Friday, May 27, 2011

Two Socks Enter One Sock Leaves

My sister's washing machine is like the Thunderdome.

Nice to have a back-up sock. It doesn't match any other socks in my drawer, but that's never stopped me before.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

The Rapture: Is Anybody Else Still Here?

According to sources, the Rapture was supposed to happen on Saturday where God was supposed to take the righteous to Heaven.

Either it was postponed or the righteous are thinner on the ground than one would hope.

I tease, Christians. Although most of the Christians I know were skeptical about the whole raputre thing too. Something about “not knowing the hour.”

I find most religions cool. There’s something amazing about the way we’ve found so many different and creative ways to explain the unexplainable and to give purpose to our lives. I’m not sure which--if any of them--is the One True Way, of course. I practice Buddhism myself, but the absurdist in me would love it if it was something nobody expected so Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Atheists, and the world’s other religious people could look dumbfounded at each other in the afterlife: “So the universe is actually the shell of a turtle being led by a team of mice? Didn‘t see that one coming.”

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of atheist blogs. I really like atheism. They make a great case for themselves and the appeals to reason, rationality, and skepticism really warm my heart. There’s a place for faith in the world, but blind belief is no substitute for critical thinking skills.

Some atheists go beyond arguing why atheism is good and start making claims that religion is harmful. Which is fine, except that their arguments get a little less rigorous, the terms get less operationally defined, and the tendency to use anecdotes and historical cherry-picking becomes a little stronger. If you’re going to challenge the existence of God or gods on rational, scientific, and skeptical grounds, you have to apply the same intellectual rigour to your claim that religion is harmful.

I don’t even know how you would make that kind of a study. First you have to define your terms--for example, is it religious belief that is bad or religious institutions? Do Church-Once-A-Year-For-Christmas folks count as religious? What about people who go to church for social or political reasons but don‘t really believe? What harmful behaviours do religion bring about that are not present in secular institutions? I can‘t figure out how you would isolate those variables.

But I hope they find a way.

Because while many of us with religious backgrounds tend to get defensive when atheists start attacking religion, but the more I think about it, the more I think they’re doing us a favor.

If our religion, whatever it may be, is harming people, then I think we as religious people have a duty to do something about it. I didn’t get into Buddhism to hurt myself or people around me. So if there’s something that we are doing badly, I think we should want to know about it and address those problems.

Let’s face it: many religious organizations DO have problems. Over the years we’ve made mistakes in the name of religion on both large and small scales. There’s been violence, sexual abuse, financial misconduct, mental cruelty, and bad fashion sense…the worst excesses of human nature. Worse, instead of dealing with those problems, we’ve often tried to ignore, deny, downplay, or justify them in the name of whatever we happen to believe.

That’s not okay. Bad things are still bad things. It’s easy to blame religion, but I don’t think religion is so much the cause as a convenient excuse. But there’s no excuse for some things, and no church or set of beliefs will shield us from the moral consequences of our actions.

That’s why I’m glad the louder elements of the atheist movement are there to point things out when we fall short. It would be nice if religious institutions were better at seeing their own shortcomings and policing themselves but sometimes it’s hard to stay objective when you’re on the inside.

Most religions I know of extol the value of gratitude. I think the people we should be most grateful for are the ones who see the world differently than we do, regardless of whether those differences are religious, political, or over the musical and cultural contributions of Lady Gaga. Through them, we see the world with new eyes.

That’s why I’m hoping the Rapture doesn’t happen and the Faithful aren’t taken up to Heaven.

Whether we realize it or not, we need them right here.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Metal and Dust: GREAT WHITE

Great White would have been more appropriately named Very Good White.

There were a lot of ‘white’ bands in those lazy, crazy high school days of the eighties: Great White, White Lion, Whitesnake, White Wolf, White Heat…I want to say White Tiger, but that was a brothel investigated by a badly disguised Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China. White was a probably the most popular band descriptor out there, with ‘king’ being the only possible competition (King Diamond, King’s X, Kingdom Come).

In the annals of the ‘white’ bands, Whitesnake would probably win Best Overall Career, White Lion would take the One-Hit-Wonder category (Though technically White Lion had two hits --’Wait,’ and ‘When the Children Cry’). Great White would place in both categories, but at best as a distant second or third.

That‘s Great White in a nutshell--Always very good. Never very great.

Yet at the same time, until I felt they went a little too far thinking they were blues musicians on ‘Hooked,’ Great White was one of the bands whose albums were no-brainer purchases for me. My two favourite Great White albums (Shot in the Dark from 1986 and 87’s Once Bitten) probably would have placed in my top 10 albums for those two respective years. ‘Psycho City,’ ‘…Twice Shy,’ ’Recovery: Live’ and their self-titled debut were reliable guests in my boom box, and even ‘Hooked’ isn’t so much bad as it is “not really what I wanted to hear.” Over the years, it’s even grown on me a little bit.

Great White was reliable. They delivered good stuff.

And by good stuff, I don‘t mean ‘the same album over and over.’ ‘Great White’ was an aggressive straight ahead metal album. ‘Shot in the Dark’ was poppier and more keyboardy. ‘Once Bitten’ was bluesier, but also heavier--kind of like a shotgun wedding between Led Zeppelin and Dokken. ‘Twice Shy’ turned up the Led Zeppelin influences which peaked on ‘Hooked.’ ‘Psycho City’ was a return to ‘Once Bitten’ territory, only with a nod to all they’d learned along the way. Each album was distinctive though, with it’s own sound. Yes, they were all clearly Great White, but they were also different enough that I never felt the band was repeating itself.

They also did a lot of cover songs, both well-known and obscure, and unlike a lot of their contemporaries, they weren‘t ashamed about it either. They did Led Zeppelin better than Led Zeppelin and their biggest hit was a cover of Ian Hunter’s ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy.‘

Very good. But not great.

They aren’t alone. Thousands of bands fall into this category. Thousands of bands and millions of people.

We worship the great. But what about the very good? There’s lots of them out there. They’re most visible in the entertainment industry where greatness and fame are the only things we have to remember people by--the bands, the stand-up comics, the actors, the writers.

But they’re in our lives too. People who are very good at what they do….whatever it may happen to be…but ultimately, not good enough to be recognized for it. Not charismatic enough to make an impression on enough people or not original enough to break any new ground.

Just…very good.

Maybe that’s why I listen to ‘Once Bitten,’ nearly two and a half decades later. Maybe, it’s my way of paying tribute to Very Good-ness, a way of remembering those who will not be remembered. Maybe it’s a way I comfort myself against the fears of the possibility--no, the likelihood--that most of the things I do, even the very good ones, will one day be gone and forgotten.

Or maybe I just like the music.

They aren’t called Very Good White for nothing, you know.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Thoughts On A Canadian Election

Election in Canada on Monday. I woke up to see the results and found myself staring at a full page picture of Osama Bin Laden’s face.

I didn’t even remember him being on the ballot.

The lesson: when you’re glancing at the front pages of newspapers, remember to check the date.

Thoughts on the election proper:

--The Conservatives--who won--ran a good front-runner campaign, that is to say, they managed not to beat themselves by saying or doing anything stupid. They also went negative a lot, so I knew who they were against, but I didn’t have an idea what they stood for. That strategy doesn't do much to win over new or undecided voters (It sure didn’t on me), but if you’re already in the lead, it’s probably the safe bet.

And it worked.

--The New Democratic Party came in a very respectable second place in a classic Life Imitates Pro-Wrestling Scenario, decisively beating a veteran former champion with name recognition (the Liberals) and unexpectedly taking the champion to the limit and establishing themselves in the voters‘ minds as a legitimate contender. If they can stay over for the next few years, the rematch should draw big money (and votes). I also thought they ran a great campaign.

In fact, they seemed to be the only people running a campaign.

Maybe it’s the circles I travel in, but I heard nothing much from the Conservatives (possibly deliberately, as they were playing not to lose). But I heard nothing from the Liberal Party either (the big losers this election, along with the Bloc Quebecois which was nearly wiped out).

But the NDP were professional, they were glitzy, and most of all, they were everywhere. The internet. Print media. Phone calls. Mail-outs.

Now as an NDP supporter (this election, at least), I was happy to see it and see them do well, but since I am the type of man who cannot resist inspecting the gift horse’s dental work, I can’t help but wonder about one thing.

And that one thing is money.

How was it that the NDP campaign was so much more visible than the other parties? Sure, maybe the Conservatives were deliberately keeping a low profile, but what about the Liberals? They were in no better political shape than the New Democrats going into this election and yet I never saw anything from them. Did they just give up on Alberta?

I can’t figure it out. I just keep thinking about money.

I’ll be curious to see the fundraising numbers for the political parties and how much each spent over the course of the campaign.

-The third thing I think about is the disappearance of the Liberals and the Bloc. The lion’s share of Parliament is divided between the right-wing (and rightier all the time, it seems) Conservatives and the even-leftier-than-the-Liberals NDP.

That’s a strong ideological split. I’m hoping that’s just the way the election played out and not a sign of things to come. A lot of the American political blogs I follow have devolved to people parroting party lines past one another, demonizing and blaming the other side and worrying about winning vs. losing.

I would hate to see that divisiveness take hold here. It’s nice to have people who agree with us, and it’s nice to have someone to blame for our troubles, but those things alone wouldn’t bring happiness and prosperity to the night manager of an Olive Garden, let alone a country.

I think we sometimes overestimate how much power the “people in power” actually have and underestimate our own. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from listening to my 68 year old gold-panning friend’s geology lessons on cross-country drives it’s that time and change are inexorable. Sometimes it happens quickly. sometimes it happens slowly. It always happens though, even if it doesn’t happen when we want it or how we expected it. Actions have consequences and just because you don’t see them or they don‘t show up right away, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Some days I find that idea frightening. Other days it gives me hope. But it never fails to motivate me.

Regardless of our political affiliation and whether or not those people are in power or not there is always something we can do. We can raise funds, write letters, make phone calls.

More importantly, we can choose the way we live. We can choose the way we treat others--family and friends, strangers, and yes, even those we dislike or who disagree with us. We can forgive ourselves and others, let go of resentments, and do the best we can with the gifts and temperament we were given to reach our potential, whatever that may be and however others might choose to judge us.

In short, we can be the best people we know how. It’s all we have the power to do, but in doing that,, we can accomplish a lot of great things along the way.

Oh. And check the dates on those newspapers.

You never know.

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