Flashback: A Short Biography

So here it is, the post that started it all. It was originally published in early August of 2021.

As the new year approaches, I just want to reflect on how I’ve changed as a person and as a writer. Which really isn’t a whole lot when you think about it.

So onto 2023! Have a Happy New Years and thank you to everyone who has followed me on this journey.

I love you 😘

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day.

They say you can’t count your chickens before they hatch.

They say you can’t shit where you eat.

They say I should seek therapy because everyone’s worried about me.

They say I have a drinking problem and that I shouldn’t mix downers with downers.

They say I have crippling debt and that I am months away from homelessness 

Hi I’m James. And maybe they’re right. What do I know? Well let me tell you a little about myself.

I was born outside of a Denny’s in Scottsbluff, Nebraska in either late 1979 or 1981 depending on who you believe. I attended Norhwestern on an athletic scholarship, but was suspended for PED usage, and, in the words of the university, “cockfighting”. 

So I hit the road. I hit up every strip club and drug den from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. I learned a lot about myself on that trip. I learned that sometimes growing up means putting your pants on one leg at a time. Sometimes it’s about changing your pants. Sometimes your pants just aren’t long enough and you accidentally expose your wiener.

But the most important thing in life is this: show up to court on time and pay all of your fines.

So I actually know quite a lot. And if you stick around, you might learn something too.

So stay tuned my friends….

Whatnot n’ what-have-you

My obsession with the Gospel of Mark might seem odd at first glance. But consider this: it’s the most basic of the four canonical gospels, no one knows who wrote it, we don’t know why it was written, it is the oldest known narrative of Jesus, all other Gospels are based on it or are in some ways responding to it. Therefore, this Gospel essentially invented the story of Jesus, making it one of the most important documents of all time, literarily and/or historically.

This document is a mystery; a mystery that will almost certainly never be solved. But that doesn’t mean certain quack scholars like myself won’t give it a shot.

Unfortunately, when you spend an inordinate amount of time researching a specific topic, people tend to read more into it than what’s actually there. I try to keep that in mind while reading Mark. I don’t find this gospel to be a particularly brilliant document and whatever “themes” are there, I think, is just a reflection on the reader.

Case in point is the abrupt ending at 16:8 (the original ending, after Jesus’s death, when the women enter his tomb only to find a man in there telling them to go to Galilee):

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
‭‭Mark‬ ‭16‬:‭8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

What a weird way to end a story eh?

And maybe the author of Mark did have an “artistic” purpose for ending his or her story in that way. I just think he (or she) ended it there because why the hell not? I’m not saying it was a GOOD decision, just A decision.

So never read more into Mark than what’s actually there. But there does seem to be a growing consensus amongst scholars regarding its genre: it’s a Greco-Roman biography.

I think Helen K. Bond, in her book The First Biography of Jesus, makes a pretty good case for this. While Mark doesn’t fit perfectly with the biographical genre, it does share enough of its characteristics to possibly shed some light on the meaning behind this strange document.

But whatever Mark’s intention was, as Bond summarizes in her book, the story of Jesus IS, essentially, the Gospel of Mark. So whatever your beliefs are, there is a great deal of historical worth in that.

***

Personal update: my career at the toilet factory might be coming to a close. New management is taking over and, although they can’t fire me, they can make my life difficult which is how they treat veterans whenever they want a clean slate.

I don’t understand why new managers feel the need to do this, but so it goes.

So again, might be extremely busy for the next month while I find a new career. I may be writing A LOT or writing very little. Sucks, but life goes on.

mall crawlin

I probably haven’t been to a mall since 2019. Other than grocery stores, I rarely ever do in person shopping. I’d venture to guess that malls and department stores have been on the downward trend since at least the Great Recession (but I really don’t know because I do zero research here).

Many will blame the pandemic for this trend, but honestly, the glory days of mall shopping were numbered the moment someone first purchased something online.

That’s just facts.

It’s no big deal to me. I’ve never enjoyed shopping and I hate leaving the house. Therefore online shopping works for me.

So thank you, Jeff Bezos! You might be a member of a billionaire class that puts our democracy at risk, but at least you made my life easier 🥰

Everything goes through paradigm shifts…both big and small…from the way we eat things, to technology, to the way governments work, to even ECONOMIES. So is ‘capitalism’ to blame for the decline in malls? Yes (conversely, I presume, capitalism is what brought us malls to begin with. So “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away”). But even without capitalism, the world changes. And it’s foolish to believe that there was a time when it never changed, or that it’s even possible for such a world to exist.

NEVERTHELESS, I can empathize with those that were attached to mall culture. It ain’t easy watching something you love go to trash (believe me, I know. I’m a Star Trek fan). And that’s probably why there are countless accounts on Instagram that are documenting it’s decline.

Dead malls are everywhere. But they leave behind an interesting glimpse into the past. Memories were made there; they are architectural exhibits of a specific time and place. So malls are a part of history.

Unfortunately, probably because of their size alone, many malls are being demolished to make room for the next great innovation in capitalism. And the next innovation will be beloved by the next generation, but this innovation will face the same fate as all the other innovations before.

And so it goes.

I would share some of the photos from these various Insta accounts I follow, but people get a little touchy when you share something that doesn’t belong to you. So here’s a small list:

@deadmallcrawl

@rayoutthere

@mallchitecture

@ruralretail

These are the four that I could look at for hours and hours. There’s just something hauntingly beautiful about decaying public spaces. 🤷‍♂️

****

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“Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament” by Jonathan Bernier

New Testament scholarship has plenty of quacks. Not only from Christian apologists who argue that everything in the Bible is literal and true, but also from atheists who argue that Paul pulled the entirety of Christianity and Jesus out of his ass. Some argue that there’s no harm in arguing for such outrageous claims (which usually rely on mere conjecture) but that’s simply bad scholarship.

And bad scholarship is just that: bad scholarship. (And honestly, atheists, of which I consider myself, should know better)

Unfortunately there’s just too many holes in New Testament history, and given the nature of its study, it’s understandable that people are going to have some strong opinions. Moreover, new evidence is few and far in between, so scholars sometimes let their imaginations run wild with what scant data there is.

Nevertheless, MOST academics, ranging from the secular to the devoutly fundamental, can agree on a few things: 1st Thessalonians is probably the first Pauline epistle (likely written in 52AD) and the Gospel of Mark is the oldest gospel (likely written just after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD). In fact, I’d argue, from the perspective of academia, these dates could almost be deemed ironclad.

Few, if any, from the hardline atheist side (especially the “mythicist” school) would move these dates forward, largely to put as much distance between the (“alleged”) death of Jesus and the first written accounts. In fact, from this perspective, only the most ardent apologist would attempt to do so.

Then there’s Jonathon Bernier’s Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament.

The book was released this year, so I don’t know what it’s academic reception is. But a few armchair scholars are already labeling it a work of apologetics. And that’s a bit too harsh, in my opinion.

Nevertheless, when one pushes the dates of the gospels up by nearly 30 years, it should raise a few eyebrows. Much of this argument hinges on the dates of Luke (and by extension, the Book of Acts), which is largely agreed to be the last synoptic gospel written. I agree with Bernier that the “we” passages in Acts have been a difficult thing for scholars to explain, especially if we want to date Luke/Acts post 90AD. Additionally, Bernier makes a compelling (although not fully convincing) argument that the ending to Acts wouldn’t quite make sense to readers had it been completed sometime after Paul’s death.

Yes, Bernier is a professor at a theology school attached to the University of Toronto (but honestly, those are the only places you can find a job teaching about history of early Christianity and the New Testament). But he certainly doesn’t rely on “apologetics” to make his arguments. You may not find it compelling, but I think the importance of Bernier’s work is to highlight that an earlier dating for the New Testament is not entirely unfounded.

This book may not be a “paradigm shift” in New Testament studies, but the author does ask important questions and the knee jerk reaction shouldn’t be to label it apologetics.

Besides, doubt in god and Christianity shouldn’t hinge on Jesus’s existence or the dating of the New Testament. That’s a weird argument to make. So atheists, particularly ones like myself who can appreciate the New Testament for its historical and (at times) artistic value (as opposed to misusing it by believing it to be some holy document), should be open to reading Jonathon Bernier’s work.

Rectuma, monsturd, and deadbeat at dawn

This was a STRONG week on Tubi. Right when I was about to give up (not just on Tubi, but on life in general) I got slapped across the face with three BANGERS.

Rectuma (2003)

This is why I say it takes a couple of decades after a film’s release before it can be properly critiqued. Audiences were probably pissed when they saw this in 2003. They probably discarded it as just another lame attempt at South Park-style humor, which many attempted, unsuccessfully, to emulate. But now, nearly 20 years later, Rectuma’s stupidity can be fully appreciated.

Just in case you forgot, I’ve taken a LOT of drugs. And as a result, my memory is nearly shot. So if you want an accurate plot summary, you’ll have to look elsewhere. But best I can recall, the story is about some schlubby dude who gets raped by a frog in Mexico and then he gets nuclear rods shoved up his rectum thus causing his ass to grow massive in size before it starts attacking LA. Plus his wife is trying to kill him.

In 2003, I was fully steeped in this low-brow, offensive, toilet humor (still kinda am, tbh). That was practically internet culture in those days. So watching this movie was like a walk down memory lane.

People forget, there was a time when “politically incorrect” humor (before it got relabeled as “anti-woke” humor 🤢) oddly lacked any political dimension whatsoever. Everyone laughed at it because it was after 9/11 and we all thought we would die soon anyway. Stuff like Rectuma was supposed to distract us from that horrible fact.

So to appreciate this movie, one must see it as an artifact of very early 21st Century life. It should be shown in colleges and history classes across the globe.

Monsturd (2003)

Both Monsturd and Rectuma were released in 2003 and were both seemingly filmed in Butte County, California. So I’m assuming there was some overlap in the productions of these two movies.

I don’t think Monsturd is quite of the same caliber as Rectuma, but I appreciate the effort nonetheless. The plot is simple: a gigantic, living turd -created by a mad scientist- terrorizes the citizens of a small community, and it’s up to the sheriff’s department to stop it.

Despite being the lesser of the two films, like peanut butter and chocolate, this goes well with Rectuma.

Deadbeat At Dawn (1988)

I saved the best for last. Outside of one Ouija Board scene, this really isn’t a “horror” film. But I’m glad, that in Tubi’s infinite wisdom, they recommended it.

Filmed on the mean streets of Dayton, Ohio, Deadbeat At Dawn is about one man’s revenge against rival gang members for killing his girlfriend. The final confrontation at a train station is simultaneously amateurish and utterly fucking brutal…and it concludes in the most satisfying way: the bad guy gets his throat ripped out (this was released a year before Road House, btw).

The violence in Deadbeat At Dawn is delightfully absurd, but the highlight of the movie is when, in his darkest hour, our hero goes from getting drunk to snorting coke to shooting up heroin before finally dropping acid. Self-destruction never looked more hilarious.

This is definitely one of the great underrated action films of the 80s.

*******

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Throwback

This was one of my first stories that I published here.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why it wasn’t more popular 🤷‍♂️

Nice balls,” she said.

“Thanks”

I just got a new pair of truck nuts for my 2004 Dodge Ram 2500. Luciana Ortega De Navarro was impressed.

Luciana was the heiress to the largest cigarette manufacturer in Southern Cal. It recently went out of business. She asked me out on a date while I was sleeping in the doorway of her storefront in Venice. 

She had a thing for hard luck cases.

So I finally brushed my teeth and ran a comb through my hair. I put on my best Def Leppard shirt and met her at Il Porcellino, the finest Italian place near Marina Del Ray. 

Luciana wore a floral red dress. Her dark hair flowed down to her shoulders and her skin was as radiant as the Mediterranean sunset. She was stunning.

We shared a bottle of Molinara from Veneto over candlelight. She asked, “do you go to church?”

“I’ve been there before.”

“How do you feel about 3rd Baptist Church of Culver City?”

“I’ll give it a shot,” I said.

That Sunday, I wore a clip-on tie and went to church. Elderly people abound. They all asked “Welcome Brother James, isn’t Luciana great?!”

“I guess,” I said.

Services began. The choir sang “Are You Washed in the Blood”. The pastor waddled out from behind the stage.

The preacher was a heavyset man, obscenely flabby. He wore a flannel suit and lightly tinted bifocals. He asked us to take out our Bibles.

“Open to Romans 3:48.”

The parishioners complied.

“Now, my congregation, I wish to speak on god’s grace, his mercy, and his message to all the people of earth.”

Silence fell over the church.

“Yesterday, while I was praying, a voice said to me ‘I will bring forth your people as testimony to this cursed world.’ I replied ‘God! What does this mean?’ The voice said ‘do not worry, just listen to my commands,’”preacher continued.

All eyes were now glued to him.

“The voice said ‘Get up!’ So I got up. Then it said ‘take off your shirt!’ So I took off my shirt. Then it told me ‘take off your pants’. So I took off my pants. ‘Now drink your own piss!’ So I drank my own piss.”

The preacher began to move around the stage.

“It was at this time when I felt the grace of Jesus Christ inside of me. I leapt for joy! And I knew right then what I had to do.”

He then walked over to the assistant pastor.

“Brother Ted, please stand up.”

He stood up.

“Ladies and gentleman of this congregation. This is the future I want to bring forth.”

The preacher then pulled down Brother Ted pants, exposing his fully erect penis.

Gasps filled the audience. 

As the parishioners started getting riled up, the preacher continued.

“Do not be afraid,” he said as he held Brother Ted’s member. “Change is always scary. But this is the beginning of a new era!”

The preacher then shoved Brother Ted’s penis into his ass. The sound of clapping ass cheeks echoed throughout the church.

Women in the aisles were passing out. The men shouted “Amen!”

“Come here Brother Al,” the preacher said to another assistant. 

And the preacher sucked and fucked his way through the sermon, igniting his congregation into a titillated frenzy.

As we were driving home, Luciana asked, “what did you think about the service?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “It was a little tame. Think I’ll just stay a Catholic.”

***

RIP Nichelle Nichols 😔

Black roses (1988)

When a movie informs you that it’s a Shapiro-Glickenhaus production, you’re in for a ride. And Black Roses did not disappoint.

I’ve always been intrigued by the psychological/political dimensions of the 80s. Poltergeist kind of touches on this in the most subtle way, how family dynamics were altered during this decade. Black Roses picked up on this concept and ran with it.

The film shines a spotlight on the contradictions within Reagan-era politics: parents being appalled yet titillated by youth culture (and a complete lack of awareness that these tensions exist). The story of Black Roses centers on some “heavy metal” band coming to small town USA and corrupting its youth. The youth become demon-possessed and start killing their parents. Only a mustached English teacher stands in their way.

Of course, the band is entirely blamed for the “corruption”. Despite the shitty parenting throughout, the adults never once ask themselves: “are we to blame?”. But I guess parenting styles in the 1980s didn’t include things like paying attention to your children. Additionally, because parents were unable to take responsibility for themselves, we now have “culture wars”…which stem back to this decade…on which adults can use as a scapegoat for why they have shitty children.

Now I’m probably giving the filmmakers WAY to much credit for this analysis. They probably just wanted to show rock n’ roll and boobs with a few demons thrown in for good measure. But all good art is a reflection on the time it was produced. And Black Roses certainly pulls back the curtain on Reagan’s America.

Rip Michael Krueger

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times: I am to Tubi what raccoons are to trash. So if Tubi puts something up there to watch, by God I’m watching it and leaving a godawful mess while I’m at it.

Why though? Why would one put themselves through pointless agony?

I’ll tell you why: Mindkiller and Night Vision.

Before you read this, you probably never heard of either of those films. But now you have. So I’m providing a FREE public service: finding overlooked gems before they are totally and completely forgotten. I’m a historian, this is what I do.

Both films were directed by Michael Krueger and both…according to IMDb…were released in 1987. Unfortunately, Krueger died in 1990, presumably leaving both films to lie in obscurity until their resurrection into the public consciousness by Tubi.

You might think I’m being facetious over my praise of Krueger’s work, but I assure you, I genuinely enjoyed both movies. Sure, they might look like cheap after-school specials…the sound editing is particularly atrocious in Mindkiller…but a few technical issues aside, aspiring filmmakers should take note: where you lack a budget, you can make up for with heart.

As you all know, I have a horrible memory. So I don’t recall too many plot details. But Mindkiller, roughly, is about a dork librarian who reads some outlandish shit and he begins to control minds. I think. He then begins to control the mind of his love interest, played convincingly by Shirley Ross as a strait laced librarian.

Ross then flips the script for Night Vision, also as the love interest, as she plays a street wise video clerk showing her boyfriend the ropes. The streets of Denver have never looked so mean. Remember, this was the 80s, before all the hipsters moved in and gentrified the place. But supposedly Night Vision is also a horror film. I think a VCR is demon possessed or something. While I don’t remember being scared, I do remember being taken in by the film’s earnestness and Ross’ performance.

It’s a shame that Krueger didn’t have a longer career. But I am thankful for what we did get.

RIP

the art of trolling

Oh to be young again.

I say that internet trolling has gotten BETTER since my day of IMDb message boards and AOL chat rooms. It was easier then. People were far more gullible.

Kids today are craftier, resourceful.

They rarely tip their hand.

A good example is the “fuck.atheism” accounts on Instagram. Of course, I’m assuming that they are trolls (allegedly ran by some jailbird named “Brandon Walsh”). For the sake of my sanity, I have to believe that they are.

Take a look:

This is “fuck.atheism.5”. This is number 5 of 6 accounts with this name and avatar.

Obviously that’s a troll,” you might say.

I wouldn’t be so sure:

“So the guy’s committed to the bit. Kudos to him,” you say.

Yeah, I suppose. But…Jesus, who the fuck is this for?

Look, in my day, I probably could have pulled something close to this out of my ass. But if this is a bit, where’s the parody? Is it the blatant science denialism? I would have never of wasted that much time for a joke!

See what I mean?

This is either skill or overzealousness. And it pisses me off that I can’t tell which it is.

“Who cares?”

Well for posterity’s sake, I think things like this should be recorded and analyzed. We are either looking at modern art or batshit insanity. Or maybe it’s both.

Someone has to explain to future generations what we were doing with the internet. And that’s what this website’s all about.

I’m a historian. Not a shitposter.