Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cult Video Interlude, Part 8: "The Old New Atheist"

Probably because of the late, great Robert Anton Wilson's dismissive attitude toward Madalyn Murray O'Hair, I have never really wanted to research her. He likened her to the Pope because of her intellectual rigidity, only of a godless sort. Everything I have read about her makes her sound like a cult leader. Was she?

I have only very recently developed an interest in her, and by "recently" I mean in the last 30 minutes. Atheist organizations and atheism as a kind of counter-religion have never appealed to me. Skepticism is one thing, atheism another.

But now I have watched the first clip of Godless in America on the YouTube (below). If she was a cult leader, it's partly because of the good thing she did by pursuing the ban on compulsory school prayer in public schools and winning her case at the SCOTUS. That alone is more than Sam Harris, PZ Myers, and Daniel Dennett combined have done for the atheist cause.

She was even a better insult-comic than is PZ Myers. And these days when Sam Harris calls a communion wafer a "cracker," it's really tame when compared to how O'Hair referred to the cross (at 0:32 in the clip below). She seemed depressed and even stooped to being a Communist before finding meaning in life through battling pervasive Christian social domination. But I can forgive her Communism, because she was truly a unique American, even if Wilson happened to be correct about her dogmatism.

UPDATE 12/24/10: Egad! I watched all six segments of Godless in America on the YouTube. I had not known that her life had such a grisly end. I had read on the pages of Skeptic about her mysterious disappearance, along with her younger son and adopted daughter (and actual granddaughter), but the story behind the disappearance is one of those true-crime creep-outs. Depressing. Incidentally, her elder son became a vociferously born-again Christian.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Best Cameo: Black Randy and the Metrosquad

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982) was a favorite of USA Network in the early 80s. I think I saw this on Night Flight back then. I recall one line from the movie when a Rastafarian roadie says something like "Everyone wants to live forever, but no one wants to die." That seemed insightful to me at the time, and I guess it still rings true. I remember virtually nothing else and certainly not this oddball scene in the above clip. I don't know the context, but was Black Randy attacked for not being sleek and rockin' enough? Note the totally punk-rock Israeli flag draped in front of the stage.

Multiple Choice: This scene proves that Black Randy is the missing link between ___________ and Jack Brewer.

A. Neil Diamond
B. The Turtles
C. Buddy Holly
D. Welcome Back, Kotter

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cult Video Interlude, Part 7: "God's Really, Really Angry Man"

[Undergoing scheduled maintenance.]

Cult Video Interlude, Part 6: "Heavy Breathers"

[NOTE: I am not sure why I deleted my original post on breatharianism. It might have been an accident. I certainly don't care about offending breatharians, who seem to be anorexics who rationalize their disorder/suffering in spiritualistic fantasy. I originally found it fascinating that anyone would actually believe a breatharian never eats (Jasmuheen admits as much, claiming that not eating can be boring sometimes--but oh, so holy).  I quickly grew to find, however, the whole breatharian thing not only utterly vacuous but, when considering the death reported in the Australian 60 Minutes clip, ultimately depressing. Nevertheless, for the sheer jaw-dropping lunacy of it all, here is the clip re-posted. Now, on to other cultish clownery!]

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Warrior Genes and the Spoken Word

From a coworker, I learned that Henry Rollins is the host of a recent National Geographic special about the so-called "warrior gene." Biological researchers have found the Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene to be one significant determiner of violent behavior in males, or at least in 30% of the male population. It is linked, for example, to gang membership and even more so to those who are the most violent members of gangs.

Let me add here that upon learning about MAOA, I immediately saw the ramifications of this research for criminal defense in violent crimes. Sure enough, it's already been happening. Check out "Can Your Genes Make You Murder?" from NPR here, where evidence of a high-risk version of MAOA in a defendant's DNA (mixed with violent abuse in his childhood) made the difference between him getting prison for a murder instead of the death penalty. Of course, the prosecutor said it's "too early" to use this evidence. I cynically predict that many prosecutors will never stop saying it's "too early" to use this evidence. But that's just my former criminal defense lawyer self talking. It will be more and more interesting as time goes on. That is, if the U.S. populace will value science, any science, in a few years' time.

But back to Rollins. I showed my coworker this video here of Rollins going all "creepy crawl" in '83 after some German lunkhead pitched a full can of lager at his noggin. (It interrupts "Black Coffee," too.) Based on his speech to the crowd, I don't think he has the gene. The can connects with head at 0:10, so don't blink or you'll miss it:

Sometime in 1987,  a rock chum of mine and I went to see a Jane's Addiction acoustic set at Scream, which was then in that hotel across from MacArthur Park whose name escapes me. Rollins opened with one of his spoken-word readings. Afterwards, there was a kind of intermission, and he stood onstage with his back to the audience, talking to some young lady. He had his hands behind his back.

I don't know why, but I had a AA battery in my pocket, and I decided to weird Rollins out. I walked up behind him and stealthily inserted said battery into the curled-up palm of his hand. I then quickly returned to my front-row seat.

He didn't budge.

After about 20 seconds or so, the sensation that something small and smooth was in hand must have finally reached his consciousness. With a jerk, he suddenly brought his hand in front of him and looked down at the little double-A battery. Then he spun around and glared at the audience. As he did so, he lifted his arm and threw the battery down on the stage next to him. It went bouncing off somewhere. Visibly pissed off, he scanned the people standing around and those in their seats, including me. I didn't feel scared, but his anger surprised me. I thought he'd laugh, like "This is trippy. How did did this happen?" Not a chance.

I withheld my chuckling until he turned away again. Does such a reaction a warrior gene-bearer make? I don't think so. If he had the gene, he'd have picked someone to beat the crap out of right then and there. Maybe even me. Not every angry young man is a genetically programmed thug.

But I always suspected Rollins was probably a big softy inside, a feeling confirmed when I saw him introduce a poetry reading at Beyond Baroque by one Ellyn Maybe some years back. A bespectacled Rollins (her publisher) spoke very highly of her and her unabashedly hippie, peacenicky, beatnicky, surrealist poetry. If only I'd had another battery to give him then, I think he might have appreciated it.