Considering God’s Plan

Oprah quote“It’s all part of God’s plan.”

That’s bad enough.  But I go a little nuts whenever someone says: “Everything happens for a reason.”

After all, if you actually believe that we’re all just mortal puppets dancing on a divine string, then there’s really no point in us having an adult conversation about cause and effect.

But unlike God’s plan, “Everything happens for a reason” does not suggest a deep detachment from reality, which is precisely what makes it far more exasperating than assertions of, say, childhood leukemia being an important cog in God’s grand machinations.

Rather than embracing wild delusion or concocting a fantastic blend of paternal benevolence and cruelty, “everything happens for a reason” suggests a far murkier and depressing version of surrendering reality.  Like the “God’s plan” adage, it indicates the speaker just can’t live up to the horrors of life, and is wont to soothe oneself with the balm of inevitability.  But it also leads me to suspect that while the speaker is sane enough to dismiss sadistically intricate divine plans, s/he has been reduced to hiding behind the gauze of unstated and unknowable “reasons.”

Everything happens for a reason.

In other words, the worst of it can be justified, even if we don’t know how.

To say childhood leukemia is part of God’s plan is to give that reason a name.  Specifically, God’s plan is how one justifies the horror.  That’s pretty awful.

But to say childhood leukemia happens for a vague, unnamed reason is to accept that it’s justified in some way, but to not know what the justification is.  That seems even worse.

Both proverbs, to my mind, are patently dishonest sentiments.  But while I can easily dismiss the former as delusion in the face of pain, the latter reveals just enough self-awareness to anger me.

God’s plan is the refuge of those who, unable to face up to harsh realities, opt for fantasy.  But to recognize that childhood-leukemia-as-God’s-plan is a form of lunacy, yet hide your own weak-kneed desperation behind claims of “reason,” is really insulting.  It’s one thing to dismiss rational thought altogether when attempting to face life’s horrors.  It’s quite another to bastardize and mangle rational thought to create a shield against life’s horrors.

Or so it seemed to me when I first considered these aphorisms. Read more »

Execution by Firing Squad

Cuban Batista Fire SquadYesterday, Utah became the first state to bring back execution by firing squad.  Once a common method of state execution, firing squads gave way to electrocution during the early 20th century, which in turn gave way to lethal injections later in the century.

However, some of the chemicals crucial to lethal injection are manufactured by European companies, and the European Union bans capital punishment.  These companies have stopped selling relevant drugs to state governments in the United States.  Half-baked efforts to find substitutes have led to a series of gruesome, botched executions.  Thus, Utah embraces the firing squad as an alternative.

My own feelings on the death penalty are complicated.  In an abstract sense, I don’t actually have a problem with killing someone who intentionally commits a brutal, unjustifiable murder.  But at the same time, but I do oppose state executions.

The vagaries of a U.S. justice system, which is plagued by institutional racism, classism, and occasional incompetence, is enough for me to say there should not be a state-administered death penalty.  Furthermore, I don’t actually think the state should be in the business of killing its own citizens, even its most reprehensible members.

But if there is going to be a death penalty, then we as a society should confront the violence of it instead of pretending that we’re “civilized.” Read more »

Let’s Pretend: Life Has Meaning

Sad cakeLast month I offered about 2,000 words on the meaninglessness of life.

“Life is meaningless,” I said.  “Nothing matters, nothing at all.” 

I suggested that “meaning and truth are just illusions that humans chatter about incessantly because they can’t stomach the sheer meaninglessness of it all.”

Indeed, your birth was an act of unfathomable randomness, as is the very existence of life on Earth and the rise of humanity.  We delude ourselves by creating and embracing meaning.  But the absence of truth is the only truth I know and meaninglessness is the only thing I have.

“And today,” I said last month, “I just can’t bring myself to pretend otherwise.”

But 5 Mondays ago isn’t everyday.  The fact is, many days, perhaps most, I do pretend that things matter and that truth exists and that morality is real.

I pretend even though I know I’m pretending.  I can’t help myself.  I’m not a guru of nihilism with single-minded purpose of pulling back the curtain to reveal the empty chair where you thought sits the wizard.  I’m not a sociopath incapable ascertaining that anything might matter beyond me.

I’m just a regular person for the most part. Read more »

In Memoriam: Spock

Mr Spock by ZootCadillacThere are many obituaries of Leonard Nimoy being written and published in light of his passing today at the age of 83.  I will not add to them.  I won’t pretend to offer insights into his life or even his career as an actor and director, which spanned six decades.  Instead, I will mourn the passing of his most famous character, Mr. Spock from Star Trek.

I watched a whole lotta Star Trek growing up.  Way too much, no doubt.  When I was in elementary and junior high school, it was running fast and furious in syndication.  In New York City that meant every evening before or during dinner on WPIX channel 11.

Probably about 200 nights per year for several years I watched an episode of Star Trek.  There were only 88 total episodes, so you can do the math.

The peak of my devotion came in late junior high school.  My friend Erik and I took the subway from the Bronx down to the Penta Hotel in Manhattan, across the street from Madison Square Garden on 7th Avenue.  They were hosting a Star Trek Convention and Nimoy was the guest speaker.

I didn’t really know what to expect.  All I knew was that I loved the show and was curious about delving deeper into it. Read more »

Year of the Sheep

Pic: Phil McClean/solentIt’s the Year of the Sheep!  Step back!

This is my year.  The Chinese restaurant paper place mat told me so.  And I’m gonna own it.

I used to be sheepish about my sheepiness.  I used to mumble when people asked me what my Chinese sign was.  I used to suffer with silent envy when someone else mentioned that they were a Horse or a Tiger or, gasp, a Dragon.

Why couldn’t I be a Monkey, I thought to myself.  Monkies are comic gold.  Or a Rooster, giving me a handy excuse to say Cock! in polite company.  Even a Rat would’ve been better.  Much hated, sure, but they’re crafty survivors.  And living here in Baltimore, they’re like the unofficial Spirit Animal of the city.

A snake’s badass.  I woulda loved to be a Snake.  I’m a Scorpio in Western astrology, so I know the pleasure of being badass and  having the deadliest sign.  In quiet moments I dreamed of being a Scorpio-Dragon.

I dunno. Maybe it’s too much to have the coolest sign in both, to be a Scorpio-Dragon.  Maybe the world just can’t handle that.  Maybe I’d be too badass.  Anything else, though, would’ve been better.

Rabbits are cute.  Pigs are tasty.  Dog’s are better than people.

But a Sheep?  Dumb mutton.  Something to be ordered around and shorn of its self-respect. Read more »

This Essay Is Not About American Sniper

American SniperI was gonna write something about the Clint Eastwood film American Sniper.  Seems like a topic of the Now.  Something the internetting public can really grab onto and scream about.

Clint Eastwood: Sentimental warmonger, or artist of more nuance than leftists and pacifists can discern?

U.S. sniper Chris Kyle: Troubled war veteran of humble origins whose experiences are a sharp prism for viewing America’s exploitative class divides and tragic foreign policy, or a remorseless, racist killing machine who’s murderous life and violent death reflect much of what’s wrong with the nation?

That kinda thing.  People love that sort of stuff.  Gets ‘em all jacked up, clickety-click.  Plus, I just saw the movie and have some ideas of my own.  But you know what?

Fuck it.

I don’t wanna talk about moral ambiguity.  I don’t wanna dissect global politics.  I don’t wanna filter through the finer shades of artistic vision, intention, and reception.  I don’t wanna delve into any of those abstractions.  I don’t wanna tap society’s pulse and jump on the topic du jour.  You know why?

Because life is meaningless. Read more »

The Existential Horror

Human life

I’m on a Big Boat

sinkshipI think I’m supposed to call it a ship.  I get confused about these things.  All I know for sure is that we’re headed south.

I used to be tough when it came to winter.  Not like strap-on-some-snow-shoes-and-hunt-a-walrus-with-a-harpoon tough, but tough enough that a five month season in Nebraska or Michigan didn’t bother me.  That, however, was then.

I’ve lived in Maryland since 2001.  It’s made me soft.  When I first showed up, I thought to myself: These people are pathetic.  Complaining about their mild, mid-Atlantic winter that lasts all of ten weeks.  Can’t drive worth a damn in the snow. Losers.

And I do still make fun of them for their shitty winter driving and their weird snow amnesia; every year when it snows for the first time (and it snows almost every year), there’s a collective gasp of horror and frenzied panic, as if they’ve never seen the white before.  Two inches, they close all the schools and pillage the supermarket. But by the time it dumps eight inches in late February, they’re acting like seasoned pros, talking about how this one’s easier to shovel than the last one because the snow’s not as wet.  Every year, the same thing, evolving in two months from snow virgins to grizzled winter vets.  Strangest fuckin’ thing I’ve ever seen.

Read more »

In Memoriam: Mario Cuomo

Mario CuomoI was nearly 10 years old during the 1977 New York City mayoral election.  Old enough to remember, but too young to really understand.  All me and my friends knew that is that it was coming down to Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo, two city boys, one Jewish and one Italian.

“Did you hear?” my friend asked me?


“There are posters that say Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo.”

We laughed at the rhyming ditty.  We laughed at the word homo.  We laughed because that’s what we’d learned growing up in 1970s America: laugh at fags.  They’re ridiculous.

It wasn’t just a 10 year old’s version of an urban legend either.  The posters were real.  For the rest of his life, Cuomo denied having had any involvement or knowledge of the ugly, homophobic smear campaign.

Koch won despite the controversy, and went on to become a three-term mayor of New York.  He would never get married, never publicly admit to being homosexual, and never forgive Cuomo for the slur.

Cuomo would bounce back, however.  Read more »

Sugar Sweet

I recently visited Scotland for the first time.  While there, I did something I’ve not done since I was a child: one day during lunch, I enjoyed a crisp, refreshing 7-Up. And the next day I enjoyed a fruity, robust Dr. Pepper.

Mmmm, mmmm good.

What’s that you say?  Have I not had a mainstream soda-pop in over a quarter of a century?  No, of course I’ve had the occasional 7-Up or Dr. Pepper since childhood.  But I’ve never really enjoyed one as an adult.  And the reason is simple.  More than two decades ago, American beverage producers began using high-fructose corn syrup instead of sugar.

I’m not here to squawk about the supposed health hazards of corn syrup vs. refined sugar, which, quite frankly, I know next to nothing about, though for the record, I can’t imagine that either one of them is actually any good for you.  We’re talking about soda, not pomegranate juice.

Rather, I’m merely advocating for good taste.  After all, as any Coca-Cola fan worth their weight in saccharine can tell you, sugar just tastes a helluva a lot better than high-fructose corn syrup.  That’s why each year the savviest of soda drinkers eagerly await the annual production of Coke made with real sugar, kosher for Passover; look for the cans and bottles with yellow tops.

So why the icky, sticky syrup instead of the clean, crystalline taste of sugar in our “fizzy juice,” as it’s known over in Scotland? Read more »

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