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A first read of Stephen King

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I did feel, however, that I demanded something different (something more?) from a novel than I guessed most of the readers of Stephen King did. (Not that this made me morally superior, just more demanding, a high-maintenance reader.) – Dwight Allen

***

As I am 240 pages into my first – and probably last – Stephen King novel, “Needful Things,” I find myself agreeing with every sentiment in this column about what separates fiction from literature, and why King simply doesn’t measure up, and as far as I’m concerned, he can’t hold Thomas Pynchon’s literary jockstrap.

I’m actually not looking forward to reading more in this book because A) it is needlessly long and B) it is endlessly dull and formulaic. A small town in Maine. A creepy new business owner comes to town. Stupified locals buy his trinkets that just so happen to fulfill their most base desires. Creepy guy gets creepier. And I can only assume, the shit gets weirder, and I don’t care. I’m sure some zany stuff is afoot, but King hasn’t made me invested in the characters, so I also don’t care what happens to them. I could put the novel down right now and happily move on with no desire to know what happens next. That’s a bad sign for an author of King’s calibre.

As such I really don’t get King’s mass appeal. Is everyone’s lives so boring and depressing that they can be fulfilled by even the most basic escapist fiction? I mean, this novel, so far, has no heart, it doesn’t examine any higher truths about humanity or the human condition, it is written in language most middle schoolers could follow and the plot itself plods along at an uninteresting snail’s pace. If the majority of people read novels simply for a compelling plot, boy are they missing out on the truly enriching and soul-fulfilling experience of actual literature, which this is not.

As Dwight Allen put it:

King may be an adequate enough escape from life, if that’s all you require from a book of fiction, but his work (or what I’ve read of it) is a far cry from literature, which, at its best, is, sentence by sentence, a revelation about life.

A “sentence by sentence … revelation about life” is what I require from literature, and this is not literature.

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Written by Jeremy

August 31st, 2014 at 12:51 am

Outfoxed again and again

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I wouldn’t care whatsoever if FOX News just came out and said to their audience that they were a biased news organization with a clear agenda of castigating President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and all progressives at every opportunity. At least that would be honest. At least MSNBC uses the mantra “lean forward” to suggest that the network is basically a progressive mouthpiece.

hannity hypocrisy

Fair and balanced

But it’s FOX News’ constant and blatant deception and sophistry, even after being exposed, that I think puts FOX beyond the pale of anything that might resemble journalism. I have actually heard FOX News officials claim that the channel draws a clear line between commentary like Bill O’Reilly and supposed “straight-laced” anchors like Shepard Smith, but this demarcation line, and as far as I can tell, has never existed.

Here is an example of one of these “straight-laced” news segments omitting a portion of Obama’s speech to imply that Obama was “blaming the troops” for the ISIS threat, and here’s another in which another supposed “straight-laced” correspondent, Ed Henry, who is FOX’s chief White House reporter, no less, fabricated a story suggesting that Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey changed his position on ISIS.

Nonetheless, Robert Ailes from an interview in 2006 addressed criticism of FOX News when he was asked, “If you reject the conservative label, is there another way you would define yourself?:”

I think conservatives were underserved, that does not make us a conservative channel. I think a lot of conservatives watch our channel, that does not make us a conservative channel. If we’re conservative, what does that make the other channels? Liberal. Reporters are very interesting, they keep coming at me and saying aren’t you more conservative, and I say yes well, you mean they’re more liberal? The answer is you see both on our channel. In the last 25 years you CNN had Bob Novack and they thought that was balanced. One half hour they had Bob and the rest of the time they had liberals. We decided to balance all the arguments and treat the conservative view with the same respect as we have for the liberal view, and that is really irritating some people.

We’re not promoting the conservative point of view, we’re merely giving them equal time and access. Why would that offend journalists, to have another point of view? We don’t quite get that. Dragged kicking and screaming the rest of the media is now saying oh my god maybe we should be a little more balanced than the way we were doing things.

He is essentially arguing, without presenting any evidence and just on pure conjecture, of course, that before FOX came along, the national media was just a hive of liberalism, and journalists were not telling the other side of the story. First, it’s not the job of journalists to tell the other side of the story. It’s the journalist’s job to report what is happening, and more times than not, news stories do not have just two sides. They could have three or four or five sides. The suggestion that the goal of journalism is to represent all sides equally is to fail to understand journalism itself, which is, in turn, a particularly unfortunate failure for someone who claims to run a news channel.

And further, if it was true that the nation somehow had a shortage of conservative viewpoints in this period, wouldn’t we have seen nothing but Democrats in the White House and in Congress before FOX opened shop in 1996? I seem to recall some folks named Reagan, Bush Sr., Ford and Nixon. Also, in 1996 when Fox News took to the air, the Republicans had a majority in both houses of Congress.

However much top FOX News officials, reporters and anchors have failed at journalism, they have proven themselves to be professionals at clinical self-delusion.

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Written by Jeremy

August 27th, 2014 at 12:30 am

Oh, look …

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Here’s more Christians claiming that bad things in the world are the result of sin and God’s wrath:

Credit: Getty Images/Family members of West Point district commissioner Miata Flowers flee the slum in Monrovia, Liberia, while being escorted by the Ebola Task Force on Wednesday, August 20. The military began enforcing a quarantine on West Point, a congested slum of 75,000, fearing a spread of the Ebola virus. Health officials say the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the deadliest ever.

Credit: Getty Images/Family members of West Point district commissioner Miata Flowers flee the slum in Monrovia, Liberia, while being escorted by the Ebola Task Force on Aug. 20.

As the deadly Ebola virus continues to spread in Liberia, religious leaders there are claiming that “immoral acts” are responsible for the catastrophic outbreak. Christian leaders meeting at the Liberian Council of Churches unanimously agreed: “God is angry with Liberia.” The statement released by the council declared, “Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God’s forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society.” Their recommended solution to the disease ravaging the nation is that everyone should stay indoors for a three-day period of fasting and prayer. …

Perish the thought that their all-loving, all-powerful god actually take responsibility for the misery and suffering that his voyeuristic eyes have — if he is real — gazed on with indifference for thousands of years. Perish the thought that this all-loving, all-powerful god — if he is real — use his innate foresight before sending the whole ugly train of humanity down the slope toward perdition. Perish the thought that man be allowed to live freely in peace and solidarity without unwillingly being hurled into a cosmic game of souls with no dog in the hunt.

But no, they tell us. Let’s blame the sick people for being born in a region without the luxuries of the West. Let’s blame famine stricken children in Africa, and then let’s deny their parents birth control so that generations more can feel the ache of hunger and disease, and they too may die in unmarked graves. Let’s blame homosexuals for acting on their genetic impulses. Let’s blame everyone else for simply being born. And then let’s heap all of that blame on an innocent carpenter from Nazareth. And Christians claim the moral high ground? On what authority? Because it’s sure not Yahweh or the Bible.

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Written by Jeremy

August 20th, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Police militarifornication

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In which John Oliver skewers the Ferguson (Mo.) Police Department, and other local law enforcement offices in the nation for parading around their smallish communities with military-grade equipment, gear and bravado like they are in a fucking war zone:

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Written by Jeremy

August 20th, 2014 at 12:12 am

So much for the wall of separation

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Integrity in national journalism is officially dead:

Time Inc. has fallen on hard times. Would you believe that this once-proud magazine publishing empire is now explicitly rating its editorial employees based on how friendly their writing is to advertisers?

Last year—in the opposite of a vote of confidence—Time Warner announced that it would spin off Time Inc. into its own company, an act of jettisoning print publications once and for all. Earlier this year, the company laid off 500 employees (and more layoffs are coming soon). And, most dramatically of all, Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp now requires his magazine’s editors to report to the business side of the company, a move that signals the full-scale dismantling of the traditional wall between the advertising and editorial sides of the company’s magazines. … — “Time Inc. Rates Writers on How “Beneficial” They Are to Advertisers,” Gawker.com

And then there’s this, in which a Sports Illustrated article about Drew Brees was basically one long advertisement for a TRX training system. The article failed to mention that Brees is an investor in the company that makes the equipment, according to Forbes.

Here’s SI’s half-hearted reply:

This was a story about how an elite QB entering his 14th season stays at the top of his game, while affording readers access to those same training methods. It was not a story about TRX, though we should have disclosed the relationship. It was unintentional, but it should have been acknowledged.

How does a magazine on the level of Sports Illustrated, which is part of Time, fail to make such an acknowledgment unless, of course, that wouldn’t have been beneficial for advertisers.

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Written by Jeremy

August 18th, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Debunking theistic evolution

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A common misconception floating about among Christians is that scientists, freethinkers and others “believe” in evolution the same way they believe in God or divine providence, and sometimes we slip into the misleading language in this way to describe our perception that evolution is a real process. Of course, this misunderstanding is essentially based on skewed semantics, as the word, “believe,” can be used to mean both something that a person takes on faith and a disputed piece of information that a person chooses to accept against the alternatives. But as Keith Blanchard said here, evolution is not disputed:

Theistic-Evolution

Theistic evolution

Evolution is nothing more than a fairly simple way of understanding what is unquestionably happening. You don’t believe in it — you either understand it or you don’t. But pretending evolution is a matter of faith can be a clever way to hijack the conversation, and pit it in a false duality against religion. And that’s how we end up with people decrying evolution, even as they eat their strawberries and pet their dogs, because they’ve been led to believe faith can only be held in one or the other.

Thus, instead of saying we believe or even accept evolution, perhaps we should speak about it with as much certainty of fact as we do gravity and the planet’s rotation around the sun, for when believers decry evolution, they make themselves look as ridiculous as if they had suddenly claimed the world is flat. While I agree with Blanchard that a person can, and many do, recognize evolution as fact and simply reconcile it with their faith — notice how the reach of faith always, always recedes behind science — they must do so at the expense of the Bible’s validity. Liberal Christians, such as Francis Collins, reconcile evolution and the Bible by claiming that God was behind the whole plan of creation and guided evolution to ultimately culminate in human beings. Basically, since Genesis does not provide an exact time frame for the process of creation, a “day” in the Bible could be virtually any amount of time.

But there are at least two problems with this theory. OK, three. First, although the Bible attempts to provide years and time periods for “historical” people and events, no attempt, as I’ve said, is made to do this in the creation story. One would think that an important event like the creation of man would have warranted a basic timeline so the Bible’s later readers could know about when the species began. Certainly, providing this information in detail would not have been out of the purview of an all-knowing god.

Second, as the image above points out, evolution is riddled with “errors” in design (Here’s just a few). Presumably a god who was in control of the process would have been able and willing to streamline the process and “guide” evolution more efficiently without the flaws, which leads to the next point. More than 98 percent of all species that ever existed, including early humans, are now extinct. An all-loving God would have had to watch eons and eons of misery and death before our little blip of time came around. Sure, some Christians will argue that millions of years for God is nothing, but while God might be able to fluidly transport himself through space and time, he still orchestrated a plan that includes 98 percent more death and destruction than life. So although some Christians do regard the accepted science of evolution as true, they still have logical mountains to climb if they are to reconcile evolution with the notion of all-loving, all-powerful god.

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Written by Jeremy

August 18th, 2014 at 9:23 pm

Restaurant review: Big Kahuna Wings, Farragut, Tenn.

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I started writing this review for Urban Spoon, but I noticed they have a tool to link back to restaurant reviews from blogs, so I figured I would just write it here. Maybe I will offer some local reviews more often; I sure as hell eat out enough.

***

My roommate and I tried Big Kahuna Wings a couple nights ago. The experience was an overall positive one for me, although not so much for my roommate.

For an appetizer, we got the pig fries, which are basically heavily seasoned french fries, pulled pork, bacon and cheese, in other words, a clogged artery waiting to happen. In any case, it was very good, and both of us enjoyed it. I only had a few bites because, as my roommate was not impressed with the wings, she ate the larger part of the appetizer.

Big Kahuna Wings - Pig fries

Big Kahuna Wings – Pig fries

For the meal itself, we got the “original hot” traditional wings with hot sauce served on the side. The only real complaint I have with the menu is that the 10-piece wing is the smallest available option in the traditional. Given how big the wings actually are, which is definitely a positive, a smaller portion would be a good option for people who don’t want to gorge. Two 10-piece wings plus an appetizer just seemed like it would be overkill, so we just got the one order.

My roommate did not like the wings at all. She thought they were too salty and lacked heat. I actually liked the dry rub, but you do have to add the sauce to get any semblance of heat from the “original hot.” It could have been different, but to me, the spice on the wings tasted similar to the spice on the fries. While my roommate also didn’t like the taste of the hot sauce, I thought it was good, although it reminded me a little of Tabasco sauce. Big Kahuna’s “hot” sauce is mild compared with how other wing joints in the area define “hot.” If you actually want hot, you might want to try the “original fire,” which is what I might do next time.

The restaurant also has a decent selection of beer; I was especially pleased that they had Fat Tire. Service was good, and one of the managers (I think) came by to check on us.

I would go back to try other items on the menu since the restaurant also has a good selection of burgers and sandwiches, and I would even have the wings again if I can drag my roommate back for seconds.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Big Kahuna Wings on Urbanspoon

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Written by Jeremy

August 15th, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Myers reaches new level of arrogance

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I actually sympathize with Coyne who seems to be scratching his head on this reaction from PZ Myers on Robin Williams’ death.

Here’s Coyne quoting Myers:

Here’s how you don’t respond to Williams death: as P.Z Myers has in a post at Pharyngula, in which he claims that the media (and our government) has taken advantage of Williams’s death to draw attention away from racism and other social problems. In other words, we’ve been manipulated:

 I’m sorry to report that comedian Robin Williams has committed suicide, an event of great import and grief to his family. But his sacrifice has been a great boon to the the news cycle and the electoral machinery — thank God that we have a tragedy involving a wealthy white man to drag us away from the depressing news about brown people.

. . . Boy, I hate to say it, but it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction. No one wants to think the police might be untrustworthy. [This refers to the police shooting of black teenager Mike Brown in St. Louis.]

And think of the politicians! Midterm elections are coming up. Those are important! So people like Barack Obama need to be able to show their human side and connect with the real concerns of the American people by immediately issuing a safe, kind statement about Robin Williams, while navigating the dangerous shoals of police brutality and black oppression by avoiding them. Wouldn’t want to antagonize those lovely law-and-order folks before an election, you see.

Wealthy white man? Really? This is one of the most contemptible and inhumane things I’ve ever seen posted by a well-known atheist. It reeks of arrogance, of condescension, and especially of a lack of empathy for those who loved and admired Williams not because they knew him, but because he brought them happiness and made them think.

Well said. But I wonder if Coyne was caught off guard by Myers’ “arrogance” and “condescension,” which isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Surely Coyne isn’t just now discovering that Myers’ comments often reek of arrogance and condescension. And atheists wonder why believers sometimes brand nonbelievers as close-minded pricks. Its because of assholes such as this.

Postscript: After sleeping on it and talking in the comments section, I had a few more thoughts on this. I think the point Myers was trying to make about the media milking Williams’ death was probably a legit gripe, but it was far overshadowed by the statement about “wealthy white men” and “it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction,” which were particularly abhorrent. The man hung himself after a lengthy battle with depression and addiction and still managed to be one of the most beloved figures of our time; whatever the media and politicians hope to gain from his death is beside the point.

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Written by Jeremy

August 13th, 2014 at 12:47 am

Cowardice

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Notice how fast Rand Paul exits — within seconds — when an actual Hispanic constituent questions the GOP strategy on immigration. Big-feeling tough guys when the cameras are rolling at Fox News, right? Yet pussified when actually asked to own up to their policies in person:

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Written by Jeremy

August 13th, 2014 at 12:17 am

Interview with Robin Williams

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Here is an honest talk with Robin Williams from April 26, 2010, with comedian Marc Maron. He talks honestly about depression, addiction, mortality and of course, comedy. He even contemplates the notion of suicide at about the 56:00 mark. It may change how you think about Williams.

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Written by Jeremy

August 12th, 2014 at 9:12 pm

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