Monthly Archives: February 2015

American Sniper and National Sentiment: Or “It’s okay it didn’t win an Oscar.”

I waited for Oscar’s night this year with a peculiar interest. As a historian, I was curious to see how the movie ‘American Sniper’ would fare in the “Best Movie” category.  I have read and watched quietly these past few weeks with sometimes amused and sometimes concerned observations to the remarks and news articles surrounding the hullabulloo of the movie: ”  It was a great movie.  Kyle is a hero.  Kyle is a psycho. it was a terrible movie. ”  Since its not exactly historically accurate, I was fine with it’s loss.   There were, however, many who saw it as an affront to patriotism somehow – as if the Oscar loss was a personal assault on the entire armed forces.  The discussions leading up to the Oscar’s and the aftermath are missing a couple of points in this thinker’s opinion.


A couple of observations about Kyle himself:  Number one, our armed forces are well versed in brainwashing our soldiers, sailors, and pilots in order for them to perform the acts of war they are asked to perform. Author and psychologist David Grossman in his compelling book ‘On Killing’ delves into the process our military instituted after it was noticed that men were naturally psychologically averted to looking a fellow human being in the eye and killing him (there were some exceptions, but that is point number two).  In other words, we found out during earlier world wars that homo sapiens avoided intentional harming of one another and began an all out program of rewiring the brains of our young men and women in order to overcome this instinct. For example, during shooting practice, they were no longer shooting at other men, or even the enemy, instead they were coolly and objectionably shooting at ‘targets’.  As a sailor, especially as a  sniper, Kyle would have undergone this brainwashing.  My guess however, is that Kyle didn’t need much help to overcome any reserves he had about looking at a human through a scope and ending it’s life which brings me to point number two as promised.  In the same book, Grossman mentions an important detail that is possibly applicable to Kyle: there are exceptions to rule. Approximately two percent of us humans are naturally psychotic – that is, to take someone’s life has no impact on the conscious of a psychotic.  For these few outliers, sniping is a perfect career.

So while I witnessed that Kyle was being glorified by the movie as a war hero, I was absolutely in agreement with those who spoke out against the idea that this is a normal human and should be placed on a pedestal.  The reality is much more grim, in fact it is positively mournful that some of us have the ability to harm others of us without remorse. Chris Kyle is not the same person when seen from this perspective.


On an entirely different level, I noticed that underpinning the positive comments is a roiling, boiling mass of misplaced patriotism that is quite frankly scary and something worth our time to consider. What I really mean by the diplomatic term ‘misplaced patriotism’ is jingoism.  See, I’m not so sure we understand that there’s a fine line between loving one’s nation (patriotism) and possessing a self-righteous superiority in one’s nation to the point that it is infallible (jingoism).  It’s really okay to love my country and the values it presumably exemplifies, it’s also really okay not to love the things my country has sometimes done in the name of those values.  And it’s really okay to speak out against our perceived pristine image, we should be grown up enough to recognize our shortcomings – how else can we address them to become a better nation?  On the other hand, embracing a jingoistic, ‘our way is the only way’ atmosphere allows us to become the very monster we purport to defeat.  I mean, is there really much difference from a “Bomb ’em all and let god sort ’em out” mentality and a “Bomb ’em all because they’re not muslim” mentality?

Is there?

So it was with relief that I woke up this morning to find that something called ‘Birdman’ won the award and not ‘American Sniper’.  I was concerned that a win might endorse this skewed presentation because it sorely misses a couple of disconcerting details which would behoove us to consider a bit more as a nation.

And here’s to Grand Budapest Hotel….because that flick was fecking hilarious!


Links to definitions:



Half a World Away…

We are all the same, you see, there is no us and them.

Half a world away

A man wakes at four thirty in the morning

He prays to his god that this day

He might find the one ruby

That buys his family out of poverty

Half a world away

A mother cradles her infant child

Her breasts offer little milk

Food is scarce in the refugee camp

And her other children must eat as well

Half a world away

A nine year old boy walks

With his father and uncle

To the coal mines of India

Wages are low, he must work also

He is not the youngest

We are all the same, you see, there is no us and them.

Here in my home town

A man wakes early in the morning

And puts a gun to his head

He hasn’t found work for years

He can endure no more

Surely they are better off without him

Here in my home town

A mother leaves her children alone

She must work, they must eat

She cannot afford a sitter

Protective services arrives

They are a family no more

Here in my home town

A seven year old boy

Runs errands in the back alleys

Of a forgotten block in LA

His boss is a drug dealer

His errands are white packets

We are all the same, you see, there is no us and them.

What man does not desire to provide for his family?

Which mother would not her own meals for her children?

How many childhoods are stolen because of economics?

Half a world away, or here in my home town.

We are all the same, you see, there is no us and them.

author’s note:  the scenarios used in this prose are real.   a recent study released revealed a high increase in suicides in the u.s. due to long term unemployment issues.   here’s to thinking….and to those who struggle along side us – half a world away.    frankie

In Remembrance….

As an atheist, I do not condone this attack.   My heart is with these families…may peace and strength be their lifeboats. Regardless of religion or no religion….we are all brothers and sisters still, let’s make sure to act like it kids….Frankie.


Spiritual Blindness: Impossible for an Atheist

If you haven’t heard, Stephen Fry made waves recently with this interview wherein he declares that a world which exists with such suffering as bone cancer in children must clearly be created by a madman.   He makes a valid point.

In the melee that’s followed he’s been accused of being ‘spiritually blind.

It’s an interesting accusation, spiritual blindness, and one that we atheists get often.  Yet if we consider the issue a bit deeper, in order for one to make the rational, logical, evidence based decision to become an atheist, we must examine the very depths of our spirituality. – the very opposite of being spiritually blind.  It’s not as if any of us wake up one day and in the course of one conversation we declare ourselves without belief in a deity.  No, we come to the conclusion thoughtfully and often over years of self reflection and soul searching. I would therefore contend vigorously that atheists are amongst the most aware creatures alive.

We can look at it another way of course.  An atheist is typically well read and informed because their resources are as limitless as their curiosity.  On the other side of the spectrum, a religious person is mandated to be bound to a single fallible text, often accompanied by a narrow interpretation and without any countering evidence.  Who is most likely to be blind?


I suspect the accusation towards atheist concerning spiritual blindness is more of a subconscious projection:  when faced with the reality of their dilemma, in this case Stephen Fry’s logical point of how an omniscient god can allow innocent children to suffer, it’s easier to deflect the issue and make an illogical allegation.

Truth will out kids….and here’s to spiritual awareness…..


Book Review: American Gods, Neil Gaiman, Harper Collins, 2001

Shadow gets sprung from a stint in prison and falls down a rabbit hole into a Wonderland life that even he couldn’t make up if he tried.  Suddenly his wife is dead, but her ghost visits him sometimes.  Suddenly he’s under the guardian eye of Wednesday, who happens to have a bigger role in Shadow’s life than he’d care to admit.  Suddenly he’s thrown into an unfolding saga in which he plays an integral part.


The gods are at war you see.  Each and every foreign god brought over to America from various lands are gearing up for the battle to end all battles.  They are forgotten gods as Anansi (masquerading as a business man who goes by the clever name Mr. Nancy), puts it to Shadow “Our kind of people, we are exclusive. We’re not social.  Not even me.  Not even Bacchus.  Not for long. We walk by ourselves or we stay in our own little groups.  We do not play well with others.  We like to be adored and respected and worshiped – me, I like them to be tellin’ tales about me, tales showing my cleverness.  It’s a fault, I know, but it’s the way I am.  We like to be big.  Now in these shabby days, we are small.  The new gods rise and fall and rise again.  But this is not a country that tolerates gods for long.  Brahma creates, Vishnu preserves, Shiva destroys, and the ground is clear for Brahma to create ones more.”

In their forgotten state the gods find themselves in a bind: they must now slaughter one another in order to garner energy and sustain themselves.  It’s a messy gig and Shadow is central to its outcome.  Near the end of the story (the gig is rigged by the way – a nice little surprise that Gaiman springs on his reader) Shadow has fulfilled his role as hero amongst forgotten gods and he humbly surmises, “You know, I think I would rather be a man than a god.  We don’t need anyone to believe in us.  We just keep going anyhow.  It’s what we do.”

Gaiman is always great fun to read.  The humor he employs to poke fun at religion is greatly appreciated by this reader. It’s always slightly irrelevant in tone, yet always on point and with a slant that only Gaiman can provide.  The characters he creates are pensive and irritable and endearing.  He weaves a tale of full of ins and outs that keep a reader entertained since one never knows quite what side road the characters must take in order to achieve their destination – stories within the story.  Occasionally the work seemed a bit of a slog if dialogue seemed slow or of no import, but still highly recommendable as every Neil Gaiman book rightly should be.

Happy reading kids!