Friday, July 04, 2014

America: Land of the (sorta-kinda) Free!

I was once told to "quit yer bitchin' or get out of here" by a person obviously offended by my criticisms about America. You see, I apparently didn't get the memo that we are now a totalitarian state and that any and all dissent is an expression of anti-patriotism and should warrant immediate deportation. I suppose I was mistakenly inspired by people like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, MLK JR., and Rosa Parks (just to name a few) who all criticized America because they weren't satisfied with the state of things around them. I naively believed that freedom of speech was especially helpful for people with unpopular opinions, not self-congratulatory grandstanders who want a nation full of mindless sheep.

The truth is, I really do like America. I'm proud of the aforementioned people. I'm proud of Hemingway and Bukowski and George Carlin and Buck Owens and Lawrence Krauss and Wendy Davis and, my goodness, the list is truly endless. I like the story of Baseball and jazz music and the sounds of New Orleans. I like the Golden Gate bridge and the Navy Pier and all the corn rows in Iowa. I like Brooklyn and Fargo and Club Congress in Tuscon. I've been all through the deserts and the cities and the Pacific Northwest. One time a guy in a small apartment in Cambridge gave me a Richard Feynman book that changed my life. Traveling through America is what opened my eyes to the fallacy and lunacy of hatred and bigotry. I remember being 19 and going to an "art show" in the Castro district of San Francisco and realizing, much too late, that it was an explicit gay art show. I had a blast. I have fond memories of tubing on the lake with my parents in Alabama. First kisses. First poetry books. Seeing Wilco live at the Alabama Theater the night they won two Grammys. Seeing Ryan Adams at the Ryman and The Cure in Atlanta. I have a lot of uniquely American experiences that I am thankful for.

But I also have a lot of tension about America. I cannot pretend that we are not a country founded on mass genocide and slavery. I cannot pretend that the wounds of segregation and the lack of black civil rights was long ago enough for us to have healed as a nation. I cannot pretend that the suppression of women is not still happening here. I cannot pretend that our healthcare is as good as other developed countries. I cannot pretend that we are not actively discriminating against our gay friends and family members by denying them the right to marry. I cannot pretend that we are not in the lowest percentile of scientific literacy amongst developed countries. I cannot pretend we do not openly espouse a culture of ridiculous gun violence. I cannot pretend that our religious traditions are not harming progress. I cannot pretend that racism is over or that our children are getting the best education possible.

And for these reasons I awkwardly make my way through days like today with small jabs and jokes. I'm not trying to shit on your BBQ our pour out your bud light. Honestly, I'm trying to do what I think my heroes would have done. I don't think they would have been content to sit around congratulating themselves. They would have looked around and said, we have more work to do. It's interesting that the people who wanted to end slavery or bans on interracial marriage or who wanted women to vote and gays to marry...these people were criticized as un-American. I'm thankful they weren't bullied when people told them to quit their bitching or leave. Um, no thanks. I'm not going anywhere. I'm drinking a Mexican beer right now and soon I'll go into my song cave and listen to Icelandic doom metal. Because isn't that really what makes the freedom thing so great?

So now what? Toby Keith is going to come kick my ass? I'll be waiting with a Dos Equis.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Books. Music. Movies. 2012. Let's Do This Shit




1. Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue by Marquis de Sade

This book was written by the late eighteenth century libertine, Marquis de Sade. I'll not go into too much detail except to say that Napoleon had de Sade arrested for writing this book calling it, "the most abominable book ever engendered by the most depraved imagination." That should either make you want to read this book immediately or have nothing to do with it forever. I obviously chose the former.

2. Is Everyone Hanging Out With Me (And Other Concerns)? by Mindy Kaling

This is a super fun but ultimately forgettable collection of essays from one of the funniest television writers in Hollywood right now. Worth checking out, just don't expect David Sedaris.

3. Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Another brilliant effort by these two. Amazing essays dealing with the economics of heated cultural issues. Always funny, always factual. Highly recommended.

4. Free Will by Sam Harris

One of the best reads of the year. Short and sweet. Sam Harris argues that all free will is an illusion using as his proof advances in neuroscience as well as some fairly robust philosophy. Nerds only.

5. Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life by Louise M. Antony

This book was disappointing because I thought it would chronicle and discuss the major philosophers of history and their views on atheism and secularism. Instead, this is a collection of essays by modern philosophers, most unknown to me, making this one difficult to connect with.

6. Abraham Lincoln: Great American Historians on our 16th President edited by Brian Lamb

Great collection of essays on the life of Abraham Lincoln.

7. The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade

Compared to this one, the aforementioned Justine is like reading Dr. Suess. Seriously, this is probably the most disturbing book I have ever read. When I finally go insane, the reading of this book will likely be an early cause in retrospect. Proceed with caution.

8. W. Axl Rose by Mick Wall

Journalist Mick Wall does a great job telling the story of one of rock and roll's most enigmatic, misanthropic, and (in my opinion) often misunderstood front men.

9. The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice by Christopher Hitchens

Hitchens' sharp and scathing criticism of Mother Teresa as a fraud. Worth investigation.

10. The Dark Stuff: Selected Writings on Rock Music, 1972 - 1995 by Nick Kent

Great collection of essays on some of rock and roll's most interesting characters like Lou Reed, Neil Young, Brian Wilson, Syd Barrett, etc.

11. The Hunger Games by Suzzane Collins

This series of books is incredible. Easy to read and a lot of fun. They hype is true. Enough said.

12. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Second book in the series and my favorite of the three.

13. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Final book in the series and easily the worst one.

14. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

I can't remember the last time I had this much fun reading a book. I waited far too long to give it a shot after years of hearing about how great it was. Don't make the same mistake.

15. The Elements of Moral Philosophy by James Rachels

Technically this is a text book but it was actually a really warm read. Rachels efficiently and clearly outlines all of the major moral theories including cultural relativism, subjectivism, divine command theory, social contract, utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, etc. Worth checking out.

16. The 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Easily the dumbest, most over-rated book probably in the history of the written word. I count it as a national embarrassment that this was the most commonly sighted book during all of my travels last year.  The best thing to happen as a result of this horrendous disaster is the Bizzybiz Blog series in which she hilariously reviews the entire book. Seriously, check that out.

17. The Mystified Magistrate and Other Tales by Marquis de Sade

A surprisingly charming and morally centered collection of short stories by the infamous de Sade. Pleasant and funny read.

18. Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica by Joe Melver

This is a thorough, unauthorized biography of Metallica aimed at dispelling the truth about some of the more controversial events in their career. Ultimately I found it more biased and opinionated than objective and factual, making it difficult to recommend for anyone other than a diehard fan.

19. The Godfather by Mario Puzio

The incredible novel that spawned two incredible movies.

20. Metallica: The Monster Lives by Joe Berlinger

This is a book about the making of Some Kind of Monster, the critically acclaimed documentary about Metcallica's St. Anger record. It was really interesting learning the details about how the film came to be. A great companion piece to the film.

21. The Antichrist by Frederich Nietzsche

Nietzsche being all Nietzsche about religion. So yeah, I loved it.

22. Blackbird Singing: Lyrics and Poems, 1965 - 1999 by Paul McCartney

Collection of poetry from Sir McCartney. Most of it is boring. Some of it is really bad and then some of it is brilliant.

23. Everyone Loves You When You're Dead: Journeys Into Fame and Madness by Neil Strauss

Amazing collection of "off the record" interviews conducted for Rolling Stone covers over the years. There are a lot of candid, surprising revelations in this one about the biggest cultural icons of the last several decades. One of the best reads of the year.

24. The Bone House by Joel-Peter Witkin

One of my favorite photographers, Witkin specializes in disturbing atmospheres and subject matter. His work is horrifying and incredible.

25. The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity 1500-1800 edited by Nancy Lynn

This was an arduous collection of essays by historians tracing the modern threads of pornography to the 1500's. Yes, it was as boring as it sounds.

26. A Theft by Saul Bellow

My goodness I love this man's writing. Warm, funny and smart. This is the story of two lovers who know they cannot be together but always rediscover one another through their many unsuccessful relationships.

27. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Five incredible short stories from the king of horror. His writing is as good as it ever was throughout the decades. My favorites in this anthology were, "Fair Extension" and "A Good Marriage."


Songs in italics are my favorites and recommendations to immediately download. Don't be cheap. They're only $1. Discover new music!

1. Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts
(Miriam, She's 22, Good Morning)

2. Courtney Marie Andrews - No One's Slate Is Clean
(Bumper In The Hail, Sex Dreams, Songs For Tourists)

3. Electric Light Orchestra - Mr. Blue Sky
(Showdown, Telephone Line)

4. Ryan Adams - Live After Deaf
(Halloween, Star Sign)

5. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel
(all of it)

6. Jessie Baylin - Little Spark
(Yuma, The Winds)

7. Matthew Mayfield  - A Banquet For Ghosts
(Always, I Don't Know You At All)

8. Matthew Perryman Jones - Land of the Living
(Waking up The Dead, Theo)

9. Katy Perry - Teenage Dream (Deluxe Edition)
(Wide Awake, Circle The Drain)

10. Dave Matthews Band - Away From the World
(Sweet, The Riff)


Click the links for trailers. 

1. The Cabin In The Woods
2. The Innkeepers
3. The Loved Ones
4. Excision
5. The Kill List
6. Paranormal Activity 4
7. Lovely Molly
8. Absentia
9. Livid
10. V/H/S

Close calls: The PactSinister, Father's Day, Theater Bizarre


Sunday, August 05, 2012

Chick-Fil-A and Moral Responsibility

The Controversy and Why It Matters

Unless you've been living at the bottom of the ocean for the last several weeks you're no doubt familiar with the national controversy centered around the south's very own Christian chicken joint, Chick-Fil-A. It has come to light that between 2003 - 2010 Chick-Fil-A donated $5 million to anti-gay causes. For a comprehensive breakdown of the money given to these organizations and how they campaign to legislate homosexual discrimination please visit EqualityMatters.

Two of the organizations financially supported by Chick-Fil-A are worthy of note:


1. Exodus International is a promoter of "ex-gay therapy," which states that a person's homosexuality is an illness to be cured. This company refers to being LGBT as "perverse" and a form of "sexual brokenness." I have friends who have been subjected to this and it is horrific.

2. Family Research Council is literally designated as a hate-group by the SPLC for attempting to draw definitive correlations between homosexuals and child molestation/pedophilia.

Some folks have falsely suggested that Chick-Fil-A's donations have nothing to do with their patronage. However, a percentage of proceeds from every single sale at every single Chick-Fil-A goes to The Winshape Foundation (CFA's charitable arm) which then funnels portions of that money to the above anti-gay organizations. As it turns out, your patronage DOES affect the gay community.

To add fuel to the fire, CFA President Dan Cathy made some rather telling remarks in the press about his personal views on gay marriage. He says:
"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that...we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."
Cathy went on to say:
"I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,' and I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about."
I find it interesting that Cathy is appealing to the "biblical definition of the family unit." The fact is that there is no biblical consensus on what constitutes a family unit. Consider the incoherence. One book proclaims the marriage of foreigners blasphemous while another book considers it a blessing. One book says not to fornicate while another makes a virtue of offering your daughters to be raped. How many of the heroes of the bible had multiple wives and concubines? The Apostle Paul even encourages folks to avoid marriage all together. The point is that Cathy's appeals to the "biblical family unit" ring hollow to anyone who has ever seriously studied the Bible.

He then takes a shot at divorce which I found interesting. Surely he knows that many heterosexual and even church-going Christians have experienced divorce. His most audacious remarks suggest that we are inviting some unknown punishment from God for seeking to "redefine" marriage. Perhaps we should have avoided redefining slavery as well? How about women's right to vote? Redefinition is the hallmark of human progress and, quite poignantly, not our holy books.

The most clever thing Cathy did in these statements was to make an appeal to freedom of speech by alluding to the freedom our country permits him to "share his values."

This Is Not A Free Speech Issue

Contrary to what opponents of equal rights would have you believe, this is emphatically NOT an issue of free speech. Dan Cathy is perfectly within his first amendment rights to express his anti-gay opinions. What he said was ignorant and atrocious but I will fight for his right to say it. The same goes for the Westboro Baptist Church, people who believe they are Elvis and any other lunatic out there. No one is arguing that Dan Cathy had no right to the expression of his opinions. No one.

The reason people are upset is because Chick-Fil-A donates millions of dollars of it's consumers' money to organizations that actively seek to harm our gay friends, families and neighbors. It is precisely OUR right to the freedom of speech being utilized when we boycott, protest and criticize Chick-Fil-A for it's bigoted spending. The irony is palpable.

Chick-Fil-A has made a sucker out of anyone who has bought into the idea that participating in "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day" means supporting the freedom of speech. That is an intentionally dubious conflation of the real issue which, lest we forget, is how your money is being spent on the fight against civil rights.

Criticism, Intolerance, and Hatred

This week I have been accused several times of being intolerant and hateful as well as participating in a "corporate witch hunt." There is an important difference between criticism and intolerance. I'm not calling for Dan Cathy to be jailed for expressing opinions I disagree with. I'm not calling for the government to shut down every Chick-Fil-A for giving millions of dollars to hate groups. I'm simply criticizing them for it.

Want another dose of irony? Contrary to my stance of tolerant, peaceful criticism it is folks like Dan Cathy who proudly tout their intolerant beliefs. I don't want Cathy legally penalized for his lifestyle but he is the one who wants your gay friends, family members and neighbors legally prohibited from marriage! Discriminating against an individual or group based on their sexual orientation is actively participating in hatred and intolerance. To the contrary, I criticize based on people's thoughts and actions, without discrimination.

Boycotting and Moral Responsibility

So, what is our moral responsibility in this situation? Is boycotting an effective way to fight the battle for gay rights? Does eating a chicken sandwich matter? Is it plausible to boycott every organization that spends money in ways you disagree with?

These are all great questions. I'm still mapping my way through them but for now my answers look like this:

1. Our first moral responsibility in this and any situation is to take it seriously. You need to know that this is an issue of your money being spent to hurt innocent people and not a politicized shit-slinging contest over free speech. I'm personally choosing to distance myself from Chick-Fil-A in order to keep my money from hurting my gay friends, however small the amount may be. I don't consider myself a moral hero for doing this nor do I consider you or anyone else a homophobic bigot for choosing to continue eating there. Let me be absolutely clear here that my thoughts are descriptive, not prescriptive.
Rosa Parks being arrested in Montgomery, AL 1955.

2. Boycotting is absolutely proven effective. Here's a list of successful consumer boycotts that occurred in the last decade and we should shudder to forget The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 which was a seminal event in the Civil Rights movement.

3. Maybe eating a chicken sandwich matters, and maybe it doesn't. Several people have noted that thanks to Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, Cathy has likely had one of the most financially successful days in his business' history, suggesting that his decision was a good one. I disagree. Perhaps CFA had a good day. Perhaps they'll have a good year or maybe even a good decade. But there will come a day when they will either amend their anti-gay views or die.

The south will remain conservative for some time yet. But we will eventually catch up to our coastal brothers and sisters on the moral issues of our day just as we begrudgingly did with black civil rights and interracial marriage. It's our unfortunate calling card to be late to the moral progress party. As we've seen in cities like Boston, Chicago, New York City and San Francisco, the folks there are not interested in tacitly funding homosexual discrimination. Eating chicken sandwiches matters a hell of a lot...but more to the future of Chick-fil-A than the gay community.

4. Is it plausible to boycott every company who spends money in ways you disagree with? Probably not. Is it possible to even know how all the companies you patronize spend their money? Absolutely not. Contrary to accusations this week, I am not endorsing a "corporate witch hunt." I'm making the best moral decision I can with the information I have. Morality is complicated and nuanced, not black and white the way our mythologies and politicians lead us to believe. In the case of Chick-Fil-A I am simply constrained to distance myself.  Apathy and cynicism are not the answer. I apply social pressure wherever I am reasonably able to do so.

I leave you folks with this question that has, so far, gone unanswered.

Would you give your money to Chick-Fil-A if they donated millions of dollars to organizations that actively fought against equal marriage for black people? Consider Cathy's remarks about how allowing gays to marry actually warrants the wrath of the God of the Universe. Replace gay with black.

Would you support that organization? What's the difference?

In Reason,

Clint Wells


Homosexuality, Equality and Human Secularism
Homosexuality, Bigotry and False Victimization

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What Do I Believe? Confessions of an Atheist

Just a few hours ago a young couple knocked on my door here in East Nashville. They both shook my hand and seemed nice. The young girl handed me a book and told me that it was all about the "journey of freedom in American history." She informed me that the book was normally $30 in book stores but that she was willing to sell it to me for a donation of $15.
I said no thanks and began to shut the door. The young man asked if I would like to receive Bible studies in the mail for a small donation. Again, I said no thanks. Finally the gal asked if they could pray for me to which I, of course, respectfully declined. They looked at me oddly and wished me a pleasant evening as they made their way to the next home.

In my last essay I talked about evangelicalism and proselytizing (Thoughts On Easter and Religious Criticism) so I'll try not to repeat myself here. There are a few interesting things about today's experience that I'd like to talk about.

Money and Prayer

I found it interesting that this couple of evangelicals only wanted to pray with me after they had dealt with the donation issue. On the one hand this makes perfect sense. The goal of their door-to-door marketing may in fact be to save souls and spread the good news of Jesus, but we all know that this is practically impossible to facilitate without money. On the other hand I find their priorities telling. By the lights of Christian theology, prayer is perhaps the most important and, more succinctly, efficacious aspect of religious life. It is direct communication with the creator of the universe. It seems that if one really believed in the power and possibility of prayer, that would be the place to start. Not with petty petitions for small donations in exchange for a vague and, no doubt, proselytizing book about the
"journey of freedom in America."

But this is not uncommon. In my tenure as an evangelical Christian I often heard appeals for donations that began with money and ended with the pious "coveting of thoughts and prayers." I recall a 3.3 million dollar stewardship campaign at my first church home, Pelham First Baptist. During the month-long stewardship campaign every Sunday was geared towards generating money for the already purchased (on faith, of course) multi-million dollar annex the church was building. The pastors cunningly wove a thread of practical pleading with grandiose sermonettes about prayer, faith and trusting the Lord to provide.

I always wondered: what if we don't raise the money? Are we willing to interpret our deficit as God's way of telling us not to build the annex? Perhaps 3.3 million dollars would be better spent, I don't know, feeding the poor, restoring broken homes or improving schools and playgrounds for children in the community. 

Well, of course not. The church never did raise all of the money but they sure did start building that annex. On faith. It's the kind of confirmation bias that is so obtuse and steadfast that I find myself slightly in awe of it. 

Prayer is invoked to make people think that things other than practical solutions are needed to make this material world function. It's a marketing tool. I've written about the ineffectiveness of prayer in this essay (Counting the Hits and Ignoring the Misses). Check it out. Or don't. 

Actually, pray about it!

The Conversation

Whenever I envision people coming to my door to talk about religion I like to imagine myself inviting them in, making some coffee and having a civil discussion about our respective beliefs. However, that rarely happens. Life is busy and talking to a stranger about the nature of God is often awkward, time consuming and ineffective. I'm tempted to pity the travelers. Selling a product, whatever it is, door-to-door is a tough job. I remember doing door-to-door evangelism when I was in high school. We were all so terrified and uncomfortable. I remember how mortified one of the girls was when we coincidentally knocked on the door of one of her friends from school.

The last thing we wanted was for these people to invite us in and present rational arguments for why what we were selling might be as harmful as it is wrong. I could see relief in the faces of my would-be converters as I briskly declined their petitions for money and prayer. In many ways the conversation is a miscarriage, doomed before it even begins. 

Some people have accused me of proselytizing for atheism on my blog, twitter feed, and facebook page. I'd like to clear that up, if I may. I do spend a lot of my energy criticizing religion for it's harmful side affects. My thoughtful believing friends share my complaints. I decry the anti-science movement of mainstream Christianity as well as it's rampant homophobic bigotry. I lampoon televangelists preying on the weak and disenfranchised. I point out logic fallacies, cognitive dissonance and behavioral inconsistencies. Yes. But this is hardly trying to sell anyone on what I believe. The truth is, people never ask me what I believe.

Many people incorrectly assume atheism to be a belief system. I've written an essay about this problem (Common Misconceptions: Atheism Is a Religion) but I'll briefly clarify: Atheism is a rejection of a claim, not a positive claim itself. As one satirist noted, if atheism is a belief then not collecting stamps is a hobby. Not collecting stamps may very well be my favorite hobby because I literally do it all the time. See the difference? Some atheists believe in capitalism while others are socialists. Some atheists believe in free love and peace while others believe in mass genocide. Some atheists are kind and reasonable, others are assholes. You see, people cannot be defined by what they do not believe. There is no word for all of the people in the world who do not believe in Santa Clause.

Well, actually we call them adults. 

What Do I Believe? 

I subscribe to a worldview called secular humanism. Secular humanism is defined as the embracement of human reason, ethics and justice while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, psuedoscience, or superstition as the basis for reality or decision making. 

I believe in methodological naturalism as the only reliable way of building models that correspond with observable reality. This is not to be confused with metaphysical naturalism which states that ONLY matter exists. If I were a betting man I would bet on materialism. However, because this is simply unknowable, I respectfully reserve judgment until more evidence is in.

I believe in objective, provisional morality. There is no evidence for either absolute or relative morality. Rather, morality evolves with our understanding of pain values. The evolution of morality is clearly seen in the annals of history and as our bioethics continues to evolve we may even arrive at a place where it is immoral to kill ants. Morality is objective because it belongs to the species, not the individual. This is the most reasonable and rational view of morality I have ever encountered. If you would like to read about it I highly recommend Michael Shermer's wonderful book, "The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share and Follow the Golden Rule."

I believe in the reproductive freedom of women. I also believe in a very serious and evolving conversation about the nature of life, consciousness, conception and value. We simply do not know enough to deny women their reproductive freedom. I believe existing life is more important than potential life. Both sides of this debate have a lot of growing up to do. 

I believe that any and all homosexual bigotry is unfounded, shameful and evil. It is a monstrous movement completely motivated by religious fundamentalism and will be a hallmark of religion's dinosaur-like relevance in the evolving moral world. To all of my Christian friends: if you want to stay relevant you must amend your archaic and disgusting hatred for homosexuals. It will mark your extinction in social discourse. You can evolve or die.

I believe that the question of god's existence is unknowable. Supernatural phenomenon are, by definition, outside the purview of science. In regards to the existence of god we are all agnostic. We simply do not know. I dissent from my believing friends by rejecting the claim of god's existence based on insufficient evidence. Belief and knowledge are two different things. I do not believe in a god or gods but this is not to be confused with the false assertion that I know there is no god. Please seek to understand and integrate the difference. 

Lastly (for now), I believe in people. I believe that, despite our differences in belief, we can find a way to exist together respectfully. We can find a way to be good neighbors and co-workers. We can find a way to make beauty together and undo the ugliness of the world. Make music and art. We can listen to one another and grow and be known. We can taste the best of what it is to be alive and aware in such a brilliant and stunning universe. 

We're all in this together. 

In reason,

Clint Wells

Sunday, April 08, 2012

What's the Point?: Thoughts on Easter and Religious Criticism

This morning I woke up with my fiance as she was preparing to go to work around eight o'clock. I sent my younger brother a birthday text message and idly pondered the coincidence of his birthday shared not only with the death of Kurt Cobain, but also, at least this year, the commemorative resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I made some coffee and came into my office to do some writing. Immediately (and unsurprisingly) I noticed the many religious accolades of my believing friends via social media. I lightheartedly made a few comments of my own ("He is risen!" I said to myself in the mirror) and took note of the "heathen" atheists walking their dogs and exercising outside my office window on this glorious Easter morning. For reasons unknown to me I put on Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska and was struck by the poignancy of this line from "Atlantic City:"

"Everything dies, baby, that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back."

Despite my enduring dissent from religion in general and Christianity in particular, I still find the idea of redemption compelling and beautiful. Hardly the explicit domain of Christianity, this idea has likely always been present in us. Most experts agree that religion first evolved as a response to the quickening of our mortality. Our first pre-religious rituals involve the burial of the dead and the rituals, themselves, generally centered around the idea of surviving death. This is indisputably a hallmark of the world's modern religions as well.

However, there is a secular language we have adopted since the advent of modern science that I find just as beautiful, if not more so. We've learned in the last several hundred years that the makeup of all matter is virtually the same. On a small level we have learned that we, as human beings, share DNA not only with our closest relatives like chimps and bonobos but also with distant cousins like whales and birds and even plants and trees. On a larger level we have learned that all organic matter containing carbon was produced in stars. As the late Carl Sagan famously quipped:

"We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff."

We are programmed to live and yet everything dies. This is a sobering realization for all of us, no matter where we fall on the spectrum of belief. The story of Christ, and particularly, the story of Christ's resurrection, is a pivotal balm when contemplating the sad state of dying things for the Christian. For within the resurrection of Christ my believing friends see also the promise of their own resurrections and the resurrections of those dear to them. The atheist has no such comfort and, in regards to the specific matter of coping with death, I am sympathetic to the beliefs of my peers although I cannot, myself, assent to them.

Well, that's all good and well isn't it? So, the question is often asked of me, why do I constantly make a hobby of criticizing religion? If I am sympathetic to it's most dearly held predication (the fear of death) and I am able to regard it reasonably if not respectfully then why not leave well enough alone?

This question is only a good one superficially. Let me explain to you why.

Christianity is fundamentally an evangelical religion with explicit admonitions to proselytize the world. The Great Commission recorded in the final verses of Matthew have Jesus saying,

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."

First of all, I am quite happy that modern Christians largely consider the Old Testament to be not only irrelevant but often times diametrically opposed to their more tolerant, love everyone version of Christianity. Back in the days of Moses dissent from the God of the Jews was dealt with swiftly by stoning the guilty parties to death. To the chagrin of my believing friends, one does not have to step far back to wade in the blood of those who dissented only several hundred years ago and were burned as heretics or dipped in oil as witches or beheaded as atheists. I'm fond of acknowledging the Catholic church's 350 year late apology to Galileo after threatening him with death for stating the now undisputed fact of a heliocentric universe.

I digress.

Though I am not in any immediate danger of being murdered for disagreeing with my Christian comrades, I am, unfortunately, a victim of their constant proselytizing. Christians, in my experience, aren't content to hold their beliefs privately. They must judge the world. Just the other day a thoughtful believing friend of mine quoted a dense theologian he no doubt respected who, having the courage (read:audacity) of judgment I simply do not possess, deemed all non-believers to be "headed towards the void" and "alienated from themselves." My response to the theologian?

You don't even know me, motherfucker. And even that is much more time by way of response this cretin deserves.

Being told by strangers that I am unhappy and incomplete is but a mild irritation compared to the truly incredible indictment that I am going to suffer in hell for all eternity. That's right. I am going to suffer in hell for ALL OF ETERNITY because I believe in different things about the world than you do. This is made more startling when considering how many versions of Christianity exist in the world (Protestantism boasts 33,000 denominations). Which one buys you a ticket to heaven? One of them? Some of them? None of them?

Sadly, no one is an authority on this question. Myself included.

The difference is, while I criticize the more evil aspects that come with religion (and many of my thoughtful religious friends agree with these criticisms), I don't proselytize and I certainly do not threaten dissenters with eternal suffering.

Until the religious thinkers of the world treat me with the same respect I am bound to chip away at their crass dogmas. Remember, everyone has the right to believe in whatever they want to. But what they do not have is the right to not be criticized or offended. That goes for you and for me, dear reader. Only, I'm much less likely to knock on your door.

In Reason.

Clint Wells

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Clint Talks Horror Part 1: Top 5 Ways to Survive In a Horror Movie

I've been watching horror movies since before I can remember. No, really. Before my late grandmother passed away she was fond of telling me stories about how afternoons at her house would pass by in complete silence as my sister and I sat enthralled by A Nightmare on Elm Street at age two. Apparently this was my favorite at the time and, unsurprisingly, the Nightmare series remains my favorite horror franchise today.

One of my favorite pastimes as a kid was going to the video store each week and renting every movie off the horror shelf sequentially until I had seen them all at least once. The only ones forbidden to me were the Faces of Death films because they were allegedly documentaries of actual deaths. This turned out to be untrue but I nevertheless found a way to see all of them and, again, more than once. When I was in elementary school I religiously purchased Fangoria magazine and collected every issue of R.L. Stine's immaculate Goosebumps series. By middle school I had read over twenty Stephen King novels. I've since devoured his entire collection and additionally the libraries of Anne Rice, H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Thomas Harris, and Richard Matheson.

Look, all I'm trying to say is: I've got some respectable credentials. That is why if you ever find yourself being attacked in your dreams by a man with knives for hands or are being chased by a machete wielding maniac at summer camp or find yourself in a zombie infested, post-apocolyptic world...you need to STFU and listen to these top 5 rules for survival.

1. Do not split up.

Let me dispel a common myth right now. You WILL NOT fare better if you split up. First of all there are perceptive powers in numbers. More eyes to see. More ears to hear. More minds to develop real solutions to whatever horrific plight you've found yourselves in. Secondly, should you be attacked, you're more likely to survive in a group because you are less vulnerable. Lastly, you've got to have someone to make love to when you've decided to stop the fight. Come on, folks! Stick together.

2. Do not run upstairs.

Okay, this doesn't require a physics degree. Running upstairs is basically equivalent to killing yourself. THERE IS NOWHERE TO GO. Your options when you run upstairs are:

a. hide in a closet or
b. jump out of a window.

Either way you are dead. Think about it. When running for your life you want options. You want expansive flat land. You want woods. You want crowded city markets. For the love of all possible gods, stop running up the damn stairs.

3. LISTEN to terrified people.

If someone, especially someone you love and trust, bursts into your office with hair turned gray babbling about a monster that lives in their closet trying to eat them please give them a chance to explain themselves. People who have been frightened to their core generally have a hard time explaining the situation. Do not become impatient and dismissive. Hear them out. Chances are they took some bad drugs but it's a strange world we live in and you should pay attention to their claims. This is particularly important with children. As we become adults we generally become cynical and jaded. We've decided that we do not live in a world of monsters. This resignation will easily get you killed in a horror film scenerio.

4. If your house is haunted, LEAVE.

This should be a no brainer. I'm not talking about a dripping faucet or groaning floorboards. I'm talking about when an entity drags you out of bed at night or when something is lurking upside down on the ceiling behind you in the bathroom mirror. I'm talking about when televisions suddenly turn on and off even when you unplug them and eerie voices whispering your name from the basement. GET YOUR ASS OUT OF THERE. Do not attempt to communicate with the spirits. Do not set up a video camera. Do not hire an exorcist or a priest and DO NOT pretend that it isn't there. Sometimes these things follow you wherever you go because the house isn't haunted, you are. In that unfortunate case you don't have many options. But how will you know until you leave?

5. Always maintain your vehicle.

Okay, this is a long-term, blanket strategy. Perhaps your greatest tool in surviving a horror movie scenario is having a running automobile. How many times has someone been on the edge of escape but was then brutally murdered because the car wouldn't start? Too often if you ask me. Your car is your salvation so ingrain this checklist into your brain and keep it maintained:

a. make sure your battery is fully charged.
b. make sure your starter is reliable.
c. make sure you have gas.
d. keep a spare key hidden inside the car.
e. always check the backseat and trunk if uncertain.

Well, there you have it folks. If you apply what you've learned today I'd say you've increased your chances of survival by about 75%. For more in depth survival techniques pertaining to zombies check out The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. As a disclaimer I must say that if you find yourself in a supernatural horror scenario then most bets are off. Not all monsters are unvanquishable but if you're being haunted by an eternal demon who kills you in your dreams then I'm afraid there really isn't much hope for you. Sleep tight!

Clint Wells

Friday, December 16, 2011

President Clint

I was going through some old boxes and I found a photo album that my mom made for me and gave me as a gift a few years ago. It's a bunch of pictures of me growing up and all of the pictures are of course adorable.

On the last page I found this letter that I wrote on February 22, 1991 when I was seven years old. It reads as follows:

President Clint

If I were President to help the United States of America, I would get people to stop littering and to help people I would try my best to keep off drugs(!) because they might die and I love them. So I would try to keep people off drugs and to help the world I would just help, help and help just like I've said. That's what it's like being President.

Submitted for the approval of the midnight society,

Adult Clint

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rick Perry and the Power of the Internet in the Marketplace of Ideas

Rick Perry's latest campaign video has gone viral. Over the last week or so it has generated an astonishing six million views. However, I'm not so sure his marketing team anticipated the negative exposure it would generate for their campaign. The video currently has 654,114 dislikes versus 20, 549 likes. If you're at all familiar with YouTube then you already know that the like/dislike ratio is a fairly telling barometer for how that video is being received by the public. First I want to talk about the video and then I want to talk for a bit about the power of the internet in the marketplace of ideas. Here is the video if you haven't seen it. I want to briefly address his main points.

1. "I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian."

First of all, admitting that you are a Christian puts you in company with every president in American history including Barack Obama. In fact, it's pretty well established that in a country with an evangelical majority you must at least superficially subscribe to Christianity to become the president. There is no shame in this. To the contrary, a presidential hopeful would incur the shame of the pubic for stating the exact opposite. In other words, Perry's opening line is self-refuting nonsense.

2. "You don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there's something wrong in the country when gays can serve openly in the military..."

It really doesn't take a genius of moral philosophy to see that serving in the military should have nothing to do with sexual orientation. I've discussed the civil rights of homosexuals elsewhere but for now it should suffice to say that anyone who wants to risk his or her life defending the country they love should have equal opportunity to do so. Believing that homosexuality is evil does not make you a bigot. In my opinion this just makes you pathetically ignorant. However when you seek to strip away basic civil rights because of those beliefs, that's when you become a bigot. The fact is that homosexual bigotry has simply lost in the marketplace of ideas. It is currently being relegated into the heap of human failure alongside slavery and the subjugation of women. Rick Perry not only shows the world that he is an inhumane and evil bigot, but also that he considers this to be a pillar of his dearly held Christian beliefs. I hope my Christian friends are appalled and embarrassed by this.

3. "...or our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."

This is a direct lie. There is no law stating that kids cannot celebrate Christmas or pray in school. When I was in high-school there were several Christian organizations that met on campus. One met every morning before class at the school flag and offered coffee and donuts to students in addition to tracts, prayer and sermons. In the lobby of my high-school Gideons passed out copies of the New Testament. During lunch a college student representing Campus Crusade had free reign over the lunch room praying with students and inviting them to weekly bible studies. It was considered an honor to be a part of the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). I also clearly remember a group of students wanting to start a group for atheism and being prohibited by the staff. These are my personal experiences and they are not very different than many in my generation across the country.

Here is the deal. The United States is a pluralistic country. This means that we recognize all
religions equally and that we do not endorse one as a national sectarian religion. That means that schools (government funded institutions) are not allowed to show favoritism to a certain religion. Students may pray in school, in fact we were always encouraged to do so. However, the teachers were never to mandate or lead their own prayers. The reasoning is self-evident.

The truth about most evangelicals is that they do not want religious freedom. They want Christian freedom. Many evangelical parents would be horrified if school sanctioned adults were handing out copies of the Koran to students before school. Many parents would scream their throats raw if their precious Christian children were being forced to pray to Allah or Odin or Ishtar. Rick Perry's message is intentionally dishonest and meant to emotionally stir what he obviously considers to be an impressionable and gullible public. Thankfully, we are proving him wrong.

4. "As president, I will end Obama's war on religion..."

I found this one most interesting. First of all Obama has repeatedly and explicitly stated that he is an evangelical Christian. You can read some of his statements where he talks about coming to Christian faith by choice later in life because he understood that Jesus died for his sins. Praying every day, he says that public service is just one of the ways he can express his Christian faith. Rick Warren, one of America's most prominent evangelicals, was the "spiritual leader" chosen by Obama to launch his inauguration with an invocational prayer. Secondly, haven't a lot of conservative pundits (34% roughly 1/3 according to a 2010 pew poll) spent countless hours and wasted energy attempting to perpetuate the rumor that Obama is a Muslim? How can he be a Muslim and be waging a war on religion? Idiots.

5. "...and I will fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage."

The founding fathers and the documents that make up the bedrock of American policy are intentionally and explicitly secular. Sure some of the founding fathers were religious (mostly Deists) but they recognized that the only way to truly be free from the religious oppression they were running from was to keep church and state separated. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment specifically prohibits the establishment of a national religion and the favor of one religion over another by the government. This is quite obviously NOT what Rick Perry wants. Rick Perry seems to think that our "religious heritage" is a specifically Christian heritage. This is clearly not true if any of you have ever truly investigated the making of America.

6. "Faith made America strong and it can make her strong again."

Okay, this is obviously pandering nonsense but he can have that. Yeah, Rick. "Faith" made America strong and "faith" can make her strong again. I'm happy to receive a lesson on faith from bloated millionaires who can't even remember their own policies for presidential debates and who preach intolerant, homophobic bigotry. Classic.


The Power of the Internet in the Marketplace of Ideas

I'm so thankful for the Enlightenment and the exponential technological boom we have been experiencing ever since. From the printing press to antibiotics to clean water systems to doubling life expectancy to central heating and air to cures for disease to space travel to velcro to birth control to iPods to bifocals to particle colliders we are currently experiencing the most exciting time to be a human being.

I'm particularly thankful today for the internet. Science works
because it must survive it's own rigid self-correcting process of peer review. Scientists don't just win Nobel Prizes for coming up with ideas. These ideas must WORK and we find out if they do or do not work because these ideas get independently tested and verified over and over before they are accepted. Science works. Maybe there is a god and maybe that god is Rick Perry's god (uh oh) and maybe that god works miracles in the natural world. MAYBE. In the meantime, science WORKS. Think about that as you're reading this blog post in a well lit, well conditioned room. Think of the thousands of songs on your iPod or those nice running shoes you just wore to the gym. Think about the glass of clean water you are drinking and the 911 speed dial on your phone in case your spouse has another epileptic seizure. Science. It works.

Now, the marketplace of ideas is not very different. However, for centuries, the marketplace has been controlled by bureaucrats who have sought to stifle the free thought of the masses. Why? Because they're evil fucks who want to control everything, that's why. These are the people who wish to control information to keep you and I towing their line. These are the people who put Galileo on trial for suggesting the now commonly accepted idea of heliocentrism. These are the people who imprisoned Socrates and fed him hemlock for asking questions. These are the people who burned atheists and "heretics" at the stake. For far too long these people controlled the marketplace of ideas to the detriment and retardation of human progress.

Not any more, folks. When someone like Rick Perry claims that children can't pray in schools or that Obama isn't a Christian or that America was founded on Christian principles we can all very easily and quickly google those claims and find them erroneous. We are no longer an easily disregarded minority in our small towns. We are a voice that must be heard. We are now unified the world over and can now strongly hold to account those who used their power to subdue us with bad and non-information.

The intellectual war is over because it just got a lot harder to be full of shit. Rick Perry's laughable campaign is over and the YouTube response to his latest video is proof. Goodbye Rick Perry. I will miss enjoying every bit of your public stupidity. And for whoever is next, we'll be waiting and hoping you aren't as evil and pathetic because if you are, you will not survive in the (finally) free marketplace of ideas. Thanks to the internet. Thanks to science. Thanks to the courage of everyone like me. And like you.

In reason,

Clint Wells

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Oddness of Belief and Ritual - Sunday

I was just lying here, reading Bukoswki as my two pugs snored beside me, thinking about the Sabbath Day. I skimmed through the television early this morning and spent some time listening to all of the TV preachers. All in all there were six of them (bear in mind I only have 10 channels) and they were all grinding that same axe. Working that same machine. Telling that same lie. Capitalizing on that same fear.

One of them was talking about misery and struggle (as they all do). He was comparing misery and struggle to being lost in a desert (as they all do). He was telling his listeners to take heart when their struggles and miseries seemed too big to handle. Why? Because the bigger the desert the bigger the blessing. The bigger the hopelessness and misery the bigger the lesson God has for you when/if He chooses to be your deliverer.

The pastor, of course, shouted all of this and when he got to the end the organist, of course, played with passion and the congregation, of course, shouted, laughed and many were even sitting with tears running down their tired faces.

It's all terribly boring, isn't it. It's all terribly pitiable, isn't it?

What are the greatest fears of mankind?

1. We don't know how we got here.
2. We don't know where we are going.
3. We are going to die.
4. There may be no meaning to our suffering.

I certainly don't have any satisfying answers to the above questions and fears. Evolutionary biology has solved the answer of how human beings got here as a species and how life has evolved into the diversity we see around us but the big question of "where it all came from" remains a mystery. As far as where we are going it seems, by all reasonable accounts, that once you reach brain-death you go nowhere and simply cease to exist. Death is something no man can escape, despite our most dearly held mythologies. And other than the small meaning we define for ourselves, there seems to be no cosmic reason for any of our sufferings.

These are my default positions on life's greatest mysteries. I don't find them particularly consoling but it does give me a certain amount of satisfaction to adopt a skeptical posture because it is clearly the most intellectually honest one. Whether you are a Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Buddhist or an atheist, we all share the same fate and the same fears. This I know.

But the Christian has a firm answer to these fears. I heard it clearly on the television today. I heard it clearly in my decade of evangelical christianity. I read it clearly in the teachings of the Bible. It's quite simple and not unlike thousands of other myths across the world. Unsurprisingly there is a thread throughout each answer to our greatest fears.

1. God made you intentionally by his own will and special creation. Though you may not understand it, you were put here for a reason.

As far as marketing an idea goes this is a perfect answer because it appeals to both successful and unsuccessful people. If life is going well for you then you are able to see it as a confirmation that, of course, God is looking out for you. If you suffer in untold miseries (as most of the world does) then you are able to take comfort in the fact that, though you don't understand your present struggle, you were made with a purpose. In this sense Christianity has made a virtue out of suffering. The preacher today was emphasizing this by drawing a correlation between the size of your blessing and the size of your struggle.

2. When you die you will live with God in perfect unity and bliss as you were meant to for all of eternity.

You will finally be freed of struggle. Free of pain and misery. Free of bounced checks and unpaid bills and mundane jobs and tyrannical bosses and abusive fathers and collect callers and dismal parents and no friends and impotency and disease and fatigue and garbage and lost love and disappointment and being picked last and tears and drudgery and slavery and obesity and acne and emasculation and so on and so forth.

3. You were not meant to die.

Death is unnatural. You were made to live in perfect unity with God for all of eternity but that all changed when Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden therefore plunging perfect humanity into a condition of total depravity. Luckily, God sent Himself to die for that depravity so that we could all be restored into our original state which was, of course, a state that was never meant to experience or taste death. Life is temporary. It will soon be over and you will be in Paradise forever with no pain.

4. Your suffering has meaning.

When life beats you down mercilessly you can be assured that the God who created everything is intimately involved in your suffering. After all, when he took on humanity and the sins of the world he was able to taste what you taste and may therefore empathize with you wholly. In this way any and all suffering may be neatly filed under "God moves in mysterious ways." Consider Elisabeth Fritzl. At age 11 Elisabeth began suffering abuse at the hands of her father. When she was 18, Elisabeth's father lured her into his basement, drugged her and locked her in. For the next 24 years he visited her three days a week to bring her food and often raped her. Elisabeth gave birth to seven children in her captivity. One child died a few days after birth while three of the children were taken up to live seemingly normal lives while their mother remained imprisoned, tortured and raped below them. Imagine what prayers and petitions ran from this poor girl's heart. For over two decades suffering the most unfathomable misery. God certainly does move in mysterious ways. His ways are so mysterious, it seems, that it is as if he does not move at all. This is one story of countless millions easily forgotten under the auspice of the cosmic meaning of suffering. It is a particularly evil teaching.

Consider these answers, folks. Does it give you any pause that they are so wonderfully tailed to calm your greatest fears? Do these answers strike you at all as pandering to your deepest unsurities?

I do not know many things. I really don't. I do not know if there is a god or not and I certainly don't know if that god is or is not Jesus Christ. I just don't know. Here are a few things I do know, however. I know the following to be ABSOLUTE FACTS. Please consider them seriously.

1. No one knows how we got here.
2. No one knows where we are going.
3. No one escapes death.
4. No one knows if suffering has cosmic meaning.

Think for yourselves. Question authority. Be skeptical about what you've been told your whole life. It was probably untrue and based on fear.

In reason,

Clint Wells

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bread of the World and Thoughts About (Not) Hymn Writing

Greetings hymn nerds. Today Bruce Benedict of Cardiphonia released a new album of hymn re-writes inspired by the Lord’s Supper. Along with several other musicians around the country I was invited to give one of these texts a shot. You can stream it below and the link should allow you to purchase it as well. If you need a chord chart just shoot me a message and I’ll get it to you.

I suppose this is a good time to talk about hymn writing. I’ve been writing hymns for almost ten years. When I first met Brian and began attending Red Mountain the idea of re-writing hymns was foreign to me. As I began to familiarize myself with the work of Christopher Miner and dive in to some of the ancient hymn writers I was compelled by the force of the language of those texts. I started writing my own hymns in 2003 and from then on many of them found their home on the Red Mountain records that Brian and I produced. Over the last several years I have written over a hundred hymns. Many of them lie forgotten on my iPod. Originally this page was dedicated to releasing all of those unrecorded songs. That goal remains but it’s become less of a priority as I spend most of my time out on the road playing guitar for other artists.

Those of you who know me know that although writing hymns is dear to my heart creatively, it’s something that I’ve lost a lot of interest in. These days it seems that I only write hymns when people specifically ask me to. I think my days of pouring through ancient hymnals are, for the most part, behind me. Having said that, I still enjoy the challenge when someone has a text they’d like me to try and put music to. This seems to be happening more and more. Ironically, the last batch of hymns I wrote for the final Red Mountain record, All Things New, was my best batch. And some of these new songs, including the one above, are the best I’ve written.

I don’t know what all of this means, really. So I’ll just end by saying that there is something wonderfully mysterious about singing songs with people. I don’t care what you do or don’t believe (and I’ll appreciate the same courtesy) but I’m really proud to have contributed to projects that encourage people to sing together.

This new song intentionally doesn’t have a chorus. Instead there are just a few “sha la la’s” where a chorus should be. I don’t have the audacity to add my own words to these great texts and, well, sometimes there are no words.

Hope you are all well. Lots of hugs and kisses and pizza to you all.

Bread of the World

Clint Wells

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

New Pedalboard

Hey folks. Thought I'd take a few minutes to talk about some new sounds I'm creating and show you the new board I've made. Lot's of cool new stuff going on. Hope you enjoy it.


First thing to mention is the new pedalboard. I got an artist endorsement with a pedalboard company in Nashville called Pro Stage Gear. They are most famous for their Pedaltrain pedalboards. They are lightweight, sturdy, easy to route and super affordable. You can even get them with ATA style road cases and still only spend a fraction of what other people are charging for boards. This is the PT-2. Measuring roughly 12x24 this was a considerable downsize from my Showcase board (16x32). I'm not super thrilled with how I've used the space above but I'm literally about to spend the next month and a half on the road and needed this put together as quickly and efficiently as possible.

I've got some super cool new pedals I want to talk about. The first one is the Eventide Space pedal (lower right corner.) This is the newest addition to the truly incredible lineup made by Eventide. It is essentially a studio quality reverb unit but with TONS more. I replaced my Eventide Timefactor digital delay with the Space because it has all kinds of spooky, beautiful ambient patches to cover my long delay/landscape tones. It covers all of the standard reverbs (Hall, Room, Plate and Spring) as well as cool effects like delay, tremolo, reverse and modulation. Like all Eventide pedals every patch gives you an amazing amount of shape control making this pedal easily the most versatile one I've ever owned. Some of the coolest sounds are Shimmer (octave) and Blackhole. This guy made a pretty great video demoing his top 10 presets. It comes with 100 by the way! Rad! Also, next to the Space is an auxiliary switch made by Loop Master that I've set to toggle through my presets so that I can jump patches faster.


I've also got some brand new stuff happening in the dirt department. The Timmy pedal is a classic boutique low to mid-gain overdrive made by Paul Cohrane. It is the warmest, richest overdrive pedal I've ever owned. I formerly used both a Fulltone Full Drive II as well as a Maxon OD808 and this thing smokes them both, easily. In addition to volume and gain knobs you also get a bass and treble knob as well as a comp cut switch that provides a lot of tonal shaping. It's super saturated and sparkly and doesn't suck any of my clean tone out. Super badass!

Next to the Timmy is a JHS Angry Charlie Channel Drive distortion pedal. I've also gotten an artist endorsement with JHS pedals, a boutique pedal company based out of Missouri. The Angry Charlie is a wonderful high gain "brown sound" distortion meant to simulate El84 tones and Marshall gains like the JCM 800. I use this for all of my high gain tones and with the Timmy on in front of it I have a lot of super cool tone shaping options. I had a ProCo RAT before this and I'm never going back. Other badass JHS pedals to look for are the Mini Foot Fuzz and the Warble Univibe, both of which will be on my board soon. JHS also does some really unique mods on long revered pedals. For example, I had the folks at JHS take my Ernie Ball VPJR and replace the output/tuner out with a buffered splitter. This cleans up the long known noise issues with the pedal as well as gives you a buffered signal throughout your chain. In my opinion these dudes smoke Keeley in the modification department.


On the top right underneath the board I've mounted a Loop Master Pedalpatch so that I can have easy access for my guitar and amp. It's a super affordable way to clean up your routing.


Here you can see how the pedal patch works beneath the board as well as get a view of my JHS Little Black Buffer pedal also mounted beneath the board. In addition to the buffered splitter I've had installed into my Ernie Ball Volume pedal this bad boy buffers my original signal from my guitar all the way to my amplifier. It doesn't matter how nice your pedals or cables are. If you're running pedalboards with patch cables then you are losing tone. This little guys solves that problem.


As you can see I've tried to keep things as clean as possible beneath the board with the wiring and routing. I'm using a combination of both George L's and Lava cables. Both are solder-less and provide the freedom to wire your board any way you like rather than be constrained by positioning. I'm powering everything with the Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 which Pedaltrain makes easily mountable underneath (another reason they are super badass).

A couple extra tidbits. My Empress Tremolo (analog tremolo with tap tempo), Electro Harmonix Micro Pog (polyphonic octave generator) and Zvex SHO (clean boost) are sitting on top of home made "boosters." I went to Home Depot and made several half inch boosters out of scrap wood based on the dimensions of my pedals. This is so that the pedals that sit on the back of the board are easily accessible without accidentally hitting knobs on the lower pedals. I covered them with black gaff tape and velcroed them to my board just like a pedal. Wala, a handy solution!

Okay, enough nerdy stuff for now. Questions? Ask em!

In Reason,

Clint Wells

Monday, July 25, 2011

Homosexuality, Equality and Secular Humanism

This weekend New York passed the Marriage Equality Act which allows gender neutral marriages for same sex/opposite sex couples as well as protects religious organizations from penalty for refusing to sanctify or recognize a marriage that contradicts their religious beliefs.

This is yet another landmark in the ongoing homosexual civil rights issue. The New York Times published several touching stories about middle aged, life long partners finally being able to have their relationship validated by the state. For the first time hundreds of American families in New York are being treated equally.

Well, not completely equally.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex marriages are not recognized by the federal government. What does this mean? This means that gay and lesbian spouses are being explicitly denied the roughly 1,049 federal protection laws that all heterosexual spouses enjoy. In addition DOMA says that no state is obligated to recognize a same-sex marriage. This means that whatever state rights exist to protect a same-sex marriage (this varies by state) become completely obsolete as soon as you leave the state.

1. Federal Rights.

Of the 1,049 federal laws that homosexuals are being denied the highest of these are in the categories of Federal Civilian and Military Service Benefits (275), Taxation (179), Social Security (82) and Employment Benefits (67).

There are all kinds of horrific stories that bear out the consequences of being denied these rights. Imagine that your lover of 30 years is hit by a car on a late night stroll. Without marital status you may be legally prohibited from riding in the ambulance, visiting in the hospital, making decisions for your partner's medical treatment, and even honoring their funeral wishes. Why? Because you are technically a legal stranger.

You are not entitled to exemption on Inheritance or Death taxes. You are not entitled to employee benefits such as medical leave to care for a spouse or bereavement. You are not given a break on property tax in the event of your partner's death which, in most cases, means that you lose your home because you can no longer afford it.

You are not entitled to social security or VA pensions should your partner die. These are rights that even divorced heterosexual couples have, folks.

If you are the non-biological parent of a same-sex partnership and your partner dies you have no federal rights that validate or protect your relationship with your child.

Until very recently if you were a homosexual serving in the military you couldn't even list your partner as an emergency contact for fear of being discharged, let alone the VA benefits offered to every other heterosexual couple. One tragic story involves a lesbian Air Force Captain. A few weeks before deployment her partner of 14 years was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. When she told her superiors why she could not be deployed she was immediately discharged. Even when her partner died and she brought a death certificate to the appeals for her unfair discharge she was still accused of using the event to get out of her military obligations.

Every right I have listed (maybe 15 out of the 1,049) are unequivocally given to heterosexual marriages. This is clearly not equality.

2. State Rights.

There are about 300 state rights that come with marriage. Even the most progressive states like California and New York do not offer these rights fully to civil unions. For an example of how important this is consider that if you study the California Code with regard to marriage, you'll get 4,000 hits where spousal status makes a difference.

The important thing to know about State rights is that, because of DOMA, state rights do not apply when you leave the state. This means that the couples who married this weekend in NYC are not necessarily protected by the laws of marriage in ANY OTHER STATE.

Bill and Brad have been together for 24 years. They finally got married this weekend in New York City and are taking a cross country road trip for their honeymoon. In Utah they are hit by a drunk driver and Bill is taken to the hospital in a devastating coma. Brad, 
who has no federal or state rights in Utah as a legal spouse, is treated as a legal stranger and has no authority to decide on Bill's medical treatment. And so on, and so forth.

Folks, this is not equality. This isn't even CLOSE to equality. This is not an appeal for the homosexual community to have "special rights." It is an appeal for "equal rights."

Secular Humanism and the Fight for Equality

It is a fact that the loudest resistance to homosexual equality is the religious right. They continue to use the same dishonest tactics by drawing debunked correlations between the homosexual community and the degeneration of the family. In my essay on Homosexuality and False Victimization I said this:

"Although the American Psychological Association makes it clear that the longstanding consensus of the behavioral and social sciences and the health and mental professions is that homosexuality is a normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation, some people still seem to think that it is a mental disorder. Although homosexuality can be observed in nature (lions, pigeons, giraffes, bison, elephants, gulls, bonobos, dragonflies, sheep, dolphin, just to name a few) some people still consider it a dysfunctional CHOICE. Although study after study continues to show that there is an equal level of commitment and relationship satisfaction amongst both gay and straight couples, some people still think that homosexuals are incapable of having healthy and lasting relationships. Although studies show that children raised by same-sex couples are just as mentally healthy as other children, some people still think that homosexuals are not fit parents. Although studies show no correlation between homosexuality and child molestation, some people still consider homosexuals a threat and a danger to children."

I'm not ignoring the many religious folks who are open and accepting of gay rights and marriage equality. There are many fine religious folks out there who I stand arm in arm with on this issue. However, the advancement of the LGBT movement is largely due to increasing secular values.

I recently read an article about Willow Creek Community Church, a huge, trend-setting congregation in Chicago, cutting ties with anti-gay ministries. Churches and mainstream evangelicals are beginning to disassociate with the anti-gay bigotry of Christianity's (not so distant) past.

Why are they doing this? Well, it certainly isn't because they think any differently about homosexuals. Church officials at Willow Creek described the move as a shift in approach rather than a change in belief.

So, they still consider the homosexuals a project. A target with which to inculcate their straightness. The truth is that they want to be culturally relevant. Cultural relevance, these days, is dictated by secular humanism. This is the same thing that happened during the abolition of slavery and the advent of inter-racial marriage. Just like the religious fundamentalists today, the religious right back then believed that God was on their side. A Virginia judge had this to say during the interracial marriage breakthroughs:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

Are we seeing a pattern of religious based bigotry here folks? Who are the secular humanists fighting against same-sex marriage? They do not exist.

The war is over. For every enemy of gay rights there will be someone like me ready to fight them with logic, reason, science, rational thought and human compassion. We are growing and we will dismantle their hatred with our wit, our evidence, our free commitment to the values and dignity of human life. We have no rule book. We have our consciences. We have no gods or cosmic authorities telling us who, what, and how to love. We have our hearts and the pervasive drive to fight the suffering of the world.

Which side will you stand on? Will you be apologizing to the world like those who defended slavery and made interracial marriage illegal? Or will you stand with those of us who fight for the inherent dignity of all human beings? 

It's pretty simple. Get on the right side of history.

In Reason,

Clint Wells