Atheists Talk–Lori Lipman Brown

The Establishment Clause is the first item in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The freedom from state-sponsored religion is the first right granted in the Bill of Rights. But pride of place doesn’t mean that this right is simple to maintain. No right is.

Any group that doesn’t speak up for its rights will lose them. Lori Lipman Brown will talk to us about how the Secular Coalition for America lobbies “to protect the rights of atheists, humanists, agnostics, freethinkers and other nontheistic Americans.” Lori will be interviewed by Steve Petersen, board chair for Minnesota Atheists.For more information on the show and for related links, visit the Atheists Talk website.

Listen to the show tomorrow, December 21, at 9 a.m. Central time on AM 950 KTNF or stream it live (use zip code 55401 if you’re from out of state). You can also subscribe to the podcasts on iTunes or through our feed.

Holiday Xenophilia

The thing I don’t get about the War on Christmas hoopty doo

Let me start by saying that there are plenty of things I do get about it. I get the place it plays in distracting people from their real problems and who created them. I get the formation of group identity (the “persecuted majority”) and consolidation of power in the hands of a few people who created the issue they promise to solve. I get that fear = attention = advertising dollars. I get all that.

What I don’t get is why anyone is willing to play along when it means narrowing the definition of the holidays.

Much of the richness of the winter holidays is in the variety of traditions one can experience. Just within Christian religious traditions, one finds extended observations such as Advent and brief Christmas Day services. One finds Latin masses at midnight and parents leaving work early to see their kids play stagestruck camels and sheep. Music is provided by pipe organs and massive choirs and folk singers with acoustic guitars.

But it is outside the Christian observances that one finds the wealth of experience that keeps the cold, dark days from being bleak. Lights abound, of course, but they may be faerie lights, plastic figurines, bonfires, candles, oil lamps or even volcanoes. And noise, the joyful noise of fireworks, crackers, ratchets, whistles, horns, drums and blowouts is everywhere.

We must have food and feasting to keep us warm, of course. Will we have goose or lutefisk? Brisket or prime rib? Turkey or curry or spaghetti? Drink wine or cider, mulled or straight? Maybe eggnog? Finish with plum pudding, krumkake, potica, doughnuts, panettone, jalebi, stuffed dates or frosted sugar cookies?

Many of us give gifts. Are they large or small, and how does giving follow patterns of social obligation? Do adults receive presents at all, or are gifts only for the children? And who gives them to the children? Is it only family or some fantastic figure? An overgrown elf, a pagan god or a saint? Male or female, adult or child?

As I was growing up, Santa meant the extra-cool presents in stockings on Christmas Day, after all the family presents were opened. In my husband’s stepfamily, Santa comes on Christmas Eve. The children bundle up after dinner and take a walk, watching the sky for Rudolph’s nose. Once enough energy has been run off, one of the older children, in on the joke but happy to get out of the house for a bit, points to the red blinking light on an airplane overhead and declares Santa to have been spotted. Back at the house, all the adults have miraculously fallen asleep, and Santa has left oranges and candy in the shoes on the hearth. The fire may now be lit and the big presents opened.

Some people fill their holidays with a mad whirl of concerts and parties. Some spend weeks hardly leaving their kitchens. Some people bring family together to nest, and others take advantage of empty exotic vacation spots. Some shoulder the responsibilities of making tradition for all, and some grasp the opportunity to be children again. Some simply continue about their everyday lives as though the rest of the world weren’t going a little mad.

In short, there are as many ways to observe the winter holidays as there are people to do the observing. Why would anyone look at this big, messy time of noise and cheer and decide that only some tiny part of it is real and valid? Why would they use this occasion to separate themselves from their neighbors when they could come together over something as simple as a piece of sweet bread?

No matter who is calling for them to do it, why would anyone turn their backs on a million traditions meant to bring warmth and light and community? Why embrace the dark and the cold?

Why spend your holiday–ultimately–alone?

Top 10 Movies You Haven’t Seen

Today, teh interwebs are all about the movies. So, in the interest of giving Greg some choices to ponder and Mme. Piggy a list to carry her into the winter, here are my favorite movies that you probably haven’t seen.

1. A Song Is Born: a bunch of jazz greats in a very silly movie with Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo.

2. Streets of Fire: Michael Pare, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Willem Dafoe, Robert Townsend, a sledgehammer duel and one of the two best soundtracks of the eighties.

3. Black Widow: Debra Winger and Theresa Russell in the kind of cat and mouse movie that’s usually reserved for male leads.

4. The Women: the 1939 version. See why the remake was doomed from the start to live in the shadow of the original.

5. Born Yesterday: also the original, because Melanie Griffith is no Judy Holiday. Wide-eyed patriotism at its finest and funniest.

6. Strictly Ballroom: good luck sitting still–and not gaping at the surrealism.

7. Down by Law: Roberto Begnini, Tom Waits, Jim Jarmusch, ice cream, bunnies and jailbreak.

8. Deathtrap: twists, turns, reversals and one of the first big-name gay smooches in the movies.

9. What a Way to Go!: the costumes! The cast! The deaths!

10. Keeping Mum: sweet black comedy as only the British can do it. With Maggie Smith. Rowan Atkinson is the straight man.

So, what overlooked gems have I missed?

Movie Meme

I was all set to write a serious blog post, but why do that when someone hands you a meme on a platter? (Thanks, Greg.) This comes via Facebook, which is why it’s text- instead of formatting-based.

Rules are simple: Xs next to movies you’ve seen, and if you’ve seen more than 85, you apparently have no life.

(x) Rocky Horror Picture Show
(x) Grease
(x) Pirates of the Caribbean
( ) Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest
( ) Boondock Saints
( ) Fight Club
( ) Starsky and Hutch
(x) Neverending Story
(x) Blazing Saddles
( ) Universal Soldier
( ) Lemony Snicket: A Series Of Unfortunate Events
( ) Along Came Polly
( ) Joe Dirt
(x) KING KONG
Total so far: 6

( ) A Cinderella Story
( ) The Terminal
( ) The Lizzie McGuire Movie
( ) Passport to Paris
( ) Dumb & Dumber
( ) Dumber & Dumberer
( ) Final Destination
( ) Final Destination 2
( ) Final Destination 3
(x) Halloween
( ) The Ring
( ) The Ring 2
( ) Surviving -MAS
(x) Flubber (orignal only)
Total so far: 8

( ) Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
( ) Practical Magic
(x) Chicago
( ) Ghost Ship
( ) From Hell
(x) Hellboy
( ) Secret Window
( ) I Am Sam
( ) The Whole Nine Yards
( ) The Whole Ten Yards
Total so far: 10

( ) The Day After Tomorrow
( ) Child’s Play
( ) Seed of Chucky
( ) Bride of Chucky
(x) Ten Things I Hate About You
( ) Just Married
( ) Gothika
(x) Nightmare on Elm Street
(x) Sixteen Candles
( ) Remember the Titans
( ) Coach Carter
( ) The Grudge
( ) The Grudge 2
(x) The Mask
( ) Son Of The Mask
Total so far: 14

( ) Bad Boys
( ) Bad Boys 2
( ) Joy Ride
( ) Lucky Number Sleven
( ) Ocean’s Eleven
( ) Ocean’s Twelve
( ) Bourne Identity
( ) Bourne Supremacy
( ) Lone Star
(x) Bedazzled (original only)
( ) Predator I
( ) Predator II
( ) The Fog
( ) Ice Age
( ) Ice Age 2: The Meltdown
( ) Curious George
Total so far: 15

( ) Independence Day
( ) Cujo
( ) A Bronx Tale
( ) Darkness Falls
( ) Christine
(x) ET
( ) Children of the Corn
( ) My Bosses Daughter
( ) Maid in Manhattan
( ) War of the Worlds
( ) Rush Hour
( ) Rush Hour 2
Total so far: 16

( ) Best Bet
( ) How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
(x) She’s All That
(x) Calendar Girls
( ) Sideways
(x) Mars Attacks
( ) Event Horizon
(x) Ever After
(x) Wizard of Oz
( ) Forrest Gump
(x) Big Trouble in Little China
( ) The Terminator
(x) The Terminator 2
( ) The Terminator 3
Total so far: 23

(x) X-Men
(x) X2
(x) X-3
(x) Spider-Man
(x) Spider-Man 2
( ) Sky High
( ) Jeepers Creepers
( ) Jeepers Creepers 2
( ) Catch Me If You Can
( ) The Little Mermaid (With a happy ending? Are you kidding me?)
(x) Freaky Friday (original only)
( ) Reign of Fire
( ) The Skulls
( ) Cruel Intentions
( ) Cruel Intentions 2
( ) The Hot Chick
(x) Shrek
( ) Shrek 2
Total so far: 30

( ) Swimfan
( ) Miracle on 34th street
( ) Old School
( ) The Notebook
( ) K-Pax
( ) Kippendorf’s Tribe
( ) A Walk to Remember
( ) Ice Castles
( ) Boogeyman
( ) The 40-year-old-virgin
Total so far: 30

(x) Lord of the Rings Fellowship of the Ring
(x) Lord of the Rings The Two Towers
(x) Lord of the Rings Return Of the King
(x) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
(x) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
(x) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Total so far: 36

( ) Baseketball
( ) Hostel
(x) Waiting for Guffman
( ) House of 1000 Corpses
( ) Devils Rejects
( ) Elf
(x) Highlander
( ) Mothman Prophecies
( ) American History
( ) Three
Total so Far: 38

( ) The Jacket
(x) Kung Fu Hustle
( ) Shaolin Soccer
( ) Night Watch
(x) Monsters Inc.
( ) Titanic
(x) Monty Python and the Holy Grail
(x) Shaun Of the Dead
( ) Willard
Total so far: 42

( ) High Tension
( ) Club Dread
(x) Hulk
( ) Dawn of the Dead
( ) Hook
(x) Chronicle Of Narnia The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
( ) 28 days later
( ) Orgazmo
( ) Phantasm
( ) Waterworld
Total so far: 44

( ) Kill Bill vol 1
( ) Kill Bill vol 2
( ) Mortal Kombat
( ) Wolf Creek
( ) Kingdom of Heaven
( ) the Hills Have Eyes
( ) I Spit on Your Grave aka the Day of the Woman
( ) The Last House on the Left
( ) Re-Animator
( ) Army of Darkness
Total so far: 44

(x) Star Wars Ep. I The Phantom Menace
(x) Star Wars Ep. II Attack of the Clones
(x) Star Wars Ep. III Revenge of the Sith
(x) Star Wars Ep. IV A New Hope
(x) Star Wars Ep. V The Empire Strikes Back
(x) Star Wars Ep. VI Return of the Jedi
( ) Ewoks Caravan Of Courage
( ) Ewoks The Battle For Endor
Total so far: 50

( ) The Matrix
( ) The Matrix Reloaded
( ) The Matrix Revolutions
( ) Animatrix
( ) Evil Dead
( ) Evil Dead 2
( ) Team America: World Police
( ) Red Dragon
(x) Silence of the Lambs
( ) Hannibal
Total so far: 51

( ) Battle Royale
( ) Battle Royale 2
( ) Brazil
(x) Contact
( ) Cube
(x) Dr. Strangelove
( ) Enlightenment Guaranteed
( ) Four Rooms
( ) Memento
(x) Pi
( ) Requiem for a Dream
( ) Pulp Fiction
( ) Reservoir Dogs
( ) Run Lola Run
( ) Russian Ark
(x) Serenity
(x) Sin City
( ) Snatch
( ) Spider
(x) The Sixth Sense
( ) The Village
( ) Waking Life
( ) Zatoichi
( ) Ikiru
( ) The Seven Samurai
( ) Brick
(x) Akira
Total so far: 58

Well, looking at the list, 58 drastically understates my movie viewing. Where is my Thin Man, Strictly Ballroom, Born Yesterday, Real Genius, Galaxy Quest, Streets of Fire? Where are Gene Kelly, Gregory Hines, Rita Moreno, Judi Dench, Rowan Atkinson?

This list has the distinct feel of having been put together by a forty-something American guy with a horror movie fixation and a teenage daughter. Or is that what it means to not have a life?

Still, it’s an opportunity for everyone to see how many movies I don’t see.

Five!

Woo hoo!

And they’re still deciding the Coleman challenges (i.e., votes for Franken or no one). AND the absentee ballots will be counted

For the first time, I’m starting to hope.

The Way to a Girl’s Heart

…is through her grammar.

It beats a little faster when I meet someone who always knows the difference between “insure” and “ensure.”

I breathe a little more heavily when apostrophes are all in their places and only their places.

My cheeks flush when someone knows to use “whether” instead of “if.”

My toes curl at the proper use of semicolons.

I bite my lip over someone who never puts “less” in the place of “fewer.”

We won’t even talk about what happens when I see “try to” instead of “try and.” No, no we won’t.

Or maybe I’m still sick and need to go crawl back into bed. I think I’ll take a good book with me. Good night and good grammar, all.

For Dr. Isis

Everyone’s favorite domestic and laboratory goddess asked for her very own music video shout out, requiring only something “she can shake her ass to.” After some thought and a whole bunch of video searching (hey, it takes a while when you stop to listen), I think I found the right song for the woman who never sleeps. And while this video does start slowly, if The Cat Empire doesn’t make her shake her ass, I’m the wrong person to help her.

Lullaby

Sam & Max Rules

A bit more than a decade ago, my husband and I played a bunch of LucasArts adventure games. Remember, this was pre-Episode One. Pre-Grim Fandango not being released for Macs for that matter. LucasArts was still okay then. In fact, they were pretty cool.

Sure, the Indiana Jones game was kinda dull, but Day of the Tentacle was a geek’s dream. Personally, though, I preferred Sam & Max Hit the Road. It’s still the most surreal game I’ve played, although Psychonauts came close. But even Psychonauts’ meat circus (really) didn’t quite compare to the combination of conspiracy theory, circus freaks and roadside attractions that was Sam & Max. Gator Golf, anyone? A bigfoot underground? How about a rotating restaurant atop the world’s largest ball of twine?

Still, my favorite part of the Sam & Max gameplay was the dialog. It was menu based. All the options tended to be snarky, but there were a few that would get a person decked in real life. Really funny, but nothing you’d actually say unless you wanted to end the conversation immediately.

The first time we came across one of these, we looked at each other, figured out how much progress we stood to lose, and picked the least helpful option. It got about the response we expected–a nasty, angry (silly) retort–but then the weird thing happened. We still had all our other dialog options left. There was no penalty for being nasty. This made a lot of sense in the game, since Sam and Max were both psychotic, but it took a little getting used to.

From that point on, we always chose the funniest, least productive dialog first. After all, if we picked the less-funny, productive stuff, we moved forward in the game and lost our chance at the funny.

Then we went even further. We decided we liked playing by Sam & Max rules, so we adopted them in real life. No penalty for the funny first response, even if it isn’t very friendly.

I don’t recommend this for everyone*, of course. It takes timing and a good sense of how much distance must be kept from the truth in order for something to be funny. Most of all, it takes both a willingness to explain and a willingness to listen when a joke goes awry.

For example, my husband has recently discovered caipirinhas and likes to have one in the evening. We even bought an ice crusher for making them. Since he had a final this weekend, he’s also been studying most evenings. Last week, as he was making a caipirinha and preparing to study, I joked that he was going to need to bring one to his final.

He got a little huffy and declared that it was one drink over several hours and–oops. I stopped him and invoked Sam & Max rules.

Then I explained. He’s never taken a psychology class, but luckily, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know anything about the subject.

“You know how context aids memory–you’re more likely to remember something in the same circumstances you originally encountered it?”

He nodded.

“Okay. This is one of the things that get mentioned in a variety of psychology classes. Every time it’s come up in one of my classes, there’s always one student who just has to say….”

He grinned. “So I guess I should bring beer to my finals.”

“Exactly.”

Thus was disaster averted. But that’s the thing about Sam & Max rules. You can’t play by them with someone you don’t trust or who doesn’t trust you. You can’t play with someone who won’t explain when the meaning isn’t evident, or with someone who won’t take explanations at face value, or with someone who can’t tell when the joke falls flat. Playing by Sam & Max rules takes a lot of work.

But when it works, it’s very silly fun.

* It’s taken me time, but I have eventually come to realize (not understand, mind you) that not everyone’s life and friends are a traveling comedy routine.

Atheists Talk–Maggie Argiente

You wouldn’t think an advertisement asking people to be good would be controversial, would you? Apparently it is–if you ask them to do it for nonreligious reasons.

The American Humanist Association‘s Maggie Ardiente will join us to talk about the reaction to their holiday advertising campaign and about the Winter Solstice. She will be interviewed by Scott Lohman, president of the Humanists of MN. For more information on the show and for related links, visit the Atheists Talk website.

Listen to the show tomorrow, December 14, at 9 a.m. Central time on AM 950 KTNF or stream it live (use zip code 55401). You can also subscribe to the podcasts on iTunes or through our feed.