Friday, July 15, 2005

Respect for Diversity

We in the agnostic/atheistic wing of the ideological spectrum have a really bad habit of looking down our noses at the faithful. It is as if to point out that somehow they have been duped by some con that we successfully avoided. I call it a bad habit because over three quarters of the population of the United States believe in a higher power and many who do not regularly follow a religious teaching are spiritual none the less. If it is a con it is the biggest con in the history of the world.

Of course, religious people also look down their noses at us, as if to say; poor nonbelievers, they are hopelessly lost and pathetic souls. They will, of course, deny this. Many claim that they have no problem with people who do not believe as they do. Some religious people are more straightforward. They tell you that they actively seek to convert you to their way of thinking. Religious people are often as guilty of close-mindedness as non-religious people.

Many religious groups regularly knock on your door to invite you to see things as you do. These groups believe that they are saving you. Saving us from what exactly, from our miserable lives in the dark? This disconnect in belief often manifests itself in hostility that does no one any good. Religious people claim that they could care less about the scorn of nonbelievers, and we nonbelievers claim that we could care less about their scorn for our lifestyle choices. Some of us espouse the philosophy that people of faith use religion as a crutch with which to cope with the world. I think both sides are full of crap. Religious people want their faith to be respected, and nonbelievers want their own form of spirituality or lack thereof to be acknowledged and respected.

A Catholic friend of mine recently had words over conspiracy theory (the faked moon landing to be specific) and she commented that the saddest thing was that people really believe that. I, in a rather ill-mannered, self-righteous moment of poor judgment snapped back that the same could be said of faith by those that do not believe. Of course, the truly sad thing is that I was simply playing the role of devil's advocate. I don’t believe the moon landing was faked, I am simply intrigued by conspiracy theories.

What is lacking from the discourse is a lack of respect for diversity of opinion. Everyone claims that it is okay to believe whatever you want, but we are all guilty of, overtly or subconsciously, looking down on those that believe differently then we do. When I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE!

So what do we do about this disconnect of beliefs? The answer is not a simple one. There is an old adage that goes: the two things that should never be discussed in mixed company are politics and religion. But really, this is just a cop-out that has allowed us to get into this sorry state of affairs in the first place.

What we need is more civil and open discussion about all kinds of individual beliefs. I believe that the better we understand what others are thinking and believing the more we will be able to tolerate others beliefs.

It is not an easy path to walk. There is a lot of feeling and emotion invested in our beliefs and subtle and often unintended missteps hurt real feelings. These things will happen, but if we keep our eyes on the goal of respect for diversity, then the rocky road will have been worth traveling.

As the Sabbath days of my religious friends approach I say simply, from my heart; bless you.

Critical review of artistic expression... what the hell is that?

As a music lover and a fan of good writing, I read a good number of CD reviews from a number of sources. These sources include music and national magazines, major metropolitan dailies and alternative newspapers as well as a number of web sites. I imagine that creative critical review is an art that one never masters, and perhaps that is why I find that they are always substandard. They are based on opinion as much as any skill or knowledge that the writer may possess. This is true for reviewers of books, art or movies, as well as music.

Perhaps that is why there are none that are particularly adept at this “chosen” trade. I put chosen in quotation marks, because does anyone choose to be a critic? I guess some people must. Some are better than others. In the realm of film review Elvis Mitchell of the New York Times is better than the dim-witted sorority bunny of the moment that works for Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, or any of those Hollywood propaganda machine sources. I say that only because of the way he presents his reviews. He writes them in an eloquent manner, he doesn’t spoil the plot and he actually tells you what he thinks as opposed to what you are supposed to think.

That is the handle, I guess, with reviewing other people’s artist expressions. Many reviewers are guilty of the heinous crime of passing there beliefs off as fact. Since that guy with his bachelors degree in modern Uzbek literature thinks the movie is crap, obviously who are we to disagree with him?

Perhaps this raises another point. Many reviewers of music are failed or disgruntled musicians. I am a failed musician in the sense that I failed to learn to play an instrument or I failed to own one thousand CDs by my thirtieth birthday (I got pretty damn close though!). Often music critics pick on a musician by saying that they are soft, saccharine, not complicated, simple, unchallenging, etc. They think everyone has to be Bob Dylan, R.E.M. or Ludwig van Beethoven and if they aren’t they are somehow less, well, less. The three I mention are bloody brilliant by any measuring stick. Are we supposed to believe that there is some mercantilist market of trade for brilliance and since they and others are brilliant there simply is no more room?

I don’t buy it!

The critics that are failed musicians are easy to spot. They are the ones who point how not brilliant “so and so” is. They believe that there is some master blueprint for good song writer. You know what I think? I think a good song writer, like a poet should see themselves as a conduit for words to pass through inviting the listener to find their own meaning. To me, that is what Neil Young, Bono, Kurt Cobain, Sting and many other do.

Have you ever noticed how really good song writers don’t often talk about what a song means or what story a particular song tells. That is because they know that in doing so they will ruin the special meaning, which we, ourselves, have found for them. These special meanings mesh with the everday events and happenings in our lives. They would never dream of intruding on that special area we have created for ourselves.

For instance, I am convinced that Chris Martin's lyrics for Fix You from X&Y is aboout self-improvement and he is singing to himself. Perhaps that is because it motivates me to make myself a better, or reminds me that there are real challenges in my life that need to be addressed!

So I guess the only solution to this dilemma is for me to start writing my own reviews and forcing my opinions on you my humble readers. Well, I promise you this. If I ever endorse a CD to you, it will be because I think it is the bee’s knees not because I think you will think so. You can either trust me, or well don't. Some of the worst cons were started with the words 'trust me'. So, chose for yourself. And that is perfectly OK.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bush's Brain

I cannot begin to tell you how pleased I was to see Karl Rove’s name mentioned in your comments posted on this blog. I have been thinking for several days how to address the truly hideous evil that is Karl and all things Rove. Contrary to what many might think, I believe that most Republican’s are well meaning, good, honest Americans who, in their way, want to make the United States a better place. This I cannot say about Karl Rove.

Rove became active in politics at an early age. He is a college drop-out, though it was at the University of Utah that Rove first became active in the Republican Party. According the Bush’s Brain, Rove’s knack for ethically questionable behavior began at the early age of 19, when he broke into the office of Democrat Alan Dixon and stole letterhead. Using the letterhead, Rove wrote a campaign flyer offering “Free Beer, Free Food, Girls and Good Times for Nothing”. He proceeded to circulate these flyers at a rock concert and amongst homeless people in the Illinois community that Dixon represented.

For his crime, and it is a crime, Rove was awarded the job of Executive Director of the College Republican National Committee. Rove’s “distinguished” career is marked by similar incidents. I won’t recount all the gory details; anyone who is interested should read the book. It is a quick and rather depressing read and not one I could finish. Like most Americans, I waited for the movie!

Keeping in mind that Karl Rove is one of the most competitive, most determined and most cut throat people in this country, it should shock no one that allegations have arisen that appear to implicate him in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name to Time Magazine. This is a man who will do literally anything to remake the United States the way he wants it. Anyone who thinks that current policy in America is attributable to Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rice or anyone else is way off. American policy from top to bottom is the design of George W. Bush and Karl Rove. As Rove is extremely manipulative and the President is not particularly bright it becomes clear that the map is being drawn by Bush’s Brain. He may not be making the day to day decisions, but the big picture is all his. He is the one who has created the tenuous coalition that is keeping this policy moving forward.

Democrats are calling on the President to take the action that he said he would, if it is revealed who was involved in the leak. I will save you the suspense; anyone anticipating the bloody decapitation of Karl Rove from the balcony over-looking the Rose Garden at the White House will be sorely disappointed. No such event will take place. In order to fire Karl Rove, President Bush would need to tacitly acknowledge that he was wrong about his pit bull. Acknowledging error is one thing our President has proven painfully unable to do.

You see, when you are an ego maniacal cretin and have already been humbled by excessive consumption in your life (in this case booze and drugs) admitting error would be admitting weakness. When most people need to address addiction they do so through an extremely humbling process, most commonly a 12-step recovery program. This process, as I understand it, requires an admission that you are powerless against your addiction. That only then can you face and overcome your “demons”. I cannot imagine how difficult this must be, I am awed by anyone who can remake their life after overcoming such a high hurdle.

President Bush, however, did not use the traditional 12-step process. No, he was saved by Evangelical Christian teachings. He likely did not admit powerlessness, but rather empowerment through shear force of will and determination. Overcoming addiction in this way is equally impressive, it shows that Bush has determination, strength and will, but to me it also indicates an immense sense of self-importance. Bush truly believes in his crusade. He is humble before God and no one else. God has clearly given him the strength he needed to overcome his substance abuse issues. No one could or should ever think ill of him for this. But, I wonder if a man who is humble before God and God alone is a good person to lead this country.

To be a leader is to be humble. It is having the strength to unwaveringly lead when necessary and having equal strength to reassess missteps and change course when current policy is failing. President Bush fails miserably on this count.

All this and more will prevent Bush from firing Karl Rove. Bush’s Brain may be forced to resign, but I don’t expect he will ever see the inside of a jail cell. Don’t rule out a Presidential pardon wrapped in the American flag (phrased as, “so we don’t lose sight of our goal to hunt down the evil-doers, etc, etc, etc… blah, blah, blah, 9/11”)

Is Karl Rove guilty? Who can say for sure? I am not a political insider in Washington, but rather an observer sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean banging away on my laptop on this intensely warm Honolulu evening. I can say this much, Karl Rove is sweating tonight. I can smell his stank B.O. from here.

Those who can't do...

Ladies and Gentlemen, I read a review recently in the San Francisco Chronicle of Coldplay’s new album X&Y. It was written by Mark Morford and can be found at:

I think this is a well written article, but I had a few question for Mr. Morford so I wrote the following e-mail him.

Michael, [those who read the article know his name is Mark, oops!]

I am a reader who lives in Honolulu. I just read your review of X&Y online and I wanted to tell you that I thought the piece was incredibly well written. It had the right mix of appreciation and San Francisco "look down my nose at you" scorn. Really excellent stuff.

Just a thought, open your article in Microsoft Word (or whatever word processing software you use, you're likely a trendy Mac user) and do a search and replace substituting "The Beatles" for "Coldplay" and replace "X&Y" with "A Hard Days Night" and you would have a pretty killer review of the Beatles third album. Don't you think?

Do you think Coldplay has the potential for growth? Perhaps not on a "Beatles" scale, but growth none the less. Don't you think that the Beatles, in 1964, were writing songs with mass appeal, "a little saccharine and uninspired and safe?"

I wonder if that isn't the hallmark of how a band grows.

Thanks for the entertainment! I honestly think you are a very talented writer.


[Name removed for blogging]

Monday, July 11, 2005

Angry Words

Upon reading my blog pieces from this weekend my mother exclaimed that the topics were interesting, but that they might have more weight of legitimacy behind them if I didn’t use so many “angry words”. This weekend I had the filthy mouth of a 19th century Irish sailor and for that I profusely apologize if it offended you! Out of this conversation I decided that today’s piece should be dedicated to the discussion of “angry words” and their impact on us.

I have always wondered why some words are considered taboo and others not. In that vein, I question why some words are derogatory and others are not. I think these perceptions come from two angles. The first angle is the way the speaker/writer intended their language to be perceived. Often people use curse words to enunciate a point or add inflection. But sometimes curse words are used to demean or degrade someone; it is at these times that the words become inappropriate.

This brings us to the second angle. That is, the way the words are perceived. Often times, especially with written words it is not clear what the writer’s intentions are. Is the writer being facetious? Does the writer intend to insult me with this statement? Letters, e-mails and other written forms of communications are, in my experience, notoriously dangerous mediums to get creative with language and sentence structure. Why, then, do we continue to use them to communicate emotions and feelings?

People are only offended by what they allow to offend them. I try to never allow harsh words or racial epithets directed at me to cause me emotional injury. It goes back to the childhood saying that my father taught me; “sticks and stones may break my bone, but names will never hurt me.” I know what some of you are saying: easy for a white man to say, how many racial epithets have been tossed your way. Well, that really isn’t the point. The point is to not allow anyone to control, categorize, insult or belittle us with these “angry words”.
We must have the strength to overcome this and be strong in the face of such ridiculously “small” behavior. Once we master this we can turn our attention to a far more perilous problem; responding to the people, who control, categorize, insult or belittle us using words that are widely considered acceptable in civilized conversations. These are the people to pay attention to. They are the dangerous ones!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Crusty old white men rule the world!

George W. Bush is an idiot, most of his staffers are shortsighted troglodytes with a complete inability to see one move, let alone ten moves, into the future. I would love to take Dan Bartlett, the presidents Communications Director and sit him down with Bobby Fisher (even in his current nutty state) for a game of chess. I am thinking that would last about twenty seconds. Perhaps they could play a neutral game like dominoes. I am still figuring that it will last less than five minutes before the thoroughly anti-American, unpatriotics cold warrior cleans old Dano’s clock! With that in mind, I wonder if these are the best people to be picking the next associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

We are on the verge of getting our first new justice in 11 years. It has always seemed odd that the people who really impact our daily lives, the people who make decisions free from public scrutiny, the people who are the “impartial” arbiters of the people’s interests were appointed by politicians. As far as I can tell politicians have always been conniving little shits. Even Thomas Jefferson was an arrogant, manipulative, two-faced politico (even if he was an exquisite writer).

There are exceptions on all sides of the political spectrum. I suppose you will want some names. I will be happy to oblige. John McCain, I agree with this man on almost nothing, but he is honest, frank, and could care less what the powers that be think of him. Howard Dean, he isn’t really a politician anymore so he probably doesn’t belong on this list, but I must say his verbal missteps are refreshing.

The thing that pisses Republicans off the most about Dean is that he is invariably right. He always sounds like a stuttering idiot, but his point is right. Dean “put his foot in his mouth” when he said that all Republicans are rich, white, Christian men. While that isn’t an accurate snap shot of party members, it is a very, very accurate picture of party leadership. Sure, the GOP will cart out the Jewish Ken Mehlman as proof that this assessment is wrong. Well, what could prove Dean’s point better than Ken Mehlman. There is a line from the some mafia movie that goes something like; behind every mafia family was a Jew laundering the money. Sure, the GOP has Mehlman as a fundraiser. Who are the men in positions of real power? Tom Delay, Bill Frist, Dennis Hastert, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, George W. Bush. Seems pretty “crusty old sad white bastard” to me.

At the end of the day, these are not the men who run our country. They are the people selected by the Fortune 500 to take care of tax issues and legal problems for them. According to a little research that I did over 80% of CEOs are white. The next largest group is Asians at 8%. Even more staggering, 93% of CEOs are men! That is some pretty sorry S H I T!

We wonder why education dollars are not flowing into neighborhoods comprised of minority populations. It is clear that there are token efforts taken to throw minorities a bone, but has anything changed? Slowly, the powers that be say, things take time. It is pretty clear that for women and minorities there is a glass ceiling made of the same glass used to make NBA backboards. It’s not breaking unless Shaq hangs from the rim!

Clearly things are not going to change until people start protesting with their wallets!

MTV are a bunch of punk ass bitches!

Well, after last weekends coverage of Live8, I was ready to get on a plane to Los Angeles and fire-bomb MTV’s offices in Santa Monica, but they redeemed themselves this weekend by airing 5 hours of uninterrupted musical performances from the concert. That is more music aired in one day then the last decade combined.

I know I am not in MTV or VH1’s target demographic, but shit! Come on guys, play some damn music. Anything! I don’t care, play Kanye West, the new and improved (and off the rehab) Backstreet Boys, Justin ‘Mousekateer’ Timberlake… anything!!!

Instead, MTV has started showing crap like Who Wants to Date My Mom and Punk’d. I guess it is partially my fault. I will accept my fair share of the blame. After all, I did watch the first several seasons of the Real World. What can I say? I liked hearing Lars and Sharon argue on Real World London! I guess that was the birth of reality TV.

Well, I’m sorry. I used to think cable television was worth having. Now, if it wasn’t for The Daily Show, I would heave that accursed digital cable box off my 9th Floor balcony and watch it shatter into tiny shards on the street below. Perhaps it would clobber a passing scooter (that would be an added treat).

I guess I have nothing pertinent to add today so I will leave and go to bed!

Pray for surf!