01 December 2012

The week’s multimedia, #2.

Been a while since I last wrote about the multimedia I’ve been consuming. So here goes nothing.

Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. A basic rehash of the whole sad story of the Lincoln assassination, in great detail. If you don’t know these details, it’ll be new to you, but I’ve already read quite a lot on Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Civil War, so this book has told me absolutely nothing I didn’t know already. I gotta give credit to O’Reilly and Dugard for keeping the facts straight—more or less. Still, they can’t help but editorialize about how evil and cowardly John Wilkes Booth was, as were his co-conspirators. They also make Booth’s doctor sound like a fellow conspirator, which he wasn’t; he was unfairly imprisoned for years as a result of setting Booth’s leg while Booth was on the run. But, like the vengeful federal government at the time, the authors were more interested in prosecution than justice. I also found it a bit off-putting to tell the entire story in the present tense, as if it’s all happening now; it’s a gimmick which makes the book feel less like history and more like news—but as a result it feels less like history. Well, at least there are no vampires.

Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer, by William Knoedelseder. I’d always been curious—but never actually knew—what all the great 100-year-old breweries did to stay afloat during the 13 years of Prohibition, when it was illegal to sell beer. Seems Anheuser-Busch sold brewer’s yeast; if they couldn’t be a brewery, they could at least equip every homebrewer in the nation. So I picked up the book partly to learn that, and partly ’cause I was curious about the company. (There’s a Budweiser plant in Fairfield, so to people in my town it’s a local business.) Knoedelseder goes over the members of the Busch family who ran the brewery—mostly on August “Gussie” Busch Jr., who also ran the St. Louis Cardinals—until it was sold to InBev in 2008. It’s mostly family gossip, mixed with public record. There’s not a whole lot of insight as to the ins and outs of running and growing the company. Way too much credit is given to clever TV advertising; very little is said about the thousands of little ways Budweiser is deliberately inserted into the national consciousness. Then again, it’s written by an investigative reporter, not a business writer, so he’s more interested in dirt than ideas. He’ll tell you all about the women who have died around August Busch IV, but not so much about how Budweiser makes it into nearly every American restaurant and stadium. (By offering the owners freebies and incentives, of course; it’s not in the book, but I knew it already.)

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by John Meacham. I’m only three chapters in, so I can’t give you the full summary yet. Thus far it seems to be about the origins of Jefferson’s philosophy, and less so a conventional biography. Which is something conventional biographies tend to skip; yeah, sometimes they mention mentors, and what they thought, but they don’t focus on mentors and thought, which is a mistake. For thinkers like Jefferson, their philosophy was based on what they read, and not so much what they lived. There’s only so much insight you can pull from the circumstances of their lives. You gotta look at their bookshelves, and Jefferson’s bookshelves eventually became the Library of Congress, so that should tell you something.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold, by James Tucker and Matt Jelenic, etc. Contrary to your average comic book nerd, there are actually two Batmans. There’s the serious, brooding Dark Knight, who was the Batman originally created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, recreated in 1984 by Frank Miller, and widely known from Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies (plus Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski’s Batman: The Animated Series). But from the ’50s to the mid-’80s, there was the deadpan boy scout who had all sorts of ridiculous adventures and fought wacky villains: The Batman of what’s called the “Silver Age of Comic Books,” also created by Kane and Finger—they wrote those stories too!—which is the Batman we know from William Dozer’s TV show starring Adam West, and from the dreadful movies made by Joel Schumacher. Comic book nerds argue he’s not the real Batman. I beg to differ. I grew up watching that Batman’s TV show and reading that Batman’s comic books. He’s just as much the real Batman as the serious Batman. It’s okay to like both of them.

What Batman: The Brave and the Bold did was bring back that Batman: The serious crime-fighter who just happens to live in a funhouse of a universe. Every episode, he teams up with two or more other superheroes—like Green Arrow or Blue Beetle or Plastic Man or Aquaman, or even something ludicrous, like Detective Chimp, or the ghost of J.E.B. Stuart in a tank. And he fights talking gorillas, or looney costumed villains, or ghosts, or space aliens, or whatever, just like Batman did in the ’60s comic books. It just reminded me how much I missed the old ’60s TV show. And, of all things, they took two characters who used to irritate me—the boring Aquaman, and the pestilent Bat-Mite—and turned them into an over-enthusiastic adventurer and the universe’s biggest fanboy, and made them hilarious. Now that’s good writing. I plowed through all three seasons pretty quick.

The Mentalist, season 3, by Bruno Heller, etc. I started watching this show because Heller wrote Rome, which I liked, historical inaccuracies and all. It’s set at the fictional California Bureau of Investigation in Sacramento, and their consultant, Patrick Jane, is an ex-carnival psychic who now uses his knack for reading people to solve murders. Yeah, you can usually figure out the murderer in the beginning of the show, and Jane’s fellow investigators are sometimes too stupid to live, but the character of Jane is entertainingly amoral, so you watch it mostly to see what zany thing he’ll do next. A minor peeve is how frequently they get northern California’s geography wrong—I used to live in Sacramento, y’know—but then again it is written by Brits and southern Californians.

Dead Like Me, by John Masius and Stephen Godchaux, etc. Started watching this because of its creator, Bryan Fuller, who wrote some other shows I like. It’s a comedy about grim reapers in Vancouver some undetermined Washingtonian city; mostly Georgia Lass, an 18-year-old smartass who’s killed by falling space debris and has been drafted into taking people’s souls just before they die. The story switches back and forth between her grieving family, and her attempts to adjust to her new existence. Naturally, there’s a lot in it about dealing with loss. And since it aired on Showtime, there’s a lot of profanity. But the writers were clearly running out of things to say when it got cancelled, so at least it was killed off while it was still good.

As for TV and so forth, I’ve kept up with it less and less. I’d rather watch entire seasons and movies and so forth. Why wait a week for the next episode, when if you wait a year, you can watch them all, marathon-style? Of course, the down side is you immediately notice all the story arcs that get dropped, or left hanging. Writers need to think further ahead than a month. But that’s another rant.

30 November 2012

Movies from Mom.

Last Christmas Mom bought me all three Lord of the Rings movies on DVD. Since it’s the thought that counts, I sincerely do appreciate the thought. But I already own the movies. I bought the special editions—you know, the seven-disc boxed set with the extra footage and the documentaries—years ago, as soon as I could find someone willing to sell each of them for less than $15. I may be a fan, but I’m a cheap fan.

And Mom is likewise a fan of cheap movies. (She’s been buying used VHS tapes like crazy. Yes, she still uses her VCR.) Round Christmastime, she’ll regularly check the bargain bins for inexpensive movies. That’s where she found the Rings movies; it’s kinda obvious. One of them is in “fullscreen,” i.e. a movie cropped for idiots who think it’s more important to get rid of the blank black spaces on their 3:4-ratio TV sets than it is to see an entire picture. And since all my screens are widescreen—with the exception of my 13-year-old iBook, which doesn’t play movies anyway—it’s an out-of-date term now.

07 November 2012

06 November 2012

The 2012 election night anticlimax.

Okay, I didn’t get round to posting my views on the other California ballot propositions. That experiment tanked; and really, I didn’t care for how politics-heavy it made this blog. Best to concentrate all the political ranting into a single post. Well, next election.

I voted for Barack Obama. As in ’08, he’s the lesser of two evils. Bluntly, Mitt Romney is a liar. He will say anything to get elected; he’ll be pro-choice to win Massachusetts and pro-life to win the Republican nomination. He lied far more than that, but that was plenty. If a liar tells you everything you want to hear, it makes no difference; he’s still a liar. Can’t trust him; can’t vote for him. While I can’t agree with many things Obama stands for, he explained why he stands for them, I respect his reasons, I respect him as a person, so he got my vote. (Not like it matters, thanks to the Electoral College, but that’s another rant.) I want a president with character. Romney lacks it.

01 November 2012

On the slavery and pimping proposition.

I’m not sure why or when “human trafficking” became the more formal term for “slavery” or “pimping.” Or why we can’t just go with “slavery” and “pimping.” More people will recognize what those things are, and immediately recognize they’re against them. Or recognize they ought to be.

Though when I was a kid, “pimp” was slang for “promiscuous heel”—someone who slept with a lot of women, and treated them dismissively.

31 October 2012

On abolishing the death penalty.

Happy Halloween, and just in time for Halloween I’m discussing Prop 34, the ban-the-death-penalty law. No, I didn’t deliberately time it that way. Yes, I’m still writing about politics on a kids’ holiday. You don’t have to read it on Halloween, you know. You can blow it off till Election Day, as are most of the procrastinators in California; then scramble to figure out what you think… then conclude you don’t know anything, and just vote “no” on everything, or leave ’em blank.

On this one, most people already kinda know where they stand. Either they hate the death penalty, and hate that any civilized society should have to execute anybody; or they’re disturbed by the number of people who get sentenced to death, only to later be found not guilty by reason of DNA evidence; or they hate how so many ghouls rejoice at every execution, as if the only way to sate the Dark Unholy Beast of Vengeance Justice is to sacrifice more deserving criminals to it. I’m not a fan of that last thing myself.

30 October 2012

Voting on car insurance rates again? Yes, again.

Getting behind on the proposition rants… Other stuff’s been distracting me. Prop 33 is kind of a no-brainer, though.

Proposition 33. Auto Insurance Companies. Prices Based on Driver’s History of Insurance Coverage. Initiative Statute.

What I’d call it. If you don’t have auto insurance, man, are you gonna get shafted by your introductory rate.

The “problem” and “solution.” Well, for most of us it’s not a problem: When we passed Prop 103 in 1988, it determined how the Insurance Commissioner approves auto insurance rates. Mostly it’s based on the driver’s safety record. To a lesser degree, it’s based on how often you drive, or how long you’ve been driving. That sets the baseline rate.

Insurance companies can then offer discounts to their existing customers for being good drivers. But they can’t offer those discounts to attract new customers from other insurers. Well, Prop 33 fixes that: Now they can.

Here’s the catch. If you’ve not been driving for 90 days, or are a new driver, or are new to California, or were covered under someone else’s plan but didn’t have your own plan, you’re gonna get hosed.

24 October 2012

James Dobson and Obama’s America.

On 22 October 2008, four years and two days ago, James Dobson issued a strongly-worded letter to Focus on the Family supporters, titled “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America.” It was forwarded to me, via email, from a family member who is in the habit of believing everything James Dobson says. I suspect the reasoning is since he’s such a good child psychologist, he must be right about politics. In any event, you can read it here.

I have a long history with Dobson’s books and organizations. I even used to contribute to Focus on the Family on a regular basis. I stopped the regular contributions in the mid-1990s, and stopped even the occasional contributions in the early 2000s. Most of what did it for me was his fatwa against California public schools: He ordered Christians to pull their kids out of them, and (though the following weren’t his words) abandon the children left behind to the devil.

22 October 2012

Prop 32: You shouldn’t have to fund your opponents.

The local police and firefighters’ unions keep sending me flyers that state they’re against Proposition 32. They send me so many, I’m wondering whether to vote for it just to make them STOP THE JUNK MAIL.

I suppose I’d better get to ranting about it.

Proposition 32. Political Contributions by Payroll Deduction. Initiative Statute.

What I’d call it. Republicans shouldn’t have to fund their unions’ support of Democrats.

The problem. This was a problem back when I was a Republican: In certain jobs, the union is a big part of the benefits package. That is to say, you don’t have a benefits package unless you join it. The union administers the benefits, and the corporation pays it to do so. It doesn’t handle them itself. So while you aren’t required to join, you gotta if you want the perqs.

18 October 2012

Halloween, Samhain, and harvest festivals: Doing them wrong.

“So is your church doing anything for Halloween?” I asked him.

Harvest party,” he quickly corrected me.

I groaned inwardly. And a little bit outwardly.

“By ‘harvest party,’ do you mean having a big Thanksgiving-style feast, featuring foods from the autumn harvest, plus a prayer of thanks for the hard-working farmers and farming communities and agribusinesses who provide us with food? Or do you mean the kids play dress-up, you feed them junk food, and there are games and prizes?”

“We’re telling them to not dress up,” he said. “But there are snacks and games and prizes.”

“Ah,” I said. “So it’s a sucky Halloween alternative.”

I could go on with this conversation, but it deteriorated from there.

13 October 2012

The week’s multimedia, #1.

I had a widget on this page entitled “Multimedia I’m consuming.” I decided to be rid of it, and instead post semi-regular updates on the multimedia I’m consuming, for two reasons. One is that I want to rant further about some of those items. The other is that I want to keep the rants as old posts, whereas the things in the widget just disappear into the ether once I’ve updated them. If I put time into crap, I tend to want to keep it, even if it is just crap. Blame my pack-rat genes.

So without further ado, here’s the multimedia du semaine.

06 October 2012

“Pulpit Freedom”: More civic idolatry.

Tomorrow is “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” an event in which pastors are encouraged to ignore the laws forbidding non-profit organizations (namely churches) from endorsing specific political candidates or parties. Instead, they’re gonna engage in civil disobedience, endorse whoever they want—on the grounds that their chosen candidates or parties reflect the Kingdom best—and let the chips fall where they may. If they lose their non-profit status, so be it; we have freedom of speech in the United States, and we should particularly be able to practice freedom of speech in our churches, in the name of standing up for godly things.

Well, I agree about standing up for godly things. But churches are outposts of the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom is not a democracy. It’s a Kingdom. It has a king: Jesus of Nazareth, Messiah of Israel, Lord of lords. Stumping for some other leader in Jesus’s pulpit, particularly one who doesn’t answer to Jesus—either Mitt Romney, who follows a heretic interpretation of Jesus, or Barack Obama, who only follows Jesus when it’s politically convenient—is, bluntly, treason.

If, as a result of this foolhardy behavior, a church gets its lampstand taken out (i.e. Rv 2.5) what’s to say our government isn’t acting entirely within Jesus’s will?

03 October 2012

Prop 31: Local control beats state control.

“So ‘fiscal liberal’ means you’re a tax-and-spend liberal,” one of my friends commented after the last post. Um… okay. I suppose I do believe in taxing and spending. What, are you gonna raise taxes, then sit on the money? Or borrow and spend, cut taxes yet rack up massive, generation- and economy-crippling deficits, then blame the ruined economy and deficits on the opposition party? Wait, that’s got potential… Aw, but Republicans are already doing it. Bummer.

Libertarians would have you cut taxes, over and over again, as often as possible, and argue we can afford it because government wastes money. The reality is government always wastes money. So do businesses. So do households. I throw out old food. I’m not gonna cut the food budget simply because I didn’t eat all the beans I’ve cooked, or drink all the coffee I’ve made. But to use libertarian thinking, not only should I trim the food budget: I should eliminate it altogether and just graze on the lawn.

I prefer local government. Every program, as much as possible, should be moved out of Washington and Sacramento, and put in the hands of locals. I believed it back when I was a Republican, and most of my fellow Republicans totally agreed. Here’s the catch: To do so will often be more expensive than consolidating the program in Washington and Sacramento.

01 October 2012

Prop 30: The schools are broke. Anybody willing to step up? …No? Figures.

In previous elections I’ve done a big long post on California’s ballot propositions. That’s because, to me, the props are the most important part of the ballot. They’re laws. They’re tweaks to our state constitution, and we’ll have to live under them. It’s easier to undo an elected official than a constitutional amendment. Yet most voters don’t bother to look into them. Some voters skip them. Others vote no on everything—especially if they’re tax increases or bond measures.

So rather than do the big long post this election, I figured I’d tackle a proposition at a time. Yeah, that means a lot of posts on propositions. And if you’re not from California, you could care less. Well, tough. My blog; I wanna rant about the propositions.

18 September 2012

Why I am a Democrat.

This post will probably annoy all my Democratic friends, though.

As I’ve indicated previously, I used to be a gung-ho, die-hard Republican social conservative. I’m not now. I realized my own personal tendency was to make an idol of my politics, to the detriment of my relationship with Christ Jesus, to the elimination of any fruit I was supposed to produce for him, to the detriment of my witness to pagans, and to the trust I was putting in the kingdom of this world instead of the hope in the Kingdom of God.

I finally realized politics is not the route to achieve social change. The Kingdom is. The proper way is through surrendering the reins to God, not by trying to seize them ourselves every time the Democrats bungled the job. The reins don’t belong in either the Republicans’ or Democrats’ hands. They only belong in Jesus’s. And the Republicans are not Jesus’s surrogate. By convincing us that they are, they only make themselves into an antichrist.

17 September 2012

Are we racking up woes? Let’s check.

Let’s see what happens when we replace “scribe” with “Republican,” and “Pharisee” with “Christian.”

I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you Republicans, you Christians! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.

You’re hopeless, you Republicans and Christians! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.

Getting annoyed at Blogger.

Every so often Google redesigns something. As is their right, on their websites. They like to throw a bunch of new bells and whistles on it. Trouble is, when you’re using dial-up Internet at your mom’s house, it takes two minutes to download each bell, and the whistles… well, your web browser just give up on downloading the whistles altogether.

So they reprogrammed Blogger, and if I want to post a rant, it takes eight minutes to download the very page I get to type it on. Once you’re there, if you try to post it, because it won’t post fast enough for Blogger’s comfort (it being dial-up, you know) I’ll get error messages. And you know that’s just something I’m gonna want to rant about. Hence, this mini-rant.

Yes, I totally agree I should be using a normal-speed Internet instead of dial-up. This is the 21st century after all. Still, it’s like telling someone who’s on a bicycle, “You know, you’d get there a lot quicker with a motorcycle.”

Yes I know I’d get there a lot quicker with a motorcycle. You’re not helping, Mr. Hypothetical Voice In My Head. Shut up. This is why I never listen to you when you tell me to kill.

10 September 2012

Reusing the bottle.

When I buy a bottled drink, such as water, Gatorade, iced tea, or soda, I reuse the bottle. Usually for a few months. I usually toss ’em in the recycling bin after the expiration date.

I’ve been warned by various people to not do this. Supposedly bacteria will build up somewhere on the bottle, and infect me, and probably kill me. “So I take it,” I tell them, “you don’t wash your bottles.”

Wash a disposable plastic bottle? Yep. Otherwise they’re right—you will get bacteria or mold or something growing in it. And they do wash their non-disposable bottles. It just never occurs to people to wash the disposable ones—because they are after all disposable.

08 September 2012

Obama’s gonna win California. Don’t waste your time agitating about it.

If you’re a Republican from California, your vote in the presidential election will not matter. Will not. At all.

I know; you look out your windows and see just as many Romney campaign posters as Obama posters. All your friends plan to vote for Mitt Romney. Everybody in your church seems to be a Romney fan, despite their qualms about Mormonism. You think he has a chance—if you just get out the vote, if you can just convince enough people to vote Romney.

But outside your Republican enclaves, the rest of California is filled with either Democrats, or people who will vote for Democrats. In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama got three-fifths of the vote. Democrats have the majority of all elected offices in this state. Both our U.S. Senators and three-fifths of our U.S. Representatives are Democrats. Neither Romney nor Obama are gonna bother to campaign in this state, apart from fund-raisers. Why? ’Cause both of them know Obama will win the state’s electoral votes. And win them easily. Without even trying.

Your vote will not matter. Will not. At all.

04 September 2012

If I had to choose an alternate religion… it’d be the one I slid into.

The synchroblog subject for the month is “Choosing my religion.” If I weren’t a Christian, what would I be?

Ordinarily I tackle synchroblog subjects on my More Christ blog, ’cause I think they’re subjects new and growing Christians ought to tackle. This one, not so much. Not that I’m afraid they’ll consider all the alternative religions out there and pick one, but that More Christ is meant to look forward, and this subject kinda looks back. And since looking back is a personal thing, better I discuss it on my personal blog.

So, what religion would I have if I weren’t a Christian? Simple. I’d be a Republican.

No this isn’t a jibe at Republicans. This is about me. Me me me me me me me.

28 August 2012

“You know what you could write about?…”

There was a stretch there where I never read the op/ed page. Didn’t miss it either.

The opinions of my local newspaper’s editorial board were interesting, and well-informed, but they’d never seek any radical action—it was always about doing the prudent thing instead of the right or generous or inspiring thing. That’s always the catch with editorial boards: They want to reflect everybody’s point of view, so they get a bunch of people with diverse viewpoints. But the extremes balance one another out, so they wind up with the middle-of-the-road view. That’d be fine if it were a radical middle—but it’s not. It’s the milquetoast middle. It’s the “Here’s what we oughta do” that doesn’t make waves, instead of the “Here’s what we really oughta do” that wakes people up and makes ’em move.

The columnists… well, there are two kinds of columnists: Those who are clever, and those who aren’t. I like the clever ones; I don’t care what party they are. Make me think and I’ll like you. Most aren’t clever—or have far too many bad weeks in a row.

And then there are the letters to the editor. I lump them into two categories: Those with legitimate statements and questions; and the cranks.

24 August 2012

Naming names.

Back in 2005 Kyle Lake, a Texas emergent-church pastor, electrocuted himself. He was standing in a baptismal and grabbed a microphone and zzzzt, dead. On the one hand, I was sympathetic to the family, friends, church—namely the 800 people who watched him drop dead—but good Lord what a stupid thing to do.

Irony of ironies, when Christianity Today eulogized Lake, they included excerpts from his book on God’s will—namely that old myth about how “everything happens for a reason,” despite an entire book in the bible, Ecclesiastes, pointedly written to teach otherwise. I digress, but mostly ’cause I’ve had to correct a few people about that myth recently. If everything happens for a reason, then God had that pastor killed simply to remind us not to grab the mic when we’re hip-deep in water. Seems a bit extreme. Seems more likely the pastor lacked the proper respect for electricity.

I bring this up ’cause Brian Kelly, my then-boss (and then-pastor), read my blog and, some weeks later, expressed some concern that if he ever did anything so dumb, he’d get a write-up in my blog.

“But you don’t do anything so dumb,” I pointed out.

“But I might,” he said. So how free was he to act around me, when any ridiculous thing he said or did might wind up on the Internet, where all 27 of my readers could see it and mock him?

10 August 2012

01 August 2012

Poking the conservatives.

For a while there I had a blind spot where I’d provoke conservatives. Not deliberately. Never meant to. I just seemed to do it a lot. Maybe it was ’cause I was swinging to the other extreme as a recovering conservative. I think we all tend to assume that just because we’ve grown past something, others have kept up. But every time I took a poke at some of my immature knee-jerk behavior, it poked other people who still practice this behavior. Only to them it wasn’t immature or knee-jerk: It was good, and right, and righteous, and God-fearing.

Yeah, I know, they’re sheep gone astray.

(See what I mean?)

27 July 2012

I don’t even eat there.

I have a toe dipped into both the Christian Right and the Christian Left, and both of them are buzzing about the fast food chicken purveyor Chik-fil-A. Its chief operating officer, Dan Cathy (son of chairman Truett Cathy), made some comments in a 2 July article in the Biblical Recorder, a Baptist publication. (Stands to reason; the Cathys are Baptists.) The piece was about how the Cathys try to run Chick-fil-A as a Christian business. In it we have this bit.

Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family. “Well, guilty as charged,” said Cathy when asked about this opposition.

“We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

“We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families—some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” Cathy emphasized.

“We intend to stay the course. We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

Of course, “the biblical definition of the family unit” is conservative Christian speak for “monogamous heterosexual spouses.” The national media was pretty quick to pick that up and confirm it.

25 July 2012

On tipping and overtipping.

When I go to a restaurant—which is rare lately; I’m on a tight budget—I prefer to overtip. And by overtip, I mean go over the 15 percent gratuity that American custom dictates waiters should expect.

However. Whenever I go to restaurants with other people, most of them do not share my view. Quite the opposite. Some of them resent this custom very, very much. They believe waiters don’t deserve a single thing more for doing their expected job; they treat tipping as if it’s welfare, and they definitely don’t believe in welfare.

22 July 2012

On discussing current events, here and elsewhere.

On my other blog, More Christ, I discuss the Christian religion and how we can get better at practicing it. Because I want my posts there to be resources—things that people can read years from now, and still find useful—I’m trying to resist the temptation to tie it to current events, or what everybody else on the blogosphere (or at least those who follow the Internet Monk/Rachel Held Evans/Scot McKnight axis) is talking about.

It’s not easy. Being current is a shortcut: It immediately makes you relevant, ’cause current stuff is relevant, right? Except… will it be relevant a decade or two from now? If you notice the Mr. Squish strips, I didn’t always resist that temptation, and as a result I have to explain all those old strips in order for anyone to “get” them.

Anywho. Today (the post goes live at noon Pacific tiime) I indirectly addressed last week’s shooting in Aurora, Colorado, by looking at theodicy, the practice of defending God when evil stuff happens. ’Cause evil stuff happened, and of course people will ask, “Where was God? Why didn’t he intervene? He should have intervened! Bad genie! Grant my wishes!” And the like.

21 July 2012

Okay, a spoiler policy.

Despite my warning that I was gonna give away the plot of Atlas Shrugged, somebody read it, and was irritated that I gave away the plot. Guess that’ll teach you not to skim through my rants.

I don’t worry about spoilers, myself. I don’t like surprises. Sometimes I want to know the ending, so I’ll go find it. Fr’instance, I haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises yet. But I’ve heard some folks say it wasn’t as good as The Dark Knight. So I wanted to see what the fuss was about, so I popped over to its Wikipedia page and read the plot. Wikipedia gives away endings.

16 July 2012

The Newsroom, the stuff that’ll actually endanger news jobs, and the fedora.

I started watching Aaron Sorkin’s newest TV show, The Newsroom, recently. It’s on HBO, but if you search for the episodes over Google you can usually find and watch them. I was a fan of his show Sports Night, and subsequently got into his next show The West Wing… and tried to get into his third show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and couldn’t. It was far less believable than The West Wing, which is saying something.

The Newsroom is about a cable TV news show, and like every other show Sorkin writes, the workplace is staffed with left-of-center idealists who want to do the real version of whatever their job is. On Sports Night it was real sports instead of entertainment; on The West Wing it was real governance instead of politics; on Studio 60 it was real comedy instead of shlock. (Problem is, Sorkin didn’t actually understand how to write sketch comedy, and wound up writing shlock. That’s why he lost me.) So naturally, on The Newsroom they want to do real news instead of what everyone else on TV is doing, which is trying to get you to watch their programs.

And where this gets ironic is that Sorkin and HBO want you to watch their program. But I’ll put that aside for now.

14 July 2012

A plug for Starbucks’ awesome air conditioning.

From my life’s soundtrack:

She: Why do you have a jacket in your bag on a hundred-degree day?

Me: Starbucks.

If it’s insanely hot, as it has been in northern California for the past week, Starbucks is the place to go. Not just for Frappuccinos™ or iced coffee. The air conditioning in those stores are cranked down to a nipple-hardening 55 degrees, and although most customers don’t hang out there long enough to notice, I do. I sit there, totally taking advantage of the free refills they give you once you register your Starbucks card, and as I suck down cup after cup, I gradually lose feeling in my fingers and toes.

12 July 2012

Your Election 2012 Antichrist Watch.

I’ve been asked to repost this piece. I worry about the motives of the person who made the request… but the topic amuses me, so why not.

Okeydoke. When the book of Revelation refers to the number of the Beast (which Christians popularly call the Antichrist), it’s referring to the Hebrew practice of gematria. This is where you calculate the numerical value of a letter or word. Before Arabic numerals were invented (by the Hindus, of course), if you wanted to indicate numbers you had to make do with your alphabet. Hence Roman numerals, with all its Is and Xs. Or in the case of Hebrew-speakers, they just gave each letter in the alphabet a value. Alef is one, bet is two, gimel is three, up till ten. Then kaf is 20, lamed is 30, and so on till 100. Then resh is 200, and so on till we’re out of letters.

Why did the Hebrews practice gematria? They thought it was cool. It was like your lucky number. There were some Jews who took it a few steps further: In the practice of Kabbalah, if any word has the same number as any other word, you can swap ’em. Hence Kabbalists can discover all kinds of “secret” messages and interpretations in the bible, because they can change words. Or they can treat the text of the bible as a giant Word Find game and go hunting for bible codes. These are of course illegitimate uses of gematria. There aren’t many legitimate uses. Some would argue Antichrist-hunting isn’t legitimate either.

But let’s do it anyway.

Music of my mind.

Been having difficulty with my iPod lately. A few years ago I installed a new battery, and I guess the battery was too wide for the case, so it never did close back up properly. Anyway, about two weeks ago I dropped it and the case popped open. Ever since, whenever I squeezed the case closed—deliberately or accidentally—the battery shut off, and I had to reboot the iPod.

Probably a loose wire. But two days ago the iPod just wouldn’t wake up. So I plugged it into the computer to recharge. It read as fully charged, so I unplugged it—and it shut down again. It only works when plugged in. Definitely a loose wire.

Guess I gotta hunt down some iPod repair instructions, and fix it.

10 July 2012

09 July 2012

07 July 2012

On tattoos and regrets.

I updated this article with further ranting and ported it to Christ Almighty! Check it out there.

03 July 2012

On my not buying beer.

She walked past me three times, eyeing me each time. I had no idea why. Did she figure I was some potentially dangerous stranger, or did she think I look interesting, or familiar, or attractive?

Not that that last thing was relevant to me: She was obviously a teenager. When teenagers flirt with me, it creeps me out. I can’t help but think of them as children. Even when I was a teenager, I felt that way. That’s why I never took dating seriously till I was in my mid-twenties.

On the fourth pass, she walked right up to me. She motioned for me to take my earbuds out. I had the iPod on, rocking out to… nah, I was listening to NPR podcasts. Anyway, unlike me, she came right to the point.

“Can you buy me a beer?” she asked.

30 June 2012

Good bits.

She ran into me after the sermon. “Wasn’t that great?” she said.

“Yeah,” I said, trying to keep things positive. “He had some good bits.”

She made a face. I’ve seen this face before on different people. It appears when they expect me to be jazzed beyond belief, and I’m not. It’s the “What’s the matter with you?” expression. “Good bits?” she said. “I was like—” and then she mimed eating a sandwich—and then she went away, probably to find someone who was as excited about the sermon as she was.

The disclaimer now: “She” is someone who goes to my church, but this was not at my church. We were visiting another one because of a special guest speaker.

29 June 2012

Obamacare and socialism and the needy.

Longtime readers already know my backstory: I’m a conservative, pro-life Democrat.

I grew up Republican, because my parents are Republican. I became a knee-jerk, uber-conservative Republican in my high school years, ’cause I got involved in the political Christian Right and my local Republican party. It began to alienate me in my mid-20s, as I started to get serious about what Jesus actually teaches, as I started to interact with more left-of-center Christians, and as I began to deal with the vast gap between the Kingdom of God and libertarian economics. After discovering I really had more in common with Democrats than Republicans—and after about five years of denial—I switched parties in 2005.

25 June 2012

The smallest current coin.

That’d be advice, according to Ambrose Bierce. Nowadays, that’s saying something. The American penny is considered so worthless, people don’t bother to pick it up when they see a stray penny on the street. People will actually sweep it up and throw it out with the trash. It’s junk money. Optimist that I am, I’ll pick it up anyway; they add up. If Bierce’s definition still holds, advice is worth less than pennies.

And yeah, collectively that’s been my experience. Certain individual bits of advice have been quite valuable. But the bulk of the advice I’ve heard in my lifetime has been pretty useless. That’s ’cause it’s been given as a knee-jerk response.

23 June 2012

A little rebooting…

I need to blog more often.

Which’ll probably take you by surprise if you’re used to reading my More Christ blog, in which I post something six times a week, and where I’m often accused of writing book-length essays. (Book length? Where are my accusers finding these tiny books?) But, y’see, that blog is not about me. It’s about Christianity. There’s a fair amount of me in it, to be sure. Still, it’s not about what I’m up to, what I’m doing, and all that.

Facebook and Twitter tend to get witticisms and brief comments out of me. This blog, in the past, tended to get political rants, religious rants, pop culture rants, or memoirs… which were more about Former Me than me. It’s easy to discuss Former Me, ’cause I’m not exactly Former Me anymore. We share a lot in common, like experiences and memories. But I keep critiquing what an jerk he was. I never get to critiquing what a jerk I am, or can be when I’m not careful. Same thing with the rants, in which I focus on things external to myself instead of myself.

I don’t expect to stop ranting, but I do intend to share more of myself. Of course, that’s easier said than done. A couple months ago I expressed my desire to do just that, and then didn’t do it. I wasn’t disciplined about it. So now I gotta get cracking. Now it’s gonna have to be a post a day. Or at least every other day.

Did I have to take all the previous stuff offline? Yes. Yes I did. People were reading the previous stuff—which dated back to 2005 for the blog, to 1998 when you include the Countryside Post columns, and to 1990 when you include the Mr. Squish comic strips—and asking me when that guy was gonna come back in all his snarky, sarcastic glory. I got too many requests for Former Me, and I’m trying to grow past him. So it was just easier to stick him in a box for now. Maybe post some of that stuff again eventually. For now, I’m gonna stick to the subject: Me.

Me me me me me me me.

No, I’m not turning the comments back on. If you want to give me feedback, my Facebook friends can post something to me there. Everybody else: God bless you, but I don’t know you well enough to take your responses all that seriously.

Okay, that’s enough for today.