Monday, December 31, 2007

Cocktail of the week is postponed...

...due to illness.

I'm on amoxicillin, right now, and will have to wait until I've finished the course before once more valiantly trying drink recipes for you, my dear and (mostly) nonexistent readers. What makes this more difficult is that I won't be able to drink during our annual New Year's Eve party, but that's okay: I much prefer not sounding like I'm breathing through an aqualung. It's a trade-off.

To hold you over, and to celebrate the holiday, here's Spike Jones' immortal classic: "Cocktails for Two."

Have a safe and fun New Year's Eve, everyone.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas with the Scientologists

This year, like most years, Mrs. Wit and I spent Christmas Day at the home of some relations who happen to be Scientologists.

Growing up, I did not know much about Scientology, other than it was founded by a pulp-era sci-fi writer named L. Ron Hubbard and it had some side line called “Dianetics.” I never thought much about it until the early Nineties, when the church started pushing Dianetics through infomercials using washed-up celebrities (at the time it was some Whitesnake guitarist whose name I cannot remember) for testimonials. Just the red flags of “infomercial” and “celebrity testimonial” was enough to make me decide it was a scam and not worth paying any attention.

About ten years later I realized I was right about the former and ever so wrong about the latter.

I started dating the future Mrs. Wit and learned she had Scientologist relatives. The fact these relatives were in Scientology was a point of contention for a lot Mrs. Wit’s family members. I had met these relatives a few times and found them to be rather sweet, decent people, and wondered what the problem was. So I decided to investigate.

It wasn’t long before I found myself delving through the archives of Operation Clambake and learning things that troubled and disturbed me. I read “Bare Faced Massiah” and “A Piece of the Blue Sky” and began to wonder how much my future in-laws knew about this organization. I asked around and learned a few things.

For the most part, these relatives keep their involvement in the Church of Scientology rather low-key, as far as the rest of the family is concerned. Many years ago, one of them tried auditing my then-teenage brother-in-law for a mild basketball injury, which resulted in some terse words from my father-in-law. The subject of Scientology has been kept off the map since then, with one exception. A couple of years before I came on the scene, the Scientologists in the family distributed this book-and-CD combo titled “Can We Ever Be Friends?” It’s a direct appeal to the friends and relatives of Scientologists to accept L. Ron Hubbard’s organization as a “real religion” and perhaps even take a course or two. It also spends a good deal of time throwing down attacks against critics of Scientology. It’s pretty slick, from a marketing standpoint… but I was amused that any purported religion required anything like a marketing department to, well, justify itself.

In any case, holidays with the Scientologists tend to be quite normal: there’s a tree, decorations, ham, potatoes, etc. The only thing unusual is their house is completely lacking in books, save for several dozen leather-bound volumes authored by L. Ron Hubbard, prominantly displayed in their front room.

Here’s the thing: my Scientologist in-laws never seemed to behave like stereotypical Scientologists. They weren’t difficult to maintain conversations with. They weren’t anti-education (Scientology teaches you everything you need to know, supposedly, so why bother with college or beyond?), but rather quite for it; one of them wants to grow up to be a school teacher! They seem rather, well, normal, with the exception of once in a while trying to work L. Ron Hubbard into a conversation. I found myself starting to wonder if, well, Scientologists on the whole aren’t an all together bad bunch, they are just in the unfortunate position of belonging to a religious organization with questionable leadership and modus operandi. I mean, heck, you can say the same thing about Roman Catholics, right?

My opinion changed this past Easter. These same relatives hosted the holiday, and they invited some Scientology acquaintances of theirs to join us in the festivities.

Oh, my.

They were the real deal. Vacant stares as you talked to them. Loud questions regarding why many of my other in-laws were even bothering with college or grad school when they should be out there working. Children suffering from a complete lack of discipline (to the point where many of us were fearing for various breakables around the house). And worst of all, a complete inability to talk about anything other than the Church of Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard.

I realized that my in-laws are actually not stereotypical Scientologists. The kind of Scientologists that give them a bad name are certainly out there, however.

The moral of this story?

I just wanted to write something about Scientology. The Church of Scientology has a reputation for clamping down hard on anyone who says anything negative about it.
Let’s see if they bother with my measly little blog. If they are the nasty terror everyone and their brother says they are, I’ll be flooded with Pro-Scientology comments and/or litigious threats (or worse).

Or maybe I'm wrong and they won't react to this measly little one-horse blog at all.

We’ll see. Let the adventure begin.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

And now for something completely childish...

I admit it: I let the day get away from me.

We're cleaning up the house for our impending New Year's Eve party, and now we're heading out the door for a friend's wedding celebration dinner (she married in India, and this is the followup celebration in the USA).

So... I'll just post this to get by for today. I'll have a real post tomorrow. Honest!

Friday, December 28, 2007

More on my friend in Pakistan

I sent me an e-mail just before he lost all connectivity with the outside world.

The airports have been shut down and there is a curfew in place. He is not sure when he is going to be able to come home.

On a lighter note, he's now engaged! It's arranged, but he appears to be at peace with that.

Unfortunately, the poor couple found themselves caught up in the protests where the attack happened while trying to get home from their first "date." No one is hurt.

I'll post more as I learn more.

Fears for a friend in Pakistan

Remember that Muslim co-worker I mentioned in my first post? He's currently in Pakistan visiting family.

He is a naturalized citizen of the U.S.A. I hope he makes it home. Yesterday's events make me fear for his safety.

The light grew dimmer, this month...

For all those believing I'm a paranoid lunatic, raving in the night, read this.

I'm sure you won't remember me when you decide to pack up the kids and haul ass to Canada, should this continue.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Kissing Hank's Ass

A beautiful metaphor for organized religion in general...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Chipped Premolar

I had to get a chipped premolar repaired today (first premolar, the chip was on the lingual side - I'll explain how I know this if you're ever interested). Any time I have to see a "white angel" I always think of the following from the movie "Little Shop of Horrors."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Pretty much what I expected...

Well, Mrs. Wit and I did watch "The Last Man on Earth" last night. Good flick. You should check it out. It's superior to the subsequent remakes ("The Omega Man" & "I Am Legend"), both of which replace the twisted climax of the original, which is stunning in its moral ambiguity, with over the top Christ allegories. The original was also made on a shoestring, but unlike the other two versions it manages to keep the tension aloft throughout the entire film.

But I digress. That's not what this post is supposed to be about.

We finished the movie and switched over to "In God's Name" on CBS. We came in half an hour into it. We couldn't finish watching the damn thing. And is was pretty much what I expected.

Imagine being locked in a room with a bunch of well-groomed marketing directors droning "God is Love" over and over again while the same piece of music loops endlessly in the background, and you get an idea of what kind of documentary this is: like "Santa Clause Conquers the Martians," it is a Cinematic Crime Against Humanity.

The first thing I noticed was the soundtrack. There were only three pieces of music used, and the were looped almost without pause. I did not recognize two of them. The third, however, was Peter Gabriel's "Low Light" from his album Ovo. I love Peter Gabriel's work. I own all of his albums. I try to catch his show whenever he comes through the area. But I was really getting sick and tired of hearing "Low Light" after 40 minutes! The filmmakers needed to spend a little more time on the soundtrack.  Actually, it seems to me that if you have enough content in your documentary, a soundtrack score is really not all that necessary.

Speaking of the filmmakers, they spent an inordinate amount of time on camera themselves talking about how 9/11 inspired them to make the film, or having soulfully slow panned still shots of themselves with the various religious leaders they interviewed for the film. The whole time their attitude was to reverently declare something along the lines of:

"Everyone wants to know where God was on 9/11. Well, golly! He's everywhere! Look at all these neat-o keen-o religions and how wonderful they are!"

And every time a nod was made to religiously inspired violence, the various talking heads would inevitably declare: "But that's not real religion!" (With no backing, of course.)

And all these leaders were, of course, only shown to be the most pious mo-fos ever to walk the Earth. Seriously.

And, as predicted, the filmmakers did not even bother with skeptics, freethinkers, and other non-believers. That would have destroyed the treacly junk food they were presenting by introducing some intellectual nutrition into it.

By the last fifteen minutes, it had become too painful to watch. It switched over to a re-run of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" to watch something equally fictional, but much more honest.

Shame on you, CBS. After earning my praises on Sunday morning, you had to destroy them later that night.

Shame on you.

Cocktail of the week #12: Margarita

Ahoy & Feliz Navidad, mateys!

It's Christmas Eve, and I would have hoped we would have drawn something like egg nog from the deck, but no: it's the classic margarita. The margarita is mankind's ingenious answer to the ages-old question: "How do I get my date to choke down enough tequila for me to make a pass and not get slapped?"

Margarita's are also a favorite of Mrs. Wit's. Anytime we have Mexican (or faux Mexican, like tamale pie) she whips one together for herself... and once again, the recipe on the card differs from the one we tend to use.

So we tried it as written and once more... drumroll, please... we have another "cure for scurvy" drink! (Does the pirate talk at the beginning of this post make more sense, now?) It's not that the drink was bad. It was actually pretty decent, but tart: not quite what one would expect of a margarita. Think of this recipe as more of a "tequila gimlet."

Because this is supposed to be a margarita, I'm going to have to call this a "miss," but I only do so with a modicum of reluctance.

Enjoy Christmas Eve, everyone.

Hits: 8
Misses: 8

Sunday, December 23, 2007

There was no Santa & kudos (of a sort) to CBS news

I have not been sleeping terribly, lately, and woke up at about 1:15 this morning. I already knew it was going to be a while before I went back to sleep, so I decided to make the most of it by catching a really cheesy movie on TV.

I've already mentioned my love of Svengoolie in a previous post. According to Sven's Dec. 22nd post, anyone staying up until 1:00am would be treated to "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians." Anyone who loves bad film is probably well acquainted with this cinematic crime against humanity. This film is so bad that it is the only movie I am aware of my father ever walking out on. And my father will sit through anything. It's also notable for being Pia Zadora's first movie, as well. (If you don't know or remember Pia Zadora, don't weep. It's no great loss. Really.)

Here's a taste, if you have the stomach for it.

Well, I tuned in to watch and found... it was a rerun of the night before's "Frankenstein" broadcast! O Sven! What hast thou wrought?

I'm sure he'll never hear the end of this from his fan base. Serves him right.

I also like to catch CBS Sunday Morning from time to time. Today was a lucky find: a meditation on the importance of separation of church and state in light of the current presidential election campaigns. It's called "In God We Trust." I found it very even handed save for one small, but bothersome, thing: there was no concession that there are also non-beleivers like me, out there, but rather a tacit assumption that all Americans practice some form of faith or other.

Ultimately, the truth is this: if I am allowed not to believe, then you will always be allowed to believe however you wish. It seems so simple, and yet so many want to take that away...

There's also going to be a two-hour special on CBS tonight: "In God's Name." If the previews are any indication of the show's content, I'm not going to have the stomach for it, tonight: it appears to be a bunch of talking heads claiming region is anti-violence. According to the show's web page it's going to be nothing but religious leaders. No non-belief voice is going to be given even 10 seconds of air time!

If religion is anti-violence, then I guess the lessons of history (and most texts upon which many religions are based) are wrong. But only a holy man would have the gumption to make the claims made in the preview I saw this morning.

I think tonight I'd rather watch Vincent Price in "The Last Man on Earth," instead.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

From Cold War to Today

This holiday season, as we fret about Iran having nukes (and other things, too) we should relax and remember the simpler times of the Cold War.

Right, Al?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Winter Solstice, Everyone!

Before the Abrahamic Faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc.), there was the far more ancient celebration of the astronomical event, the Winter Solstice.

Make some hot cocoa and snuggle up with your loved ones tonight... this, my friends, is the Original Christmas!

Peace to all, and to all a good night.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The 12 days of Agnostimas

Courtesy of the Apathetic Agnostic Church. (Thanks to jenamazon for pointing this out.)

The 12 Days of Agnostimas - 21 December to 1 January to celebrate a traditional seasonal festival.

  1. 21 December: Solstice - the traditional mid-winter observance (mid-summer in the Southern hemisphere
  2. 22 December: Apathetic Agnostic Resurrection - commemorates the return of the Apathetic Agnostic web sites to the internet in mid-December 2002 after a three week hiatus due to technical problems. (Meditation 81) This day following Solstice is appropriate because (at least in the Northern Hemisphere where we are based) the days are now getting longer.
  3. 23 December: Festivus - for the rest of us . Invented in 1966 by Dan O'Keefe, whose son Daniel, a writer on Seinfeld, introduced a family tradition to the wider world, and now everyone can participate in an airing of the grievances and in feats of strength
  4. 24 December: Agnostimas Eve
  5. 25 December: Agnostimas - a good day to exchange gifts with friends and relatives in a spirit of generousness, with no need to care about any religious overtones. But we won't object if any traditionalists prefer to devote the day to its original purpose - the worship of Mithras.
  6. 26 December: Boxing Day - the true origin of the name "Boxing Day" can only be answered with absolute certainty with an "I don't know!" And that is reason enough for agnostics to celebrate it. (If you happen to accept the unproven stories that the rich folks used to give the poor folks gift boxes on this day, then be happy about it, and make sure you give out a few gift boxes to the poor.)
  7. 27 December: Heidentag - (German for Heathen's Day) Proposed as a warm and festive occasion for getting together, gift-giving, eating comfort food (usually a lot), listening to our favorite music
  8. 28 December: Childermas - in view of the lack of any evidence to support the horror story of Matthew 2:16, a day to commemorate the inventions and falsehoods on which religion is based. (See Meditation 175)
  9. 29 December: Apathy Day - sated with the celebrations, feasting, and gift exchanges of the festive season, we take a day to relax, recover, and generally not care about anything. For tomorrow, we start partying again.
  10. 30 December: Friendship Day - to honor your friends and show the superiority of having friends instead of enemies. Created in reference to the pontifical decree Sancta Romania in 1317, in which Pope John XXII ordered the Franciscan Spiritualists to obey their superiors against their beliefs, which prompted the Spiritualists to become bitter enemies of the French pontiff by aligning with his enemy Louis IV.
  11. 31 December - Foundation Day - to honor the 1995 foundation of the Church of the Apathetic Agnostic and / or the 1965 development of the term Apathetic Agnostic, together with "I don't know and I don't care" as a personal statement of (lack of) belief.
  12. 1 January - Founder's Birthday

The original is found in their calendar of events.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Public Service Bulletin courtesy XTC

As so many complain about not enough people remembering God this Christmas, I'll offer this classic song of positive atheism from XTC.

As always, you're welcome.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cocktail of the week #11: Daiquiri

Once again, this week's drink is a good one for sailors and pirates.

How so?

Like last week, this week's drink is good as a cure for the scurvy, matey! (Argh!)

It's the venerable daiquiri, the quintessence of rum in yummy lime-based surgary goodness. But this recipe is lacking in the sugary goodness department. Like "Between the Sheets" it's chock full of tartness with a light alcohol bite. We both agree: it's too tart. I find it a good drink, but it's not a daiquiri.

Sorry, folks: it's a miss.

Hits: 8
Misses: 7

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Wit

Mrs. Wit, the best thing that ever happened to me, turned thirty, today. (She gets to share her birthday with Beethoven, one of her favorite composers.)

And what did we do to celebrate?

A whole lotta stuff that makes her happy. And we actually started last night.

First we went to Mysore Woodlands, her favorite vegetarian restaurant, for a sumptuous and most flavor-filled meal.

Then we fought the wet, heavy, pouring snow to meet up with almost a dozen friends at one of my wife's favorite venues: the Baton Lounge.

After than fun (and, for many, confusing) revue, we fought the nasty winter weather to the greatest tacky tiki bar in the American Midwest, Hala Kahiki. We stayed there, sipping kokomo and chief's calabash cocktails until midnight, when she reveled in turning 30.

Then we made what turned into an almost hour and a half drive to get through the winter nastiness to get home and crawled readily into bed.

But the fun was not to end.... we just got back from the "actual" celebration of her birthday at my in-laws.  We're tired, she has lots of fun little presents from friends and family, and we're glad to be home and ready to retire for the night.

But we still managed to make this week's cocktail. We'll tell you all about it tomorrow...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Religion & the campaign trail

Lot of talk has been going around about Mitt Romney's speech being like JFK's own defense for being Catholic.


Name me any candidate today who would have the balls to say the following, as Kennedy once did:
"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, . . .

"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace. . ."
I didn't think you could.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be pixies

To all current and would-be parents out there:

This is what happens when you raise children without critical thinking skills.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

And just how did I manage to miss THIS?

Absinthe is now legally sold in the USA, again!

I don't see anything about manufacturing it, though. I'd love to see Herbsaint return to its former (intended) glory.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cocktail of the week #10: Between the Sheets

This concoction of rum, brandy, triple sec and lemon juice is too tart for my wife's taste, the way it is written.

We tried it again with a slight modification: switching the ratios of lemon juice and triple sec. The verdict... too sweet for either our tastes.

So if you are like me and prefer sharp/tart tastes or you happen to suffer from scurvy, this is a sure winner!

Hits: 8
Misses: 6

Monday, December 10, 2007


Today's "Cocktail of the Week" is being postponed due to the fact we're missing a key ingredient. Check back tomorrow.

In the mean time, here is a place called the Christian Awareness Network, which I find a bit fascinating.

Interestingly enough, the initials of this organization spell out "CAN," which was the name of another important organization, the "Cult Awareness Network."

The Cult Awareness Network operated out of Barrington, Illinois until it was relentlessly hunted down, bankrupted and then taken over by the Church of Scientology.

Have a pleasant day and stay warm.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The State of Iraqi Christians

I apologize for sitting on this for a week. I meant to post about this last Tuesday (Mondays are for the latest cocktail, after all).

Don't bother reading the article. Instead, download and watch the 60 Minutes story. It's riveting, especially when the priest voluntarily cops to the historic crimes of Christianity. I admire him for his candor.

However, he also states that what is happening in Iraq to the local Christians (and, by association, the past abuses of the Church) is what happens when "religion goes wrong."

Excuse me?

No. This is another shining example of what happens when religion starts getting its way. Without strong and enforced secular checks, even a nation like America can find itself with its own version of the Vatican doing its damnedest to boss the federal government around.

Saddam Hussein was not a good man. He was a dictator. He was a tyrant. He was a genocidal maniac. But his governance of Iraq was secular in more than just name. In fact, he was the least evil and fanatical of the tyrannical genocidal dictator-types available. That is why King George I left him in charge of his country, even after Desert Storm.

Of course, this is all lost on King George II.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ethnicity & the notion of American Identity

So I mentioned my Irish buddy for the last two entries. (Hey! That could be a toy! "My Irish BuddyTM!" New from Hasbro!)

Well, I am going to mention him again.

Some months back he told me about an acquaintance of his who runs an Irish-themed bar and restaurant, plays guitar and sings at this establishment, and for all intents and purposes could not understand how this individual is capable of making a living as a "professional Irishman" (as he put it). He was even more fascinated - and more than a little disturbed - at how great an audience there was for his acquaintances' establishment.

"C'mon!" I remember him declaring. "We're the (bleep)ing Irish! We're a bunch of drunks who've been the collective punching bag of a nation of inbred wankers! Who wants to be celebrating that?"

Well, that question got me thinking. That, and I had a long flight home from Seattle to contend with, so I tried putting my old anthropology training to use (that's my real background, not information technology - I picked that up after grad school) and wrote an off-the-cuff analysis of the American notions of ethnicity and national identity and e-mailed it to him the next day. I've decided it might be worth reading, especially to see how others may or may not react to it in comparison to My Irish Buddy (I may post his reactions if I get his permission), but also to see if I made any glaring historical/sociological errors in my analysis.

So here it is, warts and all. I hope you enjoy it.

By the way: while I still stand by my definition of "Constitutionalist," I have since regretted using that term. Here's why.

And another thing.... since I am presenting this "as is" and cannot guarantee its accuracy, I'm not providing any verification or supportive links. Check this stuff at your own leisure. At a later date I may (or may not) revise it and correct it.


[My Irish BuddyTM] –

Your statements about Americans and our obsessions with ethnicity
really got me thinking (dangerous thing). I find myself with nothing
to really do on this long flight home from Seattle so I thought I
would take the time to jot down some of my thoughts about the notion
of the "American Identity" from a personal and anthropological
perspective. You don't have to read this, and you probably have much
better things to do (sitting in your underwear watching TV?) but
should you continue… consider yourself warned.

And I'm doing this all from my head, so I cannot guarantee the
accuracy of some of the following material. In fact, just the fact
that you did not have an American education leads me to believe you're
going to find some errors in what you read here. But let's give this a
try anyway, shall we?

The American Revolution
The North American continent, especially what is now considered the
Eastern Seaboard of the United State was settled by primarily Western
Europeans from the northern regions: the Dutch, the French, the
Germans, and the English. Especially the English. In fact, by the time
ill feelings began to foment among the colonists, all other cultural
groups had been subsumed by the English and homogenized into a fairly
recognizable English-derived culture.

Thinking of ourselves as Americans did not happen, however, until the
Declaration of Independence came onto the scene. As we declared
ourselves a separate nation and set up the temporary Continental
Congress to see us through the transition (and the oncoming war), we
defined ourselves as Americans not so much by our ideals as expressed
in Jefferson's document so much as the fact that we were no longer
English subjects. You read right: the earliest American identity was
founded on not being British.

This is a very important distinction: after we won the Revolutionary
War, the deciding factor for where one got to live – remain in the new
United State of America or emigrate to Canada – was one of loyalty;
did one see the Crown and Parliament as the seat of governmental power
or the Continental Congress and its eventual inheritor (first the
Articles of Confederation and later the Constitution). It always
bothers me how this is not taught in American public schools: the
transmigration between the US and Canadian territories immediately
after the war, in terms of percentage of population, was not rivaled
until India created Pakistan and had the Hindus and Muslims shuffle
around. This was a big deal in which many people lost land and other
property, and many families irrevocably dissolved - and I'm actually
referring to North America, here!

The War of 1812 served to further this form of the American identity
notion… but it was not to last.

Colonization Practices, the Louisiana Purchase and Rogue Sates
Before I go any further, I must point out something concerning the
remaining dominions under the British Crown after the American
Revolution. Those dominions fairly empty of natives (when compared to,
say, India or Burma) were settled by colonists carrying the Union Jack
who considered themselves British subjects – for the most part. This
phenomenon presents a flavor to their colonization and the formation
of their eventual sovereignties that is completely lost on most
Americans. You see, we Americans tend to think of the way we handled
colonizing (or "settling," in our historical parlance) the rest of our
part of North America as "normal;" which is certainly not the case.

Unlike such Brit-derived nations such as Canada or Australia, we
gained our independence early on and then became a colonizing force in
our own right. With the purchase of the Louisiana territory form
France during the Jefferson administration – for a whopping 2¢ an
acre! How's that for a deal? – we developed a philosophy known as
"Manifest Destiny." Manifest Destiny was the notion that the United
States, as a nation, would eventually extend from the Eastern Seaboard
to the West Coast; an achievable goal thanks the the Louisiana
Purchase. Unfortunately, this notion also gave most Americans a
feeling of entitlement, allowing them to rationalize the practice of
marching in and displacing natives left and right for the purposes of

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the Federal Government turned a myopic
eye to these shenanigans, which were in many ways in opposition to the
ideals of the Constitution.

Sidebar: the Federal Constitution is well worth reading, if you have
not already done so. If you haven't, you'll get to do so with [your daughter]
when it's time for her to take her proficiency tests in 7th grade.
Assuming you and your family are still in Illinois that is…

In any case the practices of the settlers and the hesitation of the
developing federal government lead to a disconnection of identity
between the settlers and the notion of being "American." This was not
such a big deal for states such as Illinois, which grew out of the
settlement of the Louisiana Purchase acreage: everyone submitted to
the statehood process without a peep because the land was explicitly
intended to be incorporated into the United States from the point of
sale on.

However, territories from outside this acreage (mostly stolen from
Mexico) were another story. Would you believe that California and
Texas were briefly their own separate countries for a while? It's
true! The California Republic and the Republic of Texas grudgingly
submitted to statehood out of necessity. They both needed help with
the damn pesky Indians and all the rambunctious displaced Mexicans,
and the U.S. Army was the only force with the resources to do
something about it.

But I digress…

The Late 19th Century/Early 20th Century Immigration Swell
Okay, this is where things get interesting; which is to say, more
recognizable as what America is like today.

Starting in the 1880s the United States experienced an influx of
immigrants for other regions of Europe and the rest of the world, most
noticeably Eastern and Mediterranean Europeans, Chinese and, of
course, the Irish. The still relatively homogeneous U.S.A. exhibited a
rather passive-aggressive reaction to this phenomenon. On the one hand
we accepted the gift of the Statue of Liberty from the French and
proudly displayed its welcome sign proclaiming we wanted the unwanted,
the "wretched refuse" of other lands. And as soon as we got them in we
put them to work under horrid conditions in factories and
slaughterhouses and shunned them as something almost worse than "the

Out of necessity these immigrants settled into neighborhoods they made
their own. These became the famous ghettos of what is now yesteryear:
New York's Little Italy, Chicago's Bridgeport, and the Chinatowns
found in various major metropolitan areas. These ghettos became the
bedrock of the curious ethnic pride you seem to find so peculiar about
America, Mike. True, similar quasi-ethnically segregated communities
can be found in other countries – like Toronto's well-known Greektown
– but none have the same sense of ethnicity as being a link to
identity as one finds here in the States. This is due to a rather
interesting thing humans do when faced with rejection by society at
large: they will either change to assimilate into the greater whole or
reinforce and take pride in their difference as a means of succor and
survival. And this really has not changed all that much in the
intervening decades.

The Great War (World War I)
By the time things were getting hot and heavy in Europe during the
early 20th century, how "American" one was tended to be defined by how
long one's family has been in this country. This was usually deduced
by the ethnicity of one's family name – unless it was Anglicized by
choice or by accident at Ellis Island. Of course, this only applied if
one was white. Black? Latino? Asian? Oh, Sweet Jesus, let's not even
go there!

As the war on the Continent progressed, the U.S. went into business
and charity mode. We cheerfully sold arms and supplies to all players
in the conflict. Also, plenty of 2nd and 3rd generation
German-Americans were setting up charity funds and money-raising
events to support the Kaiser's war effort. And no one batted an eye.

Well, when the U.S. entered the war just in time to mop up the mess
(and look like heroes in the process), a small reawakening of the
notion of an American identity took place. Suddenly, German-Americans
were changing their names and/or shouting at the top of their lungs:
"Hey! My parents were Prussians, but I was born here! I'd never get
upset if some fat, inbred Hapsburgian aristocrat got his brains blown

But this, too, did not last all that long…

The Great Depression and World War II
Interestingly enough, when the Stock Market crashed and briefly
considered joining a monastery, it was the ghettos that held
themselves together better than the long "established" communities.
Thanks to the rampant xenophobia experienced by the more recent
immigrant groups, they had stronger social bonds and were already
heavily community-focused than their WASP (white anglo-saxon
protestant) counterparts. Unemployment was still a problem, but fewer
people went cold or hungry thanks to sharing of what was available.

The Second World War changed all that, of course. Once again, we went
in to clean up Europe, but this time we had Japan to contend with, as
well. This time, it was really personal.

As American soldiers traveled the various theatres of the war, they
found themselves identified by others as Americans. Not
German-Americans, not Italian-Americans, not Irish-Americans, but
simply Americans. Couple to this the use of the notions of the
Declaration of Independence – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of
Happiness – as a focal point for Americans to rally around as we
battle the fascist totalitarians (hey! Let's conveniently ignore the
fact the Stalinist Soviet Union is our ally!) created again a renewed
sense of American identity. This sense of American identity during the
Forties and Fifties is probably the strongest it ever was in my
country's history.

And, once more, it was not to last.

The Cold War
After WWII, America became powerful, affluent, and on the move. The
ghettos began to dissolve and the suburbs began to grow. However, you
can take the boy out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out
of the boy. Our never-ending pride in our ancestral, pre-immigration
heritage still holds us. It was during this period that the
development of ethnically themed restaurants with entertainment became
not a novelty item for WASPs, but cradles of nostalgia for average
Americans wanting to reacquaint themselves with "their roots." Never
mind the cultural practices of Italian-Americans do not really
resembles those of actual Italians. Never mind that corned beef is
originally a Jewish foodstuff. Never mind real sauerbraten would make
most German-Americans want to puke from the smell… it's all about what
we want to think life was like for our ancestors in "the Old Country"
and not think about the uncomfortable realities that drove them to our
shore in the first place. This, more than anything, [My Irish BuddyTM], is what
makes it possible for your acquaintance to be a "professional

But let's get back on track.

During the Cold War we Americans came full circle with out identity.
Now we defined ourselves as "not being Communists." Which was an
unfortunate thing. It also meant the rest of the world started seeing
us as one of two bullies on the block – the other being the U.S.S.R. –
and sooner or later they would have to kow-tow to one of us.

But the Soviet Union collapsed. So where does that leave us today?

America is the New Rome, and We're the Only Game In Town (or so we
like to think)

How does the world see us?
In my opinion, the rest of the world, with some merit, sees us
Americans as fat, obnoxious, insensitive boors who own too much, want
too much, and use too much (SUVs and iPods, to name a few). We're seen
as God-obsessed and power-mad, thanks to our current president, and
not that much better than "the Terrorists" in that regard. We also
have an annoying tendency to not appreciate what we actually do have
via to the Constitution and capitalist innovation.

How do we see ourselves?
If you are to believe the news, we're all down-to-earth folk with
everyday lives, values and problems. We are a people of great faith
and great tolerance for those who are different from us, and we're
ready to place our initial trust in our fellow man. Think "fresh-faced
Midwestern farm boy/girl." In reality, it's our desperate attempt to
keep the Norman Rockwell mythos alive long after its corpse has become
so much worm [manure].

How I see us.
We are a nation that has always struggled to find our identity
practically since our inception. We still define ourselves by our
ethnic heritage, which is best left behind so we may embrace ourselves
as Americans. I am guilty of this myself. I find it hard not to
classify myself as "German-American" first… which is funny since I can
barely speak German!

At this point in my country's history, I see two groups that could be
considered truly representative of the "American identity." One is
actively reaching for that title. The other, I feel, is much truer,
but to disparate to ever rally for attention and mindshare.

Group 1: "Redneck Republicans"
These people are ones you've seen on T.V. and seen all around the
[local] area. The are hard drinkin', god-fearin', football-watchin',
country-&-western-music-listenin', [poop]-kickin', "I love my country!"
types. They to be rather ill-educated and ignorant, very involved in
their churches but not well-versed in the theology of their faith,
like their toys and tend to vote conservative in politics. They feel
they own the title "American" and are as a whole disturbingly
middle-to-upper class, Protestant and white. In other words, the
devolved descendants of the WASPs.

Group 2: "Constitutionalists"
This is my own ad hoc term for this group.

These are people like me who feel the Constitution is only thing that
really binds us together as a nation. People like me who feel the
Constitution is one of, if not the most, brilliant governmental
document ever composed. We tend to think of being American as "someone
who has a duty to understand our foundational documents and protect
them from abuses." We belong to all walks of life and faiths (or lack
thereof, in my case), and we tend to belong to watchdog groups that
seek to keep Constitutional abuses or disregards in check (ACLU, FFRF,
Americans United, People for the American Way, etc.)

But in the end we're a minority, which is ironic in that we tend to
value being Americans most of all. I also fear people like me are then
only thing that's keeping this country from turning into the horror
described in Sinclair Lewis' fine novel It Can't Happen Here. (Lewis,
by the way, was the author who stated that when fascism comes to
America it will be "wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." Sound
like any politicians you've seen since coming here?)

Wrapping it up.
If you've gotten this far, thank you for putting up with this rant.

Once again, I don't claim to be an expert, but you got my wheels
spinning, and I needed something to do during this flight. I ran out
of reading material a while ago and if I look at another document for
[my boss], I'm going to strangle someone. This gave me some much-needed
diversion, and I got to use my noggin for something other than
technical or process issues, for a change, which is a great relief.
Believe me, it really is.

I also wrote this because you seem to have a genuine interest in what
I have to say… Bog help you, on that one.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this, and I look forward to your reaction
and comments at a later date.

[The Dim WitTM]

Friday, December 7, 2007

Everyone loves an Irishman

I did not originally intend on posting this picture. But after hanging with him last night, hearing about how his vacation went, and several dares from friends and co-workers, I have to do it.

My buddy came back from visiting family in Belfast (and more, to his regret) and sent us this photo when he returned.

He unfortunately sent it to my workplace. I had to move it on ASAP, as you will see. If you find it offensive, too bad. Freedom of speech, etc.

Everyone loves an Irishman...

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Goin' to Peggy K.'s, tonight!

I'm leaving in a few moments to meet up with a friend at Peggy Kinnane's in Arlington Heights.

He's back from "a trip home" to Belfast to see his family, and I am looking forward to drinking decent draught Guinness and eating black and white pudding the way it's meant to be prepared: in lard!

I may not make it in to work tomorrow... :)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Fly away with me...

Sorry. Another evening got away from me thanks to a clogged bathroom sink.

Submitted for your approval: an Englebert Humperdink cover of a little-known but fabulous song from the Seventies.

This is not a novelty song. This was written as a serious piece. And it's terrible. In a good way.

Dear Readers, here is... Lesbian Seagull.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Evidence we should all be glad the Eighties are over

Remember Menudo?

They had some pretty strange and, well, crappy songs, such as "Me Gusta El Picnic (I Like to Picnic)."

Judging from the video, this song is really the story of a middle-age, portly chef who likes to spend his time line dancing in the woods with young boys.

No subtext here. Really.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Cocktail of the week #9 - Hot Toddy

Yesterday was an even drearier day, weather-wise.

An intermittent near-freezing rain coming down and churning the collected snow on my walk and driveway into a wet and heavy slush the color of lead.  It was ugly work clearing it out, keeping it from turning into a thick crust of ice overnight.

With such cold, wet, miserable work, it was a happy coincidence this week's cocktail is the venerable hot toddy. A heady hot mix of liquor, sugar, spices and lemon. Just the thing on a miserable winter's day.

I had whiskey in mine, the wife chose brandy both were warm, tasty and comforting. So much so, in fact, Mrs. Wit had seconds!

Hits: 7
Misses: 6

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Welcome to the Carnival of the Godless!

I learned about this from Orac's Respectful Insolence.

Now... what do I want to submit...?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A little Sven on a cold winter's night

Winter has arrived with fierce, icy teeth today.

It's been a long day. I'd been hoping to give you all (are there any of you out there to begin with?)  out there a long diatribe about "religious" versus "spiritual" notions, but the day got away from me (damn weather).

Mrs. Wit and I are snug in our PJs as the wind, ice and sleet howl outside our door. We're patiently waiting for that highlight of my Saturdays (when we are home): Svengoolie.

Here's a blast from the Svengoolie past... so you'll see what I mean:

Peace out, stay warm, and keep laughin'.