Sunday, March 31, 2013

Anger Management Therapy

Some time ago, after a particularly vitriolic post, an acquaintance contacted me to offer his opinion that I was/am in desperate need of anger management therapy. I responded to his pop-psychological critique of my intracranial workings by informing him that this is my anger management therapy. Something pisses me off, and instead of causing a whole public scene I purge the bile by writing about it. It’s rather Aristotelian, actually. Not only that, but it works like an ace on the river. Since I began venting my spleen like this, and sharing it with my readers, I’ve been a much more cheerful guy all the way around.

Yeah. Until last week.

See, I had a couple of encounters—one outside Miami, OK, and one in Olathe, KS—during which the dam that holds back my inner reservoir of irascibility crumbled and inundated the idyllic valley below under a wave of thick, gooey opprobrium.

Neither event was my fault. Not technically. But, still…I’m not exactly proud of my behavior, either.

Crazy as a Bedbug

I’d just gotten a big iced tea at a convenience store in Miami, OK, and was walking toward my car. Over by the corner of the building, I noticed a woman leaning against the wall. Even from a distance it was obvious she was crying. I mean really crying. Sobbing. Her body shaking and the whole deal. This being Oklahoma, where a woman’s unhappiness can result from any one of a gazillion shitty possibilities, I eased over toward her. I figured that, if nothing else, I could hang with her until friends or family or whomever arrived on the scene.

When I’d drifted close enough to be heard, but not so close that I might frighten her, I spoke in a low, calm voice.

“Excuse me, miss?”

She went rigid. Fuck.

“Miss? I’m sorry to intrude, but can I do anything for you?”

She slowly turned, wiping her eyes, cheeks and under her nose with a flurry of small gestures. She looked about as miserable as anyone I’ve seen. Her eyes, filled with a really pitiful kind of need, focused on mine.

“Got a cigarette?” she asked, her voice thick and sniffly.

Well, didn’t that just figure? The one thing she wanted, and I was in the midst of one of my periodic attempts to quit.

“Damn,” I said. “I’m sorry, but I don’t. I c—”

I was about to say: I could go find one for you. But she didn’t let me finish.

Her eyes, the ones that only seconds ago had so effectively made me feel for her, suddenly went all crazy. That’s the only way I can describe the change. They widened and bulged. If she’d been a cartoon character they would’ve spiraled around in their sockets.

And then she screamed, loud enough that her neck tightened and spit flew off her lips.

“Then you can go fuck yourself! MotherFUCKER!!”

I took a step back. She flung her hands out at me.

Fuck off! Fuck off! FUCK OFF!!”

I stood my ground, but just barely. The woman screeched at me some more, a discordant jumble of syllables.

“Hey,” I said. “Hey. Listen to me. Stop.”

For a wonder, she did, her malice-filled gaze on my face.

“Now,” I began. “I don’t know what’s bothering you, but I sincerely—sincerely—hope that whatever it is, it lasts for a really long fucking time.”

I left her there. Driving away, I realized that this was exactly how Jason must’ve felt when Medea was in one of her moods.

Litter Bug! Litter Bug!

The vagaries of my job occasionally require me to kill some time between one stop and the next. For the most part, I while away my excess minutes or hours by, 1) roaming around a bookstore, or, 2) laying my seat back as a prelude to the vigorous pursuit of a nap. I had so much surplus time in Olathe, that I was able to enjoy both. After browsing the shelves of a used-book store, I browsed the insides of my eyelids for about an hour before my phone offered its wake-up chirp. I got myself organized for travel and prepared to depart. My final act of preparation was to take the empty coffee cup in the console and deposit it gently on the ground outside my door.

Yes. I littered. More than that, I littered with intent. I considered my options carefully—To litter, or Not to Litter? That was the Question—decided I didn’t give a shit, and put thought to action.

A moment later the air around my vehicle was filled with the unpleasant blare of a car horn. I opened the door again and poked my head out to see about the rumpus. The horn blared again, long and hard. It originated from a bright red Cadillac Escalade that was idling behind me. Inside it, a woman—blondish, fortyish—was waggling her finger at me, and shouting. Couldn’t hear what she was saying because her window was up, but it was plain she wasn’t happy. I gave her a sort of aww-get-outta-here wave and closed my door.

She didn’t leave. I put my car in reverse, thinking she would see the lights. She either saw them, or not, but she didn’t move. Putting the car back in park, I hoisted myself out and stared at her over my sunnies. Her window slid down.

“Pick up your garbage, fatass!” she yelled.

Her demeanor and her phraseology both struck me as slightly excessive. It was a coffee cup, for fuck’s sake, not a leaky crate of medical waste. I paused, mulling over the situation and her clever locution, and so I wasn’t moving with the spring in my step that Escalade owners apparently require of their inferiors, so she repeated her directive.

“Pick that up!” she demanded, aiming a long, manicured fingernail at the offending offal.

“Why don’t you calm the fuck down, lady,” I said. Not yelled. Not yet. Said.

“This is a clean city!” she bawled. “We don’t need a bunch of fat Okies [I have Oklahoma plates on my car] ruining it!”

OK. We had arrived at something of a crossroads. I could’ve just collected the cup and been done with it, but she’d called me “fat” twice. Not that she was wrong, you understand. “Fat” is a perfectly accurate description of me. (On the Celebrity Weight Scale, I'm .82 of a Louis Anderson or 9 Mary-Kate Olsons.) But I didn’t need to have my widecomings pointed out by some idiot with an overdeveloped sense of her position in the hierarchy of things I choose to care about.

She started saying something else, and her finger went full-waggle, but I interrupted them both.

“Jesus-fuckin’-Christ, lady,” I began, removing my sunnies and stepping toward the Escalade. “Take a look around you, ya fucking moron.”

I threw my arms wide, taking in the whole parking lot. It was a biggie. One of those that wrap around suburban strip malls with all the usual big-box hellholes—Target, Pets Smart, Office Max, bunch of restaurants, the works.

Now I was yelling…

“Do you see where you are?? All this asphalt?? You’re sitting in the middle of like a hundred fucking acres of petroleum-based poison! If this mall closed today it’d take decades before anything green could grow here! We’re standing on an ocean of fucking litter!

She opened her mouth in another attempt at debate, but I was way beyond listening to any more of her hyper-moral bullshit.

“Oh, just shut the fuck up, OK? And for future reference, before you light the fuse on your tampon, try thinking for half a fucking second and be sure what you’re about to say isn’t completely fucking STUPID! You ridiculous BITCH!

Before I could take another step her window started up and the Escalade lurched forward as she dropped it into drive without putting her foot on the brake. She flopped forward in her seat, righted herself, and sped away across the parking lot.

It dawned on me that this Fat Okie had better put tread to the road, too. She struck me as just the sort of nitwit who would call the cops and report the fun we’d just had together. I left through the nearest exit, and was soon cruising down I-35 with scenic Olathe diminishing behind me.

So What’s It All About?

Well, I have no idea what it’s all about. But I do know this: I feel better now.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Book Mobile

Off and on since I’ve been doing this blog, people have contacted me wanting to know what I’m reading, and do I have any recommendations for them. I resisted for a time, thinking that foisting my opinions about books on my readers would be somewhat arrogant. Then I reminded myself that my opinions about books are pretty much the only opinions I haven’t foisted upon my readers.

So, loosely clumped together by category, here are some quality purchases, library checkouts, or downloads.

History/Current Affairs

What Went Wrong? by Bernard Lewis
The Crisis of Islam by Bernard Lewis
The Family by Jeff Sharlet
Republican Gomorrah by Max Blumenthal

Bernard Lewis is one of the world’s foremost Islamic historians, and the two books here offer short, but thorough (each is only about 170 pages long) histories of the Islamic world. The first from the rise of Muhammad through to the 20th Century, and the second is a look at the Islamic world, post-9/11. The books by Sharlet (he broke the C-Street scandal a few years back) and Blumenthal, examine fundamentalism among American Christians. Both are scarier than any speculative fiction I’ve found lately.

Read all four and ask yourself if there is a single shred of difference between Islamic fundamentalist dingbats and Christian fundamentalist dingbats. Their world-views are frighteningly similar. The Islamic fundamentalists have already given us graphic examples of what a world ruled by religion is like. The American version hasn’t flown any planes into buildings (yet), but they have given us glimpses into their way of thinking. Among their many ugly notions: they have devised plans to firebomb opposition think-tanks (Chuck Colson), advocated child abuse (James Dobson), called for the death penalty for abortion providers (Sam Brownback), for adultery (Ralph Reed) and for unruly children (R.J. Rushdoony).

Scary stuff, and required reading for anyone interested in liberty and democracy.

General Non-Fiction & Essays

Arguably by Christopher Hitchens

This final collection of essays by the late, great Christopher Hitchens is astonishing for several reasons. First, he was a fantastic writer. Second, he never lost his focus. And third, the sheer depth of his thinking and and scope of his interests boggle the mind.

Science, etc.

The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins
The Better Angels of Our Natures by Steven Pinker
The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond

Here are three books by three of my intellectual heroes. Dawkins, with his customary wit and erudition, takes us on a tour of the wonders of evolution. Pinker makes a compelling case for the idea that we are living in far less violent times than at any point in our history. And Diamond, well, what can I say? Another assumptions-shattering treatise from one of our greatest public intellectuals.


Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Decades ago I tried Anna Karenina but didn’t get much out of it. Thought I’d give it another shot after seeing the most recent movie version. Got a lot out of it, this time. The psychological depth of Tolstoy’s characters is glorious. I recommend the translation by Richard Pevear and Alissa Volokhonsky.

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

All I knew about Waugh was Brideshead Revisited, but got turned on to Scoop from one of Hitchens’ essays in the above collection. Numerous critics have called it the best book about journalism ever written. I don’t know if that’s true, but Scoop is a funny and smart-alecky good time from start to finish.

Riptide Ultra-Glide by Tim Dorsey

When a new Dorsey novel comes out, I’m the first guy in line. Nobody does funny quite like he does. We can live vicariously through his two main characters, the spree-killer/historian Serge A. Storms and his always-chemically-altered sidekick, Coleman. Visiting their Florida is demented awesomeness.

But, Please Avoid…

Rewritten supernatural classics: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Android Karenina, Tom Sawyer and the Undead, Jane Slayre, The War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies. And bullshit like Sense and Sensibility: the Wild and Wanton Edition, that add all the graphic sex that were apparently missing from the classics. I truly despise this current fad. These hacks should be ashamed of themselves, not only for standing on the shoulders of giants, but for cornholing them to boot.

So, there you go. A few humble endorsements from your humble Wine God. Happy reading.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Blasphemy Boogie

As you are aware, back on September 11th, 2012, Islamic fanatics calling themselves Ansar al-Shariah (a group heavily influenced and perhaps financed to some degree by al-Qaeda) attacked the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, murdering Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, members of his staff, and a member of the U.S. Foreign Service.

I’m not interested, at the moment, in the intricacies of the attack, or the hysterical, FOX News-inspired, who-knew-what-when gibberish that has somehow taken over the conversation. No, I’m interested in a different aspect of the story.

When news of the atrocity broke it was widely reported that the attackers had been moved to their deeds because they had been outraged by the 14-minute trailer for a ridiculous movie called Innocence of Muslims. It quickly became apparent, however, that even if the group of some 100-150 armed thugs were enacting a vengeance-oriented attack on the US embassy, it had little or nothing to do with that stupid movie. It was an act of terrorism perpetrated by Muslim fanatics with no other goal than the death of “infidel” Westerners.

Knowledge of the actual motivations for the attack did not stop religious leaders across the globe from blaming the movie for it, and using their outrage (which is probably real, but who cares) to get the ball rolling behind one of their primary world-wide goals. And here we arrive at the crux of what I want to talk about.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation stepped up their demands for the United Nations to criminalize what the group termed “defamation of religions.” The vice-chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars proposed that the UN “criminalize the denigration of religious symbols.” (Yeah, “Muslim” and “Scholar” in the same sentence. What do they study? How big should the excision knife be? Or, maybe, how they might explain away the fact that the Prophet Muhammad raped a nine-year-old girl?) The president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, suggested blasphemy should be made illegal world-wide, because blasphemous statements “endanger world security by freedom of expression.”

Other Muslim reactionaries have been busy reacting, but I’m not going to bother with further quotation, as it is obvious what they want: the criminalization of speech that upsets the pious. And while that notion is alarming enough in and of itself, what really freaks me out is the number of Americans who have lined up behind the noisy Muslim nutjobs.

Take the following two (of many) examples. The noted University of Pennsylvania professor of religion studies, Anthea Butler, called for the arrest of the above-mentioned filmmakers on the grounds that the movie doesn’t qualify as free speech since it “denigrates…religion.” And University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner made the sinister claim that “blasphemy could function as some small, manageable exception to our national guarantee of freedom of expression and belief.”

Many of the Americans who have come out in favor of anti-blasphemy legislation—too many, in fact—share a troubling commonality. They are academics. And worse yet, they are left-leaning academics.

I’ve been a liberal pretty much since the womb. (And I mean liberal. I hate the word “progressive” for reasons I’ll get into some other time.) But it’s getting so I don’t understand some of what passes for liberal thought these days. Yes, we seem to still be in favor of aiding the less fortunate, those who are the lamentable by-product of capitalism. Yes, we still wish to create a level playing field for minorities. Yes, we continue to believe that people are free to fall in love with whomever they wish. And, yes, we are at the forefront of the necessary fight against the corporate takeover of our country. But at the same time too many of us, mostly out of a commendable desire to act with tolerance toward those with whom we share the planet, are much too willing to grant that tolerance to totalitarian governments and religions—regimes and religions, remember, which will never, ever, return the courtesy.

The brand of misguided tolerance I’m talking about has, I believe, slithered into liberal discourse from the blinkered confines of the academy, specifically the humanities branch and its bizarre fealty to the “tenets” of “postmodern” moral relativism. Every belief system, they claim, is as impeccably true as any other. You say the moon is a millennia-old body of rock orbiting the Earth. I say that it appeared in the sky the day before yesterday and that it’s made of Cool-Whip. In the postmodern world, we’re both right. They aren’t saying that we are each entitled to believe whichever moon story we wish. No, what they are saying is that my version of the moon story, and your version of it, are both unalterably true. The fact that we can verify one version and not the other means nothing to the postmodernists. There are no such thing as facts, you see. And any claim that your “facts” outweigh my “facts” is simply an example of your ugly adherence to the tropes of Western intellectual tyranny. When we apply this thought process to moral questions then nobody can ever be on the wrong side of anything, and we might as well stop talking about “morality” at all, and keep the conversation focused on where it will inevitably lead: nihilism.

If a god-poisoned twenty-something from Saudi Arabia straps dynamite to his chest and blows himself up, along with the preschool he was visiting at the time, is there any meaningful way to define his actions other than with the word wrong? Of course not, and no sane person would assert otherwise. But among certain influential segments of the academic left it is better to tread cautiously lest we, consciously or not, marginalize some non-Western group. It’s almost as if they want us to feel bad for our condemnation of a suicide murderer.

And so, even though our “facts” are of no consequence, our right to free expression needs to be restricted so that those same inconsequential “facts” don’t hurt anybody’s feelings.

Makes perfect sense, right?


A few weeks after the murders in Benghazi, President Obama spoke before the United Nations General Assembly. After his speech, various conservative politicians and bloggers began accusing the President of kowtowing to his Muslim friends by stressing the need for anti-blasphemy laws. He did nothing of the sort, but that didn’t stop dipshits like John Bolton and Jennifer Rubin from intentionally misinterpreting (read: lying about) President Obama’s speech to make him appear weak and a friend to extremists.

What President Obama did say was that the precepts of freedom of speech “are not merely American values, or Western values—they are universal values.”

And he was right.

Curtailing our liberties for the sole purpose of protecting those whose “faith” is so fragile that it cannot stand up to scrutiny or ridicule—i.e. blasphemy—simply cannot be tolerated. And if the “progressives” in this country want to stop looking like idiots, they’ll get on the right side of this thing in a goddamn hurry.


Monday, March 11, 2013

You Just Can't Tell Some People Anything

The ongoing psychic tremble occurring among a vanishingly small, but really loud, segment of America’s gun enthusiasts, the ones who are out of their minds with paranoia about the guv’ment breaking down their doors and confiscating their guns (isn’t gonna happen, hasn’t even been considered—by anyone), has me thinking about the various other weird things people believe, and specifically how they persist in believing those weird things even when they have no evidence of any kind to back up those beliefs.

One Nation, Divisible

Take, for example, what happened when the cable channel AMC aired the movie Room for One More. Starring Carey Grant, the movie is a rather cheesy but well-intentioned story about foster parenting. One of the kids in Grant’s care eventually becomes an Eagle Scout, and during the ceremony where he gets his wings (or whatever) he and the rest of his Troop recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Moments after the completion of the broadcast, and for many days afterwards, AMC was flooded with phone calls and email from outraged Christians scolding the network and demanding to know what Liberal, shitbag infidel had re-edited the movie and removed “Under God” from the Pledge recited by the Scouts. The answer was simple. Nobody had re-edited anything. Room for One More was released in 1952. “Under God” wasn’t added to the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954.

Even after the network people explained, on the air, the specifics of the matter, letters continued to roll in.

She’s No Einstein

And it’s not just conservative religious weirdos who allow their brains to be polluted by irrational nonsense. Some liberals I have met are quite willing—sometimes all-too-eager—to allow the dopey contents of their minds to spill out all over the place.

I was sitting in a bar in Denver, chatting up the cute bartender, when the girl on the next stool over suddenly demanded to know what I was reading (I often enjoy the simple combination of books and cocktails in the afternoon.) I lifted my book to show her the cover; Out of My Later Years, a collection of essays by Albert Einstein. She squinted at it.

“Oh,” she said, flicking her fingers at the book. “It’s science.” The tone of her voice suggested that “science” held the same ethical and intellectual prestige as date-rape.

I glanced bemusedly at the bartender, then back and the girl. “Problem with science?”

“It’s bullshit,” she said.

“Wow,” I said. “All of it? Just like that?”

“Yeah, especially that war-monger, Einstein.”

War-monger?!” I howled. “What?!

“He invented the nuclear bomb, didn’t he?”

“No, actually, he didn’t.”

“Yes he did.”

I was on the verge of saying “no he didn’t” again but was afraid of where that debating tactic might lead—kindergarten—so instead I took a breath and commenced a more reasoned defense of my statement and of Dr. Einstein.

“Several people are given credit for inventing the bomb,” I began, “most notably Robert Oppenheimer, but credit, if that’s the word to use, should go to a couple of dozen different men, working all over the world. The equation Einstein devised, E = MC2, lead to the discovery of fusion, but that’s not what Einstein was after when he came up with it.”

“That doesn’t matter,” the girl said, adding another twist to the knot in her panties. “Because of him, millions of people died.”

“Fusion doesn’t have the best track-record, you’re right, but blaming Einstein for it is just wrong. The possibility of fusion came as a surprise to him. Albert Einstein would have no more gone looking for a weapon like that than he would have, I dunno, combed his hair in the morning. Weapons like that were against his nature—”

She interrupted me. “—it doesn’t matter. He was responsible and never acknowledged it.”

“Did you know,” I continued, starting to talk, you could say, at volume, “that Einstein was a pacifist? He was, and stated it publicly many, many times. He was in favor of world federalism, with a world military to keep tabs on troublemakers. And because of his politics he wasn’t even allowed near the places where the fusion experiments were happening. Hoover and the FBI thought he was a Communist. They denied Einstein security clearance. Then they tried to have him deported. His FBI file filled an entire file cabinet, for fuck’s sake.”

“Then why didn’t he ever apologize!” the girl squealed.

“Because he didn’t have anything to apologize for!” I responded, now officially what you would define as loud. “When he learned that a nuclear chain reaction was possible, he reacted instantly and wrote a letter to Roosevelt warning him. Roosevelt ignored the letter, until it came to his attention that the Nazis were very likely working on a bomb just like the one Einstein had described. And Einstein was—”

“—but he—”

“Shut up,” I growled. “Learn a few things. Einstein was a Jew, and was really familiar with the Nazis. He’d been hounded out of Europe by Hitler’s psychopaths because his theories of relativity were redefined as ‘Jewish science.’ After we destroyed Hiroshima, he was beside himself. He was horrified. And he said so. What more do you want from the guy?”

The bartender put a shot of bourbon down in front of me. Catching my eye she said, “Take it down a notch, Rich. ‘Kay?”

“Yeah, all right. Sorry.” I downed the shot.

Beside me, the girl was shaking her head, stubbornly refusing to allow even a tittle of logic to enter her cloudy brain.

“Let me just say this,” I said, “then I wanna go back to my book.”

The girl glared at me.

“It’s like a thought experiment,” I said. “Let’s say I’m sitting here thinking about throttling you.”

The bartender snorted a laugh and turned away. The girl stared a whole kung-fu movie’s worth of daggers at me.

“But I don’t throttle you. I don’t throttle you because I wouldn’t do something like that. But I sure do think about it. And then let’s say you get up and leave. You’re late to a meeting of the Ignorant Morality Police or something. Doesn’t matter. You leave and while you are walking down the street, someone jumps out of an alley and throttles you. Is your throttling my fault?”


“It isn’t. And you know it isn’t. You are free to leave, now, safe in the knowledge that I won’t have anything to do with your eventual death.”

“You’re a dick!” she shrieked, and flung herself off her stool in the direction of the door, which she tried to slam behind her, but the pneumatic arm fouled her plan.

I looked at the bartender. “I am a dick,” I said. “If I part my hair just right, you can see the slit in the top of my head.”  

The End

Continuing to believe things to be true, even in the face of all evidence, isn’t brave. It isn’t telling truth to power. It isn’t even ignorant, not really.

It’s irrational. It’s the way babies think. When the belief feels better than the truth, you should just switch your brain off entirely and go back to the caves.