Monday, March 31, 2008

The Stermy Awards for March 2008

Well, maybe it's just me being cranky because it's spring. I hate all that obnoxious sunlight.

But this month, I'm going to bestow only four Stermy Awards for Exemplary Writing. Remember: These awards are subjective, so no whining.

Anyway, here are a few more random rules:

  • No Stermy will be awarded for any post that's less than 300 words long.
  • No Stermy will be awarded for any post that is more than 75% quotes from other sources.
  • No Stermy will be awarded for any post that's more than 2000 words long.
EXPLANATORY NOTE: Stermies are given for blog-writing, not refrigerator notes, "Reader's Digest" reprints, or graduate school dissertations.

So here are this month's winners, presented in the usual alphabetical order:
BlackSun at Black Sun Journal
for "Everyone Believes in Something"
It sounds mean to mock someone who’s been injured. But far worse than a severed foot is severance from knowledge. How many people have lost that tether? How many people live in a vast swirling sea of "I don’t fucking know?" Flailing blindly, they grasp onto any flotsam or jetsam, whether or not it’s carrying them further from shore.

The Chaplain at An Apostate's Chapel
for Would You Please Reschedule Your Crisis?
Now's Not a Good Time.

Right. You want me to take an hour to drive there, hang around in a prayer meeting (those really get the juices flowing) for one or two hours, then spend another hour driving home - because you need me to play the piano for about eight minutes. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to that one.

Infinity at X is ...
for Cuss Free Zone
My two daughters thought that the word stupid was a bad word for years. You know what? It is a fucking bad word! When words are used to harm or make a person feel bad, then it is bad. Or at least it’s not good.

PhillyChief at You Made Me Say It
for Golden Rule
A British missionary group was saddened to see tribesmen (I think Trobrianders, but I'm not sure) running around naked so they wrote back to their church and the fine old church ladies in England, with nothing but love and the desire to help in their hearts, knitted and sent wonderful sweaters to these poor, naked wretches in the rainforest. Not wanting to offend, the tribe accepted and wore the sweaters. Soon the rain fell, as it does in rainforests, the sweaters got soaked, and the tribe, now wearing soaked sweaters, developed pneumonia and almost all died.
Congratulations, whatever they're worth, to this month's recipients. I'm returning the bribe money to the rest of you.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Quazy Quistian Question # 5

I haven’t asked a Quazy Quistian Question in quite some time, but the other night Mrs. Ex and I had a quonversation which got me thinking. This is odd because we’ve been together so long that most of our communications are limited to grunts of various kinds. When we do have a conversation, it’s usually about my clothes: “You’re not going to wear that, are you?” Apparently, no matter how long a woman is married, she keeps hoping that she’ll suddenly find herself cohabiting with a man who gives a shit about how he looks sitting in a dark movie theater.

Anyway, we were having dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in town. Now, where we live, any restaurant that doesn’t have a drive-through ranks pretty high on our list. The joint in which we were eating doesn’t serve the greatest food in the world, but there are place settings that you don’t have to color yourself. And you get handed a menu instead of having to read one printed on a sign above a bored teenager’s head. Also, thankfully, there’s no bored teenager’s head.

This particular restaurant is very popular with us because it serves both Chinese food and sushi. My wife can’t stand the thought of raw fish, cooked eel, or sweetened egg wrapped in seaweed; I love that stuff. So at least once a month we go to the Pan-Asian Emporium because I can get my toro, ikura, hamachi, unagi, and nori-tama — and she can have General Tso’s chicken while she sits across the table and makes gagging noises every time I shove something in my mouth. Except beer, which we both like.

So we’re sitting and gobbling our different foods, and we start talking about our idea of paradise. It would certainly include a variety of ethnic dishes. Both of us love Indian and Thai cuisine, Italian and French and Greek and Russian, Mexican and Spanish and Middle Eastern. In fact, there are very few edibles that we don’t like, sushi being her exception and French-cut canned stringbeans being mine.

However, in a Protestant Christian heaven, almost all of those delectables would be missing; there’d be no one around to cook them properly, all the best chefs having gone to hell for believing in the wrong god, or none at all. In a Catholic heaven, there’d probably be some decent French and Italian, maybe even Mexican if immigrants are tolerated, but certainly no sushi or General Tso’s chicken. In a Muslim heaven or a Jewish heaven, the dietary laws would pretty much nix everything except the slop that mama ladled up back home on Earth. And try getting a decent hamburger in the Hindus’ forever.

So, since dining well is one of life’s great pleasures, how could Christians want that to be absent from the eternal happy place? Jesus may have been a fisherman, but can he prepare a really artistic salmon roll? Does he know how to make sag paneer or moo pad prik? Can he whip up a batch of hummus or tabbouleh? And what about deviled eggs or devil’s food cake? Is decent wine allowed, or only that watered down swill he pours at weddings? Would the Savior prepare a special Infidels’ Buffet now and then? Or would the fare be limited to molded Jell-O and tuna casseroles all the time, with maybe a little Southern-style barbecue once in a while?

In fact, what will the food be like up there? It can’t be your favorite meal whenever you want it, because that would get really old before long. Do souls sit down at a table, one with nice silverware and dishes and gravy boats and crystal wine glasses, to eat like civilized human beings, or do they just grab a handful of trail ambrosia on the fly? And what if you want Jesus to hold the pickles and the lettuce? Will he do it, or does everybody have to eat whatever’s put in front of them and no TV until they’ve cleaned their plates?

Quazy Quistian Question # 5:
Is there food in heaven? If so, what’s it like? If not, what do you do when you want a nosh? Explain your response.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Song for an Atheist's Easter with the Family

Sing along with the Exterminator:

In my Easter bonnet
With godless As upon it
I'll be the grandest skeptic
At the Easter charade.

I'll be in my glory
Debunking Matthew's story,
But getting quite dyspeptic
At the Easter charade.

With the family, my family,
All the relatives will quiz me,
And they'll shout, "Gee whiz,
Don't you know Jesus riz?"

Oh I could write a gospel
While driving to the hospi'l
About my upset stomach
From the Easter charade.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Is Nonbelieving Literati Right for YOU?
Take This Test!

  1. I like reading books.
  2. I sometimes get ideas from books.
  3. I enjoy discussing books I’ve read.
  4. I’m curious to know what other people think about books I’ve read.
  5. I’m not afraid to voice my opinions.
  6. I have a blog, or I comment on blogs, or both.
If you answered yes to one or more of the above, the following post might CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

(Disclaimer: Probably not, though. But read it anyway. You never know.)

About eight months ago, I proposed forming a new group to be called the Nonbelieving Literati. My idea was that many of us in the Atheosphere are inveterate readers, and that we might enjoy sharing with one another our thoughts about a book that we'd read together. Or maybe just arguing about it. In any case, we’d have an extended conversation that would leap from blog to blog, in both posts and comment threads.

I'm proud to say that the group is going strong. And you're invited to take part in the thought-provoking fun.

Here’s the way it works. One of us recommends a book. The only no-nos for recommendations are atheist diatribes, best-selling or otherwise. We all read enough of those, don't we? Any other book is fair game, although some atheist or free-thinking angle is expected. We set a target date about a month and a half in the future. That’s a long enough time for even the slowest readers, or those with the least amount of hours to spare, to be able to participate. Members take turns making book suggestions.

On the target date, we begin publishing our posts about the book. The date is just a suggestion, though; any member is free to post on the book at any time thereafter. I'll warn you that most of us veteran NL-ers do like to get our punches in pretty quickly. However, in fairness to everyone, no one publishes before the target date.

Originally, I thought the ideal posts would be essayistic rambles, ruminations triggered by ideas the book suggested to each blogger. Not everyone, though — including myself — was feeling introspective each month. Instead, we've had an intellectual free-for-all. Some of us have written essays, some of us reviews. A few people have even written great diatribes about why they couldn’t bring themselves to finish one of the books.

In other words, whether you like the selected book or not, you should use it as an entry point to your own thoughts. Those thoughts might be about the book itself, or its theme, or its characters, or ... just about anything, as long as there’s some hook back to what we’ve been reading.

You can see the list of current members in my sidebar. New feature: Clicking on the asterisked links will take you directly to that blog's post about the latest book.

If you're interested in joining, leave a comment here, or drop me an email, or just blog about the book on the next target date and let us know that your post is published.

[H/T to Evo for urging me to update the NL introductory post.]

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Slam, Bam, Say "Goddamn!"

Those of us who blog in the Atheosphere frequently deal in “quick fuck” ideas. We start by stating a premise, either through words or pictures or a combination of both. The premise is almost always unoriginal, since atheism has been around for as many years as religion has, and all the same arguments have cropped up over and over and over again. The game is to find a new way to go through the age-old motions, and for you and your reader to get gratification when you do it. But you can’t resort to more than, say, 2000 words, maybe ten minutes of reading. That’s the “quick fuck” part. Good posts don’t really have a whole lot of time for preparation and foreplay; they have to grab their readers fast. Then, still holding those readers as tightly as they can, they have to race to a climax before boredom sets in.

That’s not a negative judgment on blog-writers. The best newspaper columnists do the same thing. So do most modern poets. And the funniest comedians.

There’s a kind of heightened emotional intensity that goes along with a quickie. That’s why many of us have a tendency to portray theists generically as being wackos, dangerous or otherwise. I do it all the time — and so do you. Christians, in particular, are often characterized as stupid or crazy or hypocritical. Or evil.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of religionists out there in the world — probably a supermajority of them, in fact — to whom the words “stupid,” “crazy,” “hypocritical,” and/or “evil” apply. But there are some, even if only a few, who fit none of those descriptions. We just don’t tend to write about them often because they’re dull. It’s not our “job,” here in the Atheosphere, to try to be nuanced and even-handed, and we surely don’t want to do that if it means being dull. Because in the “quick fuck” world of blogging, dullness — no matter how thoughtful — will guarantee that your masturbatory writing remains just that: a lonely solo activity.

Still, I suspect that most of us, in our day-to-day lives, do come into contact with some believers whom we find tolerable. We may get mutually irked by our ideas, but we don’t dwell on our philosophical differences, do we? We just work together, or play together, or party together without the thought entering our heads: Christian=Bad.

So that’s my attitude about blogs versus life. I tell you this because I think that novels should be more like life than like blogs. A good novel should feel like a “real” world no matter how fantastic that world may be. A gifted storyteller asks the reader to suspend his or her disbelief and to enter into a relationship, ready to be pleasured by the made-up events as they unfold. Some authors let their stories slowly caress us, giving us plenty of time to explore our feelings and heighten our enjoyment. Other authors just grind away with one sensation after another until we close the book, having been brought to the edge and finally sated.

Christopher Brookmyre, in his non-thrilling thriller entitled Not the End of the World, does neither. He lacks the writing skill or the desire, or both, to create three-dimensional characters who play expertly with the reader; he lacks the technique to keep the titillation going with believable plot twists. But he also has no staying power for just banging away in a frenzy of excitement; his meager story doesn’t have enough juice for 388 pages. Instead, he offers a series of quick fucks, aimed especially at the easily satisfied atheist. Oh, yes, almost every Christian in the book is crazy and a hypocrite and evil, evil, evil. The rest are stupid. You’re getting aroused just thinking about that profound commentary on believers, right? But guess what? That’s the whole thing; you’re done. Sorry if your intelligence was insulted.

For those of you who may find yourself wondering about my imagery here, I guess I should mention that one of the main characters in the book is a recently retired, freethinking, porno actress, the modern version of the “whore with a heart of gold.” That sounds more appealing than it turns out to be once you get a closer look. Still, the story might have been far better if someone like her had actually written it — as a year’s worth of daily blogpost dalliances, each one fleeting and forgettable.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Go Outside and Watch Some Birds

I’ve been meaning for a few days to write this response to my good friend Evo, who published a very dark, disturbing post recently. Apparently, he’s been going through a rather bleak period, “filled with gloom.” Unfortunately, this is not a one-time event for him; he has regular bouts with what I’d characterize as cosmic angst. Some, maybe even much, of his problem is medical, and he says so. But a small part of it, I think, is philosophical.

In his post, Evo contemplates the awful eventuality of death and mutability. He asks how we can carry on, given the knowledge that we’ll ultimately be consigned to the dustbin of history. That’s a burdensome knowledge, and there are days when I, too, find it overwhelming. In my opinion, you’d have to be an idiot not to be troubled by the fact that you will, someday soon in the grand scheme of things, cease to exist.

There’s no life after death. The opera, ideally, is a long one, but it will come to an end. It may not be over until the fat lady, Death, sings; but when she does, it’s done. The music is finished and it’s time for everyone — except the corpse — to go home. I’m depressing myself just thinking about it.

Anyway, in what may have seemed like a flippant answer, I advised Evo to “go outside and watch some birds.” I meant it seriously, though, because that’s always a joyful experience for me, maybe the most innocently agreeable, life-affirming thing I can think of to do. The wonders of evolution surround us. Humans aren’t special; we’re part of an entire world that’s breathtaking to behold. And nature becomes much more awe-inspiring when you don’t fool yourself into thinking that some divine hand designed it especially for you. The myriad variety of life is mind-boggling precisely because it wasn’t planned. No gods gave us the multitude of bird species; natural selection did. The amazing thing is that we’ve been evolutionarily “programmed” to recognize the simple pleasures of watching other living things as they go about their business — of living.

So I was having a fairly down afternoon myself, sitting at my computer and silently bemoaning the fact that, as I get older, hardly a day goes by when some part of my body doesn’t ache. I never made that fortune, never became famous, never got as learned as I thought I would. And when I look in the mirror, yikes! I see my own grandfather.

But spring has just about arrived where I live, and the birds are busy. My yard and the nearby thicket is filled with them. Our ten or eleven feeders are doing their job, attracting many of my favorites. A good friend phoned today and I decided I’d talk to him from my screened-in porch. Being a good friend, he has a vocabulary not unlike mine, and it didn’t take him long to interrupt the conversation to say, “Holy shit! It sounds like you’re in the middle of a fucking aviary.” And he was right.

Titmice calling for “Peter, Peter, Peter, Peter.” Cardinals proclaiming “What cheer! What cheer!” Carolina wrens asking to be recorded on “video, video, video.” A score of goldfinches signaling to one another that they had the munchies: “potato chip, potato chip, potato chip, potato chip.” Somewhere in the trees a great-crested flycatcher, the first of the year, whooping it up: “wheeeeep, wheeeeep.” Mourning doves flying over to the birdbath, their wings whistling as they took off. A pileated woodpecker gleefully cackling in the distance. A trio of prissy fish crows flying overhead, telling each other, “uh-uh, uh-uh, uh-uh.” A barred owl rousing himself way too early to wonder “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”

And the colors, flitting and fluttering here and there, making abstract pictures in the trees for someone like me, lucky enough to be nearsighted when he lowers his binoculars. The deep red of male cardinals. The blue of jays. The bright yellow of American goldfinches coming into their seasonal plumage. The Crayola box of painted buntings with reds and blues and greens in assorted shades.

At about three o’clock, a red-shouldered hawk landed on an extremely thin branch of a naked sycamore near the back of my house. He was relatively small for the species: a male, no doubt. He widened his tail and pumped it up and down a few times, trying to catch his balance, while the other birds, suddenly confronted with the possibility of a swift and unexpected death, flew into the thicket, a short but safe distance away. The bravest of the cardinals and goldfinches peeked out from time to time to see what the hawk was up to. Not much, as it happened. After a few minutes of watching the ground — waiting hopefully for some rodent to come for the spilled seed, although none did — he coursed away.

In less than ten seconds, everybody was back at the feeding posts. A lone jay perched not far from where the hawk had been, and imitated his call: keeeee-yer, keeeee-yer. It was a pretty good performance, but no one was fooled. The bird-ensome knowledge that they would soon be consigned to the dustbin of history had passed once again.

For me, too.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Better than Dick Cheney AND Dan Quayle

As everyone in the country knows by now, I'm running for president as an alternative to the theocrats in both major parties. You might want to take a moment to refamiliarize yourself with my platform. Or you might not. I just really love linking to my own stuff.

Wherever I've traveled through this great land of ours — and admittedly, it's mostly been back and forth to my local wine shop — people have stopped me and asked the one burning question that has been utmost on their minds:

Are you fucking crazy?
One or two of them have also thought to ask:
So who's your running mate? And is he or she fucking crazy, too?
It's been a long, hard search. I wanted to find someone who not only brought his or her own credibility to the ticket, but was willing to lend some of it to me. Someone whose views are compatible with mine, and yet not — as mine are — incompatible with everyone else's. Someone who could bring some food for thought to the table, and maybe provide the table as well.

I'm happy to say I've found that someone: The Chaplain.

Besides her obvious qualifications, she has extensive experience in the military, having been involved with the Salvation Army for much of her life. She balances the ticket geographically, since she has dual citizenship in Canada. And her name alone will garner a few knee-jerk votes from so-called social conservatives — who, as we know, don’t bother to find out precisely what their favorite politicians stand for as long as they seem religious.

I don’t know how many actual votes we’ll get — but we have two important things to offer the American people: 1. We’ll certainly be more committed to the Constitution than anyone else in the race; and 2. We're funnier and more serious than any of the other candidates.

We need your help. Send us all your money if you love America as much as we do. Also, help us pick a slogan. Here are some to choose from (or feel free to suggest your own):
  • Are You Better Off Than You Were 2,000 Years Ago?
  • Hear No Crap
    From Ex and Chap
  • Don't Stop Thinking About ... Anything!
  • Let's Stop Mourning in America
  • Compassionate Rationality
  • It's the Theocracy, Stupid
  • They Kept Us Out of Woo
  • The Shmucks Stop Here:
    Vote for Ex and Chappy, the non-Shmucks' Choice!
  • A Kinder, Gentler Atheism
  • Don't Give 'Em Hell or Heaven, Harry!
    [Slight Problem: Neither of us is actually named Harry.]
  • In Your Head You Know We're Right
  • Freethinkers: In Us We Trust
  • Stermycanoe and Chappy Too
I'm The Exterminator and I proofread this message.

[Update: Philly has found the most effective way to lock in his choice of slogan; he created this bumper sticker for our campaign. Thanks, Philly.]

Thursday, March 06, 2008

New Rules for Commenters

Well, another blogger I like has instituted a comments policy. Take a moment to read his post. It made me realize that I’ve never specifically stated what my strictures are. I need to rectify that. So:

The Exterminator's Eleven Rules for Commenters
  1. Please do not be respectful. You can feel free to extol, to flatter, to fawn, to kiss up, and to sweet-talk, but make sure you do it in a disrespectful way.

  2. Use profanity whenever fucking possible. Do not substitute characters from the top line of your keyboard or resort to euphemisms. If you’re not comfortable enough to write FUCK in giant red capital letters, then you shouldn’t be using it at all, even in some weenie version.

  3. Insult anyone you want to. Just understand that the regular readers of this blog are used to being insulted by me and I'm used to being insulted by them. And we're all far better at it than you are. If I were you, I'd restrict myself to wisecracks about the president or the pope.

  4. Go ahead and try to convert me. But know in advance that you will not succeed and that I'll do my best to make you look and feel like the incredible asshole you are. If you do try to convert me, however, then f’Chrissake check your goddamned spelling.

  5. Freely exchange ideas and keep an open mind. OK, I stole that last sentence from the sweet, but quaint, blog jointly written by Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Pollyanna. Ideas haven’t been exchanged freely on this continent since a couple of early Americans kicked around the best way to trap a saber-toothed tiger. That was right before one of them clubbed the other for worshipping the wrong bird. Really, keeping an open mind is overrated. There are some ideas — like caveman religions and Christianity — that don’t deserve to be given serious attention.

  6. Don’t feel compelled to stick to the topic. To tell you the truth, about three-quarters of the time I don’t have a clue what the topic is. In fact, if you read a post and do know what the topic is: Leave a comment telling the rest of us. Then we can use profanity while we argue about whether or not you’re right.

  7. Do not read this blog while driving. Objects may appear stupider than they really are.

  8. There are no special prizes for being concise. On the other hand, be aware that I no longer pay by the word. In any case, try to say what you mean in your own unpaid-for words rather than quoting from the bible or P.Z. Myers.

  9. This is a no-French-cut-canned-stringbeans zone. Violaters will be persecuted. You may, however, mention any other fruits or vegetables: canned, frozen, pickled, dried, or fresh. Bear in mind, though, that the words "broccoli" and "zucchini" are much funnier than "corn."

  10. Linking to and/or plugging other Web sites will be tolerated, but try not to be too garish about it.

  11. Your comment will probably be deleted if it’s automated spam. But why am I telling you this? Anyway, even if it is a machine-driven ad, your note might be kept if I think it's hilarious. In that case, it'll be made fun of mercilessly because the people around here love insulting robots almost as much as we love offending theists. If you're a theistic robot, you'd better have a particularly thick skin.
So that's my list of rules. Aside from them, No More Hornets remains a free speech blog. That means everyone can say whatever he or she wants, and, although I may think you're a complete and utter jerk, I'll not deprive you of your right to speak your mind. So thanks in advance for mouthing off.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Horton Hears an Evangelical

Today is Dr. Seuss's birthday. And so, in his honor:

In a place known as Whoville the folks got distraught
When Horton the elephant said what he thought.
“The oddest of oddities isn’t as odd
As people believing that there is a god.”

The Who Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists
The Who Vegetarians, Wiccans, and Nudists,
The Who Presbyterians, Baptists, New Agers:
All spread the sad news on their cell phones and pagers.

A Who Evangelical fell to his knees
And he said, “Oh no, Horton! I beg of you, please!
We always have liked you. We all think you’re swell,
And we can’t stand the thought that you’re headed to hell!”

But Horton just laughed and he wiggled his trunk.
The bible to him was a big bunch of bunk.
He meant what he said and he said what he meant,
“Religion is silly a hundred percent.”

The Who Evangelical let out a snort in
A very snide way most insulting to Horton.
“You say you’re an atheist? Here’s what we’ll do —
We all know that atheists are anti-Who —

We’ll drive you from Whoville; we’ll send you away.
Or else we will force you to worship and pray.
A person’s a person, no matter how small
But an atheist isn’t a person at all!”

But Horton just laughed once again even louder
And told all the Whos he would not take a powder,
Nor worship some stupid nonsensical being
That no one was hearing and no one was seeing.

“I will not be threatened,” he said. “It’s not funny.
I won't trust your god with my flag or my money!
I will not allow him to influence science.
An elephant thrives on his own self-reliance!”

The Who Evangelical said, “My dear chap, sure
You think you’re so smart, but just wait till the rapture.”
The anti-Christ’s coming and then you will find,
That your friends are in heaven but you’re left behind.

“We cannot allow that to happen to you,
Because, after all, Jesus loves ev’ry Who.
You must accept God for the good of us all.
A person’s a person no matter how small.

“And though you’re no Who (you are just a big elephant),
God loves you, too. What you are is irrelevant.
He can destroy us if someone’s defiant.
A sinner’s a sinner no matter how giant!”

The Whos approached Horton, began to surround him.
If some of the Whos had their way, they’d have drowned him.
Some others thought maybe they might build a fire.
And stoning was mentioned among the Who choir.

But Horton was huge and avoided the crunch of them,
Picked up his foot, and he stepped on a bunch of them,
Hoped the survivors would give up their mission,
So here’s what he told them about superstition:

“The oddest of oddities isn’t as odd
As people believing that there is a god.
There isn’t a heaven, or hell you should dread.
A person’s a person — unless he is dead.”