Saturday, December 8, 2012

An Absolutist Position

Earlier this week, while researching material for a post on secularism in America, and in need of a good quote from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I found myself trolling through several reviews of her book Infidel (2007), and was astonished to find that numerous reviewers, while standing on their “liberal” credentials (not to mention their individual, finely-honed, pseudo-liberal outrage), took umbrage with Ms. Ali’s views on how women are treated under Islam. One critic, Lorraine Ali (no relation, thankfully; who reviewed Infidel for Newsweek) claimed that Ms. Ali has an “absolutist” opinion of Islam, and thus that opinion is to be discounted.

This got me thinking, and I spent the next couple of days re-reading Infidel to see if I had somehow missed something the first time around.

As it turns out, I hadn’t missed a thing. Ms. Ali does, in fact, have an absolutist position on how Islam treats women.

A seven-year-old girl should absolutely never be held down on the floor by four adults and told that her pain is the will of Allah as a man cuts away her outer labia and clitoris with a pair of scissors.

That same seven-year-old girl should absolutely never be forced to endure further agony as the man, working without anesthetic, sews the remains of her bleeding womanhood shut with button thread, leaving open only a tiny aperture through which her urine trickles like drips from a leaky faucet.

That same seven-year-old girl should absolutely never have to spend two weeks healing—on her back with her legs tied together, so that her movements will not inhibit the formation of scar tissue.

Years later, that same girl, now a young woman on her wedding night, should absolutely never be forced to suffer the pain and humiliation of having her husband rip open that scar with his penis, or if his penis isn’t up (bwah-hahahaha…) to the task, rendering his bride mountable by opening the scar with a kitchen knife.

A woman should absolutely never be required to cover herself in bulky, stifling fabric to mask any hint of her femininity, lest she inflame the passions of a bunch of sexually repressed cretins and thereby run the risk of being stoned or beaten.

A woman should absolutely never be forced to marry someone chosen for her by her male relatives, and should absolutely never fear being killed to avenge the “honor” of those same relatives if she refuses the arrangement.

A woman should absolutely never have to endure death threats and the necessity for body guards simply for telling the truth about a religion that is even more cruel and backward than most.

In short, a woman should absolutely never live in constant fear—of beatings, of torture, of death—because the central tenets of the religion that governs her life grant her the same societal status as a goat.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s critics were absolutely delusional when they reviewed her memoir in such a simple-minded way and, if they have not changed their minds, remain absolutely delusional. Religious correctness will get us nowhere. Unexamined tolerance is nothing more than fence-sitting masquerading as analysis. And in the case of Islam’s treatment of women, such misguided lenience borders on malice.

Infidel is one of the most important and profoundly moving books of this young century. As the late, great Christopher Hitchens said:

“The three most beautiful words in the emerging language of secular resistance to tyranny are Ayaan Hirsi Ali.”


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It Happened In Texas

I spent the last 11 days working in Texas. It’s a really special place. Everybody is so jolly and normal. And they don’t hardly ever do stupid shit. And they hardly never act like fuckwit rednecks. Shit, it’s a little slice of fuckin’ paradise down there. With a side of handguns.

When In Doubt, Run Away

My mouth gets me in the soup from time to time, but it’s been a while since it got me so deep in the stuff that I wondered if my next few meals were going to arrive via a feeding tube, in between hits off the morphine drip.

I rolled into a gas station about 10:30 one evening, on the outskirts of a distinguished little burg called, I believe, Gravelly Cloaca (actually, it was in Rhome, TX) and climbed out to see to my car’s sustenance. The place was more crowded than you’d imagine at that time on a week-night. Many of the pumps were occupied.

Directly ahead of me was a crappy-looking species of Mazda, under the supervision of two soldiers, both in full digital cammo, with one pumping gas and the other getting after the windows with a squeegee. Both front doors of the Mazda were wide open, and the soldiers’ programming choice was blaring out for the edification of everyone gassing up at that moment. They were listening to some talk-radio dipshit, though whether he was a local dipshit or a national, Clear Channel-type, dipshit I couldn’t tell you. But I can give you a rough approximation of his dipshit theme.

He was after the Blacks. At first I wasn’t sure what they had done to work him into such a lather, but he quickly provided the necessary lowdown. The Blacks, it seems, need to be educated about politics in America. They, and especially their leaders, are so fundamentally racist that they will vote for Barack Hussein Obama (he stressed the President’s middle name, I guess to make sure we got it, got it and pondered the ramifications) no matter what, because he has black skin, and that’s it. They know nothing about Obama’s policies, or about how those policies are keeping them down. No, all they understand is that Obama is black, and that’s good enough for them. They have a herd mentality, you see. Al Sharpton points, and off they go, like so many dark lemmings. The host then added a few well-reasoned words about Sharpton, specifically about how none of the people who will soon be voting according to his vile catechisms would “even allow Sharpton in their houses. They wouldn’t let Sharpton near their daughters.” Like Barack Hussein Obama, the Reverend Sharpton profits from the good ol’ melatonin pass. “When I talk about these things,” the host said, “it makes people uncomfortable. You know why? The truth always makes people uncomfortable.”

During the host’s seemingly endless stream of blather, about the point I began trying to mentally speed the flow of fuel into my tank, I glanced over to the opposite side of the pump I was using. There, filling her tank, was a young black woman. Our eyes met. She rolled hers, which ignited every damn-she’s-cute circuit in my head, and brought a grin to my lips.

As the radio dipshit was justifying his bigotry with the claim that “the truth always makes people uncomfortable,” my brain discharged the appropriate amount of stimulus to the appropriate synapses, creating a cascade of behaviors on my part.

I glanced again at the fetching young lady. I collated a series of words into a tidy little sentence. I opened my mouth. And I gave the sentence its freedom, at volume, and in the voice of an FM-radio DJ.

“Tonight on Radio KKK,” I burbled. “How to get blood stains out of your hood. Coming up after this!”

Then a few things happened pretty much simultaneously. That’s how I remember it, anyway.

The black lady burst out laughing, actually clapping both hands over her mouth, her eyes wide and sparkling. The soldiers, both of ‘em, whipped around on me like affronted gunslingers. And I cringed inwardly, my thoughts running something like oh, shit… I looked at the soldiers, noting the unpleasant facts that they were less than half my age and in better physical condition than I had ever been, and wondered how many punches I might be able to work into the coming dance before they reduced me to a runny pile of component parts. And when they didn’t immediately attack, I climbed behind the wheel of my car and drove the fuck away. For the next half-hour, I kept one eye on the rear-view mirror, preparing myself for the glare of oncoming headlights. Headlights that, lucky me, never materialized.

Thinking it over, I decided that it was military protocol which had kept the soldiers from beating me to death. They had obviously realized that pummeling me meant the risk of getting sideways with their superiors. I slowly relaxed.

The next morning, I called my brother. He’s been in the service for almost 25 years—Rwanda, Bosnia, and two tours of Iraq. I told him the story and asked if my guesswork had been correct, that only the silent intervention of military regulations had stopped the soldiers from stomping the life out of an elderly civilian.

“I doubt it,” he said. “Unless the local police and the MPs both got involved. There’s no base near where you were, so they were probably reservists. Probably depends on how bad they beat you.”

Talking with my brother is usually more fun than that.  

Still, I considered myself fortunate. More importantly, I’d gotten a laugh out of a pretty girl. And it’s things like getting laughs out of pretty girls that smooth your passage over life’s little speed bumps.

That and Maker’s Mark.

Recombinant Bumper Cars

When you drive for a living, thoughts of accidents hover in the background of your thinking, like gnats at a family picnic.

All of the guys at my company who do what I do have had accidents of one kind or another. One fellow hit a deer. Three days later, in a rental car, he hit another one. The dude who runs the East Coast witnessed a collision between two vehicles, then drove through the debris field bifurcating his front bumper and grill-work on a random sheet of break-dancing wreckage.

Last week, I was burning miles toward my last stop, after which I would head home and sleep in my own bed for the first time in nine days. I had the Ramones on, singing and head-banging to End of the Century and Rocket to Russia (two of the best rock records ever recorded, by the by). My feet were jigging, my voice was screaming, my fingers were air-guitaring on the steering wheel, my head was bouncing.

Then the scene through the windshield changed. Changed in a nanobeat. One instant there was a dark, two-lane highway; yellow line; tree silhouettes left and right; a couple of red dots—tail lights up ahead. And the next instant my entire field of vision was a plume of orange sparks and flying white rectangles. Big flying white rectangles. Fast flying white rectangles. White rectangles coming at me like panicked refugees from Flatland.

I swerved to the left—into the oncoming lane, where there was a car oncoming like a motherfucker. More orange sparks, and something large and white flew by the passenger windows. A horn honked. I swerved back into my lane. One of the white rectangles jogged crazily away from me, the dark and my speed causing it to morph in and out of Euclidean harmony. And then the second white rectangle arrived. I hit it dead on and it sort of folded itself in half on my front bumper, jettisoning scraps of fabric and hunks of broken wood. It snapped upright again, then was pulled under my car. I bounced over the thing—whomp-whomp—and stared wide-eyed through a windshield now, thankfully, free of aeronautical geometry.

Hitting my flashers and my brakes, I aimed the car at the shoulder and rocked to a halt. As I climbed from the car, another vehicle skidded to a stop behind mine, throwing up a cloud of dust. Its front end appeared to have been reassembled from an Erector Set by an unhinged toddler. The driver, a guy about my age, got out looking shaky and pissed-off. We each asked after the others well-being, and surveyed the debris in the highway. Turned out that the flying white things were a wrought-iron headboard, a double mattress and a double box spring. The bouncing headboard had created the sparks. We teamed up and dragged the larger pieces out of the road.

Yes, some douchebag hadn’t tied his load down properly, and a sampling of his belongings had gone on a little wind-borne excursion.

When the box springs had folded over my hood the impact had dented it, and running them over had torn off my rear bumper and right rear quarter panel. The car was drivable, though, which is more than could be said about the other guy’s. He called AAA, then we stood around in the flashing hazards, thinking up inventive ways to do away with the dude who’d caused all this, and musing about how convenient it was that we were in the middle of nowhere and disposing of his carcass would be just that easy.

Annoyingly, the douchebag never returned to the scene of his douchebaggery. He either saw his load fly free and thought Oh, shit, now I’m in trouble, and hit the accelerator, or he got to wherever he was going and thought Where’s m’damn bed? Stupid fucker.

And then it occurred to me. Denial of responsibility, or complete ignorance of having any responsibility, kind of sums up Texas. They proudly drive gas-guzzlers, blindly get behind any war that comes their way, talk blithely of seceding from the United States, embrace their bigoted history, and wear cowboy stuff when the closest most of them have ever been to a cow is an Outback.

Texas: We Didn’t Do It!


Sunday, October 7, 2012


I have this new square gig where I drive around a lot. And by “a lot” I mean a-fucking-lot, eight or ten thousand miles a month; more miles than most people drive in a year. That much time in a car, it becomes a learning experience. You see things, hear things and think things that are, by turns, funny, goofy, and/or completely rat-panic crazy…

Punkin Chunkin

Traveling through Louisiana, along I-12, one passes a sign directing motorists toward Baptist Pumpkin Center. My thoughts the first time I passed it ran something like: Fuck me, in the South even the gourds have religion. But why Baptist pumpkins? Wouldn’t the land be better off with a nice Unitarian Pumpkin Center? Furthermore, do pumpkins even have souls? And if they do, doesn’t carving up their flesh every October seem just a tad, I dunno, rude?

If a state must have a center for pumpkins, why not dispense with religion altogether and erect a straight-up Louisiana Pumpkin Center? I myself would like to see opened the Evidentiary Rationalism Pumpkin Center.

Fines Doubled for Speeding

The entire Texas highway system is currently under construction. You can’t drive more than five miles without encountering those little orange signs warning you of the fact, and informing you that fines for speeding in construction zones are doubled. But here’s the thing. It’s not always obvious, upon entering a Work Zone, that there is any work being done in it at all. Certainly, in Dallas and your other larger burgs, signs of work are all around—equipment, large machines, off-duty lawdogs, and guys in bright vests. But in the hinterlands, of which Texas is largely composed, you come upon a warning sign, along with its constant, obnoxious companion the reduced-speed notice, travel along for a number of miles, and then pass another sign offering the happy news that you are exiting the work area, and are now free, presumably, to travel at speed. And then it hits you that during the whole of that last Work Zone journey you passed not a single workman, not a single piece of earthmoving equipment, not a single orange cone, not even a single clod of upturned earth. But you almost always see a fricking cop.

After some thought, it hit me what’s happening in the Lone Star State. They have no sales tax in Texas, a fact their politicians continually crow about, yet without ever mentioning the state’s high property taxes, which are, to land owners, the rough equivalent of a state-sponsored asshole resizing program. But since not everyone is fortunate enough to own property, the state must fill its coffers somehow, and thus, I believe, was born the Non-Work Work Zone. Put up some warning signs, reduce the speed limits, stick a cop out there, double the fines, then sit back and listen to the whimsical jingle of cash registers.

In no time you’ll be able to fund a new stadium for that bunch of losers and malcontents called the Dallas Cowboys.

Short Sharp Shit: Randomness

In a truck stop north of New Orleans, I watched a beautiful Filipino lady playing around with her cell phone. She placed a call, and began speaking to the other party…in a rich, thick Cajun accent • If you drive while smoking an electronic cigarette, the cops will think you are doing the marijuana with a one-hitter and pull you over. Then they will not act even remotely abashed when they learn the truth. Fuckers • If you leave town for eight days and do not take your trash out before departing, you come home to find that your house smells like Shamu’s asshole • On some backwoods highway in Mississippi, I came up behind a Smart Car. It was painted the color of canned salmon, festooned with Betty Boop stickers, and wore a vanity plate that read: I♥PINK. Passing it, I looked over at the driver. He was 75 if he was a day, shirtless, and sported a Stars-and-Stripes doo-rag • A trucker in Encinal, Texas, told me that a lot lizard offered to blow him for forty bucks. For fifty bucks, she’d take out her teeth • Armadillos are suicidal • Any town where the hot place to hang out on Friday night is the parking lot of a Flying J, is not a town where I would like to live • It’s a damn shame that so many luxury cars do not come equipped with turn signals • The DFW highways were designed by an infant, an infant that was given a fistful of mushrooms and forced to spend the entirety of its short life reading Russian novelists.

Never Arriving at Your Destination…On Right

The Garmin company can pucker up and smooch my hairy nutsack. Their GPS devices have very much their own ideas about getting you from Point A to Point B—usually by way of Point Ω. Let’s say you pull up to an intersection. The sign says I35 W Right, I35 E Left. Your Garmin is very likely to tell you to turn Left onto I35 W, and then you have a decision to make. Does the little electronic bastard mean you want I35 W? Or does it want you to turn Left? And it’s a 50/50 shot you’ll pick the right one, because sometimes it means the road and other times it means the direction. God damn. You’re better off following a flock of migrating pelicans.

Left Lane/Right Lane

And finally, in the state of Texas there are exactly seven people who know how to operate a motor vehicle. I know. I’ve counted them.

So, here’s an ounce of advice for the remaining gazillion: the left lane is for passing. Put even more simply, left lane FAST, right lane SLOW.

If you find yourself motoring along in the left lane, and other cars are whizzing by you in the right lane, or backing up behind you in your own personal convoy—get the fuck over! Pay attention to what’s going on around you, hang up your phone, get over your fucking delusion that you have been designated a highway hall monitor, you stupid, ignorant, ugly, Xanax-addled, yammering, gibbering, apathetic, IQ-of-a-field-mouse, Twitter-account-for-your-pocket-dog, your-mamma-never-hugged-you, wanna-run-you-off-the-road-and-watch-you-die-in-a-gas-fire, passive-aggressive COCKSUCKER!

Shit… Now I’m all outta breath. And I need whiskey.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

To Be or Wanna Be

I don’t often write book reviews, which is not to say I do not have opinions about books. I have opinions about pretty much everything. Except light switches. I have no sentiments one way or the other on light switches. But anyway. For the most part I don’t write book reviews because I don’t feel like I’m qualified to, but then someone dropped a copy of a slender new volume through my transom window, and after reading it a couple of times, I decided to write about it. Still don’t feel qualified to do so, but there it is.

The book in question? To Be or Wanna Be: The Top Ten Differences Between a Successful Actor and a Starving Artist, by Sean Pratt. I’d like to say that it’s a splendid book for actors and leave it at that, but brevity isn’t necessarily always the soul of blogging, so stand by for a few hundred more words.

Right at the outset, let’s get one thing straight: I am, in no way, an actor (though I played one on TV). That being said, one needn’t be an actor to get a whole pile of good information and career guidance from Mr. Pratt’s book. He has been advising actors, young and old, for a good number of years now, and is himself a successful actor, so he knows whereof he speaks.

The volume is divvied up into, as the title implies, Ten Differences between working actors and most of Manhattan Island, between SoHo and Times Square (or, in fact, the cast of Snow White and the Huntsman…) Many of the differences elucidated by Mr. Pratt (I think of them as being “rules,” in a good way) are applicable to artists and craftspeople plying numerous creative waters.

My personal favorite is “Difference #1: The Successful Actor Takes Responsibility for His Career,” (throughout, Pratt gives equal stage time to both the masculine and feminine pronouns, so put that PC stick away and keep reading, Skeezix). I like Difference #1 because it can apply so widely across disciplines. Mr. Pratt define “taking responsibility” as being “proactive” instead of “no-active.” As a writer with a small bit of success, I can tell you that this is the most important thing you can do in order to speed your career—whether you sing, act, dance, sculpt or whatever—into its mid-season form. I’ve met lots of writers over the years, usually in bars. But when I ask them what they’ve published, or even what they are currently working on, that’s when the humming and hawing kicks in. Eventually they let fly the news that, while telling every stranger they meet that they are writers, they do not, actually, write. Not much, anyway. Or very often. And then come the excuses: I can’t handle rejection; I need a new computer; I need to finish school; I don’t want to disappoint my mother; I was molested by my English teacher; blah-blah-blah-dee-blah. In too many cases, one word describes the “no-active” side of the equation, and that word is LAZINESS. Not happy with your career? Get off your ass and go do something about it!

Another of my favorites is Difference #6: The Successful Actor Builds a Network. Networking is vital to all creative endeavors—hanging with other members of your inspired species. In his discussion of the Difference, Mr. Pratt delves into the idea that building one’s network contains an element of self-promotion. That, it certainly does, but the trick is to master an ability to toot your own kazoo, without coming across like a gigantic douchebag. Now, I have never been shy about talking myself up to others, and have often been taken for a gigantic douchebag, but shit… I’m learning. And Mr. Pratt’s book gives some excellent tips on getting there.

All in all, To Be or Wanna Be is a wonderful little read, and more stuffed with quality information and ideas than a T-Bagger rally is stuffed with angry imbeciles. And, let me say it one more time, it doesn’t matter what segment of the creativerse you want as your personal fiefdom, Mr. Pratt’s book will aid you on your way.

So? What are you waiting for? Read it, asshole.