Remaining Childless Does Not Mean A Person is “Selfish”

With adults of a certain age range, a cold war is going on, and there are two definite camps:

Those that have kids and can’t imagine why others wouldn’t want them, and people that don’t want children and don’t understand why other people do.

Now, the vast majority of people are not at either of those extremes. Like a lot of lifestyle issues, they just don’t care what other people choose to do. Most parents I’ve known don’t care if their friends have kids or not, and the same thing applies the other way around.

The are lots of things that both of the extremes say and do that are pretty shitty. I’m not going to call someone a breeder for having or wanting a kid, but I really don’t understand parents that think the childless are somehow morally deficient or “selfish.” Sure, there ARE some people without kids that claim they are too selfish to have them, but that’s not something that can be applied across the board.

To those reading this that have kids, I ask that you understand that I’m not bashing people with children. I like kids myself, although I’ve never had any great desire to have one of my own.

I’m merely countering the oft-cited criticism which tells us that childless people must be more selfish than those with kids.

First of all, what would be the basis of this perception, besides the occasional individual that claims selfishness as their main reason for not wanting kids.?I don’t recall electing those folks as spokespeople for the rest of us.

It seems to be a sad condition of human nature that humans tend to bond closely with those most like themselves, and often lack the open mindedness and empathy needed to at least get along with people that don’t share the same lifestyle choices.

It’s relatively common to find parents, especially new parents, who suddenly expect that the world should change to be safer for their kids. This is understandable, as the world can be a scary and dangerous place, but it’s off-putting when people that you know, who were going clubbing and partying a few years earlier, suddenly look at their old friends as being irresponsible for doing the same stuff they once did.

So what happened? They had children, and that’s scary. They started to see their former lifestyle as potentially dangerous to the well being of their offspring, and the primal drive to protect their kids has made enemies out of former friends.

And of course, a lot of the time those former friends resent losing their party buddies to parenthood. After a point those friendships might even be abandoned, as all parties gravitate to other individuals living lives more similar to theirs.

In any case, not having children and not wanting to have them is not some inferior moral choice. Nor is it automatically selfish, anymore than the desire to have children is automatically selfless and beneficial to society.

I would argue that having children can be seen as a more selfish act for a variety of reasons, but primarily because the people that benefit the most from having kids seem to be the parents that have them. I guess most parents hope that their kids will grow up to be super geniuses that will in some way better the world, but that’s no more likely an outcome than their offspring damaging the world.

I’m using extremes to make a point, but every murderer in history started out as someone’s kid, and while most people’s children won’t grow up to be monsters, there’s always that possibility. It’s probably as likely as them growing up to be the next Albert Einstein.

So who is likely to REALLY benefit from someone’s choice to have children? It seems that in most cases it’s the parents themselves that eventually benefit the most. Having kids offers them the possibility of a survival network should that kid and his parents live long enough for the aging parents to need care.

I’ve even had parents argue to me that I need to have kids for that very reason. So who really benefits from another person’s choice to have children?

In any case, I’m not arguing that there is something wrong with wanting to have children. It’s a hard wired human need for most people, I just object to the idea that by choosing NOT to have kids, I have revealed myself to be selfish in some way.

Can people see the level of my generosity based on whether or not I produce offspring?

What about the huge numbers of bad parents out there? The ones that treat their kids negligently or abuse them? I’ve heard a lot of people try to claim moral superiority over the years by claiming that they’re good parents, but to paraphrase an old Chris Rock joke, “you’re supposed to.” People shouldn’t get credit for doing what they’re supposed to do. The only thing that proves is that they’re better than the bad parents out there.

You don’t get brownie points for doing the right thing when you’ve initiated the conditions that make doing that thing necessary. If I take in a stray cat, nurse it back to health, and then beat it viciously, does that make me a good person? It would’ve been better for me not to adopt that cat at all, would it not? When you decide to create a little human, you better be up for the job. Maybe once he or she grows up, then you can sit back and get some form of credit, but until then, the parent is expected to do the right thing.

The is undoubtedly a lot of pressure put on people with kids that childless people don’t deal with. That doesn’t make parents eligible for sainthood, nor does it mean that by rejecting the choice to have children that childless adults are somehow morally inferior, selfish, or homogeneous in their reasons for making the choice they did.

In the end, I’m happy for my friends with kids, and in most cases I like their children. When a friend is excited about impending parenthood, I’m really happy for them too. In almost every case I can think of, the people I know who have had kids have felt that their lives were greatly enriched by becoming parents, and I’m happy for them.

I just get sick of being told that people like myself must be more selfish, or that we don’t know what we’re missing, or any number of other lame things that a few parents have told me over the years. I’m a fairly intelligent human being. I think I can at least get an idea of what it must be like to have a kid, to be a parent. My life is far from empty, and I don’t regret my choice a single day. We’re not all wired the same way. That doesn’t necessarily make one choice superior to the other.

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Your House is The Town Asshole – The Trouble With Giant Houses in Old Neighborhoods

Before I begin this entry, I’m going
to come clean – I generally hate the giant modern homes that
so many people seem to love. “McMansions” generally make me
think the person buying or living in them are spoiled people
with more money than taste.

That’s not to say that I think a big house is automatically
indicative of some sort of creepy need to impress other
people, or because the people living there are greedy, although I
admit that those thoughts do cross my mind. I try not to
judge people I don’t know, so I generally try to avoid those
conclusions, but it’s hard sometimes.

Whatever my own feelings on the growing trend towards bigger
and bigger homes in this country, there’s no debate that new
houses are indeed getting much bigger over time.

I knew this intuitively, because I witnessed it happening as
I grew up. In the 70’s and 80’s a 2,000 square foot house
was considered large, and certainly large enough for a
family to comfortably live in. The only people I knew that
lived in bigger homes were a handful of folks that were
genuinely wealthy, and even in those cases, their homes were
usually smaller than the enormous new homes that many people
seem to prefer now.

These observations are not unique to my experience, it has
been studied in depth. A recent USA Today article makes note
of the fact that:

“At 2,306 square feet, the typical new home is about 50%
larger than its 1973 counterpart while the typical family is
10% smaller and the typical household 15% smaller.”

So, families are getting smaller, while house sizes are skyrocketing. A person born in the early 80’s to an upper
middle class family might not even realize that a house over
2,500 square feet was once considered very large, and
still IS a lot of space. As individuals we tend to believe
that what we grew up with is the norm, but that’s not always
the case. Many postwar homes built in the 1950’s and 1960’s
are less than 1,500 square feet, some a lot less. I myself
spent over fifteen years living in a two bedroom home in
Central Houston that was less than 700 square feet. With
roommates and significant others.

Somehow, I survived.

So it’s not that families CAN’T live happily in less
space, it’s that over time more people have become self-indulgent to the point that anything less than a 3,500
square foot McMansion with a media room and a “Great Room”
is somehow roughing it.

Now to me, I don’t have a problem with desiring more space.
It strikes me as a human need. We don’t do particularly
well crammed into really tight spaces, especially with
other people. But many of the newer home features that
people seem to want were once only in the homes of the
extremely wealthy. The cathedral ceilings and granite
countertops that new home buyers are attracted to these
days were rarities until relatively recently. Like most
trends, they will eventually fall out of favor too. But my
own taste aside, it’s not a desire for space or pretentious
sounding rooms (looking at you again, “Great Room”).

It’s the redevelopment of older neighborhoods.

OK, there’s a difference in slow gentrification of obviously
shitty neighborhoods. If you live in a area where it’s
easier to score a crack rock than it is to walk your dog,
then maybe gentrification is a good thing.

When it’s the case of a neighborhood where the main
cultural event is weekly cockfights, then there’s nothing
worse than seeing carpet bagger, scumbag developers start
to circle like buzzards. And if the neighborhood begins to
quickly become popular with upscale younger people, the old
residents are essentially fucked.

I’ve had the misfortune of dealing with quite a few developers in the process of redeveloping an area of older homes, and they have almost all been lying scum.

One recent specimen kept saying the mantra “I build good homes” sounding a lot like a man that beats his wife and kids but says he’s a good dad.

This particular developer was lying directly to my face and tried to build in a lot next to me without having permits approved yet. Real gem of. Human there.

This new breed of developer sees nothing but a quick buck, and they’ll do whatever they have to to get it. They have no concern for the neighborhoods they’re building in, they see their projects purely as a way to gather wealth for themselves.

Sadly, my hometown of Houston is a prime example of this at
its worst. Since the city doesn’t have zoning, and very few
neighborhood protection regulations, developers there
have been systematically reinventing the neighborhoods
closest to downtown for the last couple of decades.

Neighborhoods that were once working and middle class places
with small to medium sized homes with nice big yards, are
almost completely covered with hideous cookie cutter
“luxury” town homes and McMansions built ten feet from one
another, and covering the entire lot.

But hey! They have cathedral ceilings, great rooms, and a
“media center”! What more could some pathetic urban dweller
want or need? They certainly won’t need a yard, since most
of them never spend any appreciable time outside anyway.
It’s a waste of space to them, they could have a bigger
bathroom!

The problem is that this kind of redevelopment kills the
original personality of the neighborhood, and often that was
what attracted the first wave or two of yuppies to begin
with.

On another related note, I find the attitudes of some people
who seem to feel entitled to the giant house to be puzzling.
A lot of the ones I’ve known have been tireless champions of
the poor and oppressed. Do they not see the hypocrisy in
wanting to live in an enormous luxury home that may have
displaced long time residents of lesser financial means? How
do they reconcile their pursuit of lowering their carbon
footprint when they also play into a trend that’s decreasing
any green space a neighborhood might have once had in
exchange for almost total concrete coverage?

There’s a disconnect there. Or a lack of self awareness. I’m
not sure which.

If a person has the means to buy a 10,000 square foot house
that’s not destroying the character of an older
neighborhood, or negatively affecting the environment, then
go for it. Build that sucker on two or three acres somewhere
and enjoy. But if you buy a house that’s over 3,000 square
feet big in a neighborhood where most of the other homes are
older ones that are a little more than a third of that size?
Then your house is the equivalent of a pushy asshole that
will get what he wants by any means he can.

Do you want to live in the house equivalent of the town
bully? I wouldn’t.

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That certainly looks good. Doesn’t look out of place at all…

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Must be nice to look next door and see…. That Abomination… I mean… Large house next door.

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Let’s Talk About “Cunt” – In Defense Of A Troubled Word

It’s funny, but I think that there has been an acceptance of vulgar language in our society. People routinely drop words like “bitch” or “asshole” as if those words are no big deal. Even fuck” and “motherfucker” are common enough to have lost a lot of the impact they might once have had.

But there is one word that still seems to elicit shock when it is uttered.

CUNT.

For reasons I do not understand, the C-word is apparently one of the last profanities that still freaks people out. It’s the verbal equivalent of an atom bomb, and can silence a room when it is used to refer to a women.

I’m a man, so some will question my right to assess the hurtfulness of a word, but I’ve given this a lot of consideration simply because it seems that the outrage over being called a cunt often exceeds that of other similar profanities. It’s as if people just decided that it’s somehow worse than other vulgar words.

There is understandable anger over the use of vulgar words for female genitalia. Sexism is alive and well in our culture, and women have been and still are oppressed because of their gender. I can understand the anger that many women have when they hear a word like “pussy” used to indicate a state of weakness.

But there’s a difference with the word “cunt.” When a woman is called a cunt, it usually seems to be because she is powerful.

The following is from a very good article on this subject from the website Jezebel by Katie J.M. Baker:

“As Laurie Penny argues, “there are no other truly empowering words for the female genitalia” besides the c-word. “Cunt” isn’t scientific, it’s erotic. “Cunt” doesn’t refer to a baby cat or a treasure chest. It conveys purposeful sexual power, not submission. It’s mature. Women get called cunts when they reject sexual advances and assert themselves in the workplace; in other words, when they don’t play nice.

People who use ethnic or racial slurs propagate long-held systems of oppression. But “cunt” doesn’t have the same type of larger, disturbing historical context. Slate ran an etymology explainer post yesterday explaining how the word went from street name-suitable in the 13th century (“Gropecuntelane.” Nice.) to vulgar (Francis Grose’s 1785 A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue defines “cunt” as “a nasty name for a nasty thing”) to scoring the #1 slot in a 2000 BBC ranking of the most offensive words of all time.

Seriously? Why do we let “cunt” retain so much negative power? The only possible explanation is because so many people still think the worst crime a woman can commit is to be unapologetically sexual.

I can understand the argument that calling a woman a “cunt” is akin to telling her that is all she is: a brainless hole that needs to be filled, etc. But since so many politicians and comedians and cops and college kids seem to think that anyway, the solution isn’t to be afraid of the word and therefore scared to admit we have cunts — and are capable of acting like cunts, if the situation calls for it.”

At one point, use of the word seemed rare in America, and “bitch” was generally used more commonly. But now, “bitch” has been assimilated into popular culture and speech to the point of it losing most impact. Seeing some middle classed mom wearing a “Super Bitch” shirt at Walmart illustrates its fall from power as both a curse word, and as an indicator of a female that doesn’t submit to any old authority. It’s basically the equivalent of some elderly man in a “Grumpy Old Fart” shirt these days, and since men are often referred to as “bitches” now, it’s not exclusively aimed at women. The same can be said for “cunt” really.

But when used derogatorily towards a woman or group of women, “cunt” still feels like an indicator of power, not weakness, to me. I think that by embracing that attachment as a power word, women would rob the creeps that use it to insult them of a lot of their power. You know what scares sexist men? Women that don’t back down and don’t let things like unmentionable words upset them.

I also considered the other commonly used slang terms for female genitalia, many of which are used as insults. “Twat,” “pussy” and “snatch” all sound worse than “cunt” to me. One indicates a small cat, the others just sound gross. Cunt sounds warm and pleasant by comparison. Even “vagina” sounds horrible to my ears. It’s just an ugly sounding word. It’s also Roman slang for a sword sheath. Sort of the equivalent of “pussy” somehow becoming the preferred scientific term for lady parts after a couple of thousand years.

I’m sure I’m getting written off of some of my female friend’s Christmas card lists for writing this, because as a man how dare I take a position on the use of a bad word for female genitalia? But all I’m saying is that allowing the word to have such negative power really just arms the sexist assholes that are most likely to use it to try to “put a woman in her place.”

Besides, I kind of relish the idea of seeing middle aged women wearing “Bitchy Cunt” t-shirts at the local mall in a few years without the cops getting called on them.

The Jezebel article I quoted:

http://jezebel.com/5987317/cunt-should-not-be-a-bad-word

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Couldn’t think of a good photo to use for this article, so here’s a picture of mt beloved dog Bitsy… Who really wants to reclaim “Bitch” for her canine crowd

Parents Always Distrust The Things Their Kids Enjoy Doing…

I remember being an adolescent in the very early 80’s, and it seemed that a lot of the adults around me were just waiting for some insidious activity to trigger criminal and perhaps Satanic behavior from me and my friends. The fact was, we were neither resourceful enough or driven towards anti social behavior enough to get lured into anything particularly awful when we were that young – The criminal/dangerous stuff would have to wait a few years.

 

And yet, our parents and assorted other adult authority figures sure thought that everything we liked dong was going to cause us to become violent junkies worshiping dark gods.

Comic books, Role Playing Games, Horror Movies… The list of moral threats was a long one. And of course there were video games… Particularly arcade games.

Like everything from rock and roll to comic books, parents have always seemed to distrust whatever it is their children are excited about, and in the late 70’s and early 80’s, a lot of parents were scared of the then new arcade games that were fast sweeping the nation in popularity.

Here is a sweet look back, at the dumb stuff that scaredy cat parents were freaked out about way back then:

Just remember future parents:

If it’s fun, it must be evil and dangerous!

Zombie Gays, E.T. Satan’s Extraterrestrial, and The Devil at The Toystore

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Probably On Their Way to a Satanic Gay Bar.

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This Sinister Zombie Probably Wishes That Ice Cream Was a Dick.

Way Back in the 1980’s, during the Satanic Panic, various con men tried to scare folks into believing that pretty much EVERYTHING was “Satanic”, particularly anything kids enjoyed. Phil Phillips was just one of those joyless creeps, and wrote a series of books that found the Devil hiding in kids toys. His book “Turmoil in the Toybox” is a classic of ridiculous for profit fear mongering, and is well worth tracking down for comedic purposes.

In this video documentary, Phillips opines that E.T. and Star Wars are both Satanic, and the Smurfs are zombie gay guys or something. The Thundercats and He-Man are also evil agents of Lucifer, as is Rainbow Brite.

It’s easy to ridicule this stuff, but we shouldn’t forget that Phillips and people like him were also responsible for contributing to an environment of fear that caused many innocent people to have their lives ruined by the outlandish accusations of “Satanic Ritual Abuse”. I’m sure Phillips was responsible for many unfun Christmas mornings.

Let’s Discuss Dick. In Defense of Small Ones.

I’ve noticed that a lot people have an interesting view of the penis. Yes, I realize the built-in joke in that sentence. Please bear with me.

Recently, some woman, who I don’t know and have never met, made a “little dick” joke aimed at me on Facebook. I don’t think her intention was to put me in my place. It was more of a funny burn, because that thread was on the topic of women’s breasts, and I’d mentioned that I don’t think breast are “a big deal.” (Yeah, I realize there’s a joke in that sentence somewhere, too.)

Anyway, my point was that I really don’t see why naked boobs are so transgressive here in the USA. I like them a lot, but I don’t even consider a woman going topless as nudity. At least, it’s not automatically erotic unless the context of that specific situation is.

So, this female Facebook goblin made a joke that I believe was supposed to infer that I have a small penis, and it got me to thinking about how the size of a man’s cock is perceived in our culture.

I feel like even bringing up this subject means I have to throw out a couple of disclaimers, and that shows what a weird subject it is.

First of all, I myself don’t have a little dick. The fact that this admission might be perceived as some ego-driven bragging might demonstrate the bizarre way dick size is treated here. I’m not John Holmes, but I’ve never had anyone with first-hand experience say that I was small in that regard. Without getting specific, let’s say that, while I suffer from plenty of male insecurities, that is not one of them, and never has been. If asked to pose nude, I would be a lot more insecure about the size of my gut than I would about the size of my schlong. I will leave it at that.

But just because this isn’t one of MY insecurities doesn’t mean that the size of a guy’s dick isn’t used as an insult pretty often. When someone makes a little penis joke aimed at a dude, it’s obvious that having a small weiner is viewed as a bad thing by most people. Worse still, I can’t count the number of times over many years that I’ve heard women make fun of a guy for having a little dick. Sometimes these are even nice women, and it seems that making fun of a guy based on the size of his privates is acceptable.

I have to wonder why? Sure, guys can be dicks. Whoops! Did I just use a slang term for the penis as a pejorative? It seems I did.

OK, back to dick size discrimination. Just the fact that women will use the cheap shot of saying a guy has a small wee-wee in order to verbally destroy him seems to indicate that smaller cocks are viewed poorly by a lot of people. Why is that?

I’m sure that at both ends of the size spectrum there is a point where things aren’t great. A tiny penis is probably no lamer in action than a truly monstrous one, and I’d wager that, while completely subjective, most women have a preference somewhere in between. But really? I’ve had female friends that had boyfriends with little peens, and they seemed content enough, so I have to assume that a smaller cock doesn’t necessarily indicate that sex can’t be fulfilling. On the other hand, I don’t know too many females that would really want a guy with a 14 inch dick inside them. A few female friends that have encountered such “dicks of death” have told me that they were almost useless in some ways.

I’m not beating up on men with giant units either. It’s just notable that they don’t have the image problem the little dicked guys do, nor is having a big one usually used as a withering criticism.

So what gives?

There’s also a racial aspect to this stuff. It seems to be standard in this culture to assume that black guys have big dicks, white guys smaller, and Asian guys get the smallest of all. Really?

So what effect does it have on a black guy’s self esteem if he happens to be less endowed? Asian dudes benefit from the stereotype of being viewed as smarter or more ambitious than white or black men, but what if you happen to be an Asian man with average intelligence and a big dick?

I’m just saying that there are a lot of problems with this stuff. It’s been suggested that the idea that blacks have the biggest dicks of all has also been used to project the image of black men being “savage” or more animalistic in regards to sex, and that isn’t necessarily a great image to be shouldered with.

So it seems to me we have some weird ways of looking at dick size, and judging men on that criteria, and I just don’t think that’s ok. Why is one of the worst things a person can say about a male that his penis is small? That’s fucked up.

I realize that I will probably take shit for this particular post. Go ahead, y’all can say I have a little dick. It seems to be the worst thing a person can say about a man.

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9 Lessons You’ll Learn Playing in a Rock and Roll Band

Most people have entertained the fantasy of becoming a wealthy rock star, and a lot of them buy an instrument to fiddle around with. Most folks eventually just throw that instrument into a closet after they move to another hobby, while a few become proficient players but never leave their bedrooms. This leaves a small number that actually form bands and take a stab at playing live to real audiences.

So what are some of the lessons that these aspiring rock stars are likely to learn or encounter on their way up (or down) the ladder of live music success? It’s not all mountains of cocaine and groupie gang bangs on the tour bus water bed, is it?

Let’s explore this further.

1. Almost No One Will Care About Your Band For Quite A While.

That’s the hard truth. You might be great, your band mates equally adept at playing, but unless you’ve already been around your local scene for a few years and attracted some fans that might care about what your new band is doing, you will have to work your way up to that point. And it’s hard. Lots of playing shows at shitty venues, to a handful of personal friends and significant others that will come out to see “Death Hippie” play at noon on a Wednesday (if you’re lucky).

I’ve known people that were so desperate to play that they’d gig just about anywhere, over-saturating themselves at shows almost no one would care to go to. Gothic band playing a taqueria? Great idea! How could that fail to shuttle a band to instant fame and success? At least the tacos are there to soak up your tears after playing to a homeless guy, your girlfriend, and a stray dog that walked in.

It takes a lot of work and luck to build a fan base, even a small local one. If after a year or two of steady gigging that success hasn’t happened, it’s time to reevaluate the “plan,” or the viability of “Death Hippie” itself.

2. Many Venues and Club Owners Are Assholes To New Bands.

It would seem like club owners and the bands that play at their venues would have a close working relationship, maybe even a level of friendly cooperation since they both, in theory, want the same thing – to pack the club with a huge crowd of people. Makes sense right?

Well sadly, it turns out that’s not always the case. Maybe not even usually the case, because bands and club owners want the same thing for different reasons.

Club owners want a crowd, that is true, but they want a crowd of people willing to pay a cover and drink the shit out of some overpriced bar drinks. They don’t care how they get to that outcome, and would gladly book a band of howling baboons instead of your band if they thought that would fill their club. In some places, they’ll grant a newer band the “privilege” of playing their dive bar, but only if the band manages to presell a certain amount of tickets. If they don’t, then they’ll have to pay for any unsold ones themselves – the dreaded “Pay to Play” scenario.

There are reasons that certain famous venues seemed to be at the center of musical revolutions. Besides being at the right time and right place, they usually had a club owner that was willing to allow young unproven bands a chance to play and develop a scene. If Hilly Kristal had stuck to his original plan to feature country and bluegrass music at his Bowery bar, people might never have experienced The Ramones, and CBGBs would likely be a long forgotten dive. Most of those club owners are in their business purely for the money, and will book whoever can make them the most cash with the least amount of effort on their part. They simply don’t care that Death Hippie could revolutionize the world of Jazzy Space Metal.

3. Not All Venues are Created Equal.

I’ve seen so many bands booked to clubs that were bad matches for them, and it’s a common mistake . It’s probably more normal to find in places with fewer music venues, but I’ve seen weird band to club matches in cities with great places to play. I already mentioned the Gothic band playing at a taqueria (which is a real scenario I witnessed), but I’ve also seen hard rock bands booked into restaurants that cater to sedate yuppies, and I’ve seen metal bands trying to work their magic at wine bars. If your style of music is likely to repel people and drive them from the type of venue you’re playing at, it might be time to look for a different place to play.

4. The Sound Man is Your Friend (Or Worst Enemy)

This should be obvious, but I’m always surprised at how it somehow isn’t. Assuming that you’re playing a venue that regularly features live bands and is equipped with some form of in-house sound reinforcement, you’re probably going to encounter a sound man or two. These range from completely unskilled imbeciles (a friendly/angry hobo that the bar owner has let in, for instance) to trained professionals (people that actually took classes to learn the trade).

These people can save or ruin your show. Be forewarned.

Being an asshole, ridiculing the dude’s hideous blonde Afro or beak-like nose, is not a good idea. Being dismissive or really demanding is also a dumb move. You don’t want to kiss these guy’s asses, but being somewhat friendly and positive when dealing with them is a good idea. Because if you’re not, they can fuck your sound up royally.

Being up on stage in front of a crowd is a uniquely vulnerable position to be in. It doesn’t make things any easier to discover that the blond Afro and beak-nosed sound man you pissed off earlier has enacted his vengeance during the climax of your rock opera about kittens. Suddenly realizing that you can’t actually hear the other players in your band, because your new enemy dropped all of it from your monitor is not a comfortable feeling.

It’s best to not argue with these guys, unless you’re paying them yourself. Also, developing a good relationship with them pays off if you plan on playing that venue again. Tipping or buying the guy a beer after the show are not bad ideas either.

5. Being in a Band is Like Being in a Relationship (and it can be a dysfunctional and abusive one where the police are called and the neighbors hate you).

I think most people start out forming bands with friends. It’s likely that people in the same circle of friends will share similar taste in music, and also less likely that they’ll tell you how much your playing sucks.

The problem is that being in any band is tough, and involves a lot of hard work under the best of circumstances. Just showing up to practices consistently and on time can be too much for some folks, and there’s a lot of loading in and setting up of heavy equipment. If you have a lazy slacker “friend” in your band, resentment will build quickly.

After a certain point, it is likely that an ambitious musician may find himself joining a band consisting of people he doesn’t know, or doesn’t know well. Yeah, probably everyone gets along alright, but they’re not close friends. It’s more like business partners in a very strange and difficult business.

A person in this situation will get to see the best and worst of the people he’s collaborating with. If the band plays shows out of town, it’s likely that the members will be cooped up in a van together, smelling the bass player’s curiously fruity farts, and hearing the singer talk about how he once auditioned for “Whitesnake” back in the day “when they were trying to dump Coverdale” for the two hundredth time. You’d better be up for seeing the ugly and selfish side of your stinky bandmates, or this will slowly drive you crazy. If anyone in the band has a drug problem or is a drunk, you’ll experience the fallout from that sooner or later; if they’re thirty five years old and like sex with teenaged groupies, you’ll deal with that too.

6. Bandmates Can Have Different Agendas.

When I was in my first really serious band, I DID feel like we were a family. I felt an intense loyalty to them, and passed up some pretty good opportunities for myself as a result. If I’d treated being in that band less like being a member of a family or gang, and was more mercenary, I might still be touring in some outfit. Who knows, I kind of sucked back then, but it might have happened.

The thing is, not every person in a band is always on the same page, or feels the same amount of loyalty to the band. Some treat it as a side project to what they’d really like to be doing, others want to secretly (or not so secretly) find a slightly more popular band to jump to. The point is, a lot of people base their band affiliation on what’s in their own best interest. This is understandable, but it takes a concentrated effort by everyone to make anything happen, and having a bass player that wants to leave “Death Hippie” the minute “Ass Assassinator” asks him to join can be disruptive and demoralizing.

7. It’s Like You’re Also in a Relationship With The Other Members’ Significant Others.

Make no mistake about this. When you join a band, not only are you entering a weird relationship with the other members, your entering a relationship with their significant others.

It’s likely one or more members of any band will already be in some kind of romantic relationship, and will have a girlfriend or boyfriend, or husband or wife lurking in the background. Even if they don’t, being in a band automatically triples anyone’s ability to attract a mate, and you will soon have at least one or two bandmates with a romantic partner. Totally normal right? That’s certainly not a big deal is it?

Yes, yes it is.

Even if that significant other is a more or less cool person, they will likely tire of their boyfriend or girlfriend always being at a band function without them, and they will start to come to every one of those functions. I’ve been in bands that had a “no girlfriends at practice” rule, and they still showed up.

The problem is that many of the basic things it takes to be a member of a popular band are not things that are good for a romantic relationship. There are reasons that this is a cliche. A bandmate with a significant other will have added pressure placed on him to choose the best interests of that person over what is good for the band. You finally got a dream show opening for a huge band? Oh wait. It’s Charlie the cowbell player’s girlfriend’s birthday that night. He won’t be able to make it

Or the member in a relationship will have a built in “number one fan” that will usually eagerly point out how he’s the most talented member in “Death Hippie” and the rest of the band needs him more than he needs them.

Or maybe the significant other will just hate someone in the band for some reason, or have some strange problem with the direction the band is going in.

It’s not going to make things easy if the singer’s new girlfriend is a fundamentalist Christian and thinks the other members of “Death Hippie” worship Lucifer.

8. Image Is Important, Whether You Admit it or Not.

Ah, yes. A lot of bands get criticized for being image based. Usually that goes hand in hand with “They have no talent” and “Anyone could dress up in those monkey suits and dance around.”

To a lot of people “image” equals “not talented.” This of course is a really stupid thing to believe. I suppose David Bowie never made any music worth listening to, but “Poison” sure did.

My point? Image shapes people’s perception of a band, and gets their attention. But a LOT of musicians think that they can make it big without giving their image any thought at all. I can’t count how many local bands I’ve seen where it looks like every member walked in from a different band. Your band better be AMAZING, and I mean, transcendent in their ability to entertain in an engaging way, if you have a bass player that’s 40 years old and dresses like an accountant, a drummer that looks like he wants to be in W.A.S.P, a singer who thinks a Hawaiian shirt and flip flops are cool, and a guitar player that looks like he’s in Duran Duran.

Actually, that sounds kind of awesome, like a kitschy 80’s tribute band, but my point is that too many bands don’t give any thought at all to how they will look on stage, or they have an actual stance against having an image of any kind.

All this means is that they didn’t choose an image, but the audience will choose it for them. Unless they are the most amazingly brilliant band to ever come through town, the image that most audiences will assign such an outfit is “Suck” or “They looked stupid.” Well played, anti-image band guys!

No one is saying that a band has to dress up like Prince, but not wearing your clothes from the day job at Pizza Hut is a good rule of thumb.

9. Most Bands aren’t Democracies.

I think there’s some lingering “ideal” that most people have, and even some musicians have, that bands are run like democracies. The idea is that everyone contributes equally in the decision making processes, and every member has a hand in contributing to the songs.

The fact is, I’ve never seen a band that operated like that. I’ve been in a few that were closer to that ideal than others, but generally speaking, someone has to steer the ship, and usually one or two members make the lion’s share of the band decisions, or at least have the deciding vote. They’re usually the ones writing most of the songs too. That doesn’t mean that the other members don’t contribute anything creative to the mix. Usually they do. But hard feelings and jealousy will often arise when someone thinks they deserve to contribute more, and I understand that feeling. Musicians tend to have egos, and we all like to think that we have some classic songs locked up inside, and if Andy the goddamned singer would just let me write one fucking reggae song for “Death Hippie” then the world would see my genius.

Andy’s a dick though, and he owns the van.

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The Media, Body Image, & The War on Pubic Hair… Fashion Evil.

Recently, I encountered a discussion where a female “plus-sized” model was being discussed, and the conversation drifted into the subject of what society believes is attractive in a female. It was suggested that the projected ideal of feminine beauty is a limited one, and that it is pushed by a patriarchal structure that allows men to subjugate women to a specific standard of beauty.

I will admit that this idea struck me as odd. I visualized a frightening villain’s lair on a mountain, where a small cabal of evil old men got together and decided how to keep women in their place this year, hatching a nefarious plot to decide what the rest of us will find attractive in a woman.

That unlikely scenario is merely the one that formed in my mind (I do that, my mind tends to move towards the weird end of things) but if I look toward existing social factors and their history, it is impossible to entirely dismiss the idea of paternalistic forces that have long existed to subject women to cultural rules. It is clear that many men still fear female sexuality unless it is corralled in ways that benefit themselves.

The massive and continual influence of Abrahamic religions throughout the world and in this country illustrates this. Those religions have always exerted an enormous, perhaps THE most enormous, social control mechanisms in the US.

Until rather recently, it was almost unheard of for a person to not claim affiliation with a mainstream religion, and even those that quietly disbelieved were still influenced by social customs derived from paternalistic religious tradition.

Still, I feel that the accepted view of feminine beauty is not the result exclusively of paternalistic forces. It is true that by suppressing and controlling female sexuality, one of the reactions to that suppression is an increase in the objectification of the female body. The very act of a woman showing a little skin is still transgressive and can stir emotion in cultures where women are encouraged or forced to cover themselves or dress modestly.

But this isn’t intended as some argument that women aren’t subjugated to paternalistic forces intended to control them. I think that it’s obvious that women are often treated badly in our culture when they step too far out of line. No, they usually aren’t killed like they might be in some particularly shitty regions of the world, but the non-compliant woman does face pressure and backlash that a male might not.

I would argue that the social rule book that seeks to control women, to make them behave, also seeks to a lesser degree to control men that transgress, but I’m not suggesting that there aren’t sexist forces bent on controlling women. There are so many factors that affect gender issues in this country, that you could fill books discussing them. People have, and continue to do so, and I don’t intend to do that here. Instead, this is meant to explore a few points that I think affect a set ideal of feminine beauty as much or more than living in an inherent paternalistic culture.

The only thing I will offer to suggest that this isn’t purely a one-sided phenomena is that men are also guided by many of the same societal forces that women are. I mention this not as a way to suggest that men have it “just as bad” as women, or to draw a direct comparison, but merely to point out that both genders are subjected to social pressure involving appearance.

Men and women both tend to cultivate an appearance that they think will be attractive to potential mates. Look at the current trend of young guys with giant beards. Think that would be happening if enough women were repulsed by having sex with bearded guys? I guarantee that there would be a stampede to the razor aisle the moment guys realized that having a big ass beard wasn’t gong to help them get laid anymore, and might actually prevent it.

There is a popular Internet meme that shows a photo of Marilyn Monroe, and makes the point that she is an enduring sex symbol and was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, but would now be considered “fat” by modern standards. And a casual look at sex symbols from the past 70 or 80 years will show that many of them were much bigger, much curvier, than most sex symbols from the last decade or two. And are those women still considered “beautiful”? I think most people would agree that they were. So what happened?

It’s estimated that the average dress size for an American woman is currently a size 14, so why are we bombarded with images presenting that as a “plus size,” while the models and celebrities that are usually promoted as attractive are much much smaller? What changed?

One of the reasons that popular ideas of beauty have moved away from the larger, more curvy ideal of the female body is simple. Marketing.

We have increasingly as a culture had our very idea of what we “are” marketed to us. And increasingly, what is being marketed is an unattainable ideal of beauty.

In the distant past, being fat and pasty was the ideal of beauty. Only those individuals wealthy enough to avoid manual labor and to have a surplus of food were able to stay pale and grow fat. It was a display of power and prosperity.

Look at the very different way society regards overweight people today. Being fat is often associated with people of a lower income, and many people consider an overweight person to suffer from a lack of self control, or other unattractive personality traits.

Why the shift in perception?

It has to do with changes in our society. It is much easier for a person that has accumulated a certain level of wealth and social status to eat healthy foods, and to tailor their lifestyle to activities like attending a gym. When you’re working two lousy low-paid menial jobs, things like expensive health food and a gym membership are potentially out of reach. When an individual busts their ass doing landscaping or some other menial job just to survive, the idea of spending their money to perform additional physical exertion might seem crazy to them.

In short, being poor doesn’t make pursuing a high societal standard of beauty an easy choice. Dental care and a high level of fitness are not luxuries everyone can afford. Being fat is thus no longer associated with wealth, but with poverty, and is not attractive to most people anymore.

The attainment of an idealized form is constantly promoted by our media as the goal we should all chase, and that’s increasingly aimed at both genders. Men are often fed the same message that women were traditionally bombarded with, that in order to be happy and of value, that they must fit a certain physical standard. It is true that an ugly man with power and money still has an advantage over an unattractive female with a similar level of power and money, but that sexist inequality is slowly changing, and I think it’s largely because of how the media markets to us all.

And what does this kind of saturated marketing achieve?

It basically places value on that which is difficult or impossible to obtain.

Look at it this way. Most people can save up and buy some form of car, but only a small minority of us are ever going to be able to afford a Lamborghini. The luxury brand is valued because of it’s exclusivity, and that applies to any item that people perceive to be obtainable by only a small minority of individuals.

Technological changes have brought into play several forces that affect this. First, the Internet has made it common for many of us to be presented with an almost constant reinforcement of unrealistic beauty. The culture of celebrity worship has never been stronger.

The media has also pushed an old fantasy, but in new ways. The idea that if someone is pretty enough, all they have to do is get the attention of the right person, and instant stardom will surely follow. Witness the new crop of “celebrities” that have become famous by a leaked sex tape, or the incredibly popular talent show format of dreck like “American Idol.” Seemingly anyone that’s good looking or popular enough can become a huge star overnight. It’s a revision of the old “Starlet being discovered walking down Hollywood Boulevard” stories from decades ago.

At the same time, technology has made unreal, actually unreal, depictions of beauty commonplace. We’ve all seen recent examples of airbrushed, or more likely “Photoshopped” models on magazine covers or websites, and this has become more and more popular over the last two decades.

When reality of body image becomes “inconvenient”, technology continues to rescue us, and to feed us a new view of human beauty. The problem is obvious. When that artificial standard starts to become the ideal that people actually compare themselves to, what are the social implications of that unreality?

Women have always been unfairly judged and valued for their physical appearance, and now they’re increasingly being told to alter themselves to better match increasingly unrealistic body images. Why? Money of course. There’s not much to be had marketing the concept that it’s acceptable to be an average looking person, but plenty to be made promoting an impossible ideal of beauty.

Look at the plastic surgery industry. Increasingly, average people turn to various procedures to better meet that increasingly high ideal. There is a well publicized case of a woman that started out pretty enough, but decided that she wanted to look as close as she could to a Barbie Doll. Enter the surgeons, hundreds of thousands of dollars exchanged, and her appearance also completely altered. What sounds like a science fiction story is viewed by many as a success.

I will mention another trend that has sprung up over the last twenty years ago – THE WAR ON PUBIC HAIR.

Yes, and what a hairy war it is. I came of age in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. At that time, most women I encountered did not shave everything off.

Even a casual perusal of any nudie magazine or pornographic film up to about the early 90’s proves that as a society we weren’t previously hung up on women having pubic hair. To most people, the idea that it would soon be normal for a large percentage of adult females to shave everything, would have seemed like a strange direction for our culture to go.

This trend seemed to gain momentum from a media push towards a more standardized and plastic view of female beauty. About the same time that regular women seemed to break out the razors for a more complete body shave, I noticed that, in mainstream porn like Playboy Magazine, the photo editors were adding a synthetic gloss over the models, reducing the obviousness of any pubic hair, and making their whole bodies look unnaturally toned, shiny, and poreless. The level of artifice was suddenly very high, higher than even Playboy had pushed it before.

Since then, I’ve encountered numerous men and (this strikes me as somehow sad) women that think any female that doesn’t shave everything is “gross.” That opinion seems so weird and unsexy to me. By all means, shave whatever you want, but when people start projecting their own hang-ups on others, that’s a weird way to think.

Yet one thing these trends HAVE achieved is to have made us all, but particularly women, subject to a new physical standard, that is farther away from anything naturally achievable by most humans. And of course, since most of us weren’t born with this unreal look already in place, there are lots and lots of businesses that would love to charge us for the service of altering ourselves to better fit that mold.

It’s probably easier feed women the fantasy that if they can just lose another dress size they’ll be afforded the honor of being able to buy something that will make them more attractive than it is to just make the same dress for larger women. It’s a way of reinforcing their insecurities for profit.

If those same clothes were marketed to women of all sizes, then the exclusivity would be diminished. It’s a way of ensuring that only the “right” kind of people – mostly wealthy and incredibly (sometimes artificially) fit looking people can wear your clothing line. It’s an elitist way of protecting the “brand” and it seems to work.

So, is all of this some organized patriarchal plot to keep women down? I think there are plenty of ways that our society treats women poorly, and that patriarchal influences are still there, but I think that societal standards of beauty have been modified. Ideals have slowly changed into something less natural, and just as controlling, but for reasons of commerce and profit as much as keeping women in line. Of course, in many cases, it IS men that are pulling our strings and running the businesses that prey on insecurities. I think there is a difference of intent, although the intent is still evil.

Finding new ways for women to hate themselves, then selling them a solution, is a wildly profitable enterprise. We have to ask, what’s the end game? Better yet, what would happen if everyone in the world wised up, all at once?

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Why Fear Gay People or Equal Rights?

There is no reason for modern people to hate, fear, or persecute gay people.

That’s my thesis statement for this little rant post.

For years, I have heard arguments (almost invariably really weak arguments) that homosexuality is a blight on our society, and that by allowing gays the same rights as heterosexuals, and by fighting against continuing discrimination, somehow civilization will crumble, and there will be people fucking in the streets.

Those arguments often hinge on religious beliefs, so let’s get that one out of the way first.

Here’s the deal. Religious people (and that covers a lot of ground, but since the majority of religious people in America still self-identify as Christians, I’ll address them, although this can apply to many faiths): Quite simply, if you believe in any God and a hierarchy of holy beings, and you guide your opinions and life choices based on that belief, then you must accept that, to anyone that doesn’t believe the same things as you, some, maybe all, of the things you believe sound like fairy tales.

I am not an atheist, and I do not particularly like the completely close-minded, smart assed atheists that seem to often dominate conversations about the value of objective fact verses faith. It should be noted, that while those people often drown out the more reasonable, or at least less abrasive voices among atheists, they are not representative of all of them.

Still, even to a person who is open to the concept of religious belief as a guide for moral decision making, not all religions believe the same things. If I decided that I believed in a giant magic rabbit that granted wishes as long as I listened to Led Zeppelin albums day in and day out, most people might not believe that. If after a great deal of time, my Magic Bunny Zeppelin religion gained millions of followers, many people might do like most of us in this country. We’d show quiet respect for the weird belief systems of others, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else.

And that’s important, because “quiet respect” is vastly different than “actually believing” what someone else does. Respect also works as a two way street. It’s impossible to respect a person with a belief system you find odd or unbelievable if they don’t extend that same respect in return.

So most of us are content to live in a modern society where it’s understood that not everyone shares the same religious beliefs, or any belief at all, but where we are respectful enough to allow people to worship as they please as long as no one is getting hurt. There’s a balance at work.

But that respect quickly erodes when someone expects the rest of us to conduct our lives in accordance with their religious tradition. I’m sure most Christians would be displeased if say, the local Wiccans expected everyone to go “skyclad” on Tuesday because their religion demanded it.

My point here is not to beat up on Christians or other religious people, and it’s not my intention to ridicule anyone. It’s to point out that what might make total sense to a religious person within the bounds of their own belief system may be completely weird or unbelievable to other folks. It’s not fair or acceptable to expect others to live their lives by someone else’s belief system. Our society has managed to bang out various laws and traditions that seem acceptable, or at least tolerable to most of us. Sure, friction arises often enough, but there aren’t violent wars on America’s streets over religious disagreements for the most part.

So, the “Gays are bad because the Bible or Koran (or whatever) says they are,” doesn’t hold a lot of water. It certainly isn’t a good argument for discrimination against gays, unless we also want to enforce other religious laws that have become inconvenient to most modern civilizations.

Besides, in the case of Jesus, he said absolutely nothing damning gays. That stuff all belongs to the Old Testament along with other things most of us have decided isn’t a good fit for a civilized society. I like to think that the Jesus of the New Testament taught a lesson of inclusiveness and forgiveness, not exclusion and hate. Just my interpretation, but I don’t know how so many of Jesus’s followers get the opposite message.

So, if we set aside religious opposition to gays based on ancient rule books, what’s left?

Well, there’s the argument that gays being allowed to marry (a way of society acknowledging their relationships as valid) will somehow undermine the structure of our civilization and open the floodgates to all sorts of truly deviant behavior. I don’t understand how this slippery slope argument is supposed to be compelling. At one time it was socially unacceptable for women to wear pants, and the fact that it’s now normal for women to wear pants didn’t snowball into some indecent trend where people go naked from the waist down on casual Friday.

I’ve heard arguments that if gays can marry, then what will stop people from marrying their dogs? Well, first of all, very few sane people want to marry animals. Secondly, since the animal can’t agree to get married, that argument doesn’t really work on a logical level. The fact that society has loosened its grip on certain things over the years does not mean that a significant number of people are going to push the envelope of acceptable behavior into ridiculous extremes if homosexuals are allowed the same basic rights and freedoms as heterosexuals.

Another angle of this argument that’s used often is to point out the more extreme elements of Pride Parades – men walking around almost naked, as if that proves that allowing gay marriage would compel nearly-naked leather men to hang out everywhere in public, dongs-a-flopping. I can say with great resolve that this is unlikely to happen. For one thing, a Pride Parade is not indicative of the average behavior most gays are going to engage in normally. It’s a Pride Parade – a celebratory moment, that sometimes trends towards the extreme. The guys walking down the street during the parade wearing a banana hammock? Probably work straight (see what I did there?) jobs and have more or less normal-looking lives most of the time.

Then there’s the simple “It’s not natural” responses, intended to cast homosexuality as an abnormal condition or sexual perversion, and in doing so, trying to paint it negatively in the way that we might Peeping Toms. Basically no reliable sources back that view up anymore. Homosexuality might not always have had this status, but it is certainly a normal part of the human condition, and one that has been with us since the very beginning. Often, the people that push the “It’s not normal” opinion, claim that homosexuality is a choice. I find that line of reasoning to be ludicrous, and for a simple reason. What heterosexual has ever made the choice to be straight? Because I don’t ever remember being presented with a “choice.” I suddenly started noticing girls, and realizing that they stirred certain feelings in me. There was never some moment where I chose them over guys. And to the heterosexuals that believe in this “choice” concept, I have to ask. Did you ever consider sucking cocks or touching other dudes? Ever consider man-on-man sex as a viable option? Because if they didn’t, how can they say that gay people chose to be gay? Sexual orientation seems to be something most people are born with, one way or the other. For that matter, if sexual orientation is a choice, why would anyone choose a lifestyle that’s likely to cause them great discrimination and possible danger from those that will hate them? The answer to this is simple. There is no choice involved.

This same lame argument also frames equality for gays as somehow being detrimental to children – that somehow having society regard homosexuality as a normal lifestyle will turn straight kids gay. How this transformation is supposed to take place I have no idea, and I reject it for the same reasons that I reject that “choosing to be gay” scenario. Straight people are going to be straight, and gay people are going to be gay. There may be some shades of grey in there somewhere, but eventually a person generally settles into one camp or the other. Being taught that it’s OK to be gay isn’t in any way going to convince a straight kid to become a homosexual. The fact is that a proven detriment to children is growing up gay in a society where that lifestyle is persecuted. This fact is certainly borne out by the disturbingly high rate of suicide among gay kids.

Finally, the arguments against granting gays equal rights just come down to some weird hatred or distrust of gay people. I’ve heard folks state that the idea of gay sex repulses them, for instance. Fair enough, the idea of it isn’t my cup of tea either, but here’s the deal – granting equality to gays doesn’t mean that straight people have to watch them fuck. Here’s a secret – I don’t want to see MOST people have sex. Even people we think would look awesome having sex, probably really don’t. The average American looks pretty horrid these days. Look around. Do you want to see most of your neighbors pumping away at each other, flopping around and huffing sweatily while they get their jollies? Me either.

Gays probably are equally repulsed by the idea of straight sex, so it works both ways. Society has decided that most of us don’t want to see other people fucking, and has passed laws to keep that from happening, so just because Jack and Bill decide to get married doesn’t mean that we have to watch their bedroom activities.

I guess my point is that it doesn’t matter who other consenting adults want to fuck, it doesn’t in any way affect me, or any of us. The best neighbors I ever had were a gay couple. They had a nice house and yard, rarely talked to me other than waving hello, and never had the cops called to their house – something a few of the straight couples on my street could not claim.

Oh, and I never had to watch them do it.

I think that among some straight men, part of their dislike of gays stems from some stupid feeling that gay men want them. I’ve dealt with a few pushy gay guys that hit on me over the years, but I’ve dealt with a lot more pushy straight women doing the same thing. For most guys, I think they need a better sense of perspective. Are they knee deep in females that want to fuck them? No? Then what makes them think all gay men want to?

Finally, there’s the old argument that “Marriage has always been between a man and a woman,” and that by altering this unwavering LAW OF MARRIAGE, society will crumble. Again, some people must think that all it would take to destroy civilization is a good dose of the Gay, and that’s a pretty troubling realization.

But has marriage always been defined as a bond between a man and a woman? The answer is no. Polygamy has been, and is still practiced throughout the world, and same sex unions which were recognized by society were practiced in antiquity, going back as far as ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Same sex marriages are not a new thing.

When it comes down to it, there really is no valid argument for why one group of consenting adults should accept second class citizenship or discrimination simply because a large number of people are uncomfortable with their lifestyle. There are lots of people living lives that I would hate to live myself, but which I fully accept as OK for them. In the final analysis, nothing that other adults do within the confines of their own relationship or bedroom affects me negatively, and I bet that’s the case for most of us. The idea that it’s still acceptable to treat homosexuals abusively, or to demand that they accept less than the rest of us simply because we’re uncomfortable with their existence, is a blight on our society. In the long run, treating each other fairly and with respect does not erode civilization or our personal religious beliefs, it actually builds the bonds that form civilization, and still allows for our differences.

There is no real way use logic to prove that hatred or discrimination is somehow good. In fact, the interesting thing in attempting to do so is that logic will actually prove the opposite is true. Hatred is not a virtue, and it is a killer of the human spirit.

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The War On Christmas: A Heretic’s Perspective

For many years, there have been occasional cries that a “War on Christmas” is being waged. In the early 2000’s, conservative commentators like Bill O’Reilly began using the term frequently, resulting in it becoming a battle cry for many Christians that feel as if various forces are aligning to eliminate Christmas, or to rob it of all religious connections. Is this a reasonable fear? I am not religious, and decided to look at this “war” from as unbiased a perspective as possible.

In order to decide whether Christmas is under some form of attack from various anti-Christian forces, it is important to understand a bit about the history of how Christmas has been celebrated, and especially how it has been celebrated in predominantly Christian western countries. After all, modern Americans, even those that are upset because they sense that something essential to the holiday is being stolen from them, have been raised in a fairly young country. Many of our Christmas traditions are also relatively young, or borrowed from much earlier customs.

To begin with, many modern Christmas traditions have pre-Christian origins. Caroling, Christmas trees, Yule logs, and Santa Claus himself have nothing to do with Christianity or the birth of Jesus. These traditions have been co-opted into Christmas from much older Northern European pagan rituals, mostly centered around their observance of Winter Solstice. I have even heard that Santa Claus is a reinvention of Thor, although I have not been able to verify that. The point remains that much of the traditions associated with Christmas have nothing to do with Christianity, and it is no surprise that non-believers might still observe some of those traditions in a purely secular manner. They’re fun, and tap into our collective need to cheer ourselves during the bleak winter months.

So how did Christians observe the holiday in the past? Well, up until the Victorian era, Christmas was an almost totally religious holiday for most Christians, although it was secondary to Easter and other holidays. During those times, the remnants of pagan beliefs that had made it into Christmas were very controversial, with fun-loving groups like the Puritans completely rejecting Christmas as a pagan holiday. To this day, certain Christian sects such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t observe Christmas.

Christmas remained a troubled holiday for years. At one point, it was suppressed by Christian churches, because it had devolved into a tradition of rowdy men roaming the streets, demanding alcohol door to door, and generally causing mayhem. In this light, it’s fair to ask, if there is a “War on Christmas,” hasn’t it always existed?

The Christmas that most Americans know is a relatively recent thing. Much of how we observe the holiday has been shaped by depictions in books and movies more than any solid line of ancient Christian rituals, because those just don’t really exist in the case of Christmas.

To be fair, there are some individuals and groups that have criticized the open celebration of Christmas in this country, generally on the grounds that there is a separation of church and state, and that it’s inappropriate to openly celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas in places such as schools or government offices. These outcries are not huge in number, despite getting a lot of media coverage when they occur. If they happened often in a country with as huge a population as the USA, they would be in the news constantly, and they just aren’t.

A lot of conservative commentators that push this “War on Christmas,” and the people that see it as a threat, seem to believe that there is a sinister plot at work, driven by a huge number of atheists and people from non-Christian religious groups, and from what I can tell, this is just not the case.

Yes, there are a few goofy atheists that are so furious at Christianity that they actively try to stop any religious display, and some of them take it to a point that’s ridiculous, like attempting to stop the display of Christmas trees in public. Which is again, an extant pagan tradition. Those people should probably be called out as the joyless buzz-kills they are, just as public school teachers that tell their young students the truth about Santa Claus should earn our collective derision.

But, outside of a small number of activist types, I have never seen any examples of people from other major religions trying to stamp out Christmas. If anything, they’ve shown great restraint and tolerance over the years.

One of the most often cited bits of “evidence” that this “War” is going on are incidences of retailers and governmental agencies beginning to use terms like “Happy Holidays” rather than the once more common “Merry Christmas.” Not a year goes by without this injustice against Christmas and Christians getting attention. But, let’s look at that a little closer. Yes, there have been cases of official state agencies and public schools switching to a more general and secular observance of Christmas. Is that an example of some plot against the Christian holiday, or a reflection that, while the USA is still a majority Christian nation (if we go by percentage of the faithful claiming to be Christians), it is increasingly a diverse nation in regards to religious belief? The bureaucrats that tend to make up the administration of public schools, or run government agencies, usually are going to side with caution, and don’t want to court controversy. If angry Christians are going to complain that “Happy Holidays” is not adequate enough of an observation of Christmas, then they need to understand that overtly religious symbols are not considered appropriate for promotion in certain shared spaces, and it’s not a snub against Christianity unless they are prepared to tolerate the observance of Muslim or Jewish religious rituals in those same places. Heck, let’s bring back some serious Winter Solstice rituals and have them displayed in the town square!

I humbly suggest a burning inverted pentagram to be displayed at every courthouse in the country.

That’s the thing. America is no longer an almost exclusively Christian country, and hasn’t been for quite some time. I know plenty of non-believers, or people with very non-traditional spiritual beliefs that still observe some Christmas traditions. I know Satanists that have Christmas trees. What this illustrates is that Christmas itself has NEVER been an exclusively Christian holiday in this country. Its traditions are borrowed from other, older belief systems, and really show a human need to brighten the winter through celebration than some observance of Christ’s birthday, at least for many people.

As for retailers that have switched to the more generic but inclusive “Happy Holidays” greeting – that too is an acknowledgement that many potential customers aren’t Christians, and that more than one faith celebrates some version of the Winter holiday during the final months of the year. Retailers care about making money, which they perceive is easier by not insulting potential customers by celebrating one holiday while appearing to ignore others.

In many cases, where enough Christians expressed outrage at a retailer’s shift from marketing a specifically Christmas holiday to a more general holiday season, those retailers went back to the Christmas marketing. This illustrates that there is not exactly a “War” against Christmas going on, but that governmental agencies and retailers are scrambling to adapt to our evolving culture.

If there is a war that Christianity, and not Christmas itself, is enduring, it’s a more diversifying cultural landscape, and honestly that’s a problem that modern Christians are responsible for. Change is inevitable, but clearly the Christian “brand” is losing market share over time. There a significant percentage of Americans rejecting Christianity for other faiths, or no faith at all, and while most of them are not specifically antagonistic towards Christianity or Christmas, it is no longer the only game in town, and they shouldn’t be completely ignored.

So a war against Christmas? It’s more accurate to say that Christmas has almost always been a controversial holiday within Christianity itself, and that the “Classic Christmas” traditions most Americans have grown up with are actually a mishmash of both Christian religious observances, older pagan rituals, and invention from literature and film sources. That vision of a classic American Christmas is a fairly new idea. The fact that people of all faiths and no faith have always found a way to celebrate the winter months, and that our own traditions are changing, should not be a surprise to anyone.

What’s also not surprising is that commentators like Bill O’Reilly have a vested interest in creating a “War against Christians” where there really isn’t one. If Christians are worried that Christmas is becoming a secular and generic holiday, without their religious values being represented, then they should reflect that even the Puritans agreed with them.

If American Christians are afraid of a changing cultural landscape that’s not so narrowly focused on preserving their borrowed and made up Yule traditions, then it’s up to them to market their brand more effectively, and increase their numbers.

In the meantime, I will be lobbying for that burning upside down pentagram, and happily burning my Baal log.

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