Shouting Into Darkness

Fuck the Apocalypse

Posted in Religion by Chris W. on May 14, 2011

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If you live in New York City, there’s a non-zero chance that you’ve come across some billboards that advertise May 21, 2011 as “Judgment Day.” Not the fun Judgment Day with Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwartzenegger. This is Biblical Second Coming of Jesus, as according to Family Radio (a Christian broadcast station out of California) and their founder, Harold Camping.

I confess to never having listened to their station, as Christian Radio sounds as appealing to listen to as a garden rake on a chalkboard, so I don’t know if Mr. Camping encourages his followers to spread his gospel, but someone sure feels like getting the word out. These ads are everywhere, and a street team is descending upon New York City this weekend like a horde of locusts to scare the general populace into believing that their lives are about a week away from ending. All in the name of “loving thy neighbor.”

Before people get defensive, this isn’t going to be my usual whine-fest against religion. The issue doesn’t touch honest Christians who believe in doing good for others in the name of Christ. You Christians who look at the Book of Revelations as if it were “Pink Elephants on Parade,” not a literal depiction of the End of Days, you are off the hook this time. What I can’t stand are the small group of “fire-and-brimstone” Christians who want to make you afraid. They want you to feel bad about being human or want you to fear for your life and/or soul because some invisible clock that only they are somehow privy to is about to expire. I thought religion was supposed to inspire people, make them feel good about being alive, not ready to jump whenever someone shouts “Boo”.

To Family Radio’s credit, they aren’t bilking money out of people, just standing on street corners trying to pass out flyers to people walking out of a Starbucks. I’ve seen a lot worse out of people who are down with G-O-D. But make no mistake, this is self-aggrandizing at its core. It’s a common marketing trick to invent a problem if you can’t solve a pre-existing one. I can think of no better problem to have than total annihilation. That’s a problem that can’t be fixed by RonCo.

The company line is that the people trying to spread the message are “warning” the rest of us of the impending danger. How effective they are in this task is another tale, entirely. In an interview with today’s AMNY, Ija McDaniels, a Philadelphia resident that migrated to New York to help Family Radio’s cause, bragged,”I passed out 3,000 [pamphlets] today.” That’s good for her, but how many of those pamphlets found their way into a trash bin soon after leaving her line of sight? In the same story, Robert Fitzpatrick told the NY Daily News, “people who have an understanding [of end times] have an obligation to warn everyone.” His “understanding” of the End Times? May 21, 2011 is the date of Christ’s return because it occurs 7,000 years after the Great Flood that God sent to “reboot” humanity during the Old Testament. No other explanation, just “7,000 years seemed like a long enough time to wait for God to pull this stunt again.” If all these guys are doing are betting on big round numbers being winners, I’d like to introduce them to Nostradamus and his prediction that the world will end in the year 2000.

What I don’t get is this: if Jesus/God is returning, and the world is on the brink of ending, what can you do about it?! It’s not like preparing for a hurricane. Total Biblical Armageddon is a Royal Flush in the hands of the Almighty. Nothing beats it. If God wants to smite you, there are very few defensive strategies against that plan. And if this really is true, and Jesus Christ is coming back to judge the righteous and the wicked, wouldn’t it be blasphemy to try and “prepare” for it like you would a natural disaster? The only plausible way out is to do what these Christian wackos want you to do anyway and jump onto their ship, but wouldn’t God see through such a thinly-veiled plan to save your own ass? That only works for Roman Catholics, where all you have to do after a life of sin and depravity is say that you’re sorry at the last second and you get a seat in Heaven next to the virtuous old lady who never hurt a soul in her life. I guess Family Radio hope you’ll join the club on the “end of the world” special and then figure canceling the membership is not worth the hassle. Christian sects and gyms have a lot in common.

The end of the world, at least coming from Biblical causes, is perhaps the most overblown global threat that hasn’t yet made it into an Al Gore movie. A literal end-of-the-world is not something we have to worry about because, if it happens, there’s nothing that could be done about it. And we have enough problems to concern ourselves with to start thinking about the ones that are forever unsolvable. For example, the NYC spearhead of this movement is a retired MTA worker who spent $140k on ads. That’s $140,000 USD. Fuck the apocalypse; how does an MTA worker earn that much money and yet the service is still that shitty? This guy has more than a hundred grand to piss away on his own flawed superstition and I can only make the Staten Island Ferry at about a 50% success rate?!?

If there was ever a reason to want these nutjobs to be correct, that would be it.

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Smoke Screen

Posted in Political, Ranting and Raving by Chris W. on March 8, 2011

I’m about to shock everyone out there. The first politician to publicly introduce a bill that will outlaw smoking in his or her respective state will get my respect and admiration. You know why? Because someone will finally have the gumption to admit it.

It’s time that we all stop pussyfooting around and admit that what certain people really want to see is tobacco smoking to be banned everywhere. This hypothetical person would want the government to step in and declare the product and its consumption illegal in whatever state cooks up this claptrap* because the whole “persuading that smoking might not be the best thing for your health” idea has crashed and burned. Seriously, if you buy a pack of cigarettes today in the city of New York, it comes with a big black-and-white sticker on it that says, in no uncertain terms, SMOKING KILLS. And yet I still see people buying them in my local pharmacy, and walk past discarded packs or stamped-out butts. Smoking not only kills, but it causes you to litter, too! Maybe the government should get on that as well?

I’m not a smoker. At all. I grew up in a house where my mom smoked regularly and my dad on occasion. I’ve deduced that my brother smokes as well, judging by the sound of him hacking up his lungs from three houses away. I never have smoked any substance in my life and I probably never will. I have no love loss for smokers as a general population. To me, they’re just regular people with a hobby that I don’t partake in, no different than people who really enjoy hip hop. Both are equally sentient, and at times equally annoying, but the choice to smoke or to listen to music at an absurd level is one made by an individual with the capacity to make that choice.

I know some people are going to throw the argument of “loud music is just an annoyance while second-hand smoke could potentially be deadly” at me, and I wouldn’t be well equipped to argue to the contrary. I’ve seen some evidence that second-hand smoke is not as dangerous as it’s trumped up to be, but the general scientific consensus is that second-hand smoke could be as dangerous as smoking yourself. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s to respect the opinions of scientists and doctors, not politicians and lobby groups. I haven’t reviewed the evidence of whether or not second-hand smoke is as bad for you as first-hand smoke because I don’t think I possess the brainpower to understand the research, and will probably continue to not understand it until it gets distilled to an episode on “Mythbusters”. But that’s not what my point to argue. What I’m trying to do is argue the quasi-legal status tobacco consumption is currently stuck with, a status that finds itself shrinking every passing year.

When I took Social Psychology at NYU (purely for gen ed credit, mind you), one of the things I learned is that people are more likely to accept a sweeping change if it’s done in gradual, easy to digest bits. Car salesmen and con artists use the same trick. Get you to agree to one easy and agreeable condition and the door is open to then introduce further terms on a gradual incline until what you ultimately agree to bares little resemblance to what you started to agree to, Dawkins’ Mount Improbable in the social arena. While I can’t speak for everyone lobbying against tobacco, I think it’s pretty clear what the end game for most of those groups are: a smoke-free city/state/nation. When I look at my own mayor, Michael Bloomberg, writing praise of the Brazilian government after they practically ban tobacco outright, I know that’s what’s on his mind.

But there’s the problem. He wants to outlaw tobacco, but approaching the issue head-on has a very high risk of failure. First of all are the civil libertarians like me, who will make such a stink over the loss of another personal freedom (to chose to smoke or not) that cigarette smoke will seem like gentle spritz of a Glade Plug-in. But libertarian nutjobs like myself and the ACLU – while loud and annoying – can be overlooked. What can’t be overlooked is that the tobacco industry in America is huge. Tobacco is a gigantic cash crop for the US, rakes in billions of dollars, and has a lobby as powerful as Skynet’s army of Terminators. And what about the smokers themselves? It’s often forgotten that they have rights, too.

What is clear is that the status-quo cannot be sustained for much longer. Politicians are trying to have it both ways. Tobacco-use is being outlawed in more and more places, so the anti-smoking people are happy, and at the same time being taxed to hell, so the local governments get to wet their beaks with every singe purchase. The tobacco companies don’t really care that much, because the cost of all the taxes and regulations gets pushed to their customers. And let’s face it, in all these situations, it is the smokers that are getting screwed. It is their choice to partake in this habit, so I don’t feel bad with them having to pay the admission fee, but the government is simultaneously wagging their finger at the entire smoking population while at the same time benefiting from the taxes that tobacco brings in.

If you’re anti-smoking, the solution is easy. “Just quit,” they say.

Really, they’re right. Quitting smoking will instantly make you healthier, and you won’t risk the health of the people around you. The problem is that we currently classify tobacco as a legal substance while demonizing its use. There are no campaigns or advertisements on the subway that say “smoke responsibly” because we’ve outlawed tobacco adverts. If this is the path we’re on, why not commit and just go all the way? Let’s make the discussion of whether or not tobacco should be all the way legal, or all the way illegal. At least then, both sides of the argument will be – for once – honest with everyone.

*I’ll bet you it’s California. It’s gotta be California. California always comes up with these kooky laws that spread around the country like wildfire. Ten’ll get you twenty it’s California.

“There’s Gonna Be a Fight in New York Tonight!” (Hopefully)

Posted in Ranting and Raving by Chris W. on January 21, 2010

Over the Christmas break, I got introduced to a new facet of entertainment: mixed martial arts. The sport has been growing all around me for several years, but for whatever reason (I can’t actually put words to why I didn’t watch sooner) I stayed away. Now I’m in and a new world has opened up to me, satisfying the adult appreciation of the art of combat and the childlike appreciation of seeing someone’s forehead split open. It’s not as flashy as pro wrestling and some ground holds seem a bit… how shall we say… homoerotic, but anyone who enjoys watching the tactics and strength in real one-on-one combat can enjoy an MMA fight.

Now, we get to the meat of the post. I reside in New York, one of eight states in the Union that has banned mixed martial arts. The exhibition and performance of the sport within state lines is illegal, as per a bill signed by Governor George Pataki back in 1996. And just for the record, 1996 was a while ago. Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and the iPod didn’t even exist, and the only concerns we had in the world were the final episodes of Seinfeld and whether or not Bill Clinton got his dick wet.

It’s over a decade later, now, and things are much different. For starters, mixed martial arts has grown-up for the most part. In the 90s, when the sport was still a new arrival to the US, MMA was short for no-holds-barred. Fighting in the UFC at that time might’ve resembled a scene from Fight Club, except without Brad Pitt. There were no rules and there was very little stopping someone from being hurt. After the UFC was bought out by Zuffa, the business became reputable, regulated from the inside and the outside. Certain holds and blows became illegal because they were too dangerous and fighters now had the option to tap out if they were in too much pain to continue. Referees were added and now almost all MMA fights in reputable organizations can be stopped at any time at the referee’s discretion. Professional fighters now have a record that is held and regulated by the athletic commission of each individual state. In short, mixed martial arts may seem brutal and inhumane on the outside, but the sport is very different from the mortal combat some remember it as.

Something else is pretty different, too: the financial outlook on the state. New York isn’t doing as bad as certain westernly states are, but we could be better. In order to fill the holes growing rapidly underneath our feet, Gov. David Pattinson introduced a budget that included, among other things, a bill to legalize mixed martial arts in the state of New York. The hope is that the arrival of the UFC and other organizations would provide something new to tax and the people, having been starved for live entertainment of this variety, would flock to an MMA event and spend more money there.

The bill has its opposition of course. Some, like Attorney General Eric Schneiderman still consider the sport barbaric. Others take a more reasoned approach, claiming that most of the money would go to Zuffa, LLC, the company in Nevada that owns the UFC, the WEC, and other fighting promotions. That criticism makes the most sense to me; I have no clue how the state government makes money on an exhibition like a baseball game or a big concert. I do know, however, that local economies usually fare much better if they host something that people want to go to. Cities volley years in advance for the Olympics because it brings in a shitload of people who spend money on local hotels, local restaurants, local shops for their wants and needs. The little capitalist in me is happy that the state or federal government can’t take a cut of profits just because they’re the bigger dog, so I don’t know how Gov. Patterson expects to rake in cash for the government with MMA, but it definitely makes sense if you want to inject more money into the local economy.

I can’t speak for everybody, but I know that I’d certainly see a UFC event at Madison Square Garden and gladly spend more than I’d be comfortable with as well. (Though that has more to do with the prices than anything else.) My support comes from wanting to see the sport legalized than my thinking that it’ll bring in stacks of cash for the state*. Forty two other states in the Union have legalized MMA; what do they see that we don’t? have I don’t know how much they’re trying to tax it or whether doing so will price the promoters right out of coming here, but I’d rather see something legal and taxed (as much as I abhor “sin” taxes) than illegal for an illogical reason.

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