Merry [War on the (War On)] Christmas!


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If I was to list the things I hate about Christmas, that list might well include Black Friday, bland food, and blander music. Jesus isn’t on that list. Oh, I know that I’m supposed to be working hard to get the Christ out of Christmas, at least according to certain talking heads, because that’s just what atheists do. But seriously, it would never occur to me to try and scratch Baby Jesus out of this holiday.

…mainly, because Jesus isn’t a big part of Christmas to begin with.

Yes, I understand American Atheists did a snarky Billboard. With that and a pickle, they’d still be one sandwich short of a lunch plate. Some of us will laugh (I know I did), but this is hardly a credible threat to the Prince of Peace. And seriously, atheist kids can’t be the only ones hoping to skip church for Christmas.

Schaedenfreude for All!

Schaedenfreude for All!

…if you think about it, they probably aren’t all that worried about it.

The annual fake war on Christmas is always entertaining. When folks find ‘Happy Holidays’ offensive or suspect an entire agenda behind use of the infamous X in ‘Xmas’, I can’t help but laugh. But I like to remind myself when the explicit reasoning people use makes no sense whatsoever, that’s usually because it isn’t the one guiding their actual thought process.

I figure the war on Christmas is primarily good marketing for right wing pundits, and apparently for Kirk Cameron. Near as I can tell, Cameron has never really outgrown his character on Growing Pains, but the culture wars certain do provide him with plenty of grist for the still-vapid mill. This yearm he’s workig the Christmas angle. …meh! Anyway, the war on Christmas does two things near as I can tell; it helps Christian conservatives misrepresent the battle over civic religious pronouncements, and it helps those same Christians rally the faithful by wagging the dog, so to speak.

savingchristmas_smI know, I’m mixing my metaphors, yes, but what the Hell do you expect from a Godless bastard?

The battle over civil religion has been driven by concerns about the entanglement of religion in public institutions. This is not an effort to drive God entirely from the public sphere, nor is it an effort to enshrine atheism in that sphere. The question is simply whether or not government facilities ought to be making any kind of explicit religious expressions, whether it be a copy of the Ten Commandments or a Manger scene.

Now I’m not entirely sold on the value of opposing every cross, prayer, or hand-made sign with religious sentiments that makes an appearance on public property, but every time I’m tempted to support a compromise on these issues, some joker from the religious right (or ten of them) makes it a point to suggest those reflect the true Christian nature of this country. …and what seemed possibly harmless then becomes a great big slap in the face. In any event, those defending use of public institutions for explicitly religious expressions have some real questions to answer about how this squares with the establishment clause, and near as I can tell most of the culture warriors are too busy generating narratives that bypass the whole problem. The War on Christmas is just such a narrative. As long as every challenge to a public display of Jesus in the manger is really part of an effort to crush the joy of Christmas, the Christian right will never have to address the constitutionality of its public agenda. People will be too busy saving Christmas from godless grinches.

…just like in a television sitcom.

Vintage Christmas

Vintage Christmas

The larger and deeper misdirection here is also simpler. (It’s a multi-lered misdirection, really it is!) Jesus has been a rather minor theme in the actual celebration of Christmas for most of modern history. Sure, children sing the occasional Silent Night in a Christmas pageant, but they also sing Jingle bells. Were I a believer, I wouldn’t want to take bets on which one gets a bigger round of applause from the audience. But that’s just the tip of the pagan pine bough. The fact is that Christ is always playing catch-up with his own holiday, and last I checked, he was well behind the marketing professionals on this one.

These days I hear a lot of people talking about putting the Christ back in Christmas, as if simply saying the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ would provide them with a real victory. The fact of the matter is, though, that people have been saying ‘Merry Christmas’ for generations without meaning much more than ‘Yippee, presents!’ or ‘Hope you get a good bonus.’ Hell, even the more profound messages of giving and family togetherness are as easily embraced in secular circles as those of the truest of the True Christians™. The right wing culture warriors know this and they want to change it, or at least they want to be seen trying to change it.

Whatever else the war on the ‘war on Christmas’ is, it’s also a means of investing the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ with a new and more political meaning. It effects that investment by conjuring an enemy, so when you say ‘Merry Christmas’ now, you aren’t just wishing people a nice glass of egg-nog. Hell, you aren’t even just telling them to celebrate the birth of Jesus or wishing them all the blessings the Prince of Peace could possibly bring. When you say it now, you’re pissing off an atheist, and nothing says you love Jesus more than pissing off an atheist!

Good fun for all!

Only, most of us aren’t all that bothered by the phrase. Hell I say ‘Merry Christmas’ as often as I say ‘Happy Holidays.’ When I did a brief stint at a Jewish private school, i said ‘Happy Holidays’ more, but that certainly wasn’t about pissing off any Christians. Anyway, I don’t think I’m unusual in this regard. The phrase Merry Christmas just isn’t a problem for most unbelievers, at least not when Bill O’Reilly isn’t writing the script.


Coke, another “reason for the season.”

The real threats to the religious perspectives on Christmas have never been secularists; they have been the myriad pleasures of worldly ways. The threats have been train-sets and iphones, bicycles, and Barbie-dolls, well-spiked punch-bowls at office parties, gaudy lights, and near riots at the local Walmart. It’s these things that compete with Jesus for our attention on December 25th, and quite frankly, it isn’t atheists that are pushing them on people. It’s good-old American capitalism, and let’s be honest, Christian conservatives are hardly interested in fighting a battle against corporate capitalism. So, they’ve conjured up a scape-goat. This way they get to have their stale gingerbread and eat it too. Through the ‘war on Christmas’ Christian conservatives can pretend to fight for the spiritual significance of their holiday all the while going right along with the very practices that keep turning the conveniently imagined birthday of Christ into a hollow and impious event.

Don’t laugh; it works folks!

I can’t be the first or even the thousand and first scaped goat to complain about this little gambit, but well, it’s a white Christmas up here in the arctic, and I’d rather gripe than go outside. Plus, I’m an atheist. I’m supposed to be grumpy and grinchy. Some days I am happy to oblige.

Oh yeah, there’s one more thing.

Merry Christmas everybody!

An Uncommon Elf


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Wondering who this is? Well it’s Ronnie James Dio and his old band.

…no his REALLY old band.

This was Dio before Black Sabbath, before Rainbow, and well before Satan made his way into the man’s vocals. Heck, the lyrics seem almost normal, even wholesome.

I don’t imagine he would have flashed the hook of horns much during these years.


Pay No Attention to the Abe in the Corner!


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One of the most beautiful gifts of the internet is the ability to learn at a glance the wisdom of America’s founding fathers. In fact, one can often find these pearls of wisdom beautifully packaged in nice visuals. They are perfect for a tweet or a quick illustration, and so very informative. Most of all, they are ever so conveniently one quick google away.

Take for instance the warning these men left for us regarding the evils of big government! Thomas Jefferson is particularly valuable in this regard. Why you could almost imagine him to be commenting directly on current affairs couldn’t you? Isn’t Tom just swell?

(You may as usual click to embiggen any of these quotations)

Thomas Jefferson was particularly keen on the importance of political dissent.


Thinking along similar lines, our founding fathers spoke directly to the issue of gun control. I mean, they are just so perfect. You’d almost think some of these quotes had been written by folks working for the NRA. Check it out!

More than that! Our great founders were no friends of the nanny state. They were quite clear that people shouldn’t expect too much from government. It’s there to give everyone a chance, but folks really shouldn’t expect any more than that.

James Madison wouldn’t have any truck with this notion of a living constitution. He’d school the modern liberals right quick about that nonsense.


On religion, let me tell you, the founders of our great nation were clear about the importance of the christian faith!

Oddly, the founders were also pretty damned clear about the evils of Christianity. apparently, they were clear about that too.

…It’s just a little strange.

I know this is getting to be a tiresome theme in this post, but the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson is not to be outdone. At times, he could almost seem to be a motivational speaker. Watch out Tony Robbins!

Not to be outdone, George Washington even carved his legacy into this little gem about taking responsibility for one’s personal mistakes.


Honestly, the wisdom of the founding fathers would seem to be amazing at times. Sometimes their prescience is uncanny. It’s an amazing thing to see just how well-suited their statements can be to present-day matters. Luckily, that wisdom was not limited to the original founders. It was around in the civil war era too. Could anyone possibly be more on the mark than Abraham Lincoln?



Listen to Abe folks.

Paul Newman IS Homo Economicus: A Spoiler-Filled Review of Hud.


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51YVV4PKWJLSo, I finally got around to watching Hud for the first time. It was about a month or so back that I popped a copy into the disk player. I didn’t know what to expect really, but I’d heard it described as one of Paul Newman’s rebellious best. So, I sat back and prepared to watch him take on the world for the umpteenth time in my viewing history. He does of course, just as expected.

What I didn’t expect was that this time I’d be rooting for the world.

We meet Hud as he emerges from the house of a married woman, angry to have been interrupted by his nephew, and not the least bit remorseful about where he spent the night, not even when her husband arrives before Hud and his nephew can quit the scene. Not to worry though, Hud lays the blame on his nephew and they hightail it out of there. It’s a pretty damned low move, but just the sort one might expect from a devil-may-care young character Newman has played before. Still unwise to the story that would unfold before me I sat back waiting to see what Hud would do to make us forgive him for such flaws. To be sure, this character had the usual mixture of charm and seemingly forgivable flaws you might expect from such a role. I couldn’t wait to see where the plot would take him.

Make no mistake, however, this is not a film about redemption, reform, or freedom from convention. Quite the contrary.

So what is the story here?

Hud stands to inherit a ranch from his father, but a likely outbreak of hoof&mouth disease creates a dilemma for the family and their ranch-hands. Hud wants to sell the cattle before the veterinarian can diagnose it. His father (Homer) won’t hear of it. It isn’t simply that the two men disagree; they genuinely don’t like each other and their conflict over the cattle considerably widens the rift between them. Hud believes his father’s distrust to be the result of an accident resulting in the death of his brother (Homer’s other son). Hud had been driving, and yes, liquor had been involved. But Hud’s father tells us that wasn’t the source of the problem. Something about Hud had always bothered him, something about the way Hud treated others. Hud’s response to this new crisis served only to make Homer that much more uncomfortable with his remaining son, and with the prospects of his own legacy, the ranch.

As Hud takes ever greater liberties with those around him, I couldn’t help but side with his father. In time, all the more decent characters will leave Hud. His father dies’ a prospective love interest leaves town (for damned good reason!); the ranch workers are let go because there is nothing for them to do; and finally Hud’s nephew abandons him in the final scenes. I couldn’t help but cheer for each of them that got away, and in the final scene, as Hud slams the doorway of the ranch-house leaving us outside, I couldn’t help but feel a trace of relief to finally get away from him myself.

It was an awesome performance.

This is a film about conflicting values. Hud sees his many years working on the ranch as an investment, and he expects a return on that invest in the form of an economically viable property. The outbreak of disease now threatens that return, and his father’s moral scruples aren’t helping much in his view.

Over the course of the film it becomes ever more clear just how little Hud sees in that ranch besides the money it may one day provide him. His failure to find any meaning in the work he does for the ranch itself is matched by his failure to connect with those around him. Hud has his moments of course. Here and there, we could almost hope to think him human, but this character was made to disappoint us at every turn. It’s only fitting that he should end up with the ranch and nothing else. no cattle, no family, no friends, nothing living around him. There is little doubt that he will somehow make the ranch work, and still less that he will do so utter alone. In the end, that is the choice Hud has made, and he seems quite content with the results.

I can’t help but see in Hud a perfect avatar of homo economicus as libertarians seem to understand him, a perfectly functioning rational agent out to maximize his pleasures and minimize his pains. He sees in work nothing but the exchange value of his products and in other people only the chance to cash in those values for direct personal pleasure. The bottom line in his thought is pure profit, nothing more.

And so, he’s a villain, so what? Who today could possibly oppose such an approach to a business venture? Who but a communist? …or worse, a liberal!

…or Hud’s father, a cultural conservative in his own right. Hud’s father, Homer, isn’t looking to redistribute wealth, but he understands the value of work itself, something not entirely reducible to the dollar value of its products. Homer understands that in working men also produce themselves and their communities, and that this has a value, one that cannot be reduced to profits. The issue becomes most clear when someone raises the prospect of drilling for oil. We’ll let Homer speak for himself:

Hud Bannon: My daddy thinks oil is something you stick in your salad dressing.

Homer Bannon: If there’s oil down there, you can get it sucked up after I’m under there with it. There’ll be no holes punched in this land while I’m here. They ain’t gonna come in and grade no roads so the wind can blow me away. What’s oil to me? What can I do with a bunch of oil wells? I can’t ride out every day and prowl amongst ‘em like I can my cattle. I can’t breed ‘em or tend ‘em or rope ‘em or chase ‘em or nothing. I can’t feel a smidgen of pride in ‘em ’cause they ain’t none of my doing.

Hud Bannon: There’s money in it.

Homer Bannon: I don’t want that kind of money. I want mine to come from something that keeps a man doing for himself.


So, I watch this film and I see in Homer a vision of generations that seem well past in the present day political landscape, generations who say capitalism as it is practiced to day as a threat their own way of life, a force that would destroy the conditions under which they would work and earn a living. It has been far too easy for far too long to assume that the opponents of capitalism have always been communists. What too many people seem to miss is that moment in history when the juggernaut of modern corporatism first threatens to take away the livelihood of those content with free markets, a moment in history when some at least might have known the difference.

Irony of ironies!

It seems many of the film’s viewers didn’t see the difference themselves. Apparently, in 1963. Apparently, a good portion of the American audience saw Hud just as I had expected to. They loved him. they saw in Hud precisely the rebellious hero that i had hoped to, and not the merciless villain I felt the film had actually shown me. Film critic Pauline Kael even went so far as to argue that the audience was wiser than the film-makers insofar as they rejected its critique of capitalism and celebrated the villain as if he were a hero. That’s one way to look at it. Another would be to take that as a measure of just how much modern America and its sensibilities had in 1963 already been shaped by men such as Hud.


An Uncommon Sky


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(Clickinate to embiggerize!)

People often ask me about the northern lights. As it happens, Barrow isn’t really the best place to see them. It’s too bright in town, and we are a bit North for the most brilliant displays. I suppose that’s one measure of excessive northitude. …when you are too far north for the northern lights.

Just the same. The sky up here certainly does have its moments.

Black Hats and White Hats, Boomerang Bills, and Homeless Pets


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Auto-Kitty approves this message.

“Are you a no-kill shelter?” the woman asked as she readied a $20.00 bill for the donation box? The honest answer was ‘no,’ and my explanation didn’t help matters much, …at all really. With one corner already inside the box that twenty dollar bill did a U-Turn and headed straight back to the woman’s purse. Our consolation prize was a $5.00 bill.

And I thanked her.

…the bitch!

I’m writing that now, because I sure as Hell wasn’t going to say it the, and yes I do feel better. That wasn’t the only irritating moment that I recall from the year and a half I worked at a local Humane Association, but I suppose this is to be expected.  There is indeed something terrible about a conventional will-kill shelter. Looking at it from the perspective of the lady above, I had effectively told her that the organization I worked for killed perfectly healthy kittens and puppies, …and that I wanted money so that we could continue doing so. Under the circumstances, I suppose I should have been damned thankful to get a five.

Seriously, what a bastard!

It’s tough to find a sound patch of middle ground on some issues and this is one of them.

I had that job for about a year and a half, and this was hardly the first time I’d taken grief from someone in favor of no-kill shelters. There was the volunteer who wouldn’t step foot in our shelter. There were the interviews that ALWAYS raised questions about euthanasia, even when that was clearly not the issue at hand. And then there were the phone calls, the ones that went something like this; “I don’t want to bring him to you, but no-one else will take him, what do I do?” And of course there were countless times I heard people describe themselves as rescuing an animal from us, often one we had been at great pains to keep alive.

But this was all pretty minor stuff really. All in a day’s work.

I have to admit that it got a little under my skin the day that a volunteer from the local low-kill shelter told me with a smile that she heard her own shelter had just saved 12 cats from us. See, the problem was that we had plenty of room at the time, and none of these animals were in danger. In fact, giving them 12 cats had left our own cat kennels near to empty. We had given the cats to the other shelter because they were suddenly short felines, and I knew damn well the reason they were suddenly short. It wasn’t a pretty story.  I wanted desperately to tell the volunteer that her shelter hadn’t saved any animals by taking them off our hands on that day. Not at all.

Ah well!

This young lady doesn’t get called a name. She didn’t know. And anyhow I don’t feel as cranky as I did 3 or 4 paragraphs back. Still that was a bitter pill to swallow. Suffice to say I thought for a time there that a companion animal stood a better chance at our own will-kill shelter than they did with our low-kill counterpart. If I am hearing right lately, it sounds like the latter has cleaned up its act and both shelters are working together more lately. That’s a very good thing.

What bothers me about no-kill shelters is not the way they actually work, when they actually work at any rate; it is that their rhetoric tends to work just as well regardless of the details on the ground so to speak. If that woman with her twenty dollar bill really understood how our shelter worked and decided we weren’t a worthy recipient for her money, I would have been fine with that decision. But she didn’t. What she knew was one thing; we were the bad guys and that was about all there was to it.

I also remember a day that we ran out of room in our dog kennels and the local low-kill had been among the organizations that took a few off our hands. They took two, a pit bull and one other dog. I had been so relieved, because all of us loved that pit bull, even though she had been with us 6 months. At last she was safe, …except she wasn’t. Both of those animals ended up getting put down. And I never called the low-kill shelter again, not to help us keep one of our animals alive at any rate.

All of this had already happened on that day when a twenty climbed back into that woman’s purse and sent a five to take its place. I couldn’t help but wonder if the lady knew where people took their pets when the low-kill ran out of space? I also wondered if she knew just how many animals did get put down over there? Or if she could wrap her mind around just how many more animals we took care of on a fraction of their budget, all without the privilege of selective admissions. I’m guessing she didn’t. To her, I was a black hat. The other fifteen bucks were presumably looking to make their home with a white hat.

Circumstances vary from one community to the next, but in that community at that particular time there were exactly two-shelters in the area; one low-kill and one will-kill. The low-kill had begun with aspirations of no-kill policies and still maintained enough ties with the no-kill movement benefit from its reputation. We were open to any animal someone wanted to bring in; they could and did turn problem animals down. When they filled up, we got the overflow. When we filled up, first we turned to the phones, then we turned to the needles.

What so few of the local no-kill advocates in town seemed to realize was that when we were putting animals down it really was a community affair. If we were putting healthy animals down, odds were high that both shelters were full and all the fosters in town were overflowing. Hell, by then more than a few kind-hearted people had already taken more home than they could afford to feed. It really wasn’t a decision made in a vacuum, and when an adoptable animal went down it was literally because we couldn’t find anyone with the will and the resources to care for it.

By the time I left the shelter I had long since come to think of the total impact of the two shelters in terms of the total animal population for the region. Were were in competition for resources and public support, but both shelters contributed to the overall care of animals throughout the region. Our shelter was more efficient, but they could offer a reasonably higher guarantee of survival for any animal successfully placed with them.

…at least they could when they had their act in gear.

In some ways the competition between our shelters may have improved the odds of survival for the unwanted animals of the town. The no-kill movement was a positive force at our own shelter and I knew it. It was one of the reasons we partnered with Petsmart and Petco, went to countless adoption events, advertised adoptions widely, and even began working with Foster agencies. No-kill advocates had developed a lot of the techniques we used to help adopt out our animals, and pressure from such advocates had helped to ensure we used them. In that respect at least, no kill had a very positive impact on our own shelter. Still, some of its advocates could prove damned clueless about the details of animal welfare.

If anyone really wanted to help the animals in our region, a dollar in our donation box was at least as good as it was in that of the local low-kill shelter.

Arguably better at the time.

But you can’t tell some people that. I mean you really can’t.

An Uncommon Tree


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Many people don’t realize this, but we have palm trees here in Barrow. That’s right. Palm trees. Case in point, these beautiful specimens right here. They can be found in a fish camp just North of the college.

Now you may be wondering how palm trees ended up here in the arctic?

Well, I could tell you, but…

Reza Aslan and New Atheists Who Really are Atheists After All


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r.-aslanThe ongoing feud between Reza Aslan and the so-called “New Atheists” continues to shed more heat than light. The latest round of this race to the bottom of the intellectual barrel comes to us in the form of a Salon piece written by Aslan. It presently carries the provocative title, “Reza Aslan: Sam Harris and “New Atheists” aren’t new, aren’t even atheists.” This is certainly a provocative enough title. I expect I wasn’t the only person to open the page wondering just how he was going to make the case that Dawkins and company aren’t atheists.

Score one for the god of misleading headlines. This article gets its provocative angle compliments of a rather weak bit of semantics:

In fact, not only is the New Atheism not representative of atheism. It isn’t even mere atheism (and it certainly is not “new”). What Harris, Dawkins and their ilk are preaching is a polemic that has been around since the 18th century – one properly termed, anti-theism.

Apparently, the New Atheists aren’t really Atheists because they aren’t merely Atheists. So, if you aren’t ‘merely’ a thing you aren’t that thing at all, at least in the mind of whoever wrote the title of that Salon piece. And if you’re also a thing+ or possess an extra helping of thingatude, then well, no, you’re not even a thing at all.

Out of generosity, I’ll assume it wasn’t Aslan that chose that title.

The larger point of Aslan’s piece is actually to differentiate the ‘New Atheism’ from its predecessors, and apparently to embed that differentiation in a narrative that does as much as possible to discredit new atheism. The resulting sleight of hand is definitely Aslan’s doing. It is admittedly more clever than the title fiasco.

Aslan’s essay includes a rather sweeping narrative about the history of non-belief, touching on a number of things well worth thinking about. Aslan comes to the main point with a fairly specific passage in which he ties the New Atheism with the atrocities of state communism. To get to that point, he first introduces the notion that anti-theism is an intellectual tradition in its own right, one of many twists an turns in the history of unbelief. As strident opposition to religion is what folks like Dawkins, Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens do, Aslan assures us they are themselves clearly part of the intellectual movement of anti-theism rather than simply part of the traditions of atheism.

I’m not entirely sold on the historicism here, but as far as this goes, it’s probably fair enough to describe these folks as anti-theists. The problem here is what Aslan does with this point. While he works hard to distinguish anti-theism from mere unbelief, Aslan works equally hard to ensure that we do not distinguish intellectual opposition to religion from the slaughter of innocents.

It wasn’t atheism that motivated Stalin and Mao to demolish or expropriate houses of worship, to slaughter tens of thousands of priests, nuns and monks, and to prohibit the publication and dissemination of religious material. It was anti-theism that motivated them to do so. After all, if you truly believe that religion is “one of the world’s great evils” – as bad as smallpox and worse than rape; if you believe religion is a form of child abuse; that it is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children” – if you honestly believed this about religion, then what lengths would you not go through to rid society of it?

For an historian of religion this is an inexcusable bit of misdirection. Aslan moves seamlessly from a narrative about the work of Marx and the rise of state communism to a series of direct references to his present intellectual opponents in the New Atheism movement. In fact, he uses the views of today’s New Atheists as a direct explanation for the motivations of Stalin and Mao. It doesn’t get much more anachronistic than that.

…actually, I should say he uses some of their more outrageous quotes. This isn’t really a consideration of their views so much as a bit of quote-mining masquerading as an intellectual criticism, but still the main point is, the man is explaining the actions of communist dictators with random comments from people who weren’t yet a gleam in their fathers’ eyes when Stalin was starving his peasants and Mao was waging his war on sparrows.

In effect, Aslan turns Harris and company into the present-day spokesmen for some of history’s most horrific genocides. This is anachronism at its worst, and Aslan uses it to advance the notion that anti-theism is responsible for the tragic abuses of state communism.

So, there it is. According to Aslan, the Stalinist purges and those of Mao can be understood as a direct reflection of an anti-theistic world view. We needn’t consider the politics of either nation, it’s economic complexities, or any alternative explanations behind these histories. We need only look at what New Atheists have to say today in order to know that this is what the New Atheists is capable of.

…and perhaps to shudder at the prospect.

Ironically, Aslan’s critique of New Atheism smacks of the very inattention to social complexities that many (including Aslan) see in the approach Dawkins and Harris have taken to Islam. It’s an approach that treats doctrines as if they themselves were the driving engines of history, and it in doing so it reduces historical knowledge to the needs of present-day polemics. This view of history sees little in the complexities of human conflict that one can’t fit into a well-written tweet (or perhaps a pithy and misleading title). Aslan has often advocated a nuanced view of the relationship between religion and violence, but with this piece, that nuance might as well be a nine-pound hammer.

Frankly, I’m a bit tired of the battle between Aslan and Harris, et. al. The dialog is increasingly more personal points, and that just isn’t the best role that a public intellectual could play. This a duel between two simplistic views of history, each of them equally myopic. If the rest of us are supposed to chose a side, then count me out.




An Uncommon Request


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I could never tell what tune it was that my mother wanted me to play. For years she would ask me to play “the song.” Asked what song she wanted me to play, Mom would say “the one that goes doodoodoDoodoodoDoodoo…”

…I had no idea what she was talking about.

I would scan my albums of Heart (and later my disks), but Mom seemed to know the Heart tunes. If she wanted, she could ask me to play one of them by name. I would play some of Van Halen’s guitar solos, which she often liked, but no, none of those turned out to be the golden tune. She said I played the song all the time but she could never remember to tell me when I had it on, and I could never figure out what it was when Mom asked for it out of the clear blue.

It was the least I could do for her, so I thought, to play the occasional tune she actually liked after blasting her and dad without mercy for pretty much all day every day. They must have heard enough hard rock to keep Beavis and Butthead head-banging for a decade. …which is saying something, because neither was really a fan of rock&roll at all. So, when Mom said she liked something in my young metal-head playlist, I couldn’t help but want to meet that request.

But what was the song?

I scanned my Jethro Tull collection countless times, trying desperately to match the tune to Mom’s odd description. It was always the same description, and she could never add any details. Alas! Nothing Ian Anderson and his band ever did met turned out to be the song, though she was always happy to listen to Songs From the Wood.

And then one day she came in to my room waving her hands to get my attention. That was it! The song I had on right at that very moment was the one she always wanted me to play. What was it?


…In Mom’s defense, I don’t think she ever really understood the lyrics.


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