Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Let Me Translate

The Cincinnati Post - AIG museum debuts: "James Martus of Mason, Ohio, came with his son's family and clutched his grandson's hand as he waited in line.
'When they're young they're more impressionable than when they get older,' he said."

What this man, waiting in line with his grandson for the Creation Museum, was really saying was 'tell them stupid stuff while they are still too young to know better. When they get older, they will challenge you in ways that are impossible to answer'. As a person who grew up in this part of the country, I can be somewhat reassured by the 200 protesters (though there should have been ten times that many). It, as I have blogged before, is one of the most embarrassing things about Northern Kentucky now. We have quite a few things vying for most embarrassing, but this is now at the top of the list. One hopes that the science teachers and others in positions of power will teach children in responsible ways such that they will understand that the biblical explanation of the beginning of time is not scientific and not a proper explanation. My fear is that they will take the argument too far, unnecessarily, and come under fire when the whole of their argument is correct. That is a difficult line when passion about science and passion about religion are at odds. In fact, I was thinking last night that it would be good to go and see what they are saying, if only to be able to make fun of it more specifically. The problem, though is that I would have to pay them to get in. Giving folks money to keep something like this open is against everything I stand for. Plus, I work hard for my money. This would be among the last places I would want to see have it. Anyway, thank goodness for the protesters who let the world know that Kentucky is not all rednecks.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


On the Hitchy Book Tour

ContraCostaTimes.com - Debating value of religious faith grows contentious: "The tipoff came before the debate between authors Christopher Hitchens and Chris Hedges started: The emcee asked the Berkeley audience to restrain from heckling."

The tip-off, as the writer says, wasn’t actually when the moderator, if you can call her that, forbade heckling. The tip-off came when Hedges, who followed Hitchens’ introduction, tried to do a point-by-point rebuttal of Hitchens’ book as opposed to presenting his own. Look, Hitchens is under no illusions. He doesn’t allow the audience to be either. He is there to sell his books. Hedges was there to try to debate, but by starting with a rebuttal, instead of an introduction during the time with that title, he put himself on the immediate defensive, a stance from which he could not wiggle. Also completely unfair for the lackluster Hedges was a monotonous tone that proved that it was his father, not him, who was the Presbyterian minister. Hedges could not fill a room, much less a sanctuary full of people to listen to his boring drivel.

Here we all were, in a middle school auditorium, strangely absent the smell of most middle schools, to listen to one of the best living minds and, as it turned out, one of the most boring voices of our time. I am not sure what I should have expected, but I was right disappointed by the lack of attention to detail by the folks putting this together. Granted that an evening like this is not supposed to be a feast for the eyes, but I could see all of the clothespins holding the rather ugly quilt up behind the men that we were told was there to signify contradictions. Nope, just bad taste.

Because the two of you that read this need to go see Hitchens at one of these appearances, I will focus less on him than on Hedges, partially because Hedges gave me such good laugh-out-loud material. Take for example, his assertion that “God is better as a verb than a noun”. Where in the Holy Hell did they find this guy, and who was the person who thought that he could hold a candle to my Hitchy?? I believe, in an attempt to try to deflect some of Hitchens’ ire (but really only to make him gleefully more “inhumane”), Hedges said that “to argue whether or not God exists is futile”. Uhh, that is why you are here, right?

See, it was at moments like this that I found fault in my own pseudo-intellectual religious stance. Hedges and I had some things in common. One was that I thought that I could cherry-pick beliefs, that merely thinking about it and not taking it all at face value made me a thinking person. It’s hard to maintain that after reading Hitchens’ book, because he says that first, you aren’t really thinking that deeply about it and second, that it is the height of egoism to think that your take of “God’s Word” is the take. Well, there’s a point.

I wasn’t the only one who thought this way of Hedges. After his weak introduction, a man sitting behind me who would probably ordinarily want to agree with Hedges on some of his points said he was “full of bullshit”. I could toast to that.

Because this seems to be somewhat atypical (from the videos I have seen), I will describe Hitchens that evening. First, I love the many ways his confidence reveals itself. Though he wore a nice suit, he also had on worn tan shoes, complete with scuff marks. Those shoes were firmly planted on the edge of the coffee table, Hitchy trying to recline, as if to say “Bring it on”. That stance, in and of itself, told the story of the evening, and fully intimidated his opponent just as intended.

Hedges is merely a well-read and well-traveled man, but lacks any ability to put those experiences in proper context as was on full display when he dopily proclaimed that “biblical literalists do not exist”. Uh what??? He also fueled the flame heartily when he told the crowd, some of whom were actually there to see him (although just a couple), that “once religious stories are written, they decay into literature”. You would have thought he had just done a ghetto “Yo mama” line. Hitchens, with all of his energy and passion, reminded Hedges that to say anything “decays into literature” is to not fully understand the value and power of the written word. Hedges went on to prove his selective memory with this humorous sentence, “Jesus never talks about starting a church”, as if churches were just a random later-follower’s idea. Even I, who has one of the worst memories of anyone I know, remember the holy texts better than that.

The conversation did not get truly twisted until Hedges went on his anti-corporation, pro-Palestinian suicide bomber rant. He asserted that these idiotic suicide bombers who blow up civilians are “affirming themselves through death”. He said that they were woefully unemployed, to which Hitchy replied “God forbid a KKK’er (also a Christian organization) be unemployed”, for Hedges would think it okay to noose black folks. Hedges’ argument made me physically sick to my stomach. I found it hard to believe that anyone could feel comfortable putting out this kind of nonsense in front of other people. It is one thing to be a dope in the comfort and privacy of your own home, but quite another to take it to a stage in front of paying patrons.

At this point in the event, the crowd became right unruly. I couldn’t figure out where all of these Churchies had come from. This wasn’t Berkeley, Missouri, after all. This was Berkeley, California, home to Janice Joplin and a sanctuary city for the homeless. But it was during this and a couple of points on the war that I began to see that many anti-war folks had shown up to pump their fists in solidarity with anyone, clearly just anyone, willing to take on Hitchens. It wasn’t necessarily that they agreed with Hedges, just that they hated that Hitchens was a vocal war advocate.

Another point in the evening that I found shocking was when there was a collective gasp when Hitchens cursed. Have these people never seen him before? Did they really think that after they had heckled him that he would think them polite company, worthy of a watchful tongue? Part of Hitchens allure is his uncanny ability to curse at just the appropriate moment, in a way that makes him real and, quite frankly, downright sexy. Of course, he followed that “fuck off” with “the bird”. A little less sexy, I suppose, but they deserved it.

Oh, and the not-so-majestic use of euphemism…Hedges must have realized that he had used the word faith 4000 times that evening, so he started to find other terms, not the least of which was “accept mystery”. If that doesn’t make you laugh, you are dead!!!

Toward what was feeling like the end, Hitchy asked the “moderator” if we were nearing the end. She said yes, and he started fumbling around in his pockets. Out came a cigarette. Another collective gasp from an audience that must have really thought he would light up in a California public space. He is a rogue, but not an unlawful one. As soon as he heard the last word, he jumped out of his chair, as did I, to go puff ourselves into calm.

In signing for strangers, Hitchy gives a show. He is funny, as if to say, the least I can do is make you laugh since you just gave me your money. Hedges gave all of what seemed like two signatures. I waited in the middle of the line for about fifteen minutes for Hitchens. When I got up to him, I was shaking. Though confidence may be one of my favorite topics, this was another moment where I was reminded just how far I have to go. He signed my already-read copy. I asked if he would pose, and he replied, “what do you think I am doing?” He did pose, only after I lost my balance and elbowed him in the shoulder. (The picture is of a rather droopy-eyed Hitchy, but no complaints here.) I then remarked that he didn’t have to say “Mr. Ratzinger”, that he could call him “Popey Dict”. I am proud to say that generated a genuine smile. Lastly, as I was trying to get out of his way, as not to be a bother, I asked if he was still doing his Kepler’s bookstore appearance the next day. He said, and I am not kidding, “Be there or be square”, to which I responded with a ‘did you really just say that’ look. He went on that he would be more humane, that he had gotten angry during this appearance. I was kind of shocked, wondering what it was about me that would cause him to think I would need that kind of reassurance. Really, it probably had absolutely nothing to do with me at all. My narcissism did not stop there, however. I will get to that later. Anyway, I responded that I dug his passion or whatever. That is why I was there, to see him be him, in whatever form that took.

The next morning, I awoke like a four-year-old on Christmas morning with that first morning thought that this encounter with my hero was not yet over. I could still bathe in it for a little while. Kepler’s is a small bookstore, so the place was packed with forty or fifty people. There wasn’t enough floor space for all of the chairs, so several of us stood, even in my seriously uncomfortable shoes. I was, after all, there to see him. Watching a man think is one of the greatest joys in life. Listening just doesn’t do it for me. Though a little late, he started his appearance as he so joyfully has in the last weeks, “My fellow Americans”. This was a much kinder and giddy crowd than the one the evening before. These were fans. There was really only one obnoxious, unwashed anti-war fruitcake. After asking if Hitchens would take questions on the war, Hitchens said he would if the young man could produce a receipt for the book in the book-signing line. Somehow, I think the wild-haired fellow did not have any extra cash stashed in his cardboard box home.

This was a truly entertaining appearance. Because he so often uses the same lines from appearance to appearance, I won’t quote his zingers, but suffice it to say that there was real belly laughter. I did note that even though this stop was at noon on a weekday, he seemed well-rested and ridiculously sober. I think that was the only thing I didn’t get to see was the Penn and Teller’s Bullshit-like show, where he is slobbering drunk and still making better sense than about ninety percent of the planet’s people.
At the end of this appearance, after my smoke, of course, I got in line again for some of Hitchy’s ink. This time, however, I had brought some ink of my own. Admittedly, I wanted him to see my fawning over him and my amateur attempt at writing, maybe oven comment on it, since eventually I would like to get paid for it. I wrote him a note saying not only that he needn’t be humane to his debate adversaries on my account but also that he was the part of the reason I named my blog Cranky Bastard. I know, I know. Narcissism. Here’s the thing. I am still learning, and still trying very hard to gain confidence, trying heartily to avoid the stage that I know has to happen prior to real confidence, ego. I have never liked ego in others because I was clear that it is not real confidence and yet, I am avoiding, like the plague, a phase I know I have to enter.

Also, I shouldn’t be embarrassed that I have him as a hero, even after reading that he does not take on heroes. I am not him. I am not of that level. Also, heroes have often been the ones to inspire me to read and research things in ways that I wouldn’t without them. I promptly returned home last night only to get the computer fired up so that I could log into encyclopedia.com and dictionary.com to look up some of his references that I didn’t understand. I had some left from the book that I needed to know in order to go back and read the book again. I downloaded the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, a text he refers to often. I copied several entries on folks that he references, like Voltaire, Bertrand Russell, and Lucretius, among many others. There are few people on this planet, my father included, who inspire me to learn the way he does. I feel smarter and more confident for merely having such good tastes in heroes. That is truly a mark of a good teacher, something I have been blessed with over the course of my education. They are those that don’t speak down at your level to make you more comfortable. They are people that speak at their own level and inspire you to attempt to rise to theirs. I hope that when I teach I will have that kind of effect. In fact, as a teacher, that is what you are there to do. So, not being in New York, or a student at New School, I get more detached lessons from Hitchy, the kind from his books, his articles, and his TV show appearances that force me to reference material and self-reflection. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Book Review: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything - Christopher Hitchens - Books - Review - New York Times: "And God should be flattered: unlike most of those clamoring for his attention, Hitchens treats him like an adult."

Kinsley wrote the above line to close out a chummy review of Hitchy's latest release. Hitchy does, however, deserve a great review. The book is fantastic. I have joked every since he announced it a couple of years ago that it would only be a small matter of time before he would get death threats from the Churchies for writing a book advocating atheism. He says in the book, in effect, that he has gotten used to death threats over the years from various kinds of zealots.
I was wondering as I read the book what kind of impact it might have on me. It doesn't take a reader long on this blog to see that I hold this man in far too high esteem. I know that and wanted to make sure as I read it that I was processing it. I wanted to read with the same kind of wrinkled brow that I read others' works. I never want to become the person that just repeats someone else's argument as my own because I am too lazy to think through it for myself. I know I have done that, but I don't want to do it in the future.
Prior to reading the book, I was somewhat resigned to the fact that, even though I am not religious and certainly see religious texts as literature, that I tend to religiosity at difficult times, ie 9/11. Another thing readers of this blog will no doubt know for sure is that I have never and will never get over the Catholic Church and Popey Dict's handling of the Child Rape Scandal, and really his handling of the issue before there was a scandal. Having read the book and having about a week to process it, I think that the book gave people like me a feeling of solid ground from which to believe the things we were already believing. Here's what I mean. My Dad and I talk about a guy he went to college with who posited, "Would it be so bad if we just died?" The answer to that question right after a loss is yes, because we don't want to lose loved ones. At a time when emotions are not so high, when we can be more practical, just dying is actually okay (and certainly better than risking eternal hell).
This book is practical and brings up a ton more reasons and evidence to further his opinions than I ever could have. Just another good Hitchens read. Go figure.

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