Culture

A little help for Ben Affleck

New Zealand has jumped on the band wagon of critics calling for Ben Affleck’s head on a platter.

While that could improve Affleck’s acting ability tremendously, decapitation is not always the answer.

hamlet

But, according to some New Zealand commentators, Affleck must answer. Following on the heels of Canada, and everyone who sat through Pearl Harbor, New Zealand critics demand an apology, not just for the bulk of his on-screen career, but because of how New Zealand is depicted in Affleck’s Oscar winning movie, Argo.

Patrick Gower of TV3 explains that New Zealand diplomats didn’t turn away hostages, but assisted Canada in sheltering them. Which is not what the movie portrays. As Gower explains in a recent opinion piece:

The New Zealand diplomats didn’t turn the hostages away at all – in fact we played a key role assisting the Canadians to shelter them.

Affleck defended himself, saying some of his best friends are New Zealanders. He qualified his statement by adding that even though he didn’t like the idea of eating  kangaroo meat, he still thought “that sea-shell-y opera house is kind of cool”.

Personally, I don’t understand what the problem is. As an American who has not seen the movie himself, I think I have a lot to say on the subject.

I didn’t think New Zealand minded being shat upon by the American entertainment industry. If John Key can trample civil rights on behalf of Hollywood and Big Music, and if John Key can recruit the taxpayer as an uncompensated producer of The Hobbit, to the tune of at least $67 million, what’s so bad about being depicted as impotent and feckless? (Even if that is a distortion).

Iran hostage file photo

It has been a tense five days since the Oscars, with talks between New Zealand and Ben Affleck reaching an impasse. Affleck threatened to recall his ambassador, while New Zealand said ‘go on, then’. If not for two New Zealand companies, Grabaseat and Air New Zealand, inviting Affleck to “come and see New Zealand for himself”.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea. And I want to do my part to make this happen. That’s why I’ve created a cheat sheet for Ben Affleck if he decides to come for a visit. This handy item, which Affleck can print out and laminate and wear around his neck from a lanyard, gives Ben Affleck all the basic information he needs to know about New Zealand, without having to google it himself. This list is guaranteed to impress his hosts, and demonstrate that Affleck is willing to do his homework.
Basic information that Ben Affleck needs to have for his trip to New Zealand

Country: New Zealand
Motto: “Not as useless as tits on a bull.”
Population: Several dozen
Gender distribution: 52% male, 48% wool
National flower: Mildew
Capital: Wellington
Major cities:
Major exports: paper, paper towels, stationery, paper tigers, paper moons, newspaper, wallpaper, fly-paper, fly-on-the-wall-paper, tis’Shue paper, paper bags, paper airplanes, paper boy, pepper, wrapping paper, scrap paper, drawing paper, graph paper, re-cycled paper, pre-recycled paper, timber
Prime Minister: Sir Peter Jackson
Common phrases: “Hey there, chief”; “Badda-bing, badda-bang”; “it don’t taste great, doesn’t taste bad. But it’ll make a turd”
National holidays: Thursdays
Opening hours: New Zealand is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, except Thursdays. If nobody is here when you arrive, just wait. They probably just went out for a fag.

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Doing the Parnell bloke

A particular genre of masculinity prevails in New Zealand.

And it scares the shit out of me.

-Beer-Hat-Frothy-Beer-Mug-Hat

A lot of New Zealand men are not merely men. They’re blokes.

Blokes are New Zealand’s “Regular Joes”. They enjoy being physical, building useful things, and just generally keeping active every frigging spare moment of their fricking lives.

Their weekends are spent deep-sea fishing, watching the rugby in the “man cave”, and getting strung-up naked by the wrists as their mates take turns thrashing their buttocks with a garden hose. And that’s just Saturday.

There isn’t anything wrong with any of that. It’s just blokes keeping busy and what-not.

My problem is how self-conscious I have become since moving to New Zealand of how alien the blokes and their folkways are to me.

It makes me realize that the only “man cave” I can accept is the one tucked safely away when I sit on my ass all day trying to think up new ideas for this lousy blog.

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My sense of masculinity is a case of nurture screwing with nature’s head, from a strictly cissexual perspective.

When you’re raised among sisters, your sense of gender-coding gets distorted by the colorful hand-me-downs you’re forced to wear. Boys on JV basketball don’t take you seriously when you show up to practice in the Osh Kosh overalls your sister was wearing the day before.

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None of that means anything. You’re still a man. With serious qualifications, sure.

But a man, nevertheless.

Just not a bloke.

How easy it is for a man like me (certain conditions apply) to feel a little less than a man when he’s around blokes. All eyes are on him as he returns from the bar with his shandy. Blokes laugh at him when they see him walk his cat at night. And he feels ashamed, even after his neighbor assured him that it is routine men to walk their cats, as long as they live in the confines of Parnell.

dog

This isn’t to say there aren’t blokes living in Parnell.

In fact, Parnell blokes sometimes display the one blokey quality I find intolerable.

It’s a juvenile, covetous fascination for other blokes‘ expensive cars.

I once saw some construction workers accidentally bury their foreman in cement because they were momentarily distracted by some wheels of desire. “Yeaah, awright,” they shouted, though it was unclear if they were cheering for the car or for what they did to their foreman.

This went on every day for more than a week, right here on Earle Street. One day, somebody parked a black, 2002 FERRARI 360 MODENA F1, I think they call it, right across the road from our building.

ferrari-360-modena

The car was in front of Otis Elevator’s single-story building on Earle Street, in a yellow-marked loading zone with a five-minute parking limit during business hours.

Bloke after bloke, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends or family, stopped dead, looked the car over and said, “Yeah, that’ll do.”

These continuous displays of envy disquieted me, amusing as it could be. I’d watch the blokes passing, pumping their fists, audibly drooling. Then I’d look at the cat and he would look at me, then there’d be laughter and one of us (usually me) would say, “what a dick”. (After a pause for the dick in question to pass out of earshot. We don’t eat our own in Parnell).

Even more galling was the prospect of the owner himself. How could he get away with parking in a five minute zone for more than a week? Not one ticket on this car. When you buy a Ferrari, does the sticker price include a bribe to the local constabulary? Was the conventional wisdom true, after all, that men who own Ferraris are to generally assholes?

The Ferrari being there didn’t make any sense. Until I remembered how a couple days before the Ferrari showed up, there was an attempted break-in of one of the furniture shops on the street.

One of the owners told me the police thought it wasn’t a real attempt, but someone casing the block, testing which buildings had what kind of alarm systems.

The owner advised me to be watchful. I agreed and tried to leaven an otherwise dour and extremely boring conversation lighter with a stock “cat burglar” joke.

“It was probably just Vincent,” I said.

Followed by a comment about how self-conscious I get when I masturbate in front of him.

She did not respond or smile, but walked away briskly, watching me from the corner of her eye.

It took me ten minutes to realize that not only was I not standing there with my cat on the leash, as I had originally thought I had been doing, but that not every new person I meet knows that I’m talking about my cat when I use the name Vince. Go figure.

So, first the break-in attempt, then the Ferrari shows up. Was the car part of some kind of sting operation? Was it left there intentionally, with a tracking device hidden inside, to tempt presumptive burglars? The possibility made me feel sorry for the New Zealand police department for this flimsy operation. If the burglars were smart enough to case the neighborhood, wouldn’t they see the Ferrari as the “too good to be true” score that it was?

Do the police lump all criminals together in one big stereotype? I mean, do burglars even possess the requisite skill sets and core competencies that car thieve so often take for granted? Or are the business models so alike, they’re exchangeable?

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Perhaps the police meant the Ferrari as a warning to the burglars that the area was being closely watched. In which case, the police have made a big assumption. Just because you’re breaking into a building, doesn’t mean you’re a bloke that gives a shit about sports cars. This is Parnell, after all.

Overheard conversation at a Newmarket cafe

Got back to work today and immediately went into catchup mode.

Replying to emails, and sorting piles of press releases and such. And going through the files on my digital recorder.

For my job, I have to record every interview, and transcribe it later to be uses in an article. I do this to make sure that what I’m writing is accurate, especially because, even after three years living in New Zealand, I still can’t make out what these Kiwis are blathering on about half the time. I don’t blame them. It’s my hearing. And maybe my perception. The Kiwi accent, in its extreme, is a tough one to love, like really sour lemonade you mom just made. Anyway, some of my best friends are Kiwis.

Hey, good job buddy!

So, I listened to my digital recorder to determine the files I could delete. One of them was something I had completely forgotten.

Last November, I agreed to meet the country manager of a well-known software company near his office in Newmarket for an interview that would go into an article I was writing.

We decided to have our conversation over coffee at Jones the Grocer on Carlton Gore Road. This place is highly recommended. It was the first cafe in New Zealand that didn’t put ice cream in when I ordered an iced coffee. New Yorkers might think of it as what Dean & Deluca was like in the early mid-90s.

Anyway, of course I get there 20 minutes early. A chronic problem, whenever I remember that I have an appointment, is that I inevitably show up way too early. This comes from being the son of a man whose own father was Basic Training at Fort Dix in the early mid-60s.

Good on you, mate!

So I ordered an ice coffee, found a table, put my stuff down and waited.

That’s when I noticed the two pretentious assholes having a really stupid conversation nearby. They were both dressed in suits and ties. One was extremely large, and obviously uncomfortable in his workaday clothes. He sweated profusely, causing him to take off his wire-rim glasses for periodic de-fogging, while muttering to himself ‘Ok. Ok.’ He kind of reminded me of Sasquatch, or perhaps the ill-favored consequence of a union between Han Solo and Chewbacca’s spinster aunt.

Sasquatch was a kiwi. The other guy was American.

What's wrong with bringing a sidearm to a business lunch?

The American was not as large as the Kiwi, but he was by far the greater misshapen. He had a forehead you could dock a zeppelin next to, and mouse-colored hair, and an extremely long nose situated on his face as if somebody had knocked it off his head, then tried to stick it back on using a cheap glue from the $2 store. The texture, color and pudginess of his skin suggested that he was made of a sack of rotting potatoes.

Anyway, after catching a few moments of their incredible conversation, I decided to record them. Which is exactly the file I found today, and transcribed to post here, to share with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

SASQUATCH: I haven’t read any Salman Rushdie. Should I?

POTATO-HEAD: I never read him because of his popularity. Then I read Satanic Verses, to support my preconceived bias.

SASQUATCH: Ya huh. He’s never appealed to me as something special I’d be interested in. Life of Pi comes across as Salman Rushdie Lite. Based on what I assume Salman Rushdie to be like.

POTATO-HEAD: See, now I have to read Life of Pi to understand what you’re talking about. I’m not in the mood for homework.

SASQUATCH: Eh, don’t bother

POTATO-HEAD: Whew. That’s a relief. I’ll just tell people I did, and hated it….I told you about my non-fiction thesis, in creative writing, right?

SASQUATCH: …average story with a non-sensical twist, which is supposed to be thought provoking, but really doesn’t hold together…

POTATO-HEAD: I made myself read five novels on The New York Times Best Seller List. I wanted to know why these books were so popular. The thesis really sucked.

SASQUATCH: I can’t imagine the books were very satisfying.

POTATO-HEAD: Mitch Albom is a man that needs to be disembowelled before a live studio audience, in a television special broadcast around the world. Like the Miss Universe pageant. Then it should be on continuous loop on every network in the world, for a year. People in the Amazon should be shown footage of this upon first contact with modernity.

SASQUATCH: There’re lots of writers like that. Deepak Chopra, Paulo Coelho…

POTATO-HEAD: Deepak Charlatan.

SASQUATCH:The Alchemist is one of the most tedious things I have ever had the displeasure of reading.

POTATO-HEAD: People say it’s a good thing that people are reading anything these days. Fuck that. I’d rather have a quality 5 percent literacy rate, like they had in the Roman Empire, than to have the 98 percent shit-for-brains mentality that qualifies as “literate” these days. You don’t mind if I use this conversation for a blog post? Or would that be too wanker-ish?

SASQUATCH: I feel bad about the book I’m reading at the moment. It’s terrible. Ambrose-ian hero-worship at its worst. It’s called Dog Company and it’s about the 2nd Ranger Battalion’s assault on Pointe Du Hoc on D-Day.

POTATO-HEAD: D-Day. Sure. From World War II.

SASQUATCH: I love the story. And that is easily my favourite period in history. But he writes like a 12-year-old would about his grandfather. I like the details though. But it’s no Antony Beevor.

POTATO-HEAD: It’s Antony Beevor we’re talking about here.

SASQUATCH: This guy, though. This guy can’t write. I just want the book to be over.

POTATO-HEAD: He’s, it’s thinly veiled hagiography. That’s what it is.

SASQUATCH: I just said that.

POTATO-HEAD: Beevor is a good story teller. Ambrose is much more sepia-toned.

SASQUATCH: This guy. He has interviews and what-not. But no balance, and no perspective. It’s like he’s writing about it with no historical context, that we haven’t had 70 years of contemplation.

POTATO-HEAD: There’s a rush to get a lot of these stories down on paper. This generation is going to disappear soon. It’s like “the world’s oldest civil war widow” kind of thing.

SASQUATCH: They over-look far more interesting aspects though, all the NKVD files that have been closed for decades, the Japanese perspective is still a mystery. I don’t need to hear about another all-american GI or stiff British lip

POTATO-HEAD: Doesn’t matter what you want. You’re not American.

SASQUATCH: The German stories are good too, but mostly they are too embarrassed to talk about….

POTATO-HEAD: Hey, do you know anything about styluses for iPads?

SASQUATCH: I don’t know anything about anything.

POTATO-HEAD: Good. You learned the two most important lessons in life. Never open your mouth. And never rat on your friends.

SASQUATCH: Everybody takes a beating sometimes.

POTATO-HEAD: You know what they say about “Paulie”, they can say the same about your last stint in customer support. “He didn’t like to use the phone.”

SASQUATCH: And every other job I have ever had.

POTATO-HEAD: But for the purposes of your CV, now you have something to say about it. Your role summation could say, “I was like the character Paulie from Goodfellas.” But don’t go into any more detail than that. Save some of the details for your first interview.

SASQUATCH: I could come up with a character for every job..”At Dymocks I was like Nemo from Finding Nemo. At Sky City I was like Hunter S Thompson from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

POTATO-HEAD: So, you never answered my question. Would I be a wanker if I posted this conversation on my blog? I wouldn’t use either of our names. I would say that I was in a cafe waiting to meet a source for an interview for work, when I overheard these pretentious assholes talking. Then I would describe the assholes, and pass this off as their conversation as transcribed from my digital recorder.

SASQUATCH: I already said ok. You missed it. Too busy being a pretentious Parnell asshole.

POTATO-HEAD: You say ‘ok’ like it’s a fucking verbal tick. How the fuck am I supposed to know what you’re “OKing” from minute to minute? Oh, god.

SASQUATCH: What, the cream in your latte off or something?

POTATO-HEAD: No. I was just thinking about my idea of posting this conversation as if it were authentic, overheard dialog, when I was suddenly overcome by a wave of nausea.

SASQUATCH: Are you sure that’s not your groin playing up?

POTATO-HEAD: Do you have any preferences as to how I should describe your character in this post? I was thinking of basing you on Sasquatch.

SASQUATCH: I was thinking of something more swash-buckling than Sasquatch, a Han Solo type.

POTATO-HEAD: What if you were the breech-birthed love-child of Han Solo and Chewbacca’s bitch of a sister?

SASQUATCH: Home run.

POTATO-HEAD: Well, better get going. It’s going to take me ages to figure out how to format this as dramatic dialogue.

SASQUATCH: I hate WordPress.

Then the guys left. I would have posted the actual file, but I had to make room on my digital recorder.

Catch you next time, buddy.

There’s this app called Paper that’s kind of addictive.

It’s the perfect gift for those indolent, self-styled creative-types that make your life so interesting.

Apple or someone (maybe the developer, FiftyThree) categorizes Paper as a “productivity tool”.

I kind of have to take issue with their nomenclature. I’ve probably lost 17 or 18 hours to Paper, doing nothing but doodles. If a productivity tool is supposed to save you time, then clearly somewhere in the supply chain, there has been a gross miscarriage of the service level agreement.

And if Paper wants to make it so easy to doodle your life away, then they should also develop an app that makes its users more responsible managers of their time. They could categorize it as a productivity tool. Its only task would be to prevent the customer from using Paper. It could be called Paper+ (now with added productivity).

Hello, FiftyThree? I’m reasonably certain that I have more important things to do with my time than doodle. Like, my job or paying attention to the cars in front of me in traffic. And when Jacquie is telling me it’s time to clean the cat box, how many more times do you think I can get away with, “Not now. I’m being productive” before she catches on that I’m just doodling? Seven, eight more times is my guess.

Paper is a digital palimpsest on which you make marks to simulate physical media, as they might behave in a rigidly ordered world. There is a brush with a water color effect, and tools that mimic a pencil, a magic marker, a pen. You are constrained by the rules of the app, parameters that force you to pay attention to the potential of the tool combined with gesture. This includes the simple “undo” interface, which antiseptically corrects your missteps, the way physical erasure could hardly ever be.

Anyway, I like to doodle. And not just the whatever comes to my head kind of sketching, but real portraits.  Here’s one I did of Vince as a microscopic parasite.

Vince as microscopic parasite

I also like to doodle my wife. I use my finger. I could doodle her all day long.

Last night, I was doodling her and she didn’t even notice.

She said, “Simon, the cat box smells terrible.”

And I said, “Not now. I’m being productive.”

This is the piece I was working on at the time.

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I know realism isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But as you can see, Paper makes it a cinch. In fact, if I had decided to draw Jacquie with conventional tools, she would have put her shirt on and sat up straight by the time I started sketching.

I’m not dead, or the social contract

Every human civilization has had its laws defined and enforced by a minority in however way it saw fit.

This usually happened as soon as one of them started hoarding enough sheep and old newspapers.

Vince ready to go

Obviously, nobody wants to see anyone lose their old newspaper collection. So the big-shots invented the law.

It’s true for all the great civilizations. I mean, the really good ones. The kind of civilization that gets its own unit in a seventh grade social studies curriculum.

A few big-wigs making the rules for everyone else. From the Indus Valley to the Fertile Crescent to the Shang Dynasty—what many experts call “the food-court at Westfield’s”—temporal authority was always substantiated by divine right and favor.

What were the odds of that happening?

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What’s even more of a coincidence is all the rules turned out to be complete rubbish.

Like, what idiot came up with not eating bacon? And how is it that someone got so paranoid they had to come up with a prohibition against borrowing your neighbor’s wife/livestock/power tool, in no particular order of preference, just for a minute because you swear you were planning to give them back as soon as you were finished?

If there weren’t pointless taboos, dietary restrictions, resource-consuming rituals and time-hungry ablutions, then why have civilization in the first place? Some of us have to be immune.

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That is the whole point of Crime and Punishment, and the reason for this blog post, which I urge high school students to submit in their AP Literature class if they don’t feel like doing the work themselves. I’m more than happy to help. As Dostoyevsky writes:

“The thing of it is, Sonia,” said Raskolnikov, munching on a toasted bialy, “murdering your landlady is the same as putting the toilet seat down after taking a piss. It’s someone else’s rules, man. People make shit up like that all the time just to fuck with your head. For real.”

(Emphasis added).

I agree. Conventions and rules are for suckers.

***

Another beautiful summer day at the bach

That’s why I refuse to help anyone choking in a restaurant.

If you and I were enjoying a nice meal out together, and you started choking, you’d be on your own. The fact is, I am incapable of learning the Heimlich Maneuver. So, if you’re choking at dinner with me, you will die before I can figure out what’s going on in the choking victim poster you see in a lot of restaurants. I can never make heads or tails of those things. To me it looks more like “what to do if you’re the lead of a mid-80s hair band and you’re attacked from behind by a lesbian gym teacher”. Which really doesn’t apply in most situations.

So, if you choke at dinner, don’t come crying to me later if I continue eating my dinner as if nothing has happened, while another patron resuscitates you. I’m not the one who ruined an otherwise perfect evening.

But even if I did know the Heimlich Maneuver, I would think twice before I helped you. If you can’t chew your food properly before swallowing, maybe it’s just a sign that you shouldn’t be eating in a restaurant in the first place.

Ideas just flow in my head like taking a picture of a reflection which nobody has ever done before

The best I could probably do for you is encourage you in your time of crisis. I will be right there, cheering you on with “Looking good” and “It’ll be over soon.” I’ve always been a great morale booster. There have been jobs when I saw it as my duty to console my supervisor whenever I screwed up. If anyone can say, “there, there. I understand.” it’s me.

Don’t thank me. I’m just fulfilling my part of the social contract.

Thanksgiving in Mordor

This Thursday is Thanksgiving in America.

I know what some of you in the US are wondering and the answer is ‘no’.  Thanksgiving is not celebrated in New Zealand.

This is for a very obvious reason that shouldn’t need mentioning: New Zealand isn’t thankful for anything.

The mindset here diverges from the Americans’, formed in parallel, colonial histories that intersect from time to time.

Mt. Tongariro erupted this afternoon at about 1:30, sending a plume of ash three or four kilometers into the troposphere. It was a brief and less dramatic explosion than one that occurred in August. There were 100 or so school kids hiking nearby, but I don’t think anyone was hurt. Mt. Tongariro served as the template for Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. This image was lifted from Dan News (https://twitter.com/dannews).

The Europeans that settled New Zealand were just as unpleasant as those that settled the US. They were both kicked out of some of the same countries, even. And not without good reason. They were all ugly and they smelled like cow manure. But that’s where the similarities end.

Today, not only do Americans smell much better than New Zealanders, but they also come from a much different experience with indigenous people. The English in colonial Massachusetts were treated by the Native Americans to a huge Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmin’s (whatever the fuck that means). Then they all said a prayer, and lived happily ever after together in peace and harmony. Apart from that little misunderstanding over land and small pox-laden blankets. All water under the bridge. Your modern Indian today happily occupies crucial niches in American society, not just as the sporting team logos that grace our helmets, but as the custodians of our favorite vices tax-free.

Of course, the Maori-European experience was not so fortunate. Instead of James Cook and his crew being feted by the Maori in their first encounter, a handful of those European sailors were actually eaten instead. By the handful. (With the leftovers put away in the ice box and used for sandwiches for the kids to take to school).

You’d have to be a saint to show gratitude after traveling seven miles through someone’s intestines, only to be shat in a ditch (on Thanksgiving Day no less.) How is it even possible to turn the other cheek, after it has been braised, and dressed in a delicious mint sauce? Lick the other cheek, is more like it. So, I give Kiwis a pass for not celebrating Thanksgiving.

And I give the Maori a pass, too. I don’t blame them for eating a few poms now and then, back in the day. I do blame them for having eaten the wrong people.

You can’t go back in time and change history. But wouldn’t it be great if Peter Jackson’s ancestors had been eaten?

Better yet, could someone eat Peter Jackson now, tonight, while the authorities, I don’t know, looked the other way?

Peter Jackson and his movies have done great things for New Zealand. I guess. In essence, he accomplished what the US compulsory education system could never achieve. He has alerted Americans to the concept that there is some place that isn’t the United States. That is no minor feat.

But it only goes so far. Before I moved to New Zealand in 2009, there was a bit of a disagreement among my friends and family over where I was actually going, if it did indeed exist. Some said the east coast of Australia. Others said, “that island where they filmed Lost.” An old friend from college asked me if New Zealand was one of the flyover states.

At the airport, there was a suggestion to hold that year’s family Christmas celebration in a place equidistant from New York and New Zealand.

“Like, maybe somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike,” they said.

Clearly, Peter Jackson has a job to finish. And he’s more than willing to take on the task, without complaint. And with the helpful hand of the New Zealand government, which has slavishly tailored tourism promotions into little more than Hobbit-abilia. This essentially makes Peter Jackson the biggest welfare queen in the country. There are also in-flight promotions on Air New Zealand. For at least a year, probably longer, Air New Zealand used a video featuring Richard Simmons in its pre-flight instructions videos. Now, of course, it’s hobbits and dwarves and other Irish folk.

After Peter Jackson decided to milk The Hobbit into a trilogy, after he blackmailed the government into changing labor laws or lose the production to Romania, after the allegations of animals dying by the dozen in hazardous pens, and after the “mysterious cover ups on autopsy reports”, I just think Peter Jackson needs to be eaten. Full stop.

So have yourself some Bath Salts, and sharpen your forks and knives. It’s Thanksgiving.

Editor’s Note: I can’t wait to see The Hobbit.

Midlife crisis, on the cheap

When I was nine or ten, I made a solemn vow.

“One day, long after I’ve grown into a man,” I pledged, “I will divorce my wife and run off with my secretary, who will be half my age.”

Reality, of course, does not always work out the way we plan. And there isn’t always a happy ending. And we learn to enjoy the contours of our lives, taking solace in those precious moments when we are alone and can sob bitter tears of regret over the dreadful hands that fate has cruelly dealt us. That’s called aging gracefully, the acceptance that we do not earn nearly enough money to afford a really awesome mid-life crisis.

Not like the ones our fathers and grandfathers took for granted.

If my generation was led at a very young age to believe the big lie, we have only our print media to blame. After all, the one thing I learned as a schoolboy from my friend’s father’s Playboy magazines, was that I would have it all. The cherry red mustang, the shapely college cheerleader, the pack of Newports with 17% less tar, and the bottle of Old Spice. It was all supposed to be there for the asking.

Since the financial crisis of 2008-2009, there has been a lot less home equity available to men of my age and older. Consequently, for the first time since the Great Depression, the average middle-class, balding, shriveled up, overweight heterosexual American male could not afford to sustain a respectable mid-life crisis. The men of my generation are only now confronting this shocking truth, right at the point in our lives when our penises are starting to slowly but inevitably telescope up into our abdomens, where they will eventually disappear altogether within the fleshy, adipose folds surrounding our crotches.

All is not lost, though. You can enjoy a decent midlife crisis without breaking the bank! You just have to think creatively. Instead of buying real Ray Ban sunglasses that can run as high as $900 a pair, just buy the $20 Ray Bans the next time you fill your car with gas. That’s how I’m doing it. Instead of a Mustang convertible, I roll down the window of my Honda Civic and stick my head out while I’m driving. Instead of a mistress, I have a kitty. And instead of a venereal disease, I have a feline venereal disease. Midlife crisis, with all the fixings.

You know how I know I’m middle-aged? Because today, someone posted this on Facebook.

And I realized that there would be a lot of people out there who wouldn’t get that joke. And that would be for most of them because they were born after me. A long time after me. Like, I was doing adult type shit before they even existed, and now I’m closer to dead than I am to childhood aspirations for satisfying mid-life crises. But they’re not.

But I took out my depression on two who were very dear to my heart. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. And I wrote horrible things about them on Facebook.

I wrote that Uncle Owen was a “martinet”, and that I was glad “they did him”. Uncle Owen was always like “Luke do this; Luke do that; Luke, there’s going to be hell to pay; Luke, it’s time for your colonic.” Poor Luke. And the worst part about it? Uncle Owen wouldn’t let Luke waste time with his friends picking up power converters at the Toshi Station, until all of Luke’s chores were done.

If I were Luke, I’d be like “fuck that” then use the force to put a cap in the motherfucker’s ass. Uncle Owen gets in my way? He’s got to fall. Because, let’s face it, that’s what Luke was like. “Toshi Station” and “power converters” were such a transparent euphemism for “losing one’s virginity at a whorehouse full of Jawas”.  Uncle Owen wasn’t a fool. He knew what went on at that cab stand. That’s why the chores were never-ending.

I could have continued. But a silence seemed to have descended over Facebook. It was as if nobody knew what I was talking about. And the only possible explanation for that, beyond the unlikely suggestion that I am incoherent, is that those people are too young to even understand.

Oh so pleasantly Parnell

It’s springtime in Parnell.

The weather has grown a gentle touch with its flowers all in bloom, and the days stretch forth lavishly to the night.

Which is fucking bullshit.

I live in a block of flats whose residents must share a common court-yard.  With the days getting longer, the risk that I will be required to comport myself in a pleasant manner has grown unacceptably high. Because the later the sun goes down, the more likely it is that a neighbor will see me, and attempt to interact. Perhaps we will see each other at the mailboxes. We’ll make a joke about how the only thing we ever get is bills, followed by a vague departure that always seems overly abrupt. How can people live like this?

In the winter months, it’s easy for a guy like me to slither into the darkness at the hint of danger. Although sometimes I think my neighbors actually do see me hiding, but don’t say anything out of that peculiar sense of propriety a lot of Kiwis seem to have. Once or twice there were startled screams and swear words, and a lengthy explanation as to why I was “skulking around”. (I’d say more, but my attorney advised me not to).

In short, it’s gotten a lot harder to keep to oneself at this time of year. Thanks a lot axis tilted from perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic by 23.45°, thanks a million.

Don’t get me wrong. My neighbors are all very nice. I’ve had plenty of decent conversations with our friends in the courtyard.

But after a long day at work, I really don’t want to have to pretend to give a shit. After all, I promised myself a long time ago I would never take my work home with me.

So far I’ve been lucky, as none of my neighbors have been there to force my hand to act pleasantly.

In fact, the only person I’ve seen this spring after work was a stranger. I was almost done smoking a cigarette in the courtyard. This strange woman stopped on the sidewalk at the other end of the courtyard 25 meters away. She looked to be in her 60s. She had dark hair and wore sunglasses. I realized she had stopped there because she was walking her dog, which at that moment was pissing on all our mail.

I bent over, stubbed the cigarette, flicked the butt in the trash and headed toward my door. The woman must have been watching me.

“You don’t have to put that out because of me,” she yelled. “It’s ok with me if you’re smoking a joint.”

Thanks to everyone who pointed out the many grammar and spelling errors in this post.

 

Reconciling the ineffable

It’s a mystery to me how a person can disagree with someone without seeming like an asshole.

I’m sure theoretically it’s possible to have a pleasant conversation with someone who disagrees with you.

Social media makes it possible to filter a lot of what makes us so intolerable in person.

God damn, I have a high and broad forehead. Actually, forehead doesn’t fully describe what that is. Maybe escarpment is the more accurate term. They could get a hectare of corn out of that motherfucker. I need to put a layer of topsoil on my forehead and sit outside for a few days. Monetize that bitch. If they can do it to Chia Pets, why not to people with excess forehead surface area? That real estate is lying fallow, completely underexploited. People with really high hairlines should be able to feed themselves with rotating crops to maintain nitrogen stasis. The world has a huge population to feed. We can help, if we all do our part.

I like realism. When I put stuff out there , I want people who I will never meet in person to know just what a difficult person I am in real life.

But I don’t want to alienate anyone who I love and/or like that.

When I alienate someone, I like to take my time, to make sure everyone is having fun. If you’ve received a form letter terminating our acquaintance, you’ll know what I mean.

The pictures are intended to break up the text. I don’t have anything to say about this photo, otherwise.

But as much as I’ve tried to tone down my excitement, some things cannot pass without comment.

Presenting Exhibit A, Ken Hutcherson. This charming personality has obligingly time-traveled from the 15th Century Spanish Inquisition, to join us here in the 21st century, disguised as a self-aggrandizing media whore who just learned his political expiration date. Click the link, and you can hear him being interviewed by a christian radio host suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Oh, it’s a hoot.

Hutcherson is upset because the Republicans in his state wouldn’t let him give 90-minute sermons to potential donors about how the homosexual agenda is ruining this country. That’s why the voters of Washington didn’t overturn same-sex marriage in the recent elections, he says.

He also condemns churches that don’t help him ‘win back’ the word ‘gay’ and the emblem of the rainbow from the evil, but stylishly-outfitted authors of the gay agenda, who all live in a giant pink human skull carved out of a mountain and painted a fabulous cornflower blue. Hutcherson sums up his raison d’être nicely here:

Don’t forget guys, when you think about pastor Hutcherson out there, think about the gayest guy you know. I am sick and tired of the homosexuals taking words that God has given us, I am sick and tired of the homosexual community taking our rainbow when god gave us that promise that he would not destroy the earth with water again. We have just become irrelevant, we are just sissified, we are evangeli-fish with no spiritual vertebrae and we need to wake up.

It sounds like Pastor Ken needs to relax, maybe take a long weekend somewhere, like in an isolated Log Cabin. It’s a lumber state, where a lot of guys make it their business to know and cherish wood. They can show you the way.

Or better yet, maybe Ken Hutcherson can shut the fuck up. He’s being a word-Nazi, and he’s trying to hog up all the rainbows.

In Hutcherson’s rainbow-gay universe, religion, specifically christianity, has the copyright on appropriate human behavior.

What makes me so angry about this is Hutcherson stakes this claim based on the literature of an emergent bronze age shepherd kingdom. And he’s not alone. A lot of people think that the bible is the primary source of moral behavior. The reality is that whatever instruction on human behavior is found in any religion, is not a cause of human behavior, primarily. It is a function of human behavior, then perhaps a cause.

The new and old testaments at best are the ethos of their times and places. The old testament gives instructions for the proper conduct of genocide and the ground rules of slavery. Its feature set-piece is very specific about worshiping god, but not about anything useful.

He couldn’t give us a commandment like ‘thou shalt not schtup your sister, lest ye bear forth cognitively impaired banjo savants. Selah.’ What, god ran out of ink, or something? Moses have to be someplace; only wanted the ‘nutshell’?

Likewise, if the old testament forbids gayness, that’s largely because it didn’t know that sexuality is socially and biologically determined, that homosexuality exists throughout the animal kingdom, that humanity’s closest relatives, the Bonobos, use sex as part of every social transaction.

Our primate cousins are nothing more than a continuous, live action version of Girls Gone Wild. Male and female, they’re all bisexual.

About seven million years ago, our ancestors started wondering if it was such a good thing to have an orgy every time the in-laws came over for dinner around the termite hill. Too much of a good thing, you know? There were termites not being eaten.

Hutcherson embodied, for me, the elevation of unfounded assertions over reality. This seems to be the M-O of the religious and the faithful.

From alien abductions to Allah to Jesus, it’s fun playing make-believe. But guess what, Hutcherson? Your invisible friend doesn’t have a say in anything real. Tell your god to catch up to the 21st century because we’re leaving without him.

See? I still can’t help being an asshole. But let me try.

On a practical, functional, level our real experience is far more influenced by what we can describe, and predict and agree upon as a kind of commons of reality, than by ancient texts. Humans are complex socio-biological creatures, easily prodded into what are loosely termed as good and evil acts, based on some aspect of our feelings and thoughts. It’s the differential between those urges and the entire complex of our being that makes religion and belief more or less of a good.

My sweet little atheist kitty

Apparently some early Christians might have believed that Jesus was married.

This is probably blasphemous where you come from. But if a fourth-century fragment bearing Ancient Coptic Egyptian writing turns out to be authentic, then maybe you’re the one going to hell.

Personally, I find the suggestion of a Mrs Christ romantic. Imagine the fantastic Walt Disney movie that would have come out of that storyline.

There would be a big waltz scene, Jesus’ sidekick-animals looking on. A ferret, a tarantula in nanny glasses who knows all the Proverbs by heart, and the donkey from Shrek.

Then Jesus would suddenly run off because he was late for supper with the apostles.

But he promised to call her on Saturday.

We should pause now to acknowledge my christian loved ones. I am aware that this rendition of the Jesus story will seem offensive, perhaps.

So, let me tell you one thing in my defense.

I have a kitty.

He’s a six-and-a-half month old pure-bred Maine Coon we named Vince. He’s a healthy boy, with barely a mile on the odometer.

Purrs like a kitten.

He fetches small, woolen mice. He has inserted almost everything we own in his mouth. Except for maybe the refrigerator, but not from lack of trying. His ridiculous, outsized paws are an indication, I think, of the size he will reach once he has matured. This takes longer for Maine Coons than other varieties. Which is pretty cool, as far as Vince is concerned, because he loves being a kitten.

The tragedy is that Vince will never win a cat beauty contest. This is a huge disappointment for Jacquie in particular. You moms with ugly daughters know I’m talking about. Jacquie’s dreams have been dashed. But not because of Vince. It’s because of the “people who run those high society cat shows. They have this prejudice against polydactyls.

It doesn’t matter that Vince has a sexy breeder’s designation (Mainflame Red Hustler) and a documented pedigree, they’ll never think of a six-toed cat as anything but a freak.

Fuck ’em. Doesn’t matter. Jacquie and I have been in love with Vince since we picked him up four Saturdays ago.

In fact, buying Vince was the second best pet decision we have ever made. And it really helped us get over the terrible loss of Sunny, our previous cat who we’d had euthanized the hour before.

So, anyway, back to that papyrus. Not everyone is convinced about its authenticity. Experts disagree about the text’s grammar, and the ink has yet to be scrutinized. Results of that analysis will be discussed next year in the Harvard Theological Review.

The Holy See didn’t like the sound of this. They rejected the fragment as a clumsy forgery in the editorial page of the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. Of course, they don’t give a reason. They do run a companion article in which a church scholar criticizes the release of this information before it was tested. Which might be a valid criticism of professional conduct, perhaps, but really is a moot point. The papyrus is going to be tested, and then we’ll know more.

I don’t blame the church for being pissed. If I were a priest, and it turned out that Jesus was married after all, I would start to resent my career choice. Oh sure, there would always be the rosary to comfort me. But instead of the Hail Mary, I’d be saying “Shit! Shit! Shit!”

If it makes Christians feel any better, I highly doubt Jesus was married. After all, I ask you: what woman is good enough for a Jewish mother’s son? And don’t pretend Jesus wasn’t a Jew. He lived at home until he was 30 and his mother thought he was god. What else could he be but Jewish. (Well, Italian, but that’s a whole other blog post). Judging by 2,000 years of depictions of the crucifix in Western art, I’m surprised there isn’t something in the gospels about Holy Mary at the cross, calling up to her son, “You’re skin and bones.”

Oh, um. What were we saying about Vince?

I’ve been trying my hardest, but I just can’t work up a damn about Sunny’s death.

Sunny had a lot of problems. He was relatively old when rescued by the SPCA. They probably de-sexed him after he’d already developed secondary sexual characteristics. Like that vampire tweener from Let the Right One In. So it was kind of understandable that he’d be unfit for domestic life. We were Sunny’s third or fourth home when we took him in. And we tried our best with expensive medication and talk therapy to integrate him with our lives. For two years. For nothing. We were constantly under attack. We couldn’t move from room to room, or even our bed, without Sunny trying to claw or chew us to death. The final straw came three months ago when Sunny wrapped his claws around Jacquie’s head, sinking his teeth into her face and giving her deep cuts across her neck.

So coming to the end of our rope, and foreseeing a return to the SPCA as an ultimate death sentence for the poor guy anyway–and that after some indefinite solitary confinement at the rescue center–we decided to put him down. And we’ve never been happier. Which is why killing Sunny was the first best pet decision we ever made.

So what is it about the papyrus story that made me write this post?

Because it illustrates to me a fundamental error in the way people of faith deal with reality. A person of faith thinks something is true for any number of reasons. In many conversations with christians over the last year, these reasons tend to have boiled down to personal experience, miracle claims, or circular reasoning, or a combination of these. Regardless of what the reason is, it is never supported by objective measures.

This is true for extraordinary claims  of any kind, whether it’s about gods, astral traveling, ESP, the “plane of the eternal”, hydrotherapy, or anything else like what Carl Sagan writes about in The Demon Haunted World.  Christianity just happens to be closest to my heart. Many in my family are highly devout, as I was until about 20 years. They are convinced that Jesus is part of a trinity. They absolutely believe that everyone in the world deserves to be put to death, and that Jesus Christ can somehow save them. And they base this all on a compendium of books they swear is the infallible word of a presumed god. And how do they know all this? Because one day god changed their life and like the Catholic Church in the face of a married Jesus, nothing is going to change their minds. Not even if it were verified to be true. And this isn’t how people deal with reality in any other realm of their life, for the most part.

Well, by now, I doubt I have any readers, let alone Christian readers following along.

But at least I still have my cute little atheist kitty.

Oh. Oh, dear.