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The recent death of Christopher Hitchens, atheist author, thinker, smoker and drinker occurred while I was in Mexico, so I wasn't aware of it until I returned to California. While I did not always agree with Hitchens, I read his column in Slate on a regular basis and found him to be intellectually honest, for the most part, though always in possession of numerous axes that needed grinding.

His biggest axe was his insistence on the lack of existence of a supreme being. Like all atheists, he seemed plenty peevish about this at times. Atheists can be angry people. This is because they can only prove that religion is nonsense, not that God for a logical certainty does not exist. Atheists and agnostics also get irritated with religious people because they can be so smugly irrational and also possibly because the religious sometimes want to kill us instead of engaging in their normal practice of killing each other.

As an amateur agnostic theologian, and a lifelong apatheist, I am not troubled by the possibility that a Supreme Being may have designed this beautiful if somewhat accident-prone plane of existence. I am also at peace with the fact that there will always be some kind of religion, because of the intrinsic human need to attempt to control the uncontrollable future. Consider the first, unrecorded religion, a nameless, extinct faith whose holidays we nonetheless still celebrate at Christmas and New Year's. A primitive tribe notices that the sun's path across the southern sky is getting lower and lower each day. They go to their juju man, who declares that they must bring him animals to sacrifice and beer to drink, so that he may have the strength to summon the sun back north. A week later, the day is perceptibly longer, and the juju man demands more meat and brew to thank the sun for not disappearing entirely.

I am sure there were cave atheists back then. The forebears of Hitchens, they must have grumbled that the only result they were for certain getting from their sacrifices was that the juju man looked fat and hung over. Because the sun disappearing forever would be way too big a problem with which to take a chance, the other cave people told them to shut up. This started the religious practice of ignoring reason and logic, which logically led to the religious practices of excommunications, inquisitions, heresy trials and burnings at the stake in later years.

The juju man, entranced by his power over the cave people, began adding other rules. He would forbid gay marriage, for example, or tell the cave people they couldn't eat lobster on Sundays. The cave people would obey, because they couldn't risk losing the sun. Eventually, the add-ons became more important than the original central point of the religion. Consider modern American evangelicals, worshippers of sweet loving Jesus. The most important things to them, if I read the news right, are banning abortion and insuring that homophobia remains legal, even though Jesus, according to the written record, never had a word to say about abortion or homosexuality.

The add-ons are what infuriates atheists and causes them to sue to get crosses taken off hills and commandments banned from courtrooms. If all religions consisted of religious people saying "There is a God, He wants us to be good and we're going to get together every week to talk about that," we rationalists would leave them alone.  Especially if they left us alone.

Meanwhile those of us in the agnostic community remain relaxed and bemused, knowing that if there is a God, He wants us to live in a world where there is no incontrovertible evidence of His existence. This takes a lot of pressure off of us, including the pressure to prove that He does not exist. And if He does exist, and in fact does maintain a Heaven, whether it be filled with harps and angels or brimming with extra virgins or is just an eternally sex-charged nightclub where the drinks are free, everyone is beautiful and nobody is jealous, I am sure all atheists go there.

The God I could get behind would let them in just to see the looks on their faces.


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The author recently had a chance to visit both Arizona, where Mexicans are dreaded by many of that state's citizens and Mexico itself, where being Mexican is nearly universally popular.

Mexicans work hard. In fact, Mexico is the hardest working country in the world. This was brought home to me personally while I was sitting in a non-working fashion at a restaurant in Cabo San Lucas waiting for some yellowfin tuna I had personally freed from its mortal cares in the previous day of non-work to be cooked for me. I fell into a conversation with Carlos, the restaurant's manager, between the series of cell phone calls he was taking in both English and rapid-fire Spanish. When I asked him where he had learned his unaccented English, he retreated behind the counter and popped on the Packer's cap he keeps there. He had been raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin and still remembered his life there wistfully. He said he would return there in a heartbeat, if it was possible. I was astonished, as any normal American accustomed to thinking of Green Bay as a land of frozen football idiots would be. Why would you exchange the sensuous breezes and thronging hordes of scantily-dressed tourist women in Cabo for life in the capital of the American tundra?

You work too hard here, he replied, and make too little money. As if to prove his point, his other cell phone rang and he had to get busy at his second, completely unrelated job, selling ecology tours to American tourists. Not that he limited that practice to ecology tours; he also had boats available for diving, fishing, cruising or merely hauling visitors out to Los Arcos to sunbathe on the final few feet of California sand at Land's End. When I left his restaurant, he still had a phone to each ear.

Mexicans do not merely work hard, they work at everything. Ask Carlos or anyone else at the marina in Cabo for any service and they will be happy to get it for you. No one ever tells you that it's not in their job description or to consult a specialist. Anything from a round of golf to a new condominium to an evening's entertainment by one of Baja's working girls can be obtained from any busboy at any cantina.

In contrast, many Arizonans do not work at all. They have retired to the state from places like Green Bay. They are surprised to find themselves surrounded by Hispanics, as that was not mentioned to them as a feature of the state by their real-estate agents when they were sold their new homes, even though Arizona has been home to a sizable number of Mexicans and Mexican Americans since it was merely an underpopulated, peacefully smoldering corner of outback America instead of the bustling, sun and gun-crazed bastion of xenophobia it has become.

The recent graying of the Grand Canyon State struck me when I stopped at a fast food joint off a highway exit I had passed many times in previous trips. It had always consisted of one single rusty gas station. This time through, it had blossomed into an entire community with houses, a motel and a shopping district. The crowd at the fast food joint, besides me, consisted of oldsters with Northern accents gathered around the tables drinking senior coffees brewed for them by Mexican employees

This parceling out of the state to people who never want to lift a snow shovel again has had some predictable results. It has lead to an explosion in the number of billboards with realtor's faces on them, which led this observer to wonder Why don't any physically attractive people sell real estate?  Like car salesman, real estate agents tend towards the flap-eared and the gap-toothed, but they insist on plastering their pictures everywhere, or pitching themselves on TV. I can only think of two possible explanations for this phenomenon, the first of which is that potential buyers, having been inured to the agent's appearance by seeing his or her picture on every panel truck and memo pad in the immediate vicinity of the house he or she will attempt to sell them, will not start giggling at the salesperson the moment they meet. The second is that the buyer will happily overpay for his or her purchase, thinking that the agent will at least use some of the profit for cosmetic surgery.

Despite the best efforts of  its real estate agents, large parts of the state appear to remain unsold, but Arizona is nonetheless rapidly catching up to Florida in the number of white-haired citizens who own 1991 Buick RoadMasters with fifteen thousand original miles on them and who stop at every green light they see. More importantly, though, Arizonais filling up with people who think Arizona residency should be restricted to people who can't pronounce the Spanish names of the streets they live on correctly. This may one day lead to the sad situation of seniors having to make their own coffees, or the ironic one of retirees clamoring for more immigrants to be permitted to enter so that they can brew senior joe.

Whether Arizona ever gets comfortable in its own, half-Mexican skin or not, at least the state could be reasonable enough let Carlos in. No reason not to. He's just passing through, Packer's cap in hand, on his way to Wisconsin.


 
 
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I was personally Occupied last night after returning to the US from yet another effort to eat all the food and catch all the fish in Mexico. Due to a scheduling error by the California Ballet, in which both of my Significant Other's talented daughters perform, I needed to attend a Christmas performance of "The Nutcracker" on the same evening I flew up from La Paz and had to spend two hours re-entering the country due to the Christmas crush at the border.

I was not averse to watching the ballet, which I had never before seen in its entirety, despite several  efforts by my mother during my childhood to expose myself and my siblings to the work. What would happen was that all we kids would all gather around the only TV in the house, filled with apprehension about having to watch two hours of women in tiny skirts and men in tights cavorting to music we had already heard many times from my mother's previous efforts to introduce us to high culture. As the program began my father, who was never fully on board with my mother's efforts to develop a curriculum in the classics for all of us, would begin to make snickering remarks about the characters in the ballet. He was particularly contemptuous of the Sugar Plum Fairy, making constant sardonic comments that expressed his anxiety for her to appear and sarcastically averring his personal admiration for her.

When the ballet rolled around to its midpoint and the SPF did grace the stage, he would fall off of his seat with simulated appreciation. A careful observer would note that he never spilled his beer during this process. "The Sugar Plum Fairy!" he would cry, in mock ecstasy. This was enough to make my mother storm out of the room in a rage, after which we kids were free to sneak off to our rooms. In that primitive era, we didn't have computers to play on, so we had to content ourselves with performing destructive experiments on our old toys, in anticipation of getting new ones for Christmas, or simply fighting with each other. Either one was better than the "Nutcracker."

So I was merely a tad fatigued, not ballet-phobic, when I approached the San Diego Civic Center holding my Significant Other's hand with one of mine and clutching a pair of bouquets for her daughters with the other. Occupy San Diego had chosen that spot to occupy and a band of protesters, some carrying signs, some chanting, some drumming, some shouting and some simply exploring the outliers of motliness stood between us and the doors.

I had nothing against the Occupy movement until then. Unlike some of my friends, who growl that the Occupiers should just "get jobs," despite there not being any jobs to be gotten, I can see the point of being surly about bailing out big corporations so they can turn around and  propose slapping us with charges for using their debit cards. I just don't see any use to it. If someone is sitting in his office on Wall Street, about to close a deal that will bankrupt nations and poison the Earth but personally net him enough billions to buy his own island, and he glances out his office window and sees someone with dreadlocks shaking a sign, is he going to think Oh, no, I'd better not do this?

Nope.

If the Occupiers want to influence history, they need to become the Tea Party of the left and find themselves candidates for office that are willing to cheerfully destroy the national economy for a set of irrational beliefs and conflicted principles. Otherwise they're just getting Maced for no reason.

As we approached the door, however, an androgynous protester ran up to us and slapped me right on the plastic wrap of the bouquets. Apparently, by carrying flowers to the ballet, I had become part of the 1%.

Please send me a check.

I reacted as any rational, tired human being who does not like taking feces from anyone would. I invited my assailant to enjoy intercourse with him or herself. He/she responded with the same invitation directed at me.

The incident ended non-violently, mostly because there were two San Diego police officers standing in front of me and I did not want to be taken in for political brawling when I was supposed to be at the ballet, which would have gotten me into major trouble with my S.O. Also, since Occupy gets lots of media coverage, I could have achieved national renown for doing something stupid, something which is probably inevitable one day but that I have avoided so far. I was grateful for my self-restraint when the above-mentioned  individual ignored me and started kicking down police barriers and screaming at them when they fell, which made it obvious he/she wasn't a real Occupier but a downtown schizophrenic just attracted to the fun.

When the theater emptied out, the Occupiers were still hanging. It, after all, is the only job they have. One of them started yelling that the mayor of San Diego was owned by the Mexican drug cartels.

"You can Google it!" was her argument.

I wasn't entirely convinced. Just because you can Google it doesn't make it true. There's a motto for our times.


 
 
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Certain unnamed conservatives were recently angry with President Obama because his daughters were served Asian food in their school cafeteria on the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. These critics apparently felt that the duties of a Commander-in-Chief included supervising his children's school lunch program and while only two of the eight items served Malia and Sasha could be identified as distinctly Japanese, this nation was weakened by its First Children wielding chopsticks on December 7th.

Makes perfect sense to me. Back when I was growing up in Pennsylvania, me and my buddy Rick Santorum used to seek out suspected Japanese persons on December 7th, body-slam them to the ground, shout "Banzai!" and then run away to commemorate the anniversary. The older and smaller these persons were, the more eagerly we mauled them, as they were more likely to have been directly involved in World War II. Not all of them were actually Japanese, I suppose, but I'm sure they understood that they deserved a beat-down just for looking possibly Japanese. After a full day of mosh-pitting the former enemy, we would go tank up on sake and sashimi at the nearest sushi bar. I realize now that eating that sushi was wrong.

I may have mellowed over the years but Rick hasn't; just the other day he earned himself some raised eyebrows by accusing Obama of appeasing Muslim extremists. "Rick," the mushy mainstream media said, "Doesn't Obama cause Muslim extremists to be shot in midnight raids in the dark of the moon or targeted by deadly Predator drones? How do you call that appeasement?"

I understand Rick's mindset, though. He's thinking that sure, those particular Muslim extremists are full of bullet holes or blown into hot bits, but their women, children, neighbors and livestock may have survived. These need to be dealt with, especially the ones that can cook or be eaten; otherwise Muslim chow houses will be as common in fifty years as Rice Bowls or Panda Expresses, and future Presidential children may embarrass the nation by having Islamic food for their school lunches.

Is eating Japanese food at all, on any day of the year, unpatriotic? You have to figure it is. Eating German food would be as well,  except even the Germans don't eat German food. Ditto for Vietnamese food. Didn't we fight Italy at one point? Then shouldn't loyal Americans stay away from pasta bars and Pizza Huts?

Of course, no one should eat the cuisine of Grenada, in order to avoid giving aid and comfort to our cruel enemy there. When dining on Korean food, one should always divide the serving equally and leave half of it on the plate.

What about French food, you say? Can we continue to eat French food, even though the French continually annoy the crap out of us and everybody else on the planet? The answer is yes, because we've never fought a real war with France. The same with Russia. Cold wars don't count, so feel free to eat as much pickled cabbage as you want and wash it down with as much Stoly as you need to in order to enjoy it, which could be lots.

The only exception I would argue for is Mexican food. We did fight a war with Mexico, but it ended with us annexing half their country, including the comfortable suburb of San Diego where I sit typing this. If anything, Mexicans should boycott American food. Fortunately they don't and even more fortunately, Mexicans don't refuse to work in the American food industry.

If they did, we'd all starve.


 
 
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Separated at birth? Miss Piggy, Nikita Kruschev

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Eric Bolling, of Fox Business News and Dan Gainor of the Media Research Center recently devoted an episode of "Follow the Money," Bolling's Fox show, to the premise that international oil companies are entirely altruistic and that the Muppets, whose latest movie was recently released by Disney,  are Communists.

This reporter caught up with a fellow of Gainor's at Media Research and, while he refused to be identified, he agreed to speak about the issue off the record.

Your boss, Dan Gainor, speaking of the Muppet' movie and other movies, said  "all these movies attacking the oil industry, none of them reminding people what oil means for most people: fuel to light a hospital, heat your home, fuel an ambulance to get you to the hospital if you need that. And they don't want to tell that story."

"It's true. The basic goodness of the oil industry is hardly ever a subject for Hollywood cinema."

In fact, however, ambulances pay the same for a gallon of gas as getaway cars and monster trucks, and hospitals are charged the same price for heating oil as evil lairs. How is this basically good?

"First of all, none of us has an evil lair anymore. All you have to do is fill out IRS Form 8829, and it becomes a home office. Secondly, what are you? Some kind of Muppet or Communist yourself?"

Let's talk Muppets. What makes you think these foam creatures with monstrous eyebrows are part of a socialist conspiracy? After all, they are now owned by Disney, long said to be as menacing to the remainder of the entertainment industry as BP is to the Gulf of Mexico.

"We can start with Kermit the Frog."

True, not the strongest of characters and a bit of an instinctive compromiser…

"Buddy, you can come right out and say it. He's the Al Gore of the amphibian world. Next!"

What about Miss Piggy? Nobody until you has accused this strong-willed porcine beauty of leftist tendencies.

"Have you ever noticed the resemblance between Piggy and Nikita Kruschev, the dead Communist tyrant? It's a clear case of separated at birth."

It could be just a coincidence. Even if I grant you those two, what about the rest of the jolly Muppet crew? I don't see them as subversives.

"Open your eyes, man! The Swedish Chef—they could have had a German chef, or a Greek chef, but they have a Swedish chef, because  Sweden is a known socialist country! Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem Band, encouraging free love and drug abuse by being loud and hairy! Fozzie Bear, another leftie comedian in the Al Franken mode. And worst of all, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew!"

What's wrong with Dr. Honeydew?

"A vocal proponent of false global warming theories, that's what! And the way he stifles the opposing views of poor, truth-seeking Beaker, the only right-thinking Muppet!"

But nobody understands Beaker.

"Just like nobody understands the goodness of Big Oil. If we didn't charge every penny we could get for the fuel you need and use your money to help prop up medieval Arab kings while occasionally dumping a tanker load or two of crude onto your coasts, who would? Talk about your unintentionally ironic metaphors! And here's the kicker—ALL MUPPETS ARE LEFT-HANDED!"

That's because the puppeteer has to operate the Muppet's head with his right hand. You can look it up.

"I don't need to read fawning liberal apologists for these animal anarchists when I already know the truth. But you're right about one thing—there's a hidden hand behind all of this."


 
 
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I was already nearly exhausted with Christmas just two days after Thanksgiving.  Black Friday is always very tiring for me, as I usually spend it lying around the house feeling guilty for not being out there throwing elbows for bargains at the mall. I missed out on my opportunity to be pepper-sprayed  this year. Black Friday was followed, for me, by So What Saturday and Scratch Your Head Sunday. Then I missed Cyber Monday because I'm not sure how to get there.

I've got nothing done, and Christmas is only twenty-three shopping days away.  The mall is open now, but I'm not going. This is because I have a morbid hatred of Christmas music.

I don't hate all Christmas songs. I don't mind the carols. They're pretty, and they remind me of my youth, when they were practically the only Christmas songs we had. They're all religious, though, and while I am not, they don't offend me. At least they don't offend me nearly as much as the awful versions of Rudolph and White Christmas and Frosty that are piped into every sandwich shop and CVS drugstore in the country. These songs are either sung with syrupy sweetness by a Mormon Tabernacle Choir-like massed chorus, or covered by some fading pop star who, imbued with the spirit of the season, quits shooting heroin and beating his mistress long enough to lay down some tracks on "Santa Claus Lane."  In either case, I look at the freshly-scrubbed seasonal workers who are selling me my bows and wrapping paper and wonder how they can listen to the store's Muzak all day without being pumped full of PCP.

Staying home has its own hazards, though. They're called Christmas specials. Every single one that has ever been made gets replayed every year, and they make a couple fresh ones, too. Charlie Brown, Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rudolph dash through the snow in animation, claymation, hand puppets, marionettes, live action and digitalization everywhere on the remote. You can't hit the button without seeing Peppermint Patty or Tim Allen spouting some Christmas treacle. Even the ones featuring my personal seasonal heroes, Scrooge and the Grinch, have endings that ultimately disappoint.

For others who have reached their Christmas special breaking point, a news flash of good cheer: THE KARDASHIANS WILL NOT HAVE A CHRISTMAS SPECIAL THIS YEAR! Yes, after skipping out on her two month plus a long weekend marriage to roundball pro Kris Humphries, Kim Kardashian, the hefty-chested heart and soul of the Kardashian empire, does not feel up to standing under the mistletoe. Theories as to why the Kardashian-Humphries union failed abound, the most prominent being that it was a ratings gimmick in the first place, but in a spirit of compassion, let's consider alternatives. First, it was rumored that Kris refused to change his last name to Kardashian, or even Kumphries, thus threatening the iconic "K" that all the world has come to associate with spoiled, surgically enhanced moody white women. And of course it's always a bad idea to marry someone who's nineteen inches taller than you. Whenever you want to look at the sky, you see your partner's armpit instead.

The ideal height differential for a relationship is six inches, which happens to be the difference in inches between my height and my Significant Other's, which is why we have such a blissful life together. That, plus I do everything she wants me to do the minute she asks. It's the only way to make an American woman happy. If you are trying anything else, I advise you to quit wasting your time.

The lack of a Kardashian Christmas episode means that, for this year at least, the two worst products of the American television industry, Christmas specials and reality TV shows, will not be combined into some bottom-feeding, sweeps week seeking broadcast monstrosity.  The popularity of reality TV rests on the fact that people on reality TV shows, who are always good-looking and sometimes even wealthy and famous do things that are so stupid that an inbred hillbilly woman living in a trailer park in tornado country, underneath a leaky dam on a major fault line, with one hand on a crack pipe and the other on the groin of the most recent man with whom she has had unprotected sex, a second cousin who showed up at her door wearing an orange jumpsuit and covered with prison tattoos, can glance up at her TV and say with an air of superiority, "Them people just has no common sense."

So the Kardashian-free Christmas is just for this year. Next year, to celebrate the season, Kim may well decide to have herself filmed having a baby in a stable.

It sometimes seems the entire Christmas season/spectacle/business cycle, a mothership of bloated commercialism trailing black tentacles of seasonal depression and potential bankruptcy, is designed to make us grateful when the calendar finally turns to bleak January, when we have nothing to look forward to except discarding some hastily-made resolutions and paying income tax.

And now I see that two youths have been arrested for setting off "deer bombs," packets of chemicals that smell exactly like deer urine, in a Walmart dressing room. Why, you ask, why, did these juveniles choose to celebrate Christmas by soaking their neighbors' clothes in deer wiz?

The answer, my friends, is that they are too young to buy pepper spray.