Friday, August 29, 2008

What Obama Must Do

Sarah Palin is a very bad choice — for Democrats. The Obama campaign needs to reevaluate their stupid strategy and tactics immediately. Here are some reasons why Palin should be making Republicans salivate.

  • She's hardcore pro-forced-maternity. She’s anti-gay. She’s got that whole Christian thing imbuing her with a godly glow. That will mobilize the fundies and give "undecided" woo-ists a good reason to abandon Obama.
  • She can say, over and over again, something along the lines of: “The Democratic candidates talk a lot about what they've done in the past for women. But the Republican party is the one that really empowers women today." I predict that she'll mention Hillary's "18,000,000 cracks in the glass ceiling” many, many times throughout the campaign.
  • She nullifies Biden. Because of his age and potential "chivalrousness," he will not be comfortable attacking her with full vigor. Or else, he'll look like an asshole, and probably put his foot in his mouth. She, on the other hand, can lace into him freely — and, no doubt, will.
  • As a former beauty queen and sports anchor, she won't be too threatening to Republican sexists, who will be able to dismiss her — privately of course — as "window dressing," all the while talking publicly about how egalitarian their party is.
  • She'll be able to play on the just-below-the-surface justifiable anger of middle-of-the-road white women, who feel as if their gender issues have once again been forced to take a back seat to African-American issues. This has been going on since shortly after the Civil War, when the word "male" was added to Section 2 (which addressed voting rights) of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • She's young enough for Republicans to fantasize about her running for president eight years (or only four!) from now, after she has raised her national profile in the vice presidency.
  • She's a fisherwoman and hunter, and her husband is a sportsman. She has been a member of the NRA all her life, and her husband is a longtime union member. Those blue-collar workers, the electoral base that, apparently, must be pandered to, will eat that up.
  • She really can call herself a maverick because she stood up to Republican insiders in Alaska, and raised hell about corruption within her own party. Pat Buchanan characterized her as "a reformer with guts." In fact, she ran her gubernatorial campaign as an agent of change. So the Democrats can no longer claim sole ownership of that word. (Biden, on the other hand, is clearly a Washington insider, no matter how many times he took the train back and forth during the last thirty-six years.)
  • She cut property taxes when she was mayor of Bumfuk ... excuse me, Wasilla. Americans hate property taxes.
  • She has a son going to Iraq in September, just as Biden does. So all the before-the-fact presumptive heroism of Beau Biden is moot now. On top of which, the Biden kid is a privileged captain, while her son is an enlistee first private.
So here are some things the Democrats must do if they want to win:
  • Immediately give up on pandering to the evangelical fascists, and start trying to excite freethinkers and other secularists, who are embittered by the constant god-pushing of the primaries and the convention.
  • Cede the gun-lovers to the Republicans. Advocate, loudly and proudly, for gun control.
  • Stop being so wishy-washy about abortion and categorizing women’s rights by how many months have elapsed in a pregnancy. Say Roe v. Wade as often as possible.
  • Don’t keep telling us what a good man John McCain is, and how he served his country heroically. He’s not a particularly good man; he’s a fucking hustler. And it doesn’t take any courage — or military savvy — to get shot down.
  • Resist the temptation to praise Hillary at every goddamned opportunity. Mentioning her over and over merely pours salt on the wounds of her supporters. She and Bill know that. Instead of singling her out, talk about how women will be empowered in an Obama administration. Maybe even make a promise to appoint women to the Cabinet and/or the Supreme Court.
  • Avoid characterizing Michelle as a wife and mother, and give her free rein to open her effective mouth and speak out strongly on the issues.
  • Don’t fall into lockstep with the Republicans on the Russia/Georgia situation. Point out how the Bush White House helped to instigate a world crisis.
  • Refer as often as possible to the Bush family’s friendship with the ruling Saudi theocrats. If necessary, trot out some photos of their mutual hugfests.
  • Come up with a substantive alternative energy plan, and explain how that will ultimately help Americans save money.
  • Talk about an education plan that will keep our public schools out of the hands of fundamentalists, who discourage children’s interest in science, and by so doing, may hinder future scientific advancements. Excoriate states that propose bills or amendments (like Florida 7 and 9) that will publicly finance religious teaching at the expense of secular education.
  • Drop all support for faith-based initiatives, reading aloud, if necessary, the First Amendment to the Constitution and appropriate passages from the writings of the Founding Fathers (for example: Thomas Jefferson's "Act for Establishing Religious Freedom" and James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance”). Remind Americans, again and again and again, that one of the things that makes our country great — and separates us from the Muslim world — is our absolute refusal to bow to the authority of religious extremists.
I don't know how the rest of you feel about my suggestions. But if Obama does all those things, he might actually earn my vote.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Carnival of Gaggy Songs

OK, I’ve been so involved thinking about religion and/or politics lately, that I’ve forgotten about the music that always sings in my heart. (Mrs. Ex might say that it sings in a different body part, especially after I’ve eaten beans.) Anyway, I’ve decided to share with my friends some songs that always make me gag. For your reading, listening, and viewing pleasure, they’re organized by category, and I’ve included short commentaries to explain my choices. I hope you don't lose your lunch when you click on the links.

Gaggiest Woo Song
Oh, there are so many songs in this category, where do I begin? Hardly anything can beat "Onward, Christian Soldiers" for militant Christian disgustingness or "Rock of Ages" for that old time self-righteous glow. When it comes to mixing patriotism and woo, it's impossible to top "God Bless America." But my all-time gaggiest Woo Song has to be When You Wish Upon a Star, for its crypto-religious message. In the version linked here, the "crypto" is elevated to "quasi." Or "Quazy," depending on your worldview.

Gaggiest Commercial Jingle
I first heard this tune in the 1950s, but it still goes through my head every time I’m ambivalent in the cereal aisle. So many crunchable treats, so few earworms. By the way, I blame The Betty Crocker Pick-a-Pack Package Song for my lifelong love of lousy alliteration. Bonus: If you listen closely to the commercial, you'll find out which cereal is gay.

Gaggiest Love Song by a Sperm Donor
I'm not convinced that every woman would find it endearing to know that some man interpreted her pregnancy as a sign of love for him. Having My Baby is clearly anti-abortion propaganda, but most people don't know that the voice of the person singing along with Paul Anka is a young Antonin Scalia. If you watch the linked video, you can see the result of a wild night the two guys had after recording the tune.

Gaggiest Hymnlike TV Theme Song
Whenever anybody asks me "Why," I'm always tempted to respond: "Why? Because we like you!" The Mickey Mouse Club Closing Theme is so simple-mindedly contagious that it's been elbowing far more important stuff out of my brain ever since I was a little boy. Why? Because I'm a fucking idiot.

Gaggiest "Everything’ll Be All Right, You’ll See" Song
Every song in this particular category is nauseating, but there's only one with a tune so sappy-catchy that it keeps ringing and ringing and ringing in my ears until I want to move into a cave just so I'll never have to see any sunlight again: Tomorrow.

Gaggiest "Well, That Really Fucked Up My Life" Song
Teenagers and young adults don't seem to melodize about personal tragedies any more the way my generation did. We had quite a few hit tunes about dying young lovers: in a plane crash, a motorcycle wreck, a drowning, and even from leukemia. Where do I begin to tell the story of how sick these ditties make me? But how can you beat a car crash during a stock car race for pathos? If it were up to me, Tell Laura I Love Her would be played before every NASCAR event. The cartoonist who created the linked video must have no soul. Hey, he's just like me!

Gaggiest Song That Mentions Both Kittens and Strudel
I don't know if there are any other songs in this category, but this number is definitely one of the most stomach-turning music-and-lyrics combos ever written. As most of my regular readers know, I don't tend to go gaga over kittens. However, I've never revealed before that crisp apple strudel is also not one of My Favorite Things. As far as I know, the linked version is the only performance featuring a woman who was found guilty of negligent homicide, and not just for killing the song.

Gaggiest Non-Children’s Song in Which a Word Is Spelled Out
I have very little R-E-S-P-E-C-T for any lyricist, even if she's a W-O-M-A-N named G-L-O-R-I-A or L-O-L-A, who thinks it's clever to resort to spelling; it’s really just a cheap trick for creating doggerel. Nine letters (no prizes for identifying them) rhyme with "me," "knee," and "chimpanzee." The worst of these songs, though, is the treacly D-I-V-O-R-C-E, even if it's used — as it is in the linked version — to help people learn English.

Gaggiest Song About Something Appetizing to Eat
You might think that I would love any song about food, perhaps with the exception of The French-Cut Canned Stringbeans Polka. But you may have forgotten this saccharine sweet ditty that my wife and I sing whenever we’re trying to resist dessert (which, to be honest, is rarely to never). This may be the only version of The Candy Man that doesn't put me into insulin shock.

Gaggiest Song Ever
Let's face it. Kumbaya is the sine qua non of gaggiosity. Someone's retching, my Lord.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I Think, Therefore I Am Orange

Twenty Things I Was Thinking About While I Watched the Second Night of the Democratic Convention
  1. I wonder if there are any more Cheetos in this house.

  2. Why don’t Hillary and Bill start a third party?

  3. When is someone gonna talk about torture, and invasions of privacy, and politicizing the justice department, and falsifying scientific data, and lying to Congress, and the government’s failure to help disaster victims, and ...?

  4. Whatever happened to Walter Mondale?

  5. Why should I care if Barack Obama is good at doing laundry and making beds?

  6. Do the speakers get those bathrooms where the toilets flush automatically?

  7. I wonder if Mrs. Ex remembered to buy more beer.

  8. Why does every speech have to end with God bless America?

  9. Did I just see Judy Tenuta in the crowd? Whatever happened to her?

  10. If one more person talks about Kennedy and going to the moon, I’m gonna start singing “That’s Amore.”

  11. When are they going to show the number to call to vote for Obama?

  12. Are all those signs really good for the environment?

  13. Everybody says that Bush was such a disaster for America during the last eight years, so why didn’t any of the speakers call for his impeachment?

  14. Since the convention is held at the Pepsi Center, do people who prefer Coke have to smuggle it in?

  15. Hey, isn’t that delegate a girl I used to date in high school? Whatever happened to her?

  16. What's the point of all that waving?

  17. If Jimmy Carter is at the convention, who’s out building houses for poor people?

  18. Wow, Chelsea looks good!

  19. There’s gotta be Cheetos and beer somewhere in this fucking house.

  20. How come no one mentioned the Constitution?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

An Excerpt from My Narrative

As we all know, nowadays it’s not sufficient for a presidential candidate to stand on the right side of all the issues. He has to have a narrative, a story of a life dedicated, from infancy, to the themes that appear in his present-day speeches. His campaign staff must produce a stirring, motivational documentary, intoned by a rich and resonant voice, showing how the candidate’s childhood helped shape the youngster into the dynamic adult force he is today.

Unfortunately, in my case, I’m afraid that the filmmakers would have to resort to a heavy dose of fabrication. I didn’t have any themes as a kid, except for maybe wangling to get my mother to buy Sugar Pops instead of Shredded Wheat. Still, I know that if The Exterminator/Chaplain ticket is going to be a viable one, the audience at our convention deserves to see an inspirational movie. We’ve already invested in plenty of buttered popcorn, so what the hell, huh?

OK, then. It’s your lucky day, because here’s a short excerpt from The Man From “Bullshit”: A Word We Can Believe In.

Imagine, if you will, a Gregory Peck type reading the following rousing script, as a montage of appropriate Bronx childhood pictures, bathed in a warm and surreal glow, flickers on the screen.

When that young boy's mother, struggling, as all American mothers did, to make sure her children grew up happy and healthy in a world that cared about everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual preference, or sports affiliation ...

... when that mother looked up at her inexpensive clock, the only clock the family could afford, with a second hand that took more than a minute and a half to make its poor but proud circuit ...

... when she looked and saw that it was time for her son to get his much needed, life-enhancing rest in his humble, but red, fireman pajamas ...

... pajamas which were made by American workers toiling in American factories on American soil with American needles and American thread, and paid for with American credit that accumulated American interest ...

... when that young boy’s mother would see him in those pajamas, rather than his street clothes, she’d know in her heart, even then, how well she had impressed upon him the crucial need for change ...

... and when she would summon up the meager energy she had left after a grueling day of working in an office for an uncaring boss who actually made her work in that office, although he never did manage to pronounce her name correctly ...

... when that mother would whisper, "Ex, it's time for you to go to bed" ...

... then ...

... then that young boy, with the spark of greatness already deep in his non-soul, would say, "Ma" ...

... and that word “Ma” would be imbued with the lovely loving love and the hopeful hoping hope that all boys in this beautiful and free land of beauty and freedom feel when they speak their mother’s name ...

... "Ma," he would say, in the same strong and ringing tones, and in the very same straight-talking phrase he might still use today when faced with a similarly difficult problem ...

... “Ma,” he would say. "I'm not convinced."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

You'll See I'm the Guy (with Biden)

[from Fox News:
August 14, 2007 – NASHUA, NEW HAMPSHIRE
White House hopeful Joe Biden said Monday that Democrats lost the last two presidential elections in part because they let themselves be portrayed as anti-God.]

[from a DNC Press Release:
Senator Obama is a committed Christian, and he believes that people of all faiths have an important place in American life,” said Joshua Dubois, Obama For America Director of Religious Affairs. “He's proud to work with the Democratic National Convention Committee on a Convention that fully engages people of faith in dialogue, celebration and prayer. We are honored that so many religious leaders are reaching across partisan and ideological lines in this Convention to address the values that matter to Americans."

“Democrats have been, are and will continue to be people of faith – and this Convention will demonstrate that in an unprecedented way,” said Leah D. Daughtry, CEO of the DNCC. “As Convention CEO and a pastor myself, I am incredibly proud that so many esteemed leaders from the faith community will be with us to celebrate this historic occasion and honor the diverse faith traditions inside the Democratic Party.”

Each night of the Convention, the official program will begin with an invocation and end with a benediction delivered by a national faith leader or an individual who is active in their local faith community. Among the group selected to deliver these opening and closing prayers are a Republican pastor of a leading Evangelical church in central Florida, a major young Evangelical leader, a nun from a diocese in Cleveland and a Methodist couple, both ordained ministers from Arvada, CO.]

You’ll See I’m the Guy (with Biden).
(Sung by Barack Obama to the tune of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds")
Try it as a karaoke!

Picture myself in the polls as a winner,
By pandering, please the Warren-oid guys.
Somebody calls me, I answer quite slowly,
The man with the Delaware ayes.

Sellin’ change hourly, yellin’ my dream.
How come those workers still dread?
Look for the man with the nuns on his side,
And I’ve won!

You’ll See I’m the Guy (with Biden)!
You’ll See I’m the Guy (with Biden)!
You’ll See I’m the Guy (with Biden)!

Follow his frown on our policy foreign.
Democracy needs him – ‘cause God’s in the sky.
Everyone smiles as we Christianize voting
And mention that Jesus says “hi.”

Newspaper columnists beg us for more,
Waiting to see if we’ll pray.
Biden’s in church with his head in the clouds,
And I’ve won!


Picture myself with my faith through the nation
With plasticine horseshit with biblical ties.
Suddenly someone is here with my church style,
The man with the Delaware ayes.


(For getting me pissed off enough to bother writing on the weasel-y Democrats yet again:
H/Ts to KC, vjack, and PZ Myers)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Quazy Quistian Question # 8

Mrs. Ex and I have some friends who love going on cruises. Every year, when these folks plan their vacation, they toss out the same annoying suggestion.

Mrs. Friend: Why don’t you join us this time?

Us: No fucking way.

Mr. Friend: There’s tons of free food. And not a French-cut canned stringbean to be seen.

Us: No fucking way.

Mrs. Friend: Twenty-three different bars. There must be at least one that doesn’t have country music or sports on a giant TV. Last year, I did karaoke!

Us: No fucking way.

Mr. Friend: You won’t believe the shops. The last boat we were on had at least seven different book stores.

Me: Really? Do they sell ...?

Mrs. Ex: No fucking way.

Mrs. Friend: You won’t believe the interesting people you meet!

Us: No fucking way.

Both friends: Are you sure?
I don’t want to accuse my friends of being proselytizers, but they’re more stubborn than Jehovah’s Witlesses. And they’re not just preaching about some fantasy afterlife with 144,000 inhabitants; they’re talking about that many residents on a real-life boat. We’d be surrounded by water, with no way for my wife and me to exchange secret glances, make a big show of looking at our watches, and say, “Oh, shit, look at how late it is. We’ve got a big day tomorrow, so we’d better get home. Too bad, because we were having such a great time.”

What our friends can’t get through their heads is that for both my wife and me, a cruise is the ultimate nightmare scenario. What happens if we’re stuck with a shipload of bores? Or, worse, cheery people? Yikes.

Invariably one of our friends, says “It’s not like it’s forever. It’s only a 10-day cruise.”

Which gets me to wondering: What if it were forever? Even the friendliest, most bubbly idiot knows someone whose company he or she doesn’t enjoy. There’s no one who gets along with everybody. Will Rogers was full of shit: If he “never met a man I didn’t like,” as he claimed, I’m pretty sure he stayed locked in his bathroom most of the time.

Anyway, Mrs. Ex and I are both atheists, so we don’t have to worry about being button-holed over and over again by glad-handers in paradise. Or people who want to show us pictures of their grandkids. But what if we were believers? I’m fairly certain that we wouldn’t be eternally happy unless we had complete veto power over the souls with whom we had to associate. Of course, there are thousands of men and women that we would find fascinating, but, to tell the truth, they’d probably want to steer clear of us. Believe it or not, some people think my wife and I are unsociable.

So what goes on in heaven? Does everybody suddenly become a Friendly Theist? Are you so thrilled to finally be in the presence of your god that you forget how tedious most conversations are? Do you have to spend eternity making stupid chit-chat with dull strangers, or can you join special-interest groups like the ones at Atheist Navel? Do you actually get to choose your neighbors, or are you just dumped into the next available room? What if the couple next-door likes to wake up early in the morning and mow their Edenic lawn while yelling a chipper “hello” to every car that drives by?

We’re talking about a long, long, long time. No fucking way.

Quazy Quistian Question #8
When you die and go to heaven, what happens if your table assignment is with people you find boring? Can you ask god for another seat? Explain your response.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mrs. Numbeh Faw

[Yeah, this is an atheist blog, but sometimes I get so tired of the same old head-banging topics: religion sucks, fundies are stupid, creationism is nonsense, American politicians have sold out to ignorance. Yadda, yadda, yadda, and blah, blah, blah. When I feel that way, I like to clear my brain by publishing a post that’s apropos of absolutely nothing. Now it so happens that, since my wife and I are atheists, we didn’t join the rest of the people in Central Florida today, all of whom are praying that God will prevent Hurricane Fay from blowing their houses away. Instead, we did the most reasonable thing we could think of; we went out for Chinese food. And because going out for Chinese food always reminds me of my grandmother, I thought I’d share the following story.]

All young boys get embarrassed easily by their relatives. For an eight-year-old male, just acknowledging the existence of parents or grandparents is emasculating. But Nanny was a special case. Being with her was like having one of those dreams where you suddenly discover that you've got no clothes on — only I was awake and fully dressed. To me, that was the worst kind of naked.

The most serious humiliations always seemed to occur when we went to Nanny's favorite torture-site, her personal Chinese place. The Canton Dragon was an overcrowded mama-papa joint under the elevated on Jerome Avenue. Sometimes the restaurant would get so busy that a line of people would extend out the door. Waiting families would stand outside and scream conversation at each other as the trains clattered overhead.

But mere human bodies could not deter Nanny. She always managed to shove her way indoors, using me as a battering ram. Every time she'd push into someone, she'd shrug at the person and say, "Sorry. My grandson has no manners when he's hungry."

If a member of the immigrant family who owned and worked in the restaurant wasn't immediately available to seat us, Nanny would take offence. "Boy," she'd say, shaking her head. "This is some way to run a business. Maybe that’s how they do it in China, but in America people’s feet have corns."

Complaining, Nanny would head to the little couch next to the cashier's booth. She'd lower herself with a sigh that could be heard for miles, and explain to everyone within earshot: "My girdle is killing me." The word "girdle" would send me racing over to study the fish tank in the window. There were never any fish in it, but the plastic palm tree reminded me of China. I wished I was there.

All the waiters knew my grandmother. Whoever noticed her first would come and greet her with a slight bow and a joking "Ah, Mrs. Numbeh Faw." They called her Mrs. Numbeh Faw because, after spending an hour grumbling about the small type on the menu, she always wound up ordering the same combination platter.

"Mrs. Numbeh Faw. You eating with nephew again?"

"Don't you remember? I thought you people were so smart. He's my grandson."

"No. You not ode enough to have so big gran son. Mus' be nephew, Mrs. Numbeh Faw. You not ode enough to be bubba."

Before "Bubba" was co-opted by Southern good-ol' boys, it was the Yiddish word for grandmother. To Nanny, it conjured up a picture of a stooped, gray-haired old crone in a babushka, who smelled of chicken fat and could hardly speak English. Dad's mother, when she was alive, had been a bubba. But Nanny felt that this was in stark contrast to herself. Did a bubba put on costume jewelry earrings and a nice hat with a veil every day, and fight for a subway seat on her way to work? Nanny had spent her life climbing uphill, away from her forebears, to achieve the heights from which she felt free to bitch in a restaurant. Unlike a bubba, she was in control.

Still, she couldn't imagine how a Chinese waiter knew anything in Jewish.

"You understand 'bubba'?"

"Oy, Mrs. Numbeh Faw, you tink we have no Juicy people here but you? Come. I put you at best table."

Nanny prided herself on getting personalized service, even though, to me, all the tables looked exactly the same. We'd sit with our six-page menus and scan the choices.

Nanny would make a big deal of moving her menu back and forth in front of her eyes. If she captured an audience, she'd turn the menu upside-down, too. "What do they have, a deal with an optometrist? Can you read these chicken scratches? No wonder they all need glasses."

Eventually, she'd select her combo plate. Everything I wanted would be vetoed.

"You don't like that."

"Yes I do."

"You like moo goo gai pan? Since when?"

"Since always. That's what I want."

"Listen, believe me. You don't like that. Nobody likes it. I'm not gonna waste my money and have you leave over. Get a number four. It's the best thing here. They make it special for me."

For an appetizer, she'd insist that I ask for either the won-ton or egg-drop soup, because it came free with your meal.

"I don't want soup. I don't like soup."

"Of course you like soup. What are you talking nonsense for? Who doesn't like soup? I'm paying for soup, and you're gonna eat it."

She'd lean over to the nearby strangers at their inferior table. "Ever hear of a boy who doesn't like soup? Meet my grandson."

Eventually, the waiter would show up at our table to take our orders. "Let me guess, OK? Two numbeh faw?"

Nanny would light a Winston as we waited. She'd hold it in her mouth long enough to dye the filter bright red with lipstick, all the while puffing hard enough to send smoke signals throughout the Bronx. Then she'd set the cigarette down.

"This is what they call an ashtray?" she'd say, not so much to me as to the walls.

"What's wrong with it?" I'd ask.

"Lookit! This skimpy thing, by you it’s an ashtray? What is there, suddenly a shortage of glass?"

"Your cigarette fits."

"And what if I want another one later? Where am I gonna put it, in my hat?" She'd turn in her seat to address the people at the next table again.

"Excuse me." Then she'd point to me and say to one of our neighbors, "Tell my grandson. Tell him what you think of the ashtray. It's for midgets, right?"

"Well," her confidant would whisper to me, talking to an obvious idiot, "it is a little small."

Nanny would turn back to me in triumph. "Y'see? Y'see? A perfect stranger" -- and here my grandmother would poke her finger toward the person as if she were pointing at an inanimate object -- "agrees with me."

That was about the time our soup would arrive. The waiter would place our bowls in front of us. "Ready faw too code soup now?" I'd immediately try running avoidance plays. "Mmmmmm," I'd say, blowing on the won ton in my spoon to cool it off. "This is good." Nanny would take one taste and signal for the waiter, who, in anticipation, would be lurking nearby.

"What are you talking?" she'd say to me. "It's freezing. Send it back."

"It's hot enough for me. Really."

"Since when are you a snowman? Don't eat that won ton. Send it back."

"I like it this way. Please let me keep it."

"I don't understand kids today with their rock 'n' roll and their cold soup. No wonder they can't keep their shirt tucked into their pants."

Of course the soup would be returned to the fire, along with our tea. If Nanny was really on a roll, she might even complain to the waiter when our shrimps and lobster sauce arrived.

"Where's the shrimps? I see three. They should call this lobster sauce and lobster sauce. And it's cold. What, is the stove is on strike? My grandson is very disappointed."

Eventually our food would return, still steaming enough to form a cloud. The inferior table next to us would be using their napkins as gas masks. But Nanny always dug right in. I'd take one bite and fan my mouth.

"Stop monkeying around. I paid for hot food, not ice cubes. Eat!"

Our neighbors would watch in disbelief. Leaning over to them, Nanny always had to explain. "Did you ever see such faces? He's some comedian, my grandson."

“Nanny, how come there’s no lobster in lobster sauce?”

“What kind of question is that? Is there any mane in chow mein? Or a cow in moo goo gai pan? This is Chinese food. They call it funny things.”

Fifteen excruciating minutes later, we'd weigh the desert options. Nanny loved Jell-O, but the only flavor she would eat was "red." Anything in the berry group was fine; all other flavors, according to her, were "goyish." Orange and lemon were abominations. Lime, in particular, was known as "Ugh, that Hitler kind."

"Why lime?" I'd ask. "How can a flavor be anti-Semitic?"

"Listen, smart guy. If you can't figure it out, don't ask. Believe me, lime is plenty goyish. And on top of that, it's gassy. They should cook it with a Tum mixed in. Don't hock me with lime. I'll stick to red."

After determining that the Jell-O was "not our kind," we'd settle for pineapple and fortune cookies. Nanny would break open her cookie, remove the paper, and hold it as far as her arm would extend. Twisting around in her seat for "better light," she'd intrude into the air space of her new friends next door. She'd squint at the writing for a few seconds and then drop the paper in front of me.

"I guess they're trying to keep my fortune a big secret," she'd say to everyone. Then to me: "Read it. Loud, so we can all hear."

It was invariably something like: "A penny saved is money well spent." Or: "All work and no play makes busy unhappiness."

"That's no fortune. That's a saying. Why don't they just call them 'saying cookies'? Is yours a fortune? Lemme see. Wait. Read it out loud. I forgot that I forgot my glasses."

After having calculated our waiter's tip (10% to the penny, but generously rounded up if it came out to be a fraction), Nanny would excuse herself to go to the bathroom.

"I have to fix my face," she'd say.

"What's broken?" I'd ask.

"Very funny. Remind me to laugh later. Meanwhile, just sit here and behave for a few minutes. Don't embarrass me."

She'd fold her napkin on the table, and rise with a disparaging remark about her girdle. But as she walked toward the restroom, she'd hold her head up proudly, and smile at the patrons that she passed. Another dinner had been conquered. While she was gone, I'd sheepishly sneak a sip of my tea, which — after having had an hour to cool off — would finally be drinkable.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Atheist Nexus Sexus Plexus

Well, I decided to join that bastion of rationality, Atheist Nexus. Maybe because I’m happily married and an old fart to boot, I blithely assumed that AN was going to be a place for a lively exchange of freethinking ideas. Turns out I was wrong. It’s mostly a site for people who want to write comments without bothering to read the previous ones on the same thread. It also gives folks a rare and wonderful opportunity to share their favorite songs, if anyone cares (which they don't). It provides each member with an excellent excuse to pimp his or her blog or podcast, except that hardly anyone clicks on the links because they're all too busy pimping their own blogs or podcasts. In the sidebar, it features informative blurbs, courtesy of Google Ads, about religious Web sites; this doesn’t bother anyone, of course, because we all understand that AN has to make a buck to keep providing us with such a fantastic service.

The bottom line is, though: Atheist Nexus is primarily a fantasy dating site. About half the members are looking to hook up. Perhaps one or two couples actually will.

Anyway, I did an informal poll among the oh-so-rational community at Atheist Nexus to determine what qualities they were looking for in potential skeptical partners. Here’s what I discovered:

Responses by Men/Boys

  • Big boobs
  • Likes loud rock bands that no one has ever heard of
  • Avidly reads sci-fi, but only if it's written by guys
  • Finds geeks attractive
  • Eager to listen to pointless rants
  • Did I mention big boobs?
  • Thinks it’s hilarious to spell “the” as TEH
  • Will sleep with anyone who accepts evolution
  • Ummm... I included big boobs already, right?
  • Not too religious
Responses by Women/Girls
  • Loves kittens
  • Respects woman for there brians
  • Well hung, but not outrageously so
  • Is able to shut up once in a while during quiet walks on the beach
  • Loves children (but not that way)
  • Is willing to watch depressing documentaries and/or chick flicks
  • Well, a little outrageously would be OK
  • Won’t mind that my BBF is a gay male Baptist
  • Enjoys cuddling before and after sex, and sometimes instead of
  • Not too religious
For the record, both my wife and I are not too religious.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thirteen Worst Reasons for Believing in a God

I've heard every one of these arguments, and so have you. I think these versions may be slightly exaggerated. But only slightly.

  1. If there were no god, there would be no bible. And if there were no bible, there would be no god. There’s definitely a bible, because I saw one at WalMart. So there must be a god at WalMart, too.

  2. If I pray hard enough, my French-cut canned stringbeans will turn into Jesus’s body. Then, if I eat them, I’ll go to heaven, as long as I don’t chew.

  3. Somebody must love me, because I feel loved. But everybody who knows me thinks I’m a creep. So there must be a god.

  4. My Islamic terrorist neighbor says I should.

  5. Everybody throughout history believed in a god. Except Hitler. Doesn’t that tell you something?

  6. Since there's no logic unless there's a god, you can't prove to me logically that there's no god. Ergo, there is a god. Q.E.D. & R.O.F.L.M.A.O.

  7. If there’s no god, how do you explain this voice in my head, huh? Did you ever think of that, you wacko atheists?

  8. I can imagine a god. Therefore, he must exist. But I wish he didn’t look exactly like my Uncle Sid.

  9. How else can you explain the fact that there are exactly 60 seconds in a minute, and exactly sixty minutes in an hour, and exactly 6o hours in two and a half days, and exactly 60 days in two months (except for the weird ones like January, February, March, May, July, August, October, and December)? That didn't happen just by accident.

  10. Where would human morals come from if there was no god eager to torture us eternally for not believing in him?

  11. Without a god, what a poor, pathetic, pointless place Sheboygan would be.

  12. According to your stupid theories, I would still be a monkey if there was no god. Obviously, I’m not a monkey. Right? Right?

  13. Since Nature is perfect, it must be god’s creation. I thought of that today while I was fertilizing my begonias and spraying for aphids.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Let's Face It: Yunshui Is a Pain in the Ass

Yunshui created a meme and challenged me to take part. I’m not crazy about memes, but he’s a pal, and I love having the excuse to write about books. Unlike he did, though, I’m not including any links, because I’m not a goddamned bookmobile; you can go look them up for yourselves if you’re curious. I’m also not tagging anyone, because, holy shit, this took me a long time to write.

Basically, Yunshui asked meme-too-ers to write down the book they "most appreciate" in each of the following categories, and to "give a brief reason as to why you do so (and maybe what you think your choice says about you)." Here are my answers, but without any Popular Psychology crap. Sorry, but I don't think of my personal library as a Rorschach test. So, as you read this, please don't get any blots on the books.

The Classic — The Complete Works of Shakespeare by ???

OK, that’s a little bit of a cheat, since it’s really a collection, not a single work. Also, it’s not a Classic in the Greco-Roman sense. However, where would English be today without those plays and poems? Whether they were, in fact, written by someone actually named Shakespeare or not, the author expanded and enlivened the language as no one else has ever done. In addition, Shakespeare (or whoever) was the first English writer to delve into character in a way that made his creations transcend the page (and/or stage) and take on lives of their own. And, wow. Just think of the great quotes — far better and richer than anything in the silly bible — filled with wit and wisdom and the deliciousness of speech.

The Biography — Tie: Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King and A Walker in the City by Alfred Kazin

I hate biographies, and rarely read them. However, Florence King’s is hilarious and nasty, so how could I resist? Kazin’s short book is more of a memoir than a biography, but it’s so vivid in its sensory details that it deserves mention.

The Science BookThe Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner

I’ve never read a better introduction to evolutionary biology than this. And the information is all wrapped up in the fascinating story of a married couple of Princeton University scientists who spent years on the island of Daphne Major (one of the Gal├ípagos) studying real-time evolutionary changes in finches.

The Short Story CollectionCosmicomics by Italo Calvino

Ooooh, brilliant. You can read more about it here.

The Foreign Novel — Tie: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

I assume that Yunshui means by “foreign” anything not originally written in English. As far as the Calvino goes: Ooooh, brilliant. Again. You, the reader, are the main character in this novel, which is written, largely, in the second person. In the course of this witty metaphysical tale, which is really a long philosophical ramble on the act of reading itself, you somehow manage to begin ten other works, each of which is interrupted, for one reason or another, after the last page of the first chapter. I don’t remember much about The Karamazov Boys, since my Dostoyevsky period was way before most of my readers were born. Basically, I threw this one in for snob appeal. But I do recall drinking a lot of vodka while reading his novels, and dining at least three or four times at the Russian Tea Room. So I think of those books as quite tasty.

The Play — Tie: Harvey by Mary Chase and The Norman Conquests by Alan Ayckborn

I didn’t think it was fair to single out Hamlet or Macbeth or As You Like It or Much Ado About Nothing or ... any other Shakespeare play. I enjoy reading Shaw, but I think his works are enormously dull in the theater. It took the songs of Lerner and Loewe to make Pygmalion entertaining. Harvey on the other hand, features a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit. How can you beat that? The Norman Conquests is actually a trilogy of full-length plays: Table Manners, Living Together, and Round and Round the Garden. All three plays are set in a different area of the very same house at the very same times. Characters enter and exit from the kitchen, living-room, and garden, only to appear in a different play — which you’ve either seen earlier or will see later. In the theater, it’s best to attend these on three consecutive nights. Although each work stands perfectly well on its own, the humorous effect is cumulative. Reading the trilogy in your armchair, you can flip back and forth to be astounded by the playwright’s cleverness.

The Children’s BookAlice in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

I was tempted to write “The Bible by God,” but that would have just been a cheap joke. I don’t think the desert anthology is written up to the standards of a bright child. Aside from the bible, though, the Lewis Carroll books are probably the best examples of logic in the service of nonsense that we have. They’re charming and extremely funny, and contain some of the greatest wordplay in literature. If you really want a treat, pick up “The Definitive Version” of Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice.

The Philosophy BookThe Federalist Papers by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay

I think philosophy is mostly a waste of time, as anyone who visits this blog regularly knows. Plato’s works are great fun to read; Hume’s skepticism is immensely appealing; and Descartes’ Meditations are noteworthy for pointing out that if you’re thinking, you’re alive. But so what? Political philosophy, on the other hand, fascinates me, and can actually have practical consequences. I always get choked up when I turn to The Federalist. It demonstrates clearly how the Founding Fathers (not just the three writers) thought long and hard about what it means to be free, and how to create a government to best embody liberty. The Anti-Federalist Papers, by a variety of authors, are also required reading. Although they don’t agree with the solution, those writers had similar ideals. How fortunate for us in America that such an admirable group of guys battled it out intellectually just when the country was being born.

The Poem — The Complete Poems of e e cummings

I cheated again. Tough shit. You try to single out any one of these little jewels as being better than the others. If I had to pick a single favorite poem, it would probably be either “Ozymandias” by Shelley, “The Second Coming” by Yeats, or “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. As a side note, apropos of nothing: I love Ogden Nash but hate Emily Dickinson.

The Travelogue — Tie: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Yeah, they’re fiction. So what? Find me better travel writing.

The Sci-Fi/Fantasy NovelThe Once and Future King by T.H. White

I hate these categories of books and never read them. When I was a child, I devoured Isaac Asimov’s works, but they suck as literature. In general, sci-fi is far too impressed with itself and the writing is overblown. Fantasy as a genre is, for the most part, stupid. On the other hand, I love the legends of King Arthur, and White’s retelling is the best in modern English.

Mystery Novel — Tie: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett and The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

Even though Yunshui included the ridiculous genres of sci-fi and fantasy, he omitted this important one. Hammett wrote as if he were a great journalist with a limited number of column inches. True to his real-life Pinkerton background, he saw and heard everything around him. But his “reports” had to be concise and to the point. I far prefer him to Hemingway, who did the same thing, but not as well. Chandler was a poet working through the medium of hard-boiled detective fiction. He invented a style that has been imitated and parodied ever since, but no one can work it anywhere near as well as he did. The Long Goodbye is his longest and, arguably, most cynical work, filled with social commentary. By the way, for you cheaters: The movie version, although interesting in its way, is not really a faithful adaptation of Chandler’s plot or his worldview.

The All-Time FavoriteBleak House by Charles Dickens

What can I say? For me, Dickens is the greatest writer of all time, and this is his greatest book. Although David Copperfield and Great Expectations are close. But you’ve got to be willing to read these works as if you're living in the 19th century. Go slowly. Savor the words; maybe even read aloud. See the scenes Dickens paints so lovingly, and hear his characters speak. Smell, touch, feel. If you’re interested only in finding out what happens, you’ll miss most of what makes his novels great. My recommendation to those whose idea of fiction is a good clippety-clip plot: Perhaps you should limit yourselves to watching Law and Order.

So that’s it. I didn’t even get to include Mark Twain or Jane Austen or Philip Roth or Dorothy Parker or Gore Vidal or Tom Wolfe or Richard Dawkins or ... dozens of other writers with whom I’ve spent many pleasurable hours.

I guess Yunshui’s point — and mine — is: Pick up a fucking book once in a while.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I Am Sooooo Sorry

Yesterday, I made a serious error in judgment and conducted myself in a way that was disloyal to my family and to my core disbeliefs. I recognized my mistake and I told my wife that I had eaten the last of her fat-free ersatz peanut butter and chocolate-flavored goo ice cream, and I asked for her forgiveness. Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did not tell the public. When a supermarket tabloid told a version of the story, I used the fact that the story contained many falsities to deny it. (For example, I did not bury my face in the carton and lick it out; I merely used my fingers and elbows.) But being 99% fat-free and honest is no longer enough.

I was and am ashamed of my conduct and choices, and I had hoped that it would never become public. With my family, I took responsibility for my actions yesterday, and today I take full responsibility publicly. But that misconduct took place for a short period last night, probably no more than two or three minutes of frenzied gorging. It ended then. I am and have been willing to take any test necessary to establish the fact that I did not actually bite into the carton itself, and I am truly hopeful that a test will be done so this fact can be definitively established. I only know that the apparent culprit, who has meowed publicly that he batted the carton around the living-room when I neglected to throw it in the garbage, is the one who, in fact, left toothmarks on it. I also have not been engaged in any activity of any description that requested, agreed to or supported payments of any kind to my local sanitation workers or to that cat.

It is inadequate to say to the people who believed in me that I am sorry, as it is inadequate to say to the people who love me that I am sorry. In the course of hundreds of blog posts, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric, narcissistic, and hungry. If you want to beat me up – feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself. I have a self-inflicted bloody nose and several small cuts on my left knee. I have been stripped bare and, believe me, it was not a pretty sight, particularly since I had chocolate droppings still remaining in my navel. But I will now work with everything I have to help my family and other ice cream lovers who need my help.

I have given a complete interview to my vet on this matter and having done so, will have nothing more to say.

Addendum: Well, I do have something more to say, after all. Not that this justifies my actions in any way, but my wife was temporarily off her diet when I stole her ice cream.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Christian Misadventures

I live in Florida, where 99% of the people are old farts waiting to die, and the other 1% of the people are members of some old fart’s family, also waiting for him or her to die. So it’s no surprise that at least once a week I get a solicitation phone call from one of the area funeral homes.

Last night at around 8:30, my phone rang and the Caller ID flashed the information: “Christian Adventures.” Naturally, I took the call. The woman on the other end was pukily perky in that TV weathergirl kind of way.

TV Weathergirl: Hello. Is this [the formal version of my name, a version I haven’t used since I was in the 5th grade, and which appears on no official records except my Federal Income Tax returns and my driver’s license, and which, for purposes of this dialogue, will henceforth be written as “Eximundo”]?

Me: Who’s calling?

TV Weathergirl: Is this Eximundo?

Me: Who’s calling?

TV Weathergirl: Eximundo?

Me: I’ve asked you twice to identify yourself.

TV Weathergirl: This is [I forget, but let’s call her Mindy, because she sounded exactly like a Mindy].

Me: What do you want, Mindy?

Mindy: I’m calling on behalf of Death-Wish Funeral Homes.

Me: Oh, my god! Who died?

Mindy: Well, nobody died, Eximundo.

Me: Things must be slow over there.

Mindy: Well, of course people died. But not anybody you know.

Me: Do you have a list of everyone I know? How’d you get that?

Mindy: I’m not calling you about anyone who died.

Me: So, what are you doing? Trying to drum up some business? Why are you calling me? I don’t know anybody who died recently.

Mindy: No, I was calling about you. You are Eximundo, right?

Me: I didn’t die.

Mindy: Well, sometimes the unexpected ...

Me: It says on my Caller ID that your name is Christian Adventures. But you told me Mindy. Is Christian Adventures your last name?

Mindy: No, that’s just my business.

Me: I thought you said you were working for Death-Wish Funeral Homes.

Mindy: Yes, uh-huh, Eximundo, I am. But this is my home phone.

Me: So somebody in your home is named Christian Adventures?

Mindy: No, that’s my business.

Me: Let me get this straight, Mindy, because I’m a little confused. You’re calling for one business, using a phone belonging to another business, but you’re really home?

Mindy: Yes.

Me: Well, I’m not interested in getting calls advertising Christianity.

Mindy: Oh, I’m not advertising ...

Me: See, here’s the thing, Mindy. When I notice “Christian Adventures” on my Caller ID, I get the feeling – don’t ask me why – that either your name is Christian Adventures or you work for some group called Christian Adventures. Isn’t that a reasonable assumption on my part?

Mindy: No, I’m just ...

Me: But that’s your home phone, right?

Mindy: Yes. I’m not calling for ...

Me: Well, here’s my problem. Whether it’s your home phone or your business phone or somebody else’s business phone or maybe even Jesus’s iPhone, I see “Christian Adventures” and right away I think you’re shilling for god.

Mindy: No, that’s not what I’m doing. I’m just ...

Me: So could you please tell Death-Wish Funeral Homes that I’m not interested in getting any more calls from them if they’re a front for a Christian organization?

Mindy: No, they’re not a front ...

Me: Because they must be, since my caller ID says it in plain English. “Christian Adventures.” That’s not a Muslim group, is it?

Mindy: No, you don’t understand. You’re just seeing my ...

Me: Shall I spell “Christian Adventures” for you, Mindy? Maybe I’m reading it wrong.

Mindy: Wait. You don’t understand.

Me: Yeah, I think I do. Goodbye, Mindy.

Today, I called my local branch of Death-Wish Funeral Homes. I began, without saying who I was, by blurting out a question: “Do you folks cater specifically to Christians? I mean, would you call yourselves a Christian funeral home?”

The woman who answered the phone sounded horrified – even though she didn’t know whether I was an overzealous fundy, a Jew, or a heathen. She probably knew I wasn’t a Muslim, because if I were, why would I call a business that I didn’t want to threaten?

Anyway, she immediately volunteered the information that DWFH was non-denominational. She said it twice. I found that oddly endearing, because there was no way she could know whether she was gaining a sale or losing one.

So I identified myself, although not as Eximundo, and told her about the gaggingly cheerful evangelist who was calling on DWFH’s behalf. The woman at the funeral home, sounding sincerely concerned, apologized profusely, and said that they’d track down the caller and take immediate action. Because of her tone of voice, I believed her.

So perhaps Mindy will actually have a Christian Adventure, herself.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Who Cares If the Parallel Bars Are Uneven?

The Olympics haven’t even started yet, but I’m already tired of them.

I’m tired of being told that wrestlers, weight-lifters, and synchronized swimmers are among our nation’s best and brightest and I’m tired of hearing how proud we should be of our young athletes. Why should we be proud of them? What does their skill prove? What about the rare young person who can actually read a book with comprehension and insight, or write an email that successfully communicates an original idea, or speak articulately about science or literature or history? That’s who I’m proud of.

I’m tired of cute news segments about what a wonderful accomplishment it was for a repressive country like China to build a world-class sporting venue. And I’m tired of watching poor, deluded Chinese citizens airing their justifiable grievances to American news media under the impression that our inept and indifferent reporters will make the world take notice. That won’t happen unless the entire populace of an oppressed province fucks Paris Hilton and it’s captured on video.

I’m tired of mawkish “background” stories about young people with a “dream.” I don’t see why anyone should be celebrated for spending his or her youth working toward being the world’s best at putting the shot or running hurdles or going back and forth in a pool.

I’m tired of the assumption that I give a shit if an American kid can spike a volleyball better than a Brazilian kid can.

I’m tired of George W. Bush’s preparations to go to China, and I’m tired of seeing old footage promo-ing how he waves goodbye as he boards a plane, and I’m really tired of him spending my hard-earned money on a grand-scale photo op.

I’m tired of jokes about eating dog meat. Just once I’d like to hear a joke about eating some good old-fashioned American fare like squirrel or possum or, in a pinch, other humans.

I’m tired of schedules being rammed down my throat by the media so I won’t miss any of the action. I’ve got a newsflash for a really enterprising reporter: I’ll probably miss all of the action. Voluntarily. I can’t think of anything duller than watching people row or ride a bicycle or jump for distance and/or height. Oh, wait a minute. I’m wrong. There is something duller: watching the president wave.

I’m tired of seeing interviews with former Olympic athletes. Unless they’ve recently opened a restaurant within driving distance from my house.

I’m tired of hearing “spokespersons” complain about sports that are recognized by the International Olympics Committee but not part of the competition schedule. There’s no fucking way that bridge and chess are sports, OK? And, really: Underwater orienteering? Roller-skating? Dance sport? I think that running with an egg balanced on a spoon in the athlete’s mouth might be fun to watch, and I’d probably tune in for boxing with kangaroos. But, frankly, as far as I’m concerned, TV already has far too many sports and far too little Jeopardy.

I’m tired of speculation about which competitors are cheating. Nobody says or does anything about the lying, thieving, murdering governments that the athletes represent, so why should anyone be bothered when the zeitgeist manifests itself in a musclebound teenager who merely uses steroids?

And, lastly, I’m already tired of complaining about how tired I am of the Olympics. I guess I’ll just go back to being tired of the endless presidential election.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Quazy Quistian Puzzle

I spend a lot of hours in the Atheosphere, and I visit a lot of blogs. Almost every day, I find writing here that makes me laugh, or spurs my anger, or gets me seeing something in a new way.

But like many atheists, I have a touch of ADD. So I must admit that – although the posts themselves are often unique – I’m getting tired of the same old titles, over and over again. On the other hand, the name of each blog I read is a clue to the personality of its author and the kind of content on which he or she focuses. Hmmm, what to do?

Because I’m such a super-creative, but nice, guy, I’ve come up with alternate names for some of my favorite blogs. You can solve these as if they were items in a puzzle, if you care to. But I’m not giving any points to my co-nonreligionists because I have to save up those precious commodities to award to Christians who beat me in debates. (If you’re keeping score, so far the tally is: Exterminator — an infinite number of points; Religionists — zero.)

Hey, that gives me an idea. If a god-deluded commenter can identify the original name of any blog below, as well as the name of its writer(s), he or she will receive a point to log into god’s record book. I'm talking about one whole point for each correctly identified blog and blogger. Wow! That’ll sock it to us, atheists, huh? However, once a blog and its writer are officially recognized, no one else will be awarded points for it. Please include only one answer per comment, to show courtesy to other Christians who are trying to score big with Jesus. You may, of course, comment as often as you wish.

  1. A Renouncer’s Shul
  2. Torquemada, the Elitist Cross-Examiner
  3. It’s Me Writing About You ... or Maybe It’s You Writing About Me ... or Maybe It’s Both of Us Writing About Each Other ... or Maybe I’m on a Break
  4. Tentacles, Not Biscuits
  5. Some Fucking Asshat Fundy Fucking Forced Me to Fucking Write This
  6. Sun-spots from an Average Woman
  7. Godless Grinner
  8. Notes from an Ex-Mormon Chick Living in ... Look, Just Read My Novel, OK?
  9. Cranky Ol’ Sabertooth
  10. Profundities about Pedophiliac Pastors
  11. Stop Stinging Me, You Assholes, and Answer the Fucken Question!
  12. The Verdant Waistband
  13. Doctor Doggie’s Droppings
  14. It Means “Bullshit,” OK?
  15. Southern Skeptic’s Rebel Yell
  16. Left (Behind?) to Ponder
  17. (((((I Hate Woo ((((and So Does ((My Wife (((and My Kids))))))))))))))
  18. The Shoeless Smartass
  19. Is That a Pencil in My Pocket or Just My Badly Tailored Trousers?
  20. Extreme Economy of Expression ... AND I Love Boys!
  21. Why Don’t You Get a Life?
  22. Sorry, but the Argument Was Unavoidable
  23. Unmelodious Missing Link
  24. A Trollop In the Photo Gallery of Rationality
  25. No, That Doesn’t Stand for “Blow Job”
Atheists, don't ruin the fun for the prayerful, but feel free to make wisecracks. And, of course, spread the good news.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Unending "Ooooh"

Is it possible to write a series of stories without any characters, even a main character —yet with characters, even a main character? Can a subatomic particle be a character? Can a nascent planet, or an evolutionary “moment” stuck in time forever be a character? How about an early shell-less mollusk, or an equation curving through space? A creature in the process of evolving from a fish to a land animal, or an indefinable something looking up at galaxies a hundred million light years away?

In Italo Calvino’s hilarious and poetic Cosmicomics, the main character, Qfwfq, is all of those things, yet none of them. He’s the very idea of cosmological and evolutionary “developments,” strung out over hundreds of millions of years. In each of the twelve stories that make up this book, Qfwfq lives essentially unchanged through processes that have been occurring since the beginning of time.

These are “folktales” for people who believe in science rather than gods. No supernatural beings cause things to happen; they just do. Qfwfq watches and comments and gets caught up, sometimes gleefully, more often against his will. He’s a different scientific “concept” in every story, yet somehow always the same Qfwfq, living through infinite developments that he can’t control.

Each episode, rooted however loosely in science, is actually about loneliness and longing, about the enormity of the universe and how small we all are in it. Qfwfq, whatever he is, is stymied time after time. He has attacks of jealousy, bouts of paranoia, moments (eons?) of spitefulness and mean-spiritedness. And the ever-present, unconquerable yearning. He’s the eternal — literally — loser in everyman. In only a few of the tales does he accept his “fate” with an insightful and peaceful resignation.

Calvino is one of my favorite authors, and Cosmicomics is one of my favorites of his books. Yet, there's something about his writing that awes me nearly into speechlessness; I can't really put into words how I feel about it, beyond saying "Ooooh, brilliant." For all I know, Qfwfq is that “Ooooh,” a sentiment as old as life itself, which emerges suddenly and fully formed from the meeting of my fingers and a keyboard, travels from computer screen to computer screen at the whim of those who choose to read this post, and then bounces around forever and forever and forever, essentially unchanged, and trapped in the ether.

[Note to Nonbelieving Literati: Our next book, selected by C.L. Hanson, is The Flight of Peter Fromm by Martin Gardner. (Yes, that Martin Gardner.) The target date is September 15.]