. The manager at a high end hotel asks them to investigate a "haunting". They locate and capture the ghost (with more difficulty and destruction than they would like) and inform the manager of the bill. He balks at first, but then they inform him that he doesn't have to pay, they'll just release the ghost back where they found it (of course the manager becomes much more agreeable at this point). This is a very pro-capitalism, pro-free enterprise message. They lose their government funding, but create a business that is able to satisfy a consumer demand. And when their is a disagreement over the fee, they are able to work it out without intervention from Big Brother. Beautiful.

Uncle Sam takes a few more lumps in the film. As the number of customers increases, the team decides they need to hire another employee. They hire Winston (a black man played by Ernie Hudson). The Ghostbusters are equal opportunity!!! Minority hiring without government force...impossible you say? Not in this movie!!!

The biggest asshole of the movie is EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) agent Walter Peck. His constant intrusion into the Ghostbusters' operation leads to the release of hundreds of captured ghosts into New York City. Then, not content with creating total chaos, Peck has them arrested and fights to keep them in jail rather than let them clean up the mess (a mess that he created). It always seems that the wacky environmentalists assume the worst of all businesses. In this instance, it doesn't just meddle in and hamper business, but creates a real disaster that needs fixing. Of course, the EPA doesn't have any solutions to this disaster...shocking.

There is a period in the movie when "Doomsday" and "End Times" get mentioned a lot. During the debate over how best to solve the crisis, a member of the church is brought into the Mayor's office. You'll notice that the church official, who thinks that all of this is a "sign from God", doesn't want to comment publicly on the "implications" of what is happening, nor does he offer any solutions (and the mayor at one point says, "well, I'm not going to ask people to pray this thing away"). I couldn't help but take note of how in the darkest part of the film, government and religious officials stood by helpless while the scientists saved the day. It's not anti-religion, because it does show religion as something that people lean on to get them through a painful and scary ordeal. But it does portray the scientists as the real heroes. Also, when Dan Akroyd's character is asked, "do you believe in God?" he replies with, "I've never met him." That's a GOOD answer to that question (but I'm an atheist, you may disagree).

Throw in some cool 80's music (admittedly "cool" because I grew up in the 80's) and some cheesy special effects and Ghostbusters is a great movie. Lets it relegates religion to something comforting, but also impotent to solve any problems. To wrap up, I think that Gorodetsky is right when he says that the movies you enjoyed in your youth will always have a special place in your heart because of nostalgia. But for me, Ghostbusters is better today than it ever was in the 80's. Or I'm completely full of shit and hopped up on caffeine, bored out of my mind on a Wednesday night and I'm getting all romantic about an older flick...I'll never tell.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

..And Poker to the Rear

I have not played as much poker as I would like to recently. And if Uncle Sam has his way, it's not going to happen anytime soon. Yesterday, the government seized the bank accounts and took over the websites of several online poker outfits (including PokerStars and Full Tilt). Yesterday was also the final day for Americans to file their 2010 Income Tax Returns (I guess they aren't related..but it sure makes for a funny "coincidence").

When I play online, I tend to play very low buy in multi-table tournaments (MTT's). Some of the entries are as low as two dollars. There are not many things in the world that you can buy for two bucks. Take a moment to think about activities that cost two dollars to participate in that can result in heavy fines and/or jail time. I know, it seems ridiculous. In the most free nation on earth (America?), there should be nothing that you do for two dollars that gets you into legal trouble, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Sadly, this is not the case.

Poker is considered a game of chance and is illegal to play online in our country (though not at "brick and mortar" casinos...odd?). But Poker is a game that involves skill as well as luck, just like every sporting event that takes place on television. Just like every investment made on Wall Street. The morality police (i.e. religious fundamentalists) will tell you that poker (all gambling for that matter) is a sin. They want the government to ban all forms of gambling as part of a greater effort to clean up society and make us more “god fearing”. But not everyone shares the same god (or believes in one at all). Up to twenty percent of the country now defines themselves as agnostic or atheist. And just for a moment, lets consider what happens when we push an activity in to a back room or alley. That is when it becomes dangerous and REAL criminal acts can take place.

Of course the REAL reason that online gambling is illegal is because the federal government has yet to come up with a way to tax it (which is ridiculous, because almost every other country has already starting taxing it and moved on). It is estimated that the online gambling world produced revenues of over twenty billion dollars in 2009. That’s a large untapped source of income for the Fed (peanuts compared to our 14 trillion dollar deficit, but politicians are desperate). And the government needs that money to pay for some of the large social programs that are run out of Washington D.C. But if we allow Big Brother to open a larger “umbrella” of protection over us all, we also allow it to create a longer, more restrictive list of rules that we have to follow. Similar to when your parents tell you as a teenager, “My house, my rules”, or “As long as you live under my roof…” (you heard something like this I’m sure).

Today it’s gambling with your hard earned money that is wrong, what will tomorrow bring? Something to consider before getting caught up in the utopia of socialized medicine and other entitlements (I'd actually rather burn part of my paycheck than hand it over to the government so they can pay for food stamps and cheap housing for the lazy...sorry, but it's true). True freedom should ALWAYS mean that you have the freedom to do stupid things as well as intelligent, well thought out things. Along with the freedom to gamble, comes the responsibility to NOT gamble with the rent money. And if you screw that up, is it really our fault? How many more "footnotes" are we going to add to the phrase "Land of the Free"?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Aren't We All Born Atheists?

I surf the internet quite a bit (perhaps more than I should). I mostly read science articles and blogs, but I also enjoy ESPN, Twitter and YouTube. Today was just a typical internet day for me, when I came across an amazingly ignorant quote made by George H.W. Bush (the first one who was president, not his bigger idiot of a son).

During a campaign stop in 1987, then Vice President Bush was asked a few questions by Robert Sherman, a reporter at the time for American Atheists. The conversation went like this:

Sherman: What will you do to win the votes of the Americans who are atheists?
Bush: I guess I'm pretty weak in the atheist community. Faith in God is important to me.
Sherman: Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?
Bush: No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.
Sherman (somewhat taken aback): Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the separation of state and church?
Bush: Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists.

WOW!!! My first comment is that his final thought, "I'm just not very high on atheists", is probably superfluous after the comment about atheists not being considered citizens or patriots. I had to reread this a few times to make sure that I wasn't mistaken. I admit that I am shocked I had not seen or heard of this quote before (I am obviously not spending enough time online..*wife rolls eyes while packing my things*).

I am confused by the statement "atheists aren't citizens". What do we believe about god at birth? Are there children who are born Christian or Muslim? I would argue no. I am quite sure that children are born without a belief in a supreme being. They acquire a "knowledge" or belief in god during their upbringing. In fact, I know that my kid did not come out of the womb believing in god. He and I have had conversations about it since then, but he ONLY knows about the "eye in the sky" because of these conversations (I would have waited until later to talk about this with him actually, but he heard about god in school and came home with questions). Is Bush claiming that newborns aren't citizens of the United States? Was he claiming that my son, despite being born in this country, is not a citizen? Does he really believe that? Does he still believe that?

We are all born atheists. Is it right to bar someone from being a citizen based on something that they are at birth? If you replace the word "atheist" with any other condition of birth (perhaps "black" or "handicapped"), would he make the same statement? Maybe he would..I guess we can't be sure (My guess is that he wouldn't, because it wouldn't be as advantageous politically to make such a's very acceptable politically to bash atheists though). Is it right to discriminate someone based on what they ARE or what they believe, rather than what they DO? (I've asked a lot of questions in this post..sorry).

To me, a child's lack of belief in god is based on the lack of evidence presented to him/her. They might not understand the concept of "belief", but they see you and can touch you and I would say in that sense they "believe" in you. I have never heard or seen any credible evidence for the existence of a higher power, so I don't believe in one. I haven't claimed that there ISN'T a god. Just that I don't see a reason to believe in one, and I have based that on a lack of evidence.

So according to George Bush, I am not a citizen (I'll ignore the patriot comment...if I'm not a citizen, I'm certainly not going to be a patriot). Neither is my son, nor was either of us at birth. I know I shouldn't get hung up on ONE statement made my ONE idiot made almost a quarter of a century ago (nor do I think his opinion is shared by other believers). But MAN, that really rubbed me the wrong way. Oh well, the Capitals have clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference. I guess I'll stick to while I'm surfing the web the next couple of days.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Atheist Blogroll

One of the things many atheists struggle with is a lack of other people they know in their everyday lives who share their lack of belief. I declared myself (privately) an atheist in elementary school, but I don't remember meeting another like minded person until I had reached my mid twenties. That's a long time to feel like you are the only one (I didn't think I was the only one, but I couldn't prove that I wasn't either). Thanks to the Penn Jillette Radio Show and the proliferation of atheist books and sites online, I no longer worry that I am alone.

I think being part of a community is important, especially for people who (like me when I was younger) don't have any fellow "non-believers" in their lives. So, in an effort to become more a part of this community, Hit and Miss has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information. There are over 1300 blogs maintained in the blogroll.

I look forward to sharing my ideas and opinions with more people, and also having the opportunity to hear what they have to say.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The "Equality" of Books

I have to get this off my chest. If you watch the news, the following timeline will not be new to you. I provide it for those who may have missed it. On March 20th, an attention hungry pastor of a fringe religious group finally made good on his threat to burn a copy of the Quran. Of course, he video taped it and distributed it on the internet. On March 31st, Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a speech condemning the burning and called for the arrest of the pastor (I am not going to name him..he's gotten enough attention). The day after that, protesters stormed a United Nations compound in Mazar-e-Sharif and killed seven foreign workers. There were more demonstrations across Afghanistan that lead to twenty-two more deaths and many injuries. People are angry (added for those who can't see the obvious).

There has been a lot of moral outrage with regards to both the book burning and the murders. Do we really believe that both are immoral? (Before I answer that, I want to make it clear that I am talking about an individual burning any random book. This is not the same as the government taking books by force and destroying or burning them. That is completely different...and immoral). A book is nothing more than ink covered paper bound together in some specific order. It is a medium by which an author can share ideas and opinions. When you burn a book, all you've destroyed is the book. The idea remains. You can discredit an idea by offering opposition to it and exposing it as weak or faulty, but you can't burn it out of existence. If we could, the first idea that should be burned is the one where we justify the killing of innocent people because someone burned a book (holy or not) thousands of miles away (okay..maybe it shouldn't be the FIRST one we destroy, but I have to believe it would be pretty high on the list of bad ideas). On this issue I would have to consider myself "pro-life" rather than "pro-book", because people (yes..even crazy ones) are more important than their books.

Religion commands so much respect in our society that we don't just condemn the truly immoral act of taking a human life, we also insist that the guy who burned the "holy book" share in the blame. Everyone (Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Jedi, Paul the alien) should be able to stand together and acknowledge that the only people who should be blamed for the deaths in Afghanistan are the angry Muslims who are doing the killing. NO ONE ELSE!! But when I watch the news, I don't see that happening. I see people blaming the book burners AND the murderers.

Most groups or clubs have rules. If you are not a member of that club, you shouldn't have to play by its rules. For example, I am not a Christian, so I don't have to believe in the divine authority of the Bible. That would be silly. To me the Bible is just an object. If I own one (and yes I do) I should be able to do whatever I want with it. That may include using it to balance a wobbly table. It also may include lighting it on fire, either to keep me warm or keep me entertained. The fact is, if I bought it, it's mine. Don't worry about what I use it for.

I had thought about holding my own demonstration. I was going to gather all of my books on science and atheism, take them out in front of my house and light them on fire. I figured this would be safe, as I have never heard of a scientist killing someone for burning one of their books. I also figured if I record it and share it, I might be able to use it as a "get out of violent death" free card when I am confronted by angry Muslims. I decided not to because I think that burning a book is a stupid thing to do (I also am not rich, and wouldn't be able to rebuy all of them). I don't think it is wrong to burn a book, I just don't think it accomplishes anything. And I don't think that it accomplished anything in this case either (other than making a crazy guy in Florida look crazier). And it certainly shouldn't be blamed for the acts of violence that are being committed by crazier people in Afghanistan.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Optimism about magic is INSANE!?!?

There is a quote that has been attributed to several people, including Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and Albert Einstein (according to Wikipedia, its most likely origin is author Rita Mae Brown). It goes like this:

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

By this definition, you can probably describe my love of the Baltimore Orioles as insane (and you'd probably be right). When I was nine years old (sadly, 28 years ago) the Orioles beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1983 World Series. "Orioles Magic" was alive and well. There hasn't been much to celebrate since then. In fact, the Orioles haven't made the playoffs since 1997 (coincidentally, also the last year they finished with a winning record). My son is 10 and he has never expressed much interest in baseball. I am pretty sure that Oriole futility has something to do with that.

But with each new season, I believe this will be the year they will pull themselves out of the AL East cellar (not win the World Series..I'm not THAT kind of insane). And they often give signs that they have turned the ship around. Success usually begins to elude them at the end of May however. Last season though, after they hired manager Buck Showalter on July 29th, the team finished with a 34-23 record (the best record of any AL East team during that span). During the offseason, they added a bunch of decent players, including Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy and Derek Lee (there are more, and if they read this I apologize for not listing them).

They have won the first two games of the 2011 season, beating the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2010 AL East Champs) 4-1 and 3-1. The starting pitching (not considered the team's strength) has been OUTSTANDING so far, and today their most highly touted pitching prospect (Zach Britton) will make his Major League debut. All of this seems REALLY exciting.

But I have been an Oriole fan for awhile now. I was excited when they won it all in '83. I got really caught up during the "Why Not" season of 1989. I even may have put aside my pacifism and called for bodily harm to Jeffery Maier when he caught that Derek Jeter "fly ball" (I refuse to call it a home run) in the 1996 AL Championship Series. I've seen too much.

No matter how much I want to, I can't let these first two games get me too excited. That would be insane!