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Morality Minus Deity.

Friday, October 05, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

There are two reasons this piece is a must-read. First of all, read for the content, for the character, for the story of a young man who, although very young, was all that a man could hope to be.

Second, read it for the author. Read it so that next time someone suggests to you that all morality flows from a belief in God, you can point to Christopher Hitchens as refutation.

It is possible to question your own actions, to care deeply for your fellow man, to demonstrate profound humility, to display the greatest sensitivity, and in the end reveal what can only fairly be described as unselfish love, all without benefit of a deity.

That shouldn't be a controversial point. It isn't with unbelievers, of course, and isn't with many believers either. But there are still many Christians who cannot believe that a man can be good unless he is good with God.

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Nick You, MN.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

In my memory it was aways night.

We are off to Minneapolis tomorrow. Why? Because Katherine's publisher has arranged for her to attend the Midwest Bookseller's . . . um, I'm going to say Convention? Association? Association Convention? And schmooze and sign books and then spend a day lecturing sullen 6th graders.

How do I know they'll be sullen? Please. Sixth grade. You were there. I'll bet you can still do the blank, slack-jawed stare.

So, four nights in Minneapolis. We used to live in Minneapolis. Minneapolis is where we made the transition from adolescence to adulthood. I was 42. Yes, a little late.

My son was born while we were in Minneapolis. One day we were happy-go-lucky skyway-system denizens, with a downtown apartment, doing pretty much whatever the hell we liked. And the next day -- I don't remember any interlude -- we were at the NICU.

Jake came early. Two months early. Our child-birthing classes were scheduled for a couple weeks after he was born. (We canceled.) He was born and my main concern was that he had a conehead. No one had warned me about coneheads. Katherine recovered from delivery and I followed Jake as he was wheeled through an interminable, dark tunnel to the NICU.

Ten years later I still tear up when I think of the NICU nurses. They had the competence of a nuclear submarine crew. They knew their jobs, they knew their equipment, they knew what to do with big, dumb, 42-year-old teenagers who've just had the ground shift beneath them and are looking a tad dazed. I loved those women. I love competence. I'll do anything for someone who is simply good at their job so I don't have to worry about their shit and can just worry about my own.

Plus, they took care of my little boy. My yellow-tinted, coneheaded, five pound little boy.

Anyway, long story short, Jake grew into a great, hulking beast of a ten-year-old. But not in Minneapolis. We moved to Chicago. For the weather. Uh hah. Uh hah. Okay, we moved for the lower state tax rate and Charlie Trotter.

Now, here's the thing. Our corner of the NICU was a room with four stations or berths or whatever you want to call it. (Four beds, although "bed" seems an exaggeration for an incubator or a billi-table where they put tiny eyeshades on your kid and shine a spotlight on him so he'll stop looking like a pumpkin.) Over each berth/bed/cabin there hung a big monitor with life sign readouts. Four of these in a room, so one of them was erupting in car alarm sounds pretty much all the time. It was alarms and flashing lights and tubes and read-outs and at times it looked like the kid was being swallowed by machines.

Anyway, Jake grew up with two signal characteristics: an inability to sleep, and an affinity for technology that borders on savantism. I blame/credit the NICU. Set off a screaming alarm every eight seconds, see how well you sleep. But the flip side is that somehow that tiny, yellow, coneheaded baby, surrounded by insistent technology, absorbed the non-human DNA of all those machines, and became capable of linking to computers in a way I wouldn't even try to duplicate. At age ten he speaks Scheme and html and flash better than I speak French.

I'm thinking of taking Jake back to see the NICU when we go there. To thank the nurses for the kid. (Who just today -- like most days -- I was threatening to kill.) Funny how I don't remember the doctors, but the nurses? For the rest of my life I'm going to feel like I owe the race of nurses.

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American Freak.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

I saw Lobster Boy in person. I was sixteen, living in Urbandale , Iowa. I went to a carnival with a school buddy hoping to meet girls. (That was pretty much the extent of my ambition in those days.) We saw the tent, we heard the barker's come-on, so we went in. There was Lobster Boy, sitting on a folding chair, delivering his pat little speech and trying to sell autographed photos of himself.

God knows I was as oblivious and insensitive as only an adolescent boy can be. But I knew I had made a mistake. I knew I had done something wrong. I had committed what I can only think of, even now, as a sin.

I don't know how Lobster Boy felt about himself or his life. I don't think my shame-faced staring hurt him, I'm sure he was used to it. It hurt me.

I've meant to write about reality TV in general, and American Idol in particular, for a long time. But Jill Parkin does it for me:

She is obese, she cannot sing and she is totally deluded. She is surrounded by her hugely overweight family who all share her belief that she has a wonderful voice.

They are not very clever, but they are desperate for her to appear on television. What do you do?

Do you let them down gently, and explain that it would be kinder for all concerned if the young girl was not encouraged to humiliate herself in front of millions?

Or do you clap your hands in delight, certain in the knowledge that your boss, the multimillionaire despot, is waiting with his courtiers in a room nearby - and this young girl is the kind of contestant that pleases him most?

This one will wow him.

How the crowds will snigger and jeer!

Send in the fat kid and let the blood sport begin.
Pastor Jeff adds this:
Parkin makes a convincing argument that reality TV is the new freak show of the 21st century. Programs are designed not to find and reward talent, but to display a procession of weak, vulnerable, and socially challenged people whom we can gawk and sneer at. Shows like "Big Brother" and "Survivor" intentionally force opposites together in hopes that a volatile reaction (or even an explosion) will give a big ratings payoff.

Except we're talking about people, not chemicals. I understand that the participants know what they're getting into -- well, mostly, anyway. The minimum age for contestants on "The X Factor" has been lowered from 16 to 14, all the better to take advantage of adolescent awkwardness and emotional vulnerability.
I despise Idol. I despise cruelty. I cannot tolerate people who revel in, or profit from, other people's humiliation. Simon Cowell is not witty. He's not funny. He's a tedious little thug, a dull, halfwit version of Don Rickles. A punk. A creep.

And the people who admire him? Let me be charitable and express the hope that they are merely insensitive. Let me express the hope that their choice of television shows doesn't really reflect their true selves. Let me express the hope that they will in time come to realize that a freak show makes freaks of the audience.

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But What of the Supermarket?

Monday, October 01, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

A few weeks ago a couple who were grinding our stumps (insert leering joke here) came up to me as I sat on my porch enjoying a lovely Macanudo Gold Label and asked, "Is that your watermelon patch?"

"Um . . . what?"

"You have a watermelon patch just outside your fence."

Sure enough there was a watermelon patch. Although, being city folk, we were not entirely sure they weren't plump cucumbers. We were mystified as to how the watermelon patch might have come to be, but we're going with the "construction workers spitting watermelon seeds," explanation, as opposed to our other options. (1-It's North Carolina, maybe watermelons just grow, like kudzu and bamboo, or 2- They are not watermelons at all but alien pods gestating a new master race.)

We waited and -- this will not shock the farmers among you -- the melons got bigger. Tonight was harvest time. I can report that this free-range, cruelty-free watermelon was pretty tasty. Obviously our complete lack of awareness or effort worked out well.

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I Got Rid of the Toupe Because of 9/11.

Sunday, September 30, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

If other candidates throughout history had run like Giuliani:

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. Hey, it's chilly in here today, isn't it? Almost as chilly as it was at Valley Forge. As you know, I'm running for President (wait for applause) in this, the first ever post-Valley Forge, national election in our new country's history. Today is the anniversary of Valley Forge. Well, not exactly, but close. As close as two tents in Valley Forge. And let me tell you: the tents in Valley Forge were pitched close together.

I think we all remember that fateful time that we now refer to simply as, Valley Forge. Valley Forge changed everything. It certainly changed my approach to various issues. For example, some have criticized the fact that my position on the suet subsidy has evolved, but I can honestly say that without suet we might never have survived . . . Valley Forge. Yes, Valley Forge changed my entire outlook on suet. Shall I tell you a little about my enjoyment of suet at Valley Forge?

Excuse me just a moment. Is that? Yes, it is: it's a courrier with a parchment from my wife. In the old days I might have ignored it until I'd finished my speech, but after Valley Forge, and in memory of Valley Forge, and because I hope to avoid any future Valley Forge -- where I was in charge, you know -- I always take my wife's messages.

Oh, look: she's writing from Valley Forge.

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