Life and Living: The Commonalities Between Snakes, Knives, and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Flirting with death? From l. to r. - Jamie Coots, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cody Coots.

Flirting with death? From l. to r. – Jamie Coots, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cody Coots.

     Now, they say that Blondes have more fun, but personally, I don’t think that’s true. In fact, it appears that some rural Kentuckians are having far more fun than even Blondes do; (ready for it?) indeed, more fun than they can shake a snake at! (Cue sad trombone.) Why else would someone want to risk their life doing something, even after their own father has lost his life in the very same way?

     That’s what Cody Coots, the new pastor of the Middlesboro, Kentucky “Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name” church, says that he’s prepared to do. (1) For those of you, my fine young readers, that aren’t familiar with the story, we’ll climb into the proverbial Chronosphere, and like Jonathan LaPaglia on the late-nineties show, jump back seven days…

     Last Saturday, Middlesboro, Kentucky pastor Jamie Coots lost his life, having been bitten by one of the poisonous snakes that he and fellow attendees of the Full Gospel Tabernacle are so fond of messing with in the “name of Jesus.” (2) They believe that, according to bible passage Mark 16:18, if their faith is strong, that those pesky little snakebites won’t hurt them at all;

“They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
(Mark 16:18, KJV)

     Now, I’ve suggested in the days since that either the Bible is wrong, that Pastor Coots misinterpreted it, or that he wasn’t “anointed” in the first place. Indeed, during my initial flirtations with this topic on Facebook, one of my friends even suggested that the elder Coots had been “released from his calling,” to which I responded with a reference to Romans 11:29, which basically states that God doesn’t “issue recalls.” The debate, though, isn’t quite about that. The true crux of the issue here, in my own not-so-humble opinion, is once again, where faith meets religion, and religion’s never-ending propensity for the misapplication of faith…or does the “rabbit hole” go even deeper?

     Another friend once told me that the Bible is a “scary” thing. I don’t think so. The Bible, in and of itself, is just a book. This book cannot act of its own volition, can it? No. It requires a human element to use it, whether that be for good or ill. In that discussion, I likened the Bible to a kitchen knife. As everyone knows, a kitchen knife is a tool, designed and purposed to aid in the preparation of food for consumption. We don’t fear kitchen knives, do we? If I take a paring knife out and set it on the counter next to an apple, will that knife jump up, and cut my apple into several neat, little slices for me to eat? Likewise, will it jump up and stab someone? No, but it can be used to those ends! Once again, it requires the interaction of a person. In my opinion, some degree of accountability must be assigned to the person or people who are using the tool.

     Cody Coots has said that if he gets bitten by the snake, then he, like his father, will decline emergency treatment. He states that if he dies, then it must be “God’s will.” (Question: if there is a gun on the table that one knows is loaded and has a round in the chamber, and one picks up that gun, points it at their head and says, “If I die when I pull this trigger, then it’s God’s will,” and then pulls the trigger and dies, whose will was it actually that this person died?)

     Personal accountability. It’s something that, quite honestly, is fading fast in America. In 1968, then-Governor Ronald Reagan mused on this concept during a speech to the Republican National Convention when he stated;

“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

     So, at what point do we hold a person or group of people accountable for their actions? In the course of asking this question, I’m reminded of the recent, tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Now, before anyone starts accusing me of trying to “capitalise on the death of a good and decent man,” please read on a bit.

     As a lot of you know, Hoffman was found in his West Village, Manhattan apartment back on the 2nd of this month, dead of a Heroin overdose. Several small bags were found, and Hoffman died with a needle in his vein. (3) Since that day, those following and commenting on the sad story, have done what people often do; play the “blame game,” and attempt to find some kind of meaning in an otherwise meaningless death. They blame the drug. They blame the pusher. They blame the stresses of celebrity life…but does anyone ever place even a smidgen of the blame for Hoffman’s demise…on Hoffman?

     This needle, like any other needle I suspect, would not have been able to simply jump up and enter Hoffman’s arm. His supplier didn’t dose him, nor did any other Tinseltown actor or agent. No, Philip Seymour Hoffman did this to himself, knowing full well the dangers of what he was doing. The sooner we acknowledge this, the better we’ll be at viewing things like this objectively. Of course, there will still be those select few who, like Coots and progeny, will blame their own and others’ ill-fated actions on everyone else, including their God.



The Chaser: Poor Samwise…

Frodo goes a little bonzo-seco...

     In the wake of last night’s 84th Academy Awards show, it occurred to me that since 2003, there hasn’t been a film nearly as good as The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King. On the night of February 29th, 2004, RoTK came away with all eleven of the Oscars that it was nominated for, including Best Picture.

     Every so often, I’ll sit with either my wife, my son or my daughter, (or all three!) and do the “LoTR Marathon” thing, where we watch all three of the boxed set, extended versions of the films. Once in a while, I’ll even cue up the “Appendices” documentaries. It was during the latest round of viewings, that something occurred to me…

     In the scene immediately following Frodo’s defeat of Gollum / Smeagol and destruction of the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, Frodo and Sam have just beat a hasty exit from within the volcano as it begins to erupt around them. After diving onto a rock outcropping, Frodo looks around, begins to smile, sighs and tells Samwise, “It’s gone, Sam!” It is at this moment that Samwise Gamgee gives Frodo a “look.” Maybe you know the look I’m referring to, but just in case you don’t, here it is in full high-def color:

I can't believe I actually WANTED to come on this vacation!

     If we could slow down time and read Sam’s mind in that split-second before he says, “Yes Mr. Frodo, it’s over now,” what would we hear? Given everything that Samwise had endured up to that point, I have a pretty good idea. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…Samwise’s Rant:

     (Frodo) “It’s gone, Sam!”

     (Samwise) “Really? Are you (expletive) serious? After everything we just went through, now you want to get all smiles and blissful? Maybe you hadn’t noticed, but we’re sitting on the side of an erupting volcano! The only one in all of Middle (expletive) Earth, might I add, mister “the ring is mine”! Oh, and by the way, thanks a whole hell of a lot for dragging that scraggly, puke-smelling wretch with us the whole way! I tried telling you that guy was bad news, but oh no, Mister “Buh…buh….but we need a guide!” You just had to have your pet frogman, didn’t you? Let him drag our sorry (expletives) all over hell and gone, climb this mountain, slog through that swamp, only to have him conk me over the (expletive) head with a rock! Drag my sorry (expletive) hundreds of miles away from my comfy Hobbit hole, just for you to go all “Charlie Manson” on me right at the end and want to keep that accursed (expletive) piece of demonic “bling”! I could be back in the Shire, making some serious (expletive) time with Rosie Cotton right now! But no! I’m about to get my (expletive) burned off by hot, boiling lava. Thanks a lot, mister “muahaha! the ring is mine”! (I can’t actually believe I wanted to come on this trip with you! I swear, if by some miracle we get out of this mess, next time we find a ring, I’ll hock that (expletive) piece of jewelry, use the money to go to Disney-(expletive)-land and leave your (expletive) back home in Bag-End! Let you trim your own Ficus plants! I can’t believe I let that old pointy-hatted, grey-bearded (expletive) talk me into this!) Sheesh!”

     Poor Sam.

Arts and Entertainment: Perpetuating The Predation?

An evil in Hollywood

     In the past few weeks, there have been several news items on CNN and Fox News, usually buried toward the bottom of the page, covering the long-standing problem of sexual perversion in Hollywood. Just today, Fox News posted yet another of these pieces, entitled “Are Hollywood Stars Enabling Sexual Predators By Not Naming Names?” The article goes on to narrate various celebrity accounts of “casting couch” incidences, of sexual advances, rapes and even Pedophelia as being a constant issue in “Tinseltown,” and having been so for decades.

     (SOAPBOX=FAST ON) Now, I usually delve into the specifics of a situation from off of the soapbox, before climbing up and doing the usual “pontifications.” This time however, I feel like we need to perform some sort of “fast attack,” and get right to the meat and potatoes of the issue.

     So, are Hollywood stars (or other industry insiders) enabling sexual predators by not naming names, like the title of the FNC article asks? Short answer: YES. I would even go so far as to say that, not only are they enabling these douchebags, but by not naming names and telling someone what they know, they are by their inactions, condoning and perpetuating the abuses. These Hollywood people know what’s going on, yet they keep their mouths shut, sometimes because they don’t want to lose that multi-million-dollar movie deal, or negatively impact their marketability in the industry. My fine young readers, that’s called greed. Not only is it being greedy, but also compounding one wrong with yet another; a lie. (A lie of omission is still a lie!)

     One of my favorite “righting of the wrongs” quotes comes from Elizabeth Gaskell, nineteenth century writer and equal rights advocate. In the foreword to Gaskell’s first novel, “Mary Barton,” Macdonald Daly recounts a conversation between Elizabeth and Edward Holland, in which she stated;

     “My poor Mary Barton is stirring up all sorts of angry feelings against me in Manchester, but those best aquainted with the way of thinking and feeling among the poor acknowledge its truth; which is the acknowledgment I most of all desire, because evils being once recognized, are half way on towards their remedy.”

     In the case of “libidinous lasciviousness” in Hollywood, I think there’s more to it than just identifying the problem. The evil has been recognised, but the source not completely identified. For this problem to truly be “halfway on towards its remedy,” these victims have to start reaching deep down in their gut, drawing up some courage and naming names.

     Now what I am about to do may leave a bad taste in some of my readers’ mouths. As this weblog is still a rather small enterprise, there’s not really much to lose by saying what I am about to say, so I’ll just come out with it; WE are part and parcel of this issue as well. Every time we rent or buy a movie. Every time we pump money into the Hollywood entertainment “machine,” we fund this issue. Oh, it’s not like we’re walking up to director or producer “so and so,” handing him a G-note and telling him to go make unwanted sexual advances on a young child actor or actress on our dime. No, it’s a more convoluted chain of funding than just that.

     So how do we as consumers and patrons help put a stop to this problem? I asked my spouse this question just today, because I had reached a point of “writer’s block.” We discussed a boycott of Hollywood, and how it would be tantamount to “mass punishment, bathwater and the baby” thinking. By depriving the entertainment industry of our dollars, we would be making the innocent pay alongside the genuinely guilty.

     So, what do we do? I wonder just how many of us would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Hollywood talent, and back these people up if and when they came out and started dropping names in the effort to clean house. (I know I would, and with the publishing of this article, I am!) What else? Every one of you, my fine young readers, that also spends a considerable amount of money on any aspect of the Hollywood entertainment industry, should be asking yourselves these questions. I know I am. This is one aged specter that needs to be exorcised from the entertainment industry, for everyone’s benefit.

     ADDENDUM: After this article went to press, I had the unique opportunity to exchange some thoughts via email with Alison Arngrim, who portrayed Nellie Oleson on “Little House on The Prairie” and now serves as part of the grassroots policy board of Protect Dot Org. She shared that I seemed “unclear as to why everyone on earth doesn’t just jump up on TV and name the person who raped them.” (Thank you Alison, and again I apologise for not mentioning your courage in identifying and confronting your attacker.)

     I wouldn’t expect everyone to resort to that type of public “outting” of the perpetrators, however I would definitely encourage the establishment or shoring up of support systems and networks for combatting this most detrimental of issues plaguing the industry. Alison also brought up the fact (and yes, it’s a fact!) that several of these perpetrators who have been identified, don’t ever really feel the full sting of justice’s strap. That’s where our laws and punishments need to be changed and strengthened. (Don’t ask me how I would punish child molesters, because you might find my “burning barn” scenario a bit hard to palate!)

     Granted, there’s a lot to this issue that I personally am not aware of, being just a small-potatoes blogger from Central California. The point is that the more we all talk about this, the more open publicity it gets. The more we discuss the aspects, the more likely we’ll be to come up with viable solutions.

“We face the truth, we see it clear, with no disguise.” (Yes, “The More We Live, Let Go” c1991, Arista Records) 


Further reading on this topic:

“Former child stars reveal sex abuse in Hollywood” (Daily News and Analysis, retrieved on Dec 14th, 2011)

“Recent Charges of Sexual Abuse of Children in Hollywood Just Tip of Iceberg, Experts Say” (Fox News, retrieved on Dec 14th, 2011)

The Chaser: Hammy The Squirrel Goes FTL

Hammy strolls while lasers creep...

     Several of my fine, young readers might be wondering just why I would want to discuss something as seemingly trivial as Hammy The Squirrel. That’s because a lot of people don’t stop to ponder the laws of physics, such as why it is not currently possible to achieve FTL (faster than light) speeds. It’s a very interesting discussion, so please follow along… 

     It seems like a completely contrived idea that feeding a squirrel with ADHD an energy drink could impart the ability to move through timespace at FTL speeds. Well, that may be so. What would it take to actually be able to do this? If you wanted to go FTL, according to the laws of physics it would take an infinite amount of energy, unless you could achieve zero mass. All matter however, possesses mass. (Save for Neutrinos, billions of which have just passed through both of us!)

     In real world physics, experiments such as the LHC at CERN in Switzerland are seeking to find and confirm the existence of the “Higgs boson,” an elementary scalar particle that is thought to impart mass to all other matter. If this particle is found, not only could we explain mass, but we might also be able to find a way to mitigate the effects of the Higgs boson! What that basically means is that the Higgs boson is our key to travelling at FTL speeds! Now trip on this! We know that matter has an opposite; antimatter. We’ve seen it, created it in colliders and witnessed its interaction(s) with normal matter. So, doesn’t it stand to reason that if the Higgs boson exists, that it might have an opposing particle? This “anti-Higgs boson” would have the opposite effect on matter, actually robbing it of mass!

     So now back to Hammy. Supposedly in the world of cartoon physics, feeding a squirrel with severe ADHD an energy drink provides Hammy with the opposite of the Higgs boson particle, thereby giving his body zero or even negative mass, allowing him to move through spacetime at FTL speeds! (Still want to drink that caffeinated Monster or Rock Star in the can on your desk?) 😉

Filippenko's universe

     Dr. Alex Filippenko from the University of California, Berkeley said something on “The Universe: Biggest Blasts”  that has stuck in my head, and the implications of it are mind-blowing! It has to do with what happened in the fraction of a second after the big bang; “hyper-inflation.” Dr. Filippenko states, “No particle can move through spacetime faster than the speed of light, but spacetime itself can move faster than the speed of light. That doesn’t defy any of the laws of physics.”

Cup of everything, anyone?

     Say spacetime is a cup of coffee. Nothing, not one atom or quark, not even light (photons) can move through that cup of coffee any faster than the universal speed limit. BUT! The whole cup of coffee can itself move, flex, expand, even contract at unimaginable speeds that exceed that of light, and in similarly unimaginable ways! Warp your head around that, why don’t ya!

Harry Potter and The Army Values?

JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series of books.

     What does it take to be a leader of others? What are some of the qualities that we look for in someone we wish to follow in tough situations? Personally, I would list strength, courage, tenacity, common sense and honesty among those attributes. In previous blog articles, I have also touched on the “Seven Army Values,” and the acronym for them; “LDRSHIP.”

     Jo Rowling seems to have contemplated this same question at some point, the result being a character that espouses the finest traditions of what it takes to be a leader. In our search for paragons of leadership, we see a shining example in Harry Potter. In JK Rowling’s seven book series, we follow the story arc of the life of young Harry, as he grows from age 10 to adulthood, meeting a plethora of challenges along the way to defeating his arch-nemesis, Lord Voldemort. In this article, I’ll be presenting to you, my fine young readers, some specific examples of how Harry Potter displays leadership values. So, without further adieu…

  •      Loyalty: Throughout the series, Harry Potter remains loyal to not only his close friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Grainger, but to his school, Hogwarts and to the wizard he knows little about, but instinctively knows he can trust; Albus Dumbledore. In the second novel, “Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets,” Harry shows loyalty to Dumbledore while engaging Tom Riddle down in the chamber. In the fifth book, “Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix,” Neville Longbottom asks Harry not to divulge the fact that his parents, Frank and Alice Longbottom were in St. Mungo’s, having been driven to insanity by being tortured with the Cruciatus curse by Bellatrix Lestrange. Harry honors this request.
  •      Duty: On many occasions, Harry is either specifically given a task to accomplish, or discovers that to “put things right,” he must take on the mantle of proactivity. In each instance, Harry’s tenacity and sense of duty can be witnessed in action. In the first novel, “Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone,” Harry works together with Ron and Hermione to navigate the several hazards between them, and safeguarding / rescuing the stone from Quirrell, who incidentally is doubling as a human host for Voldemort.
  •      Respect: In the world of Harry Potter, there are characters other than humans which wizards would normally view with a certain degree of disdain, such as Elves and Goblins. In book two, “Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets,” Harry encounters Dobby, the much-maligned house elf belonging to the Malfoy family. In contrast to the manner in which Dobby is usually treated, Harry instead treats Dobby with a degree of care, concern and respect, even going so far as to “free” the house elf through the “bamboozling” of Lucius Malfoy. When Dobby is subsequently killed by Bellatrix Lestrange in the final book, “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows,” Harry gives a fine example of this respect, by insisting on giving Dobby a proper burial, without the use of magic, and only by the sweat of his brow.
  •      Selfless Service: On several occasions throughout the series, Harry Potter places his own life lower on the list of priorities than accomplishment of the mission. To this end, in the seventh and final installment of the series, “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows,” Harry willingly goes into the Dark Forest to give up his own life, so that things might be “put right” and to facilitate the defeat of Lord Voldemort.
  •      Honor: As we can see in the entire story arc of Harry’s life, he always tries his best to do the right thing, even in the face of adversity.
  •      Integrity: In book five, “Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix,” even in the face of torture by Dolores Umbridge, Harry would not cave in in his adherence to the truth of the Dark Lord’s return.
  •      Personal Courage: This value is closely tied to the value of Selfless Service. As stated above, Harry often encounters situations where justifiable fear would otherwise prevent him from accomplishing the mission, up to and including the fear of death itself. Harry Potter faces these fears in the finest manner, and in the end prevails.

     By the time and events of the fifth book, “Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix,” the other students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry can see that Harry is a capable leader. Together with a number of these students, Harry forms “Dumbledore’s Army” so that the others can learn the skills that Harry possesses, in order to aid in the eventual defeat of Lord Voldemort, JK Rowling’s literary personification of evil.

     It is paramount to note at this point, that Harry Potter is the antithesis of his rival, Tom Riddle / Lord Voldemort. They are diametrically opposed in their nature. While Lord Voldemort commands allegiance through fear, lies and hatred, Harry Potter is freely given the allegiance of others, due to his inherent qualities of love, courage and honesty. In closing, I would say that Jo Rowling has provided her readers with an excellent example of what it takes to be a true leader.

Faith and Religion: Also Sprach Susan Sarandon?

The not-so-lovely bones of contention?

     This past weekend, during a discussion forum at the Hamptons Film Festival, actress Susan Sarandon was recounting her involvment in the 1995 anti-death penalty film “Dead Man Walking,” and stated that she had sent a copy of the book on which the film was based to the Pope. To clarify, she added this caveat during her interview with Newsday; “The last one. Not this Nazi one we have now.”(1)

     Almost immediately, reactions to her remark started circulating among the news agencies, anti-defamation groups such as the ADL, and the Catholic community. “Oh my God, she called the Pope a Nazi!” is the sentiment that’s running through several news and opinion pieces on the matter. John Fund, opinion columnist for Fox News just today wrote an OpEd article (albeit a rather poorly edited one!) in response to Ms. Sarandon’s remarks, entitled “Being a Celebrity Is Not a License to Be a Jackass.”(2) As religious groups demand apologies, the Sarandon camp remains mum for the moment.

     This is the point in the story where I pull out the blogger’s “soapbox,” and begin to opine. When I read this story on Fox News this morning, I immediately recalled that I had written a notes entry back in 2009 on MySpace regarding this very same topic. (The subject of the Pope and his Nazi ties.) Back in early 2009, there was much furor over the Pope’s lifting of the excommunication of a certain bishop, one Richard Williamson. The reason for the furor, which by the way was shared and expressed by the same Anti-Defamation League that is now wagging its finger at Sarandon, was that Bishop Williamson was, and still is a prominent Holocaust denier and anti-semite. (Not quite as prominent as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but getting there!) Mere days before his “rehabilitation” by the Pope, Bishop Williamson gave an interview to Swedish state television, in which he stated that historical evidence “is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed.” At the time, Rome’s chief rabbi called for an immediate halt to Williamson’s rehabilitation, however the spokesman for the Vatican, Reverend Federico Lombardi, stated that Williamson’s views had no bearing on the decision to lift his excommunication.(3)

The mini "axis of evil" (clockwise, from upper-left:) Bishop Richard Williamson, Michele Renouf and attorney Wolfram Nahrath

    Since his rehabilitation, the “Bish” has been unapologetic regarding his alignment(s) with other anti-semites and Holocaust deniers. In 2009, upon arriving in Great Britain from Argentina, Williamson’s greeting party included former model Michele Renouf, who is widely known for her vitriolic anti-semitism.(4) In a November 2010 appeal of an incitement conviction by a German court, Williamson hired attorney Wolfram Nahrath, who had also actively defended other neo-Nazis and was identified as the former leader of the Wiking-Jugend (Viking Youth), a German neo-Nazi organization.(5)

     In response to John Fund’s article, I would say that while he may be right in his assertion that being a celebrity does not give one license to “be a jackass,” neither does it prohibit that celebrity from having or expressing their own personal opinions. There’s an idea, a principle expressed in our constitution, a little thing we like to call “Freedom of Speech.” If Susan Sarandon sees the Pope’s actions (and inactions) as being indicative of the type of behavior that was espoused by the Nazis, then she is rightfully entitled to express those thoughts.

     Now, we all know that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party leadership were elitists who believed their way to be the only way, with no “highway option.” One could also argue that Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican have engaged in this same type of behavior. I would draw my fine young readers’ attention to a 2007 statement by the Pope that labeled Orthodox churches as “defective,” and all other denominations of belief as not true churches, but simply “ecclesial communities.” Simply stated, according to the Pope there’s only one way, and that’s the Catholic way. No highway option.(6)

     In closing, Josef Ratzinger is not doing the office of Pope or the Catholic Church any favors, or lending himself any credibility in the way he’s executing the office, especially in his handling of all the recent scandals buzzing around the Catholic Church, like moths around a streetlight on a hot summer’s night. For someone who is supposedly God’s “spokesman” on Earth, I think he might be bringing a lot of this on himself. Susan Sarandon and her personal opinions are the least of the Vatican’s worries right now.