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The 2018 Extinct List

The 2018 Extinct List

When people ask us what we hate more than anything else, I’ll bet just about anything that we all give them the politically correct responses: War, poverty, disease, and other things like that. Well, yeah, of course you do. What responsible human being wouldn’t hate those things? But come on now! How much do things like that really affect you? You’re lying your ass off about that because those issues are OUT THERE, and you don’t have to worry about them affecting you day to day. No, the things we hate in this country are significantly more mediocre and unreasonable, but they have this habit of getting under our skins and grating us. Why? Because we put up with them! See, war and poverty and disease are hypotheticals in this country: We know they’re bad, but few of us are ever truly forced to reckon with them, and so we just don’t feel the visceral outrage over them that affects people who have to live around them. What are the things we REALLY hate? We can count some of the things on this list.


Slacktivists Who Constantly Bitch at Us by Telling Us About War and Poverty and Disease

Now, I have to mention something important: It’s probably for the best that we get reminded that major world problems exist. The news about them serves as a way to remind us of our place in the world and our duties and responsibilities as people who live in it. What I have in mind here is a very specific type of person who does it. And this person speaks about those subjects with their mouths more than through their actions. They come across as completely disingenuous for two major reasons: The first is because they’re speaking from a position of comfort and have never had to worry about those problems themselves. The second is because that talk is, in fact, nothing but talk. All too often, the person trying to be this self-righteous isn’t taking any action at all to address those problems. In fact, they may be consciously contributing to them.


The New York Times

The grand old newspaper! Old reliable! And you know what, it’s also extremely overrated and unworthy of its reputation. Now, I’m not going to be stupid and whine about biases here, but the New York Times has been caught red-handed half-assing its reporting, failing to report, embellishing reporting, plagiarising, and yes, reporting news that’s fake. Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize despite denying Ukrainian famine back in the 1930’s. This was a case that was reopened in 2003 and confirmed. During World War II, the paper minimized reporting on the damned holocaust. It supported the invasion of Iraq. It reported rape charges that turned out to be false, employed Jayson Blair, screwed up widely known facts about a very popular video game… Yes, it won 125 Pulitzer Prizes and three Peabody Awards, but there are various times when The New York Times was got complacent and coasted on its reputation.



I’m sure your religion is a real ball for you. But you know what? I really don’t care. The quote that Christians love about going forth and making disciples of all nations yada yada yada… happens to be followed by another one that says not to impose what you’re preaching on people who reject it. The entire concept of missionary work is supremacist, and even Jesus himself thought so! Frankly, it’s bad enough to go out and be accosted by someone telling you that the only Way – capital W – is through JAY-ZUZ!!! But it’s worse that we’re sending people into other countries and trying to turn them into blind followers too. That’s saying you won’t like them until they’re more like you. Last I checked, that was a blatant form of racism, no matter what country you’re trying to do it in.


Waits for Major Professional Sports Expansion Teams

You know, there was one team back in the early NHL which went from concept to on-ice play in about a month. Now the process has gotten considerably stupider, or as I like to think of it, Bettmanized. City applies for team. City pays ridiculous fee. City prepares playing arena. League owners vote… Or something? And if the franchise is “awarded” to the city, the fans are stuck waiting for years to see something come up. In the meantime, there’s a naming contest and people buying season ticket packages and lots of other things. And all that is in the best case scenario. It doesn’t take into account that the league you’re waiting on has a weird history of trying to peddle its sport in places with no history of it and fanbases that are disinterested and barely know it exists and the league will probably end up rejecting your city’s bid because it just heard some non-caring place like Jackson, Mississippi doesn’t have a team yet and you bet your sweet ass I’m fucking bitter and impatient!



Online videos are smoother than ever, yet they’re still in the habit of loading as they play. There’s not much more annoying than watching some great movie or television show that you’re now really caught up in, then having the thing just stop because your internet dropped down an arc thingy! And we all know how this is going to go: You’re going to sit there with a glowering look on your face, waiting around, until an hour later, you come to the realization that nothing is going to happen, so you have to restart the episode from the beginning. If you skip ahead, it has to buffer again, so you start working on something else for awhile until you know the part where the buffering took place is coming up. Then you eagerly get back to watching, and in that exact same spot, it starts buffering again! The absurdity of this is just mind-blowing. We’re long past the days of clunky dial-up connections. Hell, most people are getting their television, movies, and videos online now. Maybe it’s time to find a better way to run videos, you know?


Pop-up Ads

Another favorite online pet peeve of everyone which it took me way too long to get around to, you know the ones: They place an enormous block in front of the webpage you’re trying to use, and the click out icon is itty and bitty and sitting in some far-off corner of the ad where it’s difficult to see. Apparently we’ve all gotten too skilled at navigating our way around regular old online ads, so now desperate corporations have to trick us. Furthermore, why are so many of those ads not catered to your own personal tastes? You would think some of these corporations are starting to get the picture. After all, Google is watching us. (Hi, Google!) That just doesn’t make any sense, with all of the non-intrusive regular ads online that DO cater to our personal tastes.


Movie Ticket Prices

Life was so much easier back when movie tickets cost only $5. You went to the theater, bought the ticket, and watched the movie. Now it seems like every theater these days offers some sort of premium viewing experience. So we have theaters with 3D, theaters with surround sound, theaters with dolby, and a whole lot of other indecipherable crap. And you know why it’s there? To get your money! Yes, some of these features are quite nice. But you’re still paying an arm and a leg for all of them, and now you’re expected to pay $10 or $15 for the little additions. Then they added the bulk of matinee times and high traffic times, which tacks on an extra $3 to $5. Now the price of a ticket plus theater food for yourself and another person is the price you pay for just a single ticket. It makes you wonder: Are the theaters aware that Netflix exists? Hell, I do volunteer work in an independent video store. If the ticket price tries to smack me like that, I can wait a few months and rent the DVD for free.


LED Car Lights

I just don’t like them.


Stores that Move

One of the worst, most inconvenient things there is is needing the services of a VERY particular store. So when you heard down to the local shopping center to take advantage of said store’s services, you head to its location and find nothing but whitewall. The store tries to be all cheerful about it: “MOVING so we can better assist you…” How the fuck is a move supposed to better assist me in doing much of anything? It shuts down the location you need, ensuring that you have to drive to a part of the city that’s 45 minutes away and extremely busy. Yeah, that’s some convenience or better service right there, huh? And there’s no immediate plan to return, and in fact you don’t know when the place will reopen, but you do know that life is going to be a living hell until they do reopen.


Television Long-Runners

Honestly, there comes a time when a great television series, no matter how good it once was, just has to gracefully bow out. The Simpsons is pushing 30, and its younger, cooler successors, South Park and Family Guy, are about 20 and 15 respectively. And the problems are always the same: Nothing about them is fresh or new anymore. But since people are zombies who will watch almost anything, they continue giving decent ratings to these old shows, which enables them to clog up the airwaves with more recent junk episodes rather than going away to make room for newer, more daring television shows.



The Ultimate Buffalo Quiz

The Ultimate Buffalo Quiz

I recently took an online quiz to test my Buffalo-ness through the local slang language. Of course, I passed, but I also had a major issue with the test: It’s virtually impossible to fail it. Each question had three answers, and two of them would be obvious elimination fodder.

That was a little upsetting. The thing with spending as much time as I have in Buffalo is that you learn that, for better and worse, the city never really leaves you. It was a blow to my pride to end up acing something that could so easily be aced by any onlooker from Seattle who was paying attention. So I came up with a simple solution: It was time to create my own quiz. The Ultimate Buffalo Quiz! Let’s separate the Nickel City urbanites from the pretenders and weed out who the real expats are. And I want to make this sucker as difficult as possible. I’m going to include things that even longtime Buffalo residents probably shouldn’t be expected to know.

1 – How did the roof of the old Peace Bridge Arena collapse?

  1. The whole place got in the way of a speeding tornado.
  2. 13 inches of snow fell onto the roof.
  3. Basic rust in a rainy July after being left unattended for too long.
  4. Poor architecture.

2 – Which famous building in Buffalo is 97% unoccupied?

  1. Seneca Tower
  2. The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library
  3. Gold Dome
  4. Hotel Lafayette
  5. Wilcox Mansion

3 – At the turn of the 20th Century, Buffalo was home to more millionaires than any other city in the world. Where did they live?

  1. North Tonawanda
  2. Old First Ward
  3. Grand Island
  4. Masten Park
  5. Delaware Avenue

4 – The first chancellor of the University of Buffalo later became President of the United States. He was a Buffalo native. Who was he?

  1. Grover Cleveland
  2. Theodore Roosevelt
  3. Millard Fillmore
  4. William McKinley
  5. Thomas Jefferson

5 – Buffalo sports fans all know the Los Angeles Clippers started as the Buffalo Braves, but they’re actually the second NBA team originally founded in Buffalo. What was the first?

  1. Atlanta Hawks
  2. Philadelphia 76ers
  3. Boston Celtics
  4. Sacramento Kings
  5. Portland Trail Blazers

6 – How much snow did the Blizzard of 1977 actually drop?

  1. 30 inches
  2. 42 inches
  3. 93 inches
  4. 12 inches

7 – What well-known song by the Goo Goo Dolls (Buffalo natives) is about a street in Buffalo?

  1. “Slide”
  2. “Fallin’ Down”
  3. “Name”
  4. “Broadway”
  5. “Iris”

8 – Buffalo’s annual National Buffalo Wing Festival was started in 2002. It began because a character made a reference to visiting Buffalo for a fictional chicken wing festival in what 1999 movie?

  1. Galaxy Quest
  2. Fight Club
  3. Osmosis Jones
  4. The Matrix
  5. Varsity Blues

9 – There have been several movies at least partially filmed in Buffalo but not set there. What movie was set there but filmed in the city which is geographically further away from it than any other city in the mainland United States?

  1. Bruce Almighty
  2. Buffalo ‘66
  3. Hide in Plain Sight
  4. Ironweed
  5. Nobody’s Fool

10 – What Bills quarterback retired and went on to a distinguished political career which eventually resulted in his receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

  1. JP Losman
  2. Jack Kemp
  3. Frank Reich
  4. Dennis Shaw
  5. Bruce Mathison

11 – “Buffalo” wings are so-named, at least nationally, because they were invented in Buffalo. (Though we refer to them as just wings, or chicken wings if we’re being formal.) What restaurant in Buffalo invented them?

  1. Buffalo Wild Wings
  2. Duff’s
  3. Anchor Bar
  4. La Nova
  5. Just Pizza

12 – What bona fide soccer legend played the final five games of his storied career in Buffalo?

  1. Diego Maradona
  2. Steven Gerrard
  3. George Best
  4. Garrincha
  5. Eusebio

13 – What kind of building structure does Buffalo have more of than any other city in the world?

  1. Big blue water towers
  2. European-style gothic churches
  3. Grain elevators
  4. Canal locks
  5. Brutalist-style skyscrapers

14 – Who is Sal?

  1. The vicious boss of the old Buffalo Mafia
  2. A mule from an old folk song about the Erie Canal
  3. The enforcer who protected Gilbert Perrault
  4. A high-spirited greeter who was often seen in Main Place Mall
  5. Owner of a high-end restaurant chain

15 – What famous architect once referred to Buffalo as “the world’s best-planned city?”

  1. Frederick Olmsted
  2. Louis Sullivan
  3. Rem Koolhaas
  4. Ieoh Ming Pei
  5. Zaha Hadid

16 – At the turn of the millennium, what was Buffalo dangerously close to hinging its entire economic development plan on?

  1. Catholic tourism
  2. A novelty citywide art endeavor called Herd About Buffalo
  3. A haunted asylum
  4. A fishing store
  5. A museum dedicated to Nikola Tesla

17- What beloved building in Buffalo ended up starting a national trend for its particular kind of facility?

  1. Harborcenter
  2. The Electric Building
  3. Buffalo City Hall
  4. Pilot Field
  5. The Guaranty Building

18 – What condiment is extremely popular on Beef on Weck, even though most people hate it?

  1. Sweet Relish
  2. Horseradish
  3. Soy Sauce
  4. Vinaigrette
  5. French Dressing

19 – What sport has never been played professionally at First Niagara Center?

  1. Roller hockey
  2. Arena football
  3. Lacrosse
  4. Figure skating
  5. Indoor-style soccer

20 – What unique marking helps distinguish the official flag of the City of Buffalo?

  1. A light bulb
  2. A bison
  3. The state motto of New York
  4. Two hands clasped, shaking each other
  5. Lightning bolts

21 – What building did Ani DiFranco purchase and move Righteous Babe Records into to prevent it from being demolished?

  1. Asbury Delaware United Methodist Church
  2. Washington Square
  3. Pearl Street Bar and Grill
  4. The Darwin Martin House

22 – What makes the NFTA Lightrail unique?

  1. It makes Buffalo the smallest city in the world with a subway.
  2. It was never completed.
  3. It uses overhead wires instead of a third rail.
  4. All of the above.

Cool Things You Didn’t Know About Buffalo

Cool Things You Didn’t Know About Buffalo

A visitor to Buffalo might wonder why people who live here play up our reputation, but while this city managed to turn itself into a punchline about chicken wings, snow, and football over the last several decades, there are a significant number of bragging rights we can lay claim to that hold up against even the biggest cities. If you have any trouble believing that we were once important, take a look at this list of firsts and inventions and people Buffalo produced.

1 – The internal pacemaker was invented here.

2 – Ironically, so was the air conditioner.

3 – And the windshield wiper.

4 – The roll-top desk and grain elevator were invented here too.

5 – The first American jet planes were manufactured in Buffalo in a plant on Main Street.

6 – Buffalo was the first city in the country with street lights.

7 – Presumably street lights powered by alternating current, which was invented by Nikola Tesla, whose lab was in Niagara Falls. Buffalo was also the first city in the world to use an electrified streetcar system.

8 – The first facility in the world dedicated strictly to cancer research opened in Buffalo.

9 – So did the first daycare center anywhere.

10 – At the turn of the 20th Century, 60 millionaires lived in Buffalo, which was more than any other city in the world. They all lived along a stretch of Delaware Avenue which is still called Millionaire’s Row. The houses still exist, but have mostly been outfitted as office spaces now.

11 – Buffalo is one of only three cities outside of Washington, DC to have hosted a presidential inauguration. The other two are New York City and Philadelphia, and they get asterisks on account of Washington having not been built yet.

12 – Eusebio, an honest-to-god, bona fide soccer legend whose name can frequently be heard accompanying Pele and Diego Maradona in the same admiring sigh, played the final few games of his career for the Major Indoor Soccer League’s Buffalo Stallions.

13 – Buffalo was the final stop of the Underground Railroad.

14 – Along those same lines, the first major organization for the equal rights of black people was the Niagara Movement. Their organizational meeting was held in Buffalo, although Fort Erie – right across the Niagara River from Buffalo – hosted the official founding meeting. They disbanded in 1910, but were the inspiration for the NAACP.

15 – We all know a lot of American journalism sucks, but two of the few truly respected journalists in the country, Tim Russert and Wolf Blitzer, are products of the University of Buffalo.

16 – Buffalo has produced more American professional hockey players than any other city in the United States, and the NHL has its widest audience in the city.

17 – Buffalo is the smallest city in the world to have its own subway.

18 – Louise Blanchard Bethune, the first American woman to have worked as a professional architect, lived in Buffalo. The city’s Hotel Lafayette is considered her greatest masterpiece.

19 – The Guaranty Building is the world’s oldest skyscraper.

20 – Prominent writers who have lived in Buffalo include Mark Twain, Matt Taibbi, Joyce Carol Oates, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gregg Easterbrook. The first black novelist in the country, William Wells Brown, also lived here.

21 – Christine Baranski, David Boreanez, Kyle Chandler, William Fichtner, Wendie Malick, Nancy Marchand, Chad Michael Murray, and William Sadler have called Buffalo home at some point.

22 – The first skin graft took place here in 1854.

23 – American Express founder William Fargo was once Buffalo’s Mayor.

24 – Buffalo established the first free school system in New York. (In your face, NYC!)

25 – The first railway suspension bridge in the world opened in 1855. Over Niagara Gorge.

26 – The cargo barge was created here. It turned Tonawanda and North Tonawanda into world-leading lumber ports.

27 – Both the inventor of the electric chair and the first man to be executed in the electric chair were from Buffalo. I’m not saying this to advocate the death penalty – in fact, I’m against it. But this was pretty noteworthy.

28 – The first high-speed railroad operated between New York City and Buffalo.

29 – Dog lovers, your dog licenses were first enacted by a law in Buffalo.

30 – John Nepomucene Neumann, the first canonized Saint from the United States, worked in Tonawanda. Nelson Baker, a Buffalo native, is currently a candidate for Sainthood. He set up homes for infants, unwed mothers, a boys’ orphanage, a boys’ protectory, a nurses’ home, a hospital, a basilica, a grade school, and a high school, doing work mostly in Lackawanna. He is currently designated as Venerable and, last I heard, was in the Beatification process. Our Lady of Victory Basilica is a renowned destination for devoted Catholics.

31 – Nelson Baker also invented direct mail advertising. I’m sure thoughts on this vary.

32 – The first wind tunnel was developed right across the street from Buffalo’s airport.

Marcus Borg and the Atheist

Marcus Borg and the Atheist

I went atheist in 2005, and in retrospect, it probably shouldn’t have taken that long. After all, I had spent an enormous number of the previous years being told half-truths and outright falsities in two different religions which effectively brainwashed me into thinking the sky god was going to smite my ass the second I had any kind of thought he considered impure. Of course, impure thoughts to my god were more like what popular culture considered impure thoughts to god: No booze, no sex, no swearing, no blasphemy – you know, all the best-known euphemisms for “no fun.” I had also learned in both direct and indirect manners that I had to look down on all the heathens and work hard to show them the great holy light.

Unfortunately for all the ministers I had during that time, I also had an inquisitive personality and had met enough different kinds of people that I learned to overlook their backgrounds. There was no way I would ever be able to do this religion thing both ways, and seeing as how the latest text message from either of my religions had arrived in the Dark Ages, it was god and religion that finally got the boot. Switching religions is a weird experience, and leaving it completely can give a longtime believer the heebie-jeebies. I developed an immediate hate for all religions at first which sent me into a good year-and-a-half-long spat with, for lack of a better term, shock. Religious belief isn’t something you can turn on and off if you were interpreting your teachings the way I was. It was a slow, gradual realization, and by the time I reached my big “Eureka!” moment, I was overcome with anger – anger at myself for being a blind dummy, anger at this god I suddenly didn’t believe in, and anger at the system that had successfully warped me into thinking “can’t sleep; god will eat me” all the damn time. I entered a period where all discussion about religion resulted in my impersonation of a Fox News pundit.

Ten years after the fact, my relationship with god is still irreparably ruined. My relationship with religion, though, began a significant upturn in the last half of 2006. I happened to be invited into a religious community with an open mind and an acceptance of anyone at face value. I gravitated toward them because I could talk or ask questions about religion and not get simple answers. Later, we held book groups, and it was in those groups that I started reading the work of Christian scholar Marcus Borg.

Most of my friends claimed Borg’s most famous books, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, as their biggest influences. Unfortunately, I still haven’t gotten around to reading either of those, so my first look at a Marcus Borg book was The Heart of Christianity. To put it bluntly, it was a whopper. There was eye-opening, revelatory material on virtually every page. Borg frequently questioned the stuff written in The Bible and invited his readers to look at the old historical context of everything written in it. It was primarily through the writing of Marcus Borg that I started to realize my beef with religion wasn’t exactly religion itself so much as it is the contemporary way of practicing it. It soon dawned on me that I’d had it all wrong – religion was never about easy answers or morally black and white viewpoints, and my big mistake all these years was in trying to interpret it that way.

I later got around to reading more of Borg’s work, like Speaking Christian and The Last Week. They kept right on crushing everything I thought I knew about religion. What I keep interpreting out of Borg’s work are messages contemporary followers of Cowboy Jesus fight like hell to deny: Religion is a dynamic entity that keeps growing and changing with the times. As religion evolves, its followers also evolve for both better and worse. So while both the fundamentalists and progressives are both willing to argue that followers in the past had it wrong, they frequently disagree on the direction in which religion was meant to evolve in. My view on Jesus himself was also radically altered; I ultimately began subscribing to a view of Jesus as a radical rebel who was executed in a gruesome way because he spent his life mouthing off to the wrong social caste. This was a form of Jesus I could actually follow and appreciate.

I started reading books written by other religious scholars as well, the most notable of which is probably Brian McClaren. They all managed to drill into my head a lot of things my younger, more fundamentalist self would have cringed at: Probably the most important thing they had to teach me was that being a good Christian meant doubling down to improve your community rather than your church. I also started to see that being Christian as applied during the Roman Era didn’t mean switching your set of religious beliefs, which meant that anyone who wanted to be Christian within the community was welcome – early Christianity, in fact, was considered just an odd little offshoot of traditional Judaism. In other words, truly old school Christians were able to be anything while still being Christians. Since Christianity was based more around the strength of a community which rejected the Roman caste system, being Christian didn’t require the acceptance of the god/man hybrid today’s Christianity revolves around. In fact, it didn’t really revolve around the acceptance of a god at all.

That makes possible what should be an impossible contradiction: My reconnection with Christianity went hand-in-hand with a fierce reinforcement of my atheism. No, I’m not going to call myself a Christian again, but the work of Marcus Borg has given me a view of religion which is a little like The Doctor’s view of humanity: Extremely frustrating because of what it gets used to justify, but I’m also in awe of its potential for good. Yeah, you might say I’m now completely lost and confused, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; after all, being lost and confused is frequently the best way to see clearly.

Depression and the Blue Collar Ethos

Depression and the Blue Collar Ethos

If you’ve been living somewhere among the outer planets during the last couple of days, you might not realize that iconic actor and comedian Robin Williams recently died. That means in the coming weeks we’re bound to be subjected to runs of many of his movies, both the good ones and the ones that are not so much. I’m looking forward to seeing the runs of Good Will Hunting, the 1997 indie blockbuster in which Williams won his very deserved Oscar for playing Sean McGuire, the court-ordered shrink to Matt Damon’s titular title character, Will Hunting.

There’s a kind of sad irony in the fact that Williams gave perhaps the greatest performance of his career in maybe the best movie of his career as a psychologist. The official ruling on Williams’s death was suicide, and I’ll spare the platitudes about depression and everything non-sufferers don’t get about it. They’re trickling in at what has to be a record rate, and depression in and of itself really isn’t the point of this post anyway. Good Will Hunting might be my favorite movie from the eccentric filmography of Robin Williams, save maybe Aladdin. Although the movie takes place in Boston, there’s a serious element of Good Will Hunting that really clicks true in Rust Belt cities, and it results in a movie which is able to attack one of the dominant aspects of Rust Belt life while avoiding the kind of condescension and elitist views of the blue collar class which is typical of Hollywood directors. (And the insufferable Robert Altman in particular, whose death I continue to view as addition by subtraction.) The South Boston/Rust Belt commonalities are many and very minute, if Good Will Hunting’s portrayal of Southie is to be believed.

Many American cities like to view themselves as tough, take-no-shit kinds of places, living by examples of bootstrap-pulling toughness even in the worst-case scenario. I can’t think of a single place in the country that tries to exemplify this kind of ethos more than the Rust Belt. The Rust Belt is so hopelessly obsessed with this image that many of the people who live on it will place it before any and all personal progress, bringing the whole toughness thing into every decision they make, be it in family or career or anything else they consider living for. This leads to some very destructive contradictions: Rust Belt people are branded from birth with the idea of lending a hand to anyone in serious need, but when in need themselves, actually accepting such help is considered emasculating. The people who offer the help are always dead serious about it, too; if someone should take up our help offerings, we’ll drop everything in an instant and see our promises kept through right up until the very end. That makes it very bewildering and sometimes tragic that most people prefer to turn down the offered help and make the situation even worse.

Therefore, Buffalo is a strict adherent of the “just” culture. That’s the beloved idea always spouted by Fox News pundits that, whatever the problem is, you can turn your entire life around by merely going out and doing the opposite. Are you poor? Why, just go out and get rich! Are you sick? Hey, that’s easy – you just have to get healthy! It can be summed up rather easily with a single, very famous line from the popular sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: “Oh, get a job? Just get a job? Why don’t I strap on my job helmet and squeeze down into a job cannon and fire off into job land, where the jobs grow on jobbies?!” If only it were so simple, right? What’s unfortunate is that in most of the Rust Belt, people really do think it’s that simple, and the lower classes which are truly affected are too busy blaming each other to ask themselves why the higher classes – those always being touted as the ones who create the opportunities for the lower classes – have been creating rather less opportunities as of late. Of course, if asked, the higher classes will probably spout the same bullshit comments about pulling ourselves up from the bootstraps. It’s a well-rehearsed routine.

Depression tends to get treated in such a manner on the Rust Belt too. Feeling blue? Just cheer up! This is partially the result of the city’s piss-poor education system, which just this last year brought its high school graduation rate up past 50 percent for the first time in decades. (And even now, the current 53 percent graduation rate isn’t exactly worth writing about.) It’s also because Buffalo also runs around sporting a real 50’s mentality, which means you do your brooding in secret and pray your ass off to a very specific god until you magically turn happy again. Ask anyone from Buffalo, and they’ll tell you that’s all depression is – eternal sadness. Therefore, all ou have to do to cheer up is toss a funny movie into the DVD player or read the daily funnies in The Buffalo News.

The problem with depression on the Rust Belt is less that the people who live on the Rust Belt don’t understand it, but more the fact that they are very adamant in refusing to try to understand it. Being a good Rust Belt citizen means clinging desperately to the ways of the olden days, even though this adherence to the old ways is clearly contributing to the downward spiral of the region. The Rust Belt locked itself in and insulated itself against forward progress as soon as the steel industry started bailing on it, and the whole area is still under the mistaken impression that trying to pretend everything is like it was during the apex of the postwar boom will actually make the various cities prosperous again. The same revitalization that turned Pittsburgh and Philadelphia around came when those two cities finally recognized that the region will never be an industrial dynamo again. Change like that requires the entire populace to start thinking differently, and Pennsylvania’s two biggest cities have apparently performed admirably. Buffalo, not so much.

Unfortunately, this old time mindset leads the Rust Belt to treat mental problems like they’re paper cuts. Those of us who suffer from depression while living on the Rust Belt are therefore forced to deal with the isolation and loneliness through the rather dangerous method of pretending they don’t exist. It’s hard to say we can deal with it through other means; we’re not taught any other means, and if we are, it’s so we get the strict impression that those who do resort to those other (smarter) means are wusses who just aren’t the tough joes we are. Trying to explain your personal depression to people is a quick way to get an angry brush-off statement.

Depression is also easily compounded by the dominant way of life on the Rust Belt. With the 50’s mindset still gripping peoples’ thoughts and lives with an iron clasp, there’s a very strict script creating that terrible illusion known as “normality.” I give the region a lot of shit about its general lack of curiosity, but it’s hard to tell just how much curiosity actually exists here. That’s because anyone who holds any sense of curiosity, intellectual or cultural, tends to keep their interest on the down low. Science in Buffalo is treated the same way they treated witchcraft in Salem, and most people who believe in any kind of religion adhere to the toxic forms of it which propagate exclusivity and teach the idea of self-unworthiness. This adds up to the fact that any freethinkers who live on the Rust Belt have to bottle themselves up and wear their more socially acceptable masks in public. That’s basically a form of mental self-suffocation, and those who are forced to do it for too long tend to fall deeper into depression. Many end up crawling to the bottle and contemplating suicide. I’ve done the latter at least three or four different points in my life sometimes.

That’s why I love Good Will Hunting so much. We see Will Hunting trapped in the Rust Belt tough guy mindset, trying to live by a certain code which has been drilled in since childhood but is clearly against his better interests. Sean McGuire is successfully able to break through every mental defense Will erects against him, finally breaking Will down. The Hollywood ending, with Will quietly leaving Massachusetts to reunite with the girl his mental defenses stupidly made him ditch earlier, is a gratifying one for all. For me and others who go through depression on Rust Belt blue collar terms, the big reward is in seeing the moment when Will is able to change the way his head is programmed. He awakens to the fact that what his blue collar culture instilled in him doesn’t work, and his departure to follow Skylar is not only the right choice for his heart, but a subtle form of rejecting his old culture and his bad habits.

Sadly, Will Hunting’s end doesn’t happen for enough people who live by the rough and tumble blue collar ethos of the Rust Belt, because we don’t have a Dr. McGuire or a Chuck, a best friend who is able to muster enough realism to tell Will he probably would be best off someplace else. Anyone who gets depressed to the point of suicide living on the Rust Belt will likely have to gather enough courage to admit it to themselves before acting on it. And when (if) they do, fortunately, there’s a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline they can call at 1-800-273-8255.

Six Reasons Your Religious Conversion May Not Work

Six Reasons Your Religious Conversion May Not Work

I originally submitted this to Cracked. They never got back to me, so I’m assuming they didn’t go with it. They have strict rules regarding the subject matter…

Maybe you’re not religious. Or maybe you are. Let’s imagine for now that you are, but something about your religion – besides the wine and wafers – just isn’t sitting right. Maybe your questions about texts haven’t been answered to your satisfaction, or your minister likes the wrong football team, or you have reservations about that part of the service where your heart gets ripped out. Now, imagine you’ve put your soul into the religion market and found a buyer, and are ready to make the conversion to this new faith which corrects everything you hated about your old religion.

I have a little bit of experience doing this. At a point in my lifetime, I leapt from a religion I grew up following to a religion which was more resonant to me. Like most things in life, though, there were a few odd side effects of it which no one told me about, and I didn’t see coming. So before you put on the robe and shave your head, you might want to be aware of the following reasons why the divine light you’re envisioning might be the lamp of an oncoming train.

You’ll Try to Convert Everyone
You know those people who annoy you because they feel the need to tell everyone how awesome their religion is? Not necessarily evangelizing, mind you, but they just want to tell the world how cool it is to be them. When you first switch your religion, that’s you. Basically, you’re going to be that pothead who uses every excuse he can to tell you why pot should be legalized, except this time there isn’t going to be a legion of people who think the same thing. You’ll be trying to pimp your awesome new faith in every conversation you get into, no matter what the topic. Someone discussing who would win, Batman or Teddy Roosevelt? The winner is going to be your new god or prophet of choice. Duh!

While we know your newfound conversion is a real party for you, others aren’t going to share your feelings, and soon after the conversion ceremony – maybe like an hour or so, tops – they’re going to start getting fed up with your blatant attempts to bait them. When they start conveniently forgetting to send you the party invitations, there’s no shortage of heathens to turn to, and you’re suddenly going to be talking the theological talk to clerks, waiters, and that crazy homeless guy who wears his pants on his head. And those people don’t have the social protocols your friends and family have that prevents them from repeatedly punching you in the face screaming “WHERE’S YOUR GOD NOW?”

You don’t need any of them, though, because you’re making plenty of new friends in your brand new congregation! Right?

Your Congregation Expects You to Follow Their Version of Your Religion
Unless your potential new religion practices the ancient art of sadism, the first thing that will strike you upon your conversion is the love-bombing. Across all religions on the planet, this is one aspect that’s pretty universal. Love, peace, respect for life, and all those nice little things that make life worth living outnumber machete slaughter religions by a really, really big ratio. And if the people in your new congregation are any good at practicing the “be nice” messages, they’ll love you before the conversion ceremony. Hell, they’ll love you the second you make your first visit to the worship house as their guest.

The problem with changing your religion, though, is that to everyone who is a frequent visitor at your new religious temple, you’re just the n00b. Since you don’t have the years of practice behind you that most of them do, you don’t know anything. This is going to apply whether you converted after reading every book ever written on your new religion or you simply walked into the religious gathering place looking for directions to the local brothel. Even if your congregation is incorporating ceremonies into its services which clearly go against one of the religion’s main beliefs, you’re always the one who’s wrong.

Your fellow congregants are going to expect you to be on their side of every issue, political or religious, and it doesn’t matter how much evidence they have to support their views. If you have the audacity to even consider an opposing viewpoint, be prepared for a good, long lecture about how wrong the other guys are. It can boil down to one of the little religious differences that splits everyone into sects, or it can be political – one of my most vivid memories from my adopted religion is receiving the mother of all anti-gay rants after having the gall to express my political belief that gays should be treated like human beings.

Of course, this isn’t such a huge problem for converts to mainline religions. If one congregation decides you don’t follow your religion the right way, you just keep going until you find the congregation that thinks you do. It’s a wee bit more problematic for those who convert to less popular or understood religions – like I did – whose followers are well aware of the fact that they are frequently the only game in town. It’s their way or the highway, and if it’s the highway, you could be stuck without anyone to teach you the basic practices and rituals.

You’ll be Presented as The Convert
Whether or not they like you, there’s a reason your fellow congregants want you to sit down and shut up: You make a better spokesperson if you do. If you convert to a non-mainstream faith which is misunderstood and needs to hold occasional getting-to-know-you rallies to show everyone how they don’t actually demand firstborn sacrifice, you’re suddenly slipping into the role of the happy man who saw the light. In layman’s terms, you’re the mascot.

Being a good follower of a religion you weren’t raised practicing puts a real emphasis on that word, “follower.” Around people who don’t know anything about your new religion, you’re the guy who everyone will point to as a sterling example of a believer, because you made a choice to follow your new religion. If you say challenging or confrontational things about aspects of your religion that you haven’t been able to come to terms with, it’s easy for the other congregants to shrug you off. You’re just the brand new convert, after all, and you don’t know everything yet. Or you don’t understand what you know.

In extreme cases – like evangelical religions – you’re basically supposed to act the role of a salesperson. You’re saved now, right? And don’t you want everyone else you know to be able to share in your heavenly bounty? Sure, maybe you really did convert because you decided the promise of a nice afterlife was only available to the guys next door, but I can guarantee no one switches religions because the aspect of bugging the heathens appeals to their sense of morality. Unfortunately, lifelong followers of evangelical religions all seem to think an ex-unbeliever’s lost-soul-found-soul story is a dynamic sales pitch.

You Won’t Learn About the Small Rules Until After Conversion (and you’ll try to adhere to them, and they’ll make you crazy)
You may already know that Hinduism is a major world religion with over 900 million followers, and that Hindus hold cows in very high regard. You might not know that Hindus make a major deal out of getting their ears pierced. They have a big party called Karnavedha where they shove a thorn through someone’s ear and ease the pain by spreading hot butter across it. Taoists seek harmony with nature by taking the occasional aimless walk.

Religions love to dish out reward, punishment, karma, and whathaveyou. They love doing it so much that each one has an endless list of regulations and approved practices for everything from prayer absolution to shoelace tying. There are so many that following them all is impossible, and not all of them are culturally savory – even the strictest members of the congregation put fingers to ears and yell “lalala I can’t hear you!” when you mention the less popular ones. Some of them can’t be followed because new discoveries and thoughts have been made through time. Others have been wiped out because local laws decided they weren’t humane enough. Some actually contradict other laws in the scriptures. But none of that is enough to stop you from trying to follow them all.

This really isn’t your fault. The thing about religious converts is that they tend to be sincere about their practices, at least if they’re not converting for familial reasons. The little rules that tell you how to practice, no matter how strange they sound, are among the things that make your religion a way of life for its followers. More importantly, if a religion is afterlife-based, heaven’s landlords will love you for doing what they like and hate you for doing what they hate, and since you’re bent on them liking you, who are you to argue? It’s exactly why Cat Stevens quit music and didn’t denounce the Ayatollah’s fatwa on Salman Rushdie after becoming a Muslim – it’s possible he just didn’t know any better. If the scriptures say thou shalt suck alcohol through nose straws, you’re not going to think twice about shoving those fast food bendy straws right into your schnozz.

Some of these rules tend to get obsessively minute. They’ll give you commands about thoughts, bathroom behavior, pet ownership, and which side to sleep on. After my conversion, I frequently ate right-handed despite not only being a lefty, but having a deformed right arm which has trouble pulling off certain day-to-day duties. Eventually, there comes a point where you have to trust your god, your universe, or whatever higher power you believe in is forgiving enough to let your reward actions cancel out your sin actions. If they’re not, you’ll be in for an obsessively crazy life as well as an unpleasant afterlife.

People You Know Won’t Get Over Their Stereotypes
Stereotypes, for better and worse, are a fact of life. There are stereotypes for everything – race, body type, kind of sex partner, the list just goes on. So you better believe there are stereotypes to attribute to those of faith! Everyone knows that if you become a Pagan, you have to spend copious amounts of time explaining to your neighbor that you do not, in fact, worship the devil. If you’re a Confucian, you have to tell everyone that you don’t actually worship (or even necessarily believe in) a god. If you turn to Sikhism, it’s time to prepare those lectures about how you’re not a Muslim, and if you’re a Muslim, you have to assure your neighbors that you’re not planning to blow up their houses.

It’s a free country, so you’re free to follow whatever religion you want and tell your peers all the great things about your faith. Then they’ll be free to ignore everything you say and insist to everyone that you’ve joined the religious psycho squad. What about the children?!

Yeah, people in general just aren’t the learning sort. Be prepared to face the evil eye a lot if you’re not involved with a mainstream religion. After all, learning lessons involves going out and, you know, learning and expanding your mind. Who wants to do a silly thing like that when you can just place a person you’ve known and trusted for years into a mental “us against them” compartment under the “them” section?

There are conversion stories written by people who have even been disowned by their own families. I was lucky in that my own family – who raised me practicing a mainstream religion – was really cool about my conversion. My mother even says that it was a learning opportunity for her which she wouldn’t change. The rest of my neighborhood, well, let’s just say they didn’t share that same outlook.

You Won’t Stop Thinking Up New Questions
So okay, you’ve taken the eternal sacred vows of your new religion, and you know the practices now. You’re finding good and decent folk over at the local worshipping hole, and they don’t seem to mind your holdover heathen characteristics. You’re surviving all of the initial conversion waves and everything looks bright as the divine light for a long and productive stay in your new soul home, and possibly its afterlife.

Then one day, as you’re about to step into the artificial lightning machine for a ceremony, you hear a familiar soft whisper: “Psst, hey kiddo, something’s not right about this, and you know it!” That would be the manic raving of your conscience, here to spoil the party again. It’s not very comfortable following this Nikola Tesla religion, which is odd, because it’s the thing that talked you into giving it a shot in the first place.

If you’re converting to a new religion because you had problems with your old one, chances are you started listening to those voices in your head saying your old religion wasn’t working out and that you needed to break up with it. When you set sail toward the religious horizon, you’re doing it to get those voices to shut up. Inner peace or the search for a greater spiritual plane and anything else is basically a side effect to that; will a new religion answer questions about your old religion in an acceptable way? Despite the obvious logic failure in play here, you can’t help it because if you were raised in your old religion, it’s the only guiding philosophy you’re familiar with.

After conversion, everything will be great for awhile. Then people from your new congregation will start showing their human sides, scriptures will be bickered over, and sometimes people will start preaching values which go against what they were saying back when you were just a religion shopper. Scriptures will raise questions not answered to your satisfaction. The minister will be a fan of the wrong hockey team. You’ll have reservations about the part of the service where you stick your hand in a cage with an angry cobra. You’ve now gone full circle, and are right back where you started. Yes, there are plenty of people who find happiness and fulfillment in the religions they converted to, and some religions don’t make such taxing demands. But before you commit your eternity to a brand new religion, be sure you can weather out a few waves of doubt, or you’ll learn that eternity’s timespan is surprisingly limited.