Wednesday, June 24, 2009

That Third One

If I got up in front of my parent's church, or just about any church for that matter, and said "goddamn," regardless of context, it would be a scandal. I'd be asked to leave. It would make the paper. Old ladies would faint... upon reading it in the paper. Never mind what my future in-laws would do.
Taking the Lord's name in vain (the Third Commandment, for those playing at home) is not kosher. It's offensive. I was recently wondering, though, if merely saying "Oh, my God!" to a shoe sale or funny joke, defined as one not told by Dane Cook, is too narrow a definition of this sacrilege. Understand, I am not for the light usage of the Name of the Most High, even if I have mused as to whether or not you can content "God" and "Lord" are names and not titles. In this, I remain unconvinced, but stalwart in my fear of a self-proclaimed "jealous God" able to destroy my very soul. Anyway, I wondered if invoking the name of God for an action beyond the mere intoning, compounded the sin, should be considered a more true taking of the name in vain.
I took a history class in which we discussed early American movements. John Brown and Nat Turner were discussed. They both killed people for a greater good, the whole class was on board for this interpretation, but we divided them on another issue altogether: John Brown was just pissed off to all hell, which I've always wondered about, and Nat Turner got his marching orders from God. Why God would suddenly change his policy on slavery, I don't know, but Nat was convinced. In light of this schism, general consensus came in that Brown was an angry man, possible a terrorist, while Turner was, in academic parlance, bugfuck. So, when you attach God's name to something, there's some significance in it. You may thing this is a bygone, though. Brown and Turner were about 150 years ago. Normal Americans generally don't give God a second thought, let alone kill in His name. Right?
Wrong. You know better than that. Dr. George Tiller, an abortion doctor (don't worry, I'm not getting into that now), was gunned down on May 31 of this year by Scott Roeder during church service. Tiller was handing out bulletins at the time. Roeder may or may not think that God told him to do this. It doesn't really matter, but when Randall Terry, professional ignoramus, said he "reaped what he sowed," among other similarly ignorant comments, he attached God. He approved of murder in God's name, an attribution in vain.
Killing in the Name is nothing new, but not as nicely confined to the Middle Ages of history as we'd like to think. The American-Philippine war was waged, partially, to "Christianize" the Philippines. Never mind that Spain had already converted an overwhelming majority of the population to Catholicism, America was saving them for Jay-sus (the name I give to the American Conservative God). That was in the early 1900's, by the way. And don't think this Imperialism in His Name isn't still going strong: Bush ran on the platform of Christianity, despite his many evils, like starting a war in Iraq. It shouldn't be surprising that the Muslim world thinks this has been a Christian v. Muslim war because, as far as they can tell and the US has acted, it is. We'll see if there's a faith-based appeal to intervene in Iran and end the repressive Muslim regime. It is oppressive, but most Iranians were Muslim before the Koran was being used to abuse them, and many will continue in that faith when they are free.
We make all these claims about God being on our side, asking God to bless America and facilitate our Imperialism. President Lincoln said, "...I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side." We can no longer justify our actions with a doctrine of divine inspiration. The United States government's actions and inactions will reflect well or poorly on them and their people. Let us no longer allow them to reflect on God, for it compounds our sins.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The New Nerd

"It did the best a musical has ever done at the box office, I know," I said about Mama Mia!, "but I don't know why they'd put it up against The Dark Knight."
"Brandon," my mom admonished, "not everyone wants to see a Batman movie."
"Well, It's made over a billion dollars, so, yes, they do."
Congratulations, Reader: you are a nerd (you're reading my blog, after all). You, friend, boosted Batman to the top spot. You are making video games an industry to rival film and television. You, yes you, made sure Star Trek opened at the top of the box office. Scientifically, Star Trek is to box office as matter is to anti-matter. This stuff is for everyone, and everyone wants it now.
Notwithstanding my prior comments on the proliferation of nerdom, I'm pretty happy about the way things are right now. I'm a lifelong Batman fan, so even though the comics suck right now, I've been getting a lot of other media to keep me elated. Be sure, I have the collector's edition of Batman: Arkham Asylum pre-ordered. I have been Hitleresque in my nerdiness. Society has proven a capable David Lloyd.
The benefits aren't just mine, though. I have no love for Transformers or G.I. Joe, but they're both stepping out this summer. I have a great love for Terminator, and my dad and I finally got our movie focusing on the war with the machines. With that and Star Trek, it's been a sexy summer, and the bikini of pop culture is revealing, flattering and one size fits all.
Even the cool kids. My dork brethren, you have been trading blows with me about the Star Wars Prequels for a decade now. You're established. It's everyone else who just showed up to the party, and we need to welcome them, putting aside past abuses and usurpations. The new nerd is the Halo fanboy, who is also on the football team. He mixes this up with some Gears of War, but XBox exclusives, either way. Christian Bale is dreamy, Heath Ledger was riveting, and the sorority sister has recognized the allure.
This isn't a one-way cultural diffusion. Indeed, none are. Those "regular" people we supposed to have existed are invited to Comicon this year. "Hope to see you there!" Edward Cullen smiles his fangy grin. New Moon is making its debut at the Seder of nerdism. Twilight is appearing with the spandex-clad and gun-toting heroes of our extended adolescence. Of course "normal" people are coming into "our" culture. We've invited them. They're the cool kids (check out Rayne Summers of Least I Could Do. We're all the cool kids.
Which is good. Twilight, not so much, but what these trends represent is. It's not just that nerds are now more accepted. That's becoming old news. What's exciting is now, we are going to pick up new habits, pass times and fandoms. Me, I work out, and have become something of an athlete. I've even watched a couple of football games in the past few years. I'm reading different books, seeing different films. It was in my supposed nerdy differentness I got engrossed in a lot of the same. This culture is growing, and we need to be inclusive. Except for, you know, the kids who wear cosplay items in public. Everyone else is in.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Time at the Picket Line

“Those who produce should have, but we know that those who produce the most - that is, those who work hardest, and at the most difficult and most menial tasks, have the least.”
-Eugene Debs

While, in general, I lament things being “lost,” there are bits of human consciousness I am glad to see go, or rejoice at my awareness of their having left. Bell-bottoms, feudalism and electing Republicans to the Presidency all make the list, along with the chant, “What do we want?” “Justice (et al.)!” “When do we want it?” “NOW!” I always thought this antiphonic rallying call invited smart assness with its inanity, yet repulsed the same by being such an easy target, much like “(repeat)” showing up in printed lyrics.
So I was pleased when this little bit of phraseology didn't show up today as I attended my fist “street action,” a picket line around the Congress Hotel, Chicago. This was my history class, instead of talking about worker's struggles. A few classmates and I went, found our professor and posed for a couple of pictures. Most of the group, having been counted, bolted, leaving my new friend Eric, whose father is a surgeon, and I to take a lap 'round the Congress Hotel. Which took a while, as the picket line had surrounded the building, a picket line that taught me as much about the American Working Class, America itself, as any textbook could hope, a picket line illustrating the American bravado, diversity, foolhardiness and heart inherent in a healthy democracy.
What first struck me on this march was the size of the thing. I had heard the figure of 5,000 people, but I was not prepared for the impressive spectacle the protest was. I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of the YouTube video our class had watched a week or so ago: it was the same hotel, with Columbia students joining the much smaller fight. Now, it was an event, a cultural presence. There were signs, giant inflated rats, t-shirts, stickers, chants and so many people. I was there, man. I was one of the people. I got this sense as soon as I took up the walk, and had it bolstered as a woman handed me a sign of my own, which served as my lightning rod, galvanizing my zeal.
It was a sign of the local union. It had plain type, telling its reader to “UNITE HERE,” in red, with “Local 1” in black. There were other signs, though. There were several featuring the President, who has said he will walk with this picket again (he did so as a senator). There were many signs similar to my own. There were even some homemade signs, evidencing a spirit you can find in any Illinois prairie if you merely look in the sod.
The variety of signs was matched by t-shirts. I saw many shirts of the Local 1, but also the wagon wheel of the Teamsters. I saw AFSCME shirts, picking them out of the crowd easily; they are a particular green, a green emblazoned on many magazines delivered to my house for my father. What enlightened me was a group in blue. These were representatives of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. I labor under a misconception of Jews being generally affluent. This is mostly prejudice, buoyed by the only Jew I know being something of a JAP. Even so, here they were, supporting laborers. So, there goes that crap theory, but it wasn't what really surprised me.
What got me was the fact that one of the guys wearing this blue shirt was black. Which is to say, I'm pretty sure he isn't Jewish. On my walk today, I heard a bit of “¡Si se puede!” Which I expected, and black people being there didn't surprise me, but it was the sense of cross-cultural inclusion I admired. I was part of this, and anyone could be.
Not to say this was an entirely amicable function. Sure, people were laughing, smiling, joking around. People are ebullient when in the process of emancipation. Still, they don't take to the streets because they're happy, and these people were pissed. People entering the hotel were reprimanded by the crowd. “Shame on you! Shame on you!” Truth to tell, I felt this was a little unfair. These people weren't the bigwigs in charge of the building. These people had no control over where their company was having the annual bullshitting convention. Nor were they necessarily aware of the poor conditions of the hotel for both workers and guests. These poor, unwitting folks just clicked on whatever Orbitz or Travelocity or whatever the hell site told them had the best price. Oh, well.
What pervaded my thinking at the time was not the unfair chiding, nor was it the heterogeneous group. Rather, I was suffused with a sense of how American all these things were. Even while the crummy conditions of these workers is ubiquitous in America, it is in America people can take to the streets and be angry about it. All these little wonders coalesced into something sublime, democratic. I was, more than any other time in my life, proud to be an American, proud to be the son of parents who believe in the union, the son of workers. My parents, as a second job, do cleaning work themselves, and I help out fairly often, so this was my struggle. It wasn't my fight just because I've done a lot of service work myself, though. It's my task because it's my fellow Americans' task. Today, I was dedicated to that great task that lies before our nation: that all people be respected. A sentiment, I pray, never goes out of style.

“When we are in partnership and have stopped clutching each other's throats, when we have stopped enslaving each other, we will stand together, hands clasped, and be friends. we will be comrades, we will be brothers, and we will begin the march to the grandest civilization the human race has ever known.”
-Eugene Debs
If you want to learn more about the Congress Hotel strike, visit .

Friday, June 12, 2009

I Want You So Ba-a-a-a-ad

How is your beauty?
To posses, to hold, to hurt
No one but myself.