Thursday, June 19, 2014

Time For Iraq To Stand!

In an earlier blog post, I asked the question of whether Egypt is ready for democracy. I concluded that it was, and that democracy had a better chance of standing when its citizens had to fight for it themselves. I was right. Egypt won its elections, and then won them again when a technicality handed power over to a minority-interest religious thug. They won - twice.

Well, now it's Iraq's turn.

I combed through all my past posts, knowing that in the past I predicted that this day would come.  I predicted that terrorist cells would attack Iraq, and that the young nation would have to learn how to stand on its own. Alas, that blog post was likely during a time in which I was blogging to Facebook directly rather than using this outlet. So the post has been lost. But I did predict this. Iraq must now stand on its own two feet. We can help with relief, or possibly even with drone strikes, but we can't do much otherwise.

You see, people simply tend not to appreciate what they have unless they've paid for it themselves. This is why low-rent housing slums are dumps - the people living there don't care about them after paying sub-market prices. They bought it dirt cheap, so they treat it like dirt. A child who is given a toy as a gift tends to neglect that toy much more than a child who bought the same toy after earning the money doing chores or mowing people's lawns.  It's just human nature - you appreciate something according to the amount of effort you put in to acquire it. The same holds true of a nation. If its freedom was paid with someone else's blood, it tends not to be appreciated either.

Not that I'm suggesting that Iraqis didn't pay a blood price. On the contrary! They suffered collateral damage for years as fighting took place in their own streets. But their own sons and daughters didn't fight for freedom. Ours did. And that means that they might not fully appreciate what they have.

Until it's threatened, that is. Until such time as they must pay the price with the blood of their own sons.

Now that day has come. Iraq will stand, or it will fall. But if it falls, its people will remember what it was like to be free, and will fight for it back. Either way, Iraq's freedom is not in question. It will be free! But which path will it take? The easy path, or the hard one?

I'm not certain. If Iraq falls, what rises again may be a Shi'ite East Iraq, a Sunni West Iraq, and an independent Kurdistan. Or perhaps the current Iraqi government may beat the odds and survive. Either way, Iraqis will decide their own fate.

And that's the way it should be.

Enough with calling this a failure of Obama's administration. This was Bush's failure. You can't stem the tide of the inevitable forever. Sooner or later, this had to happen.

To be frank, I'm surprised it took this long for the Islamists to attack.



Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bowe Bergdahl and... Slender Man?

In the strange thought-association orchestra which constantly plays inside my brain, a pair of chords often gets struck which seems, at first, to be rather dissonant, but upon further hearing, resolves itself into the onset of what becomes a lovely symphony of juxtaposition.

Translation: I've once again tied together two unrelated news items brilliantly.

True, the primary reason I do this is because I'm limited in my blogging time, and so wish to discuss more than one news event simultaneously. That doesn't mean what you're about to read isn't both true and fun.  I promise you, it's both.

Here at the Sacred Cow Wursthaus, the drum is often beat again and again that belief continually leads to bad events.  This itself is not a belief, it's a proven fact, and it has recently been proven so yet again in the sad city of Waukesha, Wisconsin, where traditional faith in Jesus Christ is lionized, and politicians repeatedly win on platforms of promoting old world superstitions. Well, my friends, faith kills, and it has struck once again. This time with two little girls who believed that the "Slender Man" would come and take them away to another world if they offered up the life of another little girl. Well, the Slender Man did not come. But these two are headed for another world - one of steel and concrete, where other female inmates await during mealtimes with sharpened spoons. At least the girl didn't die.

It's not enough to emphasize how belief nearly killed an innocent girl. It's not even enough to emphasize that this poor girl did not, herself, necessarily believe this crap - one doesn't have to be a participant within a particular faith to be a victim of it. No, it's necessary to also point out the urgency needed in the promotion of skepticism in this day and age.

My own generation, raised in the poor special effects of the 1970's and transported to musical Eden with MTV in the 1980's (oh where, oh where has the music gone?), struggled mightily with coming to grips with reality against such a fantastical riptide.  Every minute of every day, we were blasted with man-made magical realism, and not just on television and the commercials which made our favorite shows financially solvent. No, we were immersed every day with lies that encouraged us toward credulity, from zodiacal horoscopes to the Sunday School sessions which told us so many ghastly lies. This was the era which saw the rise to prominence of phony spoon-bender Uri Geller, of fake psychic Sylvia Browne, and the National Enquirer at the grocery store checkout aisle. None other than Leonard Nimoy led us In Search Of... well, bullshit, to be perfectly honest. I remember my own mother epitomized this trend by getting me a pet rock for Christmas in 1976. I really didn't know what to make of it. My dad, I seem to now recall, looked decidedly smug at my skeptical reaction. In retrospect, it was quite a father-son moment.

But today's children have so much more to overcome than we did. We believed in UFO's when all the evidence ever consisted of was a few grainy photographs of what looked to be hubcaps or aluminum-foil-covered frisbees thrown into the air.  Imagine what kids must feel when they see the amazing videos showing aliens flying over Haiti, put together by a special effects artist for free? (And that having been done seven years ago!) We believed in dragons and dinosaurs when all we had for special effects was Sid and Marty Krofft's production of The Land of The Lost.  But what must today's children think when they see something as amazing as the dragons on the HBO series Game of Thrones? Hell, I remember being scared shitless by the witch on The Wizard of Oz at age six, and not fully realizing that the movie, Jesus of Nazareth, was not filmed on location by time-traveling cameramen. Can today's kids truly cope with a world where any sort of magic can be made real by any nerd on a computer?

I'm not sure. But I know this: This is not the age where skepticism can afford to slack off. People need real resources to find the truth.  Tendency towards believing the irrational runs deep in our species. We need to root it out before it does even greater damage.

Which oddly enough leads me to Bowe Bergdahl. The U.S. Government has secured his release in exchange for five P.O.W.'s held at Guantanomo Bay, Cuba. Republicans are up in arms that we traded away five for one, and are even more outraged that we let terrorists go free. Yes, these people we released from Gitmo could become active in terrorism again, and probably will. But why did we do it? And what does it have to do with belief and two girls turning murderous in Waukesha?

The answer has to do with belief systems again, this time in politics - where such systems are much more pernicious than the ones found in religion. You may recall that, shortly after Obama's first election, the first thing he tried to do was close Guantanomo Bay as a prison for suspected terrorists. But it didn't quite work. Howls of outrage were heard all over the nation at the thought of housing terrorists in prisons which were inside the borders of the United States. Never mind that this is exactly the same thing we did with other terrorists who were even worse, such as Charles Manson, Timothy McVeigh, and the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Never mind that due process of law, even for suspected terrorists, is one of the fundamental traits which makes America the Land of the Free (as opposed to the Land of the Enslaved). And never mind that any terrorist would find the prospect of being in a prison filled with Christian inmates, surrounded on all sides by the Bible-thumping Midwest heartland and subject to all the prejudices such a region has to offer, much more terrifying that Gitmo ever was. No, apparently it was determined that we mustn't soil our, well, soil with such people. It was imperative to the Republican Party that the terrorists not be brought into America.

This was a belief, pure and simple, without logical basis or merit. It had no evidence or empiricism to support its claims, nor did it even bother with such trivialities.  This belief won. The detainees at Guantanomo were left there to rot.

And now the result of that belief has come back to haunt us.

You see, because this belief prevented Gitmo from being emptied, it created a problem. To close the base, everyone had to be transported out of it. But where? America was the only option, and it got ruled out by petty politics! No other nation has stepped forward as willing to house these people, guilty until proven innocent. And they have to go somewhere, don't they?

The unfortunate solution is, if we can't house them in American jails, we simply have no other choice but to get rid of them some other way. Perhaps a bullet to the head, except that would violate international law. We could let them die naturally, which would be even worse. Or, we could simply release them, which would be anathema.

This time, Our Trophy President has opted for the latter.  He has let five detainees go.

An outrage? Very likely. Soft on terrorism? Certainly. But if we have to let them go, and thanks to Republican shenanagins, we do, then we could at least get something back for them. Which we did. We got a shell-shocked and badly abused P.O.W. out of the clutches of the Taliban.

It looks like a bad trade, and it is. But better to get something rather than nothing, and Republicans left us with no option but to get nothing. We could have housed the terrorists here, making legally almost impossible to trade them away for one P.O.W.  But once again, belief was the problem, not the solution.

So what now? Can we prevent these released terrorists from acting out again? Probably not. It's silly to hope that they've grown too old in our unconstitutional prison to go back to their old tricks. But then again, perhaps we broke them. Maybe twelve years of waterboarding has convinced them that they're better off spending the rest of their lives smoking cigarettes and watching television. We can hope so.

And if not, maybe we can convince two little girls that they'll get to meet the Slender Man if they go find them and stab them to death.



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Vandalized FFRF Sign @ WI Capital

Finally, the rare concurrence of free time with an interesting current event has led to another blog post from yours truly.

Recently an "Easter" sign inside the Wisconsin state capital building was vandalized. The sign was put there by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The reason it was vandalized is rather obvious, as the message is quite deliberately offensive.  It reads: "Nobody died for our 'sins,' Jesus Christ is a myth." Here's a photo of the mutilated sign.

Now, there are a few interesting points I need to make regarding this interesting news tidbit. Yes, the sign is deliberately offensive, but then again, that's precisely the point. If Christians don't want signs in the state capital that attack their views in this way, then they shouldn't put up signs which attack others' creeds there, either. It's the Golden Rule writ large. Do unto other religions as you would have those religions (or, in this case, lack of religion) do unto you. Or, conversely, if Christians insist on using state property for evangelism (and they stubbornly do), then signs as offensive as this one ought to be allowed. Fair's fair. Don't like it? Then reconsider your position.

Okay, I get the point. But I simply don't like the idea of any state capital building, much less my own, being peppered with signs proclaiming various dogmas at various times of the year. There's freedom of speech, yes, but there's also pragmatism. The bottom line of religious freedom is that government plays no favorites. If everyone's viewpoint gets to be heard in the form of a sign inside a government institution, that sounds fair on paper, but in practice it means that the capital building gets cluttered with signs from every major denomination as well as every dog-and-pony creed out there, which is pretty much what the Wisconsin state capital building currently looks like. Lawmakers and concerned citizens alike should be able to roam the halls of legislation without having to hurdle and endless array of religious signs like some Olympic athlete. So, instead of everyone's religion getting to put up their sign. it makes more sense for no one to put up their sign. This is not favoritism of the lack of religion, as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists and other similar institutions don't get to put up their signs either.  It's high time Wisconsin adopted that policy.

That said, I don't like this sign.  I'm an atheist myself, and I find it embarrassing.  Seriously, I'm not sure what Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor are thinking these days, but I wouldn't have approved of a sign like this on the bumper sticker of a volunteer's automobile, much less in the middle of the Wisconsin state capital building. Seriously, saying that Jesus Christ is a myth is just a little bit overboard. Yes, I happen to think that nobody died for my sins, but I do think there's barely enough anecdotal evidence to think that there was a historical man named Jesus living in first century Judea.  No, I don't think he fed five thousand with a few loaves and fish, turned water into wine or walked on water, but Jesus is a transliterated version of the name Joshua - which was a very popular name. Many people in that time and place must have had that name.  It's reasonable to assume that one of those people was famous.

So why the fuck is FFRF putting up a sign that's offensive to me as an atheist?

I know from experience that the path to atheism can only be taken with slow steps. It never, NEVER happens that someone leaves a religion right away after a sudden realization of truth. It took me a long time to come to grips with the reality that Jehovah/Allah/Yahweh was in the same category as Zeus/Odin. So had I come upon a sign such as the one in the above photograph when I was, say, 25, I myself would have considered vandalizing it! At the time, I had left fundamentalism and the ministry for good, but was still hopeful that I could find a more rational path for Christianity, one more friendly to science and evolution. But finding this sign would probably have militarized me, and I would have re-entrenched myself in the Christian camp, finding new bogus rationalizations for me to believe the traditional dogma. So you see, the FFRF sign accomplishes the exact opposite of what it's trying to achieve!  Nothing makes people dig in quite like a direct attack.

In other words, if you want people to come out of their foxholes, stop bombing! You'll find that the same people who stuff fingers in their ears at a shout will strain to hear a whisper. You'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  You'll... oh, pick your own metaphor.

Dan & Laurie, I love you both, but get a clue.

Finally, I must address the idiot who actually did vandalize the sign. Yes, I fully understand your viewpoint. I was there myself, once. I was a Christian, and I would have wanted to react much the same way. But how is the willingness to commit vandalism supposed to convince others to take your opinion seriously? Because from my perspective, destroying other people's property makes your opinion look pretty fucked up! It's people like you who have been peeling off my Obama bumper stickers and ripping off my Darwin fish from off the back of my car. And it's people like you who throw acid in the faces of women who don't wear their burqas in Saudi Arabia. Oh, yes indeed, sir! You are no different from a mullah with a sword who cuts off the head of a man who leaves Islam for Christianity! It's exactly the same intolerance, and I damn you for it in this life, even as you pretend to damn me in my eventual death.

So let's everybody just silence the cannons and take a deep breath, shall we? Bible burning is as wrong as Bible thumping.

Thank you.



Monday, January 13, 2014

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman? WTF?!

Well, hello, 2014.  You're here, I'm about to start school again, and the movie rumors are confirmed for the Batman vs. Superman movie.  The actress portraying Wonder Woman will be... Gal Gadot?

Okay, she was cute in the Fast & Furious movies (they tell me, I don't know, I've never seen them), but she's a twig with toothpicks for thighs.  Not Wonder-Woman material at all.

You screwed over Joss Whedon's script for this?

Okay, I know that any movie titled, 'X vs. Y' is guaranteed to be crap, but still...

So I open up my 2014 set of rants with unabashed fury against the Hollywood standard of "beauty," one which apparently doesn't include women being shaped like real women - least of all female super-heroes. Scarlet Johansson had (and still has) an ass truly worthy of Marvel Comics, and was well cast for Iron Man 2 and 3.  But do we get any meat on Wonder Woman's bones?  Apparently not.  Once again, it's nothing but scraps for us guys. Maybe it's because so many people in Hollywood are gay, but the standard seems to be that the ideal woman needs a butt shaped like that of an adolescent boy and not like a grown woman.

Fuck that. No, wait, I mean, who the hell would want to fuck that?

Redaction, added 1/14/14:
[Okay, the above is a little bit harsh. It makes it sound as though I think no skinny woman could be attractive, or that twiggy means unfuckable. No, that's not my point. Gal Gadot is clearly a hottie, and most guys would rate her a 9 or a 10. Besides, beauty comes in all shapes, all sizes, as a friend of mine pointed out.  No, all I'm trying to say is that picking a skinny actress to portray Wonder Woman is a silly as picking a skinny actor to portray Superman. Why not pick Pee Wee Herman to play Conan, while you're at it?]

TANJITW; there ain't no justice in the world. We know who Wonder Woman is! Jennifer Lawrence! She's not just Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games - she's got Wonder Woman written all over her!

Have we forgotten Marilyn?  Have we forgotten Jane Mansfield?

Why, Hollywood?  Why, oh why?

Just as a finishing thought: Are you one of those who hate the Kardashians? Or J. Lo?  The reason they're as popular as they are has to do with the fact that a generous ass with a small waist is not just a black man thing - it's an every man thing. It's what we want, and if we can't get it from Hollywood, we have no choice but to seek it in alternative sources, such as reality TV or other ghetto-shit crap, where we love the women from the waist down but can't stand them from the neck up. Give us some real women with both a real ass and a real brain, and we'll be all over it, leaving the Kardashians as nothing but a discarded footnote in entertainment history.

I vote for brains and booty both!



Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Just Pictures

For those who are regular readers of The Sacred Cow Wursthaus, please ignore this posting.  I am only putting up two .jpg images in order to create a web-link which I can attach to a story on  Oh, and, by the way, if you are a writer and want your stuff reviewed for a low-low cost, I highly recommend that website.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hey, Salvation Army, Go Away!

Well, you can always tell it's that time of year. No, not by all the stores stupid enough to start selling Christmas items before Halloween is even over. No, not by the falling leaves and sudden bone-chilling cold. No, not even by the sudden sale on turkey at your local grocery. All these things are indeed tell-tale signs, but you can really tell it's that time of year by the annoying bell-ringing of the people volunteering with the Salvation Army.

I'll admit, I'm of two minds regarding this irritating annual tradition. As a rule, I favor charity, no matter what the lame, religious pretext might be. But I also can't ignore the fact that the food and clothing given to the poor and needy by the Salvation Army is done with a good degree of coercion and proselytizing, which I can't abide. Can't a person in need get a bowl of soup without a sermon? Is it really charity if a needed winter coat to keep out the chill comes with a scolding or a strong-armed 'request' to attend a church service? Or is the charity merely the worm on the end of the hook, meant simply as a means to bring in another catch?

Yes, Jesus himself purportedly called his disciples, "fishers of men," but I hate that metaphor, anyway. I have a real problem with charity being taken advantage of. Helping the poor should be more than just bait. It shouldn't be the sugar which helps the foul-tasting medicine of religion go down. Charity should be done for charity's sake, not be misused as a mere lure.

And all this is true before we get into the Salvation Army's actual practices of hard-right-wing coercion. They have threatened to close soup kitchens if forced to offer help to poor people who happened to be gay or lesbian. Oh, yes, they did! They'll help the poor, but poor homos can starve, for all they care.

Whatever happened to loving the sinner but hating the sin?

This is not a new phenomenon. The Salvation Army is a very old organization, and in every corner of its long existence, it has oppressed, goaded, and cattle-prodded people into accepting their help only on their terms. When it first began, the Salvation Army actually marched down the street during community parades, with pressed uniforms and polished boots! They actually had military rank within their central structure, with Captains, Commanders, Majors and even Generals. And while this Nazi-esque silliness was (thankfully!) stopped after the horrors of World War II, it bears remembering that this militancy is where the organization got its start. Call me crazy, but in a post-9/11 world, military trappings within religion should not be tolerated!

And let's also remember the Salvation Army's well-earned nickname: the Starvation Army. It earned this nickname for its stern opposition to labor unions over the years. Oh, yes. When striking laborers came to the Salvation Army for help, they were turned down, every time. So much for christian charity!

But what about Christmas? Isn't this a time where we ought to show a little mercy to those who really need it? What's wrong, after all, with some organization ringing a bell in front of stores calling for donations to the poor?

I say, nothing, provided that organization is worthy. The Salvation Army is clearly not. So it's time for it to step aside in favor of some other, better, more noble and less religious organization, one whose secular interests will make sure that more of each dollar goes to those who really need it. Let them give their red kettles and loud bells over to the Red Cross, or People For the United Way, or even directly to local homeless shelters. Let's make sure none of that kettle money goes for political action instead of helping the needy.

Maybe then that bell won't be quite so damned annoying.



Sunday, November 3, 2013

Movie Review: Ender's Game

For once, all the hype was worth it. Ender's Game, based on the book of the same title by Orson Scott Card, is the first major motion picture to be based upon a classic sci fi novel since The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, and the first big film of its like to be released since Avatar.

Better than Star Wars? Maybe. Definitely if by Star Wars you mean any film which was released after The Empire Strikes Back. Better than Star Trek? Pick your film, but this one beats most of them hands down, and the ones it doesn't beat, it ties. Better than Avatar? Certainly. Yes, this one preaches a moralistic message at you as well, but unlike James Cameron's film, it doesn't seem preachy about it.

Better than Gravity? Well, Gravity is still the better hard science fiction film. Ender's Game still commits the atrocity of audible explosions in the vacuum of space. But E.G. is the better film of the two, overall. If you loved Gravity, you have no excuse not to see Ender's Game.

I finally got around to seeing this film over the weekend on a Sunday afternoon, and was rather surprised to find how empty the theater was. Granted, I did that on purpose, since I hate crowds, but I honestly thought I was going to have to deal with crowds anyway. Surely, Ender's Game, the one sci fi novel which ranks in the top five of nearly everyone's favorites list, and possibly #1 of all time, would have a huge drawing on each and every day. Of the great sci fi novels made into films, only Frank Herbert's Dune possibly ranks higher. So Ender's Game should be a guaranteed blockbuster, right?

Well, yes and no. Movie earnings are just not the same as they were when the first Star Wars movie came out, and people were going to see the film over and over again, leaving the turnstiles on the way out only to get right back in line again. In the late 70's, VCR's weren't even invented, waiting for the video to come out was a foreign concept, and the cinema was the only way to experience the thrill and joy of a movie without commercials. Today, people just don't want to spend $10 on a movie if they don't get to take it home with them. Waiting for the video to come out is common practice even for films which are highly anticipated these days, and its just not worth anyone's time to mess about with going to the theaters, unless it's something really mouth-watering.

But that's just my point. Ender's Game is indeed something really mouth-watering. It should have been at least as high-grossing at the box office as The Avengers, which made $207 million in its opening weekend, or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, which made $483 million worldwide. Certainly it should have totally trounced the beyond-stupid sparkly-vampire film, Twilight: New Moon, which actually made $143 million. Gravity made $53 million.

So where the hell IS everybody? Opening estimates for Ender's Game put its opening weekend totals at only about $30 million, and that jibes with what I saw this Sunday afternoon. Typically, the following weekend will earn half that much, and another half after that. Based on that historical pattern, Lionsgate/Summit films will just barely recoup the $110 million it cost them to make the film before it goes to DVD, if writer/director Gavin Hood is lucky.

I can only assume that too many people are not aware of Ender's Game, or just how awesome a novel it both is and was. Word of mouth really makes a movie work, and people will eventually pass along what a great treat this film is to watch before seeing it themselves a second time. Star Wars opened up with the usual opening-weekend science fiction windfall, but nobody knew what a big hit it was until the film made even more money the following weekend. In the case of Gravity, which made $56 million on its opening weekend, the film went on to make $13 million in this current weekend, less than its opening weekend amount but beating the weekly half-life rule by a considerable margin. I can only hope that Ender's Game beats the trend as well. It certainly deserves to.

I'll admit to being biased because I read the book, and the book goes into great detail about why Ender Wiggin had to be a ten-year-old kid, which is perhaps the plot's weakest point. A child's mind, it is revealed in the film, adapts to new situations better than the mind of an adult does, and this tactical advantage is hammered upon again and again in the book. But in the film, the point is made only once, and then left to be abandoned. I can understand why some critics might be off-put by this. I, myself, when I read the book, found myself visualizing Ender growing up into a sixteen-year-old during his training, and completely forgot about his too-young age later on. Afterwards, I listened to the audio-book version, which featured an interview with Orson Scott Card at the end. He talked about the upcoming film production, and began to again state how important it is for Ender to be only ten, and why. But all his arguments sounded perfectly ridiculous to me! The person who convinced me that Ender Wiggin should not be depicted as a ten-year-old was none other than Card himself! So I can understand if many critics label this movie as being too similar to the film version of Starship Troopers. rates this film as a 62% fresh tomato. Not great, but better than most sci fi films, by far. And those who rated the film poorly all admitted to not having read the book. Big shock.

There may also be a certain anti-Mormon sentiment going on here. Orson Scott Card is indeed a Mormon, and is quite active and open about promoting the unbelievable bat-shit insanity which his faith entails. He has been very vehement about opposing gay marriage and so many gay marriage activists are calling for a boycott of the film. It could also be that people who disapprove of Mormonism in general will not go to see this film anyway, just as many did not go to see Battlefield Earth because they disapproved of Scientology, or boycotted The Golden Compass because its author Philip Pullman is an atheist. But Lionsgate has already issued statements that profits from the film will not be going to Card's estate, and that the plot of the film does not even deal with the subject of gay marriage. Both of these points are absolutely correct, and besides all this, you are hearing a ringing endorsement of this film from The Sacred Cow Wursthaus - a blog which, to be blunt, is no fan of Mormonism whatsoever.

In other words, go see this film! In fact, let's have gay couples get married while watching it, just to piss Orson Scott Card off! I see no reason why Ender's Game should be boycotted due to Mormonism after the success of Battlestar Galactica's reboot, since that plot line also came from Mormon writers.

Well, if the success of this film gives Card a bigger spotlight to preach his Mormonism, I say, good! Let him expose this stupid-ass shit for the lie it undoubtedly is! Only childhood brainwashing into such a ridiculous faith could train such an otherwise brilliant mind to be so stupid when it comes to his own personal beliefs. You know, I doubt even Ender Wiggin would be a Mormon.

But still a good film. Go see it!