About matscheck

Matthew C. Scheck is an automation engineer, freelance writer, and former US Army Medic. Mr. Scheck resides in Philadelphia and travels extensively for work and pleasure.

Fade Into You

I was attending Jazz Fest in New Orleans some time in the early 90s when I met a gorgeous hippie chick from Memphis at an Allman Brothers show. She was a beautiful and ethereal free spirit while I was a career-obsessed, uptight former soldier and about as square as was possible; I’d come to New Orleans to celebrate my birthday and try to live a little as all I did was work and live a fairly lonely and mostly empty life back in Indiana. I might have been on the verge of deep depression and possibly suicide. She and I spent the week together smoking weed and enjoying ourselves wandering around New Orleans like two ghosts. When we parted she confessed to me she had to get back to a husband and two-year-old son in Memphis, that she’d love me forever, but, goodbye forever, the die had been cast in her life. She had come to New Orleans to kill herself after running away from her husband and kid; meeting me gave her a reason to live. Though I was sad to part with her, she’d given me a reason to live mine too. I never saw or heard from her again.

I had a vicious panic attack while driving back home to Indiana merely thinking about never seeing her again. This song so reminds me of perhaps the most amazing woman I have ever met. She was so goddamn cool and perfect that I’m haunted by the thought of not spending the rest of my life with her. If my life is tragic it’s because when it comes to love and romance, I have the shittiest timing imaginable. I’m cursed.

I, Atheist

A Declaration of (non)Faith

My atheism has been the easiest intellectual decision of my life, a view I’ve held since I began forming conscious memories as a child; indeed, I honestly have no recollection of ever seriously believing in god. After all these years of non-belief, and not once wavering, I’d say I’m just not wired for belief in god, gods, religion, or “spirituality,” whatever that means or entails. I’ll be even more honest in saying that it has required little or no contentious thought, or intellectual effort, to be atheistic. I just am. 

However, atheism is also difficult intellectually because, in denying the power of god, gods, and religion, and all the intellectual certainty that comes from such belief systems, doubt plays a much heavier role in how atheists view everything. But, to be honest, I welcome the doubts as one of the greatest gifts of pure freedom we humans possess, but are mostly afraid to confront.

Atheism is neither a “religion” nor school of thought. It simply means not believing in god, or gods, or a spiritual existence of any kind. Moreover, I don’t belong to any kind of organization, movement, or group associated with atheism, nor do I follow any leaders or gurus. On this matter I am completely and wholly on my own, a free-thinking, free-living individual, alone in my (non)belief system, willing to stand on my own two feet and face the world on my own intellectual terms.

Ever since the Age of Enlightenment, and especially since the formation of the United States of America, with its brilliant First Amendment Establishment and Free Exercise clauses (which have made the USA a secular nation by law), organized religion has slowly lost its ability to coerce belief from a position of power and authority, and eventually more and more people have slipped through the cracks of the religious majority. With each new generation the number of non-believers grows, and with each new generation the oppression, abuse, and denial of rights by the religious majority upon the non-believers has been reduced through countless challenges to, and victories over, unconstitutional laws that supported the religious majority.

To me, atheism is simply the last—and most important—step to complete freedom and liberty. The formation of the USA was the first step in creating a democratic republic free from the rule and power of the Ancien Régime that lorded over Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire and enslaved a vast majority of the people.  However, in the last 200 years the USA, while ridding itself of kings, princes, dukes, and other hereditary rulers, could not quite become the secular state it intended itself to be by its founders. Religion, though not formally sanctioned by the government, still found ways to exert its power over the people simply because a vast majority of American citizens supported religious authority over the supposedly secular institutions and power structures of American government.

Luckily, a brave few have challenged religious authority in American governance by appealing to our excellent check against majority power, which is the judicial branch of our government, and it has been in the courts where religious authority and power over the secular government has been defeated and denied. America is not a theocracy ruled by the Christian majority, and although secularism was the original intent of its founders, it didn’t truly come to pass until late in the 20th Century after many contentious court battles and judgments, many of which were extremely unpopular with the Christian majority.

Atheism, however, goes one step beyond that in establishing freedom for individuals. Ultimately, religious belief is an individual intellectual choice. In choosing to believe in religions, individuals subjugate and submit themselves willingly to a higher power and authority, whether spiritual or temporal, or both. Whether religious people will admit it or not, this subjugation to a higher power and authority begins to strip them of their intellectual freedom and individuality, creating for them a “safe” belief system free from doubt and filled with absolute certainty egged on by false hope, group think and coercion, and phony religious fables, hotly writ, and folklore masked as dogma and, to a lesser extend, philosophy.

Atheism frees an individual from subjugation and submission to any and all authority, spiritual and temporal. For me, this choice was made easier simply because my not believing in god, gods, religion, or spirituality was never challenged by much internal intellectual debate or contentious thought. For me it was more or less inherently embedded in my intellect that I do not believe. All the evidence presented in my life trying to change my mind and coerce me to believe was rejected as easily as my mind rejects fairy tales, folklore, and phony or fallacious philosophies. I have little room for sophistry in my intellectual world, especially religious sophistry.

Pardon me for sounding arrogant here, but maybe the next step in the evolution of the human mind begins with the rational mind gaining better control over the irrational. Maybe that’s why religion, god, gods, and spirituality—or, for that matter, any kind of superstition or supernatural thinking—have never gained even a weak foothold in my intellectual being. Maybe my mind is less encumbered, by design, with irrationality and illogical thinking. I think more and more humans will be wired this way in the future. I’m one of the lucky ones who got it early in the curve.

Here’s what I have difficulty expressing to the believers out there: It’s not just that I don’t believe, it’s also that I don’t, even for one millisecond, understand your religious beliefs at any intellectual level. It makes absolutely no sense to me. It never did. Moreover, while I certainly respect your right to believe whatever you want, the truth is I do not, and never will, respect your beliefs. But I also agree true freedom means you are more than welcome to worship and believe as you want. Moreover I am not like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, or the late Christopher Hitches, public intellectuals who expended great energy and bluster in public forums and in print denouncing and debunking religious belief rather contentiously. I do not feel the need to tell you how good or bad, or right or wrong, your beliefs may be. I just simply say, whatever you believe, go for it; I shall leave you alone to your beliefs and faith. Just leave me alone because I have no religion or religious beliefs or faith in such things. Deal?

I will state this very clearly: do not trample on my Constitutional rights, or try to force me by law to adhere to or follow your beliefs. Do not try to establish a theocracy in the USA. In fact, make no attempt to even evangelize or proselytize your faith to me; rest assured I will never believe what you believe no matter how hard you try to convince or compel me. If you do not heed my warnings to not intrude in my free life with your religions and faiths, you will regret that deeply, I assure you.

This isn’t an essay about morality, right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, or even the primacy of belief vs. non-belief in the shaping of a culture or society. I am merely declaring, as simply as I can state it, my non-belief. I don’t have great certainty about much in this universe in which I live, especially about the existence of god, or gods, or spiritual beings, I am just certain I don’t believe in them, nor has anything in my 55 years of living done much to change that view. And I refuse to take leaps of faith that violate my logic and reason.

So here I am. An atheist in full.

Tommy James, American Pop Legend

Tommy perfected the art of the AM-radio-friendly 3-minute pop song like few others from the 60s. His songs were masterpieces of musical simplicity and endearingly groovy melodies that were finger-snapping cool, energetically sexy, and dance-friendly, helping to get the girls on the dance floor and smiling. Hippies, greasers, jocks, and goody-two-shoes all loved these songs. And the chicks, forget about it: Tommy’s tunes moistened a whole generation of female underpants.

Moreover, every cover of a Tommy James song turned out to be cool too for the 80s generation, by such artists as Joan Jett and Billy idol; even Tiffany’s cheesy-peppy-dorky teen mall rat cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” was annoyingly decent, though you’d have never admitted it to your hipster indie rock friends. But you know you secretly wiggled your butt to it. I wiggled my bootie to it, you pretentious motherfuckers, though mainly because the German hottie I was dating the summer of ’87 loved it. You should have seen Tanya dancing around my apartment in her panties while Tiffany’s version played on the French radio station I frequently blasted on my stereo. Magic, pure magic. Sue me, bitches.

Here are some of his gems:

Crystal Blue Persuasion (1969)
The Summer of 1969; I was 6. My family was visiting my Uncle Don’s lake house near Sturgis. Michigan, with every day at this glorious locale spent swimming and sunning, then at night we had sumptuous cookouts and lots of fun family time, Uncle Don often reminiscing fantastically epic stories of his and my Dad’s youth in South-side Chicago during the Great Depression. I have vivid memories of seeing horrible reports on TV news about the battle for Hamburger Hill in ‘Nam, then watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing, which was one of the greatest experiences of my life. This song was on the radio that magical summer like a guiding beautiful light passing through all the good and bad, uniting life into a glorious sonic cacophony and visual kaleidoscope of psycadelic technicolor perfection. Some memories are better than others.

Mony Mony (1968)

Even now, 50 years later, I still can picture in my mind groovy hippie chicks in mini skirts and knee-length go-go boots dancing lasciviously to this hip little ditty with it’s snappy snare-and-handclaps beat and the tamborurine-led magic of its bridge. And Tommy wailing with his blue-eyed soulful pipes, not quite as badass as Otis Redding or Marvin Gaye or James Brown, but not bad for a whiteboy from southern Michigan. Back in the day you played this at a party to get the gang pepped up and dancing like fools. Billy Idol’s cover of this in the 80s was a sing-along staple in bars and pubs worldwide, with “Drink, get laid, get drunk, get FUCKED!” added by the singing-along crowd during each vocal-less guitar break, and of course “FUCKING BULLSHIT!” sung between the pauses in the chorus instead of “Mony Mony.” Good times.

Hanky Panky (1966)

Along with Louie, Louie, this was the epitome of lo-fi American garage rock. How many kegs were tapped at 1960s frat parties while this was blasting out of cheap record players as frolicking girls twisted and wiggled to its snappy beat? LOTS. The song was naughty in a clean-cut, white-bread way, and yet I am sure the evangelical Jesus freaks swore this was the opening salvo of Babylon taking hold of American hippie youth. Sure, the evangelicals knew black folk had been dirty dancing to their satanic R&B for a decade, but now the white kids were shaking their asses like those dirty negroes, ergo culture was collapsing. Bravo.

I Think We’re Alone Now (1966)

Bubblegum pop perfection. That goddamn bass line just ROCKS, and even an idiot can learn the one-finger organ line in about five minutes. There’s nothing fancy here, just a driving 4/4 beat and cool pop magic that made Tommy the master of AM radio. I stole this 45 from one of my sisters and played the crap out of it on our family’s hi-fi console when I was about 5, dancing around the house like a demon. So maybe in a small way I am channeling that little kid’s memory some 50 years later.

Crimson and Clover (1968)

The Summer of Love was dominated by San Francisco psychedelia-crazy hippies who made great music but were also pretentious douchebags. Tommy took that LSD-driven imagery and placed it into an AM-friendly format that proved he could be as cool as those silly San Fran fucks but without all the annoyingly tedious pretense. The result was some great music, such as this song and the wonderful Crystal Blue Persuasion, two great hippie songs if ever that really meant anything. Even the wankers from The Dead and Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape probably smiled every time this song played on the radio, and at the end they all muttered, “Well played, Mr. James, well played!”

Draggin’ the Line (1971)

By the early 70s AM and FM radio were polar opposites, culturally; FM was where the cool kids played while AM was the home to Country and bad, corny Pop. Tommy James, who was brilliant in both formats, had one last great tune to unleash on the airwaves of both with this snappy, groovy little pop song that rode up the charts merely because it’s awesome. He proved that, despite the popularity of LP albums and 18-minute Yes songs with ponderously boring instrument solos that dragged on forever, there was still a place for the 3-minute pop song, especially cool ones—Tommy James’s forte.

The Hall of Silly Goofy Awesome Rock

Ah, Rock & Roll. It wasn’t all long-haired macho dudes in cod pieces playing loud, misogynistic piffle. There were some fun and silly bands that also played great music. Here’s my homage to a few of the best ones.

Rock Lobster – The B-52s (1979)

Life Begins At The Hop – XTC (1979)

(What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love & Understanding – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (1979)

Another Nail For My Heart – Squeeze (1980)

Once In A Lifetime – Talking Heads (1980)

It Must Be Love – Madness (1981)

That’s Good – Devo (1982)

I Could Be Happy – Altered Images (1982)

Just Got Lucky – Jo Boxers (1983)

Five Get Over Excited – Housemartins (1987)

The Moody Blues

It’s about time the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honored this superb band. Here are a few of my favorite songs. So light up a bowl of your best weed, put on your best headphones, and enjoy one of the greatest bands that ever was and will ever be, The Moody Blues. Deep, melodic, harmonious, mellow, rocking, brilliant, heady, psychedelic, profound, beautiful. This was the music for deep within your mind about the vast the universe around us, and of how it felt to be alive, breathing, and thinking. Goddamn I love this band.

Nights in White Satin (1967)

Ride My see Saw (1968)

The Story in Your Eyes (1971)

Tuesday Afternoon (1967)

Question (1972)

Legend of a Mind aka Timothy Leary’s Dead (1968)

I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock & Roll Band) (1973)

Confessions of a Social Media Dropout

I’ve tried in the past to quit Facebook, but was urged by friends and family to return. Lately, however, I find myself less and less interested in the whole thing. I’ve been absorbed by other activities like exercise and extensive reading to even want to participate any more. Thus I’m going to quit Facebook forever in a couple days. If anyone who doesn’t already have my phone or email wishes to contact me, I can be found at the following email address. Moreover my blog at http://journalofdoubt.com will always be a repository where I chronicle my quotidian life.

email: matthew.c.scheck@gmail.com

It’s not that I have anything against Facebook; as many on here know, I have participated in it with great enthusiasm for years. Nowadays as I approach my 55th birthday, I feel it’s time to move away from such an active online presence and return to a more distant and private lifestyle before the Internet made everything so public. I assure you all I have never felt better both physically and mentally in my life. It’s just time for a change. I was always more than happy to make my life such an open book for all to see, but now I think I’d like to get back some of the privacy such an online presence diminishes.

Peace out. I wish you all the best. You know where to contact me. I will disable my account Friday.

The Sophistry of Psychopaths

Sophistry: noun: the use of fallacious (highly untrue) arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.

Calling this pile of ass-wart puss a Nazi belies the fact he’s far too much of a coward to be a true fascist. Though he does look like some 1920s Brown Shirt piece of shit, he is, in fact, the leader of the most vile special interest group in the USA, and is funded by an industry that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of US citizens the last 30 years.

Here’s today’s insanity from NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, who, like VP Mike Pence, looks like the Nazis in The Sound of Music chasing the Von Trapp family around the Alps [hat tip: Billy Crystal]:

Wayne LaPierre: “What they want is more restrictions on the law-abiding,” LaPierre said on stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington. “They want to sweep right under the carpet the failure of school security.”

1. Everyone is “law-abiding,” even psychopaths, right up to the moment said psychopaths open fire on large crowds of innocent people with military-grade weapons. Take that maniac in Las Vegas last October. Up until he smashed open the window of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and fired his bump-stock-enhanced AR rifles at the crowd of Country Music fans below, killing 58 and wounding over 800, why, he was as “law-abiding” as any other person; after all, he legally purchased over 45 weapons in the previous year and passed every background check—you cannot get more “law-abiding” than that. And then he wasn’t when he pulled that trigger and unleashed hell on the crowd below. Can we please put this logical fallacy of “law abiding” to rest? It is a specious argument. Every person is technically law abiding until the moment he comes unglued and kill others. Who, we citizens ask, is the next psychopath to go from law abiding to total kill-kill-kill crazy in a matter of seconds and unleash hell with assault rifles and high-capacity-mag pistols on groups of innocents? Please explain this distinction, Wayne. Oh, right, there is no universal algorithm or pattern where you can predict when and where the next law-abiding idiot starts killing others. Ergo, the access to guns of mass casualty infliction is the issue, not the “rights” of the individual. Get rid of the guns and the slaughter will definitely diminish, even disappear. That is a logical fact, Wayne.

2. If what happened in Parkland was a “failure of school security,” what about what happened in Las Vegas? What was that a failure of, except to prevent a single citizen from buying over 45 military-grade weapons and thousands of rounds of ammo, checking into a hotel incognito, and murdering 58 people? Was that a failure or “security” too, Wayne, or just the fact you and the NRA encourage any and every fucking idiot in the USA to purchase a shitload of weapons and ammo for the so-called protection of liberty? What liberty was that asshole in Vegas protecting, Wayne? Again, can we dispense with the logical fallacy arguments? The easier security solution to prevent the thousands of gun murders every year is to get rid of the guns. Outlaw them. Seize them all. Now, this may seem impossible, and maybe it is, but, logically, that is the most correct answer to all this gun violence. Ask Australia. That brave country did exactly that, outlawing semi-automatic long rifles and seizing them from private citizens. Turning our schools into armed prisons? Insanity. Arming everyone in America into a giant Mexican standoff as a means of security? Really, seriously? You’re fucking insane, Wayne.

What’s so frustrating about the so-called public discourse on gun violence is that, for far too long, these specious arguments haven’t been rightfully ridiculed for what they are, a load of horse shit. Our right not to be shot by maniacs, as far as I know, greatly exceeds the rights of so-called “law-abiding” psychos for purchasing weapons designed for soldiers to kill lots of enemies in a war. Let’s not bullshit the citizenry of this country over this; Second Amendment rights are one thing, but how about the right to live free from nut jobs shooting at you with weapons that have no truly utilitarian use in the hands of private citizens?

How about the right not to get shot by a psychopath while attending a concert in Las Vegas? Or while attending church in Texas? Or watching Batman at a theater? Or having a work Christmas holiday party? Or dancing at a disco with your friends and loved ones? Or going to school or college in Colorado, South Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, et al.? Or just walking down the street? Your right to bear arms, Mr. Pretend Patriot Douchebag Wayne LaPierre, doesn’t trump my right to live peacefully. So while I think there’s lots of debate to be had about the validity of the 2nd Amendment—and the restrictions we as a civilized country should employ to prevent the thousands of gun murders every year—let’s not forget that the fundamental rights of a US citizen are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not to own a murderous war machine like an AR-15 rifle. Please, Wayne, with the silly bullshit arguments otherwise.