Friday, May 18, 2007

Deep Thoughts: While Reading the News Today

People seem to keep calling other people "Hitler". Seems counterproductive. Don't they see that we're playing right into the Hitlers' hands? If this keeps up, pretty soon we'll be outnumbered. Or worse. We'll be Hitlers.

What's the most commonly practiced form of masturbation: Physical, Mental, or Mineral?

Man, part of me hopes that Al Gore will just decide to run for president. Then maybe we can stop talking about him.
Why won't Christopher Hitchens and God just realize that they're in love with each other? I mean, everyone around them knows it. Jesus, it's so awkward to watch them. They're just beating around the burning bush.

I'm sad to find out that Anna Nicole Smith wrote in her journals more often than I do!!! :(

(scribbled in the margin of the newspaper)
I write a Haiku.
But will anyone notice
When I have finished?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Some Disturbing Data and a Short Exhortation

In my last post I cited recent polling results concerning Americans and our faith. As I have lived in a few other countries in recents years, it constantly amazes/irks/bewilders/embarasses me that religion has so thoroughly infiltrated our political discourse. In no other Western nations can I quickly find anything comparable, and everywhere I go, one of the first comments I get from foreigners is how religious my country is. I almost don't believe them, but if you look at some more recent polls (and you can always take polls with a grain of salt and a communion wafer) it is difficult to dismiss the sometimes insidious affect that religion plays in our culture.

Newsweek Poll (April, 2007):
- "91 percent of American adults say they believe in God"
- "nearly half rejects the scientific theory of evolution."
- 26 percent said it was not possible to be both moral and an atheist
- "66 percent of American have no doubts God exists"

International Polling Firm LPSOS (Dec., 2006):
- 11 percent of those surveyed said it is "very likely" that Jesus will return to Earth this year
- 14 percent said it was "somewhat likely."

(personal note: I know things aren't great, but I don't think JC's gotta come down and wreck house just yet.)

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (Oct., 2006):
- 61% said that religious groups should express views on social and political questions
- 35% believe that scriptures are actual word of God to be taken literally (my italics and bold)

Barna Research Poll (1995): Study sampled both born-again Christians and non-Christians concerning their prejudice towards other religions. Breaks down like this:

% of non-Christians who view the impact as negative
Islam - 24%
Buddhism - 22%
Scientology - 30%
Atheism - 50%

...Now notice how drastically the percentages increase with the born-again Christians

% of born-again Christians who view the impact as negative
Islam - 71%
Buddhism - 76%
Scientology - 81%
Atheism - 92%

...And Now a Short Exhortation:

Why is it that we Americans exploit those qualities which divide us rather than embrace those which unite?

As was pointed out, with aestetically pleasing graphics, by BostonD a few weeks back, we are not acutally such a divided nation. Obama was correct in '04 when he said, "There are no red states; there are no blue states. There is only the United States of America." My faith resides in our populous's capacity to be, well, populist. I believe that we have many more things in common than the pundits would have us believe, yet we Americans do like our dichotomies -- Hamilton or Burr, Union or Confederacy, Celtics or Lakers; Tastes great! or Less Filling!, Jolie or Aniston, Alien or Predator, Freddy or Jason, O'Reilly or any guest he has on. Only in America can two beers of the same brand find a forum to compete, and for some reason I find myself always rooting for Bud Dry -- cause I'm an American and I like the underdog. After World War II we embraced Western Europe as allies, enacted the Marshall Plan, and provided for our burgeoning Middle Class -- the dichotomies seemed to be held at bay. Yet, soon came McCarthyism, the civil unrest of the 1960's, and 40 years of the Cold War. Due to the latter (and this is just a inchoate theory of mine) we formed ourselves not from the inside out, but in opposition to the ideology of Communism. Any form of it was and has since been met with knee-jerk disdain and dismissal. Today, while Western Europe enjoys many programs built upon socialist principals and ideas, our national identity has been so warped and manipulated that the French -- our allies for over 200 years, who indelibly influenced our founding documents -- are now our straw men.

According to Mark Buchannan in his NYTimes blog, this may just be a natural part of the human psyche:
"People experience real psychological discomfort – psychologists call it 'cognitive dissonance' – when confronted with views that contradict their own. They can avoid the discomfort by ignoring contradictory views, and this alone brings like-minded bloggers together."

...But I digress and this "short" section of the post is now overwrought with rambling ideas...

What happened to "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's"? What happened to the distinct realms of Church and State? As I've said before, faith by it's very nature is personal, not communal. As exemplified in The Book of Job (as far as William Blake and Harold Bloom read it), Job's faith in the beginning of his book is one of easy piety and therefore incomplete in the eyes of God. Only after his "test" does he attain the more transcendent fulfillment of faith. For belief in the divine is, in itself, a hardship or (if you'll forgive me) a cross to bear. Faith can be both a crutch during times of emotional pain and the catalyst for similar internal conflict. In that leap of faith you're asking a lot of your god and even more of yourself. What you don't get to ask a lot of, however, is everyone else, especially those that do not take the same leap along side you.

Just to bring this all back to our present political climate, I find the case of President Bush and his often mentioned religous devotion (relies on it for strength, reads a little of the Bible each day). His supporters (now dwindling down to 28%) are largely made up of conservative Christians. I have always been shocked by how he can rally this demographic as many of his policies appear a smack in the face of what I always believed to be Christian ideals. (I don't think I need to go through the litany of these policies: war, pooping on the poor, craven missue of power, abuses (both physical and of civil liberties).) I had initially planned for this post to be simply a list of the Beatitudes and then examples of how the Bush Administration has gone the other way, but then I read Nicholas Kristof's Op-Ed this morning, in which he points out some of Bush's oft overlooked accomplishments. Kristof (who is no Bush supporter) reveals the vast humanitarian legacy of this administration, one that actually exemplifies Christian values, thus begging the question: Why doesn't either Bush or his Christian followers talk these facts up more? Why does it take a notoriously liberal columnist to shed light on Bush's more laudable successes?

It would seem to me that we can all agree on and be proud of Bush's commitment to AIDS and Malaria in Africa, but we choose otherwise. It's easy to blame the media for our polarized society; it's even easier to blame Bush himself ("you're either with us or you're for the terrorists"), but ultimately we still have a choice in how we think. In summation to whatever this post has become, as we approach a seminal election and debate the timeline in Iraq, let's try to set aside the all-too-easy partisan rhetoric and accept our pluralism. One of the pillars of America's greatness is our diversity, and we must remain mindful to embrace these differences, for, in a great paradox of this great experiment, we are more united by our shared differences than divided by them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My prayers are with you?

I’ve gotta be honest…I’m a little torn. I live about an hour from both Liberty University, and Liberty Christian Academy. You may have heard of LU, but chances are that you haven’t heard of LCA. It’s a high school that has provided “serious” Christians the opportunity to be schooled from the age of 14 to 25 in Lynchburg, Virginia. All of these lessons have been taught by Jerry Falwell. The idea of someone being 25 years old without being exposed to ideas that fly in the face of that sect makes me more than a little nauseous. I believe the best way to determine your own beliefs is to test them in the face of others. Falwell, apparently, disagrees.

My initial reaction to his death was one of amazement. I really kind of thought that guy was never going to die. The fact that he lived to the age of 73 is, to me, anyway, some sort of terrifying support to the idea that there is a God, and that He (or She, you liberal bastards) agrees with this crazy son of a bitch. My next thought was a recollection of the VISAA volleyball tournament last year in which Mr. Falwell packed the gym of the high school that I work with his students. Buses were chartered and the entire student population came to root on the…well…whateverthefucktheyare. We lost, and I felt like I was on the other end of a crusade.

What shocks me, though, are the hit pieces put out, in the hours that the man’s body is still warm, by Salon and Slate.

Was he a hatemonger? Absolutely. Are those who advocate hate for him any better? I don’t think so. What’s always bothered me as a liberal is those liberals who will support those who want to have sex with animals (as long as it’s consensual, whateverthefuckthatmeans) but will openly criticize and, or, attack those who believe that premarital sex is a sin. If you are open to all opinions, be open to those that are closed to others. Don’t claim to be open, and then be closed to others. At least Falwell was straight up about it. He hated homosexuals. If you claim to hate him, simply because he hated homosexuals, I’m not sure where that self righteousness comes from.

I don’t know if the world is a better place without him. I personally think abortion and gay rights are good things, so, personally, there’s one fewer person alive that agrees with me. But in my barest opinion, whether or not the guy’s a real bastard, I’m not going to rejoice in his death. I really do think that death as a whole is a negative thing.

P.S. Go ahead…throw Hitler at me.

Why I Don't Underline

In one of actor Ed Norton's finest roles, a duplicitous Aaron Stempler betrays the devil beneath his orchestrated angelic facade when it outs in open court that a string of numbers carved in the chest of a murdered priest corresponds to a passage in the priest's private copy of The Scarlet Letter; something about wearing two faces that apparently reveals the killer's motive. It was proven that Stempler had underlined the passage, thus demonstrating his connection to the murder.

It is not precisely for this reason, though maybe baring some relation, that I do not underline books. From time to time the impulse to mar a perfectly nice copy of Mailer, or EB White, or Hemingway gestates in my ribaldrous heart, but even on the worst of days, I triumph over this murderous impulse and that is how I sleep at night. It is not that I regard the practice of underlining passages as categorically monstrous (no more so than, say, branding cattle, or small children). Rather, I know myself when it comes to historical consciousness, especially personal historical consciousness, and I fear what implacable self-sleuth might uncover such chicken-scratchings and testify upon my character.

I wish it weren't true. I wish I could say I don't underline books because of my deep respect for the aesthetic experience of reading; but truth be told, I am perfectly liable to break mid-sentence to regard a passing cloud, or thought, or political era, and never you mind what fragile beauty my victimized author had been fighting to achieve. It's not that I don't appreciate continuity in aesthetic experience (I really don't like to take pictures but in the absolutely most covert manner), but I've never had a problem treating literature as platform for thought, and so never mind leaving off the one for the other. So that's not it.

No, the problem is two-fold. First, I know that however important the word or phrase seems at the time, no amount of retrospective projection will elevate the underlined passage to the heroic stature that it occupies at the moment of anointment. This is not because the passage is not objectively great, you understand. Nor even that I fear in subsequent reading that the passage will necessarily shy from the task of rising to its title, wilt under my accusatory eye. I know in the end the word is going to be fine. I just don't want to heap any extra burden on something that already assumes so much responsibility in this world. I know it looks like an accolade, and it is, but we needn't press every pretty leaf we see. Sometimes it's much better to just be happy that it exists and move on.

And the second reason I do not underline books is that any phrase so good to merit immortality shall have it naturally. That is, I believe that if you really like something, you'll remember it anyway; so there's no need to mark-up a bunch of phrases that seem neat at the time but which you'll never remember where they were, or what they were about, or why you liked them.

But that said, I've really no interest in dissuading you from any of your reading habits. Slash Beowulf with an inked scimitar, if it please you. Perhaps you'd infuse it with new life. Me, I like to pass all sorts of things right by.

Monday, May 14, 2007

An Anatomy Of New York City Housing

In January I sublet an apartment in Greenpoint from a girl named Michiko who, having accepted a marriage proposal from a firefighter/documentarist named Bradach, was moving into a newly renovated condo with him in Bushwick. The apartment, owned by a Polish father/daughter combo named Mitch and Monika, was a find because it meant I could move my belongings out of the basement of a house in Greenpoint owned by my friends Chris and Jonah, who come from Maine and are brothers. The bed I purchased from Michiko was a little short, so I traded it to my friend Mikey for a futon that I sold to him six months earlier when he moved into a new apartment in Washington Heights with his brother Brian. Brian, like Bradach, does film editing for documentaries. Brian went to Fordham, which is where Chris went before he got a Masters degree in Theology, but Chris never met Brian and does not believe he exists. Brian's brother, Mikey, dates a girl named Sarah that rents an apartment in Massachusetts from one of Brian's friends from High School and lives in the same town as one of my friends, Andy, that used to rent an apartment in Williamsburg with an NYU Philosopher that knew a guy I went to school with named Sebastian. Now, Jonah also dates a girl named Sara who lives with Kori, the girl I date, who also works in media, but has never done a documentary, but has made one mockumentary. Sara and Kori rent an apartment in Williamsburg with another girl named Kelly from a Hasidic Jew named Abe who collects rent in person and doesn't mind that Sara keeps a Siamese cat named Abbey, which is also the name of a girl Chris knows from Maine who married my cousin Barry from St. Paul. Chris dates a girl named Mary that's friends with Sara and rents an apartment in East Williamsburg with Tabor and Ann Eyvette, who both acted in Kori's mockumentary along with Sara's boyfriend before Jonah, Dillon. When I went to Italy with Kori in April I sublet my apartment in Greenpoint to a couple named Tim and Liz who had a friend that lives down the street named Peter, which is what Kori calls my friend Andy's younger brother Travis. Peter met me on the corner of Calyer and Lorimer to pickup the copy of the key I had made for Tim and Liz, who play in a rock band together called the Mendoza line, which Bradach may have once seen in Milwaukee. Peter (Travis) also plays music and once sublet an apartment in Greenpoint, around the corner from Chris and Jonah, with his girlfriend Heidi, but now lives in Paris with Heidi's older brother Lev who knows Mikey from High School and studies Philosophy at the school where Sebastian studied before he came to New York. Sara, Mary, and Tabor went to school in New Orleans, which is where Mikey went to School and rented a house with a guy named Jim that Jonah and Chris ran into last year at Mardi Gras. Jonah, Travis, Lev, and I went to school together with a guy named Mischa that now lives in New Orleans in a tent not far from where Jim and Mikey once had a house.

Of everyone in this story, Mischa is the only one who does not own or rent.