31 July 2012

Skipping the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Another essay I’ve been asked to repost is my bit on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And no, I’m not gonna spell it Sepulchre, like the British and Canadians do. I’m an American. Our spelling makes more sense. Well, slightly more.

What prompted the original post in 2010 was my brother and sister-in-law going to Israel. It was with some folks in their church, and was the basic pilgrim’s package: You get Jerusalem, of course, and a few of the more popular sites from the bible—provided there’s no open warfare in those areas. The last thing either Israelis or Palestinians want are shot-up tourists. Both sides profit from tourism.

29 July 2012

Mr. Squish votes for “none of the above.”

When it’s an election year, school starts just in time for elections. In California, the gubernatorial election is during the midterms, and in 1990, Senator Pete Wilson was running for governor against former San Francisco mayor (and future senator) Dianne Feinstein. I didn’t care for either of them; as a young knee-jerk conservative, both were too liberal for me. So I drew the following strip.

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.

26 July 2012

Humor, sarcasm, irony, mockery, me.

Too many people are convinced you can’t learn to be funny—you either have the ability to make people laugh, or you don’t. Which means they obviously don’t understand how humor works. Anyone can learn to do anything. Maybe not well, but better. You can learn to be funny—once you learn how humor works, and practice at it.

No, I’m not selling a class. It doesn’t take that much explaining. Laughter is an automatic nervous reaction. People laugh when you expose them to the unexpected: Surprise ’em, shock ’em, play around with words a bit, push things to a ridiculous extreme—or even frighten them, which is why some people laugh when they’re scared; or make them sad, which is why some people laugh at funerals. Don’t chide them for being inappropriate, or for trying to lighten up a terrible situation: That’s just how they’re wired. Laughter floods the brain with feel-good endorphins. Arguably, it’s a defense mechanism. But it feels good, so people pursue it.

So how do you get people to laugh? Simple: Throw something unexpected at them.

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.

24 July 2012

The Wild at Heart posts.

There were a lot of really popular posts I had on this blog before I rebooted it. The Wild at Heart essays, which I posted in September and October 2009, were really big. They were my chapter-by-chapter analysis of the still-popular John Eldredge book… although I couldn’t get through more than five chapters. I hate that stupid f---ing book. Hate hate hate. Hence the many dashed-out profanities. It used to only annoy me, but the more I read it, the more it grew into fiery white-hot eye-blistering hate.

Below, the entire series of eight posts, updated to put stuff in the past tense and clarify some of my rambling.

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.

Mr. Squish and the cola wars.

I first discovered the “cola wars”—the insistence that, if you’re gonna have a cola, it must under all circumstances be a Coca-Cola (or a Pepsi, or a Dr. Pepper, or a Tab) when I was a kid. One of my aunts collects Coca-Cola memorabilia, and I think is a shareholder in the company, and whenever we’d have family functions she simply had to have Coke. (One of my other aunts for a time simply had to have coke—with the lowercase c. But that’s another story for another time.)

The cola wars were of course invented by the cola companies themselves. As is any brand-name loyalty campaign: If you own a car it must be a Ford not a Honda, or if you own a computer it must be an Apple not an HP, or if you buy raisin bran it must be Kellogg’s not Post’s. For most of us it makes no difference: Nut-flavored fizzy water is all the same, and I would rather have an iced coffee anyway. For others, if they order a Coke and you bring them a Pepsi, expect an angry reaction and a greatly reduced tip.

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.

15 July 2012

Mr. Squish goes to Burger King.

The summer before I started at Sac State, I was still working at Black Culture Magazine, but we hadn’t published an issue in months and I was really short on cash, and school was starting. So I got a job at Burger King.

It was the only Burger King in Vacaville at the time: On Monte Vista Avenue, at the top of “Hamburger Hill,” so named because of the McDonald’s next door and the Wendy’s (and Arby’s and Long John Silver’s) across the street. It was three miles away from my house and I only had a bicycle. In 1990, Vacaville was still a relatively small town, and huge swaths of it were still undeveloped. So this meant pedaling over unlit, poorly-paved strips of asphalt in the middle of nowhere, at 4:30 a.m., in order to open the BK for breakfast at 5.

It was not a fun job. Picture someone with a God complex, doing a job they really don’t enjoy. That describes nearly every manager at this particular Burger King. The employees were treated like mentally deficient convicts. You wanted to do a rotten job, just to get back at them.

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.

11 July 2012

Why Amazon is my favorite Christian bookstore.

It would seem Vacaville can’t sustain a new-books bookstore. Back in the ’90s we had a Crown Books, but that’s gone; back in the ’00s we had a Borders, but that’s gone too. All that’s left are the used-book stores that sometimes carry a new book or two. And the book section of Target, and the smaller book sections of Walmart and Costco and Sam’s Club. And Family Christian, if you count Christian bookstores, which I don’t. And the library’s monthly book sale.

Why can’t we sustain a new-books bookstore? Because for the most part, those stores don’t know what they’re doing. Their competition, so they think, is the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. It’s not. It’s Amazon. Because whenever I go to a bookstore, and see a book I’m interested in purchasing, the first thing I do is hop on the Amazon site and compare prices. Sometimes at the very bookstore, ’cause most of them are kind enough to provide free wifi. And Amazon always wins. Always.

10 July 2012

Postmodernity.

Tied together, I suppose, with my going moderate, is my acceptance of postmodernism.

The simplest and widest definition of postmodernism is, “Whatever modern is, we’re not that.” Architects got tired of the “modern” label and wanted to say they were past that; they were post-modern. Philosophers too. The label sounds new, fresh, and hip… but it’s been around since the 1950s. So has the philosophy.

Most of what I first read about the philosophy, was written by people who were certainly not postmodern. And they were very, very worried about it. One of my biblical studies professors pointed his students to a book, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age. The authors’ concern is that postmoderns (“pomos” for short) no longer see truth as universal. What might be true for you is not necessarily true for me—and, say pomos, that’s okay.

09 July 2012

Recovering conservative.

It’s not easy to talk with my Republican friends sometimes. You see, I’m a recovering conservative. I was a knee-jerk conservative for a lot of years. Then I read up on conservatism and became a knowledgeable conservative. And now I’ve gone moderate. Or, as my conservative friends call it, “liberal.”

But I do know exactly where they’re coming from. They can’t believe it, ’cause they can’t imagine anyone would move away from conservatism. To them it’s as if a Spirit-filled Christian decided to become atheist: How, considering what you’ve seen and experienced, could you quit? The only explanation is you were faking those experiences: You were never really a Spirit-filled Christian. And thus they apply this very analogy to ex-conservatives: You must’ve been faking conservatism; you never really were one.

Well, if you’re saying my religion never really was conservatism, you’re quite correct. That’d be Christianity. Conservatism was something I was into ’cause I was raised to think it and Christianity are compatible. They’re not.

08 July 2012

Mr. Squish: The failed pilot.

Last Sunday’s “Mr. Squish” strip wasn’t the first one I drew for the CSUS Hornet. That’d be the below strip, the very first one. It was rejected, as I said last week, because my editor, Chris, didn’t think it was funny. I did, but my vote didn’t count. I was instructed to do another one, and last week’s strip was the other one.

07 July 2012

On tattoos and regrets.

I don’t have a tattoo. I have no plans to get one, either.

I have no idea why certain friends can’t understand this. They wanted to get inked as soon as they turned 18. Not me. Not that I’m against tattoos. I have no problem with them on other people. I’m only against them on me. I can't think of anything so profound that I just gotta have it permanently etched upon my skin.

’Cause it’s permanent, you know.

06 July 2012

Atlas Shrugged, the libertarian bible.

I was asked to put back on the blog my rant on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which I originally posted 28 December 2009. Um… okay, but I reserve the right to update those old essays a bit, and I did so here.

Despite being heavily into the Republican Party in my teens and early 20s, I had never examined libertarianism. Particularly Rand’s version of it, which she called objectivism (because—no foolin’—“existentialism” was taken). There are two wings of conservatism: The economic conservative and the social conservative. I only cared about social issues. Other than lower taxes and the elimination of government waste, I really didn’t care about economic issues. Capitalism sounded good to me. Communism didn’t, and the Republicans told me socialism was the same thing, so as far as I knew, I didn’t care for that either.

The economic conservatives I knew were all huge fans of Rand. They didn’t really gush about her books; they just assumed everyone had read them, for they all had. They never brought ’em up to us social conservatives. And having now read Atlas Shrugged, I can definitely see why: Its morals run entirely opposite to the social conservative agenda.

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.

01 July 2012

Squish on Sundays.

There’s been some minor outrage over how I took my previous blog posts offline. Really minor outrage, of course. It’s more like, “Aww, that bit you wrote is gone,” rather than, “PUT IT BACK. NOW. OR DEATH AWAITS YOU. WITH NASTY BIG SHARP POINTY TEETH.”

Relax. I may restore some of the posts. Or I might recycle them and post them elsewhere. But they’re staying offline for now. (Well, sorta offline; some of them are still in Google’s cache, so if you do a Google search for them, they’re still floating around in the ether for the next month or so, until the cache is updated.)

And I will be re-posting the Mr. Squish strips.