Westworld; A World Without God?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 8, 2016 by willard43

The newest show on HBO, Westworld (adapted from a 70’s sci-fi movie of the same name),  is apparently the godless world the religious have warned us about. The argument that, without a God, there would be nothing to stop humanity from raping, killing and otherwise destroying ourselves has been around for a while. Most atheists would agree that morality is not interdependent on religion, and you can be a moral person without joining a cult or religion, but believers still make this argument. What does this have to do with a sci-fi show?

Well, in this show, “guests” are normal folks who can afford to pay the entrance fee to the “park” where “hosts,” robots who are way too human, interact with them. The park set in the late 19th-century Wild West, and guests can interact with hosts at varying levels ranging from simple “hey bartender, give me a whisky” to complex plots where the guest can shoot the bad guys, rob a bank or save the girl. Herein lies the rub, there are little to no consequences for shooting a host. That’s right, if you felt like it, you could just wade into town and start gunning down hosts at your pleasure. Bullets from a guests gun can destroy a host, but bullets from a host’s gun only sting the guest a little. The hosts are also programmed NOT to harm a guest (other than maybe a light slap or ouchy bean bag bullet).

That’s the crux of my argument here; is Westworld the world that believers think will happen if there is no God to direct them. My argument against this moral vacuum has always been “well, do you, as a believer, think that if you didn’t have God or church, you’d just walk out your door and begin killing and raping people?” In essence, is morality dependent upon your belief in a higher power and is that the only thing keeping you from becoming a monster. I’d wager that for most “normal” people, the answer is no. If you were given irrefutable proof that there is no God tomorrow, would you just walk out your door and start shooting your neighbors? Sure, there are some crazies out there for whom God is the only impediment to their murderous rampage, but no, humanity as a whole can have morality without God.

However, in Westworld, these same people spend tens of thousands of dollars to apparently just show up in the park to, at the very least, have sexual interludes with robots, or, at worst, rape and kill them. Obviously the show is making the point that the humans are the monsters and the robots victims of their basest desires, but there seems to be a preponderance of people willing to spend a lot of money to commit the most heinous and violent acts against the hosts. Who are these people? Am I just being naive in thinking that most of us do not want to go to a park where all bets are off and we can rape and murder at will? The show is aiming at making the hosts sentient (SPOILER? I don’t know that, but I’m presuming it based on the episodes to date; six). The guests would not know this, so they are going in thinking these are just robots, but even so, is everyone out there just waiting for the day where they can do this?

I know the next argument, “but video games have all these things now!” True. I am no shrinking violet when it comes to playing video games. The GTA games alone make me wonder at my own, moral compass. Granted, the plots in the games only give you a very limited number of choices, but sometimes, after I’ve beaten the game, I like to just fill up all the weapons and armor and go around the city causing mayhem. I don’t think I’m alone in this? When there are no consequences, and I’m not hurting anyone, how will I behave. Apparently like a raving maniac armed to the teeth waging destruction upon all who cross my path.

So therein lies my quandary. While I am repulsed at the idea of people paying to go to a park where they can kill damn near sentient robots that look like real people, I have no problem doing same (minus the rapey bits) in a digital world.

The Pronoun Wars

Posted in Uncategorized on August 14, 2016 by willard43

“In the parlance of our times” I’m a cis hetero male? Hell, “in the parlance of our times” I’m the spawn of the devil; a straight, white male. Supposedly the peak of entitlement and the object of contempt for everyone who is not in this group of people. And yet I find myself outside even that group as I’m not rich, connected, and have worked for everything I have.

I’m a full-time, single dad who gets no support from the mother of my kids (thought, ironically, her family does help out and hold me in higher esteem now than they ever did when I was married to their daughter). I’m a vet and I worked for a while as a 911 Operator and Police Dispatcher, so I’ve contributed to my country and my community. I smoke pot and think it, and all drugs, should be legal, taxed and regulated. I don’t, however think all guns should be legal. I would have voted for Bernie if he’d made it to the DNC nomination. I believe in equality across the board, and merit-based rewards. I’m an atheist and an agnostic, but I respect those of faith and their cultures. I hate extremism of any sort. I think Donald Trump is the embodiment of what is wrong with this country as is Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, Chris Christie and Ben Carson to name a few, but I respect their right to speak their minds, though I disagree with almost everything they say. I like all kinds of music, especially Ska/Reggae, Progressive Rock, Rush (because they should be their own genre, imo), but I get a bit cringey when I hear the New Country and top 40 type songs that just drone on about the same things. I think there are artists and entertainers, and plenty of crossover, but I prefer the artists. I shed a tear when both David Bowie and Prince died. I hate Minecraft, but play COD, WOW, D&D, and okay, I tried Magic, but didn’t get into it. I read anything, and even have a Masters in English. I find value in both pulp and pomp, and believe the canon is a living, breathing thing that should be under constant examination. Though I disagree that we should ignore works by dead white men, just because they make up a good portion of its oldest works; lets add anyone we missed versus taking any out because of race and gender. I am not a feminist. At least not as it is defined today, which doesn’t seem to jibe with its original definition, which is all about equality for all, not the supremacy of some.

I’m pre-internet. That is I remember a time when there was only one phone in the house; it was in the kitchen and had a 10-foot long cord, and it was obligatory that when you were trying to call buddy or, heaven forfend, a girl, everyone in the house was privy to that conversation, and you absently twisted that cord around you as you talked (sometimes almost causing you to fall to the ground like a roped calf at a rodeo). Being pre-internet, my skin is a bit thinner and I’ve worked hard to toughen it up. I present myself on the internet as exactly who I am. I have not mastered the art of detachment like so many folks from the generation(s) that have grown up on the internet. As a result, I still believe there is a certain responsibility that goes along with my right to say what I want. Unfortunately for later generations, that may be a lesson waiting to happen as more and more people are being called to task for what they do and say on the internet, especially social media. For a while there, that was not the case, and it shows. Daily I see horrific things being said to people who, in the pre-internet days, would never have the balls to say those things, even if they did actually believe them. While I too revel in the new forum we all share, I also see this as the most glaring flaw; a lack of accountability resulting in a dearth of humanity. And, on the other end of the spectrum, a rabid sense of injustice for eons of persecution by people who did not truly suffer like their predecessors. I’m talking about any group that was marginalized, colonized, beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed by a society that called itself “free,” but for this essay, I’m strictly speaking about the LGBTQ community.

As far as the LGBTQ community, I have always been a supporter of personal freedom and equality; it shouldn’t matter what your race, sex, religion, sexual orientation is, all should be equal under the law. LGBTQ people should be afforded the same rights as anyone else, and should never be limited because of their sexuality. Transgender people should be allowed to use whatever bathroom they feel comfortable using. I’ve always seen the world this way, and even in the face of ridicule for who I am now, I’m never going to change that position.

I’ll also admit to a certain amount of ignorance, not being a part of that community. I don’t think I’m alone there, and other, like-minded cis hetero white guys often shake their heads in confusion as we’re bombarded with more and more rules we were heretofore unaware of. Pronouns being a huge part of this. Somewhere along the lines, the pronouns we had used for time immemorial, have become either obsolete or downright offensive. New buzzwords have come to light for us like non-binary, gender fluid, cis, trans, pansexual. On one hand, you want to celebrate these changes as they make language more exact. On the other, it seems these terms just sprung up for us who have no experience with them, and we’re likely to be ostracized for our ignorance rather than patiently taught their proper use. Much like anything else, immediate gratification is the expectation in our culture.

Though pronouns had remained virtually unchanged for centuries, and the world was binary, as far as gender was concerned (and I’d be remiss for not mentioning that this was largely due to my brethren’s behavior in violently suppressing anyone outside the “norm”), doesn’t seem to register. We want change and we want it yesterday. In fact, the whole “white privilege” and “cis scum” arguments kind of hinge on this idea that if we try real hard, we can erase history in favor of a new paradigm. Unfortunately we have no time machines to travel back and right all the wrongs (I truly wish there was one, as I and my fellow cis scum are left holding the bag for all previous generations’ sins). And would we want to? Do we want to forget all those people who fought and died for LGBTQ rights? I mean, they are the reason for “pride” are they not? They are celebrated for getting us to this crucial point in our culture and even thought I don’t belong to that community, I still can be proud that, in my time, our culture is working to right that wrong. And, (this is the part that seems to be forgotten and also to enrage people, thought I’m not sure why), is this culture not based on the work of cis hetero white men? Would we be where we are now, in a society of laws and a blueprint for equality (The Constitution), that has forced society to right those wrongs by espousing them as the principles by which we live? I’m certainly not suggesting that the LGBTQ movement’s successes are the result of straight white men, but I am saying that the framework within which they occurred was started by them. “White Privilege” is a whole, other topic that I’ve written my views on, so I’ll stop there.

Having said all that (here it comes), I think that the pendulum has, as per usual, swung too far in the opposite direction. We spend our lives, the bulk of us, in the middle, but we are often slaves to the extremes. This is why our current election had a far right (pretty much fascist, imo) Trump and a far left Sanders in it. The extremes of our culture are growing and louder and are rapidly eating the meaty center. While some see this as wondrous times to be alive, I see it as the last rumblings of the end of an era. What Yeats called the “widening gyre.” We’re at the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. I see a bright future if we can get through these times, but for now, reason is being drowned out by the death throes of the old and the bloodthirsty howls of the new.

The howls of the new often win out as generations die. Old values and mores die with them. I can see it in my own kids. They don’t even think of race as a factor, as I barely did growing up. I was lucky, as the only racists in my family were my American step-dads. My mother was born and raised in Ireland and I don’t think she even met a black person until she was in her 20’s living in London in the 60’s. So she didn’t grow up with the embedded racism that we in the US are victims of. I only came to this country at the tender age of six, and learned any racism from my step-dads, though I’m sure, if he had lived, my real dad would have passed on a diluted version of the racism he grew up with. And like we look at our parents and scoff at the silly ignorance of their forgotten time, so too do my children shed any residue I left them with. Time is the great equalizer, and it cannot be forced to speed up even the most righteous of changes in our behavior.

Unfortunately, and even thought old ignorance dies, what takes its place is often new ignorance. The assumptions that because one appears to be a white, hetero male means they are racist, misogynistic, homophobic, islamaphobic, right-wing, Christian, nut-jobs bent on taking us back to an imaginary cultural apex is just as bad as assuming that because someone appears to be a black male, wearing the athletic gear of a street thug, and driving a Lexus, isn’t a rich, trans, Harvard Law student, who happens to like hip-hop. You can say, “well, you had your time and it’s over so you get to eat shit,” but in fact, what time was that? I have never lived in a community where it was okay to be racist. No one I know thinks it’s okay to denigrate people from the LGBTQ community. I have never laid hands on a woman, nor ever treated them as anything less than an equal across the board. My family never owned slaves, nor were they rich. Hell, I’m the first college graduate in my line. And let’s be clear, this isn’t an apology for the sins of the past. I never had a say or a part in them. I’m also not saying “poor poor me, those guys had all the fun and left me holding the bag.” When we judge people by their appearances, we cheat ourselves as much as we cheat them. And though our particular corner of the community may be basking in the light of righteous comeuppance, it will not be long before the next generation comes along to prove how wrong we are, as they usher in the new “gyre.”

So, if I use the wrong pronoun, please correct me, but do so in the same civil manner I will correct you if you assume something about me simply because a small, vocal minority of my brethren are close-minded assholes, who are afraid their country is slipping away from them, which it certainly, and thankfully, is.

White Water Adventure

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2015 by willard43

White water rafting. It’s the family vacation thing to do. It’s almost a cliché, until you actually do it. Many times I have bought into a vacation idea or adventure, fantasizing about daring do and “burning the fat off our souls” as Hemingway has said, but they usually do not live up to one’s expectations. White water rafting was the exception for me.

I booked a three-day adventure on the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle, PA over the summer. I’m a full-time, single dad of three teenage kids (well, two teenagers, 17 and 14, and one on the cusp of teen anyway), who go out to relatives throughout their summer vacations. Partly to just visit and spend time with family and partly to give dad a break. They usually get up to some fun hijinks whilst out in the mid-West, and Dad doesn’t often have the time or money, or both, to compete. I try, though, and we manage to take a week off together and do something. On year was simply the City Pass for Philly, which included the Franklin Institute, the Camden Aquarium, the Philly Zoo, and a choice of some other historical and interesting sites. We’re only 20 minutes away, so each day had something fun and it didn’t break me. This year I actually managed to save enough money to not only go out to Ohiopyle, a 4.5 hour drive (which was actually fun; there’s a stretch of 76 that’s 70mph…WOOT!), and not only go rafting, kayaking and zip-lining, but also camping. We stayed in a cabin with more electrical outlets than you could shake a stick at for our phones, but what the hey, we still had a campfire, so it’s camping, dammit!

The rafting part was two days; first day, an easy introduction to rafting on class I & II rapids on an 11 mile section of the Youghiogheny River. Nice and easy, learn how to maneuver the raft, get acclimated. Day two was class III & IV rapids; the real deal! Last day was really just an “adventure” park with all kinds of obstacles to tackle and a zip-line of like 200 feet in the woods; meh. So the dumbass who made the reservations…me…picked the wrong section of the river for the first day. So day one, was now day two; trial by rapids. The guide even asked if anyone had a) ever been white water rafting and b) were not confident they were up to the challenge. We all laughed nervously, paled, but sacked up and got our gear on.

After a lecture on basic safety and how to maneuver the raft (luckily we had a guide in the raft to bark out orders), we hit the river. First rapid, my daughter’s in the drink. My oldest son and I are in the front and my daughter and youngest were right behind us. There was a father and son in the back with the guide. We hit the first rock and she jettisons out of the raft. I see her eyes bugged out in fear looking up and like an idiot I jump across the raft to save my baby (“the rapids ate my baby!” [in a horrible, Australian accent]). We got her back in in a millisecond, but all my fears came to bear and I’m thinking, “we’re all going to drown in this river whose name I can’t quite wrap my tongue around.” No time! We’re off down the river to multiple rapids. They take pictures later down the river for family keepsakes and, ironically, we’re all digging in with our oars, rowing for our lives, but my daughter is the only one beaming her smile at the camera. It reminded me of the Far Side cartoon with the guy pushing a wheelbarrow in Hell while one devil says to the other, “we’re just not getting through to that guy.”

Lucky for us, some of the most difficult rapids are right at the beginning, conveniently placed for those of us with no experience to learn or swim. We make it through, though I almost fall out, my oldest grabbing by life jacket in the nick of time, keeping me from tipping out (I’m a large man, and I can’t imagine that, even with everyone’s help, I’d be pulled back into the raft). I return the favor and we’re doing this back and forth all day (I saved him 3 times and he saved me 2). The most dramatic save was at the most dangerous part of the river, Dimple Rock. I’m convinced that Dimple Rock is named after the crease it put into the skull of the first person to “kiss the rock.” Right before we entered the rapids, the guide swaps me and my oldest so I’m on the left and he on the right. I didn’t question it at first, but basically he was willing to sacrifice me to the rock because  I was the biggest person on the boat; cushion for the blow. Unfortunately, we did not hit the rapids at the perfect angle, and “kissed the rock” in the middle of the raft, spinning us, in the middle of the rapid mind you, and sending my oldest almost out of the raft. I grabbed him by the ankle and just pulled him into the raft before his head would have smacked into Dimple Rock (at the velocity his head was travelling it would have been more like “frenching Dimple rock), as we came around the corner and down the chute. “Just like when you were born. I caught you by the ankle as you slid out of your mother’s vagina and hit the floor, saving your life,” I extolled to the rest of the raft.

We all managed to stay in the raft for the rest of the five hour journey, except for a stop at a big rock, where folks in the rafts got out and took turns jumping off of and into the river. We also learned that “swim breaks” between rapids were really bathroom breaks. At the last rapid our guide congratulated all of us for braving some of the most challenging class III & IV rapids in the country, and as we went into the last rapid asked, “should we do this easy or hard?” Like idiots, we all replied “HARD!” (My daughter claims she said “easy,” being the only one of us to go into the river). So we did it the hard way and as soon as we set ourselves up to enter the chute, I realized it was a mistake. I could see the orange-ish rock in crystal clear detail (even now), waiting for us under the current. We hit the rock with the front, right side of the raft right where I was perched. I even managed to “lean into the raft” in anticipation of the impact, but to no avail. I went ass over end into the river. I was soaking wet from the spray and the water coming into the raft at every rapid, but nothing prepares you for that shock of cold fresh water when you’re not expecting to be submerged. For a brief moment, you’re all alone in the current and cold, reaching out for the raft though you’re not quite sure where it is. As predicted, it was a herculean effort on my and my raft-mates parts to get my fat ass back in the raft. We did it though, and I lay there huffing and puffing, looking up at a cloudy, drizzling sky waiting for either the pain of some injury to kick in or the heart attack. Neither came and we were right at the take out point. We lugged our raft (easily the most difficult part of the day being fat, out of shape, and spent from trying to pull myself into the raft) up the hill to the buses.

We picked up pizzas in town (I was not doing campfire grill shit after that day), and headed back to the cabin. Though tired, we did light a fire in the drizzle and hung out listening to music and chatting about the day. Smiles all around. My oldest son wanted us to go back and do that part of the river again tomorrow instead of the easy part, but I was not about to. Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing and I’m glad I did it. I look forward to doing it again in the not too distant future too, but I was not ready to do it again the next day. I looked forward to an easy day, and was not disappointed.

For all the excitement and exhilaration the class IIi & IV rapids had to offer, that’s all we did. Rarely did we get a chance to just enjoy some of the most beautiful and untouched scenery PA has to offer. And rightly so, white water rafting is supposed to be exciting. I had mentioned to our guide my mix up in booking the trip and he commentated that the next day was going to be decidedly less exciting, but still a lot of fun. He suggested that instead of a raft, we switch to individual, inflatable kayaks, “duckies,” for the middle or easy section of the river. And right he was. These were easy to maneuver, virtually impossible to tip, inflatable kayaks. Very comfortable too. The worst that happened on our trip was a torrential downpour and getting stuck in shallow sections of the river, which were easy enough to get out of by simply standing up and pulling the kayak out or putting one foot out and one in, while pushing it like a scooter. We did hit some fun rapids, which we were fully prepared for due to our trial by rapids the previous day. Navigating through “waves” and “hydraulics” (the opposite of waves; holes that suck you in and keep you if you don’t hit them head on and with enough velocity) was a blast, though all but my oldest son got pinned at one rapid. We eventually broke free.

Those were fun moments, but what really put the zap on our heads was the beauty of the landscape. We wound our way through unspoiled mountains on the river. Here and there we encountered some groups on the raft tour and a few fishermen, but otherwise the river was ours. No houses, no parks, nothing but forest and mountains, interrupted by a few old bridges and a mail cable, which crossed above us, no longer in use. 11 miles that took us nearly five hours to navigate. Three quarters of the way through, we hit a downpour. You could see the wall of rain coming down the mountain, and the sky went from sunny and dry to dark and wet in an instant. We laughed and laughed and just kept rowing, unable to distinguish rapid from calm.

As I recount it, I get a sentimental tear in my eye as it is one of the few moments of pure joy I have in my memories. Sure, I have the big moments we all naturally feel; first love, marriage, sex, births of our children, but these are rudimentary in comparison. This was unexpected, overwhelming and it stays with me, crystal clear like the river to this day. Me and my family; the people I hold dearest, paddling down our river, unsullied by the world. Not “… beat[ing] on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” but coursing with the current, lost and reveling in our moment.

Privilege is Bullshit

Posted in Uncategorized on August 25, 2015 by willard43

Privilege [priv-uh-lij, priv-lij] noun 1. A right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most: the privileges of the very rich.

I recently got into a discussion on a popular forum concerning Literary Chauvinism, which I called a bullshit feminism term. The premise of the article, was that there are a corps of men out there who read only male writers, deeming women writers inferior. This is why there are so few women writers in the cannon…blah blah blah. It’s bullshit and it’s an excuse for bad writing. I’m not saying there aren’t tremendously good female writers, there most certainly are. And I’m not saying they’ve gotten their due in the cannon, they have not. But it’s not just because men won’t read them. I do believe, though, that there is a small group of, and not only men as this isn’t a gender-specific issue, who will buy books they think will look good on their shelves, but never read them. Molly Fischer in her article goes after the David Foster Wallace fanboys specifically, but you know the type; great works on the bookshelf at home in pristine condition as the person has never really read them (maybe they saw the movie). I’ll even admit that I have DFW on my nightstand, but I keep taking breaks. That shit is hard to read. I find myself constantly stopping to review and ponder what I just read. I don’t entertain a lot, and least of all in my bedroom, to my chagrin, so I’m devoid of pretense in that arena. Ultimately, I think it’s a bullshit term. People don’t read books to support a gender. If they do read mostly male or female it’s either because that’s an issue for them (either way, they’re assholes if they pick books by gender of the author), or it’s coincidence due to taste. Doesn’t it make sense for a male reader to choose books written by men and gender is such a huge part of who we are and a male author would speak to that same experience?

So the person that commented back basically said I should back off the MRA a bit and basically asserted that it’s not a bullshit term because of “privilege.” This is, in my opinion, the concept that everything I have and am is because I was lucky enough to be born a white, straight male. Now, I do get the concept in general and yes, I understand that it’s much easier, still, to be a white, straight male in this society than every other race/gender/sexual orientation. And gladly, that is changing for the better. My problem is that I think it’s also bullshit. Not just from a personal standpoint, from which I responded because I’m a single-dad of three kids who has not only worked for everything I have (I’m not rich nor were my parents; my mom has a sixth grade education and immigrated here from Ireland), served my country (USN; First Gulf War), served my community (911 Operator/Dispatcher for my state’s police for a period of time), and just a generally good citizen. I realize that’s easier for me to do that even as US culture grows up and sheds some of these outdated values, but still, I don’t think “checking my privilege” is the answer. Just because I fit into a demographic is no reason to suggest I, or anyone else does not deserve an opinion.

But that led me down another path, because, even though it’s the internet, I feel a sense of obligation to constantly re-examine and educate myself. In doing so, I’ve come up with this, very high-level and source-lacking theory:

Privilege is Bullshit.

The premise is that white, straight patriarchal society is to blame for all the world’s ills right now, and anyone who is, actively or incidentally, a part of that demographic has no right to criticize anyone except those within that demographic. Kinda makes for one-sided arguments then doesn’t it? But that’s the beauty of the victim mentality; you’re always beyond reproach or criticism because anyone that would is attacking you and part of the problem. Like I said, “Bullshit.” But I’ll keep digging. Why is my demographic “privileged?” Because white, straight men ruled the Western World for so long on the backs of others. They conquered and enslaved the rest of the world and now owe it reparations. Let’s go with that. How then did they do that? The prevailing wisdom for centuries was because the white race was some how more advanced than all the others (ok, maybe not Asians, but let’s not talk about them all the way over there in the East and all). We know now that’s bullshit, though it was accepted all the way into the 20th-century (and I’ll wager there are far too many white people who still believe it; I’m not one of them, of course because that’s just silly).

Jared Diamond in his book and documentary “Guns, Germs and Steel” is the most famous anthropologist to research and come up with the most accessible theory on why race is not a factor in Western Civilizations domination of much of the world, and I’m going to rely on that…heavily. Dimon suggests that rather than race, climate and environment are the two key factors in European domination of much of, if not all of, the Western hemisphere and beyond. Europe was a temperate zone lending itself to the best growing conditions to build an agrarian society with, and it did so. The environment was also amenable to the best grain crops and livestock, allowing the perfect conditions for growing food with minimal effort compared to other temperate zones. So, Europeans grew crops and livestock (the most varied in the world; cows, pigs, goats, sheep, fowl, horses) allowing them to spend time advancing methods and technology, and the means to defend their territory. Animal husbandry on and expanded level in comparison with the rest of the world, exposed them to a variety of diseases building their immunity and making white people little bio-chemical weapons when they began exploring other lands. In this crucible arose a well-armed and infectious group of people with advanced technology, the means to travel to distant lands and a thirst for riches and land to add to a rapidly crowding, European continent. And when they got to these lands, they were at a great advantage to the native population who had not had the same advantages in climate and environment. Between the weapons and disease, they didn’t stand a chance. Tragic, truly, but, and this may sound callous, the way of Nature, no? Nature does not play favorite to the weak. Any animal that has an advantage, be it size, teeth, defenses, survives, and we are part of that Nature.

In fact, the premise for Diamond’s research is that without those advantages and due to the limitations of their own climate and environment, natives of Papua New Guinea never developed past the Neolithic age. They had very little opportunity to develop agriculture or technology, remaining trapped in a hunter/gatherer stone age. It had nothing to do with their race and any sort of anthropological difference impacting their development.

So my first contention is that, had any other continent enjoyed the same advantages, would they have not used them in the same manner. Maybe not, but I doubt it. Once the population started bursting the seams of their homeland, Africans, South Americans, North Americans, South Asians, Arabs…any of these civilization could have (and have in some cases), looked to and coveted their lesser equipped neighbors. It could just as easily been Africa that dominated the world given the same advantages in climate and environment. Certainly Africans, within the parameters of their own environment, did not lack in ambition to conquer each other and other lands (ever heard of Egypt?).

My second contention is similar; it’s purely evolutionary happenstance that men ruled for so many centuries. These roles were determined by physiology. Males were the hunters and defenders of the hearth because female were designed to carry children to ensure the proliferation of the species. There was no caveman convention to intentionally keep cavewomen barefoot and pregnant, the roles organically happened over a great deal of time. Should we evolve past that? YES! Will it happen overnight? NO! Maybe those roles, based on millions of years of evolution, will reverse and women will have their day ruling the earth? I would love to be the guy woken up after thousands of years of sleep into a world run by women that is on the verge of the same role reversal. Groups of men, feeling subjugated and marginalized fighting for their place in society and a shot at running the show again and go “AHA! I was right!” Likely gender will no longer be a thing. Maybe we’ll evolve into a species devoid of sexuality or gender? Or even race. Everyone will just be human; a mix of all humanity and these concepts will be laughed at.

Until then, though, you can only point the “male privilege” finger at those who purposefully advocate it. It’s incidental to who were are and only culture has made this an issue. To argue that I, as a white, straight male owe anyone anything or that I have no right to an opinion is as ludicrous as those Neanderthals (and I’ apologize to any Neanderthals who do not share the stereotype) who suggest women are the “fairer sex,” (purely from an aesthetic viewpoint, though, women are prettier…for the most part).

Finally, sexual orientation; the straight, white male has privilege over all other sexual orientations. While this is also true, from a historical and, until very recently, cultural standpoint, it’s also incidental. No one chooses their sexual orientation. It’s who we are as much as race and gender. How then, unless, once again, a person advocates one over all others, can you assume a white, straight male is privileged?

I can hear the dull roar of righteous indignation as I typed those words. “But that is exactly what ‘privilege’ is and you as a straight, white male benefitted from it.” This is true and where my argument becomes dicey. Yes, race, gender and sexual orientation have historically played into the favor of white, straight males, but do they now and have they really in my lifetime? How can you say that I have benefitted now when I am not even allowed to take credit for what I’ve earned through hard work in my lifetime? LGBT Pride parades have been happening for decades. Same Sex Marriage has finally been recognized by the law of the land, the Supreme Court and there is a public outcry against the Religious Freedom Act, which would guarantee the right of anyone to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. The tide has turned in my lifetime. Am I fighting against that? NO! I embrace it. I long for it. It breaks down all the barriers and proves that this society has a chance at succeeding where so many others failed. If you looked at it purely from the standpoint of advantage, why would I support any movement that seeks to reduce my benefits? I would be on the side of those that seek to limit or eliminate those rights and go back to the straight, white patriarchy that would guarantee my “privilege.” And I am truly not alone. The majority of straight, white men in this country are on the side of change. They long to see these changes and right wrongs. If that were not true, then where would these causes be? If the majority of my societal niche were against Same Sex Marriage, do you really think it would have had a chance?

In a nutshell, here is why I think Privilege is bullshit:

1 – Guns, Germs and Steel: As Diamond proved, there is no racial advantage to being white. It’s purely luck that white Europeans were in a position to rule the world for the length that they have. Any other society would most likely have done the same if they’d had those same advantages of environment and climate.

2 – Gender Roles: These were not invented by men to subjugate women. These were imposed on us by Nature; or the nature of gender with regard to biology. They are also incidental. I did nothing to “earn” my maleness, but then again, I had no control over it.

3 – Sexual Orientation: As it is not a choice, the same argument as before; it’s incidental. Furthermore, if the majority of society were for the continued characterization of any sexual orientation other than CIS, all others would continue to be marginalized.

Privilege is bullshit! The concept not only hurts those that don’t benefit from it, but those that do. Espousing the idea that if you have benefitted in any way from incidental characteristics you had no control over, in some way invalidates your viewpoints or means you should handicap yourself in everything you do, is just as ridiculous as thinking your race, gender or sexual orientation entitles you to something you don’t deserve. I did not get my job because of privilege. In fact, when it comes to privilege, I’m a liability. Wouldn’t it have been so much better for my company to hire a female or non-white person? Diversity is key, especially in the corporate world, and I am at the bottom of that list.

Think for a minute. If all of us (and by us I mean the multitude that do NOT create policy or ensure that they remain in the seat of privilege; the 1%, the rich, the powerful) stopped vying for the winning ticket in the victim status lottery, what we could accomplish.

Martyrs, Toons and Free Speech

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19, 2015 by willard43

“Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

George Orwell

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Charlie Hebdo situation and when I decided to jot down my thoughts, it was Orwell that came to mind. Most of us who’ve survived high school English have probably read 1984, and those of us who’ve gone on to college and grad school have probably read and reread his seminal novel more than once. Any time a discussion of Free Speech comes up I immediately think of Orwell’s novel, the main gyst of which is the control of society, specifically through language. Everyone remembers the torture and the dystopian, some would even say Stalinist, vibe, but the really scary part for me was the little cookbook on how to control people. Not through superior firepower, killing and torture, though those become very handy in keeping the population under that control, but in the use of language to change the way people think. Orwell literally wrote the book on doing just that. Terms like “newspeak,” “thought crime,” and “party” are in the lexicon forever because of this novel. And we often reference “Big Brother” on a daily basis in light of the various ways governments spy on us every day.

What does this have to do with Charlie Hebdo? Well, as most people were, I was shocked and horrified at the killing of these folks for something so stupid as a cartoon. Like any Westerner, it’s offensive to think anyone should die over a cartoon, painting or even the most viscious and public verbal attack on a religious figure. The cartoon itself was juvenile at best and not even funny, in my opinion, and if it weren’t for the killings, would probably never been seen or read by most. But two nutjobs, and to call them anything but that is as ridiculous as the cartoon was, is an over-estimation of them. The reaction of “I am Charlie” and the Unity March in Paris, were very encouraging, though. I thought the support shown for those who perished was noble. As is often the case, the best and worst of us only comes around in times of crisis, and the best seemed to have risen to the top. Seemed. The very next day, the same country and city that championed its fallen countrymen as martyrs for Free Speech, arrested a barely know comedian for exercising that very thing, and in the same juvenile and trollish way Hebdo’s cartoon did.

As a result, it’s hard not to see this as an attack on Islamists, Muslims, or whatever you want to call them. Why is it verboten to deny the Holocaust, but ok to make fun of the prophet Muhammed? Do you have to die to be a martyr for Free Speech or can you be one just for going to jail for it? Dieudonne M’bala M’bala is surely an asshole and his jokes aren’t funny. His barb about “I am Amedy Coulibaly” who killed a policewoman and innocent bystanders at a kosher deli, was only about shocking people and getting atttention. He’s a troll, and a coward, in my opinion, as he only posted this on social media to get attention and drive people to go see him in person. But is his right to express himself any less valid than Charlie Hebdo’s? And any less juvenile? Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon was meant to be a slap in the face to any extremist who felt they had the right to deny them their rights to Free Speech. As was Dieudonne’s. They are virtually identical, given they were aimed at the right to Free and unpopular Speech. And though they were tasteless, again my opinion, the point is that both have the right to express them in any form they choose and no religion or state should be allowed to prevent that. And in this case, it casts the French Government as no less invasive to Free Speech than Muslims who would levee a death sentence on someone who draws a cartoon. In essence, they were both trying “to tell people what they didnt’ want to hear.”

Love Me!!

Posted in Uncategorized on October 26, 2014 by willard43

That’s what I hear from news channels nowadays. “Love me! PLEASE!” It’s no wonder too, as the competition for viewership is tougher than ever. I myself prefer the internet for my news. I can get a quick blurb on top stories and read further if I desire and there’s no talking heads, who I hate with a burning passion. But I occasionally watch the news. I haven’t watched the old-timey broadcast news in forever, and frankly, it’s like watching your grandparents argue. Local news is pretty much useless anymore cause, the internet again. But the big 24/hr news channels are fun to watch. They are the spearhead of TV news’ efforts to compete with the internet and it’s deliciously pathetic to watch.

Case in point, the recent CNN show detailing the roots of its broadcasters. Don’t get me wrong, I bear no ill will to any of these “journalists,” but there’s a certain smug satisfaction, I’m not proud of, that I get watching them flounder like a fish in the boat; they no they’re dead, but the struggle and hope for some salvation. This is the latest effort, the attempt to generate some sort of relationship with the viewers. Fox News has that with Fox and Friends and regardless of how my lefty sensibilities cringe at anything they produce, they’ve been the most successful. MSNBC has Joe Scarborough, whom I like, but can’t stand his blonde, bimbo sidekick, whatshername (don’t give me that “but she wrote a book” bullshit either; it was about herself). Last is the CNN crew, New Day, which sounds like some sort of cult. They are the least valuable members of the CNN team and the most needy, imo. And I have to admit that the Roots show was fairly interesting as I’m into that sort of thing, but it’s a cry for help. It’s the need to establish this personal relationship so viewers like me won’t abandon them completely for the internet. “We’re people too!” doesn’t work on me as I could care less, and I don’t think I’m alone. And I resent effort as it assumes we’re all like that middle-aged, divorcee at work who lives for cake parties as its her only social interaction. They’re like Dunder-Mifflin trying to convince us that it’s about the people, about customer service, not about profit and we buy in because it’s a fuzzy little lie for the show. Well, I buy into the Office because I like those people, it’s funny and I see a connection with my own life. I don’t give a shit about Chris Cuomo’s thoughts or feelings on the story. This phony personal investment in the story to foster some relationship that’s a lie makes me switch the channel.

I miss Walter Kronkite. He just gave the news. He wrote it himself too. The only time you got a sense of what Walter Kronkite felt about the news, except in very few instances and those instances carried the gravitas that fostered the relationship that eludes these other news channels today. I cared what Walter thought. I wanted to know more but respected his need to distance himself to remain as objective as possible because that’s what journalism should be.

Another aspect I’ve notice is need for an apologist and CNN leads the pack once again with with that bald guy (sorry, I googled him but couldn’t find out who he was; not important enough) who used to contribute from Politico. Once again, nothing against him personally, and I actually think he’s a damn smart guy who has something to say. He’s also not all touch feely like the rest of them. However, he is an apologist. He is forever rationalizing CNN’s coverage of everything. He led the charge in defending the Malaysian Airlines coverage because they just wanted to hump that leg for more tragedy. I’m still not sure why he justified it, but he certainly did. More recently he posted statistics on the Ebola story stating that if you were about to change the channel because it doesn’t interest you, you were in the minority as some crazy figure says that 80% of the country was interested. If you changed the channel you were somehow out of touch and out of step. Ironic as most people go to the internet for the news vs. TV, making anyone following CNN more likely to be out of step.

I guess what I’m saying is that broadcast news is going to go the way of print journalism, but even faster and with less loss. Print is still important because it puts a lot more responsibility on the journalist and forces them to actually be journalists vs. just pretty talking heads on the idiot box. It also forces the reader to invest some brain power beyond simply scrolling through headlines. TV infotainment is only going to get worst, and this concentration on making the journalist, or rather newscaster, the story, is just like giving a cancer patient cigarettes; one way or another they’re going to die.

Melville’s Love Life

Posted in Uncategorized on October 21, 2014 by willard43

I don’t give a fuck who Herman Melville slept with. I don’t think Herman Melville gave much of a fuck either, to be honest. And yet any discussion of Melville in our time inevitably leads to theories of his homosexual nature seeping into his work. I get it, anything nautical or penal gets discussed our snickering, prurient interest, rife in our 21st-century culture, rears its ugly, slavering head. I feel like Carmella Soprano in that episode where “Billy Budd” is being discussed during dinner at her daughter Meadow’s apartment; “everything is not gay!” she frantically exclaims as the inevitable theories of homosexual love come into the conversation.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it centers around an attractive, albeit stuttering, young seamen aboard an 18th-century, British man-of-war who kills his master-at-arms. Go ahead…titter away at “seaman” and “master-at-arms” or even just the fact that it’s a Navy story. My contention is that we miss the very point of the story by concentrating on this prurient interest. Just like our culture is far more interesting in what actors are wearing or who they’re fucking than their roles and their movies. Hell, we’ve created “reality TV” so we can do away with plot and story and watch nothing but naked, brutal drama (or rather manufactured melodrama) to appeal to that prurient interest. We’ve become a nation of Gladys Kravitzes who no longer have to get up to look out the window, but who can simply switch through channels of our neighbors’ exploits. Oh no, Melville couldn’t have possibly been commenting on human nature or themes of God, society, justice, or the disparity between the classes as played out in microcosm aboard a ship. No, it’s got to be a gay story, right!? For fuck’s sake, it’s got to do with the Navy and “seamen!”

This, of course, draws the criticism that I’m homophobic, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. I can’t be homophobic if I don’t give a shit who fucks who. I don’t care who fucks who unless it has to do with me. I’m not liberal. I’m not progressive. I’m not “straight not narrow,” I just don’t give a fuck who’s fucking who outside of my own bedroom and excluding my children, and only for simple parental concern. I don’t think I’m alone either. In fact, I’d wager that, regardless of whether Melville was homosexual, bisexual or liked to rub a cheese grater on his dick, his stories were not about sexuality. I can’t prove he was or wasn’t, and it’s moot; his writing is not about his sexuality or anyone’s sexuality. I won’t say that his sexuality, whatever it may be, didn’t inform his writing on some level, but it was not a central theme. “Moby Dick” was just not that obvious.