Happy Birthday, Wanda June at the Dryden

The Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) showed Happy Birthday, Wanda June and Ali and I got to see it, despite the terrible road conditions getting there. It was a film based on a play by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. with a very theatrical feel, giving it a bizarre edge. It was funny and poignant, making the point that war is really quite pointless and that there really isn't any value in the "heroism" of fighting and killing. Oh, and how incredibly silly and dangerous the idea of "heaven" is.

The plot of the film follows a woman and her son. Her husband has been out-of-contact for 8 years on some kind of heroic journey — wars, killing animals and the like. She gets a college degree and begins to piece her own life together by courting two men: a pacifist doctor and a hero-worshiping vacuum cleaner salesman. Her husband makes a surprise return and tries to retain his brazen, hero's status.

The point, in a way, is to ask, "what the fuck is so heroic about killing?" It really resonated with me. I had been asking more-or-less the same question for a while. For instance, it's common knowledge that you thank soldiers for defending the country. But given our eternal conflict in Iraq, it's become … unsatisfying … for me to do so. When you fundamentally disagree with the idea of war in the first place, and then add on that further fighting is only inciting existing enemies and creating more then how can you thank someone for making America less safe? It gets to the point of patronizing — like thanking the neighborhood cat-murdering idiot for keeping your house safe from cat infestation.

In fact, it's more about fear. I feel compelled to thank a soldier for the sake of not getting in trouble, yet my opinion of the situation is so bad that I want to tell them, "stop fucking volunteering!!!!" [With extra exclamation points, even.] Please.

And what scares me more is people who believe in an afterlife — especially those who think it's the promised land of 57 varieties of virgins. And before you think I'm bashing Islam alone, ask a Christian how much they're looking forward to meeting Jesus and how lucky people are whose miserable earthly existence is cut short. It's really quite scary. I really would like it if people believed like I did: that we get one shot at life and that we should make the best of it and help everyone else to make the best of theirs too.

But that makes me some kind of Godless monster, right? I mean, true evil in the world comes from the Others — the people who don't read the Bible and don't go to church and don't hate gays and don't believe women are just baby incubators.

Sorry … I digress …

The response from war hawks is always the same: "your pacifist beliefs are all well and good, but what happens when someone sticks a gun in your face?" Well then the rules change, don't they? If you believe in the value of life — especially that you only get one go around — then you'd better believe I'm going to try and avoid kisses from bullets rushing to show me the love.

The trick is this: "peace first". Or, if you must, "war last".

In other words, if you come upon people who say, "we hate America," figure out why first. At present, the only reaction is to blow the fuck out of them. You see, we can talk and understand and resolve for a long time — even have an ebb and flow about the whole thing — but you can't un-blow the fuck out of someone. So save that for last.

Then the response from the hawks and jingoists is, "what about 9/11?" Oh yeah — what about that? We need to get "them", right? And who are "they"? Why Osama bin Laden of course. Haven't heard that name in a while, have you? Of course not: if you watch 9/11 Press for Truth or read The Complete 911 Timeline or the related book, The Terror Timeline: Year by Year, Day by Day, Minute by Minute: A Comprehensive Chronicle of the Road to 9/11—and America's Response, you'll find that the Bushies carefully herded bin Laden to safety in Pakistan.

You've been had, America.  Wake up!

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The Death of Hope

I started thinking about how it's the start of 2008 and what I can be hopeful for. And by "hope", I'm referring to a "belief that things will be better in the future". Not necessarily a specific time period, but I guess "in my lifetime" or "reasonably soon". Something like that.

I watched this video on YouTube called How It All Ends by a high-school science teacher named Greg. In it he outlines the response to the possibility of global warming in terms of risk-assessment. Either global warming is happening and caused by us, or it isn't, and either we do something about it or do nothing. His argument is that there are two positive outcomes: we do nothing and the threat of global warming was false, or we do something and it was true but we fix it. However, if we do something and global warming wasn't happening then — the worst case — is that we have a large economic hit; if we do nothing and global warming is happening, then — the worst case again — is that there are floods, droughts, and famines on a scale humanity has never seen. His bet, therefore, is to just take the economic hit and not worry about it.

But remember the last "catastrophic event" that was to happen?: the Y2K bug. And what happened? Nothing. And why? Because we took the economic hit of fixing everything we could find. And what did people believe? It was all a lie to start with.

So likewise with global warming, if I'm out there saying "travel less" and "use less energy" and that becomes forced upon people and then nothing bad happens, people will simply believe that global warming was a myth. They'll blame us "global warming freaks" for ruining their lives. And then if catastrophe does strike, they'll blame us "global warming freaks" for doing the wrong thing and not fixing everything for them. Therefore, my best bet is to quietly go off and figure out how to live in the catastrophic post-global-warming world without being seen. But that's not really hopeful at all — it's just surviving disaster.

The catalyst for this post, though, was in trying to do taxes. I wanted to get my taxes done early because I'm self-employed and need to hand over checks to the U.S. Government on a regular basis. If I don't estimate correctly, I get hit with a huge fine. But I can avoid it entirely if I file by January 31 and pay everything I owe. The only problem is that the forms I need from my bank and mortgage company won't arrive until after January 31, so it would be essentially illegal to file before January 31. So I've got my fingers crossed that I won't get in trouble.

I really wish taxes were simpler, but it's only me and other small business owners that even see it. I remember puzzling about how bad it really was in the 1990's — after all, the company I worked for handled all the hard stuff, and at the end of the year I'd fill out a few lines on a 1040EZ and get a check in the mail. Awesome! What's wrong with that system?

But worse is that I actually write a check to the government. If I don't, I'd go to prison which I don't want to do. I don't want the government to kill more people in Iraq, but my voice is not represented in the U.S. Government — I still have to pay taxes, though. [And here I thought that's why we fought that big war 230 some-odd years ago against England.] My big lament, though, is that I voluntarily sign the check to pay fund the war. If I were just a regular working person, I could claim that I don't get a choice — that taxes automatically come out of my paycheck.

And it's not like we're getting out of Iraq any time soon. It's a question of "how many Iraqis do we need to kill before they believe in freedom?" The real answer is, "we are the problem," but W. doesn't believe in being wrong. By the way, what ever happened to Osama bin Laden? We apparently failed to hang him, so I can only imagine he's planning another 9/11. I don't see any hope at all on that whole situation.

It used to be fashionable to help the poor — to ensure they have food, shelter, and water. Somewhere along the way "shelter" got eliminated, so it was just to feed the poor, but lately it's food stamps and welfare that are crippling the country. And water? Well if you can't afford to buy the clean stuff in the bottles you deserve what you get. What's next, air?

What about providing youth programs to keep kids off the street? Nah: just get more police to shoot them when they form gangs and start killing people. Health care? Hopeless. Public education? Hopeless.

The other day I was riding home from the Public Market — I took my bike with the trailer to get stuff — and I went to turn onto my street. I had to get into the left lane and I didn't see anyone behind me. As I turned into the turn-lane, someone tried passing me just at that moment and broke off the mirror on my bike. I was less than an inch away from getting knocked off the bike, and barely a foot away from being killed.

But did they stop? Hell no. I was just an obstacle in their way — a nuisance. Probably some worthless beggar who'd be better off dead than alive. I mean, can you believe that I thought I was permitted to ride on the street? That's for cars, moron!

And so goes the last shred of human decency: that nearly killing someone else is okay — in fact, it was my fault anyway for making them decide whether they needed to touch their brakes.

With that goes the last of hope.

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