Why I Hate Easter

I know I've been lax in updating this blog. To those few of you with the wisdom and taste to actually read the crap I write, I apologize. I guess I just needed the proper inspiration to snap myself out of the ennui that led to a case of recreational writer's block. And that inspiration has arrived in the form of Easter.

I hate Easter. I hate all religious holidays. Well, I hate most holidays, but Easter especially. Oh, and if you haven't guessed by now, I'm not a Christian. I'm not anything in that realm. I don't really care if you're religious or not, but keep it to yourself. I only become hostile toward religion when someone tries to convert me, or I hear about indigenous peoples being converted, or I hear someone make a stupid decision and say the outcome is "God's will," etc. Seriously, keep it to yourself.

Today is one of those days that other people's religious beliefs affect my life. Today, I was unable to meet friends at the restaurant of our choice. I was unable to buy some much needed supplies from Target. I was unable to go to the gym. Why? Because people feel the need to celebrate an event that never happened. And let's just say for the sake of argument that Jesus really did rise from the dead and ascend into Heaven. Why would Christian's celebrate that? I mean, he basically left his followers stuck on a shit planet with the vague promise to return someday. A promise that he has failed to keep. Because it's impossible.

Now, I know that my complaints are extremely minor. But it just serves as a reminder that a true secularist still has religious ideology thrust upon him/her, especially here in the Bible Belt. I guess it also hits close to home because I remember the blue laws in Texas. For those of you that are unfamiliar, blue laws prohibited anything that was considered a nonessential item from being sold on Sundays. I remember going into the grocery store (one of the few things open on Sundays), and seeing the toy aisle roped off. What a blow to a bright-eyed and optimistic child.

Oh, and what the hell does the resurrection of Jesus have to do with a creepy rabbit with a penchant for hiding the ovum of barnyard fowls? I just don't get that part at all.  But, like so many other Bible-related things, logic is obviously not a factor here.


So it Goes...

Four years ago today, the light known as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was extinguished.  But like a dead star, his light still radiates.  I guess the fact that I'm taking time to write this after being on blogging hiatus for so long goes to show that Vonnegut was, and remains, my favorite author of all time.

I was first exposed to Vonnegut back in about '99 when I was in the navy.  We had reached that point of the deployment when everyone started swapping books.  My best friend gave me his copy of Slaughterhouse-Five.  If I remember properly, I read the book in just over a day.  I thought it was pretty good, but when I tried to read another book, Vonnegut's words were stuck in my head.  I read it a second time.

Oddly enough, it was about five years later before I read another Vonnegut book.  I was a junior in college and had recently changed my major to anthropology.  When I heard that Vonnegut was awarded his MA in anthropology based on the strength of Cat's Cradle, I had to read it.  I've been in love with his works ever since.

I'm currently on a mission to read everything the man has ever written.  So far, I've got 21 of his books under my belt.  It's not his character development that piques my interest.  It's not always his message, either.  What draws me in about Vonnegut's writing is the feeling that you're not so much reading as you're being told a story by a kindly uncle - the one you would dearly hope to see at those awkward family gatherings in the winter.  He didn't feel the need to talk down to his readers by using difficult language.  He just wanted to tell you a story.

Once upon a time, Vonnegut would have been considered a great philosopher.  He was a social critic in the tradition of Socrates.  He didn't go around exposing people's ignorance through endless questioning, but both had been accused of corrupting the youth.  He preached a sort of benevolence that we all should try a little harder to achieve.  He hoped for a idyllic world that he knew was beyond reach, but that didn't stop him from reaching for it anyway.

Vonnegut was also one of the few literary greats to be born of scientific DNA.  He had been educated in chemistry and anthropology.  He rubbed elbows with scientists and engineers during his time as a PR man for General Electric.  Even his brother Bernard was a scientist of note.  In Palm Sunday, he remarked that good writers weren't to be found in English departments, but in chemistry, zoology, anthropology, and physics departments.  "That's where the writers are most likely to be," he said. 

As I like to think Vonnegut had, I've been suffering from a bit of writer's block.  The words aren't coming as easily as I'd like.  So, instead of continuing this poorly-worded soliloquy, I leave you with this:

You are missed, Kurt.


Karl Pilkington: Idiot or Philosopher?

Last week, I was told of a travel show put on by Ricky Gervais called An Idiot Abroad.  The premise of this show involves Gervais's dim-witted friend Karl Pilkington traveling the globe to see the New Seven Wonders of the World (including the Great Pyramids instead of the Colosseum).  Along the way, Karl must navigate local cultures and customs much to his chagrin and Gervais's delight.

The very title of the show sort of sums it all up.  Karl has been labeled an idiot.  Stephen Merchant describes Karl as a "typical small Englander" who doesn't care much for travel.  Gervais and Merchant put Karl through all manner of awful experiences that most budget travelers are all too familiar with.  He stays in awful hotels and hostels, is kept awake by street noise and party-goers, is forced to eat foods that are he considers absolutely disgusting, etc., etc.  Believe me, if you've ever traveled as a backpacker, you've probably experienced most of what he goes through.

However, the most interesting thing about the show wasn't the Wonders or the cultures.  It was Karl himself.  Despite the constant complaining and cringing, I was amazed at the humorous, yet oddly poignant observations this so-called simpleton made.  In Mexico on Easter Sunday, Karl was witness to the Burning of Judas festival.  He asks his guide what this has to do with Easter, since he doesn't see Jesus or chocolate eggs anywhere.  The guide is stymied for a second and has to formulate an answer, which tells me that he hasn't really thought much about it himself.  After thinking for a few seconds, the guide explains that the burning objects are a proxy for Judas Iscariot, and that the festival is symbolic revenge for betraying Jesus.

Now, here's where I begin to view Karl as less of an idiot and more of a Socratic philosopher.  By his line of uncomplicated questioning, Karl made his local guide think about the festival and explain it.  I'm inclined to believe that Karl has forced a deeper understanding of the festival upon the guide, even though he himself admitted to knowing nothing about it.  I was also beginning to view Karl as a hell of an amateur anthropologist.  I mean, I went to school for six years to learn how to ask this sort of simple question, and he's doing it naturally.  Now, as unintentional as this may have been, is this the work of a proper idiot?

I did some Internet searching and I found another documentary starring Karl titled, Karl Pilkington - Satisfied Fool.  This production follows Karl around as he takes a Mensa IQ test and talks to "intelligent" people as he tries to decide if he would be happier if he were more intelligent.  At the end of the show, we're informed that his IQ score was 83 (the national average in the UK & US is 100).  This show is not amusing, but it is enlightening.  Despite Karl's lack of education and his apparently low IQ score, the way in which he handled the deeper question of the show reinforced my perception of him as a philosopher, albeit a simple one.  At the end of the show, Karl wonders if he would still be himself if he were smarter.  That question alone shows both wisdom and character.

And wouldn't his simplicity make him a more pure philosopher than an ivory tower intellectual?  Most philosophy students will read what others have thought, and then use that knowledge as a framework for their own thoughts.  But Karl is unfettered by the legacy of those who came before.  And the fact that his mind seems to work in a wholly different way means that he may potentially be a very influential thinker.  But will anyone understand him well enough to filter through the crackpot ideas to get at the intellectual gold?  Or am I overthinking this myself?  In the meantime, I present this for your consideration:


Dear Super Bowl Fans: GTFO!

I hate football.  I don't just not like football.  I mean, I really hate football.  So, imagine my misery when I discovered that this year's annual grunt-and-sniff fest, also known as the Super Bowl, was to be held in my fair city.  My first inclination was to run far away for four days prior and two days after the meeting of the mentally challenged had occurred.  Unfortunately, money is in short supply and the TSA has outlawed the use of good looks and charm to gain entry to an airplane.  So, I'm stuck.

Once it became apparent that I would have to ride out the storm, I stocked up on canned goods, bottled water, and ammunition.  I built a barricade of literature and philosophy books, since intellectualism is to a football fan what garlic is to vampires.  And even though I'm not inclined to believe in a god, some celestial force seemed to side with me.  Freezing rain and sleet pelted a city that is woefully unprepared to deal with winter weather.  The roads were all but impassable and the mass transit system came screeching to a halt.  The Dallas Morning News posted stories speculating on whether or not the poor response to the snow and ice would hurt Dallas's chances of getting another Super Bowl.  Only if I've been a very good boy this year!

Today was unfortunately a good weather day.  Most of the snow and ice has melted, and the gridiron gits swarmed the streets of Dallas.  They clogged the highways just like the fatty build-up in their arteries, and turned a Saturday evening drive into a scene from a David Carradine movie.  And since I live in an area of Dallas that is flush with bars, restaurants, and other night spots, I'll be able to hear their tribal grunts, howls, and hollers all through the night.  I can hear them skulking around in search of hot wings and Bud Light as I type this.

You may wonder why I'm so bitter toward football and football fans.  If you've ever been around them during their mating season (again, the Super Bowl), you understand.  If you don't, you're probably one of them.  In short, I've found that football fans tend to suffer from the worst ethnocentrism (if you can call it that) that I've ever seen.  When I was in the navy, people would often ask, "Did you see that game this weekend?"  I would say, "Nah, I don't really like football."  The response to that was almost always, "What are you? Gay?"  My common response to this was something along the lines of, "Hmmm, let's see...I don't like to watch a sport where a grown man in tight pants bends over in front of another grown man in tight pants.  This man then places his hands near the genitals and/or rectum of the man in front.  When they do something right, they celebrate by slapping each other on the asses.  Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm not the gay one here."

Tonight is like the skirmish before a vicious battle.  The enemy is out there, probing my defenses.  Tomorrow their primal rage will reach a crescendo.  Many will revert to behavior not seen since the Australopithecus.  Objects will be thrown, possibly fecal matter.  The spoken word will be meaningless as the higher reasoning centers of the brain are cut off from oxygen by alcohol and trans fats.  I will be secure within my fortress of books, blasting Stravinsky to keep the beasts at bay.  The line in the sand has been drawn; woe to those who cross it.

Should this be my final post, tell my wife that I thought she was alright.


Publish or Perish

I'm a social scientist that is surrounded by medical doctors.  As such, I often have to struggle for some professional respectability at work.  Unless, of course, they have a noncompliant patient, and then it's all, "Could you please talk to this guy and find out what his problem is?"  Oh, and then there's the periodic, "Could you read this paper and edit it for me?  The submission deadline is 20 minutes away, and I don't have basic grammatical skills."

Anyway, the point of my rambling is that I've had my fingers in several papers and posters that have been published and/or displayed.  Yet, if you look at my CV, you'll notice a complete dearth of publications.  The reason behind this is that when you have eight to 12 authors on a paper, the non-MD/PhD gets the shaft.  That's me.  Regardless of how much data I collected or if I almost completely rewrote the paper because it read like the product of a drunken colobus monkey with a medical dictionary, my efforts go unrecognized.

So, I've grown weary of waiting for someone to be gracious enough to allow my name to grace an article.  I've decided to take matters into my own hands.  I realized that it wouldn't be very difficult for me to write an article discussing the influence of anthropology on an author's work since I've read just about everything this person has published.  Once the article is written, I'll try to get it published in a literary journal at the very least.  It's not a scientific article, but, hey, any publication is better than no publication.  Unless you're publishing in The Watchtower.

When I was outlining the article in my head, I foolishly thought that I'd be able to knock it out over a weekend.  Maybe a full week with edits.  That was two weeks ago and I'm not even halfway to my desired work count.  The problem is not that I don't know the material.  The problem is that I have to find the perfect citation with which to back up my argument.  And when your source material is the work of an extremely prolific author, slogging through the texts can be a bit time-consuming.  Not to mention nerve-wracking.

What started out as a shameless effort to pad my own CV had morphed into a labor of love.  However, the honeymoon is over and I'm now dealing with the harsh realities of completing a paper that even I have lost interest in.  The only thing sustaining my efforts at this point is the thought of sweet, sweet vindication when I (hopefully) see my name on an article and the letters "MD" are nowhere to be found.


Holy Crap - I'm Listed!

I just found out that this blog is listed as one of the "Top 50 Blogs for Anthropologists" - number 50, in fact.  I have to admit that this comes as something of a shock.  So much so that my face was flushed and I was maybe a little light-headed when I found out.  That means that someone out there actually reads what I'm writing. 

So, in light of my newfound popularity, I promise to make an effort to think about what I say before I post it.  I'll try to stick to more anthropologically relevant subjects.  I may even post the occasional retraction.

Oh, who am I kidding?  This blog is pure catharsis for me.  It may make me a piss-poor anthropologist, but people annoy me.  Life annoys me.  It can be absurd and pointless, but we keep on keepin' on and this blog helps me do that; hopefully without hurting anyone in the process.

So, thanks to those of you that read my incoherent ramblings.  I mean that - no sarcasm or anything.  And now that I know someone is paying attention, I'll try to post a bit more regularly.  It's just that sometimes people annoy so much that, at the end of the day, all I can do is rock back and forth in the fetal position for an extended period of time.


Are Political Pundits to Blame?

Yesterday, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head outside a Tucson grocery store while meeting with local members of her constituency.  She's alive at the moment.  However, 13 other people were injured and six were killed, including a 9-year-old girl.  Unless you've been in the wilderness for the past 24 hours, you know this.  Even my often shockingly ill-informed wife knew about it, so I won't spend a great deal of time on the details.

I'm the first to admit that I had never heard of the woman before yesterday.  But when I heard that she was a Democrat in Arizona, my knee-jerk reaction was that this was a politically-motivated attack.  It is beginning to look as though I was right.  Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old gunman, left a series of nonsensical, rambling diatribes on his YouTube channel, which are curiously lacking in the gross misspelling one might expect (though there are a few). Spelling ability aside, the posts still make absolutely no sense.

The YouTube posts do not specifically target Giffords or link Loughner to any clearly-defined political ideology.  However, they seem to be fearful of a growing government and many refer to "mind control and brainwash methods" and the erosion of civil rights.  Giffords's offices had been the target of vandalism and she herself had received threats after the Health Care Reform Bill passed.  Many view this legislation as another attack on civil rights.  Or maybe I'm just trying to make connections where they don't exist.

In the next few days and weeks, I expect there will be "experts" appearing on news channels with all manner of psychoanalytic profiles of Mr. Loughner.  We'll probably hear about how "deeply disturbed" he was and I expect that someone will blame his reading list, which included dystopian classics like Animal Farm and Brave New World.  But what I'm hoping to hear is that reactionary political pundits like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin share in some of the blame for this.  And just to be clear, I do not consider Palin to be a politician.  She may have been once, but now she is just another conservative pundit.

This is the problem that I have with the political discourse in the country today.  No longer do "journalists" appeal to the public's reason - it's all about stirring up primal emotional states for the sake of higher ratings.  And higher ratings mean higher advertising revenue.  But when all the red-faced vitriol espoused by the doughy Beck or the plastic Palin falls on the ears of someone that may not be able to reason through the bullshit, what happens?  When a person with a head full of bad chemicals constantly hears calls for armed revolution or sees political attack maps dotted with crosshairs, what is the expected outcome?  And is this the desired result?

Maybe some good will come of this awful event.  Maybe this will encourage news channels to reign in their attack dogs and return to the sort of responsible journalism that has been resigned to the less exciting days of Walter Cronkite.  Now, don't think I'm advocating for censorship - that's the last thing I would ever do.  But I am hoping for some common sense and responsibility from those with the loudest voices.  The job of journalists is to inform and let the public draw their own conclusions, not stir up a hornet's nest.

By the way, I also intended to post about the emasculation of Huckleberry Finn, but I was busy and never got around to it.  The short version is that I think editing the book to make it more PC is the worst idea in the history of bad ideas.