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the end of the world as we know it- - - 29 March 2007 @ 12:16

There were so many things that bothered me about this clip from The O’Reilly Factor, chief among them being that I actually agreed with what Billo was saying. I’ve always had this lingering fear in the back of my head that I might one day be a conservative. Like, it seems entirely possible that my current views about social issues will eventually be seen as conservative. I mean, I think this happens to most people, which I think is why conservatives tend to be old and liberals tend to be young. My hope is that I won’t ever get so mired in my opinions that I’ll ignore logic the way current conservatives do. Of course, the topic Billo was talking about wasn’t really a conservative/liberal topic (although he tried to turn it into one), so I’m not going to worry about it just yet.

The first thing that bothered me about this video was the stock footage they used when talking about Rosie O’Donnell. Like, I'm real sure the only footage they could find of Rosie O'Donnell was from her (lesbian—gasp!) wedding. Just in case Billo hadn't maligned her enough, he had to make sure to remind everyone that she's one of those crazy gays. I mean, the conspiracy theories are pretty far-fetched, but what does it have to do with being a lesbian?

But worse (and more ridiculous), was this panelist, Gerald Posner, saying that Mark Cuban doesn’t “have the right to strut on both sides of the fence.” This guy is on the Fox News Channel—the false objectivity capital of the world—talking about the fallacy of presenting both sides of an issue and calling it objectivity. Seriously? Could these people be any less self-conscious?

And then, Billo somehow manages to defend and deny the right to free speech, by (once again) muddling its meaning: "You said it makes you angry when these conspiratuarialists [sic] put this kind of stuff out. They have freedom of speech. They can say what they want. Why does it make you angry?" Listen closely, Bill, because this is important: freedom of speech does not mean freedom of popular or inoffensive speech. Speech that doesn't make anyone angry does not need to be defended, and suggesting that some kind of speech might not be free because it makes me angry (or that I can't be angry about something someone else said because they have freedom of speech) is to utterly misunderstand and misinterpret free speech.

Freedom of speech implies and requires the freedom to be offended, as well. This is what Billo and so many people on the right have never understood about the ACLU: they aren't defending the actions or the words of the KKK, but they are defending their right to speak up and say those things, because they, unlike Billo, know that if we restrict anyone's right to free speech, we may as well restrict everyone's right to free speech. It can't be free if everyone doesn't have access to it, Bill. And just because I don’t agree with what Billo says on his show doesn’t mean I don’t think he has the right to say it. I think it’s wrong that Fox News lets him call it news, and I think it’s wrong that he presents his obviously biased opinions as unbiased facts, and I think it’s mean and impolite that he never lets anyone with an opposing viewpoint speak. But he still has the right to say stupid, ignorant things. And just because he has that right doesn’t mean I can’t get mad when he says those stupid, ignorant things.

In this case, however—as horrified as I am to say so—I agree with Billo on the basic premise: 9/11 conspiracies are stupid. As awful as they are, there is no way that the Bush Administration planned 9/11. To paraphrase Sam Harris, if George Bush had a “perfect weapon,” (i.e. one that would only and always destroy its target without causing any collateral damage), we can be fairly certain that the U.S. army would not be killing thousands upon thousands of innocent Iraqis during the course of this war. If Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden had had this weapon, however, we can be fairly certain, based on their records, that they would have used it to kill many innocent Americans. If Hitler had had the perfect weapon, he most certainly would have used it to kill every single Jew. This is an important distinction to make between Bush and the tyrannical dictators of history. Don’t get me wrong: Bush is still awful. But he’s not Hitler. Not by a long shot.

But I digress. If someone wants to make a movie with a stupid premise, that's their right. I'm not going to protest "The Nativity Story" or "The Passion of the Christ" because I think they’re presenting nonsense and half-truths as fact. I just won’t go see that movie, and I’ll educate myself about the truth through non-filmic channels. The really stupid part of this show is that they are debating this topic at all. If it's such bunk (and it is) why are they covering it? Why would you air a six-minute segment just to say that something is bullshit, unless your plan is to somehow link that bullshit with this "far-left fringe" you're always talking about?

And I guess that is the real point here. September 11 conspiracy theories are an easy target, and attacking them doesn't take any guts or any leg work. It's like attacking baby-murderers. We don't need a segment on a cable "news" show to know that this is awful. But if you can somehow link this thing that everyone knows is ludicrous with a group of people you don't like (the "far-left"), then it just further vilifies that group, while ostensibly being about 9/11 conspiracies. Clever, Billo. Very clever.

Also, Billo never really explains why he believes that Mark Cuban doesn't hate America, but Charlie Sheen and Rosie O'Donnell and "everyone else who buys into this" does. Is it because Cuban's a billionaire? Because I have news for you, Bill: Charlie and Rosie aren't exactly poor, either. Maybe it's because Cuban's a conservative. Because, as everyone knows, conservatives are the only ones who love the country.

By the way, I am not ignorant of the irony of mocking someone for spending so much time discussing obvious nonsense when I so recently did so myself (see below). But at least my rant had a point. I didn’t just say “The Secret is dumb. Yup, it sure is dumb. The Far Right has bought into this craze. This craze is dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. The end.” I like to think that I was actually making a point about humanity’s tendency to buy into any crap that purports to make your life better and easier. I didn’t just say this is crap and leave it at that. Also, I didn’t make-believe that my rant was a “fair and balanced” news story. It was an opinion piece. And you are free to disagree with me. That’s your right. (I was going to make a joke about it being your right to be wrong, but I was afraid the irony wouldn’t come though and I would just sound like a hypocritical jerk.)

The icing on the ridiculous cake, however, is the shot of Billo after Posner calls him a journalist. You can tell he is trying his best to make his "serious journalist" face, but he comes off more like a cranky old man who yells at passersby from his porch, which, when you think about it, is a pretty good description of what he does on his show every day. It’s just too bad that his porch is within earshot of millions of Americans.

mr. deity- - - 29 March 2007 @ 11:55

Incidentally, that last post also reminded me of something I think anyone who enjoys good-natured satire about religion and office politics would enjoy. It's this webshow called "Mr. Deity," and it's basically about God as the CEO of the universe, and he's this kind of charming, aloof, Bill Lumburgh/Jack Donaghy hybrid who tries to micromanage the problems inherent in running the universe. The results are hilarious. The creator (of the show, that is; not of the universe) is this guy Brian Keith Dalton, (who also plays Mr. Deity) and he is trying to get the show turned into a half-hour tv show. You should really check it out, especially the prayer episode (the first one below), which relates to my previous post about prayer. The hell episode (also below) is also excellent.

the secret delusion- - - 28 March 2007 @ 17:15

So as soon as I heard about The Secret I figured it went without saying that it was complete bullshit. If you don't watch Oprah (or read the A.V. Club's "The Hater" column), you might not know about The Secret, in which case, consider yourself lucky. Basically, this book and DVD (which well-known skeptics and critical thinkers Oprah and Larry King have endorsed) claims that the universe is ruled by the "Law of Attraction," which basically means that if you think about something hard enough it will happen. Like, if you really want a Chevy Impala, all you have to do is picture one in your head really hard, and you'll get one. Somehow. From the universe, I guess.

The trailer for the movie highlights some of the amazing visionaries who have employed this "secret" in the past to great success, including Martin Luther King Jr., Henry Ford, Carl Jung, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander Graham Bell, Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Andrew Carnegie, and Albert Einstein. Presumably, "The Secret" was responsible for all the great things these people ever did. Also, presumably, "The Secret" can only be used for good. I don't suppose it's possible that any of the incredible, ambitious atrocities committed in the world could be attributed to this powerful force, right? I mean, serial killers can be ambitious and determined, too. There have been some very successful serial killers in the past (Jack the Ripper comes to mind) who seemed able to carry out their goals without hindrance. But I guess under the rules of "The Secret" only good people get what they want, which would seem to presuppose that The Universe has some sort of moral guide that determines which thought vibrations actually attract the objects of one's desires, because, I mean, what if I don't want a Chevy Impala? What if I want a bazooka so I can kill everyone who buys a Chevy Impala? Is that idea any less valid from the perspective of the so-called "law" of attraction? Unless there's some intelligent, benevolent force driving the universe. Hmm...who does that sound like?

Anyway, the Wikipedia article on The Secret also includes the names of some contemporary masters of "The Secret," including such visionaries as Mike Dooley, Bob Doyle, David Schirmer, Dr. John Demartini, Bob Proctor, Jack Canfield, James Arthur Ray, Dr. Joe Vitale, Lisa Nichols, and Marci Shimoff. Wow. It's a veritable who's-who of nobody I've ever heard of. It's too bad all of those famous secret-keepers are dead, or we could ask them about it.

Honestly, anyone who doesn't think this smacks of opportunism and hoodwinkery deserves to be hoodwikned. It sounds like the testimony of Doctor Hibbert on the "Boy Who Knew Too Much" episode of The Simpsons: "Well, only one in two million people has what we call the 'evil gene.' Hitler had it, Walt Disney had it, and Freddy Quimby has it."

Now, to be clear, my aversion to this hooey does not mean that I believe the human mind is just a bunch of meat. The brain is a tremendously powerful organ that even the most well-educated neuroscientists admit is still very much a mystery. I think there's a lot of power in positive thinking, and I even believe that our thoughts can have an effect on other people's thoughts. But that doesn't mean that just thinking about something makes it happen. Even new-age self-help gurus will tell you that you have to actually take action in order to get what you want. I mean, it's really debasing Einstein's accomplishments to say that the only reason he was able to do what he did is because he wanted it really hard. Because when you come down to it, that's all "The Secret" really is. It not only claims that simply desiring something will make it so, it elevates greed to a spiritual level .

Apparently, I'm not the only one who's annoyed with this pablum. The interesting part is exactly who is upset with the runaway success of this exploitive hogwash. According to this article from Publishers Weekly, a number of anti-Secret books are already slated to be released, and most of them seem to be from religious leaders who are dismissing the book as "misguided" and "false." It's funny, because my first thought when I was reading about The Secret was that it sounded exactly like a religion: don't like your lot in life? Well, all you have to do is Pray to God/visualize your desires/pretend you're awesome/write a ridiculous book and make a ridiculous film and then sucker a bunch of people into buying it so that you have enough money to do whatever you want, and things will turn around for you. I am willing to bet that, statistically, "The Secret" works just as well as prayer, which is to say not at all.

Furthermore, the idea that there can be such a thing as a "false religion" is ludicrous. The Secret Revealed, which is going to be published by FaithWords, is apparently going to explain to everyone that the promises made by The Secret are "typical of many false religions and movements throughout the centuries." Ostensibly, Jim Garlow and Rick Marschall, the authors of the forthcoming book, will set people straight by explaining that you can't just think about the things you want; you have to think them at an imaginary man in the sky. Otherwise, you're just deluding yourself.

phone woes- - - 26 March 2007 @ 22:55

Man. What is wrong with cell phones? Like, seriously. What is their collective problem?

I have had this crappy little phone for two years, and to be honest, I actually feel kind of bad calling it crappy, because it is so much better than my new and improved phone. But anyway, I had this phone that didn't flip open, that didn't have a camera, that didn't play music or even polyphonic ring tones. It didn't do anything fancy. But it worked fine for everything I wanted to do. It made calls and sent text messages, and even could send text emails.

But it got tired. Some of the buttons stopped working and the screen got scratched. And I figured I could get a serious upgrade for free because of this thing that Verizon does where you get a free phone every two years.

So I went to the store, intimidated, as I usually am in stores like this, by the wide open spaces and the leering customer services reps. I felt like I should know what I was talking about and be able to say exactly what I wanted. But I didn't. The truth was, I wanted a phone exactly like the one I had, except maybe with a camera, because I think camera phones are neat. And I didn't want to pay for it. I said basicallythat to the Verizon person, and we decided on a phone that met these requirements. I took it home and played with it for a little while, and it seemed pretty good, if a little flimsy, and the camera was cool.

I thought I'd set up the phone for nerdy.net, and see if I could send pictures, as Roy had predicted, which (also as he predicted) would be exciting. I hit a little snag and couldn't get the phone reigstered for the site, and I thought maybe I couldn't actually send pictures. So I tried to send one from my phone to my email address, which worked fine, and was actually pretty exciting. The first big problem was when I sent a message back from my email address to my phone. The message was longer than 160 characters, so it got cut off. But unlike my previous (awesome) phone, which split long messages into two or more messages, the new and "improved" phone just cut it off entirely.

"Seriously?" I thought. This thing can take pictures, but can't display more than 160 characters of text? What gives? Further grievances with the new phone piled up, including its inability to display 24-hour time and its inability to preset "profiles," such as "outdoor," "meeting," "normal," and "silent." These were minor problems, but the text message thing bothered me to no end. What a stupid limitation! I could think of no reason for this downgrade in the text messaging capabilities. Thing wouldn't even let me send messages longer than 160 characters. But I figured it served me right for getting the cheapest phone in the store.

I decided to take it back and get a new new phone. This time, I was very clear that I needed a phone with powerful text messaging capabilities. The other stuff was annoying but minor; without good texting capabilities, my phone was, well, just a phone. So I wanted to see how these other phones texted before I committed to them for two years.. I wanted to know which ones would cut off my long messages, and which ones would behave in a normal way that actually made sense (like my awesome old phone). Of course, I couldn't do that, because none of the phones in the stores were "live." Or, most of them weren't. So this time, my decision was based on which phones I could still get for free (after mail-in rebate) and which I could also test out first. I looked at a couple, and tried writing long text messages, and one seemed like it could write long ones, indicating where it would break them into two messages (which itself seemed like a helpful feature). I figured that if it could send long messages, it ought to be able to receive them, too. So I got this phone.

Man, was this thing cool. It can play music (but only music bought through VCast, which is a separate subscription service, or through Windows Media Player 10--Mac OS need not apply). It can surf the web (separate subscription required). It can do everything. Sort of.

I didn't really care about that stuff, though. I just had to make sure that its texting was up to snuff.

Well, guess what? It isn't. It does exactly the same thing as the old new one. It sucks exactly as much. Except actually it sucks more, because the one thing that I actually liked about the old new phone was the ability to send pictures back and forth from my phone to my computer. This one can't even do that. It sure looks like it can. It has buttons that would seem to lead you to believe that it can do this, but it can't, because something called "National Access" is not supported. So, not only is this fancy, new, much more expensive phone not as good as my old phone that I got two and a half years ago, it isn't even as good as the one I had two and a half days ago, for which I traded this in.

The worst part is that I know my phone can send picture emails. I know it can display more than 160 characters of text. The technology is there. But it's blocked by Verizon, for whatever reason, because it doesn't fit their business model. Why it would ever make sense to take away features (especially stupid, simple ones like a 24-hour clock) is beyond me. But, apparently, this is their forte.

And so, even though I don't like the idea of being forced into a certain service provider, I have already started saving up for an iPhone, so that in two years, when my current Verizon contract ends, I can get rid of this crippled, intentionally obselete piece of crap and get something that I understand, and that will actually do all of the things it is capable of.

Stupid phones. I am seriously going to be pissed about this for the succeeding two years. Be prepared to hear about it the next time you see me in person.

cnn makes good. sort of.- - - 13 February 2007 @ 9:26

Quick: what's 334,499,685,489,302,657 to the twelfth power? What's the answer? What's 334,499,685,489,302,657 to the twelfth power? What's 334,499,685,489,302,657 to the twelfth power? You don't know? Well, good thing I do: it's God.

So, CNN ran a follow-up story to their piece on atheism, including a short interview with Richard Dawkins, and an actually qualified panel. Unfortunatel, the Christian pastor was kind of a bully, and dominated the conversation. He did seem to concede the point that the United States has a secular government, and the only way in which it could be said to be a "Christian nation" is that Christianity is the majority religion. But no one would ever dare refer to the United States as a "White Nation," would they? I guess since, according to Christians, our country is defined by the dominant group, our money ought to say, "In Whiteness We Trust," and the Pledge of Allegiance ought to read, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the Caucasian States of America." Dude also made an ill-advised comparison between the atheist agenda and the homosexual agenda, since both groups are apparently not happy to just coexist: they have to force their lifestyles on everyone else. Right. Because everyone remembers how many heterosexuals started having gay sex once all those anti-discrimination lawsuits starting being filed. Totally forcing their lifestyle on everyone else. It's like, when I see two men holding hands, I totally just stop being attracted to women. It's the strangest thing.

Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson started pestering the atheist on the panel once the question of morality was raised. His morality, he said, and the morality of Christians, comes from God, comes from the Bible; where does her morality come from? Of course, she didn't have a simple answer for this question, since it is not a simple question. If the question had been directed at Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, he might have been able to answer it better, but I doubt that Rev. Peterson would have hounded him any less than he hounded the panelist. She did try to make the point that the source of one's morals doesn't really matter, since the question was whether atheists are inherently immoral, or amoral. But that didn't stop him from pestering her with this irrelevant question until the host had to cut them off. I'm sure he saw this as a victory. Since she could not provide an adequate response, I guess his default answer (God) had to be right. Since when do big questions like the source of morals have default answers? Since when does any question have a "default" answer?

Regarding my math question from above, it certainly has an answer, albeit one that most people would not have readily accessible. Most people would probably need to investigate the question, either using a graphing calculator (to accomodate all the digits) or a very large piece of paper, in order to discover the answer. But there is an answer. I just don't know it yet. And just because I don't know it doesn't mean you're right.

Furthermore, as I have said many, many times, morals obviously do not come from the Bible, because most of what passes as moral in that book would be considered abhorrent in today's enlightened societies. Maybe some of what we consider moral is reflected in the Bible, but the only way we can act in ways even approaching moral is by ignoring huge swaths of the Bible. If we don't honor the Biblical tenet that disobedient children ought to be stoned to death, we can't say that our morals come from the Bible.

God? Maybe. Evolutionary necessity? Probably. The Bible? Definitely not.

seriously. seriously? - - - 12 February 2007 @ 10:08

Man, some people are always looking for something to hate on. This article, about how John Edwards is "in trouble" because two members of his staff wrote "controversial" entries on their blogs prior to working for him, is just stupid. It's pretty ridiculous all on its own, because, I mean, (a) is every politician actually expected to vet all of the personal opinions ever expressed by anyone working on his campaign?, and (b) since when do the opinions of staffers directly reflect the opinions and positions of the candidate?

Anyway, the most odious attack against Edwards came from William A. Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, who had issued a press release calling for Edwards to fire the two bloggers. When he didn't, Donahue had this to say:

“The bloggers are no longer the issue. Edwards is the issue,” Mr. Donohue said in an interview. “We’re going to shadow this guy. This is going to kill his campaign. This is the biggest mistake he’s ever made.”

Seriously? Either this guy is a big jerk, or he is the most deluded person in the world. Possibly both. Deluded because he thinks hiring two anti-Catholic aides will kill Edwards's (so far) otherwise solid campaign, or a big jerk because he is going to use this non-issue to rally against a strong, capable candidate, just because that candidate is a member of the Democratic party.

I mean, seriously: do you actually care that the guy hired anti-Catholic bloggers, or are you just looking for an excuse to cut him down? What if the women weren't bloggers, but still held the same opinions? I guess only widely espoused ideas have any bearing on a person's philosophy. If a blog posts in a forest and no one reads it, is it still offensive?

extended version of an email i sent to cnn- - - 8 February 2007 @ 11:40

Paula Zahn's anti-atheist show earlier this week, in addition to being utterly ignorant and offensive, undermined the assertions of its most vocal panelist, Karen Hunter, who more than once said atheists need to "shut up." By holding a panel to discuss the "atheist problem" in America without representation by a single atheist Ms. Zahn contributed to the oppression that her guests seemed to think was imaginary.

I'm curious to know when Ms. Zahn plans to hold a roundtable discussion about Christian hostility (against homosexuals, abortion doctors, heathens, Jews, Muslims), to be conducted by a panel of atheists. Of course we all know how utterly ridiculous this sounds, but it should sound no less ridiculous to hold a panel about atheism without representation from a single atheist.

Furthermore, Ms. Zahn, ostensibly the moderator of this panel, allowed some of the most inane assertions of her guests go utterly unquestioned. No respectable news outlet would let let the statement that an entire group of people needs to shut up go without comment. Maybe Ms. Hunter had some reason for feeling this way, but since Ms. Zahn did not force her to justify this position, both women lost all of their credibility. Ms. Hunter's first comment, "What do atheists believe? Nothing." just hung in the air for several seconds, waiting for an intelligent rebut. But none came. Not only is Ms. Hunter wrong, but she will continue to be wrong and believe she's right because no one even challenged her baseless assumption. What kind of journalist stands by while her panelists make wildly inaccurate and gross generalizations without at least playing devil's advocate and forcing the panelist to justify his or her position? A poor one, that's what kind.

That is atheism, in case you were curious: the position that attitudes, and ideas, and beliefs ought to be justified. It is not a set of dogmatic rules that discard morality and reason. Quite the opposite. Atheism demands that all beliefs have reason to back them up. Atheism requires rational, logical, and, yes, moral thinking, and rejects ideas that have none. We find no justification for belief in god, just as Christians find no justification for belief in Vishnu, just as Muslims find no justification for belief in Jesus, just as Jews find no justification for belief in Buddha. The latter three beliefs are granted supreme status in the United States, as not only a right, but an ideal to aspire to. And yet the first belief, the belief that there is no god, is despised and contemned, and no one bats an eye when people tell us to shut up. Contrary to what Debbie Schlussel claimed, the Constitutional right of freedom of religion guarantees freedom from religion, as well. But once again, Ms. Zahn missed an opportunity to point out her guests' hypocrisy.

This is not the kind of shoddy journalism and kowtowing I expected to see on CNN. I am disappointed that this network allows ridiculous pseudo-debate like this to appear on the air. To be clear, I am not advocating a Fox News-type “Fair” and “Balanced” approach to news, which seems to think that anyone capable of shouting their point louder than the other people in the room is making a legitimate point that is worthy of being heard. Having two people with diametrically opposed points of view shouting at each other doesn’t solve anything or answer any questions. That is why the role of the journalist in debates like this ought to be to point out the weaknesses and strengths in all arguments, to question all assertions put forth by the guests, not just the ones she doesn’t agree with. Ms. Zahn proved that she is unable to wring the truth from her guests, and if she can’t do that, she is impotent as a journalist. The fundamental assertion on which most of the argument was grounded, that America is a Christian nation (whatever that means), was never even challenged. To state that some premise is true because the United States is a Christian nation is to beg the question. The fallacy here relies on the assumption that the initial premise (that the United States is a Christian nation) is true, but that initial premise has not been proven in its own right. Perhaps that debate ought to be settled before we start framing further debates on the assumption that it has been settled.

Look, I could air a debate on CNN about why Jews eat Christian babies, and the very fact that I'm holding that debate grants legitimacy to the obviously fallacious idea that Jews eat Christian babies. For that matter, I could ask any grammatically sound question, and claim that it ought to be debated. "Why are unicorns hollow?" "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" "Who ate my invisible pie?" But just because I raised the question that doesn't make it a legitimate topic of debate. None of these questions have rational answers, and debating them is meaningless. CNN ought to have first asked whether the questions, "Are atheist tactics too militant?" and “Why do atheists inspire such hatred?” were even legitimate questions to be asking. What are these atheist tactics? Which atheists are we talking about? Who is being inspired to hatred? Does anyone at CNN actually know what atheism is? All of these questions ought to have been addressed prior to airing this show, but they weren’t, and that makes for lousy reporting and ineffectual journalism.

This program makes it all too clear that CNN's journalistic integrity is questionable, if not entirely defunct.

i had no idea i was such a nihilist- - - 5 February 2007 @ 12:57

Man, what the crap is up with death? It's so weird. Obviously I don't believe in an immortal soul or any kind of life after death, but this realization has me kind of waffling between the optimistic, "Make every moment of this life count" point of view, and the more pessimisstic, "Nothing really matters, because we're all going to die, anyway," point of view. Obviously, I'm not going to care that I'm dead, since death will have dissolved my ability to care or feel or experience anything, but it's just kind of a bummer that, for all intents and purposes, the world is going to end when I die.

I realize that's kind of solipsistic, but in order to have a sense of self, we hu-mans have to engage in a certain amount of solipsim. Obviously, I don't really believe that the world will end when I do, but since the only way I have ever been able to experience this world is through my own mind, through my self, once that self has died, there won't be any way for me to experience the world. It will just end. And I'm just saying: that sucks. Except that I won't really be able to know that it sucks, but the idea of it, the inevtiability of it, kind of sucks for me right now, even though, as Mark Twain said, "I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it."

Like, I start thinking about it, and I try to make some kind of internal analogy to things that happen in life, like the momentary depression I feel after a concert that I really enjoyed, because I know that I will never be able to have that exact experience again, or, like, if someone important to me dies, I realize that the part of my life that involved them will be over. But these analogies inevitably fall short, because they rely on certain things' real-world relationships to other things, whereas death will, very likely, just be like being asleep, in the sense that you aren't aware of the waking world while you're asleep. You fall asleep, and time basically stops until you wake up again. And of course time doesn't really stop while you're asleep; the world keeps spinning, and stuff keeps happening, but you're entirely removed from it, and unaware that it's happening, and also unaware that you're unaware. So, in some sense, the spectre of death is like knowing that this awesome video game you're playing is eventually going to end, and then all the fun you had playing it will be over. Like, that's it: there's no more levels, and there never will be more levels. But death itself isn't exactly like beating that video game that you love, because you'll never actually realize that you've willingly and happily invested all this time and effort in something that necessarily had an end, and you'll never be able to miss the happiness of playing that game, because the end of the game is also the end of your consciousness. You die, and the screen flashes "GAME OVER," and that's it.

I forget whether I was seriously thinking about this before I started reading The God Delusion, but it has definitely got me thinking about it more. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that the two positions I mentioned before, the pessimistic and the optimistic, don't have to be mutually exclusive. Since nothing I do really matters in a cosmic sense, since none of my actions are going to have any effect on me after I die, I might as well make the most of life. Which isn't to say that I should step on everyone else in order to get what I want, but rather that I ought to recognize that everyone else is in a similar situation, and thus making my life, and their lives, meaningful and pleasant and happy ought to be my utmost concern. It's surprising how often I forget this.

obsession- - - 5 February 2007 @ 12:00
Maybe it's just because I just finished reading The God Delusion, but the idea of religion seems to be on my mind more than usual lately. I mean, I think the world is kind of thinking about religion a lot lately, specifically because of books like The God Delusion and Letter to A Christian Nation (which I could probably read once a week, and which I think every Christian should read immediately). I really noticed it when I was out to dinner last week with friends, and we were discussing an absent friend, and her recent date with a guy who used to date my girlfriend. We were speculating as to why this guy, who had been on at least three dates with the girl in question, and who had seemed to enjoy her company, had made a point to tell her that he didn't feel comfortable with a goodnight kiss, and I immediately offered, "Maybe he's a born-again." Sure, this was a plausible explanation, but it was kind of weird that I so quickly jumped to that conclusion.

On the one hand, I'm worried that I am becoming so obsessed with religion that I can't talk or think about anything else, but on the other hand I can't ignore the tremendous harm that unquestioning comittment to dogma causes to both one's own psyche and, more often than not, to other people. At times, though, I feel like one of those people I can't stand, who have to turn every conversation into a conversation about their personal obession. You know these people. You'll be talking to them about some nature documentary, and they'll be all, like, "Oh, there's grass in that movie? That's like how football is played on grass. You know, I was watching the game yesterday and Peyton Manning did this thing and it was awesome. And the announcer totally didn't even mention it, and he was, like, all obsessed with this new hybrid grass they have. Oh, man. I love sports." Or, like, you'll be making plans for the weekend, and the person will be all, "No, wait: my job's the worst. Today, this guy Bill gave me a TPS blah blah blah and I had to spend an extra three hours blah-blahing for the boss, who didn't even care that I had blah blah blahs due on Blahsday." Or maybe you'll just ask the person, you know, "What's up?" and they launch into this tirade about 15 billion lies the government told us about Iraq. I mean, yeah, all of these things would probably be interesting if we were actually having a conversation about whatever you seem to think we're having a conversation about, but we're not. Shut up.

Maybe I am just obsessed with obsession. Like, I think the idea of obsession is interesting and useful from the point of view of a writer. I tend to examine everything I do, and everything other people do, not only from the perspective of why they act in this or that particular way, but also in terms of whether their actions make sense in terms of character consistency and development. I delight to no end in recognizing a connection between some person's private obsession and their behavior in a seemingly unrelated situation, especially if that person is me. The strength of a character (strength, as in, believability, not admirability) comes from a realistic portrayal of the same kind of organic actions and reactions that take place inside real people. And even though we don't always recognize the causes of those actions and reactions in the moment, when we examine them from a distance, we can usually see the obsession driving our behavior. Like, if I were writing a character who was obsessed with religion, it would be really easy to show this by having that character turn every conversation into a religious conversation, basically hijacking it in the manner described above. But real people usually aren't so conscious of their obsessions, and usually don't make their obsessions so obvious. Instead, they tend to peek out the way mine did, by not really hijacking the conversation, but just by influencing my angle and stake in the conversation. A subtle comment like the one I made obviously (to me) comes from the fact that I'm concerned with religion, but it didn't require my explicit mention of that concern in order to add meaningfully to my character's development.