Sweet Dystopia, or: the rise of the downer.

Oh, apocalyptica, how I love you so. I really do. The end of the world is a particularly versatile storytelling device. It could be anything – cosmic disaster, war, plague, robots, zombies, politicians. We don’t know what’s going to take us out, but we do enjoy turning speculation into art. Or bad movies. Both, really, although the media often confuses the two.

It seems as to me like there’s been a big uptick in post-apocalyptic stuff in the past few years. I’m tempted to say that it’s because of The Hunger Games overtaking Twilight in book sales. Which is as it should be – had that not happened I would’ve thought the end was surely upon us because “sparkly emo vampires outselling Charles Dickens” is the fifth horseman. That gives us an important point on a timeline, but I don’t think it’s the actual cause. This might be Oprah’s fault. She put her sticker and, by extension, automatic bestseller status on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. All hail the golden touch of The Oprah! Blessed be the chubby finger that turns the page of the paperback!

I’m not making fun of you, Oprah. Please don’t have me assassinated.

But seriously, that bitch sells some books. It’s unreal. I wonder if the minion who does her book shopping is difficult to bribe.

Anyway, The Road was a crazy hit that kind of came out of left field, and while books about the end of days have been around since Gutenberg (obviously), the subgenre exploded after McCarthy won the Pulitzer. Add to this Oprah-fueled frenzy the fact that every moron on the planet thought the end of the Mayan calendar was relevant and lo! The perfect storm. Suzanne Collins just hit the right market in the right year. And good for her. I enjoyed The Hunger Games books, even if (spoiler alert) the second and third weren’t as good as the first. They’re great.

Like I said, this is in fact a subgenre. There’s post-apocalyptic stuff in every genre and always has been. I want to drill that point only because I’ve heard lots of folks refer to this type of work, or even things that are just similarly dystopian, as scifi and that’s inaccurate in a lot of cases (putting aside the fact that the Bible, the OG apocalyptica, is one of the greatest science fiction books ever written). Look at Stephen King’s The Stand, which most would probably categorize as horror. Or something like Matheson’s I Am Legend, which is pure horror in a monster movie kind of way (and then they turned the movie into absolute shit – what happened there?). I think the reason all this stuff gets lumped into scifi is because at some point there’s always some asshole with a line about how science could have saved us but didn’t. Interesting, that, but irrelevant at the moment.

I think it’s important to note that this trend getting huge had a lot to do with teenagers. Teens are the most important market for most things. This is Retail 101. They have the most disposable income, the most free time, and are the most susceptible to advertising. They also tend to babble incessantly about the things they love. Or hate, for that matter. Thus, marketing to them gets any given item two kinds of advertising for the price of one. They disseminate things with a quickness, and social media becoming as easy as breathing has only made this process faster. What I’m saying is that if The Hunger Games had been written for or about adults, it wouldn’t have been the sensation that it was (or is, I guess – we’re not done with the movies yet). It would have been like Mad Max or The Long Walk, awesome but cultish. And while The Road had the hypnotoad-like powers of The Oprah’s magic sticker, it was still considered “literary fiction” (a term I deplore), which cut out a pretty big demographic of fluff-only readers. The fluff readers were onboard with The Hunger Games, though, because teens and tweens were reading it: “My kid’s read it, how complex can it be?” I heard this more than once from moms at the Giant Evil Bookstore and it made me cringe every time. If that’s how you think or talk about your children and books, you’re probably an idiot, but you’re most definitely an asshole. Meanwhile, manymanymany more titles that were in a similar, bleak vein were making their way onto the teen shelves. In my last couple of years there, the trend spread quickly from the teen section to scifi/fantasy, then into regular fiction and, weirdly, Christian fiction. Well, maybe not so weirdly, actually. Keep in mind that this is just me talking about books. You’ll recall that these were my media-free years, so I’m not sure what was going on in movies or on tv at the time. I do know that since the first Hunger Games movie was added to Netflix there have been tons of obvious, cheesy-looking ripoffs popping up in my “because you watched” menu. So there’s that.

I once had a conversation with a drunken asshat who said that the end of any trend is evident when comedians get their hands on it. I mean, what? If I recall correctly, he was talking specifically about Shaun of the Dead. Clearly, Drunk Asshat was dead wrong about the downfall of the zombie genre, if you’ll pardon the pun. And while I completely disagree that comedy marks the end of a trend, I will concede that it marks a kind of cultural saturation point. For example, The World’s End and This is the End came out in the same year. Obviously, there’s been (dark) comedy about the apocalypse before, but it’s not really subject matter that lends itself easily to giggles, is it? How could it? So I wonder if we’re lightening up about everything we know and love being destroyed. Could it really be a boy-who-cried-wolf situation? Things like Y2K and 2012 being bullshit, along with our growing desensitization to media coverage (or lack thereof) of global war and environmental destruction – this seems like a pretty good recipe for people not taking the end of all things seriously. On the other hand, maybe our sense of humor is just getting darker because our tastes in entertainment are getting darker overall. I guess the effect is basically the same, but I wonder at the cause.

To counter my first gross overgeneralization with another one, though: perhaps it’s our obsession with shiny fluffy things that’s causing this preoccupation with our own destruction. Reality tv, celebrity worship, really horrible pop music – these are all distractions from very real social and cultural problems that bring us down. And I know no one wants to think about war and disease and injustice all the time, we all need a break. But it feels like this rise in apocalyptic direness is possibly, just possibly, a sideslant way for the media machine to scream at us to fucking pay attention. It’s a remote chance, but I like to think it’s there. Like when you sneak your kids vegetables by making brownies with zucchini in them, you know? If you show people an idea in a more palatable format, maybe they’ll think about it in their normal day-to-day lives. Or I could be being overly optimistic again about our culture’s motivations. It happens.

But let’s be serious, the world has ended a thousand times already. Societies crumble. Superpowers shift. Someone’s life is utterly destroyed every second of every day. A marriage falls apart. A mother watches her child die of leukemia. A house burns down with everyone inside. Another village is bombed. The church refuses to distribute condoms and a whole country ends up with AIDS. Bieber makes another billion while poor people starve to death eating McDoubles every day. Gay kids commit suicide because their families hate them. This is the world. It’s sick and it’s sad and one day we’ll all be dead. To look that reality in the eye is difficult and noble and necessary. It’s when we start deluding ourselves into thinking that this can go on forever that we’re in real trouble. Even Nero’s fiddle burned.



Grooveless grooves.

Ugh. Worst blog title ever. Don’t hold it against me. Moving on.

I did shitty thing the other day. Well, only semi-shitty, really. It felt shittier than it actually was, I’m sure. What happened was, I slipped on quite a substantial puddle of rum and tumbled down a YouTube rabbithole of Heart, Led Zeppelin, and Aerosmith videos, only to land at the bottom on a pillowy cushion of sadness. Sad because, once again, I missed my records. It’s dumb that I was sad about it, but you know, rum. Then, knowing that my folks were planning a garage sale for that weekend, I sent my stepdad a lengthy, weepy message begging him not to sell any of their records. That was the shitty part, in case you missed it, if only because I felt bad for being dumb and sad and weepy at him. The good news is they didn’t sell their records. The bad news is I still miss mine.

We’ve talked about how much I love vinyl already, but I’m bringing it up again because I just got my very first iPod. (Welcome to the future, Vanessa. Thank you, self, it’s nice to be here. Can you point me towards the hoverboards?) First of all, let me say that I do not like Apple products. I don’t like their closed garden of programming, I don’t like their UI, I don’t like their systematic implementation of planned obsolescence in an industry that’s already extremely wasteful. Having said that, as far as non-phone, pocket-sized gadgets go, they are lightyears ahead of anyone else and their competition has straight given up. Because people like me who don’t use cell phones are few and far between. I get it. I understand that there’s not much of a market for non-phone gadgetry, and that most people don’t hate Apple enough to care about iPod being their only option. Seriously, it was the only mp3 player in the entire store. My country for a Best Buy! Steve Jobs, may the circuit-driven overlords rest his soul, really nailed down a niche market that will continue to get niche-ier and niche-ier as time drones on.

It’s a weird gadget limbo to be in, actually. I do own a cellular telephone, but it’s a cheap, prepaid, basic thing that I use maybe once or twice a month at the most (and the Verizon prepaid service is another whole load of bullshit that I can rant about later, but for now let me just say that it does contribute to my crushing feeling of being marginalized by society in a first world problems kind of way). I have no cell service, but I do have wifi. So I could use a smartphone like a gadget, were I willing to throw money down a hole for a cell plan, even though I would never actually use the thing as a phone. It’s ridiculous. I refuse. Perhaps that makes me stubborn or a Luddite or whatever, and perhaps one day I’ll change my mind (read: break down, give in, stop standing on principle). I shall keep you posted.

The point of this whole oddly pro- and anti-technology rant, though, is the music. I love vinyl. I also love being able to carry thousands of songs around in my pocket, despite the aesthetics of those two formats being wildly different. They are distinct musical experiences. Dancing around like an idiot in my kitchen to tunes that both the roommate and The Husband can’t stand but miraculously don’t have to be subjected to? Awesome. And it wouldn’t have been possible in the age of vinyl. Not without some inevitable headphone cord and boiling water related injuries. I consider this progress, on the whole, and appreciate that I can do it every day, even if the music doesn’t sound as good. Because, man, do those guys hate Marilyn Manson.

At the same time, though, I feel like there’s a generation gap inherent in our acquisition and enjoyment of music because of this kind of technology. Since the advent of Napster back in the 1900s, I’ve been able to hear a song, like it, look it up, and own it in a matter of seconds. That’s fucking weird, right? Weirder still, I’m not obligated to purchase/download or even think about the rest of the album. It’s like being allowed, suddenly, to buy only one page of a novel. Do people who make music even think about albums as a whole, continuous piece of art anymore? And if so, is that artistic instinct undermined by the knowledge that the listeners most likely won’t experience it that way? (I’m honestly curious. Musician friends, leave your thoughts in the comments.) This was probably a consideration during the heyday of radio, as well, it’s just that now one radio single won’t make people run out and buy the record to hear where that song fits in. It doesn’t have to fit anywhere and no one expects it to. It’s the change in what people anticipate from their audience that I find most interesting.

And the technology itself has to be another factor for the artist, right? Does a particular song sound best live? Played on speakers? Digitally equalized? Through earbuds? Through cheap earbuds? How to distribute it? On CD? On vinyl? On the band’s website? Via iTunes? Via any other site that tries in vain to compete with iTunes (I’m looking at you, Bandcamp)? It seems to me, as a lowly music lover who’s scrabbling to keep up, to be getting more complicated. But again, it’s way easier when one embraces Apple. That’s fucked up, that an entire industry has veered so completely toward one company’s system. It’s not unique, though. I suppose everyone’s already done the same thing with Google and all the social media sites.

To make a slight, but relevant, right turn here: I recently got filled with hate and rage over a court case concerning alleged patent infringement on podcasting technology. Basically, a group of dicksmacks are suing Adam Carolla for using a particular sequencer, the thing that plays the episodes in the right order when listeners access the show’s archive. To my understanding, Carolla himself has absolutely nothing to do with how his show uses this niblet of programming. He’s just the extra-annoying comedian who records the show. And the dicksmacks are coming after him because he’s the most prominent of the non-radio-affiliated podcasters. His show is (inexplicably) hugely popular, so if he folds it will set a precedent that all the little guys will be forced to abide by. To go one step further, this could lead to problems with services like Stitcher or, horror of horrors, Netflix. Everyone uses this sequencer. There’s a lot of money to be made off of big companies if this case gets that far, which is the only reason the dicksmacks are making this a thing. The more reliant we become on technology to get through our everyday lives, the more of these kinds of lawsuits we’re going to see because every little piece of programming depends on all the ones that came before it. Until we can find the dude who owns the patent on Putting Things in Their Proper Order or, you know, Chronology, we cannot let the dicksmacks win. Their case is bogus and I don’t want to pay for podcasts, is what I’m saying. You can (and should) donate to Carolla’s defense fund here. I know you’re thinking he doesn’t need our money, but this is going to cost millions to litigate. You can spare the ten bucks. You really can. Because you don’t want to pay for podcasts, either.

Anyway. I don’t know why I felt like I had to blog about this. I’ve just been thinking about music and technology and their increasingly symbiotic existence a lot since I got my iPod. Well, since I’ve been trying to figure out how to use my damn iPod, really. I’m both happy and agro about it. There should be a word for that emotion. I bet the Germans have one. And as soon as I retrieve my turntable and my records from their purgatorial basement on the other side of the country, I promise I won’t write any more whiny blogs about this. Or drunken Facebook messages. Urm, probably. I mean, what are the odds?


The smell of teen spirit will never change.

This past week marked the twentieth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. For me, personally, this isn’t a huge milestone, even though I’m a loyal Nirvana fan. I was not quite twelve when Cobain (allegedly) offed himself. That’s a weird age for music lovers – we know what we like but we can’t quite figure out why yet. I had just barely discovered Nirvana, and I think their only album I had was a hand-me-down copy of In Utero that someone had given me because half the songs on it skipped. Having just gotten my first CD player, the only other disks I had were Billy Joel’s River of Dreams, The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, and that one TLC album. You know the one. We all had it. Don’t pretend you didn’t. Point is, I didn’t dive deep with grunge until after Kurt was gone, and by then grunge was already changing. Not that I knew it at the time.

What’s most interesting about his death, though, is the effect it had on the cultural landscape outside of music. The event was huge news even for non-Nirvana fans. That so rarely happened in the barely pre-digital age. It made CNN and not just MTV News, right? But why? Because it was Tipper Gore’s worst nightmare, probably. In the wake of the Judas Priest/Ozzy Osbourne suicide scares of the golden age of metal, having an icon actually kill himself rather than using suicide as a metaphor was really fucking scary for America. My middle school had grief counselors on hand that week, the one act of compassion I ever saw from my school system. Which is saying a lot, considering that I was in high school when Columbine happened and they did fuck-all for us then.

There’s an episode of Family Guy where Stewie goes back in time and talks Kurt out of pulling the trigger. When he returns to his own future he finds a CD with a chubby, balding, flannel-clad Cobain on the cover, an acoustic retrospective album of Nirvana songs, if I recall correctly. Stewie just smiles, but I can’t tell if it’s a happy smile or an I-just-perpetrated-evil smile. Either way, it’s a good moment. Kurt would be 47 now, and I wonder what would have happened if he had made it this far. Would he have gone the way of Elvis, and died pitifully, fat and alone, forever the poster boy for misspent middle age? Or would he have pulled a preemptive Eddie Vedder, and mellowed into comfortable awesomeness? We could speculate, but there’s no way to know. We definitely wouldn’t have The Foo Fighters or Queens of the Stone Age in their current incarnations. And we probably would have had to listen to more stupid shit fall out of Courtney Love’s word hole. It’s a horrifying prospect, if you think about it too hard.

The world has changed so much in these last twenty years. And, yes, I know that could be said about any given twenty years of human history. But the truth is, the internet blows the industrial revolution, the postwar boom, free love, and disco right out of the water. Go ahead, try to fight me on this one. So I wonder what he and the band would have done with the technology we have now. Would he have a Twitter feed? Would they have weighed in on the Napster fight? The Ticketmaster fight? Would he have benefited from the advances in medicine for drug addiction? The music industry’s changed. Music consumption has changed. Music fans and fandom itself have changed.

Part of that change, I think, is the big surge in darkness that happened in the late 90s. Everything got extra agro super fast. Maybe it was our fear of/obsession with teens finding Wicca. Maybe it was New Wave fans reaching adulthood. Maybe it was the rapid increase in antidepressant prescriptions. Maybe it was a reaction against raver culture. Maybe we felt the comedy bubble pop and got sad. I don’t know. But it definitely happened. Perhaps fans of country music or sitcoms or sportsball or whatever didn’t notice it as much as my angsty, small-town metalhead friends and I did. Or maybe we were just teenagers in the wrong place at the right time, and we saw it suddenly, at the same age as everyone else. Has that looming darkness always been there? It’s possible. Can the downer nature of an entire generation be traced directly to Kurt killing himself? I really doubt it, but I won’t say it wasn’t a factor at all. We will never produce happyslappy music in such quantities as the seemingly more cheerful generations that came before us. We will, thank god, never create another Beach Boys. Maybe the younger folks will. That could be their rebellion. It could already be happening and I’m just unaware of it because I live in a media bubble.

Anyway. Yesterday, on the day I was supposed to post this, Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For once I have an excuse for a post being late. I wanted to watch the video, and I want you to watch it, too. I know this sounds cliché, but I really think that Nirvana is one of those bands that, while their body of work is pretty small, have influenced countless bands that came after them. If you’re not a Nirvana fan, you’re probably a fan of someone who is. And that ripple effect is more important than the band itself. It always will be. Good on them. Congratulations, gentlemen.

If you want blood, you got it…

I just finished watching the last season of Dexter. It took us a couple of months to get through it all because we were cutting the dire with healthy doses of The West Wing and X-files. I never watched Dexter when it was on, what with the not having tv for years and years. But I knew some stuff about the show because of my time at the Giant Evil Bookstore. It’s amazing what you can learn from book and magazine covers when you walk past them fifty thousand times a day. That shit just seeps in, from the corner of your eye and into your brain without you ever being aware of it. Crazy.

Anyway, a brief rundown: Dexter Morgan is a blood spatter analyst for Miami homicide (do other departments even have blood spatter guys? I’d be interested to know). His sister and all of his friends are cops. He’s an odd guy, but I suspect a lot of crime tech folks are odd on the surface. Trick is, Dexter is also a serial killer. The other trick is, he only kills bad people. From his work with the police department, he identifies rapists and murderers and other trash that make it through the justice system and are walking around free. And he eliminates them. As the show progresses, his personal life becomes more complicated and it gets more and more difficult for him to both continue his killing and keep up the normal guy façade. There is much tension, being that the audience knows everything that the characters don’t. Many, many times through the eight seasons I found myself saying, “This will not end well.”

I’m sure I’m just behind and a lot of you have already seen this show. It’s old news if you don’t live in a media-free bubble like I have for so long. But if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend. The actors are all great, the characters believable (which doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement but is shockingly rare on crime-based shows), and the writing is outstanding. It’s funnier than you’d think it would be, as well, which I found refreshing. Humor humanizes a character who tries to make us think he doesn’t consider himself quite human. The only problem is that it’s set in Miami, so I always end up with samba music stuck in my head and a hard-core craving for a cuban sandwich.

I don’t really believe in guilty pleasures. I don’t think pleasure should ever be guilt-ridden. Call me a hedonist, whatever. But were I forced to own up to what my guilty pleasure is, I would have to say that it’s cheesy cop shows. Not Cops level cheesy, but definitely CSI, Law & Order, Criminal Minds cheesy. And I say “cheesy” because they’re all so unrealistic. Law enforcement doesn’t catch that many bad guys. I’m not even sure that there are enough bad guys out there to keep all these shows supplied. And the good guys certainly don’t swoop in at the last possible second that often. But I like all the forensic sciencey stuff, and I like the many different types of stories that can be told with this one basic trope in common. I’m a sucker for creatively using the storytelling corner that you’ve painted yourself into. I’ve always loved this shit, though, for as long as I can remember. My dad was a cop for a while, and he used to read tons of crime novels then give me stacks of them when he was done, weeding out the crappy ones for me. When I was little, my two favorite shows were Get Smart and Dragnet (yes, I know, one of those is about spies, but it helped cultivate my love for a good whodunit action story with bonus comedy). Hell, even Inspector Gadget held my interest for way longer than was age-appropriate.

Cop shows are as old as television. Older, even, if you go back to radio. There are cops and lawmen in the oldest of old movies. Going back even further, there are books and stories about keepers-of-the-peace as old as time. The Knights of the Round Table were the local policeman’s union of their day, right? This obsession with good guys versus bad guys is not new. It’s innate. But what’s interesting to me about this recent uptick in cop dramas (or “police procedurals,” to use the industry term) is the focus on forensic science. This isn’t particularly new, either, in the world of whodunits. Look at Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, for an antique example. But shows like this couldn’t have existed twenty or thirty years ago, and I think it’s awesome that they’re getting people interested both in science and in using science for the forces of good.

Our technology inevitably informs our storytelling. When we’re talking about crime, this works both ways. The bad guys figure out a way to use a new thing to their advantage, and the good guys have to keep up. Or, conversely, the good guys figure something out and it takes a while for the bad guys to take it seriously (like fingerprinting – it took fifty years before criminals started regularly wearing gloves). On the one hand, I’m glad that the science behind the policework has come to the forefront. On the other hand, it’s often not portrayed very realistically. Look at that crazy 3D computer-reenactment machine that the hot chick uses to save the day on almost every episode of Bones (the bubblegummiest of all cop shows). Every cop wishes that was a thing, but right now it’s pure science fiction. One day, probably, we’ll have one of those in every forensics lab. Keep on it, geeks.

At the same time, I’m worried about our massive cultural obsession with prurient, sick crimes and the inner workings of the brains of criminals. Not because I think we shouldn’t pay attention to these very real, very ill people and their deplorable actions, but because I think we’re becoming somewhat desensitized to them. It’s not so much the violence and the gore, which I’m fine with but I know offends those with delicate sensibilities. For me, it’s about people either A) thinking “that stuff only happens on tv” and not taking any measures to protect themselves or their homes, or B) becoming so fearful of everything and everyone that they can’t live their lives. I know these seem like opposite ends of my own personal paranoia spectrum, but I think that in our mindless, media-spoonfed culture, these are both pretty valid concerns. I’d really like to see the numbers on crime rates since CSI started airing, just to find out who’s learning more, the cops or the criminals.

And that’s probably the thing I like most about Dexter. He’s both good guy and bad guy. A sociopath and a murderer, but with a strict set of moral guidelines about who he chooses to kill. In his mind, everything he does is for the greater good and I can’t find a way to fault that logic. He uses all his sciencey kung fu to hunt and kill these people and get away with it. Good on him. Do I think the show glorifies murder or vigilantism? Not really. Because the fact of the matter is that killers and rapists get set free every day. The justice system has big fat gaping holes in it. Our prison system is fucked beyond unfucking. We should definitely fix that before we start bitching about the quality of the content of our cable television programming. Meanwhile, we get to watch a good-looking madman make with the stabby stab. I dig it.


I had nothing to blog about this week. Nothing at all. I’ve been working a lot, so I haven’t really had time to watch or read anything exciting enough to tell you guys about. In a moment of rank desperation, I said something on Facebook about having no blog ready and how I was going to go look for inspiration at the bottom of several bottles of beer. My stepdad helpfully suggested that I blog about beer.

Now, this probably seems silly. I assure you, it is. But surprisingly, I have quite a bit to say about beer. Not that it’s a particularly geeky topic, but my blog, my rules, right? It doesn’t have to be all geek all the time around here. I’ve got so many facets, y’all.

On the other hand, maybe it is geeky. Or at least nerdy. Connoisseurs are always nerds about the thing they love. Not that I’m claiming to be a beer expert or even a beer snob, really, but I think beer has become one of those things that you can be nerdy about. Like wine people are about their wine consumption, or foodies are about absolutely everything.

It begins with language. I have a hard time with the language of taste. This is why I tune out when wine people start with their blah blah. It just seems too subjective. When they say something about it having a fruity nose or a woody finish, I do not know what that means. I suppose I could learn, but if I don’t taste fruit or wood or noses, I don’t understand what the words they’re using are supposed to signify. The usefulness of language falls apart. Beer people are the same way, just less snooty about it. And I don’t think that beer culture has gotten to the point where you could fake that snootiness and still be taken seriously the way that wine people are. If you don’t understand wine, you seem uncultured or unsophisticated. If you don’t understand beer, nobody cares.

Personally, I have only three categories of beer: beer I really like, beer I will tolerate, and beer I don’t like at all but will drink anyway. This may seem like a boozehound thing to say. Sure. Yeah. Fine. That’s probably accurate. But after three or four, I can’t taste anything at all so what difference does it make? If I open a beer and I hate it, I’m not going to throw it away. In this economy? Are you kidding? When beer costs between eight and ten dollars a six-pack out here in the sticks? Fuck that. I’m drinking that gross beer. Yessir. It’s not like I’m downing suitcases of Coors or anything. I’ll drink a PBR on occasion, for nostalgia’s sake mostly, or if I’m at a party. But left to my own devices I only drink good beer.

There’s that word, though: “good.” Tricksy, that one. For example, my very favorite beer is a really strange orange and coriander-flavored wheat ale from a local brewery. Nobody likes this beer but me. I’ve tried and tried to offer it to people out of hospitality, and no one will drink it. I take it to parties and none of them ever go missing mysteriously when my back is turned. Which I’m fine with because that shit’s expensive, but it’s weird. It’s the pariah of beers. And I love it. Inexplicable, really, the subjectivity of taste. There’s no way to verbalize what I like about it, but I haven’t heard anyone satisfactorily verbalize what they don’t like about it, either. It’s so odd, and I think it goes back to that language thing. Words fail us when we’re talking about stuff like this. And there is no right or wrong. You either like a thing or you don’t like a thing, and explaining why to other people is only an unfortunate side-effect.

It’s super frustrating. And it’s proving rather difficult to talk around the edges of, actually.

In all honesty, I do drink too much. But I never drive anywhere. The worst thing I do when I’m drinking is tweet too much, really. As far as I recall. And I only drink beer. Beer is inherently self-regulating. The volume of liquid that one has to ingest prevents one from drinking too much too quickly. As opposed to liquor, which I could down much more easily and get way too drunk way too fast for my own good. That’s how I used to drink when I was younger. It was not pretty. Oh, so, so not pretty. I suppose we all have to learn our limits by going past them, though, yeah? Alcohol should be used carefully, but it took me a while to get the hang of doing that. It was definitely my gateway drug.

It’s funny how now that I live in northern California, I almost never have the medical marijuana conversation anymore. It’s just a part of life out here, it’s everywhere and everyone is totally fine with it. It’s in the places where marijuana is difficult to obtain that people are still talking about it like it’s an unknown, evil thing. But let me tell you something, folks, marijuana is not a gateway drug in the way that alcohol is. Nowhere near it. Fact. Do you know how much easier it is for a teenager to get beer than to get weed? It’s the easiest thing in the world. It’s all over the place, just sitting there waiting to be shoplifted or bought by a friend’s older, cooler brother or whatever.

However, it’s much more dangerous for kids to drink than to smoke a joint and nobody seems to be talking about that. Look at the teens in movies or on television. They’re always at parties with those red cups, presumably full of some sort of booze. But then the bad kids show up and they’ve got pot or, occasionally, something harder, but the way these things are written everything that isn’t alcohol seems equally bad. It’s implicit that one is normal and acceptable while the other is weird and wrong. Alcohol does more physical damage, impairs your judgment much more severely, and is used more often in combination with other drugs because there’s absolutely no stigma attached to it. There’s a ritualistic aspect to smoking pot that separates it from your other activities, whereas you could do pretty much anything you’re already doing with a beer in your hand. Look at all the commercials, they’ll tell you. Beer good. Beer normal. Beer manly and American and attracts all the girls in short shorts. Drink. Beer. But don’t smoke the devil weed, kids. It’ll send your life into a shame spiral that you’ll never get out of and you’ll end up homeless and turning tricks for weed money. No, no, sorry. That’s heroin. Or pills. Or meth. Or…wait for it…alcohol. All marijuana does is make everything funny and make crappy food taste amazing.

Anyway. I feel like I got off track. I blame the beer. Go figure.

“Every man dies. Not every man really lives.”

Fred Phelps died. He was old so I’m not shocked by his death at all. Upon hearing that he had died my first thought was “Oh, we’re going to get so many memes out of this.” That’s probably a little fucked up, but I can’t decide if it’s me or if it’s the internet that should take the heat for that. To my credit, my next thought was that I sincerely hope the LGBT community pickets his funeral with really loving, caring signs like “Sorry for your loss” and “Hugs” and “We love you.” I’m not sure when the service is going to be, but maybe there’s still time to put that plan into action. It would be better karma than pissing on his grave, which is what we all actually want to do.

People like Phelps and his followers intrigue me because I do not understand them. At all. Not even a little bit. Their worldview is anathema to everything I believe in. Looking at the way they live their lives and how they think is how I imagine scientists will feel when they finally find a non-carbon-based life form: “What the fuck is this? How does it even work? Why does it exist?” The difference being that those scientists will poke and prod and make it their life’s work to figure it out, while I choose to dismiss the Phelps family as whackadoo extremists and ignore their antics completely because they’re irrelevant.

But they don’t know that they’re irrelevant. Isn’t that interesting? They honestly think they’re changing the world. Or something. I guess. I’ve never understood their logic, really. How does picketing funerals and spreading hate with (poorly made and often grammatically incorrect) signs change the way the government legislates morality? How could it? It doesn’t. And the government shouldn’t be legislating morality anyway. It’s not the government’s job, past making sure that people don’t rape, rob, or murder each other. Contrarily, it is apparently the government’s job to bomb the shit out of countries where brown people live so we can take their oil and impose our culture upon them to create more consumers for products we don’t even make anymore. So, yeah, that whole funeral thing makes sense.


Here’s the thing about social conservativism: it is, by its nature and almost by definition, temporary. The world will move on with or without us. Cultural evolution is a slow process, and it’s getting slower because people are living longer and longer. Which is not to say that people shouldn’t stand on their values and stick to their principles. That’s our right and our responsibility as Americans, as humanists, as humans. But people have been talking about how the world is changing for the worse and they wish everything could stay like it was in the good old days since the dawn of time. The changing is never going to change. It is inevitable. Culture is fluid and always will be. To say that there’s just this one thing that culture should always be, or one way that people should always act, or one set of morals that will always apply is ridiculous and ignorant, in the truest sense of the word.

I don’t know too much about the history of Westboro Baptist, so I’m not sure why Phelps chose to take on homosexuality as his personal crusade. We have so many more pressing problems. Honestly, the type of sex that people are having should be the least of anyone’s concerns in a world full of war and disease and starvation and hate. If a gay couple in love has perfectly boring, routine sex, who cares? Why is that anyone’s business? There are straight couples who have kinky, freaky, weird sex that I can’t even fathom. Fifty Shades of Grey was one of the best-selling books of all time, and no one’s picketing about that piece of shit book turning every horny housewife in America into a Wanda von Dunajew wannabe. For fuck’s sake, there are furries out there, guys. Just sit back for a second and try to wrap your brain around furries.

More to my point, though, there are serial rapists, child molesters, wife beaters, and people being forced into the sex trade against their wills. I feel like these are more important issues when we’re talking about sexual morality. And sex shouldn’t really be the thing we focus on when we talk about morality in general. Sex is the least of our worries as a nation. But as long as we’re talking about it, why don’t we put more energy into advocating for safe sex and universal access to (both male and female) birth control? For responsible relationships? For healthy body image? For ethically-sourced pornography? If we’re going to make sex a morality issue, let’s at least be realistic. All those blabbering mouths on tv and talk radio saying that promoting birth control promotes premarital sex? Those people are morons, and they have the argument backwards. There has always been premarital sex. There will always be premarital sex. Sex existed before marriage existed. It will never go away. Get. Over. It. Furthermore, we have an astounding rate of extramarital sex in this country. So the whole waiting until marriage thing clearly isn’t working out that well anyway. And if we keep trying to stop marriage equality from happening, all gay people will continue to be forced to have nothing but premarital sex. I mean, if we’re just going by math, it seems like gay marriage would really help out the right wing’s numbers, don’t you think?

I guess I got a little off topic there. I might have said a lot of this stuff before and I’m almost certainly preaching to the choir here. I just don’t understand the hate and the vitriol that the WBC spreads. I don’t see the point of it. I’m not religious myself, but I feel like any god who deserves adoration wouldn’t hate anyone at all, or advocate this type of hate and anger over something that can’t be changed. And if Jesus saw the way that the WBC congregation treats their fellow man, I think he’d probably cry. Or slap them where they stand (he was buff, too – that shit would hurt). Their approach doesn’t make sense to me. It’s not like making people feel like shit is going to change their minds. Has that ever worked? Not really. It just galvanizes them to stand up for themselves and others like them. At least in my experience. And honestly, I can say that for Fred Phelps: he gave those of us who oppose his philosophy something to rally around, ideologically. Someone to point to and say “You are the problem.”  Ah, well. On to the next nutjob. I’ll get my ranty pants ready.

Watch your mouth.

When I was a little kid I believed in magic. Not tooth fairy/birthday wish/taking Communion magic, but for really real magic. For example, I was terrified to talk to myself when no one else was around because I was convinced that I would step in a specific place or make a specific set of motions with my hands while saying a specific group of words and unwittingly open up a portal to another dimension and no one would ever know what had happened to me or that they needed to locate a warlock to help get me back. On the other hand, I was perfectly happy to talk to myself while in the company of others. All the time. Maybe not my best decision ever. Also, as if your image of me as a weird child who talked to herself weren’t enough, I had a pretty large and varied group of imaginary friends. Yup, sure did. But I never gave any of them names, because what if there’s a real person with that name? And what if I fuck up their life by having my adventures with their invisible doppelganger? And then what if I meet them by chance one day or, horror of horrors, they’re really mad and hunt me down? And I have inadvertently started some kind of global paranormal war with my mind? With my words? Not worth it. So I gave all the imaginary friends numbers and became a writer. Seemed like the simplest solution, really.

Because, you see, words are magic. They’re the closest thing to real magic that we have, besides those things that we know science can prove but we haven’t figured out how to figure them out yet. So words and dark matter, I guess, are the closest things we have to real magic. You know that old “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” thing that we tell to children to keep them civil on the playground? That little nursery rhyme is absolute, unmitigated bullshit. But it works, for just a second, between the ages when they first learn to be mean to each other and around the time they start middle school, that singsongy nonsense works like a charm, doesn’t it? Gives them just enough confidence to let a little name calling roll off their backs before they become crippled by hormones and angst. Magic! Like a protective spell. Which I suppose is one of the most important parts of parenting magic, teaching them to build some armor on their own.

But a useful lie is still a lie. Words absolutely can hurt us, and do. And not even mean or nasty words. Not only hateful or pointed words. Who was it? Was it Carlin? I think it might have been Carlin who said “There are no bad words, only bad intentions.” I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. I think that there are words used with bad intent, absolutely, but some of the most painful words are the ones used with no thought whatsoever. The ones whose meanings either escape us or have been so clouded by time or misuse that we don’t even think about what they refer to anymore. These words tend to not feel icky because we’re so used to them. Or they feel icky, or taboo, or just plain wrong, but we can’t put our finger on why. So we toss them off as a part of normal conversation, with no bad feelings or ill will towards anyone, and not directed necessarily at anyone but the person to whom we are speaking. The point is that because we’ve stopped thinking about the origins of words, we don’t think about the groups of people they refer to as real people. They are merely adjectives. The ubiquity of disregard is what’s insidious.

And I’m not necessarily talking about slurs or name calling or even outright bigotry here, although those are the obvious examples. (And now you’re making a list in your head of the things you say every day. Good. Keep doing that.) No, what I’m talking about is careful word choice in general. Precise magic. Let’s take as an example a word I grossly overuse: just. “Just” is a handy little word. He can be a “just man” or it can be a “just cause.” As an indication of quality or quantity of actions: you could “just hang out” or have “just one more.” But used indelicately, “just” can be really negative. I’m “just a blogger,” therefore I’m not a real writer. Or my best friends are “just high school teachers,” implying that their profession is not important, or that somehow their opinions are worth less than someone with more flashy title. Someone’s mom is “just a housewife,” meaning that she doesn’t have a paying job, even though housewifery and motherhood are full-time and damn difficult occupations. He’s “just a kid,” so let’s excuse his bad behavior because kids aren’t people. Or in your own defense: “I just kissed her, honey; nothing happened.” (That one’s just an oxymoron, idiot. You’re busted. Deal with it.)

On a larger scale, we also use more overgeneralizations in everyday conversation than I’m comfortable with. I catch myself doing it all the time and I have to backpedal and qualify what I’m saying. It’s terribly time consuming. But I hear/see things like “All Republicans are assholes” (untrue), or “all Christians are dumb” (patently untrue), or “all English majors are doomed to unemployment” (this one is only a little left of center, actually). What drives me nuts about these sorts of statements is that when we say them we have a particular example in mind, and it’s usually the most visual or vocal or loudmouthed extreme that there is. If we were judging all Christians by the Phelps family, yes, we would conclude that they’re raging fucking morons. Or if we were measuring all Republicans by the state of Arizona, sure, they seem like assholes. But that’s incomplete, imprecise, and potentially offensive to the regular folks who are being lumped in with lunatics because the lunatics are all that the media feels they need to cover. This extends further than language, though, these overgeneralizations. There’s something about our psychology that loves a false dichotomy, that relies heavily on synecdoche. Take runway model A and compare her to normal adult human woman B (who is probably an overweight American in stretch pants). These are your only options, and you have to look one way or the other. Pick an avatar.

And words are grossly misused left and fucking right. I know that the argument over “literally” is kind of played out, but that one sticks in my craw. No, bitch, your head did not “literally explode.” Your head metaphorically exploded, which is the exact opposite of what you said, and the opposite of what I wish to see happen. When people use “literally” incorrectly, my first instinct is to stop listening to what they’re saying so I can immediately tell them why they’re wrong, which in turn makes me look like a pedantic asshole. I’m actually fine with that. I’ll take one for the team. Oh, and “ironically” crawls all over me, as well. When you go to a place because you think it’s dumb or buy a thing specifically so you can make fun of it with your friends or wear a shirt with a thing you don’t like on it, you aren’t being “ironic.” You’re doing those things “sarcastically.” And the fact that we’re substituting the word “irony” for “sarcasm” or “cynicism” is somehow supposed to make us feel better, I think. More intellectual, maybe, and less like apathetic dicks who can take no joy from things without tearing them apart. Alanis Morissette really screwed us as a generation, didn’t she? None of the stuff in that song would be considered ironic as much as unfortunate, or badly timed. But I suppose “I Have Shitty Timing and That’s Why Everything in My Life Goes Horribly Wrong” doesn’t exactly make for a marketable single title.

There’s a little piece in Louis C.K.’s special Hilarious when he rants a bit about how people talk nowadays. There are a lot of “blaaaaah, bluuuurgh” pukey noises in it, so I can’t really quote it here. Unfortunate, that onomatopoeia. But basically he says that we don’t give a shit about what we’re saying anymore. Word-like noises simply fall out of our heads, uncontrolled and without any forethought. It’s a good point, but consider the source. Comedians are mutants with highly evolved linguistic instincts and keen ears for bad word choice. Maybe this bothers me so much because I’m a writer (well, just a blogger, really). I don’t think it’s necessarily as important to your average joeschmoe guy, who has spellcheck and autocorrect and predictive texting on his side. (Which, for the record, does not solve your there/their/they’re problem, joeschmoe guy. These are not interchangeable. Not even a little bit.) We’ve gotten to the point where to be barely understood is all that is asked of us. Recently I noticed that a friend on Facebook asked another friend to lunch thusly: “have u 8?” Now, I understand that sentence, and you probably do, too. But it bothers me. It doesn’t bother me that we abbreviate in a 140-character society. It bothers me that we think this level of unintelligible gibberish is acceptable outside of texts and tweets, as a substitute for articulate adult discourse. It bothers me that people may not even notice, that they think that this is just how people speak. It’s like we’re devolving and soon we’ll just be grunting at each other while we grow cyborg parts to hold our smartphones, communicating with pictures of what we want for dinner and selfies that emphasize our boobs. Hopefully I’ll be dead by then. Sweet jebus, let me be dead by then.

Meanwhile, think carefully about the words you use. There is no magic word. They are all magic words. You may now commence to gleefully picking apart every word choice I’ve made in this post. Proceed.

You can’t get there from here.

I drove myself to town the other day. This may not seem like a blogworthy accomplishment. Allow me to clarify. I haven’t driven myself anywhere farther than the post office since last August. This is due to a number of factors, most of which are money and vehicle related. Also, I’m completely night blind, so there’s a time limit automatically imposed on any solo outings that I might wish to undertake. Which wouldn’t be as big an issue if everything in this part of the world weren’t so bloody far apart. For example, going to the bank, the most mundane of everyday errands, takes me two hours and twenty minutes, door-to-door. That’s on a day with good weather, good traffic, and minimal construction zones on these insanely winding mountain roads. All my other errands are another twenty minutes past the bank, give or take. So, on a day when I need to get home before sunset, I have to plan for five or more hours of driving. It’s maddening.

And yet, somehow, completely liberating. I feel like I just got off a locked ward. How strange. I’d kind of forgotten how much I love to drive. When I was younger, I spent more time in my car than anywhere else. Given that there’s not much to do in the town that I grew up in, we would “cruise” for fun. That term has a sort of 1950s nostalgic connotation, doesn’t it? Very American Graffiti. The loop between the Hardee’s and the Wal-Mart parking lot is only a few miles at the most, but anyone worth seeing would be somewhere along that route on any given evening. Unless it was summer, when we took to the forestry roads and tried to out-four-wheel each other in the mud and the gravel, until we finally settled on a suitable location to set things on fire and drink beer and listen to music. When I think of my friends back home, these are the images that come most immediately and most fondly to mind.

For the record, a 1976 Volkswagen Beetle will keep up with any Jeep ever made on a mudding trail. Just so you know.

Anyway. I was driving along the highway (which is on the edge of a two-thousand-foot death drop straight down into the river, with no guardrail), thinking about Bruce Springsteen. There’s a snippet in the speech Jon Stewart gave when Springsteen received the Kennedy Center Honor where Stewart says: “When you listen to Bruce’s music you aren’t a loser. You’re a character in an epic poem. About losers.” I had that going on the hamster wheel, thinking about losers, what constitutes loserdom, etc. I was thinking specifically about “Glory Days.” What a sad, sad song that is, one of many sad songs that Springsteen makes seem happy with great drumming and an ungodly amount of upbeat background piano. I’d never really dissected the lyrics before. But it’s really sad. Listen to that song again.

And then the damn song comes on the radio. Holy synchronicity, manbat.

Which of course got me thinking about driving music. I just finished reading Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live. It’s a great read. His stuff is awesome, cheeky and insightful. He tends to take a small idea and nail it to a bigger one with some sort of pop culture railroad spike, rather like I do here, only way better and on a bigger scale. Killing Yourself to Live is about a road trip he took to visit a bunch of places where rock and roll heroes have died. Six thousand miles of going from death site to death site, driving by himself, thinking about music, listening to music, equating art and love and death and stitching all these together with his own musical nostalgia. It’s really very well done, and you should check it out if you’re into music at all. Or death, I guess. But in this weird Springsteen-and-Klosterman-fueled haze I was in, I started to analyze my relationship to music and to driving.

So there’s sad driving music and happy driving music. Happy driving music tends to be what I call “happyslappy.” It’s usually something along the lines of: “Hey, we’re driving around and we’re carefree and we’re just having a good old time, y’all.” I don’t know why I put “y’all” on the end of that. Seemed fitting. This kind of music has its place. For whatever reason, it feels more appropriate in the summer. A mystery of life, that. But it’s also shallower or poppier or whatever your term for bubblegum is. Driving is merely an action in these songs. It’s just what they happen to be doing while they’re having a good old time. Y’all. And I enjoy this type of music, but I’ll admit that it goes in one ear and out the other. I think that might be the point of it. If it makes me smile and bounce around and sing like an idiot, it doesn’t matter if it’s horrible.

Sad driving music, on the other hand, uses driving as a metaphor. This can be subtle or it can be heavy-handed, but it always has to fucking mean something, even if it’s just as much a background action as it might be in the narrative of a happy song. “I’m driving around but because I’m sad, my driving around is an extension of my hopelessness, blah blah blah.” And I’ve wracked my poor brain, but I cannot think of an exception to this rule. Driving is liminal. You’re between things. You’re in limbo. Your body is focused (hopefully fairly intently) on the task at hand, but your brain is free to wander. This can be tremendously fruitful, all this thinky time. You’re on a mission. You have a goal. You have a destination. You’re going somewhere. Unless you’re not. All those years of preaching “Life’s a journey, not a destination” (thanks, Aerosmith), and, big surprise, I never got anywhere. Which is not to say that that philosophy doesn’t hold water, but after a while it feels a bit hollow. So many driving songs being sad makes some degree of sense, if one knows that there’s nothing meaningful waiting for one at the end of the trip, right? We say “I’m spinning my wheels” for a reason. The act of driving aimlessly is pitifully unproductive. Taking action just for the sake of taking action. To be doing something, anything. To just be moving. And while it’s almost masturbatory in its pointlessness, I miss it.

Anyway. I’m not sure that I actually had a goal when I started writing this post. I just had all these driving-related thoughts and had to aggregate them into one big blurt of things that are loosely connected. For your reading pleasure. Because I love you. But I will say this: any and all music is better when listened to at very high volume while speeding down a lonely highway. Fact. Go test that theory and get back to me. Make me a playlist. Because I’m off the ward now, bitches. Got my wheels back. It’s a good feeling. Really, surprisingly, incredibly good. And I will leave you with this. It will, without a doubt, get stuck in your head. You. Are. Welcome.

The voices are completely normal. Do not be alarmed.

I recently binge watched United States of Tara. I had heard of it from a friend a few years ago, but that was during my no tv/no internet cultural hiatus so I had kind of forgotten about it. But when I saw it on Netflix I remembered that that particular friend had fantastic taste (she’s the only other human with whom I have exchanged Twin Peaks quotes for a good solid hour, for example) and I clicked on it. And it was bloody fantastic. But it’s the kind of show that gets in your head and under your skin and creepy crawls around in there for a while. I’m still getting over it, actually.

So, brief rundown: Tara is an artist, wife, and mother of two teenagers in Overland Park, Kansas (a town which I can testify looks nothing like it does on the show – it’s way sadder in real life). She has dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder. So Tara is also Alice, the 1950s June Cleaver-only-more-psycho housewife, T., the sixteen-year-old juvenile delinquent nymphomaniac, and Buck, the beer drinking, motorcycle riding, Vietnam vet who makes the whole family take up bowling. The show is basically about the family dealing with her illness and its escalation, trying to come to terms with all the different personalities’ roles in their lives, and attempting to keep the personalities from destroying each other and Tara. It sounds trite when I put it that way, but trust me, it’s amazeballs. The writing is top-notch, the cast is great, and it rapidly goes back and forth between hilarious and heartbreaking.

The series was created and mostly written by Diablo Cody (the genius writer who brought us Juno) and was produced by Stephen Spielberg. That should really be enough, shouldn’t it? But wait, there’s more! Tara is played by Toni Collette, who was in The Sixth Sense, Little Miss Sunshine, and Mary & Max. You know her, you just may not know that you know her, and I think she’s wildly underrated. She’s amazing in this role (roles? I don’t even know how to handle writing about a character that’s actually a bunch of characters). The actors who play the kids are pitch perfect, especially because both of them are a little twisted by the way that they grew up. Oh, and bonus: Patton Oswalt and fucking Eddie Izzard. Yeah. This show can do no wrong.

Dissociative identity disorder is a widely debated topic. Most psychologists and psychiatrists don’t believe that it really exists, and that if it does it’s culturally specific (much like ADD and autism). There’s never been a satisfactorily documented case of the disorder that wasn’t later proven to be something else, like schizophrenia or good acting. I am fascinated by serious mental illnesses. (And yes, I realize that this is a sick hobby. Don’t judge me. I mitigate my own psychiatric woes by constantly telling myself that it could be oh, so very, very much worse. Not the best mantra, but it works.) Syndromes that have a cultural element (often a language-related one) are my very favorite: Tourette’s, Cotard’s, and all the different flavors of aphasia.

And often, on film, these diseases are portrayed as overblown or cartoonish. Sometimes they’re just plain incorrect, and that furthers bad stereotypes. But with something like dissociative identity disorder, which no one really understands or has seen, there’s a little bit more wiggle room. While lazy screenwriters can and have used this device for easy comedy fodder (Me, Myself, and Irene – barf, such a horrible movie) a character like this can also be artfully or creepily employed (spoiler alert – Fight Club, Primal Fear, Identity). So the versatility of characters with the disorder seems endless, but must be weighed against reality, which is interesting to me because there’s no concrete reality to measure by. It’s a logistical ouroboros and I love it, when it’s done well.

Also, can I just say that Toni Collette is a fucking ninja? Her transitions between personalities are subtle (a mere blink, nod, and deep breath) and then she’s completely someone else. The voice, the dialogue, the body language – one of them is even left-handed while all the others are righties. Watching it happen, I could suspend disbelief completely and didn’t get taken out of the story (and after a couple of episodes, you’re so used to it that you don’t even really see it anymore) but I kept thinking how hard that had to have been on her as an actor. To wrangle all these very different characters in such rapid succession must have felt like making five movies all at once. She was probably exhausted. Brava, madam. I am thoroughly impressed.

So, yeah, go watch The United States of Tara. It’s on ye olde Netflix. There are only thirty-six episodes, so you should be able to gorge on it pretty quickly. (Why are all the best shows embracing this British-style short season lately? Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that they can spend more time and money on each episode, but when they get cancelled I feel cheated. Cheated, I say!) It’s hypnotic, and by the end of it you’ll feel a little nuts, but it’s totally worth it. You have been warned. You’re welcome.

In the beginning? Well…

I am a huge Bill Nye fan. I have been for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, there was a steady stream of awesome sciencey things on television for young people. Mr. Wizard, Beakman’s World, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. I’m sure there were more, but those are the ones I remember. Loving that stuff when we were little made us a target demographic for things like Mythbusters when we got to be grownups. To which I say: bonus. We scored as a generation. I love science even though, admittedly, a lot of the math of it goes over my head. Which is kind of the point of those kinds of shows. Not to dumb science down at all, but to make it accessible and really cool. To make it appealing and get people interested. That’s fantastic. Keep it up, ye sciencers. Good work.

But I bring up Bill Nye right now because he did a thing a couple of weeks ago that I can’t keep my big fat mouth shut about. I tried. I really did. But I can’t. You probably heard about the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, the head of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. It was a big deal. If you missed it, you should check out the whole thing here. Mr. Nye is an aerospace engineer who has worked for NASA and Boeing. Mr. Ham holds a degree in applied science. That he has a science degree is a delicious tidbit that I was unaware of before watching the debate, and which baffles me after having watched it. Because his whole schtick is not just garden variety creationism but young Earth creationism, a philosophy which I can’t for the life of me wrap my brain around. The bigger point is that neither of them is an evolutionary biologist or a theologian.

The two men squared off at the Creation Museum to debate whether creationism is a valid scientific theory. The specific question was “Is creation a viable model of origins in the modern scientific era?” However, the conversation quickly devolved into the old science-versus-religion fight. As I expected it would. They were civil towards each other, and neither of them seemed to walk away angry or insulted. Props for that, gentlemen. But I honestly think the whole thing was a waste of time. And here’s why: they went in there knowing that they weren’t going to change any minds. Not just each other’s minds, but the audience’s, as well. They were each there to preach to their respective choirs. So it goes with these kinds of arguments. I suspect that’s how it will always go. Sad, really, that. But all it did was stir the shit up from the bottom of the internet, and that defeats the whole purpose of debate. At the end of a debate, someone should win.

I’m fine with people believing that some sort of god created the universe. We do, frankly, have a giant gaping hole in our knowledge of what happened before the big bang. If you want to fill that gap with religion, go for it. But when we get into how old the universe is, and an argument is made that it’s only six thousand years old? That’s when I get my science hackles up. We have buildings older than that on this planet. Fact. And the method of getting to that number is absurd. They added up the ages of everyone in Genesis, from Adam and Eve on down. That’s it. That’s their whole thing. And I’m wondering why Ken Ham wasn’t asked during this debate about our modern calendar not being created until the fifteenth century. Seems like a pertinent question, doesn’t it?

Another thing that they focus heavily on in young Earth creationism is the flood, the one when Noah did his thing. Which is a great story, but there is no evidence of it being actually, literally worldwide. Floods happen all the time. To the folks who wrote the Bible, if their country or their region of the globe got wiped out that would have been perceived as the whole world, right? These were people without a lot of mobility, after all. We were, as an entire human race, blown away by the discovery of North America (except for the vikings and the people who already lived here, who were in for a wholly different kind of mind blowing). Kings and popes and scholars burned people alive for saying that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, or even that the thing was a sphere. I’m reluctant to trust the scientific acumen of the apostles, is all I’m saying, if we’re just now getting to the point where we know why matter has mass.

And don’t even get me started on the dinosaurs.

But in this conversation, which seems to just rage on and fucking on, I feel like the question shouldn’t be one of absolutes. It shouldn’t be “which is right: science or religion?”. That’s a false dichotomy. We live in a world where science is a thing and religion is a thing. You don’t have to pick just one. And if you do pick a side and stick to it, you shouldn’t shit on the other team. Especially if you’re uneducated about the specifics of the other side’s beliefs. I’m just as annoyed by people who scoff at anything scientific as I am by people who think all religious people are stupid. Neither of those are valid arguments. Just stop it. The questions we should be asking instead should be along the lines of “which parts of these can work together?” or “how can we use these to interpret each other?”.

For example, why doesn’t anyone seem to embrace the possibility that god created evolution? If one believes in god and that that god is perfect, why wouldn’t such a process be a manifestation of that perfection? And why do we think it’s only mankind that was made in god’s image? Why not the whole of our gorgeous, intricate, unfathomable universe? The thing runs like clockwork, from the biggest spinning galaxy to the teeniest subatomic particles. That whole, as an interlocking, functioning, ever-changing system, is much more in line with my ideas of power and glory. But that’s me. I’m not trying to change any minds here. I just like to ask the questions about the questions we’re asking.

And I think that’s why I went into watching the Nye/Ham debate already on Nye’s side. Because he’s a scientist, and their whole job is to ask questions about things they don’t understand, rather than stuffing the things they don’t understand into a box that may not fit. There’s this story about Niels Bohr, which is probably apocryphal, but I love it. Once upon a time, Dr. Bohr was walking along a beach with one of his students and the student asked him why he became a scientist. He picked up a seashell, held it up, and said, “Because this is what I know.” He threw it into the ocean. “And that is what I don’t know.” That’s the point, isn’t it? Not just of science, but of life? Getting excited about new or scary or unknown things? If I went through life thinking that I knew everything about everything, I think I’d get so bored I’d kill myself. And I say that with no hyperbole whatsoever. How fucking bleak a worldview that would be. Dreadful.

Anyway, check out the debate. It is, at the very least, extremely interesting. But be warned: you may get your agro going if you’re passionately on one side or the other. I have disclaimered, and now it’s out of my hands. Amen.