11/13/99

(The following was originally posted to my personal Facebook page as a “note” on April 29, 2015, a few months before this blog was started. It was written in response to inflammatory language being used to describe people protesting several controversial legal decisions involving US citizens who were killed by police. I am reposting it here because it’s still relevant, and for ease of access. Because while I hope there will be no more incidents like the ones that inspired this post, well…let’s just say I hope I never have occasion to share this again. — MNW)

The year was 1999. The date was Saturday, November 13. I was a sophomore at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

The Razorback football team was playing the much more highly ranked Tennessee Volunteers at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. I had student tickets for every home game (they were sold in a little booklet before the season started, and it seems like each ticket was a dollar apiece), and even though I was fairly certain the Hogs were going to get creamed by Tennessee, I wanted to walk the couple hundred yards down to the stadium from my dorm and watch the game.

But I had a part time job, and I had to work that day. I considered blowing work off, and a couple friends encouraged me to blow it off, but I decided to go to my job and work. As I said, I figured the Hogs were going to get beaten, anyway.

So I went to work. I was a cashier at a fairly large retail store across town from the U of A campus.

But this particular Saturday, for whatever reason, there were a whole lot of cashiers scheduled to work, and nobody collecting shopping carts from the parking lot.

Maybe the cart pushers skipped work to watch the game. I dunno.

At any rate, I wasn’t on a register that afternoon and evening, I was pushing carts.

And as an aside, next time you’re at a big retail store with a huge parking lot, for the love of all that’s decent, park your flipping shopping cart in a flipping cart corral. Pushing carts is a hard enough job without having to walk all over the place collecting carts people were too flipping lazy to flipping push fifty flipping feet to a flipping cart corral. But I flipping digress.

And after a few hours of pushing carts past impatient drivers and people standing in the way for no reason and that sort of thing, I got to thinking “I took a job as a cashier. I didn’t sign up for this crap” and whatnot. And after I got off work a few hours later, sweaty and worn out from performing a job I did not sign up for, I was roundly pissed off and ready to go to bed. My only solace was that somehow the Hogs had upset Tennessee 28-24.

And so I went back to campus, parking like a half mile or so from my dorm, slogged back up the hill to Yocum Strokem, and went up to my room.

The exact details of this evening aren’t clear, but some time after I got back to the dorm, maybe even the next morning, my roommate and other friends from my wing of the dorm started telling me about the celebration I had missed out on.

After the clock ran out, after the Hogs won a game nobody expected them to win, fans rushed the field and tore down both goalposts. The goalposts were then carried to Dickson Street (an area just off campus with bars and restaurants and places like that), where they were propped up and climbed on and photographed and people just got drunk as hell and had a big ole time until the wee hours of the morning.

Me, I was sleeping in my dorm room, aching from pushing flipping shopping carts all day.

Before I get to the quasi-political point I am going to make with all this, I would like to say, unequivocally, that going to work that one Saturday is one of my biggest regrets in life. It’s one of those “if I had a time machine” moments, no doubt. I don’t hold anything against anybody who took part in those celebrations, I would have been right there with you, had I not been pushing flipping shopping carts all flipping day.

But having pushed said shopping carts in lieu of watching a football game and tearing down goalposts and carrying them off gives me a nitpicky little advantage regarding recent events that I am positive will make at least a few people mad at me:

I can say, with a totally clear conscience, that I have never participated in a riot of any sort.

Before anybody starts cussing at me, let me remind you that this was a riot I would have taken part in, had I not been pushing shopping carts on the other side of town. I don’t hold anything against anybody for having taken part in this riot; actually I am sorta jealous of the people who did.

Take away all your misty watercolor memories of those golden college years, take away how much fun you had that day, take away all that sort of stuff. What happened that Saturday in November of 1999, there in Fayetteville?

A mob of people (many of whom were intoxicated) destroyed public (or at least university) property and created a public nuisance until the wee hours of the morning.

And why? Because a football team won a football game nobody thought they would win.

Sure, nobody got killed, and I am confident at least a few people got arrested for public intox and/or being a minor in possession of alcohol; sure, there have been riots after other sporting events that caused way more damage…

But a riot is a riot. And if you find it morally acceptable for sports fans to destroy property after a sporting event (this happens when home teams win and when they lose), but somehow find rioting after controversial legal decisions and/or killing of citizens by police morally abhorrent…

Do you see my point?

I am not talking to any one person or group of people. I am talking to everyone.

And just to remind you, yes, yes, a thousand times yes, if I had a time machine, and I could go back to November 13, 1999, I would totally blow off work and probably spend the night in the drunk tank after climbing up a stolen goal post down on Dickson Street. I’m not saying anybody was wrong or immoral for taking part in that, I would have, too, if I hadn’t had to work that day.

Anyways…

ECHO CHAMBERS (AND HOW TO BREAK OUT OF THEM)

SOMEWHERE ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

A: “Hi everyone. I am a member of (minority group). I would like to talk about my experiences as a member of (minority group). I would like to hear about the experiences of other members of (minority group).”

B: “Hi, A. I am B. I am also a member of (minority group). My experience has been [etc].”

C: “Hey guys, I am also a member of (minority group). My experience has been [etc].”

D: “I am not a member of (minority group), but I can tell you: you guys have got it all wrong!”

A: “Excuse me, D, um, you’re not really adding anything to this conversation. You don’t really know what it’s like to be a member of (minority group), so don’t pretend like you do. If you’d like to listen to us, that’s fine. We encourage that, actually, but please refrain from making comments that don’t further the discussion.”

D: “OMG you are racist! You hate (majority group)! I can’t believe you are treating me this way! I was just trying to say that people in (minority group) and people in (majority group) are exactly the same, and so are their experiences! There is no difference! My experience of life is exactly like everyone else’s, even people who are different than me!”

A: “Maybe if you’d just shut up and listen to us, you’d see that there are in fact differences in the experiences of people from (minority group) and people from (majority group). I agree, people are all basically the same, but our experiences aren’t.”

D: “I can’t believe how terribly you’re treating me! How dare you have a conversation where I am not the center of attention! You are a racist! I am appalled!”

B: “A, please block this person, so we can continue our conversation.”

C: “Yeah, as long as D is here, we’re not getting anywhere.”

D: “I am being discriminated against because I am a member of (majority group)! OMG I can’t believe you guys! You are such hypocrites!”

A: “…and blocked.”

B: “Good.”

C: “Great.”

 

D, enraged and genuinely offended, takes his imagined mistreatment to his own forum:

D: “OMG you guys! Seriously! (Minority group) is racist! They wouldn’t let me in their discussion about what it’s like to be a member of (minority group), and I was totally trying to contribute to the conversation you guys!”

E: “Typical. They talk about ‘discrimination’ and then discriminate against us. Hypocrites!”

F: “Hurr durr shoulda gave a trigger warning!”

G: “You invaded their ‘safe space’, huh huh.”

D: “[South Park clip]”

G: “Hahahahaha that is so sweet!”

H: “Um, guys, I read that conversation, and D was kinda, well, being a dick. D just kinda butted in with something that didn’t have anything to do with what they were talking about, then wouldn’t shut up when they asked him to. I eavesdropped on the conversation, and I learned some new insights about what it’s like to be a member of (minority group.)”

E: “But they wouldn’t let you in the conversation?”

H: “I didn’t really have anything to add. I just wanted to listen.”

D: “OMG you are such a pussbag you stupid pussbag! I was totally making a good point about how racist they are, and you come in here all ‘look at me, I am sooo tolerant of others and politically correct, ooh, I’m so nice to everybody’. Pussbag!”

G: “Huh, huh, regressive leftist, huh, huh.”

D: “[South Park clip]”

E: “This is a common occurrence among those individuals whose misguided notions about ‘equality’ lead them to self-loathing practices such as the one so pitifully illustrated here. It is obvious to anyone with any sort of moral sense that all conversations should be open to everyone, and that reason demands that all discussions remain open to all people, no matter how offensive their point of view may be. Forsooth, ’tis a sad day indeed when the so-called ‘liberals’ and ‘intellectuals’ in our grand society forsake their own will in a futile attempt to crawl across the desert of ‘political correctness’ to reach the elusive and illusory oasis of ‘multiculturalism,’ which everyone knows is a false idol only fools seek.”

F: “That is soooo deep, dude.”

E: “Thanks.”

G: “[Meme]”

H: “I kinda think you guys are blowing this out of proportion.”

D: “[South Park clip]”

G: “TRIGGER WARNING! Hahahahaha!”

E: “You are so misguided, H. Those people in (minority group) are all pathetic. They create an echo chamber where only their own views are allowed. They exclude all other viewpoints. And you are pathetic for your idiotic pandering to their blatant assault on freedom of speech.”

H: “Well, they were talking about something we as members of (majority group) don’t have any experience with. I mean, come on. None of us are professional baseball players. If a group of professional baseball players were talking about their experiences as professional baseball players, would any of us have anything to contribute to the conversation?”

G: “But there are professional baseball players from (minority group) and (majority group).”

H. “…yeah, but that isn’t really the point.”

D: “[South Park clip]”

E: “But you have to work very hard to become a professional baseball player. You don’t have to do anything but be born to be a member of (minority group).”

H: “That isn’t the point, either.”

F: “[Meme]”

H: “Look. All I am trying to say is that different people have different life experiences. And personally, I find it enriches my own life to learn about what life is like for people who are different than me.”

E: “You have done nothing but allowed yet another anti-intellectual echo chamber to flourish. This is why ISIS exists.”

H: “What?”

F: “Regressive leftists are the real terrorists.”

D: “[South Park clip]”

G: “Echo chambers are bad, mmmkay?”

D: “Hahahahaha”

E: “Echo chambers do not produce anything of value to a rational society. They are the antithesis of rational discourse, and they contribute to a society where everyone must be pampered and treated as if they were special little snowflakes whose opinions are priceless gems that adorn the tiara of that syphilitic whore called ‘liberalism.’”

F: “Dude, that is sooooo deep.”

E: “Thanks.”

H: “Guys, speaking of ‘echo chambers,’ has anyone else noticed that I am the only dissenting opinion here?”

E: “Yes, but D, in his infinite wisdom and patience and respect for rational discourse, in the hopes that true freedom of speech will not perish from our illustrious  society, allows wildly deluded people like you to comment here as well. I salute D in his continuing use of intentionally offensive words, despite the fact that he knows better ones, and furthermore if I want to tell a member of (minority group) or (minority group) or even (minority group) that we are all human and that my experiences are exactly like theirs and if they don’t think so they are stupid then I’m gonna, and if I want to make fun of trigger warnings traumatized people ask for I’m gonna, because while I am not a licensed psychiatrist I know that what is best for me is best for everyone.”

D: “I agree with E. We are right. I was totally not doing what you said I was doing to those racists who excluded me from their conversation you guys.”

G: “I am sorry you had to go through that, D.”

F: “You’re all wet, H.”

E: “Guys, don’t be too hard on H. One day, he will see that we are correct in our arguments, for we, my friends, are guided by Reason. Reason is the only thing that guides us, not these piddling self-interested petty little discussions conducted in echo chambers by pathetic fools who cling to antiquated notions of identity politics and rape rational discourse with the foolhardy and bittersweet poison they call ‘political correctness.’”

F: “You are the smartest person alive.”

E: “Thanks.”

 

H, tired of being berated, returns to the previous discussion, reading silently.

A: “…well, that was a nice discussion, guys.”

C: “Yeah, after we got D out of here.”

B: “I don’t understand why people like that have to butt in all the time.”

A: “People like what? You mean members of (majority group)?”

B: “No, not all members of (majority group) are like that. But some of them are, and man are they annoying.”

H: “Hey guys, I am a member of (majority group), and I have been following this conversation. I hope you guys don’t mind. I learned some things today that I would not have learned otherwise, and my worldview is now a little wider. Thank you for that.”

A: “That’s cool, H. You’re welcome!”

C: “Glad to have you.”

B: “Nice to meet you!”


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“LUMINOUS BEAMS ARE WE, NOT THIS CRUDE MATTER!”

So it’s the new year, and I have already broken a few resolutions. For one, I resolved to limit my time on Facebook and other social media with sort of an “office hours” approach, and I have yet to do so. These “office hours,” when the plan is implemented, will likely be early in the morning – an hour or so some time between 5 and 7 am, ideally – maybe half an hour during lunch – noon-ish – and then another hour or two later in the evening.

This sort of approach is undoubtedly already followed by many of my Facebook friends. The hours I have listed here are based around a normal 8 to 5 workday schedule. As I am not currently employed full-time in such a fashion, I have a tendency to spend far more time than that on social media.

And as I am (ostensibly) a “blogger” and “author” (first novel yet to be finished), I need to think of those activities in more of a workday sense than I currently do. Or at least for the duration of time I am able to get away with not having a full-time job, ha ha. I am hoping to make at least a little money off of the novel I am working on, but in all honesty I am not optimistic. It isn’t that I don’t have “faith” in the quality of the novel itself – personally I think it’s pretty decent – it’s just that my taste in fiction doesn’t exactly line up with mainstream tastes. And anyways I don’t want to spend hours and hours and hours (and hours and hours and hours) working on something that I myself would not personally enjoy reading. I would rather do something else to make money, I mean.

But anyways, I suppose we will see what happens. As I have stated before, if it sells ten copies, I will consider it a success.

Moving on, I have so far kept up with a couple other resolutions. I have been eating better – I have had a salad for lunch every day this week – and I have been drinking less alcohol. The only alcohol I have consumed since January 2 – so I celebrated the holiday with a glass of wine or three, sue me – has been in the form of NyQuil, and also DayQuil, if it’s got alcohol in it.

I also exercised a little, before the cold started dragging me down. Not a lot, just a few squats, a few chin-ups, a little dumbbell stuff, not much.

I have tried to be nicer. I have tried.

Anyways, what I want to express with all this blathering is that these are things I have decided to do to improve myself. I am not preaching at anyone. It is none of my business if you – whoever you are – do or do not choose to adhere to any sort of “self-improvement” plans like the ones I am attempting to adhere to.

If these things prove to be beneficial to me, I may or may not recommend that you do them yourself. If I see that you are struggling or suffering or whatever you want to call it with the same things I am struggling/suffering/whatever with, I may recommend them. As a matter of fact, friends of mine have recommended things like this to me, and my “resolutions” were influenced by these recommendations. And I am grateful to these friends, more so than I can really express here.

But – and this is a big “but” – I can’t force you to do the things I do. I can’t force you to change anything about yourself or your behavior.

Why not?

Put simply: I am not the boss of you.

And conversely, you can’t force me to do the things you do. You can’t force me to change anything about myself or my behavior.

Why not?

Put simply: you are not the boss of me.

And if you are thinking that this all sounds like hippy dippy drivel, and that I am probably woozy-headed from the DayQuil I took just a while ago, well, no comment.

What I am getting at, in a roundabout way, is the concept of “Freedom of Religion.” That is to say, the freedom to follow any religion you choose, or to not follow any religion at all.

I am not “anti-religion.” Many religious people may think that I am; I am not. I am all for religion, if it is something that enriches your life and the lives of those around you.

Because if you are happy and content, the people around you are more likely to be happy and content. If you are happy and content, you are less likely to bring negativity and turmoil into the lives of those around you.

This goes for me, too.

This is why I have made certain resolutions for the new year. To better myself, and thereby to be less of a drain on the people around me.

But the problem with religion – every religion – is that more often than not, adherents to whichever religion do not use their religion to improve themselves. More often than not, adherents to whichever religion use their religion as an excuse to try and change other people.

They don’t use religion as a means of self-improvement, they use it as a means to condemn other people.

I personally don’t care what religion you adhere to. As long as you use your religion to look inward, to improve yourself, I support you.

However, the moment you begin using your religion to project – the moment you begin attempting to force other people to adhere to your religion – then we have a problem.

I have written about this many times. I have said this exact same thing more times than I can count. But to repeat it once more:

Your religion is for you. It is something you follow to guide you in your life. If that is how you approach your religion, I support you, and I won’t ridicule you for it, and I will discourage others from ridiculing you for it.

And if you tell people about your religion and the positive impact it has had in your life, I will support you. But if you start trying to force people to follow your religion, you lose my support. If you start condemning people because they don’t follow your religion, you lose my support.

And if you start abusing people because of your religion, all bets are off.

Another resolution I made was to write every day. So far, most of my writing has been done on Facebook, which kinda sorta negated my resolution to spend less time on social media. And I had hoped to make more, well, focused blog posts than this one, but as I mentioned I am a bit woozy-headed.

But anyways, to repeat it once more: your religion is for you. Use it to improve you.

Otherwise we have a problem.

Thanks for reading.

May the Force be with you.

THOUGHTS ON STEPHEN JAY GOULD’S CONCEPT OF “NOMA”

Stephen Jay Gould said that science and religion are “non overlapping magisteria (NOMA),” two things that are completely separate from each other. Here is his definition of the term, from the Wikipedia article about it:

“Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values—subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve.”

Richard Dawkins disagreed, saying that religion constantly inserts itself into the scientific world, and that if there were scientific proof of claims made by religion, religious authorities would quickly adopt more scientific principles, rather than opposing science, which they tend to do when it brings into question the validity of religious claims.

I agree with Dawkins, sort of. I agree that religion often attempts to hinder science — stem cell research, for example — but I am not sure I agree completely. Claims made by religions are by definition unprovable. It is scientifically impossible to prove that God or any other deity exists.

It is, don’t get mad at me for saying so. But at the same time, belief in God (or any deity or set of deities) is an actual thing many people around the world possess. The effect this belief has on them and their environment is quite tangible. Some effects of religious belief are positive, and some are negative. Some effects are constructive, many others are quite destructive.

Dawkins tends to focus entirely on the destructive effects. And to be sure, there are plenty of those to focus on. But I disagree with Dawkins on his assertion that all religion must be eliminated. I think Gould would probably agree with me there. Here’s another Gould quote:

“Religion is too important to too many people for any dismissal or denigration of the comfort still sought by many folks from theology. I may, for example, privately suspect that papal insistence on divine infusion of the soul represents a sop to our fears, a device for maintaining a belief in human superiority within an evolutionary world offering no privileged position to any creature. But I also know that souls represent a subject outside the magisterium of science. My world cannot prove or disprove such a notion, and the concept of souls cannot threaten or impact my domain. Moreover, while I cannot personally accept the Catholic view of souls, I surely honor the metaphorical value of such a concept both for grounding moral discussion and for expressing what we most value about human potentiality: our decency, care, and all the ethical and intellectual struggles that the evolution of consciousness imposed upon us.”

Dawkins might say that Gould’s statement

“…the concept of souls cannot threaten or impact my domain.”

isn’t strictly correct, for religious authorities, whose very authority is given by things like a “concept of souls” have used that authority to hinder scientific progress time and time again.

So anyways, on that end of the concept, I suppose I have mixed feelings. Both sides make valid points.

But what about the other side of NOMA?

“Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values—subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve.”

I have to say I fully agree with Gould here. With regard to “values,” each religion has a set of values its followers adhere to. “Values” and “value judgments” are what produce the real-world effects of religion. The good stuff as well as the bad stuff.

That is not — is *not* — to say that one has to follow a religion to have “values” or to be “moral.” It’s a pretty common misconception among religious people that atheists are amoral. This simply is not — is *not* — true.

But at the same time, can “science” prescribe morality? Or is one’s own sense of morality, if one is an atheist, derived from a sense of compassion (or lack thereof) with her or his fellow humans?

Prominent atheist writer Sam Harris, for example, has written extensively about the real world atrocities committed in the name of Islam. And to be sure, he has a point: killing for an ideology is horrible.

But with the same keyboard (presumably) Harris uses to denounce Jihadis for killing because of an ideology, Harris also writes about the inevitability of “collateral damage” with regard to drone strikes and other such Western anti-terrorism strategies. It’s unfortunate, Harris argues, that innocent bystanders get killed when drones blow up this or that terrorist, but it’s necessary to get the terrorists.

The difference between a Jihadi and a drone pilot, Harris says, is intent. A Jihadi wants to kill innocent people and does so on purpose, a drone pilot wants to kill terrorists but accidentally kills innocent bystanders.

And there’s something to be said for that argument, but in both cases, innocent people get killed. And given that “collateral damage” is considered more or less inevitable — it’s avoided whenever possible, to be sure — doesn’t that sort of muddy up the whole “intent” argument?

Harris’ “intent” argument is based in his own moral sense. But what is that “moral sense,” and where did it come from?

From science?

Harris and Dawkins and others argue that the morality of religion springs from fear of divine punishment, and since it’s impossible to scientifically prove God or any other deity exists — again, don’t get mad at me for saying that, it’s true — then morality that arises from fear of divine punishment is an inferior sort of morality than the morality of atheists like themselves.

I disagree. I think Harris’ attitude toward “collateral damage” and whatnot springs from the same place that religious morality springs from: self-interest.

Religious people believe it’s in their best interest to please the deity they worship. They are therefore following their own self-interest by doing things they believe will please that deity.

Harris believes it’s in his own best interest that all the Jihadis get killed, even if that means some non-Jihadis get killed in the process. He was following what he believed to be his own self-interest when he wrote about “collateral damage.”

Friedrich Nietzsche once said,

“Fear is the mother of all morality.”

Do you agree with him? I fear — no pun intended — that I do.

But back to NOMA: can science prescribe morality?

A better question: *Should* science attempt to prescribe morality?

Personally I don’t see any way science could prescribe morality without degenerating into something less than “science.” Science infused with moral value judgments ceases to be objective, I mean. And the naturalistic fallacy — the way things are is the best way they could be, and anyone who tries to change things is wrong — has also been used by religious authorities over the years to justify horrible things, like slavery, subjugation of women, etc. etc. etc.

What do you think?

 

SELECTIVE OUTRAGE FROM THE RIGHT (AS IF THIS WERE A NEW THING)

Something I find hilarious about support for those militia guys in Oregon…actually a couple things:

1. The people who they are allegedly “protesting” on behalf of — the Hammonds, who were convicted of arson — have said they don’t want to be associated with the protest,

and

2. Many if not most of the people who support the Oregon “protesters” also supported the Keystone XL pipeline. Why is that hilarious? Because the main complaint towards the government with regard to the Oregon “protesters” is that the government allegedly took land from farmers. These “protesters” are standing up to an evil regime that takes hard-earned land away from upstanding Americans, and so on and so forth.

Many supporters of Keystone XL were apparently blissfully unaware that many people lost their homes because of Keystone XL. And many more would have lost their homes if it had been completed.

Where was the uproar on the right about that? Where were the armed militia men, bravely storming into public buildings, looking for a game of shoot-em-up? Where were the endless idiotic memes? Where was the outrage over hardworking Americans being relocated to make room for an oil pipeline to Canada?

It didn’t exist. It never happened.

Nobody on the right gave a shit.

I dunno. I find that sort of thing hilarious.

“HI THERE” – A LITTLE ABOUT THE AUTHOR OF THIS BLOG HERE

Allow me to introduce myself:

My name is Michael Nathan Walker. I am the only son of my mother and my biological father, whose identities you don’t need to know.

I have a half-brother who I consider to be my full brother. I always have and I always will. He is genuinely one of the very best people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. We grew up together, and he is my brother.

I have another half-brother and half-sister. I met them a few times when they were little kids. I haven’t seen either of them in a long time; as far as I know they are both doing well.

I was named “Michael” because that is my biological father’s middle name.

I was named “Nathan” because that is my maternal grandfather’s middle name.

Between you, me, and the wall, I think the fact that “MNW” has a certain amount of visual appeal (flip “MNW” over and it says “MNW”) may have played a part in how I was named. My mother is an artist, though she has a day job and would not consider herself to be an “artist.”

(Between you, me, and the wall, considering oneself to be an “artist” almost always ensures that one will never produce anything that could rightly be considered “art.” But that’s only my opinion.)

My last name is “Walker” because that was my biological father’s last name. Such is custom where I live.

I never really knew the man; from all accounts he was a decent fellow.

Which, given the fact that I consider myself to be a fairly decent fellow, I suppose I consider those accounts justified.

He is dead.

To quote one of my favorite authors, who is also dead:

“So it goes.”

I had an older half-sister – I forget her birthdate – who was killed when I was a teenager. She was a real estate agent, and very involved in her church.

A man she knew from church came to her office, wanting to be shown a property in a secluded area. My older half-sister took this man to see the property.

At some point, this man attempted to rape my older half-sister. She resisted.

I barely knew her – I only met her a few times – but I attribute her resistance to…well…something genetic, I guess.

I mean, for all intents and purposes, I, Michael Nathan Walker, am a pacifist, and while I have a certain amount of, how shall I say, appreciation for the whole “turn the other cheek” thing…if and when you slap me, and if and when I turn the other cheek in anticipation of another slap, well…no intimidation intended, but you had better protect yourself.

All I know about the case – “the case,” lol – is what I have been told, and what I have read online.

She resisted, she fought this cretin off. So I was told.

Somehow or other he put her in the trunk of a car.

I do not know if this was his car or her car. I think it was the car they both rode in, when they were going to look at the property in the remote area that this fellow from my older half-sister’s church told her he wanted to look at.

She was a real estate agent, you should remember.

She also wrote various things for her church’s weekly bulletin. Poems, inspirational stuff, et cetera.

She did this anonymously.

Her husband was either a pastor or the son of a pastor. I don’t remember for sure.

I shook her husband’s hand at her funeral. That was the first and only time I met him.

She looked like Elaine from Seinfeld.

If you can believe it.

I remember being at a cafeteria (I forget the name of the place) in Pecanland Mall when I was probably fourteen or so. I had been going there fairly regularly since I was much younger, being that Pecanland Mall is only about an hour and a half away from where I grew up, and being that my maternal grandmother (whose husband’s middle name is “Nathan”) liked to buy her grandchildren things…well, I had been there a few times.

One time I made my mom cry at this mall. I called her a “cheapskate” because she wouldn’t give me any more quarters to play Mortal Kombat II.

I was quoting somebody from some movie I had seen.

And this is the sort of thing that makes me realize that I am probably much more like the fellow whose middle name was “Michael” – remember, he is dead – than I will ever fully understand.

But this one time, I was maybe fourteen, I, my mom, my maternal grandma, my brother, and I were sitting in the buffet-style cafeteria in Pecanland Mall. We had already gone down the line, picked up whatever plates of food we wanted to eat, my grandmother had already paid the cashier at the end of the buffet line, and we all (all four of us) had finished our meals.

We were sitting there in a booth – my brother and I on one side, our mom and grandmother on the other – when almost out of nowhere my older half-sister appeared. She was there with some fellow, who may or may not have been the fellow whose hand I shook at her funeral less than a decade later – and she said hello to my mom and grandma, and I sat there like a dunce unsure of what I was supposed to say, and I and my younger brother agreed that she looked a lot like Elaine from Seinfeld.

We joked about that, off and on, for a good long while.

I remember when I was really little, like less than five, I spent Christmas with the fellow whose middle name is “Michael.”

My mom was wearing a brown robe when she answered the door, and I had gotten a plastic bowling set that morning from Santa – or my mom and stepdad, whichever you prefer.

I got in this fellow’s car, and I remember it wasn’t running very well. I remember us backing up in the driveway at my mom and stepdad’s house, then turning left

I don’t remember the ride to Monroe, LA, or thereabouts.

I do remember sitting in this sorry excuse for a car, out in front of my older half-sister’s mother’s house, while the fellow whose middle name was “Michael” went to the door.

I remember looking at a fish tank, or an “aquarium” or whatever you want to call it, that was sitting in the kitchen window of my older half-sister’s house.

I remember that she got into the front passenger seat of our father’s sorry excuse for a car, and I remember that she talked to him quite a lot.

All I remember from that trip, other than what I have related, is that I got a toy version of a B-Wing spacecraft from Star Wars – the one that roughly resembles a Christian cross – and that the fellow whose middle name is now my first name was deep into some sort of fairly heated conversation with another fellow when I tried to show it to him.

I and my brother played with that toy for years afterward. Even after the fold-out wings quit folding out.

Even after they broke off entirely.

My older half-sister resisted her would-be assailant.

Or so the police report went.

And he stuffed her into the trunk of whichever car they had been riding in previously, on their trip to the property in the remote location.

And my older half-sister – the one who looked like Elaine from Seinfeld, who wrote inspirational things for her church bulletin anonymously, who – she kicked or otherwise forced the trunk open, and the car was doing about 35 mph down the road, and

and she jumped out, and when she did her head hit the pavement, and when her head hit the pavement

Long story short she died.

And I never really knew her, like on a personal level. And I shook her husband’s hand at her funeral.

Do you want to know more about me?

 

Super!

 

Politically, I am what most pundits and assorted talking heads would call a “leftist.” I don’t resent this at all, but rather than limit myself to whatever idiotic conception you may or may not have of “leftist” is, I will continue to tell you about myself:

I don’t think anyone should be prevented from doing anything that doesn’t harm others. In this sense, I am somewhat of a “libertarian.”

But I find it incredibly hypocritical when people invoke “libertarianism” as an excuse for human rights violations.

Specifically, like when corporations resist regulations that protect workers in the name of “libertarianism.”

As long as your actions are not harming anyone else, I personally do not give a crap what you do.

I believe you – whoever you are – have the right to do whatever the hell you want to do. I believe that sort of freedom should extend to every other human being (and every other sentient animal) on our planet.

I sincerely do. I support your right to be weird. I hope you fly your freak flag every day you remain alive…as long as doing so doesn’t harm anyone else.

In that sense, I am a “libertarian.” But that’s as far as my “libertarianism” goes.

I do not support people who pay scant wages to their employees.

I do not support people who run multimillion-dollar businesses who refuse to pay taxes.

I do not support the hijacking of “libertarianism” by persons who wish to restrict the freedoms of others.

So, yeah.

 

Is anybody still reading?

 

If so, thanks.

 

I will (maybe) continue this later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Don’t hold your breath, tho, plz)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(SRSLY, you needs O2. Breeth it)

TIT FOR TAT — A LOOK AT “FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD” BY ROBERT A. HEINLEIN

For my second entry under the “Books” category, I will be reviewing a somewhat infamous sci-fi novel: “Farnham’s Freehold” by Robert A. Heinlein.

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I actually don’t know if “infamous” is the right word, but suffice it to say that this particular novel has stirred up a bit of controversy over the years, at least among people who know who Robert A. Heinlein is.

I personally only became introduced to the man’s writing a few years ago, when I read perhaps his most famous novel, “Starship Troopers.”

I read “Starship Troopers” some years after first seeing Paul Verhoeven‘s film adaptation of it. And to be honest, the film didn’t impress me all that much, at least not the first time I saw it. But subsequent viewings, done on lazy afternoons out of boredom, made me find that I had been in error in dismissing the film so quickly. (I don’t care much for the sequels, by the way.)

A significant part of the story of that film (and the novel) has to do with a slightly modified conception of the word “citizen.” In the film (and the novel; the novel goes into more depth on this issue), one cannot be a “citizen” unless one is in the military. That isn’t to say that non-military people are subjugated, really: the main difference between a “citizen” and everyone else is that “citizens” are allowed to vote. Non-military people, people who aren’t “citizens,” can’t vote.

The novel explains that the rationale behind this is that if one has willingly joined the military – and “willingly” is important; no one is forced to join – one has put his or her own life at risk for the benefit of all humanity. Therefore one has shown that one’s decisions are not based upon selfish whims, but rather on what constitutes the greater good.

To be sure, in our world, this concept seems, to say the least, strange. But in the world of “Starship Troopers,” humanity is no longer divided into countries, at least not in the same way we are divided today. All of humanity is working together to fight off threats from other worlds.

And yes, this idea of “citizens” consisting entirely of military personnel is a little bit, well, “out there.” And I may delve into this issue at some point in the future here on my blog, but not today. I merely wanted to mention it to give an example of the sort of thing Heinlein speculated about.

Heinlein was known as one of the “Big Three” of “hard sci-fi,” along with Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Glance at the linked article for a better description of the term “hard sci-fi” if you are not familiar with the term, but it basically refers to sci-fi that is (at least mostly) based in actual science. To be sure, notions such as time travel and parallel universes and unproven things like that creep their way into “hard sci-fi” (including “Farnham’s Freehold”), but these things are always dealt with in such a way that reflects current scientific theories about these things.

I honestly don’t remember which of the other two of the Big Three said it – it was possibly both of them; for all the vast scientific knowledge and vivid imagination Clarke and Asimov possessed, they were refreshingly humble in their approach to writing, as was Heinlein – but at least one of them (Clarke or Asimov) referred to Heinlein as the true “master” of science fiction.

And though I have only read two of his novels, I have to say that if he isn’t a “master” of the genre, I don’t think there has ever been one.

In addition to keeping the “science” part of his sci-fi scientific, Heinlein also speculated quite compellingly about the effects his imagined advances in science would have upon society, and also how society itself might evolve over the millennia. And sometimes these speculations seem quite strange; nonetheless Heinlein presents them in such a way that they make complete sense, within the context of the stories themselves.

But enough blathering; on with the review:

“Farnham’s Freehold” begins in 1960s America, at the home of one Hugh Farnham. Hugh has an adult son named Duke, an adult daughter named Karen, an alcoholic wife named Grace, and an African-American “houseboy” named Joe. In addition, Karen’s friend from college, Barbara, is over for a visit.

You may have done a bit of a double-take at the word “houseboy.” And rightfully so. Joe, at the beginning of the novel, is essentially a live-in housekeeper.

And yes, the term “houseboy” may be construed as offensive. Joe is, after all, an adult.

But one must remember that this novel was first published in 1964. At that time, the Civil Rights Movement was going on. Back then, for a white family to have a black “houseboy” was not at all uncommon. Nor was it uncommon for a white family to treat their “houseboy” (and/or whatever the female equivalent of that distasteful term is) as if they were “beneath” them.

I am not saying that was “right.” Far from it. It was wrong, and it was shameful.

But it happened.

Hugh Farnham, the protagonist and patriarch in the story, is not a racist. He treats Joe – who is incidentally mentioned to be in accounting school – the way he treats everyone else. As an equal.

This is not the case for his wife Grace or his son Duke. These two are, to put it bluntly, bigots. They use racial epithets to describe Joe when he isn’t around. Hugh discourages them from doing so, which only makes them angry at him.

Which is typical bigot behavior.

And I think I have given a short peek at where the controversy lies in this novel. It has been called “racist” by many reviewers.

And I have to say, well, I disagree.

The notion that to illustrate racism in a text is to somehow make the text “racist” is…well, I suppose it’s a matter of opinion. In my opinion, if you want to discredit something like racism – as I posit Heinlein was at least attempting to do in this text – well, you have to illustrate what that something is. You have to show examples of it, I mean. And he does that quite well, I think.

But moving on with the plot, Hugh, Duke, Karen, and Barbara sit down to play contract bridge in the kitchen. Grace is passed out, and Joe has gone to bed. Suddenly, an emergency broadcast comes over the airwaves: the USA is under a nuclear assault.

Hugh is fully prepared for this eventuality. As a matter of fact, Duke has just been making fun of Hugh for building a nuclear bomb/fallout shelter under the house, one that is fully stocked with water, food, and supplies.

At any rate, when the emergency broadcast comes over the airwaves, everyone goes down to the shelter. Joe makes a last minute rescue of the family cat, then the shelter is sealed.

Not long after the shelter is sealed, Hugh declares that he is in charge, that he has made extensive plans for rationing food and supplies, and that anyone who has a problem with that can leave the shelter post-haste. Duke, in a somewhat typical “I’m a grown man, dad, you can’t tell me what to do” scene, tells Hugh he does not agree with this arrangement.

Hugh instructs Joe – the “houseboy” – to shoot Duke, if he refuses to comply. Joe, Hugh says, did not make fun of him when he (Hugh) was planning and building the shelter, Joe helped extensively with the construction and planning of the shelter, and Joe was now, for all intents and purposes, the second in command.

Of course, in later scenes – Duke submits to Hugh’s authority and Joe does not shoot him – Duke expresses resentment toward Joe, and his resentment often has an ugly bigoted tinge to it. As do other comments made about Joe.

But Hugh always steps up to Joe’s defense. Hugh does not treat Joe any differently – any worse or any better – than anyone else in his family. And he considers Joe to be part of his family.

At any rate, once everyone is in the shelter, the nukes hit. And they cause damage inside the shelter. It is assumed by everyone that the bombs hit pretty close to where the shelter is buried.

I don’t want to give too much away about the rest of the novel, at least spoiler-wise, but I have to give some things away, things that contributed to the controversy this novel generated.

But first, I would like to mention another sci-fi novel – although this other one crosses out of “hard sci-fi” and into “fantasy,” especially in its sequels – Frank Herbert‘s 1965 masterpiece “Dune.” If one glances at the pic provided at the top of this post, one can see my copy of “Dune” on the bookshelf behind me. I put it there on purpose.

At any rate, if you are familiar at all with the “Dune” series, you know that the government in “Dune” consists of a set of feudal lords, and that the mythology of the series borrows quite heavily from Islamic traditions, or at least Islamic nomenclature. “Houses” in “Dune” strongly resemble “Houses” in the Middle East, as do various customs and things like that in the novel and its sequels.

I do not know if Heinlein read any of “Dune” before he wrote and published “Farhnam’s Freehold” – parts of “Dune” had been serialized in late 1963 and early 1964, prior to its 1965 publication as a finished novel – but without revealing exactly how they got there, Hugh Farnham and his family end up in a “house” that also borrows quite heavily from Islamic traditions.

There is a supreme leader of the house, and a system of servants under him who cannot question his authority. The “law” is based on something similar to the Koran – which Hugh has read, being the amateur scholar that he is – the inhabitants speak “Language,” which is noted to be similar to Arabic, and there are many many slaves in the house, divided by sex. The term “harem rules” is mentioned several times. Men in the house are either “studs” or “tempered servants.” “Tempered,” as you can probably intuit without me explicitly saying so, means “neutered.” While this part may or may not have any root in any sort of Islamic custom, this next part certainly does:

The majority of women are known simply as “sluts,” or else “bedwarmers.”

This is where the main controversy surrounding the novel begins. And yes, yes, a thousand times yes, what I have written about is offensive. It’s horrible. It’s inhuman.

But is it impossible?

Has nothing like this ever happened before?

Does this sort of thing not happen today, in certain parts of the world?

(Are you familiar with the word “concubine”?)

But I suppose the main complaint about this novel is not that, believe it or not. And again, our Hugh does not approve of this situation. He finds it abhorrent. He has a “bedwarmer,” one who I believe is fourteen years old – yes, “ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh” – but he doesn’t do anything sexual with her.

And again, this is not the main point that is brought up against this novel, believe it or not. The main point brought up against it is that the people in charge – the “Chosen” – are all dark-skinned. The slaves are white.

The situation at the beginning of the novel – an upper-middle class white family with a black “houseboy” – is turned upon its head. At the end of the novel, the “houseboy,” by virtue of the color of his skin, is considered to be “Chosen,” and he gets all the privileges the other Chosen get.

Considering the disgusting misogynistic Islamic royalty-type setup of this situation, maybe it is racist, to a degree. Because for certain, other historical monarchies also once practiced sickening things like what happen in this weird future Islamofascist sci-fi scenario. Dark-skinned people are not the only ones who have perpetrated this sort of nonsense, historically speaking, and for it to be such a major plot issue…maybe it is a tad “racist.” But I don’t know; the setup of the house makes for some interesting plot points, points I will leave it up to you to find out about, should you choose to read the novel yourself.

But moving on, Hugh and Barbara – to remind, Barbara is Hugh’s daughter’s friend from college; for another spoiler, the six people at the beginning think they are the only people left in the world for a good part of the novel – become husband and wife at one point. And she gives birth to twins.

They – Hugh, Barbara, and their babies – make it out of the situation, eventually. Joe – who is the source of the “tit for tat” quoted in the title of this post – finds that he likes being the beneficiary of racial privilege. At first Hugh is shocked by this, but then realizes that he, too, despite his not being a bigot of any sort – or a misogynist, or any such thing – decides that he can’t really blame Joe for staying there.

Grace and Duke stay. They are, essentially, pets.

***

Reading back over this summary, I can see how this novel could be construed as wildly offensive, on a number of levels.

But I would like to remind everyone that it’s fiction. As in “not true.” As in “what if?”

At any rate, Hugh Farnham is not a bigot. Or a misogynist. And neither was Robert A. Heinlein – at least not from what I can tell of my limited reading of his work – and neither am I.

But all things considered, this novel was a good read. I enjoyed it, and I would recommend it to any fan of science fiction.

Thank you for reading my review of it.

***

And I have let about 36 hours go by, between when I wrote the above review and now. I reread my review of the novel in question, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to post that on my blog.

I am not a racist. I am not a misogynist.

And here I need to make a grammatical point:

“Racist” can be used as a noun, or as an adjective. I think you have to make “misogynist” into “misogynistic” for it to be an adjective, and what I am about to write applies to “misogynist/misogynistic” as well, but for simplicity’s sake, I am just going to focus on the word “racist.”

As a noun, “racist” means, basically, someone who adheres to the philosophy that one race is superior or inferior to another.

Example:

“Person A thinks that his skin color makes him superior to people of a different skin color. Person A is a racist.”

As an adjective, “racist” means, basically, expressing the philosophy that one race is superior or inferior to another.

Example:

Person A: “Everybody of my skin color is better than everybody of your skin color, Person B.”

Person B: “That’s racist, Person A. That statement you just made is racist.”

Many people like to make the argument that “people are racist, statements (and books, and any number of things) aren’t.”

And strictly speaking, that simply isn’t true. It is true that “Farnham’s Freehold” is not a racist. It is not a person who adheres to the philosophy that one race is superior or inferior to another race.

But, is it true that “Farnham’s Freehold” is a racist novel? Does this novel express the philosophy that one race is superior or inferior to another race?

I don’t really think so. I don’t personally perceive it as such. But does that mean that nobody in the world is entitled to disagree with me? Hardly.

I maintain that it was Heinlein’s intent to denounce racism with this novel. And from my point of view, I would say that he did a decent job of it.

But if you disagree, can I objectively say that you are wrong?

No, I cannot. Heinlein’s approach to racism in this novel was informed by his position in the society of 1960s America. He was a successful white dude*. And so was his protagonist, Hugh Farnham. As Joe (the African-American “houseboy”) mentions, Hugh never had the experience of riding a bus through Alabama as a “[n-word].”

And neither did Heinlein. Does Heinlein’s being a successful white dude mean he can’t be against racism? No! But, at the same time, he may or may not inadvertently have written things that could rightfully be described as “racist” by other people. Including other successful white dudes.

There are, indeed, racist statements made by white characters in the novel. And there are racist statements made by dark-skinned “Chosen” as well, in the imagined future where white people are their slaves. As I mentioned before, though, you can’t really denounce something like “racism” if you don’t show examples of it. And I would argue that’s what Heinlein was trying to do. Whether he succeeded is up to the reader.

I would argue that he succeeded. You may not agree.

At any rate, if you read this novel and are offended immensely by it, I would hope that your being offended would not cause you to label me as a “racist.” Or a “misogynist.”

I don’t consider myself to be either of those things, and I make a conscious effort not to express myself in such a way that may lead others to think I am one of those things.

But if I make a statement – or write a blog post – that makes you think I am a racist, or a misogynist, or any sort of thing like that that I do not consider myself to be, what matters more, objectively speaking:

My intentions behind my actions, which I consider to be anti-racist, anti-misogynist, anti-everything like that, or

Your perception of my actions?

My intentions matter more to me, of course, but don’t your perceptions matter more to you?

If I write something you construe to be racist, and you say “Hey, asshole, that’s racist,” does my saying “I didn’t mean to say something racist” mean that I didn’t say something racist?

No, it does not. Without intending to, in that situation, I would have made a racist statement. And I would have no right whatsoever to get angry at the person who perceived my statement as racist. The only rational course of action in that scenario, from my point of view, would be to say

“I am sorry I offended you. I didn’t mean to say anything racist, but now I know that what I said could be considered racist, so I will avoid saying that in the future.”

And if you are squirming in your seat, steam shooting out of your ears, with thoughts of “language police” and “political correctness gone mad” swirling through your brain, I am not requiring anyone else to follow my own personal approach to situations like this. I am merely telling you my approach. You are welcome to take it or leave it.

I follow that approach because it allows the lines of communication between me and that hypothetical person to remain open. I can continue to learn from that person through mutually respectful communication.

If I declare that they are crazy for calling me a racist (or whatever), I am cutting off the lines of communication.

And of course, if I don’t want to keep the lines of communication open between this hypothetical person and myself, I don’t have to. My perceptions of their behavior are as important to me as their perceptions of my behavior are to them.

Have I lost you? Have I circled back around to where I started, when I started writing this addendum to my review of a somewhat controversial sci-fi novel? Arguably.

But I would like to add one thing, then finish up:

My intentions, I would venture, are less important to you than your perception of me is to you. Am I incorrect?

I didn’t mean to come off as a racist or as a misogynist by giving this novel a positive review (despite all its abhorrent content), but if you feel I am a racist or a misogynist for doing so, how can I prove to you that my intentions were noble?

I can’t.

Thank you for reading.

*As an aside, please consider the inanity of this statement: “I think identity politics is a dumb concept.” Do you see what I mean? Every rationally thinking person in the world supports political ideas that support their own best interest, or at least what they perceive to be their own best interest. What they perceive as their own best interest is inexorably linked to their own personal identity. Therefore, everyone – yes, even you – is part of the phenomenon known as “identity politics.” You can point to special interest groups, which consist of people from this or that demographic, and scream “identity politics is the bane of society!” all you want, just be aware that when you do so, you are expressing your own “identity” in the political realm by doing so. So you may as well just keep that nonsense to yourself; there’s plenty of nonsense in the political realm already. (And yes, that last sentence is my own opinion, which hinges on my own “identity,” and so on and so forth.)

I AIN’T GOT MUCH TIME TO TALK, BUT

Hello, everbody, it’s me agin, Cousin Ronald. I just wanted to talk fer a minnit with you. I ain’t got long, seein as how I’m writin this on my lunch hour, and I got a big ol ham sammich waitin fer me that I got to eat, else I ain’t gonna be worth a dang all afternoon.

I want to share a little bit of wisdom I fount sevral years back, from a man name of Jimmy Swaggart. And I know, he done got in trouble fer messin around on his old lady years back, and librals and assorted Godless heathen types likes to point out thangs like that an persecute God-fearin’ Christian types, jes because they sinned in the past, them librals want to try and make like Jesus don’t fergive em.

Well, Jesus done fergive Jimmy Swaggart, and I have too. If you don’t fergive a man done got right with Jesus, well, I ain’t got much time fer you.

Jimmy Swaggart is a wise man, and a Godly man, but he ain’t nuthin but a man still, so he’s a gonna mess up from time to time. Like all of us does.

And anyways I’s wantin to share a bit of wisdom he writ sevral years ago, in a book whut he named “The United States, Israel & Islam.” It’s a right fine book, feller whut come to my church from down south Lousianna give it to me, one time here while back when he come and guest preached, when our reglar preacher was laid up sick with some kinda infection he pickt up on a Mission Trip to Tieland. I ain’t sure whut he had or how he got it, but I seen him up yonder at the farmacy, gettin some kind a medicine, and I swear that feller lookt like somebody done rung his bells with a steel toe boot, he was hunched over and limpin around so.

Probly some Muslim did it. Probly some terrorist mad cause our preacher was over yonder in Tieland, preachin the Gospel and tryin to rid that place of all the sinnin and vice over yonder. Our preacher talkt about all the Tie wimmen sellin thereself, and the Tie men dressin up like they’s wimmen and sellin thereself, and how perverts from round the hole world went to Tieland so’s to meet up with em and patrinize em.

And some Muslim didn’t like our preacher preachin aginst vice and sinnin, and so he kickt him right in the fambly jewls, and that’s how come he was hunched over limpin like he was, when I seent him at the farmacy that one time.

Lookt like it said “penicillin” on one of them bottles our preacher had, and all I can figure is that Muslim musta broke the skin and caused a infection. Them dang Muslims…they ain’t right. They just ain’t right.

But I don’t need to tell nobody that, they done seent whut happend over to Paris France the other day. They seent it. And some people (who shall remain nameless) tryed to tell me that them attacks was at least parshally do to whut America done did in the Mid East.

It wern’t no suprise to me, no sir. Them librals said the same thang years ago, said invadin Iraq was gonna cause more trouble in the Mid East, and they was wrong then and they is wrong now. Just cause we took apart the Iraq army and replaced em with civillians, and just cause them civillians turnt tail and run at the first sign a trouble, leavin there guns and equipmint on the ground, librals is tryin to say that ISIS is George W. Bush’s fault!

Can you beleive that? How they gone blame Bush, when Bush was the one whut sent the hole Iraq army packin? Just cause they come back a while later and stole the guns Bush give the new Iraq army? Just cause ISIS is led by former Iraq army guys?

Them librals is crazy! Crazy, I tell you! There ain’t but one reason fer ISIS, and that reason is ISLAM! There ain’t no other reason!

Tryin to blame Bush, just cause ISIS is shootin people with guns Bush left in Iraq with a buncha cowards whut turnt tail and run!

It ain’t Bush’s fault!

But hell, I could go on all day, and I ain’t got all day. I got more importint thangs to do than sit round playin on the compruter. For one, eat my ham sammich, which Muslims say I ain’t suppost to do.

I like ham! Take that, Muslims!

So anyways here’s them words of wisdom what Jimmy Swaggart wrote. My libral cousin – my libral DISTANT cousin – said this sounded a lot like some athiest fellow name of Sam Harris, but I don’t see how no athiest could be as smart as Jimmy Swaggart. And anyways who cares what a durn athiest thanks, anyway.

Here’s whut Jimmy Swaggart writ:

“That policy consists of the idea, grossly erroneous I might quickly add, that the religion of Islam is peaceable and righteous, and that it has been hijacked by a few fanatics. Nothing could be further from the Truth. As we have stated elsewhere in this Volume, the religion if Islam is based entirely upon the Koran. To be sure, the Koran advocates terrorism, and even the slaughter of untold millions if necessary to further the cause of this religion. While all Muslims aren’t murderers, still, all Muslims belong to a religion that strongly advocates wholesale murder, all in the name of Allah. As well, this wholesale murder includes mostly innocent victims.”

Jimmy Swaggart said that much more clearer than I coulda. He is a very inteligint man.

My distant cousin says if you take away all the Bible stuff Jimmy Swaggart says, Jimmy Swaggart sounds a lot like a durn heathen athiest.

Well, if that’s so, I ain’t gonna pay no tension to it. I don’t listen to nuthin no athiest says. And I don’t reckon no athiest pays no tension to what people like me says, neither.

Anyways I hope you all have a blessed day.

HONORING UNCLE JOHN, ON VETERANS DAY

I suppose that this post should, technically, be classified under a category called “History” or something, but seeing as how I almost have as many different categories here on my blog as I do blog posts, I will sneak in a little bit of my own personal philosophy (which, of course, consists mainly of philosophies I have borrowed from other people) and post it under “philosophy.” Sounds good to me.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am, whenever possible, anti-war. I do not attempt to deny this fact. I believe war should be a last resort, only after all diplomatic avenues have failed, only after economic sanctions have failed, only when there is no other viable option.

Some people mistake this position to mean that I am “anti-soldier” or that I “don’t support the troops.” Again, anyone who knows me at all should know that this interpretation of my position regarding war is utterly false.

I am anti-war because I support the troops. I don’t want to see American service men and women put in harm’s way unless there is no other option.

But this blog post is not being written so that I might brag about how “progressive” or “compassionate” or whatever that I think I am by virtue of my stance regarding war. I am here today to tell a story about a man – a veteran – who had a very positive influence on my life.

His name was John Dollar. He served in the U.S. Navy a few decades before I was ever born.

When I was a kid, from the time I was still in diapers until I was around 13, while my mom and stepdad were at work, I would stay with “Uncle John” and his wife, Kathryn, or as pretty much everyone called her, “Aunt Kat.”

Aunt Kat and Uncle John (both have now passed on) never had any children of their own. But they loved children, and they were both excellent role models (and play companions) for children. I would venture that nobody who grew up in my small community of Lawson, Arkansas since Aunt Kat and Uncle John settled here will deny this. They took my mom and uncle on trips when they were younger. They also took me and my brother on trips a few times. I have more fond memories of my time with them than I can even count.

But again, that’s not specifically what I am here to write about today. Although I suppose I should mention that in addition to being an excellent role model, playmate, confidante, and any number of such things, Aunt Kat was also an excellent cook.

And I do mean excellent. None of us kids who stayed with her ever went hungry. Never. And long after she was no longer able to keep kids, she continued to cook beans and cornbread, turnip greens, or stew, or her famous spaghetti – there has never been any better spaghetti made by anyone, anywhere – and give most of it away to people in the community. Toward the end of her life, she would stand over a hot stove all day, just to be able to spread a little happiness around the community, even though it was very difficult for her to get in and out of her car by this point. “Kat, you didn’t have to do that!” was said often by my mom (and I am sure by several other people), after Aunt Kat pulled up in our driveway and honked her horn, signaling that we should come out and get the food she had brought us, because it was very hard for her to get out of her car and bring it to us.

And we always expressed that she didn’t have to do that, but we were always glad that she did.

But going back to my childhood, I can remember clearly sitting at the dining table in the kitchen with my brother or any number of kids who stayed with the Dollars over the years, eating delicious, home-cooked meals. And I remember something else food-related that pertains to Uncle John specifically: Uncle John would not eat rice.

Not only would Uncle John not eat rice, Uncle John did not like to be in the same room where rice was being eaten or even cooked. He despised the stuff. As in truly and deeply hated it.

Yes, rice, those little white grains that go with pretty much everything and don’t have a whole lot of flavor by themselves. Uncle John hated rice. I am not exaggerating; the man would not sit in the same room with it. He would get up and go outside.

I didn’t really understand why that was until many years later. I had heard abbreviated versions of the story I am about to relate, but never the full version. Aunt Kat told it to me several years after Uncle John had already passed away.

Before I write anything at all about this story, I want to stress that I am not trying to rile anyone up about anything. What takes place in this story took place during wartime. Specifically when the United States and Japan were not on friendly terms like they are today.

I have been to Japan. I spent about a week there in 2007. I hope to be able to go there again someday. It is an incredibly interesting place, and one week is not nearly enough time to even begin appreciating the place.

So if anyone comes away from this blog post with a negative attitude about Japan, please understand that this was not my intention. I am merely relating a story that was told to me, a story that took place when the United States and Japan were not on friendly terms.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not even sure what year this story occurred in, or precisely where it took place. I pressed Aunt Kat for details, but she didn’t remember exactly.

My guess is that this story took place some time around the end of World War II, most likely before the end but possibly a little after. I simply don’t know for sure.

I do know that Aunt Kat and Uncle John spent a decent amount of time living in the Philippines, while Uncle John was stationed there. But again, I don’t know exactly how long they were there, or what years they were there.

At any rate, here is the story Aunt Kat told me, with regard to why Uncle John could not stand to be in the same room as rice:

One day, while Uncle John was stationed “overseas” (I am assuming in the Philippines, but as I said, I don’t know for sure) he left the base, intending to see the sights, I suppose. Without realizing it, he wandered into enemy territory, the enemy at the time being Japan. He was captured by Japanese troops and taken to a prison work camp.

At the camp, Uncle John and many other captured soldiers were forced to work insanely long hours – as long as the sun was out, I think – and they were given very little to eat or drink.

All they were given each day, according to Aunt Kat, was a single cup of tea, and what I believe she called a “cord” of rice. She used some term like that I hadn’t heard before; at any rate they were only given a small bowl of rice to eat each day.

And it wasn’t simply the rice, in and of itself, that Uncle John refused to be around later in life. It was what the rice reminded him of.

And it wasn’t merely working out in the hot sun all day with very little food and drink. It was also being forced to do so at gunpoint. It was also watching other men starve to death, collapse from exhaustion, or be shot by guards.

Uncle John was at that camp for quite a while. When I knew him, he was a fairly stocky man – in decent physical shape, but stocky, sort of like I am now – probably around 180 to 200 pounds. I am guessing.

When he was finally released from the prison camp, he weighed around a hundred pounds, I was told.

I don’t know for sure how long he was there. But he was there long enough to see many more young men come in, many of whom he also saw die there.

Uncle John gave the new prisoners advice about things – how to avoid angering the guards, how to ration a single bowl of rice to make it last all day, things like that – but many of them wouldn’t listen. They would gobble all their rice up as soon as it was given to them, and would find themselves starving and without food later in the day, while Uncle John and others still had a bite or two left.

And, of course, many of them simply cracked under pressure, did something to anger a guard, and were shot.

And again, my writing this is to honor Uncle John, not to denigrate Japan or the Japanese people. If you don’t (or can’t) understand the distinction, I would ask that you stop reading before I continue. As acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa once said, in defense of his film “Rhapsody In August,” one that concerns the long-term psychological effects of the atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki, “Governments wage wars, not people.” I fully agree with him. If circumstances had been different, if their respective governments had not set them at odds with each other, the men holding the guns in the prison camp and the men being worked to death might have been friends. But I am digressing. At any rate, I am not trying to make anyone dislike Japan or its people, so please don’t assume I am. I am merely relating a bit of history, as it was told to me. Just as Kurosawa was relating a bit of history in his film “Rhapsody In August,” which incidentally is a fantastic film that anyone reading this should watch. It has been called a “propaganda” film by certain American critics; I find that accusation to be beyond absurd.

But moving on, in the prison camp, there was a large, open work area. The prisoners planted crops, or dug ditches, or tended various livestock, or did any number of physically exhausting activities. And let me remind you they were only given a single cup of tea to drink all day.

And let me also remind you that tea contains caffeine, which is a diuretic. Which means it makes you pee. Which means it dehydrates you.

In the middle of the work area was a water fountain. All day, as the prisoners worked in the blazing sun, the fountain spurted water into the air. The water fell into a pool around the fountain, splashing tantalizingly, then was recirculated through the fountain, up into the air, and so on, all day long.

The prisoners were strictly forbidden to drink from this fountain, or even to go anywhere near it. Uncle John saw men who simply could not resist – could not bear the psychological pressure any longer – drop their shovel or rake or whichever tool they had in hand and run toward the fountain.

Uncle John saw these men get shot. Uncle John saw their bodies being dragged away.

Uncle John tried to warn newcomers about things like this. Some listened. Some didn’t.

I had heard abbreviated versions of what I have written several times in my life, mostly from Aunt Kat, while Uncle John was still living. But one day, several years ago, after Uncle John had died, but still several years before Aunt Kat did, she told me the whole story again, along with one other anecdote, one that almost got Uncle John killed.

One of Uncle John’s friends in the camp tended chickens as part of his work load. One day, after they both had been there for quite a while, they devised a plan, one that almost worked, to have roasted chicken for dinner one night, instead of a bite or two of rice.

The friend who tended chickens managed to steal one without being noticed. He stuffed it under his clothing, killed it, and hid it in the outhouse the prisoners used.

Somehow, Uncle John, his friend, and a few other of the men in his bunkhouse (or whatever it was called) were also able to obtain matches, or at any rate some method of starting a fire.

This is a detail I have forgotten. I am kicking myself for not writing all this down nine years ago, when Aunt Kat told me the story.

Anyways, one by one, with the guards’ permission, Uncle John and his friends went to the outhouse. One by one, just a little at a time, they took turns cooking the chicken on the outhouse floor, careful to put the fire out and hide the chicken each time.

Someone from the bunkhouse was always keeping watch, in case a guard got wise to what they were doing. They had an agreed-upon signal, and if a guard started toward the outhouse, someone would give the signal.

Over the course of a night, Uncle John and the other men in on the scheme took their turns roasting the chicken, bit by bit.

Uncle John told Aunt Kat that after the chicken began to almost get done, it was the best-smelling chicken he had ever smelled in his life, despite its close proximity to an open hole full of excrement and urine.

Unfortunately, Uncle John never got to taste that chicken, and neither did any of the other men. Just as the chicken was beginning to almost be edible, a guard noticed the smell, or maybe saw smoke. I think it was smoke.

At any rate, the guard noticed that something fishy was going on and started toward the outhouse. The man on watch saw him and gave the signal, and the man in the outhouse tossed the half-roasted chicken into the shit pit.

The guard found nothing out of the ordinary in the outhouse, and nobody was punished.

But nobody got to eat any chicken, either.

And Uncle John swore off rice the moment he was released from that prison camp. And as far as I know, he never touched another grain of rice as long as he lived.

He loved chicken, though.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for serving, if you happen to be a veteran.

I KNEW HIM, HORATIO…OR AT LEAST I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO — A GLANCE AT DAVID FOSTER WALLACE’S “INFINITE JEST”

For my first blog post under the “Books” heading (this heading will include both fiction and non-fiction), I will write a short, mostly impressionistic little article about one of my most favorite novels, David Foster Wallace‘s 1996 masterpiece, “Infinite Jest.”

Before I get going, I want to tell the reader what this blog post will not be. It will not be in any way “scholarly,” that is to say I will not apply any sort of literary filter to it. The impressions I will give will be my own, and as I am not preparing in any way for this blog post — and as my second reading of the novel in question was concluded almost a year ago — don’t expect any sort of deep insight from this post.

There are a great many essays available online which take a much more scholarly approach, such as this one, an essay which applies the philosophies of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Mikhail Bahktin to the text. I read this essay a while back, not long after I finished my second reading. A major theme of that essay has to do with how the characters in “Infinite Jest” are isolated from each other by the language they use to communicate: that is to say that while they are all (for the most part) speaking in English, their various slang terms and colloquialisms and dialects and grammatical structures and whatnot often hinder any sort of real communication between them. This same phenomenon happens in the real world: people often get into heated arguments over the meaning of this or that word or phrase. I myself have gotten into heated arguments over certain political or philosophical points — both in real life and online — with people who, as it turned out, saw the issue at hand more or less exactly the same way I did. I and my various argumentative adversaries merely used different words to express our opinions, and these words meant different things to me than they did to my (apparent) adversaries. It’s a relatively rare phenomenon — this phenomenon of arguing with someone only to find out you agreed with them from the very beginning — but it does indeed happen. At any rate, as expounded upon in the essay linked to above, “Infinite Jest” illustrates this sort of stunted communication quite well.

But that’s not what I am going to write about tonight. Nor am I going to speculate upon any one interpretation of the novel’s central plot line, like I did with my post about the movie “Donnie Darko.” Suffice it to say that there are various plot points in “Infinite Jest” that are left somewhat open to interpretation.

This practice of leaving loose ends untied, so to speak, was a hallmark of a lot of Wallace’s fiction, including his first novel “The Broom of the System” and many of his short stories. This practice worked to great effect (in my opinion) in stories such as “The Suffering Machine” and “John Billy,” but honestly can get a little bit frustrating, even for the most patient sort of reader.

Actually, it can get extremely frustrating. “Infinite Jest” made me want to call David Foster Wallace on the phone and scream obscenities at him, after I finished the last page of it.

Unfortunately, Wallace had been dead for a little over three years when I first read “Infinite Jest”. Wallace committed suicide in 2008.

Looking back at his fiction, I suppose Wallace’s felo de se is not especially, well, I hate to say it, but, well, not all that surprising. Suicide is a theme in a lot of Wallace’s fiction (including his unfinished third novel “The Pale King“), and “Infinite Jest” is no exception. Depression is also a recurring theme, as is addiction and substance abuse. Apocryphal tales of Wallace’s experiences with substance abuse abound online. You can look into them if you want to; to my knowledge Wallace never really talked about it much publicly.

Addiction is (arguably) the central theme of “Infinite Jest,” one that is (arguably) borne out through the structure of the novel itself. Throughout the novel’s 1079 pages, the reader is swept up to the heights of ecstasy and joy, flung into the gutter of hopelessness and despair, reluctantly pulled back into something close to normalcy — and then it’s over. And you sit there wondering what happened.

So the book sits there on your shelf, and most of the time you don’t think about it, but it’s always there.

And you just know, if you opened the book and read it again, it would be different this time.

You wouldn’t lose yourself to it again.

You wouldn’t obsess over this or that plot point, or scene, or character.

So you open it up and flip around.

And you start reading in the middle of some insanely long paragraph — just some random paragraph at some random point in the book — and after you read a line or two, you begin to remember what’s going on at this random point in the novel, and whose point of view you are peeking in on, and all the thousands of seemingly insignificant little details that add up to a level of scene and character development last seen in the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky begin pulling you back in —

And you close the book. And you put it back on the shelf.

You don’t have time to read this book again, you tell yourself.

You don’t have the strength.

It took quite a toll on you, emotionally, the first time you read it.

It made you laugh. It made you (almost) cry.

It made you want to throw up.

So you leave it on the shelf for a while.

And then you repeat the process above. Multiple times.

And so you decide to just suck it up and read the whole damn thing again. And so you do. And you’re still left scratching your head at the end. But the experience wasn’t as intense this time. So you put it back on the shelf, satisfied that you have gotten all you can out of it, satisfied with the quite visceral experience of reading this masterpiece of modern fiction…

…but almost a year later, you’re still thinking about it. You know it’s going to take you away from whatever you have going on in your life, you know it’s going to take up a lot of your time and energy…

…you know diving into this book again isn’t going to do you any good, not one damn bit…

…but you want to read it again.

And again.

And again.

Because it will be different, you tell yourself, this one last time.

At any rate, the book itself is quite addictive.

There are any number of web pages where you can read all sorts of spoilers and speculation about various unresolved plot points from the novel. This isn’t one of them. I do not want to ruin the experience of reading the novel yourself, should you choose to read it.

As a matter of fact, I feel like I have revealed far too much about the novel already. I knew nothing about the novel before I read it. A friend recommended it, I ordered myself a copy — from my local bookstore, not off of the internet —  and I began reading it. If you have read what I have written here, you know much more about the novel than I did when I read it, despite my not having revealed much of anything about the actual contents of the novel.

You’re not supposed to know what it’s about before you read it. The story begins in medias res, and from the very beginning, the reader is bombarded with terms and acronyms and various odd colloquialisms that may or may not have ever existed outside of the novel itself. Most of these terms are defined, directly or indirectly, as the novel progresses. Some are not. Some colloquialisms — as is mentioned in the essay linked to above — vary in definition and usage, depending on which character is using them.

Some characters are extremely erudite, some are barely literate. Most are somewhere in between. One finds oneself scouring dictionaries for words that don’t exist, words that have been mispronounced by whichever character happens to be using them.

“Infinite Jest” is definitely a challenge to read. But it’s a challenge worth meeting.

At any rate, I would love to discuss it with you some time.

(After you’ve read it, of course.)