Onward Christian Soldiers – March off to War

As a humanist, I am somewhat amused by the idea of humanist chaplains being added to the US military’s chaplain corp.

The idea that there are no atheists in foxholes should be challenged, but also examined.

Believers would like to think that atheists are childish perpetually rebelling adults and that when push comes to shove, we put aside our anger at god and we really do believe.

That isn’t the case at all, atheists are in foxholes. In fact, when you are in danger, taking the time to pray and ask to be delivered, is when you are more likely to be killed because you stopped paying attention to the surroundings that are endangering you.

But, should there be atheists in foxholes? That is a more compelling question. Why should an atheist join the military at all? Career opportunities and training –the involuntary American draft of the lower and middle classes has ended and been replaced by a voluntary poverty draft of the economically disadvantaged. The US military is the employer of last resort.

Sure the US military has the most tricked out hardware and sophisticated tactics, but a military compromised of such a mixed bag of people who have varying degrees of dedication to the task are not an effective force against dedicated and decentralized fanatics who hide among their civilian supporters, because they are the civilian supporters.

To my mind, the phrase, no atheists in foxholes, should mean that no atheist was dumb enough to sign up for military service and risk their lives for nothing.

However, patriotism is not limited to theists, although, it is essentially, putting your idea of nation above all other nation ideas – so patriotism is essentially, the religion of citizenship. And fundamentalist patriotism is that My Country Right or Wrong/Might Make Right mentality that dovetails into religious fundamentalism.

We cannot fight fanaticism with reason and rationality – we need to fight it with fanaticism directly and reason indirectly.

I have long thought that the way to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan is with an all female army, preferably when they’ve synced up their menstruation cycles – the Taliban would have little option but to flee the fields. The only way to fight a fanatic is by presenting them with their worst fears.

So, leave the humanists and marginally religious soldiers stateside, they won’t perform as well as fundamentalist soldiers and will require more post battle trauma counseling and won’t ever be able to return to combat status.

Theists are easier to convince to die for a cause if it’s connected to their god’s will aka higher power that will reward them for their sacrifice. There is very little separating a Fundamentalist Christian/Patriotic soldier from a fundamentalist jihading suicide bomber – with the except that the suicide bomber is more dedicated to the cause in that they are absolutely laying down their life. Whereas a soldier in a troop, may survive the various battles and war overall.

It is to the military’s advantage to have religious/patriotic soldiers – soldiers who are dedicated to the purpose experience less post traumatic stress disorder because they can justify what they see as necessary to the higher purpose.

When soldiers have joined for the career and training opportunities and it’s their bad luck that a couple of wars are on – even the ones who initially joined after 9/11 to protect their country – once you question the purpose of the conflict, you necessary can’t ignore what’s happening around you. It starts a cascade failure of meaning and purpose – thus the soldier becomes traumatized.

It helps the US military avoid the expense and loss of manpower when they don’t have soldiers who will become traumatized. It is also to our society’s advantage to send only the religiously motivated – because they will experience less psychologically trauma and be able to reintegrate upon their return home, but also because this would remove an aggressive segment of our society from the gene pool for those who do not.

One of the main purposes of war is to reduce population, directly through battle but also indirectly in the aftermath of famine and disease. War is what happens when you put too many rats in the cage, they battle with each other until the number of rats is supportable by the resources available.

Planet Earth is our cage and there’s not enough resources for everyone, something’s got to give, and it’s better to eliminate the obstructionist portion of society – the religious sector – so that the rest of us can get on with the business of shifting from fossil fuels to other sustainable fuels, to sustainable societies that are better able to get along and cooperate with each other the way we need to do and that religion is one of the major stumbling blocks to.

We have to stop thinking locally and think globally and part of thinking globally is that diversity is good and that no one group of people is any better than any other group of people, we’re all in this together.

As long as the focus of the world in on one religion over another, we are never going to collectively step up and say that none are better than any other – so it’s up to those who have stepped away from the my religion is better than your religion argument and notice that religion is hampering our species sustainability.

Elvis too cool to be middle class

I’ve seen most of the movies made of Elvis’ life and, for the most part, they fall short of what is standard for a movie.

Most just dramatize key scenes and do an overview, without ever showing events arising as a result of earlier scenes and choices that Elvis made. The best bio-pic that I have seen is Elvis Meets Nixon.

This movie focuses on three days and gives the most amazing look into Elvis’ life – there’s speculation and wishful thinking for the part of the day that Elvis spent in LA, but all other parts of the movie are based in facts.

Part of what makes the movie work is the use of real people and the actors playing he real people in the “documentary” part that provides the framework. Dick Cavett and Wayne Newton are inspired commentators.

Elvis’ life and career snapped into sharp focus for me, as did Elvis’ place in the fabric of society. When we realize that Elvis wanted nothing more than to be middle class, acceptable, part of mainstream, to make enough money to support his parents – all of his career choices make sense.

Elvis didn’t want to be a rock n roll rebel – he wanted to belong, he wanted to be Dean Martin.

Once he got onto RCA’s label and Parker wanted to move him to the mainstream so the money would roll in, Elvis went along with it, because he wanted to be loved and accepted. So of course he listened to Parker, who seemed to know how to talk to the northern business establishment who looked at Elvis like a freak.

Elvis let Parker drive away everyone who encouraged Elvis to be different – Sam Phillips, Scotty and Bill, Lieber and Stroller – anyone else who pushed Elvis to be an artist.

It may not be so much that it was Elvis, with Steve Binder on his side, standing up to Parker, as much as Parker realizing that Elvis was fading into obscurity and non-relevance and he had to let Steve think he was getting his way, so that Steve didn’t realize that Parker was making a deal about a soundtrack recording, which Binder never got a penny of, although he produced the whole thing.

One area of Elvis’ career that was particularly tragic was the quickie movies made just to put Elvis on screen and get cash from the starved for anything Elvis fans.

If Elvis’ movie career truly had followed the successful movie formulas, instead of becoming formula movies, the pairing of Elvis and Bill Bixby could have give Rock Hudson/Tony Randall movies a good run for the box office money.

Bill and Elvis in Speedway

Elvis’s own movies only seem back when isolated from the movies of the day – and his best movies completely stand the test of time – so in hindsight, Parker was actually right – to make Elvis a lasting entertainer, he needed to cater to the mainstream tastes, not remain the rebel rocker who’s light would have limited appeal and eventually, dim below remembrance.

Elvis’ sense of comedic timing was superb and he was very good at doing bits of acting business. In Viva Las Vegas, he engages in a lot of screwball comedy style banter, and when he pops the champagne cork, his Jerry Lee Lewis antics are hysterically funny.

Rock Hudson made a career of playing the gay/playboy with the heart of gold and Elvis should have made one of the naughty boy needing the right girl to make an honest man of him. There wouldn’t have been a dry seat in the house, had every Elvis movie played to that strength.

As it is, we have a film legacy that is largely unmatched, with the exception of his first film, he was the leading role and none of his films lost money. Often, they saved studios from failure and certainly were used to underwrite more artistic films that are not as watchable today, because of their more serious and dated sensibilities.

Film was the most appropriate medium for Elvis and we are lucky that his beauty was captured in technicolour, instead of the early 60’s being captured only in grainy black and white photos, had he come back and continued only touring and occasional TV appearances.

Parker’s short changing Elvis’s career certainly contributed to Elvis’ self destructive behaviours, but it was Elvis who never permanently fired Parker nor trusted his own judgment enough to take actual and long term charge of his own career. Elvis understood the power he had over the fans and he enjoyed it – his 50’s TV performances and his later self-parodies in the 70’s showed him at his playful best, testing the audiences and not quite being sure why his every move was so riveting – Elvis rarely used the power that his talent and fame brought him – expect to exert control over his Memphis Mafia companions – taking out his frustrations on them and then compensating with excessive gifts.

Elvis punished himself worse of all with impulsive and extreme behaviour in his real life, when he was not willing to express his extremes through his artistic output – had he been able to continue being outrageous musically and movie-wise, he may well have lived longer and healthier. But, being boxed into a generic actor and generic singer, Elvis’ outlandish side expressed itself in drugs, food and other binge-behaviour.

In listening to the recorded last conversation between Elvis and Red West, I was most struck with Elvis’ constantly referencing songs. Elvis understood the world through music, it was what he was and it defined his role in life. Elvis was in a constant state of existential crisis – he was trying to sort out why  he of all people, was Elvis Presley, and he had a gnawing sense that there was something more he could be doing than just singing for people, without understanding that him just singing was what helped people to rethink public morals, rethink gender roles, to rethink how to be in society.

His gnawing sense was that he knew on a level that he was squandering his talent and not using them to best impact – but that would require him to potentially turn away people who didn’t like what he was singing. Elvis had been truly proud to serve his country, the two years in the military was his last and only adult time spent close to being a regular person. But even then, while Elvis did follow the rules, he never was a regular soldier – he was able to buy himself the best possible permitted gear, while the rules allowed for living off base with dependants, it was intended as spouse and children, not parent and grandparent and staff.

Elvis was happy when he got to play at being normal, but normal didn’t make Elvis happy, and his mother raised him with the expectation that he was special. No one ever made Elvis feel as special as his mother, and he lost her in the middle of the time he was being a regular soldier. As regular a soldier as Elvis could be, in any event.

Elvis didn’t do the things that regular people do – like taking responsibility for one’s career and family – Elvis left everything of his life to be taken care of by other people. Elvis was generous, but this was to compensated for his absence, his abdication, for other people allowing the rules of normal to not apply to Elvis.

It occurs to me that when people are brilliant in some way – intellectually or artistically – that there is a compensating lack in another area – and it seems to be in the social behaviour – so intellectually or artistically brilliant people tend to not be adept at social skills – so they are often absent minded and rude when intellectually brilliant or impulsive bingers combined with extremes of selfish/generous conduct when artistically brilliant.

Which makes sense, since intellectually brilliant is about logical process and artistically brilliant are emotional processes.

The white house staff thought that Nixon was insane when he agreed to meet with Elvis and his insistence that the meeting would help his image – Nixon knew that Elvis was th cool kid back in the 50’s and he didn’t understand why and Elvis weren’t relevant to young people in the 70’s. But, the photo of the two men shaking hands is the most requested item of any presidential library.

Nixon is considered an elder statesman and Elvis is finally being accorded the recognition due his vast body of work.