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Archive for November, 2009

One thing I find eternally disgusting is bourgeois atheism. I, personally, find it sickening when a well-fed, well-clothed person whose lifestyle entirely depends on the back-breaking labor of others gives a clever, pedantic promotion of atheism. Which is why I found this article to be so entirely repulsive: it sums up absolutely everything which annoys me about the modern secularist.

The first thing that bothered me was presenting Doestoevsky and Ann Coulter as examples of people defending religious belief. Just because the American Religious Right is anathema to all things good and decent does not mean that all religious people are misguided, wrong, or “bad”. When we speak about religious people, we should always, always, always remember people like Dorothy Day, Simone Weil, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, the Kennedy Brothers… the list goes on and on. I find any of those people to have done more for social justice than any young proclaimer of secularism. I’ve yet to meet an atheist social worker (people get their hands dirty, there, you see), though I know a good many working in politics or law. It’s one thing to blog about an idea or argue about it. It’s another to give your whole life over to it. It’s one thing to talk about tolerance and progressive ideas. It’s another to be moved entirely from love, to root one’s whole being in it. It’s absurd to compare a person as complex and brilliant as Doestoevsky with a person as hate-filled as Ann Coulter. It’s wrong. It’s like saying, hey, you know what, governments are bad. Even though thoughtful, hard-working people like Bernie Sanders work in government, so do people like Sarah Palin. So let’s get rid of the government, huh?! It’s just the framework upon which our society operates, so what? And religion is just the framework upon which human beings give meaning to their lives. But some bad people have done bad things in the name of religion, right? Well, I’d argue that’s half-true, because a great many of those bad things were done for personal motives, out of a personal desire to be righteous, or out of greed, or lust for power. And you know what? So have governments, democratic and otherwise. I can’t think of a perfect government in this world, but I want to keep them around. Our world is not one of perfection, in government or religion. It is about the humble quest for perfection, with all its mistakes and trials and failures.

But if you’re a middle-class young adult, well-fed and above-average-educated, reading your pop culture magazines and seeing your independent movies and obsessing over the new cool band of the month, your life might feel pretty rich. Your lifestyle is dependent upon the destruction and pillaging of the Earth. Your clothing, your technology, the lifestyle provided to the bands you like, the culture which permits you to eat most of your meals out and throw away 40% of your food (the average amount most Americans do)… it seems pretty permanent, pretty great, exciting and ever-changing and who needs to be reminded of human fallibility, of great love, of those who suffer their backs to be broken to provide us with such a life? Isn’t it silly that those under-educated people who work in strange, “dirty” countries like India and Bolivia and Indonesia believe in a God? How funny, how primitive.

So I was disgusted when I read this: “In short, prosperity is highest in societies where religion is practiced least.” Well, what exactly is prosperity? Enormous consumption of goods whose manufacturing damages the Earth is not prosperity in the long run. Anti-immigrants (really, anti-Other) attitudes are not prosperous, and the oh-so-happy secular Scandinavian countries are having some huge difficulties as they face new waves of people who have different ideas than themselves. Articles like these show little interest in human beings (economics really says it all, and who cares about the backs of the people upon whom our spiritual indifference rests?), complete neglect of the high rates of mental illness and the ever-increasing numbers of substance abusers, and all the other problems of our society. Articles like this one rest upon a childish understanding of religion, and a desire to pretend the safe, comforting constructions of our western lifestyle are permanent. Religion is a word so big, so huge, that to characterize it in one word is folly. To write it off is absurd. The way of wisdom, it seems to me, is to recognize that religion, like all things, reflects what a person brings to it. If a person brings hate, a desire to terrorize and dominate and control, religion will become a tool of it. For those who approach religion with a need for mercy, religion will help sustain them and enable them to be loving and forgiving; and so on and so forth.

I am absolutely and entirely all about arguing and challenging those who hold religion hostage to their own dogmatisms and hatred (Catholic Church: you!). But I am also so frustrated and so tired of those who, whether or not they know it, reduce human existence to a long process of consuming goods and experiences. The world is full of suffering, things do die, people do suffer, and a search for meaning beyond ourselves is not ridiculous; a desire for justice and a hope for mercy and redemption, a desire to figure out how to live in this world and find if there is anything more than our ephemeral existences: these cannot be brushed aside as the workings of the ignorant and deluded. The simplistic and slightly-threatening depiction of  religion (which, unfortunately, a great many terrible religious groups seem thrilled to live up to) secularists present are full of gross generalizations and a desire to characterize all religious thought as coming from the same sick and broken branch. In turn they offer us a society whose economics are basically cutthroat (you can be as liberal as you like, but if the governments acted the way we say we wished they would, we sure wouldn’t be able to maintain our lifestyles!) and whose ideas of self-fulfillment remain just that: fulfilling the self, developing the individual personality. Where is love, where is transcendence? They exist, and they cannot be categorized or made into creeds or dogmas, whether religious or secular. I hope one day to live in a world where just because a thing cannot  be measured by it’s usefulness, it’s still considered valuable.  A world where people and their questions are also seen as holy and full of unnameable mysteries. A world where technology and progress are not idols, but are subject to the same intensive scrutiny religion is: and if all things are questioned, if we study our history, our failures, and our successes; if we seek to learn and understand and not merely to categorize and consume… well. Maybe then we won’t be so eager to colonize other people into consuming clones of food, music, and experiences, or to turn them into mirrors of our empty, consuming selves. Maybe then the ancient question “What is truth?” will be heard in all its weight, with all its challenges, and we will seek not to provide a quick answer, but be willing to doubt and question (ourselves especially).

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I named this blog after not only a Broken Social Scene song, but after both the album titles of K.C. Accidental (the foundation which grew into Broken Social Scene, and also sorta split off into Do Make Say Think). Also, because I am a total sweetheart, and I’m not afraid to give a little credit where it is due, so that played a role too. Anyway. So you could probably say I sort of am in love with everything Broken Social Scene touches in any way, shape, or form. And it’s time to get serious about it, and sing a little ode.

So. Every once in a while I listen to these folks and think about them and what not. Let me define “once in a while” for you.

they sing me songs!

I come home from work. I am tired. I get myself a beer and hop in the shower. Obviously, there must be music! And it must be them. So let’s have “bandwitch”. The universe, it is now suddenly full of music, the kind that makes everything else seem lush and thick and not terrible!

I have done a lot of things during the day. I am tired. It is time to be on a bed and turn off all the lights and stare at the sky as it gets dark. Or, more succinctly: it’s now time for “Blues for Uncle Gibb” or “Da Da Dada”.

Let’s be spacey and play something which could make no one feel bad or down, ever: ‘Guilty Cubicles”. Let’s erase fear “Fire Eye’d Boy” hey! Let’s slur a lot of words which don’t seem to make sense but I swear, if you have several whiskey-and-somethings and spend hours on your couch trying to decipher it, and then repeat this activity for about five years periodically, it seems like a bunch of universal truths that really are best mumbled. Otherwise, it’s best just like this:  ‘Shampoo Suicide”: yes.

A friend and I are on driving home from someplace, and we’re quiet and somewhere else. We’re well aware that “All My Friends” is one of Broken Social Scene’s more simple and short compositions. But it’s also one of the most goddamn beautiful pieces of music in the universe, and there’s nothing like listening to it by yourself or with someone else as you drive home at night in November and the rain sticks to all the yellow leaves on the highway. It’s a good thing. Broken Social Scene! They break your heart and you like it a lot.

kevin drew getting all "lover's spit" or something else beautiful and perfect all over the place

Now, we are a bit drunk (in theory, you nut!) and it’s time for “Lover’s Spit.” This is the most perfect song in the universe. I’m sorry, I tried to love “Moonlight Mile” by the Rolling Stones most as long as I could. But. “Lover’s Spit” is the most perfect song in existence (and I am absolutely talking about the You Forgot It In People version. Beehives: nice! awesome! But the other is like, super fucking insanely perfect. It’s Kevin Drew’s song, and him singing it is the way it is meant to be). Maybe it’s sort of about human imperfection, about our best intentions never being enough, about how what we love best goes away no matter what, and about how, I don’t know, it’s just “time to grow old and do some shit”. Then, we sit down and watch and listen to every live recording of the song. Who doesn’t love when they turn it to a ten minute masterpiece, either repeating ‘This is the curse of our love” or “Making it work takes a little longer” over and over? You analyze it (and let’s be frank: by ‘you’ I quite definitely mean ‘me’, but I grieve to know no one else is as bizarre about them as me) and absorb it and ponder and wander around your coffee table in circles nodding.  Then you sort of radiate all over how sheerly beautiful it is, then you pass out, then you wake up and tell yourself that last night was perfect solely because of that and how you’d best do that again right quick.

My point is, I think Broken Social Scene is unlike most things I like a lot. I think they are making the most wonderful and lovely music in recent history, or, from my point of view, kinda all time. When Charles Spearin or Kevin Drew write a song, when Brendan Canning or Emily Haines takes the microphone… it’s more than thrilling. And the way they make me feel… their music, to me, the way it goes to that area where it’s so human and so sad and so momentary that it seems to almost straddle something infinitely beyond… I only hope everyone, everywhere has something they feel that way about. Because, after all the years I have driven down Connecticut Avenue on October mornings, watching the leaves blow, and walked out of public housing slums in Southeast, watching families struggle to put up Christmas lights as the sad prostitutes try to press candies into children’s hands, I have something which attests to the ineffable, transitory beauty that is human existence. Broken Social Scene’s music does that to me. When you get into a car and drive off with the weight of the world in your heart, leaving behind people with so much more on their own shoulders, you grasp for anyone acknowledging how heart-breaking it all is, and for something also acknowledging that something is still meaningful. Then you drive back onto the highway, back to your own world, though you feel a stranger there yourself, and let Charles Spearin on the horns pull you into the parking lot in a random suburb; you think about seeing them on stage with people you loved in a strange city; you think about when he leaned into his microphone in a packed room, and the music softened so he could croon, so softly, to all of us: “making it work takes a little longer, making it works takes a little time,” and you saw your friend in tears across the room as you both tried to process how everyone’s a stranger and we’re all trying to do our best, and you think about how the two of you walked quietly into a cold December night and drove home. And you sit in your parking spot, and think about everything gone away. Then you get out of your car, and go back to your life.

You go inside, you get in the shower, or you turn off the lights and go someplace far away. You play something full of everything. And there they are.

(this is ... )

Broken Social Scene, ladies and gentlemen.

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Sheeeeeeeeee-lia

Atlas Sound!

bradford cox

Listen, all you really need to know is Bradford Cox of the band Deerhunter has made two of the most gorgeous albums of the past few years. I speak the truth here. Mr. Cox is an interesting gentleman, and his life story is all fascinating, but that’s not what I’m trying to say here.

What I want to say, clearly, is “Sheila” is an incredible song. Dear God, it is a lush piece of work. “Walkabout” is what I think it would be like to skip along ten feet across the ground. Think of all the things you’d see! Logos is, in my mind, easily going to be one of the very, very best albums of the year. Maybe it’s cos I like really spacey thick stuff, but this is seriously good. His album from last year, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, was also most excellent. All, I don’t know, starry or fireworks-ish.

blue!

Okay, I think that’s all I have to say about that. I don’t want to describe or review genius, I want to enjoy it. Time to go listen to “Small Horror” and “Ready Set Glow” and shoot off like a rocket to the moon. Times that are fun!

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One of the, you know, good people kind, not the football players. Though, of course, far be it from me to suggest the two don’t overlap.

St. Seraphim of Sarov

I’m gonna be honest about this from the get-go. I’m blogging about a dead white guy because I am nuts about pictures of saints. They are almost always utterly fucking fantastic. Especially icons from the Orthodox Church. So today I am going to talk about St. Seraphim of Sarov, and we’re gonna look at some excellent pictures of the dude.

Here is a brief summation of his life, from my point of view. Mr. Seraphim was a pretty fantastic fellow. A Russian: that’s neat. Kinda super holy. Liked to pray a lot as a kid. He joined a monastery when he turned 18. He went to the woods, where he prayed a lot. Then, things got incredible. He got a pet. A pet… bear.

This Is Art.

That is a picture of St. Seraphim with his pet bear, Misha. I wrote this post so I could put up this picture. Please pay attention to how awesome this picture is, because it really is fucking incredible.

In the woods, St. Seraphim did a lot of bonding with God and fed a lot of animals. Everyone thought he was groovy (because he was), but he didn’t really see anyone. He was a wee bit of a loner. Then one day a bunch of bandits roughed him up in the woods. While he was unconscious on the ground, they went into his hut and only found an icon of the Holy Mother. Then, somehow they were caught. Call me skeptical, but these bandits must have been pretty stupid if they beat up a hermit in the woods and thought they were going to get all sorts of, I don’t know, jewels.  Oh well, let’s not ruin a good story, I wasn’t there.

Anyway, at their trial St. Seraphim came to plead for mercy on their behalf. I can’t find out whether or not they got it, which is a shame. Afterwards he headed over to a rock where he prayed every night for a 1,000 nights with his arms raised up in the air. This is extra noteworthy since St. Seraphim was now a hunchback after the rather devasting injuries resulting from his attack. Again, I kinda wish I had access to the records to see that all of this was legit. But there’s a statue of Seraphim kneeling on his rock in Russia, so I guess somebody somewhere double-checked.

Our St. Seraphim decided it was time to try and help people, and no longer live without much human interaction. He got social and allowed people to visit him. He became renowned for his loving advice and counsel. Tsar Nicholas I tried to have Seraphim join his government, but Seraphim refused, which is also neat. But to be serious, some of his advice was actually very beautiful. This particular saying of his I find very moving:

Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved.”

mmm, holy art.

So all in all, I find a lot to like here. Feeding bears. Living in the woods. Pleading for mercy for his attackers. Some stuff about being full of peace. I give him two thumbs up. I’m also kinda completely serious about my adoration for this guy. Gotta find myself a real icon of him somehow. I just fucking love holy art.

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It’s Veteran’s Day.

worldwarone

Initially known as ‘Armistice Day’, proclaimed by President Wilson in 1919. Over five years of senseless bloodshed had come to an end. The world itself was forever changed, from the scars cut into the ground, its survivors who went on to change the world in their own ways, to the way we thought about international diplomacy, to the way we drew maps and talked about nationhood.

For five years men slaughtered each other in a way which peculiarly revealed how insane war, all war, always is. Pacifism was suddenly something to be taken seriously. But whatever insight people gained after World War One was not shared by all. Then a different sort of war came along, and after it the name was changed (in America) to ‘Veteran’s Day’. And a nation once again began to speak of ‘good wars’. No Department of Peace exists to counteract our Department of Defense. And still, our veterans suffer. Thousands of them are homeless. Thousands of them are scarred and have nowhere to go, because we don’t take care of them properly. Today is a day not to just feel moved by their sacrifice, but to feel outraged on their behalf, and to do something about it.

Still, I think it is also important to remember World War One particularly today. To remember its significance as it so uniquely revealed the streak of sheer folly and insanity seared into the minds and hearts of men (or at least, their governments). Sebastian Barry, an Irish author, wrote a book a few years ago called A Long, Long Way about a soldier in the Great War. It is a difficult read, as taking in so much human suffering is always difficult:

And all those boys of Europe born in those times, and thereabouts those times, Russian, French, Belgian, Serbian, Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh, Italian, Prussian, German, Austrian, Turkish – and Canadian, Australian, American, Zulu, Gurkha, Cossack, and all the rest – their fate was written in a ferocious chapter in the book of life, certainly. Those millions of mothers and their million gallons of mother’s milk, millions of instances of small talk and baby talk, beatings and kisses, ganseys and shoes, piled up in history in great ruined heaps, with a loud and broken music, human stories told for nothing, for ashes, for death’s amusement, flung on the mighty scrapheap of souls, all those million boys in all their humours to be milled by the millstones of a coming war.”

Yes, it is Veteran’s Day. But it is also Armistice Day. A day to think about the consequences of war. What war says about humanity. What does it mean that we still carry it on, that we still justify it, that we still talk of peace but practice war? I think of Vera Brittain, the British writer who came of age during the Great War and watched all those closest to her disappear into it, lost and gone forever.

All that a pacifist can undertake — but it is a very great deal — is to refuse to kill, injure or otherwise cause suffering to another human creature, and untiringly to order his life by the rule of love though others may be captured by hate.” – Vera Brittain

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This Stupak bullshit really, really, really angers me. A friend (of course a dude) told me that really, it’s worth it in order to get health care reform, and hey, it probably won’t actually really change anything.

What the hell is wrong with our political system when people think it is perfectly sensible to exchange one right in order to achieve another right? Rights aren’t exchangeable, there aren’t only so many rights to go around, whatever moderate Democrats may think. Yeah, health care should be a fundamental right in our society. But personal autonomy is pretty much the most basic fucking right of all, so why on Earth should half of our population cede it to make sure health care is passed? What the hell? It makes no sense.

It’s unbelievable that people who hate and desperately want to control women are so well-respected that they can completely piss all over our legal rights. It’s unbelievable that they’re taken seriously. Obama wants me to respect the sensitivities of people who want to control my body, he wants me to respect that we all feel differently on this issue, and that I should agree to disagree with those who think I am not allowed to decide what happens to my body since I am a woman.

No, sir, no fucking way! You know what I find morally repugnant? Murdering people. Actual people. I hate having MY tax dollars going to building bombs, going to weapons to murder actual living, breathing human beings. I hate my tax dollars going to torture, the death penalty, corporate welfare, and the general destruction of the planet. I hate tax dollars being spent by a government that does nothing for the poor, but perpetuates a power structure designed to benefit parasites who use their power only to make more money.

But my tax dollars go to all of that stuff, and my anger about it doesn’t matter because the progressive agenda is easily dismissed by those in power. Now we’re supposed to smile as they continue to snatch control of our bodies away for us, because health care reform is necessary for the general good. No, you know what’s good for everyone?  Respecting every citizen’s personal autonomy. Or, Medicare for everyone, and shutting down for-profit insurance companies, because no one’s well-being should be subjected to the profit motive.

So I think this bill is bullshit. Everything about it is bullshit, and people who think of themselves as liberal but are willing to exchange one right for another are not liberals at all, but cowards. We should never, ever negotiate when it comes to human rights. You don’t give one up in order to get another. We shouldn’t feel forced to pick and choose which ones to support now and which ones to betray. The way is always forward, never back. If you betray one right, if any basic human right is worth giving up, then any of them are. Sometimes we have to agitate for one more than another, sometimes one is more threatened, sometimes one isn’t being recognized and needs more attention. Right now the human right to medical care needs to be fought for. But to just completely abandon one right, to say it’s okay, it’s negotiable, something else is more important? That’s insanity, and it’s wrong. It’s  wrong to support this bill with this amendment, because it can never be morally right to give up a right (which is what the Stupak amendment does by making abortion even more inaccessible) to achieve something else. The means define the ends, and these are bad, bad means. Let’s not get Machiavelli about health care. It may not seem important to some people now. But tomorrow, it may be a right that they find precious, and things may suddenly seem very different.

Here’s some links to other people who are outraged. Which means, I love them.

Kill This Bill. Right on!

What the Stupak Amendment actually does.   Best line:

Remember the promises? Reform was about expanding choices, not allowing government to come between you and your doctor, no one will lose their coverage, and if you like your current plan you get to keep it. Apparently being female is a preexisting condition that exempts us from the promises, too.”

I like the contempt here. When the President treats women with contempt (as well as the entire progressive agenda), then I read things like this, and nod. Vigorously.

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I like everything about this sport already, since it gives me an excuse to talk about yaks.

Seriously. Yaks! Where do I begin?

 

theyaks2

Majestic, Majestic Yaks. Photo by Didrik Johnck © 1997

 

I feel about yaks almost what I feel about moose (ultimately, moose win because they have those knobby knees and charmingly absurd expressions). Yaks are shaggy. They’re tough cookies, wandering around mountain passes in the Himalayas.  They also, uh, secrete stuff which the Nepalese use to make magical potions (or, you know, medicine). Butter made from their milk goes into some Tibetan drink known as “butter tea” which I honestly find intriguing and am not disgusted by (also, thank you Wikipedia for teaching me so much about so many silly animals). They also willingly carry humans around, unlike moose. Which means if all goes as planned, one day I may have one for a pet, and I will drink butter tea. Yeah!

But the world of the yak is so much bigger than talking about how awesomely hairy they are, or how getting around in the Himalayas might be nearly impossible without them. These yaks, they let people dress them up and race them! Because that’s what we humans like to do! Put silly costumes on animals and run really fast!

 

Yak2

The Yak: A Classic Good Sport

Yep, yaks are real sweethearts. Every now and again at some festival in central Asia, these polite, patient yaks let some dudes dress them up in a fancy costume, jump up on them and race them. Apparently, yaks are pretty speedy. Some people might not think that, since traditionally the yak is portrayed as a beast of burden slowly plowing the field for some farmer, or hauling some people through an icy mountain pass. But when you get the yak out of the office, the wild side comes out. They get rough, these fellas, kicking and pushing all over the place. But it doesn’t stop there. Some of these festivals don’t just have yak racing: they have yak rodeo riding! And yak milking! Really, yak milking! What fun, what joys!

 

It’s a strange world, and I really like it that way.

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