Boo 2: More Scary Movies You Can Watch with Your Teens

In honor of Halloween, here is my second list of horror movies you can watch with your teenagers – a countdown of creepy culminating in a classic everyone (I think) should watch.

Note: Unlike my first list, this one contains mostly R-rated films. I have indicated the reason for each rating and would note for, what it’s worth, that these are all films I would show our own children (who are 14 and 16) if I can just get them to humor me.

5. Pitch Black (2000) R for language and sci-fi violence and gore– This one reminds me, initially at least, of The Flight of the Phoenix, a 1965 Jimmy Stewart film about a group of travelers struggling to survive in the middle of the Sahara Desert after their plane was forced down by a sandstorm. Interesting film. The personalities of the survivors clash as they face almost certain death and then come together when hope presents itself. Good movie (unlike its 2004 remake).  Pitch Black begins very similarly – a spaceship passes through the debris of a comet trail causing it to crash-land on a nearby planet. The passengers find themselves marooned in a desert on what looks like a lifeless planet. As in Phoenix, the disparate characters interact and clash, but then this movie goes in another direction entirely. Happily so, because that’s what makes it a horror movie. Vin Diesel plays Riddick, an ultra-tough antihero, the one the others turn to when they discover they’re not alone on the planet after all.

4. The Host (2006) R for creature violence and language; subtitled – An awesomely-ugly mutant monster is spawned by pollution in the Han River. When the monster emerges from the river one day, killing many and snatching a young girl, her comically dysfunctional family pull together to try to rescue the girl. It was a blockbuster in South Korean and got great reviews when it opened in the US. It’s scary, funny, and has very cool monster-chasing-fleeing-people sequences.

3. Blair Witch Project (1999) R for language – Have you ever been camping in the woods? Not at some friendly campground with bear-proof dumpsters and bathrooms with running water and other campers within shouting distance – but in the woods, alone, well out of shouting range, before cell phones, where nobody would notice right away if you disappeared or be able to find you easily if they came looking. I have and it’s truly scary. The night is very big and dark and potentially full of bears and maniacs and all manner of evil creepies. Once, while camping with a friend, I was scared almost senseless by something creeping up on us through the brush behind our tent in the dead of night. When my friend and I finally worked up the nerve to investigate, we nailed a pair of very startled opossums with the beam of the flashlight.

 In this movie, there’s something much creepier than opossums out there in the dark. When it was first released, it was marketed as “found footage” – film discovered with video equipment in the woods of Maryland a year after three college students disappeared there while filming a documentary about a local legend, the Blair Witch. This one got mixed reviews but I thought it was very convincing and authentically scary.

2. Alien (1979) R  for sci fi violence/gore and language – I’m still a little upset with my mom that she didn’t take me to see this when I was thirteen. Consequently, I read about this movie longingly in Starlog magazine long before I actually got to see it. And when I finally did get to experience the scariest movie ever set in space, I was not disappointed. Made at a time when so many science fiction movies were either idealized, happy futures (ala Star Trek) or fairy tale space operas (ala Star Wars), the Nostromo and her crew was a gritty and convincing vision of the future. Wonderfully suspenseful with one of the toughest female leads to date, this is the movie to convince you that yes, monsters are real and they live in space where no one can hear you scream.

1The Birds (1963) – At about 3:00 in the morning on August 18, 1961, a massive flock of sooty shearwaters began to crash into homes and buildings along the northern edge of Monterey Bay in California. Residents of Pleasure Point and Capitola woke up that morning to find the ground littered with the dead and dying sea birds. At the time, it was postulated that the birds became lost in the fog and were drawn by the city lights. Thirty years later, it happened again, except this time the birds involved were brown pelicans and scientists were able to isolate a cause. The pelicans had eaten poisoned fish. The culprit was domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by a diatom that was found in the stomachs of fish in the area. Scientists found evidence that the same neurotoxin was also the culprit the summer of 1961 when those sooty shearwaters were found flying into buildings, dying on the streets and regurgitating anchovies.

The story of those poor poisoned shearwaters inspired movie history by capturing the attention of one particular summer resident – Alfred Hitchcock. A month later, he had secured the rights to a novella by Daphne Du Maurier and 2 years later he released The Birds. In his awesomely chilling story, the birds are not dying – they’re attacking the residents of Bodega Bay, a quaint California coastal town. Hitchcock managed to make the sunny, cheerful town appear properly eerie and did what no other director had done before in portraying large groups of animals acting intelligently together with purpose, creating his first, and only horror/fantasy film. And one that became an icon in horror film history. A great pick, I think, to watch with your teenager who was weened on (and saturated in) 21st century video magic if only to show them what amazing (and horrifying) films could be made long before CGI.

If you’d like to read more about the making of The Birds, see some cool stills from the movie or read the original article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel about the tragic bird event of 1961, see:

http://www.hitchcockwiki.com/files/articles/TheMakingOfTheBirds/

http://www.filminamerica.com/Movies/TheBirds/

http://www.santacruzpl.org/history/articles/183/

If you’d like to see my first list of teenager-family-friendly horror movies check out Boo! Scary Movies You Can Watch with Your Teenager

The Hesitant Herbivore, Part 3

In which I examine the pros and cons of cutting almost everything I like to eat out of my diet.

When we left off, I was on the precipice of making the decision that might fundamentally change my life:  Leap into the scary abyss of a plant-based diet or stay safely on the cliff of selective compassion, constant fatigue, and general digestive distress

In the cons column, I had: “I might starve” and “Is life worth living without the cheese and ice cream?”

On the pros side, I had “It might be worth it if I could fit into size 8 jeans again.” Yes, I am that vain. But amazingly, vanity wasn’t the factor at work here. Sure, I want to lose weight and I was hoping a new lower-fat diet would help me do that. But mostly, I wanted very badly to feel better. My forties have not been kind, and I’m still trying to learn how to live in my changing body.

Wouldn’t it be great if all cows, and people, got to feel as good as this one?

And that’s why, after all these years, I was willing to take the leap. Though I’d love to be able to say it was my compassion for farm animals that finally won out, in reality it was a completely selfish motive that finally gave me the edge I needed.  I have come to believe that the human body is not designed to process dairy products as an adult and that amount and nature of the meat we eat is not necessarily a healthy thing, either.

So with my odds of fully-functional longevity in mind, I started compiling my “pros” list.  Here are the basics.

Health:

–          Weight – I gained 50 pounds after I quit smoking 6 years ago, and it’s caused a whole host of problems for me from my aching feet to how I breathe when I sleep. And I’ve had no success at losing weight and keeping it off. According to the Mayo Clinic, vegetarians (especially vegans) usually consume less fat and fewer calories and have lower body weights that their meat-eating counterparts. No guarantees of course since there are still plenty of fatty, sugary foods I can eat but if I avoid those too, my chances are looking good.

–          Cholesterol – Mine is borderline high and I would really like to stop it there. Now the jury seems to still be out by how much this is controlled by diet and how much by genes, but the consensus seems to be, it’s a combination of both. So doesn’t it seem slightly insane to end up taking medication to control the adverse effects of your food when you can just change your food instead?

–          Type 2 diabetes – This is very possibly looming in my future if I don’t take extreme measures. See “weight.”

–          Your colon will thank you, said a vegan friend of mine who maintains that colon cancer is a big danger for dedicated carnivores. From what I’ve read, there does seem to be a positive correlation,

–          Recently, a long-term study by some Harvard folks that tracked the eating habits of 110,000 people over 20 years claims a high correlation between red meat consumption and early death.

–          Society – Can you imagine how much the cost of health care would drop if the population switched to a vegetarian/vegan diet and the numbers of people suffering from high cholesterol, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and a whole host of other diet or weight related maladies suddenly plummeted?

Humane reasons:

via Humane Society

–          Living conditions for domestic animals are appalling.  Meat and dairy are big businesses and everything is secondary to the profit margin. To produce meat, milk and eggs quickly and cheaply many animals are confined for their entire lives– in barns, in gestation crates, in veal crates, in stacked cages. The animals often have little room to move, aren’t allowed to forage or graze or go outside at all.

–          Conditions in slaughterhouses are often horrifying.  Again, the profit margin seems to demand speed over humanity. The animals are “processed” with little regard for the terror or pain that they feel.

Years ago, I read a book by Dr. Temple Grandin called Thinking in Pictures in which she describes her experience as a person with high-functioning autism as motivation and fodder for her work in developing humane livestock handling processes. If every slaughterhouse in the US was designed (and managed) by Temple Grandin, a woman who has championed the ethical treatment of animals I think I would feel much better about the method, if not the need, of putting food animals to death.

–          People insist on eating things which call for brutal practices. Ever heard of foie gras, for instance? It’s the liver of a duck or goose fattened to unnatural proportions by force feeding the birds by stuffing a tube down their throats into their stomachs. The French, the largest (though certainly not the only) producers and consumers of foie gras, even have a term for this barbaric practice. It’s called gavage. According to French law, “Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.” I think that’s a fancy way of saying, we’ve been doing it for a long time, so it’s okay.

–          And finally, if all this cruelty is practiced in the name of feeding people, consider this: The grain used to feed animals could feed hungry people. And the water used for raising food animals could be used for raising crops and for human consumption.

The issue of farm animal welfare is pretty huge and I only touch on a few things here. For more information about the treatment of farm animals and about health issues related to a meat-based diet, you can follow the links below.

 

For the scoop on lactose intolerance, see this article in USA Today based on a peer-reviewed paper recently published in PLOS Computational Biology: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2009-08-30-lactose-intolerance_N.htm)

For info on red meat and colon cancer see http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/Red-meat-and-colon-cancer.shtml

For the link between read meat and early death see this article in the LA Times:  http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/13/health/la-he-red-meat-20120313

For the information on farm animal welfare go to:  http://www.humanesociety.org/news/publications/whitepapers/farm_animal_welfare.html

For A Report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production:  http://www.ncifap.org/_images/PCIFAPFin.pdf

For PETA’s reasons to go vegetarian see:  http://features.peta.org/ChewOnThis/chewsheet.pdf

Boo! Scary Movies You Can Watch with Your Teenager

Boo.

It might strike you as odd, but picking scary movies that will thrill the kids (but not appall my partner and me with a high gore factor or adult themes) is high on the list of things we are doing to prepare for the start of the new school year. School starts again in 6 days, and our youngest son is starting high school. A challenging transition for any kid but our boy has some additional challenges. One of the many strategies he has chosen to employ is a reward system for getting through each week. This will include making our occasional family movie nights a regular event. These will occur on Friday nights through the fall semester and feature, you guessed it, horror films.

Here are some of our favorites that we’ve already seen (and think you should too)

1. Jaws (1975) PG – Have you ever noticed that some of the scariest scenes in Jaws don’t ever show the shark? We have “Bruce,” Steven Spielberg’s animatronic shark, to thank for that.  If Bruce hadn’t malfunctioned so often, the young director might never have been inspired to just imply the shark’s presence by using the camera to give us a shark’s eye view. Coupled with John Williams’ awesomely dramatic musical theme, it was a brilliantly frightening technique. (You thinking it now aren’t you? Da-dum…da-dum…dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum DADADAAAA)

Spielberg wanted Jon Voight to play Hooper, but George Lucas suggested Richard Dreyfus (who he had worked with in American Graffiti).

Everything about this movie is good – the directing, acting, writing , music – and they all come together around a great story (by Peter Benchley) to create the perfect storm of film horror. If your kids haven’t seen it yet, it’s time. They’ll scream when the head pops out of the hole in the sunken boat. They’ll laugh when Roy Scheider quips, “We going to need a bigger boat” after seeing the shark for the first time. (Did you know he ad-libbed that line?) And chills will run down their spines when they hear Quint’s monologue about the sinking of the Indianapolis.

Scariest chairs in a movie.

2. Poltergeist (1982) PG – Another Spielberg film that stands the test of time. He adds just enough humor and wonder to give an extra edge to the terrifying bits. Though Carol Ann got all the attention for disappearing into the TV, it was the character of her scrappy brother who appealed to my youngest son. The poor boy gets dragged out of the house by a monster tree and dragged out of his bed by an evil clown toy, and not only does he survive, but he kicks the clown’s butt. What a kid. One of my favorite bits though is this monologue by the medium, Tangina, played (brilliantly, I think) by Zelda Rubinstein. Watch it on You Tube here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQMYzB6gUQc

3. The Sixth Sense (1999) PG-13 – “I see dead people.” Maybe the biggest tag line from a movie since Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “I’ll be back.” This ghost story directed by M. Night Shyamalan  is one of only four horror films to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. (The other three were Jaws, The Exorcist, and The Silence of the Lambs.)  Shyamalan is one of our youngest son’s favorite directors and so there are two of his movies on this list.

 4. Signs (2002) PG-13 – This story gradually turns up the suspense until you’re white-knuckled and holding your breath for much of the last half of the film. It’s another of M. Night Shyamalan’s creations and he actually plays a significant role in the story. (He appears at least briefly in almost all of his movies.) The plot is simple – family finds a huge crop circle on their farm and more strange happenings ensue – and all the possibilities your imagination can produce to explain the events are extremely scary.

Scary eighties hair.

 5. The Lost Boys (1987) R – Don’t let the R rating spook you.If it came out today, I’m sure it would be rated PG-13. A pair of brothers and their divorced mom move to a new town and become convinced it is plagued by vampires. If you were raised in the eighties like me, you’ll probably remember Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. They were both in this movie and provide some great comic moments to lighten the scary stuff. A young Kiefer Sutherland is seriously creepy as the leader of the local pack of young, big-haired bloodsuckers.

 6. Insidious (2010) PG-13 – Very scary in a mounting-suspense, haunted-house-atmosphere kind of way. A couple’s son falls into an unexplained coma, mom starts seeing things, they seek help from a paranormal investigator, and I’m not telling what happens after that. A solidly spooky story.

 7. The Shining R (1980) – Based on Stephen King’s novel about a writer who takes a job as a caretaker at an isolated mountain hotel. Add a psychic son, an evil presence, and Scatman Crothers and you get a classic recipe for terror. Jack Nicholson’s disturbing performance as the dad gone gleefully mad apparently bridges the potential generation gap in horror film viewers quite well. This was our second son’s pick for scariest movie.

Look behind you, Buffy! Or Daphne! Or whatever your name is in this movie!

8. The Grudge PG-13 (2004) – Sarah Michelle Gellar (who our youngest son previously knew as Daphne in the Scooby Doo movies) plays an American nurse living in Japan who stumbles upon a supernatural curse in the act of playing itself out. Lots of suspense and weird, creepy effects. This was one of our youngest son’s picks for scariest movie.

9. The Ring PG-13 (2002) – Like The Grudge, this is a remake of a Japanese horror film with disturbing special effects and a creeping sense of dread. In this one, a young woman investigates a strange video tape that is said to cause the imminent death of anyone who views it. I’m not a huge fan of The Ring myself, but number one son and youngest son think it’s awesomely scary.

10. Audrey Rose (1977) PG – A mysterious stranger appears and tells a young couple that their daughter is the reincarnation of his own dead child. Long before playing Hannibal Lecter (in the scariest movie I will never let my children watch), Hopkins does a great job of playing the stranger so that you’re never quite certain if his character is sincere, a nutcase or a molester stalking the child until bizarre things begin to happen. This one spooked our oldest son (who is now 24) when he was a just tender teen.

If you’re a fan of PG (ish) horror, I hope you can find something here to watch with your children that you haven’t already seen. In the meantime, I have until Friday to come up with a new gore-free fright-flick. Suggestions are welcome!

 

If you’d like to see more suggestions, try Boo 2! More Scary Movies You Can Watch with Your Teens.

Let’s Talk about Sex: 10 Common Misconceptions about Gay People, part 4

Three months ago, a very small percentage of the registered voters in North Carolina managed to pass an amendment to the state constitution that illegalized gay marriage. In the weeks leading up to the vote, I started a series of posts about some of the more common and frustrating myths about gay people. I got discouraged for a while and didn’t finish but I just got my second wind.

For those of you who missed the first 5 myths, here’s a quick recap:

1 – Being gay is a choice. Because somewhere between 2 and 10% of the general population so love being social pariahs, we’ve chosen to become lifelong targets of bigotry and hate.

2 – Lesbians want to be men. There are some people who are so enamored of their own exterior plumbing that they, and their followers, seem to believe that there are just 2 kinds of people in the world – men and the rest of us who are just sad that we don’t have a penis, too.

3 – Lesbians hate men. The rationale seems to go like this: Some women are so upset about not having a penis that they become angered with all men and sleep with women to spite the men. Or something like that. Bottom line is, women couldn’t possibly love other women. It must have something to do with the penis. (For the long version of the first 3 myths, see part 1 of this series, I Used to Be a Tomboy)

4 – Being gay is a mental illness. In spite the fact that the American Psychiatric Association defines homosexuality as a normal variant of human sexual behavior, there are a lot of people out there who just “know” that gay people are sick, just like they “know” the earth was created 6,000 years ago and all the fossils in the world are just an elaborate hoax and proof of a vast conspiracy against God-fearing, extremist Christians. (For the long version, see part 2, Who’s a Heretic?)

5- The Bible says that being gay is morally wrong or evil. To borrow a line from Shakespeare, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,” and it would appear that he does, every day, from the pulpits and altars of churches all over our country. (See part 3, The Bible Tells Me So)

So moving on. Here’s another of my favorite myths to hate:

6- Being gay is just about sex. Now doesn’t this seem a teensy bit like the pot calling the kettle black?One of the best ways to undermine an opponent, apart from demonizing them, is to minimize them, as this little myth tries to do. It separates sexuality and romantic, spiritual love. But only for gay people.

So when the subject is heterosexuality, sex and love are two sides of the same coin. And the fact that so many of straight people spend their single youth doing it like randy bunnies with anyone who will get into bed with them, that breaking faith with one’s wife or husband just to have sex with someone new is commonplace in our heterosexual culture, or that the huge pornography industry was built mostly on the desires of straight men – none of this refutes that notion that heterosexual sex is all about choosing and remaining dedicated to a spiritual soulmate? But being gay is just about sex. Gotcha.

7- Gay people are promiscuous. Yes we are. As a generalization, I accept this one. Now that I’ve just pissed off some of my fellow lesbians out there, let me explain why:  Because people in general are promiscuous. I know it. You know it. We all know it.

Really, Ted?! You’re talking to your children!

That’s why popular American culture is steeped in sex. That’s why these TV shows like Friends, Sex in the City, and Two and a Half Men were so popular. There’s even a popular show with the unabashed premise that the main character is telling his future children about the sexual exploits of he and his friends as a necessary preface to the story of how he fell in love with their mother. I’m not judging here. I loved Friends and I like How I Met Your Mother. (Well, except for that telling it to the kids part.)

But these shows aren’t really about friendship or love or family or the complexities of modern living. They’re about sex. (And call me a prude, but I can’t believe what they can say on prime time TV now.) Whatever else happens in each episode, sex is the tent pole that holds these shows up. (Who thinks that’s a phallic reference?) Without the pretty people having sex or talking about sex, the whole thing collapses.

Got to admit I love the irony of an actor who is gay and a committed family man playing a straight man whore.

My point is, human beings (especially young ones) are obsessed with sex. Our lives revolve around it. Except for maybe food, it seems to be the single most motivating force in our lives. And that makes sense. Nature designed it that way so we wouldn’t die off. But let’s get real here. Gay people are not any more (or less) promiscuous than straight people. We just prefer different partners.

A note for the romantics:  This generalized view of human promiscuity does not call attention to the inevitable exceptions. They’re called women. Okay, feminists, that was a joke. Kind of. I’m not trying to minimize the female libido. I’m sure there are plenty of randy women out there, too.

But there are still those of us who prefer the romantic notion that sex is just a part of the whole love thing. I am one of those. I was never promiscuous, am completely convinced that I’ve spent the last 12 years with my soulmate (a woman with whom I share much more than a sex life), and have no desire to sleep with anyone other than her for the rest of my life.

Aging Still Sucks

Disclaimer: Reading this essay may cause mild to severe panic in individuals approaching middle age.

Maybe it started when your arms got shorter. Suddenly they weren’t long enough to read the small print on your pill bottles. So you bought your first pair of reading glasses. Or maybe it was that first pill case you bought with compartments for each day of the week to remind you to take your “meds.” These are all signs that you have reached your biologically-predetermined peak in life and are now making your descent toward your “silver years.” It really is all downhill from here. The only question now is, will you remain intact enough to enjoy the trip, or will you get caught up in an avalanche and be swept away in a crushing tumbler of metaphorical ice, snow and stone?

The first signs of impending catastrophic aging are gradual and sneaky. You can get used to anything – even the ground shivering occasionally beneath your feet. If it doesn’t go away, it becomes your new normal. For instance, I’ve recently invested in stronger reading glasses, and if I get caught without them, I have to have one of the children read labels for me. I’ve also graduated from a simple 7-cell pill case to a pill condo with 28 individual compartments, four for each day – a reward for scoring badly on my last blood test.

I’ve noticed many other signs of aging escalation that I’m sure many of you share. If you’re over 40, chances are you grunt or groan when you sit down or stand up. It may be subtle. You may not even notice you’re doing it. Ask your husband/wife/partner. They’ll tell you. He or she will also probably tell you that you snore. It’s also likely that you have trouble sleeping, that you feel like absolute crap first thing in the morning, that you suffer from some kind of chronic anxiety or depression, that you have frequent headaches or acid reflux or both, that various joints are showing signs of irreparable damage, that you are overweight, that you have to exercise twice as hard or long as you did 10 years ago to achieve the same effect, and that there are foods you can no longer eat without extreme discomfort (or without clearing a room). And if you’re a woman, your reproductive system is preparing to shut down spurring a whole host of fun symptoms (which deserves a whole essay of its own, so I won’t elaborate here).

Don’t despair. There’s a bright side to aging. Or so I’m told.  You get to develop character. “That which does not kill us…” and all that, right? Yes, I know. What a crock of shit. See, now we’re finally old enough to really understand what a nutcase Nietzsche was. Pain is just pain and it sucks. It doesn’t make you stronger. It just is and most of the time, we endure it because we have no choice. So no, aging isn’t for wimps but even the wimps will do it. They’ll just whine more.

But the good part is, if you can learn to live with the change without whining, you start noticing things. Maybe you stop taking so much for granted. You appreciate little things like you never have before – a good night’s sleep, not passing gas during a meal in public, or just the time you get to read a book while you’re in the waiting room at your doctor’s office.

Or maybe you notice just how amazing being alive really is, breathing out and breathing in, and thinking about every living thing that ever breathed that same air, or where the water in your glass was a million years ago or the exploded star your molecules came from. Just being able to think about all that while feeling the sun on your face, well, that’s a lot.

But it’s not everything. C’mon. There are going to be times when you can’t manage that isn’t-life-amazing-I’m just-happy-to-be-here mojo. So here’s my advice, just a few things I do when I’ve had a rough day of living:

1-      Watch a monster movie.Nothing will make you appreciate being alive more than watching other people being eaten alive by a giant, angry shark. Or an alien with acid for blood. Or a pack of zombies, pirate ghosts, guild-ridden werewolves, pissed-off angels, vampires with a conscience, wise-cracking demons who want to be human, giant desert worms, or 3,000-year-old reanimated mummies of ancient aliens. Fill in your monster(s) here.

Funny monster movies are even better.

2-      Read a funny book. It’s hard to complain while you’re laughing. I can personally attest that any of the following authors will make you snort your coffee:  Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore, Tom Holt, Bill Bryson, David Sedaris, and Janet Evanovich. And special kudos to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett for Good Omens.

3-      Spend time with your kids. If yours are teenagers, this might be a little more difficult than it was when they were little. But even mine are willing to patronize the parents once in a while and have a family movie night or go out for snow cones. Even if you just get them talking while you drive the carpool to school, they can be quite entertaining and something about their enthusiasm is infectious.

That’s about all I have in my arsenal except for going hiking with my camera which you already know about if you’re a regular follower of this blog. So what do you do to combat the rigors of aging? I’d love to hear some suggestions.

For those of you who are interested, see my first post on this subject: Aging Sucks.

Marriage is a Fundamental Right in a Free Society

Today, I am hosting a guest writer for whom I have great respect.

He is a retired Navy Captain, a Vietnam vet, a student of American history, an engineer who spent thirty years building warships, and a fiscal conservative who believes in limited government and a strong military. Based on this, you might entertain certain preconceived notions about his other beliefs. You would likely be wrong. He is a man of great integrity who has always taught me that education, tolerance and compassion are the keys to maintaining our American way of life. See for yourself. Here’s an enlightening essay from my dad:

 Social philosopher F. A. Hayek said “A free society is a pluralistic society without a common hierarchy of particular ends.” It should matter not to each of us whether our neighbor is a Buddhist, Islamic, Christian, atheist, agnostic, or free-thinker. It should matter not if a couple is of the same sex. What matters is that s/he not infringe on the free choice of others. In order to achieve that free society we have established laws to protect our fundamental rights as established in our Constitution and the 14th Amendment.

Unfortunately some States, North Carolina being the most recent, have passed laws banning same sex marriage. That may be due to ignorance, bigotry, a lack of education, a religious belief or some combination of them. It matters not. What matters is that they have elected to impose something as a rule of law that is counter to our fundamental right of free association.

Tolerance is a virtue. It is also a necessity in a free society. Our freedom means that we must tolerate what others believe whether we agree with them or not. We need not agree on every aspect of our lives in order to live peacefully with one another; however we should accept the actions of others so long as they are peaceful.

Compare this to socialism or fascism. Those systems require a single hierarchy of ends; the collective decides which ends will be pursued and which not. One’s particular ends must be subordinated to the priorities of the State or collective. The result is not the peaceful disagreement and tolerance of good order, but rather fighting over the reins of power in order to achieve one’s ends at the expense of others. Instead of a society where everyone wins, we have a society where the State wins and many of us loose.

Our society should be one where we may pursue anything that is peaceful; it should be limited only by our ambition and our respect for the rights of others. States that pass laws banning same sex marriages are infringing on a fundamental human right. They are continuing us on a trend where our social environment is becoming less free and more controlled by the State.

The Bible Tells Me So: 10 Common Misconceptions about Gay People, part 3

5- The Bible says that being gay is morally wrong or evil. Let me set the scene. It’s Saturday morning and I’m relaxing over my third cup of coffee and just ridiculously happy that I didn’t have to drive a carpool to school. My family is still asleep and I’m celebrating the solitude by reading my favorite blogs and posting goofy, fun things on Facebook (Star Wars for my boys, photos for Mom). It’s gloriously quiet. I can hear the birds singing.

Our dogs go nuts at the front window. I tell them to hush which they do and I walk over to congratulate them on being good puppies. They wag and whine to express their fervent desire to continue their barking frenzy. I shush them and we look out the window together. And then I kind of wish I had let them keep barking.

An unfamiliar car is parked in front of our house and four people are getting out. They are all dressed in their Sunday best and toting Bibles. Great, I think. They all head down the street, and I suppose their intention is to work their way back to the car. At least I don’t have to deal with them right now. I call the dogs to the kitchen to get a treat.

Have you ever tried to debate a Bible-toter who came knocking on your door to spread the Word of God as they see it? I did once about 20 years ago and never will again. Why? You know why. Zealots of the kind who will actually go door-to-door in their eagerness to preach at people can’t be debated for two reasons that I can see. First, because they believe in a way that has nothing to do with logic or evidence that theirs is the one true way. And second, because they have no respect at all for your right to believe something different. You can talk until you’re blue in the face. It won’t matter. They’ve come to your door to preach at you, not to listen.

Nothing you say is going to change that. You can point out that the word “Bible” does not refer to one text agreed upon by all Christians – that not only do the content and order of the individual books vary among versions, the Biblical canon (the books actually included in the Bible) differs as well. The contents of complete Christian Bibles vary from 66 books to 81 books. “Which is the true Bible?” you might ask. Your zealot will simply answer, “Mine is.”

You can dispute the idea that the authors of the Bible were divinely inspired and therefore infallible. What evidence do you have, you might ask, that God guided the authors to write down his word? “Look,” your visitor will say, opening his Bible and pointing. “It says so right here.”

You can ask about the translators. Were they divinely inspired too? Most of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Early Christians wrote the New Testament in Greek and translated the Bible into several other languages. St. Jerome by order of the Pope translated the whole mess (with help) into Latin. Much later, after the Protestant revolution there were an incredible number of English language translations. Seems like a lot of room for error there, doesn’t it?

And, you might ask, how about the scribes who hand-copied the early books complete with errors and edits? Over time, different versions (each with their own set of omissions and additions) evolved in different regions. Were they all divinely inspired? “The Bible,” your self-righteous visitor might tell you, “is the word of God and free from errors in spiritual matters.”

“So let’s talk interpretation,” you might say to your uninvited guest. To understand any written work, the reader must have some understanding of the context in which it was written. That’s why an average American can’t just read through one of Shakespeare’s plays without being terribly confused. Unless you have some really good footnotes and a primer on the history of Elizabethan England, you aren’t going understand the original intent or meaning. And you’re going to miss out on all the good jokes. But your guest won’t laugh, only smile beatifically.

You can argue that Old Testament contains more murder, rape, depravity, general cruelty, and wanton violence than a Quentin Tarantino movie and how a strictly literal interpretation of such a text is dangerous and a bit like your kid continuing to believe in fairy tales once he’s grown up. You can point out that the harsh God of the Old Testament who seems to either perpetrate or instigate much of the violence and demands unquestioning obedience and sacrifice from his subjects doesn’t seem much in line with the forgiving God of the Gospels at all. And you can note that the Gospels themselves were written until decades after the fact, that the original texts were lost, and that other apocryphal gospels have been found that were left out of the Bible altogether. Your porch-preacher will just smile and tell you that you have obviously misinterpreted the word of the Lord.

So I’m not going to talk about the Bible because it just won’t matter. I’m not going to argue that for every seeming admonishment against homosexuals in Leviticus, you will also find prohibitions against tattoos, eating rare meat, wearing clothes made from a blend of textiles, or eating pigs, rabbits and any seafood that doesn’t have fins and scales. It’s all a part of a Holiness Code that is no longer used by Christian churches. I’m not going to mention passages in Deuteronomy or Romans or others that are also used as truncheons to bash gay people in God’s name, or point out the problems with the translations and interpretations of those passages. I won’t remind you all that a true study of the Bible must involve an attempt to understand the languages and historical context. If you approach the Bible with a preconceived idea of what you will (or want) to find there, you will likely find it. So I won’t ask, “Is it a ‘Christian’ thing to do, to weaponize the Bible?”

None of this really matters, anyway. What really matters is how you decide to treat the people you share the planet with. And if you really want to use a Christian Bible as your moral compass, it seems best to me to focus on the parts that define a Christian – the words of Jesus as reported by the Gospels. Turn the other cheek. Treat others as you would be treated. Compassion, tolerance. This seems pretty straight forward to me. So don’t you think it’s time for Christians to take the Bible back from the bigots and the haters?

Who’s a Heretic? 10 Common Misconceptions about Gay People, Part 2

My partner and I are very fortunate to have loving, supportive families and friends. But there are a lot of people out there who have some pretty outlandish ideas about who we are based solely on the fact that we are gay. So I thought I would try to clear some of these up. Here’s part two of my list of just a few of the myths and misapprehensions about gay people.

4- Being gay is a mental illness.– Almost 500 years ago, in 1543 (the year of his death), Nicolaus Copernicus did something no one had ever done before.

Picture of a small orrery
Picture of a small orrery – a mechanical device
 that shows the workings of a solar system based
 on a heliocentric model (via Wikipedia)
 

He presented the world with an astronomical model which placed the sun, not the earth as commonly believed, at the center of the universe. Heliocentrism was not a new idea but no one before had come up with a mathematical model that worked – that actually predicted the motions of the planets in the night sky. Copernicus’ did. Mostly.

There was one missing piece which Johannes Kepler provided the following century when he figured out the elliptical nature of the planet’s orbits and expanded on the Copernican model. Kepler’s contemporary, Galileo, now known as the “father of observational astronomy,” championed the improved Copernican model. As a result, in 1633, the Roman Inquisition put him on trial for heresy, forced him to recant his views, and placed him under house arrest for the rest of his life.

Uncensored versions of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium and Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems remained on the church’s Index of Forbidden Books until 1835. For 200 years, the immensely powerful church devoted its resources to preventing people from learning the truth. It wasn’t until 2000, almost 400 years after the trial of Galileo that the Church admitted any wrong-doing when Pope John Paul II issued a kind of general apology for all the wrongs of the church over its 2,000- year existence including Galileo’s persecution.

Like the Catholic Church, some people just don’t like to admit when they’re wrong even in the face of overwhelming evidence. And that’s why I think that this misguided notion that being gay is a mental illness is still out there, even though it has no basis in reality. Fortunately, the kind of control the Catholic Church had over information during the Renaissance is now impossible, because now we have the internet. Anywhere people can get to a computer with internet access, they can swim oceans of digitized information. In the U.S., even if you can’t afford a computer, anyone can go to a public library and get online. And you can read things like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

The APA removed homosexuality from the DSM almost 40 years ago in 1973. One disorder that remains in the DSM is the source of some confusion. Gender Identity disorder (GID) is a diagnosis used to describe people who are discontent with their biological gender and/or the gender they were assigned at birth.

I believe the feelings transgendered individuals experience are legitimate and that they should have the right to live as they please and do with their bodies as they see fit, but this is a separate issue from homosexuality. Being gay has nothing to do with wanting to change your gender. As I wrote in part one, I am a lesbian because I love women, not because I want to be a man.

via zazzle.com

The stance of the APA today is that homosexuality is a normal variant of sexual behavior. If you go to the APA’s website, you can read this: “Lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations are not disorders. Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality.” Yes, you read that correctly. It said “normal.” The APA also asserts to need to remove “the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations.”

Stay tuned for part 3 of “10 Common Lies Misconceptions about Gay People

Stomping Godzilla

I love monsters movies. Show me a film about an alien with acid for blood, a pissed off shark with a taste for people, or hoards of ravenous zombies, and I’m a happy girl. I love the plucky heroines like JLo in Anaconda and Reba in Tremors. I love the kick-ass manly heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator and Vin Diesel in Pitch Black. I love Sigourney Weaver because she just keeps kicking alien ass in movie after movie. I love post-modern endings where everybody dies (Dawn of the Dead and Cloverfield). It doesn’t matter what it’s about or how it ends. If there’s a monster in it, I’m a fan.  But I especially love, more than all the rest, more even than zombies and aliens, even more than Sigourney, I love dinosaurs.

Godzilla isn’t exactly a dinosaur. He’s too big and technically a mutant iguana. And the 1998 remake of the movie was right up there with the dumbest dialogue of any monster movie ever (and I’ve seen Snakehead Terror). But he was maybe the best looking monster I’ve seen in some time. I loved him.

So that’s why Godzilla is my Thrift Pick of the Week. When I saw this big, beautiful stomping monster toy in a thrift store years ago, I had to buy him. And that’s also why, even though our boys have long since outgrown him, I have not.