31 December 2007

No Religious Zealots for President, Please

Every time I hear Republican candidate Mike Huckabee’s name, I recall the scene in the movie I (heart) Huckabees when Naomi Watts’s character leans over and says very pronouncedly in the executive’s ear, “Fuckabees.” Every single time.

And that, dear readers, is reason enough not to vote for Mike Huckabee. We just can’t have a President Fuckabee.

Oh, alright, there are other reasons not to vote for him, too — like his anti-gay, anti-abortion, pro-Christian stances. We don’t need a president bringing God into the government and lawmaking.

But for me, the second biggest reason not to vote for Huckabee (besides the President Fuckabee thing) is that he has openly stated that he does not believe in evolution and is a creationist. This country should not be run by some fool who discounts the scientific evidence of evolution in favor of his superstitious beliefs. And don’t even get me started on Mitt Romney.

Carbon dating and a myriad of information and evidence prove that the earth is far older than 2,000 years that creationists believe and 6,000 years that intelligent design devotees believe combined. Plenty of evidence also exists to support evolution. Anyone who disregards science in favor of religious superstition not only should be slapped but should also be openly forbidden from running for a government office.

I’ve gone on this rant before, and apparently it’s time again because Huckabee isn’t the only conservative candidate who does not believe in evolution; Tom Tancredo and Sam Brownback have also admitted to believing that evolution is bunk. They don’t really have a chance of winning the Republican nomination, but the fact that Huckabee is a frontrunner is disturbing. Even more disturbing is that roughly half of all Americans say they don’t believe in evolution, either.

Has this country really come to this? Are people actually choosing their Christian beliefs over logic and scientific proof? Or is it just that people are so haughty that they can’t stomach the thought that their ancient ancestors were apes?

Look, folks, religion came about way back in the early days of humans to explain the unexplainable. For example, the Greeks didn’t understand why the sun rose and set, so they attributed the phenomenon to Apollo pulling the sun with his chariot. (He also was blamed for plague outbreaks.) In Egyptian mythology, Ammun was the creator god and created everything. The Vikings didn’t understand strife or wildfire, so they attributed such events to the mischief of the trickster god, Loki.

In fact, pagan pantheons are quite similar. The gods had different names in each pantheon, but their functions were much the same. Even some of today’s religions are polytheistic, such as Hinduism. And Buddhism, although not truly polytheistic, does have higher beings, or gods, called Devas.

The Christians, in my opinion, were unimaginative and lazy. Why take the time to create stories about all these different gods and goddesses? Let’s just say there’s one god and he does it all.

But now we know why the sun rises and sets. We understand the cause of and need for events such as wildfires. We understand why and how certain weather conditions occur, and we know that people, not vengeful gods, start wars and spread disease. Science has explained these things. And as science progresses, religion, at least as an explanation for why and how, becomes unnecessary and illogical.

Christians are happy to dismiss the Greek, Egyptian and Norse gods as silly folklore, but they cling so tightly to their own god and insist their religion is truth and the Bible is fact — “God” really did create the earth in seven days and created woman from Adam’s rib — despite scientific proof otherwise. If you’re going to go with that thinking, then let’s just say, “Screw science. Apollo rides that chariot across the sky every day and that’s why the sun rises and sets.”

Does that sound naïve and stupid? Well, so do creationism and intelligent design.

Have your religion to make you feel good, to feel like you’re not alone, to use as an outlet for grief, rough times and wishes. But don’t try to claim that religion reigns superior to science and logic. And please don’t let irrational religious zealots run this country.

21 December 2007

Curl up With a Good Book

When was the last time you read a book? Not a magazine or article on the Internet but a book?

I’ve always been an avid reader and a true bibliophile. My family moved often when I was growing up, and I didn’t make friends easily. My brother and sister were Irish twins and best friends, and I sometimes felt left out. My parents didn’t like each other, and home was not the happiest of places. So I read. From the time I learned to read in first grade, I had a voracious appetite for books. Sometimes I felt like the title character from Tibor Fischer’s short story “Bookcruncher” — I couldn’t read enough books and I wanted to read them all. During all those years, books were my best friends.

With the turn of a page, I could leap from my seat into an entirely different world. Fiction, nonfiction, biographies … it didn’t matter. I loved them all. During the summer and school breaks, I read a book a day, and I spent most of my allowance — and later the pay from my first jobs — on books. I discovered magazines in my early teens and although I enjoy them, they are no replacement for a delicious novel.

I love everything about books: their smell, the way they feel when they’re new and when they’re worn in, their bindings, and most of all the words and worlds inside them. I love old books, new books, used books. When I was growing up, I often wished I could just become a character in a favorite book and live inside the book forever.

It’s probably no surprise, then, that I love bookstores and libraries. I love Omaha’s main library branch downtown. Four entire floors of books about anything you want to know. I love used bookstores, small bookstores and the mega-bookstores. I hoard books. I would venture to guess that I’ve yet to read at least a third of the books on my shelves. Every time I read one, I’ve bought two more.

Because of my love for books, Fahrenheit 451 made me sad when I recently finished reading it for the first time since high school. I found it relevant to today’s society because — although books are not being banned or burned on a large scale as in the book — they are less common in people’s lives than they were when I first read it nearly 20 years ago or in 1953 when Fahrenheit 451 was published.

Books are gradually becoming replaced with audio versions, magazines, television, video games and the Internet. People have become too busy with other things to sit down and read a good book. If we need information, we don’t turn to a book for the answer; we just jump on the Internet.

People have so little regard for books today that they consider books on tape to be a suitable substitute for sitting down and reading. Listening to a book on tape is in no way equivalent to reading the book. It requires little imagination or concentration and it has none of the benefits of reading, such as improving vocabulary.

When you hear a word you don’t know, you forget it as quickly as you heard it. When you read a word you don’t know, you have to sound it out. Because you can see the word, you also notice similarities between it and other words, as well as the language from which it evolved, and thus you can decipher the word’s meaning closely if not exactly.

Writers are taught early on that in order to write well, they must read. A lot. Not only does reading improve your vocabulary, but it also familiarizes you with punctuation and its proper use, improves spelling, and teaches good writing style. You can’t get these benefits from listening to a book, and you’d be hard-pressed to find these benefits on most Web sites that aren’t professionally edited. (In fact, the Internet has become the bane of good writing, vocabulary, spelling and punctuation, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I know some people who believe that watching a movie based on a book is equivalent to reading the book. Not so. Movies inevitably must leave out some parts of the book in the interest of budget and time. If you’ve seen the Harry Potter movies but haven’t read the books, you are missing a substantial amount of information. I enjoy the movies for what they are, and they hit the main points of the story, but so much is left out.

Furthermore, with movies you’re fed the director’s interpretation of the book rather than creating your own as you read. Movies don’t allow your own creativity to flow.

With the New Year less than two weeks away, I ‘d like to make a suggestion for a resolution: If you haven’t read a book in a while, if you’ve been reading the same book for six years, then resolve to read more books in 2008. You’ll increase your vocabulary, exercise your imagination and discover new worlds. You might start with Fahrenheit 451, which will make you appreciate books even more.

10 December 2007

Who to Blame for the Von Maur Shootings?

The city of Omaha has begun to recover from the shock of last week’s tragedy inside Von Maur at Westroads Mall when a gunman shot 14 people, killing eight, and then shooting himself. Proof of this recovery is evident in people’s desire to see someone pay for the crimes — monetarily, that is. Yes, the people of Omaha are now discussing whom the victims’ families should sue.

I should state that the victims’ families and friends were too busy attending funerals and memorial services today to call radio stations and nominate people they could sue for these tragic events.

No, the callers were people who were not involved, who did not lose loved ones. Only the average sue-crazy shit stirrers were wasting airtime calling Tom Becka’s show. These are people of the same ilk as the sleazy lawyers who called victims’ families last week with plans on how they could pursue a lawsuit.

The actual victims and their families are too shocked and grief-stricken to think about whom they might sue, as if some dollar amount could make up for the lives lost last Wednesday.

I hate to state the obvious, but the killer is dead, folks. There’s not much revenge you can exact upon him other than to call him an evil, psycho freak or refuse to utter or print his name, depriving him of the notoriety he so desired.

The shooter was 19. His parents aren’t responsible for his actions, so they can’t be sued. One caller did, however, suggest that perhaps the shooter’s stepfather could be sued if he hadn’t properly locked up the AK-47 that the shooter stole and used.

Maybe mall security is responsible for not stopping the shooter, whom they had noted as looking “suspicious.” The fact is, mall security can’t just stop people because they look suspicious — that’s a discrimination lawsuit waiting to happen. Even if security hadn’t lost track of the shooter, they likely wouldn’t have had reasonable cause to stop him. Besides, if they had stopped him, he probably would have pulled his gun on them. And armed only with mace and clubs, it is improbable that the security guards would have been able to stop him. Rather, they may have been the first victims shot.

Maybe Von Maur is responsible because the tragedy wouldn’t have happened if the store hadn’t been open that day. Maybe baby Jesus is responsible because some of the people who died wouldn’t have been in the store if it wasn’t the Christmas shopping season. Sen. Ernie Chambers sued God, so someone might as well sue Jesus.

The fact of the matter is that the shooter is responsible. He made the decision to shoot up a department store that day. He was the evil, sick fuck who terrorized all those people. He acted of his own free will. No one else is responsible.

Most Omahans are still in shock, grieving for the victims and their families, and doing all they can to offer comfort, support and financial aid. They are deeply saddened by the events that occurred in Von Maur and expressing their grief with memorials, poems and flowers on the front steps of Von Maur.

But there’s always the sludge at the bottom of the barrel. Shame on you sue-happy assholes. Rather than trying to figure out who’s responsible now that the shooter is dead, you ought to be showing support, making monetary donations to help the families and working to better our community. But rather than volunteer your own time or money, your great idea is to sue and make someone else pay. Merry fucking Christmas to you, too.

04 December 2007

I (heart) Amazon

The holiday season is upon us and the shopping has begun. (Actually, the winter holidays have been upon us since October, when Christmas ornaments were shelved beside Halloween costumes, but that’s a topic for another day.) The early shoppers are in the midst of the hustle and bustle, gathering gift lists and running around the city to find all those gifts. Not me.

Although I’ve ordered items for myself from Amazon.com for a few years, I finally wised up last year and did the bulk of my holiday shopping on Amazon. It was like a dream come true. I could find exactly what I was looking for easily and quickly, I didn’t have to drive anywhere, and everything came right to my front porch. The customer ratings and reviews are also very helpful when you can’t decide between two brands or models of an item.

In fact, Amazon led me to do even more holiday shopping over the Internet. If I couldn’t find an item on Amazon, I could find it somewhere else online. The only time I went to stores last year during December was for small gifts like stocking stuffers and for wrapping paper and tree decorations.

This year, I’ve improved my holiday shopping strategy to avoid entering any store. I am done shopping for gifts, and I didn’t have to deal with any idiots in the stores or on the roads. No whining screaming children. No loudmouths carrying on long conversations on their mobile phones. No long checkout lines.

I achieved this both with online shopping and by starting my holiday shopping last year, the day after Christmas. At that time, I bought a prelit Christmas tree at 70 percent off. I also bought a tree skirt, some lights and a few ornaments at 50 percent off. I just stashed these in the storage closet when I put away the other holiday decorations.

Throughout the year, whenever I see something I think someone on my Christmas list would like, I buy it. So by Nov. 1, I already had a few Christmas gifts, and I had all my stocking stuffers. This also helps me avoid the holiday cash/credit crunch.

At the end of October, I told my family members to create wish lists on Amazon’s Web site. I keep an Amazon wish list year-round and add things here and there, since whenever someone asks me for a birthday or holiday list, my mind instantly goes blank and I can’t think of anything I want. Most of my family members created wish lists, so all I had to do was click on the things I wanted to buy for them.

This method also helped me stay on budget. I don’t often like to shop, so when I do get out in the stores, everything catches my eye, I become distracted, and I find so many things that I must have. My holiday shopping mantra is usually “one for you, one (or two) for me,” which can become quite expensive.

Shopping online, however, keeps me focused on just the item I’m looking for. There are no novel new gadgets calling out to me, no beautiful new coats screaming my name. I’ve only fallen victim to one-for-you-one-for-me once this year: The DustBuster I purchased for my brother was such a great price, and my DustBuster is kind of crappy, so I bought one for myself, too.

Besides the convenient wish lists and shopping lists Amazon offers, its prices are usually lower than you will find in stores, and you can get free shipping on most items if your order is over $25. Furthermore, the price you see is the price you pay; there is no additional sales tax. And you can get just about anything on Amazon — books, movies, clothing, shoes, bedding, linens, jewelry, sports team memorabilia, you name it.

No, I don’t work for Amazon. I’m just a huge fan and happy customer. For the past holiday seasons, I didn’t have to make time to run all over town searching for items on Christmas lists — I just sat down at my computer whenever I had a few minutes. Online shopping is ideal for agoraphobic hermits like me, who hate to leave their houses. And Amazon is my lifesaver for holiday shopping.