Archive | August, 2010


31 Aug

I’m not sure why, but tourists have been on my mind a lot in the past 10 minutes. (So instead of getting some sleep I write a post about it) I grew up in a tourist town, Virginia Beach, VA. It’s not as big as Washington, D.C., but it have over 440,000 people living there. The city’s economy relied on two things: the massive military presence in the area and tourism. I never went down to the beach much because it was covered in tourists. All along the boardwalk there were shops selling cheap touristy crap and parking was a nightmare. We kind of looked down on tourists. They were like babies that didn’t know anything and made a mess. Admittedly this is kind of a stupid attitude to have when the tourists are bringing in money to support your town, but we still did not  respect them. Some people tolerated them, others wished they’d go home. I still feel most people think this about tourists all over the world, at least initially.

I was twelve when I first traveled out of the US. The trip took me to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein. The year was 2000 so traveling as an American was a lot easier. The terrorist attacks of 9-11 were a year away and we had not yet started invading other countries at will. Nevertheless, I was fearful of appearing as a loud, ignorant, spoiled American.  During the trip I trended to stay quiet and isolated myself from the tour group whenever possible. Unfortunately, a lot of the people in the tour group were loud and obnoxious. I remember taking a carriage ride up to Neuschwanstein Castle and over hearing another group of Americans complaining that they could walk faster than the horse pulled the carriage up the hill. (Then get your fat ass out of the carriage and walk!) I also remember that a lot of the people in the tour group would walk up to natives and automatically start asking questions in fast English. Yes, English is a lingua franca for most of Europe, but I felt this was still rude. How would you feel if a stranger came up to you and started frantically speaking in a foreign language without warning? There are people in the US that love to say “if someone is going to come here, they need to learn the language!” Mostly they are talking about Hispanics immigrating from South America, but I’ve always wondered if these people felt the same applied to them if they visited another country. (Most likely not because I find the people who get upset about these types of things seldom travel outside of their town and are very xenophobic)

That first trip was quite a learning experience. I have since traveled to Europe three times. All three times were when America was under Bush and after the invasion of Iraq, so I had to tread lightly (Despite supporting neither). In order to avoid that horrible American tourist stereotype I developed some personal guidelines for how I act when I’m in another country:

  • First off, and most importantly, I try to be humble. I am in another person’s country and home, I don’t tell them how things should be.
  • I tend to try and listen more and talk less. I find people really appreciate when someone stops to listen to what they have to say.
  • If I need help, I at least make an attempt to speak their language. I know I will butcher it, but I’ve found most people are amazed you even bothered in the first place. When you are open about your ignorance, but give it an honest try, you’ll find most people speak English and are more than happy to help you.
  • I try and take as little as possible. Traveling around Europe is not like being on an all-you-can-eat cruise ship, nor is it just a giant theme park. These are people’s homes. Don’t make a mess, take only what you need, and be polite.
  • Don’t complain about how things are different. If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s hearing my fellow American tourists complain about the lack of creature comforts everywhere. So your room doesn’t have air conditioning and they don’t put ice in your coke, deal with it.
  • Try the local foods, even if they may sound weird. I’ve been on trips where all the other people in the tour group wanted was American food. You get that all the time in America! We’re in another country! Try something new!
  • Lastly, I try not to look overly like a tourist. I know this is superficial and impossible to completely hide, but I try to minimize how much I stand out.  Most tourists are easy to point out. Their clothes don’t match what the natives are wearing, they have a camera out all the time, they’re wearing sneakers or a baseball cap, and they often have some type of fanny/belt pack.  I find a simple backpack looks a lot less suspicious and can hold a lot more of your stuff.

The girl that kicks ass

28 Aug

I spent today watching the film adaptations of the Millennium Trilogy by the late author Stieg Larsson and was blown away. The thing that struck me the most was just how amazing the main character is. Lisbeth Salander is an extremely talented “researcher” and works for a company that does security and background checks.  The second main character is Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who after being falsely convicted of libel, steps down from his magazine job and takes up work on solving a 40 year old murder mystery (which eventually blows up into the hunt for a religiously motivated serial killer.)  Lisbeth, having done a “background check” for a client on Blomkvist, repeatable hacks into his laptop and learns of the murder mystery. Blomkvist is unable to decipher a code of phone numbers in the victim’s diary, but Lisbeth does. After solving the code, she decides to make herself know to Blomkvist and the two pair up to solve the mystery.

Meanwhile Lisbeth has major problems of her own. At the age of 12 she attempted to kill her father after he repeatably raped her mother, once beating her so bad as to cause brain damage. Because of this murder attempt, and the fact that her father’s identity and status in the country was a matter of national security, a conspiracy ensued to have Lisbeth locked up until she was 18 in a mental hospital, and then made a ward of the state, despite being 25.

One of the things that is amazing about Lisbeth is how resourceful she is. Despite being a ward of the state, she manages to get a job for a security company and manages her life like any normal adult. That is until her elderly legal guardian has a stroke, only to be replaced with a new one. This new guardian seizes control of her bank accounts and acts as a parole officer, each week writing reports on her behavior. He alone has the power to completely destroy her. Not surprisingly, this new “guardian” uses this leverage to extort oral sex from Lisbeth in order for her to have access to her money. This is where Lisbeth takes matters into her own hands. She sneaks a video camera into her hand bag on a trip to her guardian’s apartment. To her horror, this time he brutally rapes her, but it is all caught on film. Knowing the police have been no help to her in the past, she comes back to her guardian a third time, but this time ambushes him. When he wakes up, he’s chained to the floor. She shows him the video footage of their last “encounter”, then tattoos “I am a sadistic pig and a rapist” in big black letters over his stomach. She informs him that he will write lovely things about her in his weekly reports, and that she’ll have full access to her money, or else the tape goes to the police. Thus she regains complete freedom.

Over the course of the three stories, Lisbeth becomes an avenger of sorts for woman who have been battered, raped, and murdered.  In the second story, “The girl who played with fire”, Lisbeth and Blomkvist take on a sex trafficking ring. There is an amazing bit of dialog when Lisbeth ambushes one of the perps (named Sandstorm) at his house. She ties him up and asks:

Lisbeth: In January you visited Irina in an apartment in Norsborg. Why?
Sandstorm: I don’t know… I wanted her. She was beautiful.
Lisbeth: Beautiful?
Sandstorm: Yes, she was beautiful.
Lisbeth: And that gave you the right to tie her up and fuck her?
Sandstorm: <silence>
Lisbeth: You’re a sadistic pig, and a rapist.
On top of being very resourceful and able to take control of things, Lisbeth is extremely independent. She moves freely around the world and even manages to consistently evade the police after she’s framed for a triple murder. There is this one scene, and it might sound trivial on the surface, but Lisbeth has just moved into a new apartment and is assembling all the furniture with power tools.
Again, it might be silly, but I felt the point of that scene was to emphasis that there is nothing she can’t do, simply because she’s a woman. Another interesting side note is her sexuality.  Lisbeth is bisexual, sleeping with men and women at various times in the trilogy. I interpreted this as another example of how she’s in control of who she is, and doesn’t let other people dictate her behavior. The same holds true for her clothes. For a good part of the films she is wearing dark punk goth outfits, with her hair and makeup to match. Oddly enough, she seems to dress this way the most whenever she’s in a place where it would be the most inappropriate (conventionally speaking) to do so; like an office or court room.  (I must say, I also very much appreciated how Lisbeth was never portrayed as a sex object. She is a fit and healthy woman, but at no point in the films does it come across like she’s being sexualized. She’s a normal, average woman doing great things.)
Another thing that really surprised me was the relationship between Lisbeth and Blomkvist. Whereas most movies are about the male main character somehow saving the weak female character, this story made them equals. Blomkvist is heavily dependent on Lisbeth in the first movie. He is unable to solve they mystery without her, and she even ends up physically saving his life.
There is some sex in their relationship, but at no point is it turned into a power thing, or as a form of payment/reward. (In fact, the first time they have sex, Lisbeth wakes Blomkvist up in the middle of the night because she just feels like it) But I digress… With Bloomkvist owing his life to Lisbeth by the end of the first film, the power balance quickly levels out as Lisbeth gets framed for three murders and requires Blomkvist’s help to clear her name. (Not to mention he saves her life too). The best part is that while she needs Blomkvist’s help in solving the conspiracy, she by no means sits back helpless. The entire time she’s out fighting and uncovering facts for herself while Blomkvist tries other leads. At the end, Blomkvist get’s a “thank you” instead of sex. This way the relationship remains one of equals helping each other out with mutual respect, instead of Blomkvist riding in on a white horse to save a poor damsel in distress and being granted sexual favors in return.
It was really nice to see an intelligent, strong, capable, independent, and resourceful female lead that wasn’t also sexualized. If anything, Lisbeth really reminded me of Ripley from Alien. I can only hope to see more characters like her.

Time is pretty cool

27 Aug

I’ve had this thought about time for a while, being a history geek and all, but never put it down on paper. I think it’s interesting how we divide time up into hours, days, months, and years. There is this notion that a “day” is a set block of time between sunrise and sunset and that it somehow ends when you close your eyes to go to sleep. Sleeping seals that day off in the past, closing it forever. We do the same thing for every new year. At midnight on December 31st, the year is over, click, done. We start a new year and everything is reset.

The funny thing is that only we humans do this. The separation of time into neat little categories is completely artificial and exists only as part of our collective conscious, the same way the internet is the collective “conscious” of millions of computers. Here’s a quote I read years ago that really brought this home to me:

“Time has no divisions to mark its passage.. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.”
–Thomas Mann

In reality there is no clear delineation of time. Yes, days and nights come and go, but animals, plants, and rivers don’t know it’s a new year. It doesn’t matter to them, it’s all a continuum. What really blew my mind as a history major was the realization that there was nothing separating the past from the present. Yes, time has passed, but historical eras are not like distant countries; self contained within set boarders. Time doesn’t stop and reset between Rome and the dark ages, or the dark ages and the middle ages, or the middle ages and the renaissance, and all the way up to now. Those delineations are artificial markers created by us. Time doesn’t stop and reset when one day ends and another begins.

People come and go, clothes, buildings, languages, and art change, but there are no set boundaries. When you look up at the sun or the moon, they’re the same as when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, when the Egyptians built the pyramids, when the Romans were conquering Gaul, when crusaders were invading Jerusalem, when DaVinci was painting, when resistance fighters fought the Germans in France, and on and on through the never stopping continuum. I’m not sure if I’m making any sense. It’s hard to try and convey this idea that consists mainly of gut feelings.

Late night thoughts

26 Aug

Gah, I dragged myself out of bed to get my laptop so I could type under the light of the moon outside my window, and now my mind has gone blank. Actually, that was a lie. I remember what I was thinking while I was half falling asleep, right before I forced myself out of bed to get my computer, but I really don’t want to write about it. Why am I doing so? Well I’m hoping putting it all down on paper…er, screen, will help me sort through some of it.

Today was a boring day. I did nothing of consequence today but watch movies with beautiful people in exciting locations. One was an nc-17 film called “The Dreamers”, set in France in the 1950’s during the student riots. I liked the films, but they made me acutely aware of how much I hate my boring life. I want to be some place exciting, some place were things are happening, just like in those movies. I feel like I’m beating around the bush here. This isn’t what I pulled myself out of bed to write about. The topic I’m half-heartedly trying to avoid is death. Well not so much death as life. I’m trying to seriously examine my reasons for living right now. I know that sounds horrible, and it’s why I’m hesitant about writing this, but I want to get this out of my head so I can sleep.

Let me be blunt: I feel the main thing keeping me from killing myself right now is that my parents have spent too much time, money, and energy to get me to this point. There, I said it. It’s ugly, but there it is. All the money for college, dental, clothes, everything, it’d be such a horrible waste if I just killed myself. That and it would devastate them. The fact that my reason revolves around other people scares me. I guess I feel I have a reason not to die, but no reason to live. Thinking about this I realize it sounds insane. I’m ridiculously lucky to be living in the situation I’m in. I have a roof over my head, parents that love me, I have a college degree, I live in a major industrialized country, I’m not disabled, and I don’t have any debt hanging over my head. I know there are billions of people who’d give anything to be in my place. It makes me feel ashamed and selfish for hating my life, but I do.

Every day is the same, it has been for months. Still no job, no direction in life, few friends, plenty of arguments with the parents over jobs and my future, and I’m stuck in a state I hate. I feel trapped. I can’t seem to get a job anywhere outside of the state, and the only jobs in this state are really shitty ones. I feel like if I take a really shitty job just to get money, I’ll have to spend that money later trying to get another degree in order to get a job that will get me the experience I need to land an even better job. By the time I do that, I’ll be in my 30’s. My young and exciting years when I could have been apart of something exciting will be over, and I’ll be alone and leading a pointless existence.

My biggest fear is getting into a situation where I live to work. I have no passions. I used to have great passions, but they’ve burned away. I think that’s the main thing making me feel like I have no reason to keep going. If you’re in the position where you exist only to work at your job, well that’s worse than death. I’d kill myself right away if that were the case. Like I said, I feel bad for how lucky I have it, but those are all material things. So I’m comfortable. That doesn’t matter to me. I want to be doing something, making a difference in a cause I believe in. I’d rather be living in a run down apartment, fighting for a cause with good friends, than in this comfortable solitude, without purpose.

Screw it, I can’t keep my eyes open any longer, I’m going to sleep.

Build the Muslim community center!

25 Aug

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you’ve heard about the planned Muslim community center that is going to be built 2 blocks away from ground zero. Fox news has dubbed this the “9/11 Mosque” or the “Terror Mosque”. Fox viewers, known for being easily scared, quick to anger, and slow to do their homework, did not disappoint. Thousands have shown up to protest outside of where the community center is to be built.

Fox news has repeatedly alluded to this evil person funding the mosque, how the organizations he supports fund terror, and how he builds extremist Islamic madrassas. The thing is, Fox never directly named the person they were attacking. They preferred to keep it shadowy, knowing their audience wouldn’t bother to fact check them and see who this person was. The person funding the community center is Prince Alwaleed, a Saudi. Here he is in the left of this picture:

Here’s the sweet sweet irony. Do you know who that is in the right of the picture? That’s Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News. Why is this Alwaleed (who is an evil Muslim terrorist according to Fox “news” anchors) shaking hands with Murdoch? Because he is the #2 largest share holder of News Corp and Fox!!! He owns Fox! That’s right! The evil shadowy guy the Fox reporters are demonizing is actually their boss!  Either they’re trying to hide that fact and still get people angry and worked up (in which case they’re incredibly evil and manipulative) or they honestly don’t know that the guy they’re bashing owns their company (in which case they are mind numbingly stupid).

The fact that angry Fox viewers, by watching and supporting Fox, are by extension helping Alwaleed and his community center, aside; this is really a constitutional rights issue. The 1st Amendment guarantees that the government can’t prohibit the free exercise of religion. Building a religious building on private landed, funded with private money is fair game and the right of these Muslim Americans. Ron Paul, of all people, came out to defend this point:

It just baffles me how people can go on and on about how they’re defending the constitution and our rights, and then the moment an unpopular group tries to use those rights, they go ape shit. News flash: The Bill of Rights protects everybody, not just the popular people/views. Not sure if you got the memo. Now as an atheist, I’m no fan of Islam. I’m no fan of Christianity either, but as a hated religious minority I can sympathize with the Muslims on this one. Newt Gingrich came out and said we shouldn’t let any mosques be built in the US until Saudi Arabia lets churches be built. Seriously Newt? You want us to lower ourselves to the same standard of Saudi Arabia? The fact that we do allow unpopular views to exist freely here is what makes us better than that desert hell-hole! I think a lot of the people protesting this mosque don’t understand that basic fact. We are better because we are tolerant, not in-spite of it.

I’m willing to bet you that some of those people protesting now also believe the terrorists hate us for our freedoms, that the terrorists want to take away those freedoms. If that’s true, let me ask you this: If you then try to take those exact same freedoms away from other Americans, how are you different from those terrorists that tried to them from you? How do the terrorists not win if we start taking freedoms from other Americans just because we don’t like them? How does that make us any different from the bad guys? No, this community center should go up as a giant “fuck you!” to the terrorists that would love nothing more than to see us turn on each other and start tearing down the constitution.

The atheist’s worst nightmare!

24 Aug

Spent all day today making this little spoof on Ray Comfort. Check it out! 🙂

Only the New Testament

22 Aug

From my youtube channel