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Archive for January, 2010

Spaghetti-Os

There’s an old adage floating around with several different wordings. The basic gist of it is that if you don’t remember history you will be forced to repeat the bad things that happened in the past.

I’ve studied history throughout my life. Sometimes more seriously than others. But I think I remember enough of what I’ve read to say that I am afraid that maybe the rest of the folks who don’t know about, say, the Spanish Civil War, will be driving the train called The United States into a dark tunnel.

I’ve self-identified as a libertarian for nearly a decade now. I did that because I was starting to become bothered by the Republican party’s increasing embrace of statist intervention. I’m a live-and-let-live kind of person generally. When it comes to politics I believe that there is a very narrow band of responsibilities due the government. The rest is for the individual to act upon. The Republicans of my childhood used to believe that. Over the years, though, they seem to like to use the power of the state to interfere in private lives in the way THEY choose. What we used to complain about the libruls doing, we started doing ourselves. So I packed my bags and moved parties.

Those who were left behind in Republicanism are several different varieties. You have the well-meaning folks who are the old-style big-Rs. They believe as they always have, and quietly hope for the party to get its sanity back. Then you have the bombastic. And the RINOs who like the profile of Republicanism but the spendishness generally associated with the Democratic party. George W. Bush was one of those.

But here is where I’m getting nervous. Because currently within the cocktail of the Republican party you have several folks stirring up a cult of personality. And cults of personality coupled with right-wing statist interventionism have a tendency to become facism.

The problem is that I’m seeing several of these little American Francos start to infiltrate libertarian affiliated groups. (Ha! Ironic much…Libertarian groups…) They are seizing upon our adversion to intervention from the State. And now that they are no longer in power of the State they’ve decided to be very much against it. Because back when their general team had the reigns there were a lot of Just Us Sunday meetings and love of governmental meddling when it came to certain things.

But now they’re out of power. And they know they’ve alienated the squishy middle with Republicanism. So they’re trying to don Libertarian cloaks in order to stir up favour. And I’m afraid the next step is for one of these tin-pot despots to convince people that since President Obama didn’t deliver on his promises it’s time to take the country back. And give it to him specifically.

That’s happened countless times before. I refer you to the Argentina of Peron, the Spain of Franco. And other countries I’d love not to name here for fear of Godwinising my own post before it’s out of the gate.

America, I love you. Please don’t vote for Franco.

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Last night I started playing Mafia Wars, even though I swore I never would. If I make it to level 10 then I get a huge bonus–worth $10 real money–in FarmVille.

Wait–I’m going somewhere.

Mafia Wars is one of the most popular games on Facebook. It’s basically an MMORPG where you are given a mathematical allotment of points and choose how to spend those points interacting with other players. Fine. I’ve played games like this before and enjoyed them. But this MOST POPULAR GAME offers choices like “Warehouse Robbery”, “Perform a Hit” and my least favourite “Take Out a Rogue Cop”.

Really.

Many of the other popular games on Facebook involve having neighbours–other Facebook friends who also play the game–and then stealing from those neighbours. Actively taking game points they’ve earned, fish they’ve raised or rewards they display.

I realise I’m just a few months shy of 40, and this is one of those “kids these days” things….but why is all this wretchedness so popular? Doesn’t it make you sad to think that these things, things like robbery and murder, are considered fun and funny casual pastimes?

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Yesterday someone who is a casual acquaintance of mine from the WKRN Nashville Is Talking days–a person I cannot even recall having met in real time–issued a general complaint about the contents of status updates on Facebook. As someone who once had the same complaint and is now a user of those games I was kind of struck by it.
If you play the games on Facebook you’ll notice quickly that the developers want you to post as many game-related status updates as possible. It amounts to free advertising for them and as a person who has more than once been involved in a new business I can’t begrudge them that. As a user of Facebook I do understand, though, that if you really want to know what is up with your friends you don’t care to know they’ve baked too many cheesecakes in Cafe World or need someone to fertilise their Farmville crops. Thankfully Facebook makes it very easy for you to hide the status updates from the various apps you don’t care about. (I confess to blocking any and all things to do with Mafia Wars, as I’ve decided I don’t want to bring more violence into my life.)

What made me wonder, though, about what some people think of friendships is that several commenters on the original complaint began to air their grievances against not just the games but also about various other types of status updates. Some didn’t want to see people posting about their meal or their workday. Others didn’t want to read about people’s children.

That’s what is starting to fascinate me about this whole Internet endeavour. Back when blogging was The Hot Thing the folks involved most deeply were more a literary sort and used to trafficking in words. Now that Facebook and Twitter draw from a larger cross-section it’s a different story.

I admit to having complained about those ‘Eating a sandwich’ tweets and status updates years ago when these avenues were new. But now, the more that I think on it, I’m fascinated by what people choose to tell others. I often wonder what the backstory is behind this or that bit of news. I also wonder why some people feel the need to talk about the mundane things like fixing a meal but avoid the deeper things, like worrying about the failing health of their parents.

As these socially-intense applications gain traction I find myself having a more live-and-let-live approach toward what other people deem shareworthy about themselves. The only things that bother me now are strident politics (which gets the poster hidden in my feed) and showy religion. But all in all I’m very glad–especially in my present circumstance–to see what is going on in the lives of people who’ve been gracious enough to share their time with me.

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If it is at all possible to be a hermit while living in the middle of one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States, I believe that is what I am becoming. Proof of that is my complete ignorance of Pat Robertson’s latest pronouncement until long after the fact. And I only knew of it then because I swung by Aunt B.’s.

It seems that he said something along the lines of blaming Haiti for their own earthquake because they practice Voodoo. Pardon me for not looking it up. Ordinarily I would, but right now I just don’t want to open another tab on my browser. That, and I suspect that parsing his words would just give me more grief than I have already.

I’m glad we have Pat Robertson around. What better cautionary tale is needed by the modern American church? We couldn’t have a better bad example if we sent away to Sears for one, frankly.

But I do think there is a point to be found in Robertson’s elderly-man ravings, and that point is an important one.

Voudoun has an element that modern Christianity can often lack, in the way we practice it here in the wealthy States. Voudoun harbours a healthy awe for the power of the world around us, a respect for the way the forces beyond our control can bring us to our knees. When you grow up poor and hungry on a bedraggled, war-torn island in the middle of a storm-tossed sea I imagine you feel more keenly the forces of this world. Your life probably has heretofore lacked the distractions of comfort and the pleasant numbness of a full belly and a contented sleep. So you learn to pay attention to the natural world; you begin to crave a way to control it.

Naturally your dialogue with the supernatural is going to include a respect for that natural world around you.

I think our Green movement here in the States is a bit of our yearning for that connection coming through. Life in well-insulated houses has inured us to the hurts of weather and the cries of the soil and sky. We want it keenly, and in our way have made a new business of the wanting.

I think we have also made it an old business to forget the bigness of God as we close ourselves off from the harder parts of Creation. I love the creature comforts that allow me to pass my hermitage (that I actually live in the suburb of Hermitage is too delicious a coincidence I think) in relative ease. But I think the practitioners of Voudoun* might be glimpsing a bit of God some of us have tried very hard to flee.

I don’t mean to sound as though I think we should turn Christianity into Voudoun or that we should–as one writer wrote earlier–eschew our creature comforts in favour of of empathising better with the plight of the Haitians. What I firmly believe is that we would make the best use of these gifts of satiety to reach broadly across the sea to those who need our help and bring them the food, water and shelter they need. And when we do so we should do it quietly and meditatively, pondering the naked man nailed to hot Judean wood, blood crusting in thick brown trails on his brow. We should think of his discomfort in the elements, hot sun and cold rain both lashing his bare flesh. We should think of his thirst, his begging for water. We should think of his feelings of forsakenness and loss. And we should also remember the time he quieted the storm and walked confidently on the sharp whitecaps of the sea.

*Calling it “voodoo” is somewhat like calling Christianity “the Jesusy junk”–it’s a mocking name that down-talks those who practice that religion. Something Jesus never did. You can disagree with a religion and dislike its practices but if you belittle someone else you reduce yourself in double-measure and profane the name of Christ.

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I didn’t fancy telling the Internet that my house would be empty for nearly a month, so I took a 95% break from blogging, only stopping in to post the random book review or spilling-over thought.

My intrepid spouse went on a very long, very interesting business trip. Not every woman gets to follow her husband’s moves on the web. So that was different. Since he was gone I decided to take my parents up on their invitation to just stay at their house. We’re usually up there for Christmas; this simply meant not going back home on the 27th but instead staying there.

I have so many thoughts about that trip I don’t know where to begin. Every day was another set of interesting confrontations about who I am as a person, a new revelation as to how I became that person and a new question about how I deal with all of this information. It’s a bit sad, really, when you have to have your 70 year old parents take care of you before you’re 40. I was not angry, per se, but discouraged at the fact that in so many ways I am once again nine years old, having to get a ride from my mom and dad to go out with friends.

I got a glimpse of myself in the mirror one day. On Christmas Eve the Husband and I had gone to Target to get some gifts. I bought myself a chunky-knit scarf in a rainbow of golds and reds and purple. In better days I would have made that myself, but now I part with the sixteen dollars. I wore it all the time, even indoors. Because that’s how you keep the chill out of your neck and shoulders when it’s zero degrees. When I saw myself in the mirror I looked like a cross between a brilliant writer and a crazy cat lady. Then again, all brilliant writers seem to be about one-third crazy cat lady to me anyway. But there I was, looking very much the same way I looked when I was 12 (see picture at right) only a bit heavier and with more gray in my hair.

The whole trip was like that. I am undeniably different, but on another level am very much the same.

I am home now, back to pretending that I am an adult. When we got here the furnace was broken and the pipes were frozen. I felt much the same as Scarlett Hamilton when, after fleeing the conflagrant Atlanta for the peace of Tara she gets home only to find that her mother has died, her father is insane and the household is starving. There is no home to go home to. Instead of vomiting in the sweet potato patch I fixed my own furnace and let my mother and sister take care of my while I tried to breathe. (The arthritis is affecting my ribcage; when I’m cold it is difficult to draw breath.) Once again I was capable and incapable all at the same time.

I’m sure God has lessons in all of this. The frozen pipes are like my life at this point. Stuck in midflow. Here I guess I am now thawing.

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Oh, Stephen King.

How I love The Stand! Since first reading that book twenty years ago I have consistently placed it in my “top books” list and have never looked back. To this day it stays in my mind as one of the classics of tomorrow; my generation’s Oliver Twist or Wuthering Heights.

Ever since then I get my hopes up whenever SKing puts out one of his hefty doorstoppers. There’s a frisson of hope dancing on my mind that thinks ‘Perhaps this will be another The Stand!” Over the years I’ve even started settling for “Perhaps this will be another ‘It’!”

This book, sadly, was neither.

It was good in many ways, with King bringing his usual deft hand to the characterisations. Whenever you read a King novel you’re invariably comfortable with the real-ness of his fictional cast. It seems like he’s a gossipy man discussing the neighbours and fellow church-goers, diners and shoppers in your town to you over a cold soda on a Maine front porch. ‘Under The Dome’ was no exception to that rule.

In many ways this book is best described as The Dark Half of The Stand. Where the Stand was relentless in its quest for hope after all hope appeared lost, this book is about the exact opposite. It is about how much of a drag it is living among other people. How much we turn on each other during scarcity. It borrows heavily from Lord of the Flies, The Road and pretty much every other dystopian postapocalyptic fiction. Except The Stand. In fact, I think that is probably why The Stand is such a favourite. It takes you to the End of the World As We Know It, but tacks on the “I Feel Fine”, underscoring the upnotes of joy.

There is little feeling fine in Under The Dome. What there is a lot of is King’s grumpy old man griping about the Bush administration, the Health Care issue and every other sort of thing you’d expect an old left-of-center warhorse to gripe about over a checkerboard in a Maine general store. I got tired pretty quickly of the strawmen and King’s medieval Punch and Judy take on their ways.

Now, granted I’m not the biggest fan GWB and his administration have. As a libertarian I tend to be very live-and-let-live about all things political. Which is why I don’t want to have my fiction start hammering me in the head with the writer’s pet peeves. That’s the same reason I ended up bailing (three seperate times) on that Arthurian Legends From The Women’s POV book whose name escapes me. The one by Marion Zimmer Bradley that was so relentlessly misandric.

So while I trudged through this one hoping for more upbeat turns, I felt like someone had given a left-leaning version of Bill O’Reilly a stab at writing a 1000 page novel. It killed the joy for me.

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This evening we met friends for dinner. They had asked us to also see a movie with them, they were going to Sherlock Holmes. We declined as I had decided as far back May that the movie was not my cup of tea. When we got to the noodle house and shrugged off our coats the talk was immediately of the film.

They loved it! It was fun and energetic, full of fights and violence. There was something about Irene Adler dismantling a steampunk gas contraption and some other thing about our Irene Macgyvering a bomb from a bullet and a pipe. I asked the six who loved the film if they were familiar with the books. They’d never read them.

And that got me to thinking as I lie in bed later. At how much the God of the The Shack has in common with the Holmes of this latest movie.

There is the character we know from the books, who has a nature perfectly described in the books. A nature that has become well-known throughout time. The books tell us things both large and small, tales that inform about who this person is. Whether it is a detective who behaves thus and so or the Almighty. There is copious written evidence of that being–or is God a “being”, really, or just the I AM?

And then someone comes along and says “I don’t like who that being is, it is not interesting to me. It is boring to me and doesn’t do what I want it to do.”

So God becomes an Aunt Jemima and Holmes is now a bareknuckle boxer. God becomes a sylph-like Asian gardener and Holmes is a steampunk action star.

And people are fine with it. With loving their own creations. Loving the things that have been remade to suit their particular taste. I know there are those who say we have always made God in our image. And I confess to having seen it done, accidentally doing it a time or three myself. But every time I have done, I feel cheated in the end. Like I haven’t gotten to commune with who God is by shoving God in the box I had made.

They are not the same, Sherlock and God. Despite how highly I think of the fictional detective I don’t revere him. But they do get this same treatment. This same sort of schoolgirl-crush “I like you because you suit the prefab mold I have in my pocket.”

I think of Holmes, scratching out a tune on his violin, keeping his bees. Collecting tobacco and mud. I think of the people who see the steampunk Bourne and are cheating themselves out of the depth of Doyle’s character by favouring this new action star. He may be fun but he isn’t Sherlock Holmes.

I think of God, loving and creating and making mysteries for our minds to chew, beauty for our eyes. I think of God offering perfect communion and peace. I think of the people who see the wisecracking Mammy and the stereotyped clumsy carpenter with the big nose (like in all those Nazi newspaper cartoons) and are cheating themselves out of the depth of God by favouring this new idol. He may be fun but he isn’t God.

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