Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Poetry Wednesday: The Noblest Quest

I have come to some realizations about the truth
Truth is not something that you can just ASK for and receive
You can’t just talk to an invisible inaudible intangible yet omnipresent omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity and hope for an answer
You can’t just talk to a learned scholar of scholars and receive a nugget of truth
You can’t ask yourself, because you’re a dumbass. Admit it, you are.
Truth is not in some orchard
You cannot pick it and plunk it into a bucket and take it home
To devour at your leisure
Truth is not in a pond, lake, stream, river or ocean
So dropping a line down and waiting won’t yield any results
Because reality may bite, but the truth does not.
No, you must look for it actively
You must take source after source after source and compare each source, of course, to each other source and you may wish to outsource but NO! Because those you outsourced to may find THEIR truth but not yours, so you must continue the search alone
Eventually, you’ll come to one of four conclusions
Either you’ll find the truth, become fully and wholly enlightened, and become an exalted sage of some sort, while having the niggling thought in the back of your head that you might be wrong, because, after all, you’re intellectually honest
OR
You’ll THINK have found the truth, become fully and wholly “enlightened”, and become an exalted “sage” of some sort, while having no niggling thought in the back of your head that you might be wrong, because, after all, you’re intellectually DIShonest, not to mention probably the scum of the earth, you fucking fraud
OR
You’ll go completely and utterly in-fucking-sane due to the vastness of humanity and the universe and the utter lack of capability that any human mind currently possesses to actually comprehend it all, or any of it for that matter
OR
You’ll just sit down, pop open a beer, say “fuck it” and start watching reality television

And THAT, my friends, is the truth Read more!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Double Standard re: Gay Rights Advocacy?

Before you read this post, take a look at this one by a blogger named Carla Rolfe. I saw it on twitter (where I'm @benfromcanada) and couldn't help but be moved to write this. (full post after the read more link) Essentially, what Ms. Rolfe is saying is that she is opposed to gay marriage, and in response to a "Born Gay" shirt, she made a "Created Straight" one, and was called mean names for it. She feels this is a sign of a double standard, and that she's not a hateful person.

Now I'd like to preface what I'm about to say by first introducing myself to Ms. Rolfe. Hi. I'm Ben. Aside from what you can judge by this weblog's title, (that I'm a rather nerdy, quite leftwing chap who does not believe in any god) I'd also like to tell you I'm heterosexual, and Canadian. Up here, we legalized gay marriage a few years back, and it hasn't been all that bad for us. Society's still functioning fine, more or less, and our standard of living is still a bit higher than yours, so sociologically, the evidence doesn't show gay marriage is all that bad. But this isn't about arguing the facts. This is about giving you some perspective as to why this perceived double standard exists.

Imagine that someone of African descent wore a "black pride" shirt, perhaps with this logo. Now, imagine someone of European descent wearing a "white pride" shirt. What, based on just the shirts, do you think of these people? Chances are, since "white pride" is linked to white supremacy, and "black pride" (as opposed to "black power") was used as a rallying cry by Dr. Martin Luther King, your gut reaction would be to feel negatively towards the "white pride" shirt, and probably neutral towards the other one. The core reason behind this isn't just the association with figures and organizations, though. It's an association with actions and intentions. White pride advocates are more likely to be violent than black pride advocates, and the intention of the former is supremacy and suppression of rights, whereas the latter wants equality, something guaranteed by your constitution. (Gay marriage should also be allowed by the same document, as Loving v. Virginia showed marriage to be a right, and all non-religious arguments against it are nullified by countries that have legalized it, thus failing the Lemon Test, thus making this idea contra to your First Amendment...but I digress.) This is directly comparable to your shirt against a "Born Gay" shirt.

You may be readying your Phelps defence, which you used in your blog post, but I'm ignoring those fools. The fact is, any unbiased observer would have a hard time seeing christians in general to not be hateful towards homosexuals. Firstly, there's no lack of condemnation for homosexuality from mainstream religious leaders like Rick Warren (pastor of the largest church in the world) Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, Ted Haggard (even after being caught smoking meth with a gay male hooker) and many others. As showed above, the christians opposing gay marriage are denying gay people a basic civil right on unconstitutional grounds. And the only grounds for opposing gay marriage, if you're a christian, involves cherry picking of the highest order. The Five Books of the Law include laws such as "women who aren't engaged and get raped have to marry the rapist, and can't be divorced" (Deut 22:28-29), "sex before marriage AND adultery are punishable by death" (Deut 22:13-22) "don't wear different types of cloth or plant more than one type of seed" (Lev 19:19) "psychics must be executed, and it's their own fault" (Lev 20:27) "disabled people can't go to worship service (Lev 21:16-23) "don't interact with women who are on their period" (Lev 15:19-20) and many, many others.
By specifically picking out the one law about homosexuality (only in men, mind you, as Leviticus 20:13 doesn't mention lesbianism) and ignoring the vast amount of laws that are deemed either cruel or ridiculous by today's standards, it seems like you just have a thing for hating gay people. And make no mistake, Jesus didn't want you to not follow those other laws, either. The entire law is still in effect, according to Matthew 5:17-20. But, even if it isn't, all anti-gay passages aside from the ones in the Old Testament are weak, at best.

The final problem here is that your message is one that is, inherently, discriminatory and unfair, even ignoring how poorly gay youth are treated and how such a message can easily be seen as "rubbing salt in the wound", so to speak. You aren't just saying that gay sex is icky (or whatever the kids are calling it these days) but that people should be denied a basic civil right based on the type of relationship they're in. Make no mistake, marriage is more than just a piece of paper. It includes things like easier inheritance, hospital visitation rights, and a variety of tax breaks for married people are involved, amongst other things. And you're in favour of denying this. It is very hard to see someone who holds such a position, especially given that no one is harmed by homosexual relationships or marriage, as anything other than hateful or bigoted.

You seem like a decent enough person, Carla. You might not realize how your words and actions make you look like a hatemonger, but they definitely do. I hope that this post is elucidating in this respect.
Read more!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Christianity isn't a religion, and atheism is a belief?

A common argument I hear from christians nowadays is that "Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship with god." I also hear, from theists in general, that atheism is a belief or even a religion, and we're just as faithful as them. I'm here to show both ideas to be false. First, Christianity not being a religion.

Here is dictionary.com's first definition of religion:

- noun
1.
a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.


While I wish this definition included the community aspect of most religions, it's a decent enough definition to go by. Anyone who says Christianity is NOT this is insane, or a liar. The only way to get around this is to, essentially, change the definition of the word religion. The common counter-arguments are "religion focuses on rules, we focus on forgiveness," and "religion divides, we unite". These are, at best, foolish things for a christian to say. The first 5 books of each biblical canon are collectively called "the Law". While Genesis has a lot of stories, and Exodus has one long story, both books have plenty of rules contained in them. And the next three books (Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) when they aren't recounting genealogy, are exclusively about rules. Even Jesus, the one who introduced the idea of forgiveness to the religion, brought in new rules: no divorce without adultery, love Jesus above all else, etc. To add insult to injury, he even added new rules regarding this gift of forgiveness: accept him as your lord and saviour AND follow all the rules AND beg for mercy anytime you make a mistake, and then you can go to heaven. And as for not causing division...you remember a few sentences back when I said "each biblical canon"? There are three, and each thinks that those whose canons have more or less books than theirs are heretical. That's pretty divisive...and that's without mentioning the derision other faiths get from Christians.

But what about us? Is atheism a religion, is it a belief, does it require faith? Well, no. Here, we don't need to look up the definition of the word, it's included in the word itself. "Atheism" is an Ancient Greek word comprised of suffix, prefix and a root word. The prefix "a-" means lacking or without, the root word "theos" is a corruption of the name of Zeus which came to be the generic term for deities in general, "-ism" means belief. So it literally translates to "no god belief" or "no belief in any god". Lacking a belief in one thing doesn't mean we automatically believe the opposite hypothesis with any amount of conviction, especially when the opposite hypothesis is, essentially, "naaaah."

But, even if atheism WAS a belief, it still isn't a religion, still has no faith involved, and would really just be one belief: There is no god. That's it. How does the universe come about? Is it a constant cycle of big bangs and crunches, did aliens from another universe do it, or is their some other cause I am unable to think of? Well, that's up to the individual to decide, we have no book that we all must follow that tells us this. How are we to live our lives? We decide for ourselves, we have no book of rules to tell us what we must do, aside from laws from our own governments, of course; however, even they can be unjust...so should we fight against unjust laws, and if so, which ones are just? We just can't organize any sort of belief system around what we aren't. The only reason we define ourselves that way is because of religious dominance of the culture, and religious agenda pushers trying to push their agenda on everyone. Declaring ourselves "atheist" is a way to push back.

But really, both these arguments ("Christianity isn't a religion" and "atheism is a religion/belief") are covert admissions the atheists have won the intellectual war. Why would they want to distance themselves from religion if it wasn't wasn't all that bad? The fact is that atheists have done a great job of pointing out that religion is a naked emperor, and the religious have inadvertently done an even better job of this than we have. The smartest and most moral amongst the faithful can't help but be ashamed of their association with such an evil and nonsensical thing as religion, but can't let go of the comfort the religion gives them, so they rationalize it as well as they can. (Don't worry christians, yours isn't the only religion that's trying this) As for that second argument, that atheism is a religion, well, it's a rather transparent and childish tactic. They have literally nothing left in their arsenal when they say that, and the best they can do is take us down with them. Imagine two kids arguing about Santa Claus, and one presents definitive proof that Santa is imaginary, and the other says "well, you're just as big of a doody-head for NOT believing in Santa Claus." It's patently ridiculous, but for some reason, that statement is taken seriously when applied to belief in god.

As always, feel free to disagree, but please show me where my logic is flawed, rather than just calling me a cynic or some other such thing.
Read more!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Poetry Wednesday: Meiwes

I can still feel you

Inside of me, in my soul

Forever with me


You tasted so good

Our night of passion lives on

In my memory


Though you are gone now

You can't really leave me, though

You have left this life


You were delicious

They just can't fathom our love

You were delicious

Read more!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review of Green Lantern

Note: There will be spoilers. Click "Read More" to see the review. When I first heard there was a Green Lantern movie happening starring Ryan Reynolds, I was skeptical. I wanted the movie to be good, and thought it could be given what they have to work with (a space police force armed with weapons that are limited only by imagination? That's an awesome concept), but knowing how poorly DC movies without Batman generally turn out(and even some with Batman) part of me was afraid of a massive failure. The first trailer made it look like a derivative work, and while the second trailer looked alright, it also looked like a totally different movie. However, I did see leaked footage of the fight between Hal and Parallax, and good god, it was great. That renewed enthusiasm was slightly dashed by the horrid reviews this thing's been getting, but I still remained cautiously optimistic. And how did the movie actually hold up?

Awfully.

The first thing I noticed is how superfluous the 3D was, outside of the scenes on Oa. Even then, it wasn't all that great. The second thing I noticed is just how fake the whole movie is. I don't just mean the special effects either. When Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) discovers an alien crash landing site, the first reaction is not excitement at being the first human to have proof of extraterrestrial life, fear at whatever's in the craft, or a total breakdown over the fact that he was whisked away from his cousin's birthday party by smoky green light in order to see a spacecraft, but concern. He tries in vain to save Abin Sur. This would be admirable (even natural) if it was a person in a crashed jet, but Hal reacts in a way no human ever would. Hector Hammond mutates, and no one (NO ONE) comments on his freakish appearance. Then, after he kills his father, he's allowed to return to his apartment and not, like, arrested or anything? The incalculably wise Guardians of the Universe give Hal a mask to conceal his identity...that barely covers anything at all. And most importantly, after quitting the Green Lantern Corps (but being allowed to keep his ring and lantern?) Hal asks the Guardians for assistance in saving earth. They reject his request, (though they send the three living Lanterns with lines to stop him from falling into the sun?) and then, completely unassisted and without full training, he single-handedly defeats a creature that destroyed many other, more experienced and powerful Green Lanterns, including Abin Sur, the greatest Lantern alive. Let's repeat that: in addition to everything else I mentioned above, a weak, untrained rookie killed a monster that the greatest soldier in the universe couldn't even hold off, and it took him less than 20 minutes. These things all defy logic, and damages, if not outright kills, all suspension of disbelief.

But let's not be totally negative. This movie isn't the worst movie ever made. There are positives. For one, Peter Skarsgaard is excellent as Hector Hammond. While it's clear that he's kind of creepy, and it's actually believable that he would become a villain, you still feel for him. Of course, that makes his pointless death at the end more painful, but I want to keep this part positive, so we won't dwell on that.
For all the flak Blake Lively is getting for not being able to act, I found her to be one of the better actors in this movie, and liked her character (Carol Ferris). I may be thinking this only because she's one of the few major characters who feels real at all, however. When it turns out her ex boyfriend is a superhero space cop who saved her life, she's shocked and conveys this well, and when he goes off to fight the bad guys, she worries and cries for him. It's almost as if she's a human being with emotions, and I like that.
Other than that, some of the jokes they tossed in made me laugh, even a couple of lines they didn't use in the TV spots, and the fights were creative and entertaining. Oh, and when Hal first says the oath, I got chills. That's the point in the movie where I thought that the critics were wrong. Silly me. Well, then, back to the negative!

Ryan Reynolds was so miscast that it's actually depressing. If this movie bombs financially, it will be perceived as his fault, even though he did his best, and that could tarnish a good actor's reputation and end all possibilities of a Deadpool movie. The character could have worked, but the transition from irresponsible and unlikeable jackass to responsible hero is so quick that it's barely there. He basically whines, mopes, is told by his friends he's not as bad as he thinks he is, continues to whine and mope, and then Carol tells him that courage is what overcomes fear and in the next scene he's volunteering to save the world. Not even an introspection montage or anything. Perhaps he grew up between scenes, but that's not all that believable.

The last thing I should comment on is the fact that this movie really tries to cram as much in as it can, while at the same time not really giving us anything. A prime example is the first fight between Hal Jordan and Hector Hammond, who has the most fun name to say in this movie (quite an accomplishment in a movie full of aliens). Hector starts tearing up an army facility, killing his dad (a U.S. Senator) and Angela Bassett's character, Amanda Waller (who was a great villain in the comics, and also 300-some pounds heavy), and causing tons of property damage. Suddenly, Hal bursts through a wall. Why? There was a throwaway line about the ring sensing trouble, but the real reason is that they wanted one more fight scene. The movie tries to give us the origins of one hero and three villains (two of which die by the end anyway) and none of them are fully fleshed out. Sinestro's scene after the credits where he becomes a villain doesn't even make sense. His only reason to put the ring on was because they needed the "yellow power of fear" to beat Parallax, but Hal beat him without that, so there's literally no reason left for him to use that ring. And on top of this, there's the romantic subplot that only sort of works.

What they should have done is focused more on Hammond, with Parallax being a much bigger threat for the second movie. I can see why making the freakish Hammond the main villain would be a bad idea, at least without a sexier villain to balance him out, but there's no reason they couldn't find someone to fill that role. They should also have cast Reynolds as Kyle Rayner, thus forcing him to be more bearable, or cast someone else entirely. Hell, casting a black actor to play the John Stewart GL would have probably been even better, since the younger audience would be more familiar with the black GL from the Justice League cartoon more than Hal Jordan. They could have even kept the test pilot job if they wanted. And either way, the movie should have had more character development for its protagonist.

Ultimately, this is a failed and disappointing movie that should have been DC's Iron Man (or at least its Thor) rather than being its DareDevil. Perhaps a director's cut could save this steaming pile of garbage, but as it stands, I give this a Don't See This Movie out of ten.
Read more!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Racists Are Pathetic Part 2

This is the worst political ad ever:


Some quick commentary:
1: Have these assholes never heard of Scared Straight? It's not like it was a famous or successful program or anything...
2: Why the hell did they use Che Guevara's picture in that ad? Hell, most of the pictures just strike me as weird. Charles Manson is associated with gang violence how? Cult violence, sure, but gang violence?
3: If this was a publicity stunt for turnrightusa, it was poorly conceived. Their site was down down for almost a day due to excess traffic (I found this through Roger Ebert's twitter feed last, then looked up the site and found it to be down). It actually just went back up as I started writing this.
4: Turnright's site has this to say about the program:

Janice Hahn (D, Los Angeles City Council) increased gang violence by using taxpayer money to hire gang members! They were supposed to be “gang intervention specialists”. Instead they continued their robbing, stealing, raping and murdering, all the while laughing behind Janice’s back!

To make matters worse, when two police officers arrested some of Janice’s “gang intervention specialists,” Hahn bailed the criminals out of jail and applied pressure to get the police officers fired from their jobs!

Help us STOP Janice Hahn before she is elected to Congress, goes to Washington D.C. and makes things worse! We don’t need an idiot like Janice Hahn in Congress. Congress has enough gang-bangers already!


Now, it turns out that one (not "some") of the leaders of this intervention program was arrested in 2009. His name is Alex Sanchez. He was charged with federal racketeering and made bail in early 2010. The case is ongoing, and he hasn't been convicted as of now. It is certainly not "robbing, stealing, raping and murdering", it's "possible racketeering". Meanwhile, Homies Unidos, the organization Sanchez was affiliated with, has an otherwise sterling reputation, and has been an important anti-gang organization in LA for over a decade, which is why Janice Hahn decided to start working with them. Of course, conservatives don't care about the successes, if they're affiliated with a liberal in any way, especially if we're talking about latino immigrants or black people.

It's good, at least, that Hahn's opponent, Craig Huey, has called this out for what it is. But as the Republicans turn more and more extreme in their conservatism, will ads like Turnright's ad become the norm? Let's hope not. Read more!

Poetry Wednesday: The Rubber Band

The rubber band,

Strongest of all office supplies,

Is invincible.

But,

I think I can break it!

I stretch it and stretch it,

But it won’t break!

Just when I think I got it,

SNAP!
POW!
The pain and humiliation

Of a woman’s slap

Fills my fingers.

That’s it!
I must kill it!
But in the most painful way.

Oh I’ll make you break,

Just wait and see...

You’re young and full of hope,

But I’ll break you

You’re optimistic about your future,

But I’ll break you

You’ve done nothing wrong,

But I’ll break you

Constant stretching and pulling will wear you down,

Oh I’ll break you all right.

HA!
You’re starting to fray!
No one will help you now, little rubber band,

You’re on your own

And now I know your weak spot.

Now you’ve snapped,

Your confidence,

Your love of life,

Your hope,

All gone.

But I’ll continue pulling at your ends

Until my insatiable hunger is pleased

Read more!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Thoughts on Tracy Morgan...

A few days ago, actor and comedic black hole Tracy Morgan publicly said that if his son turned out gay, he'd stab him to death. The producers of 30 Rock, as well as co-workers Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin have all condemned his words, and Morgan did issue an apology of sorts (saying that he went "too far" and that he didn't condone violence. I have a few thoughts on the matter, which I'll share after the Read More link.

1: There's no way he was really joking


For one, his comments did echo a previous bit on homosexuality, according to the New York Daily News. For two, some of the less violent but still homophobic rhetoric (such as saying homosexuality is a choice and a result of media brainwashing, and bullied gay kids should quit whining) seemed to be told in a non-joking manner-as if he was sermonizing in the middle of his act, as some comedians are wont to do. And finally, in his act he said he didn't "fucking care if [he] piss[ed] off some gays, because if they can take a fucking dick up their ass... they can take a fucking joke". A bit of a different tone than his apology, to say the least.

2: Empathy is a rare commodity

There are several examples of minorities that can legitimately claim to be oppressed oppressing other minorities, and we can add this to that list. Between Morgan's rant, Isaiah Washington's bullshit on the set of Grey's Anatomy, Steve Harvey's hate speech against atheists, and the voting demographics for California's proposition 8, one could probably say this is a case of some minorities falling into especially hateful religious sects. There are plenty of those, no doubt, but and that is the probable cause of much of this bigotry, but there is something else at play here.

Being able to hate on someone is an excellent way to feel better about oneself, if one lacks empathy. It's also an easy shortcut to empowerment. In the semi-autobiographical play Master Harold And The Boys, which was adapted into a low budget movie starring talently-impaired actor Matthew Broderick and 2 unknown but infinitely more watchable black South African actors. It's about 2 "boys" in South Africa who serve the wealthy white Master Harold, who actually is a boy but viewed as more of an adult than these guys. The black male characters, constantly abused by their white oppressors, in turn abuse their women. Why? Because it gives them more power. I don't know if this is part of the reason Morgan is a hatemonger, but I wouldn't rule it out, as plenty of black actors in the western world have complained about unreasonable racism on the part of producers and directors.

3: The general response is good news

I'm just one year shy of 30, and I can remember a time when the only controversial part of Morgan's rant would have been the part about killing his son. Now, Morgan is a trending topic on twitter and the blogosphere (which is a real word, to my surprise) is brimming with condemnation. And it isn't just gay folk and liberals! And of course, every celebrity has come out against Morgan's tirade. Even Chris Rock, who initially supported him on the grounds of freedom of speech, withdrew his support when he saw what he actually said.

4: We still have a long way to go, though

Duh. The one celebrity (if you can call him that) who is publicly supporting Morgan's outburst is Roland S. Martin of CNN, though if the Mel Gibson, the guys from Fox News and some Republican elected officials weighed in, we'd see some more support for this asshole. Even on twitter and such, this guy has supporters. I had a lengthy (by twitter standards) discussion with user @Authentic_Piff who constantly uses the word "fag" and "faggot" and tweeted a blue streak about how much he loved Tracy Morgan because of the homophobic remarks. Try to tell me that other homophobes aren't out there saying the same garbage. We're making progress but we have a long way to go.

5: Free expression should be limited

It's not that people's feelings will be hurt, it's that resentment for different groups can cause real damage to them. Gay bashing, gay bullying, and outright discrimination are all rampant phenomenon throughout the USA and to a lesser degree, the rest of the western world. The same goes for other groups like transgendered people (remember that assault of a transwoman in a McDonalds a few weeks back?) atheists, immigrants (legal or otherwise) women, and hell, pretty-much any ethnic group that isn't the majority in that specific area. Hateful messages can cause violence. I'm not saying all hateful speech will cause violence, but rhetoric like what Morgan said definitely seemed like it intended to stir up hate within audience members, which could lead to violence. Should there not be a penalty for this?

All I really know is that I'm glad that it was a comedian I already didn't like. If this was Chris Rock or Jim Gaffigan, I would really be pissed right off.
Read more!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Album Review: Fear's In The Water (The Vincent Black Shadow)

Not long ago, I discovered the music of the Vincent Black Shadow, a Canadian rock group that's fairly unknown. I discovered them through their single Metro on the Sirius/XM satellite radio channel Iceberg, and then bought their album Fear's In The Water on iTunes. I will write a song-by-song review of the album after the jump, as well as an overall review of the album, after the jump.



Track 1: Metro
This may be the single happiest song about drug abuse since Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life". The uptempo beat cleverly offset's the dark lyrics (displayed in the video above), and the singer's vocal style is reminiscent of vocal jazz with a hint of 1960s pop. As I'm not an addict myself, and never have been, I can't tell how accurately this depicts going nuts due to drug abuse, but it does seem to accurately reflect what friends of mine have described. The half-repetition of the first verse helps to construct a cyclical feeling, as if she's gone through this before, something many addicts claim happens to them. This song also has a music video, which was on the soundtrack for the movie Feast and as such, uses clips from that film. It's quite easily my favourite song on the album, and the chorus is a major earworm.

Track 2: Control
This song is a bit more downbeat than the last. It's one of several relationship songs (specifically about wanting, uh, control in a relationship...it might be about S&M, but I'm not sure), and it shows off former lead singer Cassandra Ford's vocal range adequately. The lyrical visual imagery of some lines, such as "so sweet you're drawing flies" is nothing short of brilliant. There are few of us who haven't had a relationship with someone like that, who we feel something for and yet, that same thing we're attracted to repulses us. Not the best song on the album, but a good one regardless.

Track 3: Bullet On The Tracks
The band has been described as "cabaret indie pop punk rock", and this song is probably the one that most accurately fits that description. It's a break-up song with a harpsichord and pop-punk drums and rhythm. Fun, jaunty, and another good example of lyrical dissonance.

Track 4: Don't Go Soft
This one's a full-on ballad with prominent keyboards and a string arrangement. Some might feel that's a cheap way to make the listener feel something for the song's protagonist, but I'd argue that the lyrics themselves can to that well enough on their own (There's just one more thing/To fake before you go/I'll stare at you, you'll stare at me/And fill my hands with pins and needles). Great for fans of heart-wrenching ballads, and proof that unlike other bands, the Vincent Black Shadow can cover a variety of moods.

Track 5: Valentine
This one reminds me a lot of Bad Romance by Lady Gaga, at least thematically. It's probably not a case of anyone ripping the other off (Bad Romance came out years after this song, and these guys are so underground that Gaga probably never heard of them at all). This goes great with the previous song-Don't Go Soft is an expression of pain and acceptance of a relationship that has failed, this one is a demand from the scorned lover for some sort of payback or retribution (You owe me another night). A strong track in more ways than one.

Track 6: Broken
Do you ever listen to an album and wonder why that one song you don't like gets released as a music video? That's what I feel. It's not that this song s bad, it's just...it seems bland and cliched, compared to the rest of the album. Better than anything Bieber ever put out, sure, but I've made noises with my butt that sounded better than him. If I were giving out numerical values to each song, this one would get a 5/10 for middle-of-the-road blandness. However, the music video is probably better than the one for Metro, so it has that going for it.

Track 7: The House Of Tasteful Men
A bit of a rockabilly feel, at least to the instrumentals. Once again, a fun song about a less-than-happy subject. I certainly hope that this wasn't written about a specific person, since its verses are all about how the guy sucks and the chorus is a backhanded apology (I didn't mean to hurt you boy/But this is how it's done). The only good thing she says about the poor bastard is that she likes when he punishes her for doing bad things to him...which helps my theory that the singer is into S&M.

Track 8: Surgery
This song is called "horror punk" by some. For those unaware with music snobbery on the level I am, horror punk/horror pop is basically punk/pop that has horror elements. That's about it. Anyway, the song itself features excellent strategic use of the keyboards in what's otherwise a straightforward rock song. I'm not quite sure what to make of the lyrics...they suggest that she was mutilated by somebody, but then again, they're so vague that it could mean a lot of other things. In fact, it is just as likely about growing up and becoming a woman who wears too much make-up. So, the lyrics are a weak spot for me, simply because one can't tell what is being said. It's a great thing to have debates over the meanings, but when those debates have no clear winner, it's pointless.

Track 9: Ghost Train Out
This is the closest to a country song on this album. In fact, I'd actually call this a country song about skipping town with your lover. It's a passably good song, better than Broken though also a bit cliche and bland itself. I generally like bands expanding their sound on a song or two, but this is a case of a band doing this and failing.

Track 10: Fear's In The Water
This one also has a music video. It's interesting to me that they chose the three songs they did to make videos of, since they're so different in style. This is a hard rock song, and every time I hear it I'm reminded of the band Within Temptation. That's not a bad thing, I like that band, but it sounds almost exactly like something they'd put out. The video itself reflects that darker, heavier tone, almost a paint-by-numbers metal video. I'm loathe to say that my least favourite song on this album had the best video...regardless, this song is average by the band's standards, thanks primarily to a derivative sound and repetitive lyrics (more so than any other song on the album)

Track 11: Dream
Oh how I love this opening. Short drumroll followed by a happy little keyboard. This is the song they should have used the Broken video for, it probably would have been a hit! In fact, if you watch the video for that song, and listen to this one, the tone and theme of that video matches this song well. It's the song with the least lyrical dissonance on this album, as the tone almost completely matches the tone of the music. I would totally love to read a full prose story based on the lyrics of this song, so the lyrics are definitely strong. For me, one of the highlights of the album.

Track 12: This Road Is Going Nowhere
Another song with a rockabilly-jazz feeling to it. If you like both rock and jazz, you'd probably like this. Cassandra Ford' vocals are a real treat here, and...I just don't know what else to say here. This song kicks all sorts of ass, and other than Metro and maybe The House Of Tasteful Men and Don't Go Soft, is the best on the album.

Track 13: Letters To No One
This is a perfect finishing song. I'm of the mind that albums should always open with a good track that makes you excited for the rest of the album, and the last one should feel like an end to a journey. Whether your album is an album or just a collection of songs, it benefits from this approach. And that's what this song is. It's might be the lyrics (Why did you say you cared you're dead now/I told yout that she wasn't there/Thought that I wouldn't care/You lied and she she wasn't there she's dead now/Don't just leave me here) but when that's done, the listener gets the impression there's nothing left to be said, the listening experience is over. It's a satisfying ending, and a very good song if a bit macabre (it's about adultery and murder).

Final Verdict
A brilliant album from start to finish, with 2 hiccups between. Even these hiccups aren't that bad, and would probably appeal to many people. It's truly a shame this band hasn't picked up a much bigger fanbase than it has, but hopefully this will change soon enough.

8.75 Ironic Mustaches Out Of 10

All of The Vincent Black Shadow's albums are available on iTunes, including their most recent EP, The Finest Crime, from earlier this year. GO BUY IT NOW.
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Friday, June 3, 2011

Stupid Beliefs Part 2: How to Know When to Care

Not long ago I posted a handy method of telling if your beliefs are stupid. However, I have been told that we all have at least a few beliefs that are stupid, and I agree...however, having dumb beliefs doesn't always matter. The fact is almost all people have a few stupid beliefs that they still hold onto. To determine whether you really need to exorcize a belief from yourself or pressure a friend or loved one to change their beliefs, one should use the following 3 related criteria:

1:Sincerity

I'd wager that all people have doubts about most of their beliefs. For everything we're completely sure about, there are probably a dozen we're not sure about. (note that this is personal observation and by no means scientific). The sincerity of your belief largely determines whether you'll care enough to take any action which may be detrimental to yourself or others. For example, if you're roughly 60% convinced there is a malevolent secret society controlling the planet, chances are you won't care much, if you're roughly 85% convinced, you'll probably line the pockets of Alex Jones or sone other crackpot, and if you're 100% convinced of it, you may end up like Timothy McVeigh.

Bottom Line: If you or your friend barely believes the crackpot idea, don't worry about it.

2: Importance

Even if you fully believe something, you may not find yourself caring all that much. Maybe there are more pressing needs in your life, maybe you feel you can't change anything and deliberately stop caring, or there may be some other reason I am unaware of. Conversely, we might have some seemingly inconsequential belief that takes over one's life. How many people do you know who truly believe in the Christian god, yet routinely skip church to do something around the house? It isn't necessarily that they don't really believe, it's just that they find other things that they care more about at that point. Here are examples of people I have personally experienced that illustrate my point. All three of these people believe in a shadowy "new world order" that secretly rules the world. One friend is sure of it, but doesn't care at all. "yeah, they exist, so what?" Another hates them, but minimizes the amount he can do about it, and so it rarely factors into his life except that he listens to Alex Jones and watches documentaries like Zeitgeist. A third is a deranged man who I spoke to when I had my first YouTube channel (now banned after some abuse of the flagging system) He scoffed at my denial of a NWO, and said "I will DIE fighting the new world order!!!" (there were more exclamation points.) Clearly this is a man who takes his fictional secret societies seriously, and assuming he wasn't trolling, should be in a mental institution.

Bottom Line: If they don't care about their beliefs, neither should you.

3: Consequence


This is the most important thing, really. I will use a couple of my own dumb beliefs, and one from a former friend of mine, to illustrate my point. I am growing a "playoff beard", which is started at the end of the NHL regular season, and shaved only when your team is eliminated from the playoffs. I tried that last year, but got annoyed with it and shaved it during round 2...and the Vancouver Canucks seemed to suddenly forget how to play, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks for the second year in a row. Now, whenever I want to shave, I get the neurotic feeling that Vancouver will lose every remaining game if I shave. I know it's dumb, but I believe it. Likewise, I believe that chocolate and orange juice relieves seasonal allergies. Despite no actual proof from the medical community that this is true, I believe it.
What are the consequences of these beliefs? Until (at the latest) June 15, I have a shaggy and sort of itchy beard, and whenever my pollen/dust allergies act up, I feel a craving for orange juice and chocolate (word to the wise:don't take them together).

My one friend, however, has destroyed himself through his stupid, stupid beliefs. He has become a full-blown member of Ramtha's School of Enlightenment. This is the cult that put out that retarded bit of pseudoscience What The Bleep Do We Know? into our collective consciousness. They also have regular "events" (the cheaper ones run at $1000/event, without travel expenses) and they sell a ton of books, CDs and DVDs. He went to an event every month, took a lot of time off work, and drove away his friends. He eventually went bankrupt due to this cult. Bear in mind, this is a man who made a lot of money, though I don't want to violate anyone's privacy. The man went broke and eventually moved to Washington to be closer to Ramtha. I haven't heard from him since last tie he asked my family for money and was turned down harshly.

This is an example of a belief with a real serious consequence. Adherence to this foolish cult has destroyed more lives than just his, and there are plenty of other beliefs, even nonreligious ones, that can cause severe damage to a person's wellbeing. It may cost them (or their family members) their health, hteir friends and family may abandon them, and it could even cost them their lives. You are a horrible friend for not stepping up and trying to point out the error of their ways if you see this coming. Even if you feel you're risking the relationship, you need to speak up, even hold an intervention. Granted, you need to make sure they aren't right (thus, the last post), and that the belief is serious, important to them, and potentially harmful. But if it meets all that criteria, act.

Bottom Line: When a dumb idea can cause legitimate damage, if you don't try to stop it, it's on your hands. Read more!