Friday, March 17, 2006

On the Road to Woodstock -part one

It was a long bus ride, two bus rides actually. We left from Falls Church, my cousin and I, where we boarded the chartered bus that was destined for Woodstock. We got rolling around eight in the morning and had been on the road for about an hour when the driver pulled over on the side of a country road. He got out and after a few minutes he climbed back in. Engine trouble he told us. Another bus would be on its way. We all piled out and stretched our legs and wound up sitting on a hill by the side of the road while we waited for the new bus to come.

John, my cousin, was 17, three years older than myself, and I idolized him. He had caught the hippie movement full swing and passed his experiences, as well as his drugs, on to me. At 14, I had been the first kid on my block to smoke pot and take acid. Pot, I was not so crazy about, but I loved to trip.

John and I sat on the hill along with the other forty or so passengers, and he and I talked of music and drugs and girls and sex, and though I knew nothing about the last, I was eager to learn, but to shy to actively pursue. There were groups of twos and threes and a few of four or more. Joints were being passed around among a select few, and occasionally the familiar aroma would make itself present.

Soon, the other bus arrived, and we all climbed aboard to resume our trip northward. John and I slid into the seats behind two girls who were quite good looking. After a few minutes we were back on our way to Woodstock again and the excitement swelled only to be replaced too quickly by the boredom of the road. I was daydreaming when John nudged me on my shoulder. The girl in front of him had long flowing hair that partially cascaded over the back of her seat. John reached forward and pinched a bit between his fingers and held it for a moment. "She can't feel it," he whispered. He snickered and let go of her hair. He was like that. He liked to flirt with girls. I hadn’t the courage for it.

Eventually I dozed off, and I drifted in and out of sleep for a long time. It must’ve been from getting up at 6 AM. That was too damn early for me. Last dream I remembered I was out on the boat with my dad only we weren't out on the bay as usual, but making our way up Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol. We were in water, but it was only a few inches thick, and I was sure we would either run aground or tear up the prop, but onward we went. Then my dad said to me, "We're here," but in my cousin's voice, and I felt myself slowly awaken.

The bus had stopped and looking out the window I saw we were on the side of the road next to a recently harvested cornfield. A few hundred feet ahead our road intersected with another two-lane highway that was jammed with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Alongside the cars was a motley procession of people, some carrying coolers or camping gear. We must have been close to the concert grounds.

"I'm not getting in that mess," the bus driver said. "You can get out and walk or stay with the bus. I don't care."

"How much farther?" a girl asked.

"I couldn't say,” the driver replied. “Never been up here before,"

A few people started to get out of their seats. I looked at John "What do you want to do?"

"I don't know. What do think?"

I looked at my watch. It was 5:30. "I don't feel like waiting here. You want to just start walking?"

"Yeah, might as well, I guess."

We got off the bus and gathered our things from the storage compartment of the bus. We had a couple of borrowed sleeping bags and air mattresses, and I had my older brothers 35mm camera. But before we picked up our stuff, we joined a group of people who were using the relative privacy of the cornfield to relieve themselves. Not far away an older man dressed in work clothes was complaining loudly to a New York state trooper.

"Those goddamn hippies are pissing all over my land. Aren't you going to do something about it?" By the tone of his voice it wasn't a question.

"And just where would you expect them to go?" asked the trooper pointedly.

All right! Score one for the hippies. John and I went and took care of our business and returned and got our stuff. Then we began our way towards the longest damned line of traffic I'd ever seen. We got to the intersection and joined the procession.

John had on a collared shirt, a pair of jeans, and a pair of Frye boots. I had on the same except for the shirt. I wore a take-off on the old long johns. It was off-white, collarless, long sleeved shirt with buttons partway down in the front. Only difference was it was a lightweight cotton instead of long john material.

We walked for a while. At first it seemed that the traffic was completely stopped. We were walking past the cars, but every so often the would move for a bit.
They would stop then move, stop then move. I picked a car and kept an eye on it. After about a half an hour I turned to John. “You know the cars are keeping up with us. We should ask somebody if we can get ride.”

“Go ahead,” he said.

I started to watch for someone I’d feel comfortable asking. After a few minutes we came up beside a lone guy in a two-door sedan. I looked in at him through the passenger door window. “Hey,” I said.

He looked over. “Yeah?”

“Can we get ride with you.?”

He paused a second. “Sure, hop in.”

I opened the passenger door, tossed my stuff in the back seat and jumped in. John followed suit and the three of us sat there silently in the front seat of this guy’s car sitting in a single lane of traffic that seemed to stretch on forever. I looked at my watch. It was quarter to seven. We moved forward by increments of twenty or thirty feet every few minutes. It was slow, but it was better than walking. Besides, we were moving just as quickly.

“Fuck this,” the driver said. He pulled over into the left lane and floored it. Pretty soon we are flying past the traffic, which was well and good, but I was waiting for us to come face to face with a car coming the other way. We made it about a mile, and then we came to stop behind a second lane of traffic going the same way we were. Holy shit, this was crazy. Both lanes going the same way. And stopped. Again, the driver pulled to the left, this time onto the shoulder, and he takes off. Again, we make it about another mile. This time the same thing, another lane of traffic moving the same way. I looked over at the other shoulder. Same thing, a lane of traffic. Four lanes of traffic, bumper-to-bumper, on a two-lane highway. I began to realize that this was something bigger than I had ever imagined.

“Damn it,” the driver said. “I’m going to park.” He pulled off the shoulder onto the grass, and he parked his car along with scores of other cars that were parked there. The whole damn place looked like one gigantic parking lot. It was nuts.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Atheism: Shouldn't it Be Obvious?

Growing up, I never pondered the existence of God much, nor did I think much about religion. Then, at the age of 15, I was exposed to the theory of evolution and the big bang theory, and suddenly, as if it had been at the back of my mind all along, all thoughts of believing in God as the creator flew out the proverbial window. Science could explain creation much better than religion. It just made so much more sense. And with God the creator out of the way, it was easy to see that the idea of a god in itself really held no water, nor did heaven or hell.

Now, this was in 1970, and the hippie movement was still pretty much in full swing, and being a young hippie myself, it wasn't hard to find freethinking individuals with whom agnosticism and atheism were not blasphemous ideas. But as I grew older, my beliefs were met with ever-stiffening resistance. I figured it out at 15. What was it that kept people in the dark?

I believe it was Karl Marx who said that religion was the opium of the people, and this began to make sense. People, including myself, have an innate fear of death. We are the only animals that know we are going to die (with some possible exceptions aside). It is a comforting feeling if one can believe in an afterlife, and all the religions of the world teach of an afterlife of some sort. I suppose one can believe in life after death without religion, but religion gives afterlife a framework with which one can more easily feel at ease. But life after death is just wishful thinking, a way to allay one's fear of death. I myself believe that at some point a rational adult would figure this out, but very few have. As they say, ignorance is bliss.

What really boggles my mind are the people that believe in the fundamentalist teachings of creationism. I forgive those who for lack of a better education believe in creationism--they know not better. But for those that can go to a library and crack a book or get on a computer and search the Internet, they can look up the facts and have no excuse. Overwhelming scientific evidence supports the theory of evolution. And if it's good enough for the scientific community the members of which spend their lives in the pursuit of truth, it should be good enough for anyone. And with this latest push to teach creationism albeit intelligent design in public schools as a competing theory with evolution, I say to its backers, shame on you. You should know better.

Fundamentalism in any religion is bad--history has proven that time and time again with horrible atrocities as the result-- but fundamentalist Islam has given rise to fanatical Muslims hell-bent on destroying everything Western. But why? The United States is not blameless. For the better part of a century its various administrations have cultivated a residue of hatred by propping up fascist régimes around the world with only its own self-interest in mind. It should have come as no surprise that terrorism would reach its shores.

But this sudden hatred against everything Danish over a political cartoon should really make one think. If a cartoon can set in motion such destruction by militant Muslims, what will be next? What will happen when a faction of fanatical Muslims get hold of a nuclear device? It's only a matter of time. Detonated in the wrong place, it could spell out World War III, which would end civilization as we know it. It may already be too late.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Blasphemous arguments against a Christian God

In growing up, God took a back burner in my family to everything from summer vacations to dinnertime. Suffice it to say, I cannot recall hearing a word spoken on the subject of God or religion with the exception of the time I asked my dad what religion we were. "Protestant," he said, and that was the extent of my religious upbringing. I don't fault my parents for my lack of religious education; rather I thank them for it. It left my mind a clean slate on which to draw my own conclusions based on observation and reflection.

One of my main complaints with the Christian model of God is that it paints a picture of an all-powerful, all-knowing being that monitors our lives on a daily basis. First of all, if God were all knowing he would know the events of all history: past, present and future. If God knows the future, then he knew that Adam and Eve would eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If this were true, wasn't the Garden of Eden a setup?

Also, if he knows the future, then he knows what every living thing on this earth is going to do. To me, this flies in direct contradiction to God giving us free will. How can we possibly have free will if God already knows what we are going to do at any given moment? Yet he holds us accountable! It would be like letting someone out of jail with absolute knowledge that they would commit another crime, and then holding them fully accountable.

Finally, if God is all-powerful, and it is Satan that is at the root of all the evil in the world, why doesn't God just forbid Satan from causing such misery? I suppose He granted Satan free will, as well. Wouldn't that have been a bad move on His part?

All these things and more lead me to believe that the Christian God is either flawed by definition or is a mean, vindictive God. I myself believe that God is a creation of man to explain the unexplainable and to give man a tool to use to get other men to do his (not His) bidding. Although this is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, history has shown us that in the hands of the wrong man, the word of God can compel other men to commit horrible atrocities. Cases in point: the crusades and the inquisitions.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Disclaimer: this was written by John Ivey but posted by Rosa as his voice recognition software acted erratically, as it often does, and he could not copy and paste.

I recently saw the documentary Murderball, and as suspected had some issues with it, more from a personal viewpoint than a critical one.

As a film, it was very well made and may well deserve the Oscar nomination it received for best documentary. It focuses on quadriplegic rugby or "Murderball" as the game was first dubbed in its fledgling years. Now it has become one of the events in the Paralympics (Olympic style games for athletes with disabilities), which is not to be confused with the Special Olympics, an event for those with intellectual disabilities (is this PC for mentally retarded?).

Quadriplegic rugby is a sport for quadriplegics, as the name suggests, but includes athletes with other similar disabilities as well, such as with the American quadriplegic rugby team which has a player with amputated limbs. Each player has a customized wheelchair fitted with aluminum armor so that he can ram players of the opposing team and vice versa. Such impacts can be violent enough to upturn the recipient's wheelchair who does his best to avoid landing on his head. As the players use no body protection such as helmets, shoulder or elbow pads, one can see how the sport got its nickname.

Most people, as I do, think of quadriplegics as individuals impaired from their neck down and unable to move their arms or legs. I am a quadriplegic, and though I can move my left arm enough to drive a power wheelchair, it seems that the accepted definition of a quadriplegic has come to be one who has some, however little, impairment in all four limbs.

I will be the first to admit that I am biased against referring to these athletes as quadriplegics—they are more like paraplegics with limited finger motion—but I will acquiesce for the purpose of the film. I am also biased against organized sports in general, but that could be because I never enjoyed sports myself. Okay, I'll admit that I grew up as a klutzy, self-conscious kid who threw like a girl. But that I dislike jocks is not an extension my own shortcomings, but rather an utter contempt for any macho male bonding that boosts its collective ego to a we-are-better-than-you state.

To this end I did not care for the documentary's subject matter: a bunch of gimp-jock gladiators fighting to the death in chariot wheelchairs. That death in this case is the agony of defeat doesn't make it seem any less a blood sport. That the athletes overcame the trauma of their disabilities is commendable. I'll give them that. But I'd much rather see the kudos going to a real quadriplegic who has struggled to put his or herself through college. (Strangely enough, I know one such individual, and she loved the movie. I think it's just sex appeal.)

But with all my negative criticism aside, I hope the film wins tonight, which I bet it will, as the Academy Awards are quite political. (In this case one might say politically correct. "Let's give the film about the handicapped athletes the award—it's the right thing to do.") I'll wait till morning to find out.
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