Plots and Thoughts

Letters to God – A Christian Insult

Posted in Art, Musings, Observations by Captain Optimistic on February 24, 2010

Billed as a Christian movie, the trailer reaches down and touches something primal with me.

“Hope is Contagious” is the tagline.  Hope?  HOPE? I’m sorry, does the 8 year old live and beat his cancer?  Does God get the fuck off his cloud and decide to spare a young child a slow and torturous death as his own body kills him from within?

No of course not.

Instead we’ll be treated to wooden acting and empty assurances that the big guy is up there looking after us and deserves our faith.  Of course he does.  Nothing says “holy” like a being that let’s children suffer and die.

Disagree?  Go ahead.  Respond.  I triple fucking dog dare you.  What are you going to say?

  • We don’t know God’s plan.
  • There’s a heaven so its all good.
  • We are the sinners and cannot judge God.

Let me beat each of those sorry ass excuses into the sludge from which they spring.

We don’t know God’s plan

An argument from ignorance?  Fan-fucking-tastic.  What possible plan could he have that involves doing things we would never do?  Humans aren’t supposed to be morally superior to the supreme being, but here I am right now, not murdering and torturing people with cancer.  But hey maybe God wasn’t smart enough to figure out a way to “test” us without torturing some kids to death.  By the way, can you conceive of a “test” that is worth this level of suffering?  Oh you still believe even though God took away your loved one?  Great.  Here’s an A+ and a sticker.  Tell you what, you keep your stellar grades, I’m off to find a teacher who isn’t a psychotic violent prick.

There’s a heaven so its all good

Ends justify the means huh?  So if I slice open your arm, then teach you how to sew it back up, that’s ok right?  I’m teaching you!  Or if I punch you until you are wobbling from a concussion, only to attack you further.  But if I’m teaching you how to fight, that’s ethical right?  If getting to heaven is so fucking amazing, then why don’t we just kill everyone at birth when they are still innocent?  After all, we are such sinful creatures in the eyes of a Christian fundamentalist.

This is grade A bullshit.  Not only do we instinctively reject the notion that “by any means necessary” is ethically valid, we would never engage in such behavior ourselves.  Once again we are more ethical than God.

We are the sinners and cannot judge God

Of course we can.  A thief in the dirt can still judge a murderer on a mountain top.  Even if one accepts the ridiculous notion of original sin, and lives by the backwards moral code that reduces harmless urges to sins and considers harmful actions and bigotry righteous – one can still recognize the sin in causing others to suffer.

Gah, were does this leave us?

I can say where it leaves me.  I oscillate  between belief in God and atheism.  It is hard to reconcile the quantity and quality of suffering in the world with an all knowing, all powerful, all loving being.  Manipulative dreck like this  does nothing to deal with the very serious and important questions that arise from contemplation of suffering.  All it does is seek to score abominable street cred by pretending God only exists in the efforts of people to come together and deal with suffering compassionately and bravely.  God is also responsible for that suffering – a biblical nod to Stockholm Syndrome perhaps.

This movie is insulting to Christians as well.  There is a long and proud history of Christians attempting to deal seriously with the Problem of Evil.  It isn’t a subject to exploit for evangelical purposes.  It is a topic one must either approach with the humility necessary to honor those who feel evil’s effect directly, or with the humor necessary to keep sane those who battle it constantly.  To treat it with faux seriousness in order to convert the vulnerable and naive is contempt worthy.

A movie like this deserves only one thing – to be utterly destroyed on Pajiba.  I’m crossing my fingers.

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The Linux Action Hour!

Posted in Musings by Captain Optimistic on February 18, 2010

I saw this headline for a Linux Action Show, and couldn’t help but come up with my own plot:

  • Try to watch flash in fullscreen, then give up rapidly!
  • Listen to howls of frustration as a distribution upgrade inexplicably removes support for your onboard video.
  • Join the crowd of users who can’t get quicktime to work at all, despite multiple fruitless visits to the ubuntu forums.
  • Enjoy the somehow surprised looks on the faces of users watching Firefox crash – over and over.

Don’t get me wrong, Linux is great.  It just also sucks.

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The First Google Buzz Victim

Posted in Musings, Observations by Captain Optimistic on February 17, 2010
Google Buzz has a privacy problem.  Sometime blocking people doesn’t quite take. I’ve experienced this myself.  A friend of mine did as well, only in her case it was an ex-boyfriend.  An ex who now has an extensive criminal record (which includes assault).  So after she had blocked him, she posted info on a private party.  He wasn’t really blocked, so he found out.  He attended.  She eventually blocked him on Buzz after several tries, but by then the damage was done.  He then proceeded to find her on Facebook (which she has reasonably locked down).  She thus far hasn’t been able to block him there at all.
Privacy isn’t an abstract civil right, it is central to our reasonable expectations of safety within society.  Without privacy there is no security.  While my friend mulls a restraining order, I’m left wondering why Google launched such a dangerously broken product.  I’m also wondering what is going on with Facebook.  Facebook is nearly always buggy, but as with Google Buzz, those bugs can have deadly consequences for users.  Plenty of enterprise grade websites function daily without the host vital problems we see here.  These sorts of bugs are not a fact of web development, they are the result of incompetence.
Google and Facebook need to step it up before someone is hurt, and their asses land rightfully in court.

ZOMG Dream Job

Posted in Musings by Captain Optimistic on February 16, 2010

A rather dear friend of mine sent me a link to a blog post about moving towards your dream job.  While the sentiment is appreciated, the post itself doesn’t paint a complete picture, and it leaves out some very important points:

If you stuff your hours full of one thing, but find yourself wishing you were spending all of those hours each week doing something else, you absolutely should devote every spare resource you can to (1) getting yourself out of debt and on a very stable financial playing field and (2) putting the pieces in place so you can live that dream.

Yes!  Definitely devote yourself to making your dream a reality.

Think big. Do you need that large of a house or that large of an apartment? Do you need that car? Keep going down the scale. Do you need to eat out? Do you need that cable bill? And include the hundreds of small things, too. Do you need name-brand paper towels – or paper towels at all?

The essence of the advice is: “cut back on your monthly expenses so you can do with less”.  This assumes that your dream job pulls in any kind of funding.  If it doesn’t, then your current job must be amenable to less hours a week.  In this economy a high paying part time job is far, far less likely.  Meaning you might find a job that lets you work on your dreams part time, but with the amount of money you’d be pulling in you’d really need to work at least 40 hours to take care of even your lesser expenses.

Let’s make this concrete.  Say you find a part time job that pays $20 an hour (and that’s being pretty generous  You are far more likely to find something paying half that).  Let’s be very conservative and assume you get to keep around 65% of that after taxes and etc.  At 20 hours a week for 4 weeks, you monthly income is roughly $1040.  Keep in mind with a part time job you’ll need to pay for health insurance (if you can get it – which means you either live in a civilized state or have zero pre-existing conditions).  Depending on what you need that could set you back anywhere from 100-300 a month.  Perhaps more.  Let’s stick with $200 for this example.  So now you have $840 to live on for the month.  3 meals a day, 7 days a week, 4 weeks a month, works out to 84 meals a month.  So with rent entirely out of the picture your meal budget puts you at $10 a meal.  Factor in $400 monthly rent (everything included – in NYC this means renting a room as far from Manhattan as possible) and your meal budget is $5 a meal.  Forget forgoing paper towels, on this kind of budget bandaids could send your carefully laid plans spinning out of control.  Oh, is there any money in there for internet access?  A phone?  Nah, neither of those are necessary.

Ouch.

Getting out of debt is a good goal,  but with credit card companies able to legally commit robberies if you make a single late payment, and college debt continuing to soar, you find that escaping debt is an incredible steep mountain to climb even for those with high paying jobs.

Cutting expenses certainly helps.  But its not the sort of brash insight that suddenly opens up your dream job.  Saving up while working at a high paying job you can stomach isn’t that viable either.  Come up with a base salary you’d need to make to survive.  Do you think you can save that in a year?  Two?  How about five?  Savings run out fast.  Especially when unexpected expenses crop up, like medical bills insurance won’t cover, emergency trips, transportation issues if you aren’t lucky enough to live in an area with solid public transit.  The list goes on.

The way I see it, to work on your dream job, you need to identify sustainable and substantial revenue streams that can replace your current job’s income or come respectably close.  Everyone can cut expenses, but there is a limit.  We need to be honest with ourselves about how close to that limit we are likely to go (and whether approaching that limit might restrict our dream job in other ways).

If you do want to start moving towards making your dream a reality, there are steps you can take:

  1. See what you can cut out of your monthly expenses.  Keep a firm eye on expenses that you are likely to cut out.  Be brutally honest.  Can you really get rid of that cell phone and still function socially and professionally?  Start a spreadsheet in Open Office (you best not be paying for software at this point unless it falls under the next point:).
  2. Now assess any expenses your dream job might incur.  Will you need to travel?  Attend conferences?  Will you need any additional supplies?  Will you need a degree or particular training?  Add these expenses to that spreadsheet.
  3. Start identifying potential sources of income.  Create an income column in that spreadsheet.
    1. Could you do your job part time?  Some companies are amenable to this, some only appear to be and will grow to resent not being your number one priority.  Contracting is risky, but if you can find 6 months of full time high paying contract work, and take a few months off in between gigs, that could turn into a very workable compromise (Allow me to repeat again how risky that can be, and note how unlikely and option that is for most jobs and experience levels).
    2. Can your dream job provide any income?
    3. Are there any small jobs you can take, or products you can create, that are related to your dream job?  If you’d like to write, could you teach a writing course?  If you’d like to be an artist, could you sell some crafts on etsy?
    4. Are there any part time jobs that would pay you enough to work 20 hours a week or less, affording you more time to spend on that dream job?

Looking solely at cutting expenses and ignoring income is so…. Republican.  You need to take a fiscally responsible look at where your income is coming from if you want to make that dream job a reality.

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Reasons Not to Help in Haiti

Posted in Musings, Observations by Captain Optimistic on February 4, 2010

I think what the 10 Baptists are accused of doing is wrong.  And the tragedy in Haiti is horrible.  But at the same time, this caught my eye:

Coq said that under Haiti’s legal system, there won’t be an open trial, but a judge will consider the evidence and could render a verdict in about three months.

Coq said a Haitian prosecutor told him the Americans were charged because they had the children in their possession. No one from the Haitian government could be reached immediately for comment.

Each kidnapping count carries a possible sentence of five to 15 years in prison. Each criminal association count has a potential sentence of three to nine years.

Haiti’s legal system is so backwards that anyone going in to help risks imprisonment or other punishment without a fair trial.

It provides a rather curious conundrum, one faced daily by people of immense bravery and compassion.  Women and Men who risk their lives to do human rights and aid work in hostile countries where their rights aren’t recognized.

While I don’t think we ought to refrain from helping in these instances, I believe they call out desperately for public shaming.  In a situation like this, while condemning the actions of the Baptists, we ought to with equal force and conviction condemn their legal system.

What do you think?

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Why Be Tolerant? Fun With Religion!

Posted in Musings, Observations by Captain Optimistic on December 2, 2009

Pastor Dan advises us to beware of tolerance!

But tolerance means something completely different today.  Most of the time you hear the tolerance doctrine taught in the world today, whether in schools or in the media, it means that we are to accept all values, beliefs, lifestyles and truth-claims as equal.

I agree!  This of course, leaves the good Pastor’s own beliefs in a vulnerable position.  There is no non-circular reason to believe in the Bible, and plenty of reasons to reject the anti-gay anti-women bigotry it espouses. Especially, and above all else, there is reason to reject the notion of an arbitrary, jealous and violent micro-manager vision of God.

Here’s the catch:  when it comes to people, we are indeed to be loving and gracious toward others, bearing with things we don’t like.  But when it comes to truth and holiness, we dare not tolerate sin or compromise God’s holy standards.  God’s Word is our standard.  It is absolute truth!

Loving? – ALWAYS!   Tolerant of sin and unbiblical values? – NO!  It’s time for Christians today to stand up for truth and righteousness in America!

Let’s give Pastor Dan credit and join with him in committing ourselves to being loving and gracious towards others.  It is a wonderful sentiment and a powerful  act of social responsibility and compassion.  Yet this very call, to be loving and gracious, urges us to stand up to the Christians who are stamping their boots down on the throat of religious liberty in this country.  When a Christian cites biblical reasons for attacking women’s health care, gay rights we need not and should not worry about being tolerant.  We should be direct.  The problem is with their backwards religious text.

The Bible sanctions murder and rape.  It views women as second class citizens, and offers up the death sentence for a range of “infractions” that are decidedly non criminal.  Its barbaric and out of date.  So why be silent?  If Christians can calmly observe they have the truth and we are going to burn, let us just as calmly respond that they have nothing but lies and willful ignorance.

Sexual Choices and Leadership

Posted in Musings, Observations by Captain Optimistic on December 2, 2009

A 13 year old girl committed suicide when she was bullied by her peers and her school over a nude picture of herself.  Her journal had a very sage observation I’d like to share and contemplate:

Hope fretted that there would be further consequences over her actions in the spring. She especially worried that she might lose a chance to run again for FFA student adviser.

“Making mistakes &/or stupid choices doesn’t necessarily make it impossible for you to give advice and lead people in the right direction,” she wrote in her journal. “Do you think people ever told Elvis Presley he couldn’t lead people to be singers & give them advice because he had made some bad choices with drugs & alcohol? … I don’t think so!”

Imagine a world where we didn’t obsess over people’s individual sexual choices.

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Musings on Israel and Palestine

Posted in Musings by Captain Optimistic on November 30, 2009

I was talking with a friend about Israel, and he did something uncharacteristic.  He tried to shut down the debate.  He did so using a few problematic arguments.  Arguments I would like to take a look at before adding in my own thoughts on Israel and Palestine.

Tax Dollars and Speech

J made the point that since my tax dollars go towards supporting Israel’s violence towards the Palestinians, I couldn’t talk about “opposing violence”.  This is a pretty easy argument to defeat.  J opposes the Iraqi war, yet his tax dollars go towards its support.  Would anyone say he ought to shut up about his opposition?  Of course not.  It is vital we speak our minds, especially when our tax dollars go towards a cause we deem unjust.

Privilege and Violence

J then pointed out that the Palestinians were under attack, and I was speaking from the position of “Extreme Privilege” in condemning their violence.  Ironically, this is the exact same argument the Israeli government uses to justify its attacks on Palestinians!  J is hardly living under threat, from missiles or bombs, Palestinians or Israelis.  We share in this privilege, but it does not bind us to silence.  If anything it compels us to educate ourselves and seek to impact the situation positively.  Privilege is a blindfold, not a perpetual state of being.  We must first realize we are blind, but then we must tear off the blindfold as best we can and see!

Knowledge and Speech

J Finally said he didn’t have time to educate me, and I ought to “go do some critical thinking”.  This reminds me of a professor I had in college, who used to attack students whose viewpoints he disagreed with by lambasting them for “not having done the reading” (even when they had).  It also reminds me of a student of my own.  After establishing she had political viewpoints after all, I asked why she didn’t express them.  She responded that she didn’t feel she knew enough to have a voice.

One must always have a voice.  Knowledge is not a prerequisite for taking part in the discourse of society.  It is a desirable thing of course.  But too often knowledge is transformed into agreeable knowledge.  That is, the right kind of knowledge according to a particular point of view.  So I was told to read books that supported J’s viewpoint (no mention of those that opposed it).

Discussion as Democratic Vitality

Regardless of one’s viewpoints, it is essential to the health of Democratic discourse that we work to increase, not shut down, communication.  The Israel Palestine problem is huge, and one we all have an interest in seeing solved peaceably and sustainably.  We need to be finding ways to open channels of communication.  Especially when it comes to this issue.

OK OK, Where do YOU Stand?

I support a single secular state.  I don’t think two theocratic states prone to violence in close proximity is a recipe for success.  I think Israel-Palestine’s promise is in becoming a force for peace and an advocate for the oppressed.  I consider both the Israeli and Palestinian people to be a part of my heritage, and get excited thinking about the wonderful things they could accomplish together.

When it comes to guilt and responsibility, I find that both sides use violence, both sides kill the innocent, and both sides employ lies and propaganda to further their aims.  Being the state carries with it a higher responsibility, and Israel needs to step up.

I cannot say whether or not I would be moved to commit acts of violence if I were in their shoes.  What I can say is that as long as that violence continues it will make the situation ever worse, and consume the very blood of the innocent those acts of violence were meant to protect or avenge.

What do you think?

Sao Paulo – This is What Theocracy Looks Like

Posted in Musings, Observations by Captain Optimistic on November 17, 2009

Roman Catholic Sao Paulo, Brazil, has decided to give us Americans a jolly preview of theocracy in action:

Outrage over female sexuality?  Check:

A video showed Arruda sitting in a classroom in a mid-thigh length red dress, then six military police officers protecting her as she left the campus wearing a white jacket. A line of students stood by chanting “whore.”

Another video showed a mob stopping and kicking her car and blocking her when she tried to escape on foot.

In fact, violence over female sexuality.

Uniban said it had also suspended a number of students identified by video footage and witness accounts of taking part in the violence last month. The university’s legal advisor said Arruda had been expelled for “gestures” and “attitudes” she had manifested rather than because of her short outfits. He would not give details.

Of course he wouldn’t give details.  He’s full of shit.

There’s something deeply wrong with people who get angry and violent over the sexuality of others.  There is also something deeply wrong with a belief system that encourages the transformation of the natural into the hated and feared.

So much of religious conservatism is about denying the aspects of human sexuality that go against painstakingly constructed myths – the same myths used as social livestock fencing for centuries.

When we go beyond rules of civilization and morality to deny who we are and what we allow our neighbors to be we provide the kindling the hate and violence.  These kinds of beliefs are fundamentally at odds with equality and justice.

How could anyone believe they were born of a divine source?

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Miffed and Muffled

Posted in Musings, Observations by Captain Optimistic on November 16, 2009

Do you feel this way too?  Hey maybe together we can be SUPER EFFECTIVE in our efforts to change the world for the better.

Despite myself I do think this is possible, but that’s not why I started this blog.  This will be an outlet.  A way to let all my crazy and brilliant fly out into the world TO FEED.

The essential act of the citizen is speech.  We must make a royal ruckus even if the shining knights we send to conquer our oppressors really are crypto-royalists in activists clothing.  So while we are all in varying degrees a muffled people, we still have our tongues in our heads, our heads on our shoulders and our hearts in our chests.  There is every reason to be the compassionate brilliant and brave people we truly are.

Thus I am a sarcastic pessimist when looking at our chances, but I truly am an optimist when it comes time to choose who and how to be.  I expect both sides will make their way into this blog.  The intent is to offer a mix of strategy, analysis, observations and musings.  In the humble tradition of writers great and small I offer the works within this blog in the hopes some may find it useful.

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