My Sincerest Condolences   (2017Oct23)

foundingDoc_02

Monday, October 23, 2017                                               2:13 PM

Condolences   (2017Oct23)

I want to express my heartfelt condolences to the United States of America. Losing so many of your treasured offspring, all at once, must cause unimaginable heartbreak.

Your Separation of Church and State—your eldest—the engine of your supremacy–finally succumbing to the vermin gnawing at her roots.

Your Democracy—between being sold out and being taken for granted—has unbarred the door to ignorance and division, becoming a front for autocracy.

Your Republican Party has devolved into a virtual cesspit—quite openly and publicly–and the fact that they still beat the Democrats proves that the Voters (though less than half of them have earned the right to describe themselves so—except as, perhaps, ‘abstentions’) have forgotten that ‘We the People’ implies some minimal amount of involvement.

Your Freedom of the Press has been imprisoned by media conglomerates—seeking only our attention, not our health—and the news has become a siren song, distracting us from the deadly rocks before us—to focus on an old man’s Twitter-feed.

And that same dirty old man has obliterated your most august Office of the Presidency—coating it with the slime of incompetence, disrespect, oafishness, and treason. His treason is multi-pronged—he attacks the Constitution because it won’t let him be a dictator—he attacks our ideals because he is a misogynist, racist, classist prig—he attacks our education because he doesn’t value knowledge as much as money—and he attacks our self-respect by telling blatant lies, right to our faces, daring us to do anything about it.

O America! You’ve heard bullshit before—it shouldn’t surprise you that the pig who claimed it wasn’t great, by saying he would make it great ‘again’, has leached out every drop of greatness garnered in your two-hundred-plus years of glory. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.

foundingDoc_03

Trump Is God   (2017Feb11)

inferno25

Saturday, February 11, 2017                                             10:02 AM

Supporters of Trump show similarities to evangelicals—blind faith, blindness to the truth, and an eagerness to pick a fight with non-believers. And I think we can put some of the blame for our political chaos on our collective blind spot—religion. Do you have a religion? I do not. Many Americans have a religion which they are deeply invested in—and many Americans have absolutely no belief in the supernatural—horror-, or Christian- based.

America believes in religious freedom and the separation of church and state—which is good in that it protects Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists. The trouble resides in its protection of orthodox and extreme religious sects—anything short of public terrorist acts is permissible—including science-denial, misogyny, and racial discrimination—all features of certain, otherwise ‘legitimate’ religions.

Just as freedom of speech is sometimes misused—as when a neo-nazi’s public speaking goes unmolested—so, too, is freedom of religion misused to perpetuate ideas like those of Julius Evola (a hero of Steve Bannon’s) who was a little too radical for Mussolini, but is enjoying a resurgence due to Trump’s administration.

America made a great leap forward when it founded itself on the idea that religion was too iffy to form a basis for our laws or our government—where, hitherto, no government was without its state religion—a partner of the secular power structure, enforcing a deeper obedience than can be achieved by mere physical intimidation. Nonetheless, in separating the church from state, we only solved half the problem.

colethomvoygolife3-d3

Atheism’s numbers are growing—now that we have ‘magic’ in flight, in medicine, in digital electronics, etc., we have less interest in the non-responsive magic of angels and deities. Open study of archeology and variant scriptures such as the Dead Sea Scrolls have given us a clearer picture of the human side of religion—offering proof that, even if the original supernatural encounters had happened, the leaders of subsequent sects modified the original faiths to meet the exigencies of change and power.

Over the centuries, changes in society and culture caused changes in religion—and modern findings of this destroy the monolithic, unchanging image that religion likes to project. If God were real, neither he (nor she) nor his rules would ever change—which makes today’s religions either false, or sacrilegious, i.e. false unto themselves.

We also have a much smaller world now—the different religions across the globe are used to being insulated from each other. But now, especially in America, one can have a neighborhood containing members of every religion on earth—and while religious freedom protects each of those faiths, it can’t protect people from noticing that these other faithful are blindly true to something entirely unconnected to that which they are blindly true to. It may seem a small thing—but the old joke is true: everyone is an atheist about all religions except their own. It is only a small step from recognizing that everyone around you believes in hogwash, to recognizing that you are in the same boat.

colethomvoygolife3-d5

Aside from the competing magic of science and technology, and the pitfalls of ‘comparison shopping’ for religion, perhaps the most insidious threat to organized faith is our recognition of the hollowness of authority. Where we once looked to religious leaders and political leaders and respected journalists as authority figures, we rarely get through a month without one of these archetypes being indicted, exposed, or debunked. Today’s surge in atheism is just a symptom of a larger tendency to distrust those in power.

To me, the whole thing is an issue of being wishy-washy or not—you either accept the magical thinking of your faith or you don’t. You can’t have it both ways. If the afterlife exists, if souls exist, if God exists—then a lot of what we are doing is wrong—and we shouldn’t be doing it. I respect the Amish for their refusal to indulge in tech. I respect the Christian Scientists for their refusal to use modern medicine. If you’re going to believe in magic, don’t be half-assed about it. These religions with one foot out the door seem hypocritical to me.

But they are in the majority—and their dilution into something modern people won’t laugh at is a far greater retreat from faith than all the furor over abortion or evolution. Their own embarrassment is a far greater enemy of their faith than any argument we atheists can provide.

pcnto33

I remember when, as a boy, the Catholic Church demoted all the saints that were too close to fairy tales—my own name-saint, Christopher, and other popular saints like St. Valentine, St. Patrick, and St. Nicklaus—were considered too apocryphal to be included in the Church’s saint’s-day calendar. They were not entirely disowned or erased, but their high visibility became an embarrassment to modern Catholics, and they were no longer to be part of our serious rites of worship. That may be where the seeds of my atheism were sown—don’t name me after the guy who supposedly carried the infant Christ across a torrential river (the Christ-bearer) and then turn around and tell me the guy might just be a fanciful legend after all. That’s no way to cement my faith.

Times change—and religions change with them. The fact that times change slowly—and that each generation is presented with a religion as if it were a static foundation—has kept this simple truth from becoming an obvious fact—until now, when change is swift and communication swifter. Religion has become pitifully threadbare in modern times—the idea that a man can have a special connection to the eternal is hard to maintain when that man gets busted for pedophilia, or when that man decides that suicide-bombers are his favorite converts.

We are stuck now between a rock and a hard place—the Muslim extremists would be perfect poster-boys for atheism, if we weren’t so dead-set on pretending that there is a significant difference between one Judeo-Christian-Muslim faith and another. People even go so far as to argue that Christianity has never indulged in murder or terrorism—a patent falsehood that only reveals a deep ignorance of history—and not very ancient history, either.

colethomwhitemtnpass

To me, the most ugly, yet hilarious, paradox is that we, as a nation, are not ready to contemplate a presidential candidate who is an avowed atheist—yet we are completely unable to take a presidential candidate’s faith seriously. While ‘God will provide’ might make sense at home, it is beyond the pale when speaking of public policy. Reagan, Bush, et. al. were always at their most laughable when they reached back for their fundamentalist rationales to explain their decisions. And that’s overlooking the more basic paradox of one faith’s extremist becoming the leader of a multi-faith nation—or designating one faith as more quintessentially American than all the others.

Then there’s the darker issue—that, for many Americans, money is their God, and hypocritical playing on religious heartstrings is fair play, as long as there’s a profit to be made. Religion has been used as a prop for the powerful since the dawn of civilization—Karl Marx was very clear that he felt religion was used to keep the masses subject to state-determined morality. America is famous for having severed the direct link between power and faith—but such things have the ability to morph into other paradigms. We have recently seen many Americans embrace the return of faith as a political power-base—an ignorance that saddens any educated student of American history.

Religion fills a need. Even I, knowing that faith is an imaginary construct, still feel the lack of its warmth and security. My atheism has not made me feel happy or safe—I have simply had to accept that religion is false, and live with that. I even avoid promoting atheism, since I wouldn’t wish it on a happy believer. But when religion gets on its high horse, as if it were real, I am the first to rise in opposition. This defensive posture is a weak one—and the rise of atheism has spurred a sudden strength in the religious—but religion itself has weakened in its obsolescence.

inferno34

So now we have a new president who got himself elected mostly through demonizing violent extremists of a certain religion—and pretending to support the more popular Christian one. No one is blaming religion itself for any of these problems—most Americans react to Muslim extremism by redoubling their faith in Christianity—even though their differences are minor details. The insistence on blaming Muslims for terrorism is a backhanded way of avoiding religion as the true culprit. Extreme religion of any kind always puts faith above reality, worship above humanity—and there isn’t a one of them that hasn’t descended, in the end, into bloody violence.

So why this blind faith in Trump—why do facts simply bounce off the Trump supporters? My theory is that religion has become too embarrassing, but people still need something to believe in—and Trump fills the bill. Like a god, he offers easy answers, no explanations, and an unbounded self-regard. Further, he sees no obligation to jive with observable reality. If you are an evangelist, or have evangelist leanings, in a world that is slowly waking up from the dream of heaven and hell, Trump is a perfect substitute. Plus, he allows you to attack someone else’s religion without even having to stand up and declare yourself a member of your own.

History Repeats –or- Et Tu, Cooper? (2016Dec14)

james_fenimore_cooper_by_brady

Wednesday, December 14, 2016                                               9:57 AM

History Repeats –or- Et Tu, Cooper?

During my reading of Joseph Henry’s biography, I’ve acquired a sudden interest in the history of New York State. As I researched the reference material, I ran across someone’s comment that there were scant histories of the state, which they found odd, considering its size and importance—and that would appear to remain the case. Amazon is strangely ungenerous when searched for the ‘history of New York State’ specifically.

The first book I came across was “New York” by James Fenimore Cooper. One passage stopped me in my tracks, right off:

“We are not disposed, however, to look for arguments to the debates and discussions of the Convention, in our view often a deceptive and dangerous method of construing a law, since the vote is very frequently given on even conflicting reasons. Different minds arrive at the same results by different processes; and it is no unusual thing for men to deny each other’s premises while they accept their conclusions. We shall look, therefore, solely to the compact itself, as the most certain mode of ascertaining what was done.”

[Cooper, James Fenimore. New York (Kindle Locations 190-193).  . Kindle Edition.]

I couln’t help thinking that nothing has changed in this regard—and that we are careless to overlook it. No matter what excuses or rationales are offered for a given legislation, all that truly matters is its effect. If poor people and prisoners can become ‘profit centers’ using the existing laws, then no amount of blather can forgive the fact that our laws promote a form of Capitalist slavery. If pro-business legislation gives power and security to businesses at the cost of fairness to the people, then such laws are unjust—and all the BS in the world isn’t going to change that.

Then I came to this part:

“A great deal that has been done among us of late, doubtless remains to be undone; but we are accustomed to changes of this nature, and they do not seem to be accompanied by the same danger here as elsewhere. The people have yet to discover that the seeming throes of liberty are nothing but the breath of their masters, the demagogues; and that at the very moment when they are made to appear to have the greatest influence on public affairs, they really exercise the least. Here, in our view, is the great danger to the country—which is governed, in fact, not by its people, as is pretended, but by factions that are themselves controlled most absolutely by the machinations of the designing. A hundred thousand electors, under the present system of caucuses and conventions, are just as much wielded by command as a hundred thousand soldiers in the field; and the wire-pullers behind the scenes can as securely anticipate the obedience of their agents, as the members of the bureaux in any cabinet in Europe can look with confidence to the compliance of their subordinates. Party is the most potent despot of the times. Its very irresponsibility gives it an energy and weight that overshadows the regular action of government. And thus it is, that we hear men, in their places in the national legislature, boasting of their allegiance to its interests and mandates, instead of referring their duties to the country.”

[Cooper, James Fenimore. New York (Kindle Locations 287-296).  . Kindle Edition.]

Déjà vu all over again, huh? Could our King Clown have won the late election if he had not, however contrivedly, attached himself to the Republican party? And how many Republicans, while eschewing Trump’s lack of ethics or character, were nonetheless still staunchly behind his candidacy, because he ‘stood’ for their party? The more things change, the more they stay the same, James old man.

Moreover, one of Trump’s endless empty promises was to abolish this partiality to party over public good, to ‘drain the swamp’—a problem he thoughtlessly claimed to be able to solve, in spite of the fact that Cooper saw its operation way back in the years leading to our Civil War, and attributed it, rightly, to human nature—which is something even Trump cannot ‘solve’.

I purchased two other references from Amazon: “Colonial New York: A History” by Michael Kammen, and “New York State: Peoples, Places, and Priorities: A Concise History with Sources” by Joanne Reitano. I’m looking forward to reading them, especially since I expect their prose to scan somewhat more lightly than that of James Fenimore’s.

There is nothing more exciting to a hopeful writer than to catch the scent of a hitherto-unexploited scenario, full of unfamiliar stories and strange new characters—and the history of the State of New York seems to offer just such a niche. With some notable exceptions, up to and including “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin, I believe it was Cooper himself who last took advantage of the wealth of material inherent in our State’s story.

 

psalms83

Fan Mail?   (2016Dec14)

As an unabashed and vocal atheist on social media and elsewhere, I sometimes garner the special attention of evangelicals—I consider it a point of pride that I can sometimes bother them more than the average atheist does.

Ms. Sue B. of White River Junction, VT, out of an abundance of solicitude for my immortal soul, has sent me a letter—well, an envelope, at least. Inside was a typical Jehovah’s Witness flyer, with exhortations about how much God cares for me and how He can make me a better family man. I examined it closely, wondering why a stranger would send me anything by snail-mail (with a Christmas stamp, no less) and have nothing personal to say—and there was a handwritten note added to the inside of the flyer. It said ‘see Psalms 83:18’.

 

Psalms 83 (A Song or Psalm of Asaph.)

 

Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.

For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.

They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.

They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.

For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee:

The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarites;

Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre;

Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.

Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kishon:

Which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth.

Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna:

Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession.

O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.

As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;

So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm.

Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O Lord.

Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth.

 

The eighteenth ‘verse’ is that last line: ‘That men may know…’ The entire Psalm appears to be an exhortation to God to punish the unbelievers, to make us ‘as the dung of the earth’, or as wood burning in a fire—to make us afraid with His storms and fill our faces with shame and let us perish, etc.

Now, I don’t mind so much—that’s an old Book from a rough-and-ready era of history—from religious freedom these folks did not know. But it does strike me as rather snotty—here’s Jehovah, who is supposed omniscient and omnipotent, and then here’s his people, all in his face, telling him what he should do and which of his ‘children’ He should be smiting left and right.

I suspect this Psalm was authored by ‘management’—it has the flavor of an inter-office memo advising the staff not to decorate their desktops with personal items, family photos or potted plants. You know the type—always enhancing their own authority by reminding everyone he or she speaks for the big boss.

I consider it one of the obvious pitfalls of religiosity—if one serves the all-powerful, then one must have power, n’est-ce pas? If religious zealotry makes a person a ‘cop for God’, that person can spend a lifetime regulating the behavior of others, without having to waste an uncomfortable moment examining themselves. It’s literally a cop-out, if you’ll pardon the pun.

But all evangelicals have that velvet-glove thing going on: God loves his itty-bitty childwen—but if you don’t love him back, well, don’t forget to duck, brother. Some parts of the Bible are patently childish, making it clear that it was written long before people had the self-awareness to hear the ‘whine’ in their supplications, or the ‘mine!’ in their fervor.

So, Sue B., whoever you may be, I appreciate your concern for my waywardness—and I don’t much mind the slap on the ass that lies behind it. But you and I aren’t going to get very far, condescending to each other’s apprehension of reality. I chuckle (fondly) at your blindness and you chuckle at mine—we’ll both be fine if we don’t confront each other with ultimatums—that’s where the trouble always starts.

It’s ironic, really—my atheism was born partly from an overabundance of enthusiasm for my childhood faith, Catholicism. I was willing to be a soldier of Christ—hell, I wanted to be a Kamikaze for Christ—and I soaked up every word, every idea that was taught me. But I was a logical little kid, and certain things began to sully my perfect reality. Nuns, for instance, would never miss a trick when delimiting our behavior in CCD classes—but their own behavior seemed to cut a few corners in the service of classroom law-and-order, even going so far as to contradict their own previous reasonings to suit a new scenario of rebuke.

My parents, also, were happy to have me indoctrinated into faith—but if I should criticize anything based on my CCD teachings, it was waved away like a pesky fly—apparently, only those in authority could cite the rules of Christian behavior. My life became the reverse of the Parable of the Talents—I was to ‘render unto the Church what was the Church’s’ and otherwise just shut up and do what I was told.

As the years passed, I learned all kinds of things about history, society and people—I accumulated a mountain of contradictions that disprove the seriousness of people of faith. But all that came later. My original fall from grace was the result of simple observation—grown-ups wanted me to take religion seriously, but they weren’t taking it very seriously, themselves.

It was a more-serious, year-round version of Santa Claus—aimed at kids, but scoffed at between grown-ups. And that condition remains—if you look at the way we live, it’s difficult to claim that most of us are ‘Christians’ in anything more than lip-service. We use Christianity when it suits us—and discard it just as quickly when the going gets tough.

I would gladly live my atheist existence away without once raising my voice against the faithful, but for one thing—I’m a little too OCD about the truth. Faith may be many things—hope, conscience, a dream, an anchor in the storm—but it is most definitely not the truth. Sane people don’t fight and die over the truth—they seek and find it, or they do not—but they don’t fight over it—that’s for opinions.

There is often conflation of argument and fighting (see my previous post on the art of argument) but argument is, in purest form, an investigation after truth—it only becomes a fight when it goes off the rails and becomes a debate, AKA ‘fighting with words’. The religious have the advantage in debate because language grew out of a religious society and inherits a bias towards it, down to the very vocabulary we use—much like misogyny, the assumption of faith is built-in to the fabric of our speech.

Thus, I am always willing to argue the question of God, but I stop short of debating it—uncovering universal truth is impossible enough with a friendly devil’s-advocate—to verbally spar over someone’s adherence to an ancient, easy solution is a complete waste of time.

Big Numbers   (2016Nov15)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016                                           3:24 PM

20161115xd-nancyhd_s_pottery-6

It’s a large-number day! Jessica forwarded 50 new pictures of the family, mostly of princess-baby-granddaughter—and I am working as fast as I can to process them into a new video slide-show with piano music—my hands are stiff and numb from sitting here in the front room typing all day on this rainy, chilly November Tuesday.

Claire received her case of professional pastels—a big wooden chest containing three wooden removable drawers, each with rows of different-colored pastels. I assume it is meant for the studio—schlepping this thing around would give someone a hernia. I used to dream of getting such a set, back in my artsy days—but such panoply of choices would paralyze me—that’s probably why I mostly stayed with ink and paper. Claire will put them to good use, I’m sure—she’s not afraid of color. She’s even dipped a toe into oil-painting recently.

I was not left out—I received several pieces of pottery from Nancy Holmes-Doyle in the post today. One of them—a heartbreakingly gorgeous pinch-pot bowl—was shattered in transit. Just another reason to feel bad about missing the ceramics party, from which I could have carried them home unharmed—and gotten to visit with the Holmes-Doyles. It’s been too long—but every day it gets harder for me to get around. Still, we have two beautiful new mugs, two beautiful new candle-houses, a decorative platter, and a little spoon-rest in the shape of a hand—incredible stuff. I’ll try to photograph them all for this post—you really oughta see them.

 

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016                                              9:52 AM

Can We Be Rude To God?   (2016Nov16)

Believing in God is not a neutral act—it is an offense against reason and a surrender of sanity. I don’t say that to be cruel—it is simply a fact. It’s even part of the rules—ask your preacher—if there were any practical proof of God, then there wouldn’t be any faith—or any need for faith. God says, “Believe in Me.”—He doesn’t say, “Look over here.

Recent ‘Questions’ posted on The Humanist website seem to be subtly asking, ‘How do Humanists make allowances for our group psychosis?’ In a way, they seem to be asking how far we’re willing to go with this Rational Thinking business—and whether or not we non-believers reach a point where we are willing to be rude about the differences.

And that is a valid question in a country founded on religious freedom. After all, it was our religious freedom that allowed us to eschew religion without being burned at the stake—it stands to reason that Christians would wonder if we’ve been given too much freedom—if perhaps it is they, or at least their faith, that will be victimized.

It is a thorny question. Obviously, I am an American, and Americans believe in freedom of religion—but freedom of religion doesn’t address an important issue: How much respect is shown for another’s beliefs? People who believe in something that no one else respects usually get put into mental institutions—it is only natural for believers to be concerned with the amount of respect they are given.

Yet how much respect can a non-believer have for the fanciful tales and notions of theists? Shorn of their ‘given’ legitimacy, the arcana of the major faiths become ludicrous—heaven, hell, angels, an old bearded guy in the sky, transubstantiation—these fantasies are no more acceptable than Greek or Norse mythological tales. As a rational man, I can’t possibly respect these ideas—yet, as a man, I can respect other people having other ideas.

If someone says to me, “I’ll pray for you.” I am capable of holding my tongue—there is little to be gained by insulting someone who has just expressed concern for my welfare. If, at a funeral, a child is being reassured that grandma will be happy in heaven—I’m not going to be the cretin who decides Grandma’s funeral is the place for discussing atheism. But I behave this way because of my respect for other people’s feelings, not my respect for their beliefs.

So please, Humanist-question-contributors, stop asking questions that are sneaky attempts to force us to show respect for your faiths. We don’t respect your faiths—we are unable to. It’s nothing personal—we are simply practicing freedom of religion by answering ‘no’ to all of the above. What we can and do respect are your feelings—if you want to believe in God, we will try not to laugh about it or argue against it.

But if you insist on believing in something that isn’t there, there are going to be conflicts of perception—women and gays are two good examples. The whole point of freedom of religion is to avoid the kind of bloodthirsty nonsense that’s playing out in the Middle East right now. Yet Religious Freedom can only do so much—there will always be disagreements between people of different faiths—and people without faith—the point is to try to live side-by-side, in spite of the disagreements. That’s the reason for separation of church and state—so that no one can make rules to enforce their beliefs, or to criminalize another’s.

But you are probably asking yourself—wouldn’t I, as an atheist, try to criminalize theism, given the chance? I would be tempted—there are many aspects of faith that seem little more than child-abuse or bigotry—indoctrination from infancy, or bias against women and gays—these things are wrong from my point of view. But then again, they were deeply religious people who came up with freedom of religion, and separation of church and state—and those principles kept us atheists from being declare outlaws, back when our lives could have been forfeit. Turning your own good ideas against you would be the height of ingratitude and incivility. I like to think I’m better than that.

So please, Humanist question-submitters, try to stick with questions asked out of curiosity and avoid questions that are little more than subtle digs at ‘the other’.

 

I keep hearing all this BS about how we have to come together now. Yes, he won the election—that doesn’t mean he stopped being a monster. Yes, your candidate won—that doesn’t make you right. I’d love to ‘come together’—but not with Nazis. You people come back to America—we’re waiting right here. Meantime, try not to turn this place into too much of a friggin nightmare.

I’m starting to think the only reason for Republicans is to turn out the Democrat vote, every other election.

—-0-

I’ve seen a lot of Trump-supporter memes, crowing over their victory all over the internet. Let me remind you of something. The Nazis attacked Britain—and the British invented a thinking machine—a computer—and Germany ended up as smoking rubble. The Japanese Empire attacked America—and Americans invented the ultimate killing machine—the nuclear bomb—which destroyed Japan to its very atoms. My point being that intelligent, imaginative, open-minded, decent people don’t like to waste time on belligerence and rancor—but it’s still a really bad idea to piss them off.

Good Morning    (2016Apr16)

Friday, April 15, 2016                                                5:03 PM

Doggerel

 

“Auugh!”, as Charlie Brown used to say

—Though I prefer the traditional “Grrr!”

“Doh!” sez Homer Simpson—though I like a solid “Damn!”

On Firefly they say “Fracking” when they might as well say “Darn”.

I say “Golly-Gosh” a lot, ‘cause I know it won’t do no harm.

But if I’m really in a huff a give a loud “Harrumph!”

Just so you’ll know I’m pretty close to losing all my shit.

‘Cause when I get to swearing there’s no telling when I’ll quit.

 

Saturday, April 16, 2016                                          12:24 PM

Good Morning

Lately I’ve been getting a busy signal from my brain—‘temporarily out of order’, ‘please wait—maintenance in progress’—whatever it is that makes my brain useless for anything except self-preservation. But today I’ve awoken with the feeling of fresh canvas—as if my brain is saying ‘yes, of course you can be creative—what are you waiting for?’

It’s kinda like when my hands are too shaky—I can’t play the piano, no matter how much I want to or how hard I try—but in a larger sense, in that my head is the ‘shaky’ part and if I push it, only garbage comes out. But as I say, today—fresh canvas, clear sailing, blue skies—however one puts it. And I don’t know where to start—should I just relish this feeling of power and potential for a while or should I jump right in and start doing?

Creativity cuts both ways—I can revel in sumptuous daydreams, just privately enjoying my own imagination—or I can attempt to hitch my Pegasus to some earthly activity—a poem, a drawing, an improv—which is a greater adventure, but has its pitfalls. My head is signaling that my creative juices are once again flowing—but I’ve yet to hear from the body, which decides every day on a different amount of gas in the tank.

Some days the body fairly screams for activity—pushing me out the door for a walk around the block, or doing a little spring cleaning on some especially dusty part of my work area. This is rare, though. Most days I’m lucky if I have the wherewithal to do some CD-ripping while I sit here typing. I complain about having to do this but truthfully I’m grateful for a little busy-work that falls within my competency—and I kinda dread the day when I’m done with the ripping. There’s something reassuring about having some simple job to do whenever I feel idle—feeling totally useless is one of the great drawbacks to disability. It can really eat away at your self-image.

Posting a poem, picture, or recording can be very satisfying—it feels like an accomplishment. Getting responses, in the form of likes, shares, or comments, really adds to that feeling—but sometimes the total lack of response can undo all that good feeling. Often, in desperation, I’ll ask Claire to look at my post and give me an opinion—she usually reassures me that I haven’t wasted my time. I have to be careful—I want attention—to a point—but not so much attention that I feel obliged to return that attention to others—I want to be admired without the hassle of admiring someone else’s stuff. I’m self-involved—what can I say?

Most people see a lack of energy as the inability to get sweaty doing hard work—it’s so much more than that. The brain uses energy—a chess player burns more calories than a weight-lifter. And that energy goes into learning, into appreciating what others do, and in doing your own stuff. Without energy, I learn less and am less interested in what others are doing—so when I do my own stuff, it’s claustrophobic—I’m trying to weave new patterns by rearranging old memes. Back in my healthy days, my creativity was a response to the torrent of new input of ideas, images, and concepts found in the world around me—now I’m trying to squeeze creativity out of a vacuum of house-bound, isolated idleness. The law of diminishing returns stands as a specter, always at my elbow.

I wouldn’t dwell on it—but there really is an exclusion that comes with age. I can’t hang out at a college student union or a local bar or any of the places that I remember enjoying—I’ve outgrown them—and even if I don’t accept that, the young people there will let me know in no uncertain terms just how out of place they consider an old geezer at their haunts. In a private setting, good manners usually prevent anyone from rubbing it in—but out in public, the elderly stand out. I think the sight of old people makes the young uncomfortable—we are proof that their fantasy will someday metamorphose into something like us—and with us out of sight, they are protected from that unpleasantness.

People fear death and wonder why—since it comes to everyone. But age is the real boogeyman—just as inevitable, sooner arrived at, and visibly uncomfortable—death is a mysterious and sudden end to everything, but age is a lingering torture of diminishments—activity, freedom, and comfort all shrinking with each year. Sure, it builds character like nobody’s business—but once your character has finished building itself, what then? Like T. S. Eliot says, we acquire a perfect understanding of our lives, just when it has gotten past time for that understanding to do us any good.

One’s children are a temptation—how easy it would be to try to attach myself to their lives, to make a surrogate life for myself by intruding in theirs—there’s no end of excuses I could make—my experience, my knowledge of the world and of people, a lifetime of skill and wisdom. But by doing that, I’ll only delay the time when they begin to think for themselves—by ‘helping’ them forward, I’d really be pushing them somewhere I never got to, for my own reasons—it just wouldn’t do.

No, age is the ultimate hard lesson—there’s nothing you can do but learn it—if you struggle against it, it just makes you look foolish.

 

Sunday, April 17, 2016                                            5:32 PM

Scarlatti

I just finished a very difficult piece by Scarlatti—something I’ve practiced for decades and today was the best stab at it I ever took—so when I finished, I stood up and said, “Where’s my thunderous applause? Why don’t I hear thunderous applause? Something’s gone terribly wrong if I’m not hearing thunderous applause—and I’m not hearing thunderous applause—heads will roll.” In this way I comfort myself for doing well in an empty room. And of course I didn’t have the camera on—but that’s a funny story.

 

I recorded a quick trifle in the front room, and brought the camera into the living room, where the baby grand is, but then decided not to set it up and turn it on. I told myself, “You know, if you turn the camera on, somewhere there’ll be a noise—and you’ll get upset that the recording is ruined—and it’ll be a whole thing—so just leave the camera off.” So I did. And, boy, did I call it—the world’s most annoying dishwasher timer went off about twenty times before it finally quit—but I was able to just keep playing—because no one else was listening and I didn’t give a damn about the timer myself. I love it when I’m right. But that’s when I was comfortable enough to play the Scarlatti, to a marked lack of thunderous applause. You win, you lose, I always say.

 

Murder on 34th Street

This brings me to “Miracle on 34th Street”—the bane of atheists everywhere. I just caught the last half of it—the modern, Mara Wilson version. I prefer the original, Natalie Wood version—but this 1994 version is even more devastating to atheists. The trouble with “Miracle on 34th Street” is that it addresses the biggest problem for atheists—what about the children?

The central theme is encapsulated in this quote from the film: “If you can’t accept anything on faith, then you’re doomed for a life dominated by doubt.”  Or, even worse, this one: “If this court finds that Mr. Kringle is not who he says he is, that there is no Santa, I ask the court to judge which is worse: A lie that draws a smile or a truth that draws a tear.”  We can use a ‘get tough’ policy when we are speaking to adults—but what about children?

We parents want to give our children something to believe in—nothing has caused me more doubt and worry than to raise our children without any religion—not because I believe in one of them, but because it is Santa Claus on steroids—something to believe in with a vengeance, as it were. I yearned to offer my children this imaginary comfort—and if I could have offered them the magic without all the poison it contains, I would have. Yet in the final analysis religion’s darkness outweighs the sparkle of fairy dust—I couldn’t indoctrinate my children into one of those shams and still look at myself in a mirror.

I was often tempted to lie to my children while they were growing up—some of the questions they asked made me sick to answer truthfully—because people can get very ugly—and the ugliest of them seem to gravitate towards the money and the power, thus shaping our society far more than the wishes of the vast majority ever enter into it. We live in a world where the unethical is often legal and the ethical is always bad business. To prepare our children to meet that world we have to warn them of some of the worst humanity has to offer—not that I laid it on that thickly, but even the barest outlines of society can be unpleasant to explain to innocents. This is especially true when you live to see a smile on their faces.

So, as pleasant as it might have been to spin them a yarn about angels and doves and pearly gates, I gave them the truth as I saw it. I don’t regret it. There are some nasty people out there who profess a strong faith in god—and if you ask them they’ll tell you all about him—some of them even talk to him. I’d have been damned if I was going to raise my kids to be prey for those types of crazies.

Inventing Religion   (2016Mar30)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016                                            7:36 PM

I’m sure some of you have older siblings and I don’t know, maybe yours was an angelic and helpful soul—but my older brothers enjoyed nothing better than to mess with me or my younger siblings. Every strange woman was a witch—every home with an overgrown lawn was haunted—every barking dog was a killer who had recently broken its chain and would probably do so again today.

caravaggio6

As children we find ourselves in a tight spot—we know that this information is almost certainly bogus—but we have no alternative sources of data. I knew my siblings were just trying to scare me—but maybe that lady really is a witch… Then we grow up and we look back on our surprising gullibility with amusement—as we listen to our older children tell our younger children the same spooky fairy tales and ghost stories.

Our parents might tell some whoppers too—Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy come to mind—but they take them back once we get to a certain age. Then our teachers teach us ‘history’ that we are meant to unlearn in maturity—Washington chopping down a cherry tree, etc. These simple memes help us put pins in the timeline of history that will be replaced later by the dry facts—so to call them lies would be exaggerating things a bit. Still, by the time family, friends and teachers are done with our childhoods, we end up with a great many voided checks of education—and an awareness that communication isn’t always about fact.

20121002XD-WIKI-Bernini-LaocoonNSons

Having learned that people will tell us virtually anything in an attempt to manipulate us, we nevertheless spend the rest of our lives with an unquestioning belief in our religions. The fact that different styles of religion popped up in various regions of the world—just like languages—doesn’t dissuade us from holding firm to our faiths. The fact that religious authorities are famous for corruption and venality doesn’t dissuade us from respecting their ranks, as a group. Even having historical records showing that our religions have been modified over time by consensus of these authorities—even that does not shake our resolution to view these religions as solid and unchanging.

Then we hear of cults where people are deluded into self-destruction or slavery—and here we draw the line. Apparently, a religion that asks you to murder someone or to kill yourself is asking too much—yet all religions tell you how to live your life. The more pleasant the delusion, the more popular the faith. The difficulty we face now with Islamic extremists is that these people are simply hewing to the old, pre-industrial standards of religion—‘kill the infidel’ has been part of their faith for centuries—only the overpowering influence of Western science and technology has brought these places into acquaintance with pluralism and secular societies—and these memes, being imports, are sometimes resented rather than embraced.

paradise_lost_2x

We think of the global community as having been enlightened because they have cell-phones and fast-food outlets. We think of the Amish and tell ourselves that anyone with real old-timey religion will steer clear of technology—but that isn’t the case. Even in America we have evangelists who believe in a literal translation of the Bible—even to the point of denying fossil records and carbon-fourteen dating—but who nonetheless are perfectly comfortable using Twitter, microwaves, and Siri. In such cases, selective ignorance is required—they can study medicine, but must keep their distance from biology where it enters the realm of evolution—such as the transformation of viruses into new forms over time, or the presence of Neanderthal genes in an individual’s DNA sequence.

Plainly, everyone is open to new information, new tech, new gadgets—but new ideas are frightening and unwelcome. Information is our friend—until it isn’t—then we have to decide whether the new info is worth the loss of old assumptions. When cars are invented, the idea that we can travel a mile a minute is very welcome—when cars are found to emit toxic gasses, the idea that we have to change our cars, or stop using them altogether, is proportionately unwelcome. When close study convinced me that religion was a sham, the freedom from that delusion was quite welcome—the idea that the afterlife was, at the very least, far different, if it existed at all, was less welcome. No one is unhappier at a funeral than an atheist—we can’t even say all the comforting things that religious people find so believable.

bible2

But religion is like language in another way—we are raised on one of them and we aren’t inclined to switch to another, just for the sake of unity. Of the things that separate us, in truth, I’d place money and language ahead of religion—after all, while I don’t have a shred of belief, it is still a common feature of most people in most places—and religions, being invented, have certain common denominators. While this is sometimes used by the religious as ‘proof’ that God is everywhere, to me it seems more a connection to human nature—we invent the religions we most want to believe in.

But the older style of religion is unabashedly divisive—fear and hatred of the outsider is enthusiastically embraced—as is punishment for any show of aberration among the faithful. Power-players, especially in the Middle East, have long used this predilection as a way of exerting military and political power—and such people have little regard for the chaos they sow. Ironically, the people that ally themselves with such fundamentalism are a greater source for evil than any simple atheist like myself could ever be.

bible4

What is even stranger is that religions have historically been just that—evil and divisive—until the combination of the Reformation and King Henry VIII’s split with the church in Rome began the erosion of clerical power that ended with the founding of a country based on a forced separation of church and state. After that, religions, especially Christianity, began to be more domesticated and civilized until we have the almost completely secular America and Europe of today. That is strange because, by making themselves less intrusive, religions have made themselves harder to criticize—while, to an atheist, the delusions of lightly-held faiths and the delusions of radical extremists differ only by degree. We atheists are grateful that most of you don’t feel obliged to murder us in our sleep—but we still don’t understand why you keep ingesting the opium of the masses.

But Writing Isn’t Easy   (2016Mar20)

20140608XD-BeachFlowers 014

Sunday, March 20, 2016                                          10:12 PM

As with most days, I’ve had images fed into my head through the television all day, some of them entertainment, some news, some political—and I could recount them all for you, as if you hadn’t seen the same stuff—or, if you haven’t seen any of it, I could spare you the trouble—and let me tell you, some of it was troubling—so I won’t upset either of us by doing that. Then I could give you my opinion about it all, after carefully phrasing it so that I had some chance of being interesting or amusing—but there are people that do that for a living. Who am I to try to take the bread out of the mouths of professional pundits?

20140203XD-OldKatonahHouseMoving

Most of my political posts, especially the ones about current events, are my version of the ‘primal scream’—do you remember primal scream therapy? Do they still do that? I remember thinking—that’s a great idea—most people could use a good scream every now and then. But I’m not much for screaming, so I blog about things that upset me. The only trouble is—it usually just makes me more upset. Maybe that’s why you don’t hear much about primal scream therapy any more.

JD037T20051116

I get confused, too. There’s so much—should I debate the logic of a thing, the legality of it, the constitutionality of it, the humanity of it, the practicality of it? Should I cite history? That’s always dangerous—most history doesn’t have a beginning or an end, so if you start talking about one thing, you’re bound to run up against other things that may hurt your argument more than help it. Should I argue the semantics of what’s been said? Should I argue the meaning implied by the words? Should I just call someone an idiot—or is there more to it, something that makes that someone merely ignorant or neurotic? If I write too stridently about the ‘right thing’ will I come off as too goody-two-shoes? And if I soft-peddle the ‘right thing’ will I be consigned to that ninth circle of hell reserved for the uncommitted?

20130708XD-paintings-romanc-lorelei

Then there’s my being an atheist—should I bring that up if I think the issue is influenced by religion—or should I avoid it because it’s such a heavy thing to bring to the party? Is it better to avoid the subject for being unpleasant—or will I feel better if I’m painfully honest at all times? As with anything that involves society, there’s a part of writing that assumes you’re writing to be read—if you’re not going to think about the reader, then why are you writing? On the other hand, why are you writing if you’re not going to say what you think? Both good questions—and the question isn’t simplified any by the fact that readers’ brains come in all shapes and sizes.

Revery

I used to draw—it taught me something important. One person would look at a drawing and say they thought it great—then that person would look at another drawing and say it was a clunker. Then another person would give me the exact opposite opinions about the same two drawings. Proof positive—you can’t please everybody—there’s no such thing as good—there’s just what someone likes. Sometimes a lot of people will like the same thing—that’s just a coincidence—and there are still going to be people that don’t like a popular thing, anyway.

20110326XD-NASA-LightShow(Saturn)

Well, coincidence is the wrong word—it’s not a coincidence that people like Van Gogh’s paintings or Beethoven’s compositions—but there is something ineffable about ‘great’ art—no one can really say what makes it great. They can tell you why it’s impressive, why it’s well-designed or something—but not why the whole world wakes up one morning and declares a thing great. Still, not everybody likes Beethoven—even if it’s just because they haven’t much listened to his music—and if Ludwig can’t get a 100% approval rating, then neither can you.

20151106XD-Rijk_Book_Printing

That’s why arts teachers are always harping on just pleasing yourself—you’re your own proof-of-concept—if you like what you write or draw or play, then you have at least one person in your audience. However many people might eventually agree with you is something you can’t really do much about.

goghSun1889

Still, when I write, I’m inviting someone to spend time on reading me—and I know that I have to capture someone’s interest if I expect the whole thing to be read. You shouldn’t work to please an audience—but your work must have consideration for an audience—a subtle point, but it still makes it all very confusing. Worse still is the question of autobiography—when is TMI TMI? When does a story of my past involving someone I know stop being reminiscence and cross the line into defamation and libel—of them, or myself? Conversely, how much investment can I expect from readers if I’m too shy about my shortcomings or mistakes to tell the real story? If I write about bending the law here and there, am I telling a good story or am I publishing a criminal confession? It’s looks easy—writing isn’t easy.

20130716XD-Wiki-TheYears-Virginia Woolf378px-Virginia_Woolf_(5)_2

Daylight Is Their Greatest Enemy   (2016Mar12)

20160312XD-WomenPants_modesty_in_1911-50

Saturday, March 12, 2016                                        12:42 PM

In the present political climate I often wonder how the world I grew up in became so surreally chaotic. But then I realize that the staid and stuffy aspects of society that bothered me as a youngster have all been, to varying degrees, knocked into rubble—silence is no longer the answer to an ugly problem. And we have found many ugly problems had been caused by the suppression of beautiful people—real people, not just the idealized Dicks and Janes of the 1950s. That people, in all their variety, can no longer be publicly shamed for being different, in whatever way, is a great step forward—but institutionalized biases persist—and individual families’ lore makes bigotry an eternal legacy—so true equality and acceptance continue to elude America.

20160312XD-WomenPants

We have today a clash that was impossible in the 1950s—Plurality has won many Supreme Court battles, from Thurgood Marshall’s historic vindications to the recent acceptance of gay marriage—thus the laws that made equality a joke have all been deemed unconstitutional—but the personal hatred and fear still persists. The cancer of Capitalism confuses the issue enormously—especially because lots of old, bigoted, homophobic, evangelical white men have most of the money. The opium of Religion confuses the issue, too, by supporting ancient codes of morality that predate both science and medicine, i.e. they were written by ignorant people—and by making up ‘teams’, each religion vying for supremacy, as god intended—their god, anyway.

20160312XD-LongHair

In the 1960s, the growing liberal population was relegated to the ‘sub-culture’—equality and free speech used to be something of an underground movement, vulnerable to police brutality and legislative bans. Criminalizing drugs, particularly weed, was targeted at the subculture. Lenny Bruce, the stand-up comic, when he wasn’t being arrested for talking openly about sex or using profane language, was being arrested for possession. Schools banned long hair on boys and pants on girls. Looking back we are tempted to say, how trivial, how silly—but this was the level of blind conformism that those in power presumed upon themselves.

20160312XD-RaceRiots_8164530_orig

Thus ‘the establishment’ made themselves easy targets for lampoon and ridicule—and liberality became more mainstream—there was a backlash of ‘what’s the big deal with long hair and dirty words—especially while our kids are being sent into a meat-grinder in South East Asia?’ And ever since, it has been more and more the case that the establishment is now the underground movement –and the trouble is that evil thrives in secrecy—especially wealthy evil. The worst disaster to befall the Republican party in the last election was when some journalist smuggled out a tape of a meeting where they spoke plainly among themselves. When we heard Romney’s ‘47%’ comment, he lost the race. Daylight is their greatest enemy.

20160312XD-DisabledRights_LivesWorthLiving_t614

The sixties were an era of great conflict—even riots in the streets—and that was when truth and justice were ‘the underground’. Now that greed and evil are the new ‘underground’ movement, we can just sit back and wait for the end of civilization as we know it—the bastards. Like all poorly-shaped minds, they search the new liberality, cherry-picking those freedoms that allow for dirtier tricks than ever before, while ignoring the ideals behind those freedoms.

20160312XD-LennyBruce

Their idea of ‘fighting fire with fire’ is to lie and twist the truth and engender fear and loathing of one group for another, while pretending to be good businesspeople, good family people, and good Americans. I hate a bald-faced, shameless liar—and so I don’t much care for Republican politicians. At least the Democrats accept Science—I mean, really.

In a way, Trump, by presenting the GOP as the naked fascism it is, is a breath of fresh air—finally, a blatantly stupid, hateful pig who doesn’t try to pretend he’s just as intelligent and sensitive as a Democrat.

That S**t-Eating Grin    (2016Mar11)

Friday, March 11, 2016                                  12:26 PM

History proves, huh? I can’t even remember last night—how can you think that the past tells us anything but what we wish to hear? Yes, this happened, but that happened too—and who knows what else happened that’s being left out, or what’s been added with the ‘benefit’ of hindsight? Even in the present, we don’t know people’s mindsets—what they’re thinking, how they see things—we certainly can’t pretend we know what went through the minds of those long gone.

The only thing history proves is that we, here in the present, are the survivors of an endless struggle—a struggle with ourselves, with others, with the elements, with ignorance, with knowledge—it’s all chaos. Pinning it down to prove a point only twists the few facts we know into a narrative that proves our point—and that isn’t proof, that’s rationalizing. You can’t use history to prove anything—history is a list of experiences—that’s its value—we can learn from history.

But we don’t. We didn’t learn from Prohibition—we still have billions of dollars and millions of people embroiled in the criminalization of drugs. We didn’t learn from Sandy Hook, et. al.—we still pretend guns are a safety measure. People are stupid, but we’d rather die than admit it—the Trump rally supporters are just the cream of the crop—and even those morons have worked it out in their heads that they are the tip of the spear of common sense.

As a highly educated person, I have a warning for all you students out there—stop now, while you still have a chance of living your life without frustration and bitterness. Only the ignorant know bliss. Step one—believe in God—that’s a good start—that’ll have you deluded right from the get-go—and it makes all the other stupidities of convention that much easier to swallow. Step two—never listen to anyone who disagrees with you. Step three—be afraid—be very afraid—it doesn’t really matter what you’re afraid of—as long as it keeps your mind closed to new ideas.

There, now you can float through life without being driven mad, as I am, by the countless daily examples of humanity’s idiocy. Trust me, you won’t regret being stupid—look at that shit-eating grin on Trump’s face.

Conflict In The News   (2016Feb24)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016                                       2:19 PM

I often bemoan the lack of a filter on today’s media—but the filters media once had were based on avoiding criticism of the establishment, silencing cries of injustice, and a priggish abhorrence of prurience. I should be more precise in criticizing media—first of all, I should take the trouble to specify mass media, since by definition, my own blog—and that of many other individuals without malice or agenda—is part of modern media as a whole.

Neither is mass media truly without filter—there are all kinds of filters on mass media, Money being one—and Conflict (actual or goosed-up by obsessive coverage) being another. During the recent Oscars ‘white-out’ controversy, several filmmakers pointed the finger at backers who won’t take risks on their investments—and while that may display a lack of enterprise and independence among filmmakers, they still have a point—all mass media gets financed up front, so none of it gets through without a green light from some financier. And, if I understand correctly, the money-peoples’ influence doesn’t end with the initial approval—far from it.

News-reporting has an even more evil monkey on its back—the need for constant attention—but instead of throwing tantrums, the media manufactures tantrums for us to throw. It is hard to hear what any interviewee is actually saying when they’re constantly being cross-examined by reporters who echo the lies and suspicions of the ‘other side’ of the story. And here’s where there is a filter missing—there is no filter on how jack-assed the ‘other side’ can be—no matter how asinine, any controversial opinion is welcome. And often as not, in their desperation to find a counter-point, the media’s talking heads often overlook the actual forces in conflict—particularly when those differences are nuanced, or require some thought.

Trump, for instance, is just a bully—that’s plain to see. But the media flock to conflict, shining a spotlight of respectability on this wanna-be prater. On the comedic news-parody programs, they ridicule Trump mercilessly—it’s like shooting fish in a barrel—but if the real news did that, they’d have to admit that a real-estate hustler doesn’t deserve our respect—or our attention, whenever he says whatever crazy shit comes flying out of his mouth. Those golden pronouncements make lots of money for the news divisions in ad revenue—but they are still the mouthings of a monkey.

This ‘nobody is wrong’ attitude seems like pluralism—but it is simple lack of judgment—some things are open to question in a real sense, but other ideas and alternatives are either willful blindness or simple delusion. And this is where I feel obligated to debunk religion—the original alternative to what’s clearly right in front of our noses. I think of freedom of religion as being limited to faith itself—you can believe whatever you want—religion, in the stricter sense, is the aspect of faith that you insert into reality—even try to impose on the reality of others—and there’s nothing free about that. But I could spend all day trying to explain why it’s okay for us to believe differently, as long as your religion doesn’t impose any limits on my understanding—if you don’t understand the spirit of ‘freedom of religion’, it’s probably because you have one. The unfortunate fact is that the idea of ‘freedom of religion’ is really an ass-backwards way of admitting it’s all bullshit, without actually saying so—but I don’t want to get bogged down in that morass, either.

We should be avoiding conflict—not whipping it up at every opportunity. In truth, the solution to most of civilization’s problems could be solved if we threw money at it. We don’t want to make life fair or easy or comfortable for the least of us—we want them to suffer. Instead of figuring out the minimum amount of money that local governments have to spend to keep corpses from rotting in the street, we should be investing lavishly in public services, throwing money at every aspect of inequality. It seems counterintuitive, but everywhere it’s done, the effects are always remarkable, always hailed as a ‘miracle’ of success—when it’s only the right way to do things. Americans love conflict—but there are aspects of civilization that patently should not be competitive—that’s a simple fact. That may be why we’ve recently let Socialism out of the dirty-word closet.

The trouble with Socialism, at this point in time, is that it’s become Bernie Sanders’ brand-name, when the entire Democratic party have been ‘socialist’-leaning all along, Hillary included—but chose to couch it as intelligent governance, due to the unpopularity of words like Socialism in recent decades. America is inherently socialist—justice and equality are very much the people’s values—which is why the conservatives go to such pains to convince us that ‘the business of America is business’—it helps them justify their greed and subversion. But I can promise you that voting for Trump is the hardest way for us to learn that lesson. Voting for Bernie will only teach you the futility of electing a socialist to lead a GOP legislature and a polarized nation. I’m still voting for Hillary—she’s not perfect, she’s not superwoman—but she is better than all the alternatives by a long shot.

The trouble with Socialism is that it was initially offered as an alternative to monarchies and other autocracies—and Capitalism managed to present itself as an alternative to Socialism, when it was really just a burgeoning new form of autocracy, infesting the democratic process with special exemptions and entitlements for the rich and powerful. And Socialism, when described, can often sound suspiciously like Christianity, in its means, if not its motives—not the faux Christianity of Capitalists, with its Xmas shopping, judgmentalism and sexism—but the hard, pure Christianity of Christ, with charity, mercy, and love one’s neighbor as oneself. Hey—I’m an atheist, but I know a good idea when I hear one.

I’m Getting Stoned   (2016Jan29)

Friday, January 29, 2016                                          10:35 AM

I’m gonna get stoned. Don’t call me. I’m gonna get stoned and watch TV—I won’t be available for public appearances. I won’t be able to legally drive my car—hell, I’m not the safest driver when I’m straight—you don’t want the stoned me coming at you.

20131102XD-NASA-SolarFilemnt

This is my problem with modern living—life has a texture, a quality—and that’s its only purpose—the ‘economy’ doesn’t mean shit—it’s double-talk for how secure the fat cats are—the ‘economy’ for people like you and me is ‘I don’t have enough of it’. People argue, for instance, over childcare and maternity leave—as if those activities are secondary to a schmoe like you or me sitting in a cubicle making money for the man—what a truckload of utter bullshit.

20100424XD-Nasa-solar-dynmcs-obsrvty-colr-temps_19339

We should be taking care of our children (AKA our future) and debating whether or not we have the time and money to waste on sitting in cubicles making money—not the other way around. We should be spending our money on drug programs to help drug abusers—not programs to hunt them down and shoot them. Why do we have Prohibition for drugs when we know from history that prohibition doesn’t work? All we’ve accomplished is to create an international black market whose economy rivals many small nations—and some big ones. Fear-reaction politics has led us all down a very self-destructive path.

20100424XD-Nasa-solar-dynmcs-obsrvty-loop-fades_19340

Now we have clowns vying to be president—that should tell you just how far off track we’ve gotten. When did mature, educated people become such a small part of the electorate? Are we really this stupid? I don’t think so—people can be surprisingly clever—I think what’s happened is that we’re being purposely led astray by conservatives.

We know damn well that Religion is bullshit—but conservatives insist they want to carry that delusional baggage into the twenty-first century. We know that Capitalism is just organized greed—but the wealthy perpetuate it because the more common-sense future of socialism threatens their wealth and power of influence. If technology has already freed us from grubbing in the dirt individually, why can’t we see that digital technology is well on the way to freeing the entire human race from grubbing for a living? Independents try to frighten us with a loss of freedom that living under a caretaker government suggests—but having the government distribute wealth is no less dangerous than letting the fat cats run their employment free-for-alls which leave the least of us with the greatest challenges.

20140101XD-NASA-QuietCoronaNUpperTranstnRegionODSun

The business-owners want to pick and choose from the pool of employable people—and let the rest of us shift for ourselves. With technology taking over people’s jobs, that ‘rest of them’ group grows ever larger—a mounting segment of the population grows impoverished while the overall productivity rises—and all that profit goes to the owners. What kind of bullshit is that? I’m getting stoned—fuck this bullshit.

20100807XD-NASA-SolarEvent

Omniscience   (2016Jan07)

20160107XD-NASA-SuperMassiveGalacticCoreBlackHole

Supermassive and Super-hungry Galactic Core Black Hole – NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

 

Thursday, January 07, 2016                                              10:49 AM

Think of existence as a river—think of the novas as upriver and the black holes as downstream—something explodes into our existence and, after a little while, something leaks back out of existence. We used to think of the cosmos as static—nowadays we think of the universe as a long, slow-motion explosion—but existence is neither so simple nor so unidirectional. We are told of matter and energy that are ‘black’, meaning that we can’t see anything there, but we know from its effect on what we can see that ‘something’ is there—albeit a something that can’t be seen or understood.

20151222XD-NASA_Chandra_gasRibbon_Galaxy.jpg

Then there’s dimensionality—quantum physics indicates that there are as many as twelve different dimensions, give or take. We can see and understand the three dimensions of space—and if you add Time as the fourth, you get four easily understood dimensions to existence—so, in what direction do the other dimensions extend? Are we as ignorant of Nature’s true nature as a flatlander is of a sphere—but six or eight times more ignorant? This new Multiverse idea—is that like saying that our entire universe is like a point on a line—and that there are an infinite number of universes in both ‘directions’ along that dimensional line? Probability itself suggests that our universe is just a single roll of the dice—and that other universes exist where things went differently—a new universe for every atom that turns left instead of right, up instead of down.

20151219XD-NASA_Earthrise

For all the incredible cleverness of advanced physics, all our scientific information seems to indicate that we don’t really know much—that we can’t really know much. Imagine that—science proving that science is virtually useless. Think of the technology—the smelting of alloys, the nuclear energy, electron microscopes, gene-splicing, robots on Mars, and laser spectrography—yet the ultimate message of all our research is that there is more to know than we could ever expect—that knowledge exceeds our senses, our intuition—even our imaginations.

20151218XD-NASA_Galaxy1068

Strangely enough, this all still cuts both ways—we can view it as proof that there was never a God who created a flat Earth with a Sun and Moon moving across its sky—or we can view it as proof that only something unimaginably omniscient and omnipotent could create this puzzling universe. On the one hand, ‘excess’ dimensions are proof of the supernatural—there are things we can’t see. On the other hand, the ancient scriptures of the main religions show an ignorance that could only come from early humanity—with no sign of input from a creature that really knows the universe’s workings.

20150928XD-NASA_SuperMoon

Thus when evangelicals claim that the ways of God passeth all understanding—I can’t disagree—but when they claim that the Creator picked out individual humans to talk to, or had temper tantrums that resembled natural disasters—or my favorite—that humanity was created from whole cloth instead of evolving from bacteria along with the rest of biology—well, I see a lot more humanity in all of that than any hint of a Supreme Being. I find myself in the awkward position of finding the universe even more mysterious than the wildest zealot’s claims—but completely unable to accept the nonsense in our sacred texts dating from the pre-shoes era of human history. Show me a God who created the Higgs boson particle and I’ll go to church on Sundays—if you know what I mean.

20150926XD-NASA_NileAtNight

 

20150925XD-NASA-VeilNebula

Children   (2015Dec28)

Monday, December 28, 2015                                           12:01 PM

I saw two thought-provoking items in the New York Times Art Section today. One was about laser-scanning ancient historical sites under threat from ISIL vandalizing—and the other was about Jennifer Jason Leigh’s return to movies after the birth of her son.

I love the laser-scanning—once completed, a good laser-scan allows us to buy up some real estate down in Anaheim (next door to you-know-who) and recreate an entire site—right down to the texture of the stones—suitable for family visits or archaeological study. Indeed, we live in a world where, before long, even the reconstruction will be unnecessary—virtual-reality headgear will allow us to visit the site without leaving our homes. Meanwhile, science-denying thugs wandering the deserts of the Middle East can crack all the stones they want—was there ever such a display of ignorance?—destroying the remains of our past out of fundamentalist superstition. What children. Our only remaining threat would be Chinese-ISIL—people who could hack our digital heritage sites.

It is fitting that the season of Santa Claus would be a time for Jennifer Jason Leigh to start wishing for a role in a film her five-year-old could see. We parents are careful to keep our children from growth-stunting stuff like caffeine, alcohol, or cigarettes—and we do the same with perceptions. We feel (correctly, I think) that children’s minds cannot mature properly if certain memes are presented too early—vice, violence, betrayal, and despair can overtax a growing mind, killing its spirit before it has a chance to grow strong enough to handle adult issues.

Thus we raise our children in a fantasy world of happy endings, magic, and limited evil—we lie to them about Santa Claus for their own good—even though we must be revealed as liars, in time. Movie stars like Jennifer Jason Leigh act in challenging roles that suit their young ambitions—but when they become parents, they invariably start to think about roles in family-friendly fare—they become Santa Claus actors. Are they surprised, I wonder, when they discover that it is just as difficult to act out fantasy as reality? Ask a children’s-book author—it is as hard to write an engaging children’s story with limited vocabulary, devoid of adult issues, as it is to write adult literature full of big words and complex problems.

And if it is truly necessary to raise our children in a bubble of innocence, why have we never addressed this scientifically? Scientists might be able to determine the exact age at which children are best told that Santa Claus is a fiction—instead of having those uncomfortable confrontations between kids whose parents let the cat out of the bag—and kids whose parents want to hang onto innocence awhile longer. It is one of those ‘givens’ that we recognize, but never study outright. Doctors and nutritionists give careful study to which foods are appropriate for growing infants—when to start on solid foods, etc.—but we leave the decision about emotional maturity to the MPAA, which determines how old you have to be to watch each film being released—and the MPAA, trust me, is not a scientific institution with our children’s mental health as their primary concern.

Of course, even if we studied this issue, there would be parents who would take exception for their kids—as some of them do now, with polio shots and other school-mandated vaccines. Ignorance is an important part of childhood—and we parents sometimes want to prolong their ignorance—yet no parent would admit that they want their children to grow up to be ignorant adults. Even though reproduction is the cardinal activity of living beings, we still have debates over whether we should enlighten our children with sex education classes. That attitude seems more for the parents than for the kids—wishful thinking that our kids won’t have sex. Some school systems even have so-called sex-ed classes that supply misinformation and focus on abstention, rather than giving kids the information they need to avoid early pregnancy or STDs.

We even lie to teenagers—take any class in business administration and show me the chapter that deals with bribes, protection, or corruption—unavoidable factors in real-world business that we nevertheless overlook when we study the subject. Criminality is like an unrecognized sovereignty—it doesn’t officially exist, but any real-world activity must take it into account. This accounts for the phenomenon of college-graduates who don’t know a damned thing about real life—for all the debt being incurred, that seems kind of wasteful.

Eventually, we must admit that the lying never ends—even adults can be grouped into levels of greater or lesser reality-facing. There’s a group that believes in the efficacy of group prayer. There’s a group that believes America is great because it is rich and powerful—and never asks how it got that way, or how it stays that way. People can be categorized by how much childhood innocence and ignorance they retain, and how much, and what kinds, of reality they embrace. We live in a world where, no matter how true something is, there’s a group of people that don’t believe it—and, conversely, no matter how silly something is, there’s a group of people that do believe it.

As T. S. Eliot once wrote, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” We have difficulty living in the present. We have difficulty accepting hard truths. Outside of the infinity of truths even a scientist cannot know, there is a further infinity of truths we refuse to acknowledge—it is troubling for me, a seeker of truths, to accept that for many people the avoidance of truth is a valid pursuit. Long ago, in my youth, I used to see religion as the prime avoidance technique—but now that mass media has come into its own, I see that misinformation has no limits. Some people are so insistent on falsehood that they can contradict themselves without embarrassment—or deny that they said something, moments after they said it.

It is fitting, I suppose, in this age when knowledge is exploding in every direction, that misinformation should explode as well—but that doesn’t make it any less tragic.

Absurdities and Fragments (2015Dec13)

Friday, December 11, 2015                                               11:26 AM

Absurdities

Like a waterfall in the ocean, or a cloud beneath the ground

Or if toes could type like fingers, or the flowers sniff themselves

Like rain all night in weather dry, or songs without a sound

Or heaven without angel wings, or Santa without elves—

If I could only fly aloft by lying in my bed

Or make a universe exist with a logarithmic word

I’d think up all the great ideas with nothing in my head

And make a world of common sense seem patently absurd.

Friday, December 11, 2015                                                        2:10 PM

Fragments   (2015Dec12)

I was struck today by the image of a waterfall in the ocean—see, you can’t have a waterfall in the ocean—you need solid ground to make a waterfall—isn’t that weird? Stoner thinking—I know. But while we stoners seem pretty silly, ceaselessly marveling at the simplest things—I can’t help wondering if a penchant for being blasé about the universe is such a great alternative. The ability to see things anew, with a fresh appreciation, isn’t a distortion—it’s a gift beyond price. Being bullheaded about everything is just as foolish—and I see people do that all the time—without benefit of any self-medication.

I’ve decided to back away from politics—not that it doesn’t matter—it matters plenty—it’s just that I see now that politics is just a bunch of people fighting over the steering wheel while no one is looking out the windshield. In the end, people run politics as much as politics run people—if the politicians go too far wrong, they’ll always get corrected by public pressure. Look at Trump—front-runner for prez one day, shunned by the entire globe the next. While politics is important, my giving myself a stroke watching it on TV doesn’t do anyone any good—especially nowadays, when TV anchors report both sides of the news—the sensible and the idiotic. They used to report on different sides of the sensible and simply discount the idiots—and I miss that—but that may have been my youthful ignorance and there’s been idiots all along—whatever.

Feelings are so confusing. Sometimes I feel that I’m on the cusp of a great notion—something new, an exciting idea, a fresh insight—then a gear slips and my mind is blank—nothing left but a vague notion that I had an idea. I’m confused about which part of my mind is malfunctioning—is it my memory that collapses every time I get inspired—or am I just delusional and never had an inspiration to begin with, just the notion of one? Given the result, it hardly matters which—I guess I just want to know which to grieve over.

Today’s post is a great illustration of my mindset—every paragraph is about a different subject—nothing coheres. I used to wield my mind like a chainsaw—buzzing through any obstacle—focused on one job at a time—but now my mind is more like a river that I sit alongside of and watch go by. The thoughts and ideas drift into view—then drift away—and while new ones come after, none of them can be held tight and examined closely. People think that intelligence and memory are separate things but I’m here to tell you—you can’t have one without the other.

And one could say that my near-lifetime of TV-watching during my infirmity is much like watching a river go by—a stream of media, if you will—yet I can’t do anything useful, like fishing if I was watching a real river. But I am struck often by the archival footage of old conservatives, espousing hatred of all the different groups—at every distinction they can find, really—and how one can match them up with people speaking today, on CNN, yet no one seems to see the direct line-of-descent of this changeless ignorance.

It’s holiday time—lots of Christmas carols on the piano (prepping for caroling parties) and watching lots of Hallmark’s latest seasonal TV films, but not enough buying of trees or presents—I’m better at celebrating in my head than actually celebrating. Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but it’s also pretty confusing and emotion-laden to the point of stress—even more so for us atheists who don’t let our disbelief ruin a good holiday.

And as if there weren’t enough stress to the season, we’re experiencing a record-breakingly warm December here in New York—far from a white Christmas, we’ll be lucky if it even rains. With our climate, a white Christmas is never guaranteed—but in the past at least it managed to be cold! Pacific island nations may be in danger of disappearing beneath the waves, but a warm Christmas will probably do more to promote climate-consciousness in New Englanders than any other weather phenomenon—so perhaps it’s a good thing.

 

Undeclared News   (2015Dec04)

Friday, December 04, 2015                                               12:54 PM

We must fight for liberty—freedom isn’t free. That makes us a fighting kind of people even though our present military is less than 1% of our population—and civilian-military engagement, like all social interaction, is less today than it was during the Big One, or even during Nam. No, today’s young whippersnapper doesn’t spring up to drive to the recruitment office and prove his manhood (or, as of today, her womanhood).

delightZ

But we do express our combativeness by buying guns—we’re not going down without a fight. And, yes, there is crime—and certainly more crime in certain places than others—but, by and large, the suburbs are designed to be lived in without gunfire. In most cases, everybody is too busy with other things. Putting aside the far greater, so-called white-collar crimes, we find that crime stats follow poverty stats. That seems clear to me—what do you think? You end crime by ending income inequality—by giving a hand to the underserved, by making the whole place rich and not just your patch of it.

I’m troubled by the undeclared aspects of recent news—the unadmitted connections between things we favor and things we disapprove of. The Senate just passed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood (which won’t pass but plays well to the base, I guess?) but the GOP are bending over backwards to deny that there’s anything wrong with the 2nd Amendment. You can’t revere the sanctity of life for the unborn if you don’t care about tens of thousands of annual gun-related killings.

delightr_Detail_01

There’s something else notable about mass-shootings and gun violence in general—there’s always wounded as well as killed. In San Bernardino 14 people died—and 17 were wounded. I’ve never been wounded by a bullet and gone to the hospital—for anything from a Band-Aid to a wheelchair for my paralyzed body—but I imagine that pretty well ruins your whole day. And on top of all the death that day seventeen people had that experience. There’s always more wounded than killed (maybe the same mind that goes to trigger-pulling isn’t that keen on the whole aiming thing) and with gun-shot wounds, you have to go on living with whatever havoc a hunk of metal has wreaked on your poor, baby-soft skin.

The truth is these right-wingers don’t revere the sanctity of life—not nearly as much as they fear being disarmed. They only want to revere their God above women’s reproductive rights—and opposing legal abortion is the only way they can do it without revealing how backward they are. But they should try it—I’ve got my sixtieth birthday coming up in a month or so, and I’ve never owned a gun or handled a firearm—and I’ve never been in a situation where that made a bit of difference. I’ve almost died from disease, fire, traffic, and bad-living—but I’ve never been shot at. Am I just lucky—or does not being a part of the gun culture make me lucky?

delightS

Anyway, there’s a far stickier wicket in the unacknowledged issues department—religion. We make the distinction between ISIL terrorists and average Muslims who have no truck with violence—and we have this right-wing nonsense about grouping everyone together—terrorist and Muslims, terrorists and Syrian refugees. But what we don’t address is the part being played by religion, both in the Planned Parenthood shootings and in the San Bernardino shootings—these people imagine themselves in some kind of battle between good and evil—a battle where dogma outweighs human life.

delightc

I don’t blame religion for what these people did—if they didn’t have a religion to turn to, they would have made up one of their own—crazy is crazy. I’m just saying that there is an association between religion and crazy—cult-leaders are an embarrassment—as are pedophile priests—yet no one sees an obvious connection between a strong fundamentalism and mental imbalance. If you think about it, Al Queda and ISIL are really just cult-leaders gone pro, and gone global. Reality won’t be obscured, though—there are communities now that purposely isolate themselves to lessen the cognitive dissonance between their overblown zealotry and the run-of-the-mill Protestant. It is far more difficult for such nut-jobs to maintain their self-importance when they are individual oddballs sprinkled throughout our average communities.

delightW

The original pilgrims’ decision to separate church and state was the first time that a society put practicality above its supernatural beliefs—at least publicly. You have to remember, back then, they still believed in a monarch’s ‘divine right’ to a throne—entire governments were based as much on religious dogma as on bloodlines. And the colonists still accepted that—they would remain loyal to the crown—even if they couldn’t decide on exactly which divinity was granting the right. That whole Revolutionary War stuff would come a hundred years later—America has always been more about getting on with life without letting religious nonsense cause trouble, than it has ever been about freedom or democracy. Indeed, you can’t have either of those things until you chuck religion, anyway.

delightr

Religion is okay for kids, and it’s okay for people to believe something in their hearts—but our important decisions should never concern themselves with anything other than justice and fairness and kindness, no matter how many people believe in stuff they can’t see. That’s what separation of church and state is all about. Those Christians who wish to drive a religious wedge into American politics and government are just as dangerous as ISIL—perhaps more so, in the long run. And right-wingers who wish to lay off all gun violence on the mentally ill should take a look at ISIL’s behavior—and ask themselves, “Are these Muslims, or are these just sociopaths using religion to cover their troublemaking?”

delightX

Millions of people live their lives, going to church on Sunday, but not basing their lifestyle on their afterlife—they accept religion in its rightful place and leave the rest until they have more evidence—a sensible approach. But some would have us all join them in their conviction that all life is just a journey towards an afterlife, with very specific rules—some will even go further, convinced that the world will end on a specific date—then the afterlife, as if the end of the world is just a feature. And religion doesn’t have to worry about charges of false advertising, because no one comes back to complain—of any religion, by the way—so we can assume that all are satisfied customers, regardless of faith. End-of-Days people have had their embarrassments, it’s true—but it is the nature of religion that most of these people just pick a new date and carry on.

delightd

Now these beliefs are beautiful and strange—I would never resent anyone investing their interior life with such exoticism—but there is a bullying quality to evangelism, to caliphate-building, to confessions and shaming, to exclusion, regimentation and dogma—these are the signs of someone using religion for self-aggrandizement—and I really don’t see how people fail to see through their bullshit. So—religion—good stuff—but keep it to yourself, please—and don’t go terrorist, whatever your faith.

delightU

A final question—since it was reported yesterday that this year’s mass shootings outnumber the days in the year, giving an average of more than one mass shooting per day. Where are all the stories of the brave, armed-for-self-defense Americans that fired back at these crazed gunmen? If we need guns for self-defense, why are none of these victims defending themselves? Is it because only the nut-jobs feel the need to carry weapons? Is it because we don’t live in the Wild Goddamned West anymore—and the average American prefers not to carry a gun?

delightT

Hieronymus Bosch did all these religious paintings, by the way–anyone want to debate me on that point about the connection between fundamentalism and mental imbalance?

Holiday Music (2015Dec02)

Wednesday, December 02, 2015                                               11:15 AM

It’s a long way from sheet music to video—I started this holiday season with the idea that I could video myself performing an entire book of Christmas songs and carols. I play them cover-to-cover every December, and most of the songs in the different songbooks are the same—there’s only so many traditional holiday songs that remain popular over the years. Carols and such have to be good songs, but they also have to be accessible to the untrained voice, and catchy, without being too challenging for the average kid to sing.

It’s its own genre of music—but don’t be fooled—some of these babies are just as demanding to play on the piano as your average piece of classical music—it may be for the kids, but it’s not kid-stuff to play. There are pared-down versions, of course—but it took me some years to be able to play the intermediate versions—and I don’t like to backslide.

Also, I pretty much have to sing along. It’s more difficult to sing while I play, but I know most of the words—and what’s a Christmas song without the words, after all? Anyway, the thing is—I start to record the songs—and I find that the recordings are not as good as they felt like, while I played them. So then I try again—and by playing the songs more than once, I hope to get a useable recording of each—but then the camera’s battery died just as I was getting warmed up—and an hour of playing goes unrecorded. The next day, I try again, but now my back hurts and my fingers are stumble-y.

I consider backing off, taking a day or two off from playing piano—but then I realize that if I don’t keep going, I’ll forget what I was doing (this is a common problem for me). So I keep pushing when I should be resting—suffice to say I won’t be publishing ‘recordings of entire songbooks’ on YouTube anytime soon. But I got a few done.

Sunday, November 29, 2015                                            9:55 AM

Okay, Christmas carols—Now, I’ve made no secret of my atheism so someone might reasonably ask why I’m so crazy about the holiday music. Well, firstly, I love music—and the holidays provide the only real opportunity to suggest a sing-along, outside of a boy-scout campfire, without hearing a chorus of moans in reply. Besides that, there’s also the matter of childhood memories—when I was a kid, we not only sang Christmas carols around the piano, we still went to midnight mass.

The carols are fun to sing and play, but they lose a bit of luster when you no longer ‘feel’ the lyrics the way a young, Catholic-indoctrinated boy does. Nowadays, I am comfortable enough in my atheism to allow some nostalgia for faith—to allow myself to pretend to still believe while I’m singing—and the thrill is back, to a certain small degree. For me, there’s no smidgen of cognitive dislocation involved at Christmastime—what with the irony of Santa Claus being a belief we grow out of, and Christ being a belief we’re supposed to maintain. But it is just that irony that now allows me to pretend that Christmas is what it once was—at least while I’m singing.

I would, if I could figure out how, prefer to make videos of a crowd of carolers—a video of just me, singing and playing carols, lacks something in the holiday-cheer department—but I have to work with what I have available.

Saturday, November 28, 2015                                          11:25 AM

Treacly Ever After   (2015Nov28)

Have a holly-jolly…. Oh, hello there! And welcome to the dreamy snowflake happy kids express—yes, it’s that time of year again—and if you share my sickness, you’re once again binge-watching the Hallmark Channel’s offerings of Christmas-themed TV movies—partly because it’s crack for the romantics and partly because it’s a fascinating infinite loop of wishes coming true and impossible dreams coming true and fantasy—and while that may not be, as Hallmark claims, ‘the heart of Christmas’, it is certainly the heart of good TV.

Last night was an especially rich vein of fantasy—two movies which both combined Christmas miracles with becoming a princess: “A Crown For Christmas” and “A Princess For Christmas”. It got me thinking about how royalty is an old-fashioned type of myth that no one believes in anymore—and how Santa Claus is an old-fashioned type of myth that no one believes in after grade school—and how Christianity is an old-fashioned type of myth that many people still believe in. I think it’s odd how these Hallmark Channel movies focus so much on fantasies and miracles and dreams coming true—it’s as if theism has a market value, and this holiday-centric company is willing to intermingle Christianity with other, admittedly-pretend ideas—just for the entertainment value—in spite of how it lumps Faith in with childhood imagination and wishful thinking.

It’s like they’re admitting that Christianity is more of a ‘feel-good’ idea than a fact—something we keep as a tradition more for the sake of innocents and children rather than as a core belief—it’s quite undermining, if you think about it. There are so many of their Santa-based plot-lines that end with the kids being right all along—there is a Santa Claus—and that seems a dangerous concept to mix in with Christianity, which expects followers to keep believing into adulthood. Are they trying to say that real Christians believe in Santa Claus, too—even though the grown-ups are buying their kids the presents, and know full well that if they don’t, there’ll be nothing under the tree?

Or are they saying that Christianity is just an idea—and you have to do all the work yourself? Because, I’m sorry, but that’s Humanism—atheism with a smiley face. Now, if Christianity is just a thing for the kids, like Santa Claus, and all us grown-ups are supposed to play along, both for the kids’ sake and because it’s just a nice thing—that’s cool—I can get on board with that. It’s just when some very serious grown-up, like a politician, starts talking about how we should sprinkle magic-dust on public policy—that’s what I can’t deal with. If we could keep religion at the Santa Claus level, where we only talk seriously about it when we talk to kids, but laugh about it amongst ourselves, that would be fine with me. Maybe that’s why I like the Hallmark Channel.

 

From Ritual to Romance   (2015Nov08)

Sunday, November 08, 2015                                            6:21 PM

“From Ritual to Romance” was written by Jessie L. Weston in 1920. It is mentioned by T. S. Eliot in the notes to his poem, ‘The Waste Land’: “Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston’s book.”  Weston’s book, along with Sir James George Frazer ‘s “The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion”, first published in 1890, were hot topics in Eliot’s day. Frazer’s ‘Golden Bough’ did for anthropology what Darwin’s “On The Origin Of Species” did for biology in 1869—it presented academic research indicating that the Christianity of the day was evolved, in many ways, from more-ancient rituals and earlier gods. Further, it showed that religion changes with the times, while it re-tasks older beliefs and traditions. Simple examples include the importance of mistletoe in Christmas tradition—a holdover from Druidic beliefs and rituals—and Christmas itself, a pre-Christian mid-winter festival re-assigned as the day of Christ’s birth, whereas the historical Jesus was most likely born in the spring.

Just as Darwin’s work slowly percolated for decades after its initial publication (the Scopes trial wasn’t until 1925) so too Frazer’s research would not bear the fruit of Weston’s and other writers’ works until well into the beginning of the twentieth century—and this affected T. S. Eliot, scion of a famous Unitarian family and a student of Ancient Greek, Latin, and even Sanskrit (he familiarized himself somewhat with Eastern philosophy—the final ‘shanti’ in The Waste Land is Sanskrit for ‘peace’)—but an intellectual who considered himself an atheist early in his writing career. That he would join the Church of England in his later years, he admitted, was in large part due to his desire for ritual and the focused meditation of prayer.

In his essays on Christianity, culture, and society, Eliot worried that the ending of borders in Europe would lead to an overly homogenous culture, losing the variety of differences between the many nations. His concerns were misplaced, as the United States would handily blanket the globe with Pepsi and Quarter-Pounders soon after the next World War. But the foundation of his concern for cultural diversity, as well as his eventual decision to rejoin a religious community—was at heart a concern for meaning in one’s life and indeed in the lives of everyone.

His masterpiece, “The Waste Land”, was to some extent a gigantic howl at a universe that was losing its old meanings—and having trouble replacing them with modern equivalents. Industrialization, science, and technology were erasing many of the givens—people of different countries were no longer separated by mere physical distance—the secrets of life, of matter, of the universe—all of which had been the province of faith—were now being revealed by scientific inquiry—‘God’ himself had been dethroned.

And Eliot raises a valid point—I spent many years being agnostic, being unsure if my rejection of all religion was based on valid reasoning—but once I decided absolutely on atheism, I’ve spent every moment since in trying to find a way to give life meaning without reverting to any magical improvisations that would simply be religion in another guise. And it’s not easy.

As I watched a PBS documentary on Johnny Carson today, this issue of rituals again raised itself in my mind. In my youth, TVs were made from tubes. This required a TV to be big and boxy—the bigger the screen, the bigger the whole box had to be. So—a very substantial piece of furniture sat in the center of virtually every home—and, at dinner-time, virtually every American turned it on, like a national campfire, and watched either Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley tell them the news of the day. Later, at bed-time, Johnny Carson would come on and clue us all in on what was going on, what to care about, what was ‘cool’, and what to laugh off.

The real importance of this was in the following day—our conversations with each other would always have a common context—we all referenced the same ‘source material’. Equally important was our unanimous acceptance of whatever information was received—we talked about how we felt about current events—we never discussed whether we believed what Cronkite or Carson had told us. That’s where the cliché of ‘water-cooler conversation’ comes from—although presently even water-coolers are a thing of the past—now most office workers show up to work with their own individual caffeine drinks from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.

Older times saw technology enabling us to be tribal on a larger scale—first radio, then television, gave us a sense that the entire nation, from coast to coast, was all ‘on the same page’. Automobiles allowed us to congregate in public places in larger numbers—and from a larger overall area. The limitations of corded, rotary landlines—mostly always just one to a household—retained the sense that real communication could only be accomplished face-to-face.

And while we are tempted to blame laptops and i-phones for the insularity of modern communication, we should remember that earlier electronics began the change—the advent of touch-tone dialing, call-waiting, multi-party calls, caller-ID, etc.—all made telephony simpler and more akin to an actual conversation. It was around this time that phone cords of exaggerated length became popular—phoning had become easier, and we began to feel a restlessness from still being pinned to one spot in the home.

The differences today are many: we all have our own phones now; we can take them wherever we go now; we don’t have to worry about missing a call—not only do we know who tried to call us, but they can leave a recorded message for us to hear later. Point-of-contact used to be the family kitchen—now each wandering individual is a point-of-contact. Telephone contact is so universal today that we are confronted by situations, as when driving a car, where talking on the phone can actually kill us.

Similar conveniences have stripped away the trials of scholarship—fifty years ago one would inevitably find oneself in need of a public library—specifically the reference section. ‘Mini-reference-sections’, called encyclopedias, were sold door-to-door—mostly to minimize the number of trips to the library. We got to know our librarians; we got to know each other—if we were the kind of people who spent a lot of time reading or studying or researching. Today, I have no need for the reference section of my local library—I don’t even have to cross the room to use my own encyclopedia (yes, I still have a set)—I can just do a Google-search, or check Wikipedia, or find the e-text of a classic tome on the Gutenberg Project website.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s tremendous power there. Not only do I have access to the equivalent of a library reference section—I have access, from right here where I’m sitting, to every university, laboratory, professional association, research society—hell, with the right access codes, I could rifle through the files of DARPA, NASA, or CERN. But my point today is not concerned with the wonders of the Internet—I’m focusing on the fact that I don’t need to break my solitude—I don’t need to open my front door—and I still have access to virtually every bit of information known to mankind.

Convenience in communication, and in scholarship, was welcome progress—but we still needed to get together to have ‘something to do’. Increasing the number of TV channels from three to 300 made it possible to watch a lot more TV—and cable TV made it possible to watch movies without attending a movie theater—but still, there is a limit to how much TV a person can watch. Likewise, there is only so much time that can be spent talking on the phone or studying. In my day, a person always reached a point where he or she simply had to go outside, to mingle with the throng—or simply hang with one’s friends.

Eventually, one way of ‘hanging with friends’ became playing video games—a group of kids would congregate around a TV hooked up to a video game system and take turns using the controllers. And this is where everything came off the rails, in a sense. The advent of multiplayer online gaming, combined with the use of laptops and cellphones, made it possible to both play with friends and socialize with friends—all without leaving the privacy of one’s room. Additionally, one could leave one’s room—could in fact go anywhere—and still remain essentially within that gaming social gathering. This leads, of course, to the phenomenon whereby your kids could be in the room with you, but not really ‘be’ there at all—they’re texting, or IM-ing, or gaming with unseen other kids while their bodies, devoid of conscious awareness, sit in the same room you’re in.

We call this new generation ‘digital natives’—people who grow up with digital, online technology as a given. To digital natives, being physically present is of less importance than online connection—they pay attention to their screens, not to the people in their environment—hence all the car-crashes caused by cellphones. There was once a time when a rainy day was bad news for kids—it meant we couldn’t go outside to play—and that was a major tragedy in our young lives. Nowadays, when parents force their kids to go outside, it is more likely to cut them off from their friends and their playtime.

In a culture that shops online, plays online, watches online entertainment, communicates online, and learns online, we find that something is lost. In Eliot’s time, they felt the loss of religion as an absolute—but they also lost the comfortable patterns of a life where God was central to everyday activities. In our time, we are experiencing the loss an even more elemental aspect of our daily lives—shared physical presence. And the list of rituals being lost in this new ‘normal’ is even greater.

Consider laundry—there are still parts of the world where we could witness the weekly washing of clothes by a riverbank—those people gather and mingle and chat as they do their laundry ‘community-style’—and for centuries, all mankind did their laundry in this way. When washing machines came along, people hung up their wash on clotheslines—often socializing with their neighbors over the back fence—a smaller social group, but still partially a community activity. Then came electric dryers—and homemakers found themselves, at least as far as laundry was concerned, acting in solitude, shut up each in their own homes.

Why are rituals important? Look at it this way—we can strive for success, for achievement, for goals of many types—we can chase after lovers, mates, and romance—we can eat, sleep, and work—but all of it is empty without a context, a continuum, that is the cycle of our daily lives. Humans are a social species—we need the comforting presence of others, we need interaction with our peers. But we are raising children in an environment of solitude—where are they supposed to find meaning and fulfillment in their lives? How can they build a comforting pattern of social rhythms to give their lives continuity?

And make no mistake—we have need of these things. Take the Sabbath day as an example—with the decline of religion, one might ask why bother with a day of interruption? But we need rest as much as we need sleep—however we came up with the idea of a ‘day of rest and prayer’, it fits our biological rhythms—even without feeling obligated to pray to God once a week, we still benefit from the rhythm of taking every seventh day off. Or take another example—the taboos on certain foods, like pork or shellfish, were once considered religious observances—but they were useful in that such foods are health risks if not carefully cooked. Further, in modern America, where a person can eat anything—and as much of it as they please—we find that eating without limits presents greater health risks than any one type of food could ever pose.

Boundaries, rituals, democracy, all the inconveniences of being part of a group, rather than a free, solitary agent—these things have a value to our mental and physical health, to our sense of having a rich, fulfilling life. We may be able to get along without our imaginary friend, God, but we are finding out that life can be even more empty and angst-ridden if we try to live without each other, without community and society. There may come a day when we no longer have prisons—we may come to recognize that everyone is already in a prison, that criminals can be punished and isolated from society by the simple expedient of taking away their online connection.

This may seem rambling and generalizing, but I’m trying to make the point that the rhythms and patterns of community provide a substrate for the discrete pursuits of life—earning a living, raising a family, the arts, the sciences, politics, etc. We focus on these ‘goals’ of life and overlook the fact that life has a context within which all this goal-seeking behavior occurs—that there are moments between these activities—that our consciousness goes in and out of these discrete pursuits, but our awareness is confronted by an unbroken continuum of existence—and that overall ‘existence’, without substance, becomes a void that we fall into whenever we are not consciously busy with a particular aspect of our interest. No matter what our individual interests may be, we still need our overall lives to have texture and substance. Without experience outside of our online connections, life becomes disjointed, disconnected, and begins to lose value or meaning.

The human animal can adapt to many changes—but not to emptiness. It has been noted that a person left in a sensory-deprivation chamber will quickly be driven mad by a nervous system bereft of input. We are in danger of finding our global village trapped in an electronic isolation that will drive the whole world mad—we may find that civilization will ultimately be destroyed, not by fire or ice, but by our lust for convenience.

Up The Women   (2015Oct29)

Thursday, October 29, 2015                                             10:17 AM

I began to read a story on Medium and got into it before I realized it was telling of the writer’s attempts to deal with a sister’s suicide—but I couldn’t stop reading. Not how I would have chosen to start my day. Then, in my email, there’s a NY Times story about China ending its one-child policy—imagine—the largest population on earth, largely undeveloped, largely hungry—and the government’s policy was not to grow more food, but to have less people. Bunch of fucking geniuses in charge over there—well, they’ve given it up now, so that’s something. Still no word on growing more food, though—fucking geniuses.

I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about abortion. What is life? When does it begin? The Pro-Lifers will insist that life begins at the moment of fertilization. That makes sense to a degree—otherwise we’d have to consider every ovum or spermatozoa a potential life as well. Imagine a killer being charged with however many counts of murder as there were ova in his victim’s ovaries—not to mention the thousands of potential lives wasted every time a man masturbates—that would be ridiculous.

Still—is fertilization the only decision-point? Before modern medicine, we considered the first breath taken as the dividing line between potential and human life. Further back, infants were not fully human until after their baptism—and even further back, one was not part of the tribe until one had passed the coming-of-age trial. One could make the case that the first fetal heartbeat was the start of life—or, if we could do an EEG test on fetuses, we could say that the beginning of consciousness was the true start. For legal purposes, we now use the term ‘viable’, which connotes the fetuses’ ability to survive outside their wombs, as a dividing line between potential and human life.

We cannot escape the fact that our modern arguments over terminology are a by-product of our understanding of medicine. In times past, unwanted newborns were abandoned, or even murdered outright—and this was usually done to female infants. Men, having been born and raised by their own mothers, saw no further use for additional women—talk about ego. And women were forced to produce as many babies as possible, even if it killed them. While this created a built-in workforce for the men, it only created bigger crowds which the women had to cook for, clean, and clothe every day. And with health being what it was, a woman who birthed ten or fifteen children could still end up with only a few survivors—just as her own life was nasty, brutish, and short.

The western patriarchal society of old was expert in dismissing everything of value about women while imposing on them unconscionable limits to their rights and freedoms. Even the shadow of those times today leaves many women doubting their equality with men. And who can blame them for this confusion? Taken all in all, women are not equal to men—they are superior. Women biologically have greater endurance, greater resistance to stress—and they can produce life. Men seem to surpass women only in their ability to bully—which perhaps explains why we’ve waited until the 21st century to address bullying as a bad thing.

The church’s insistence on women being available to men (their ‘wifely’ duty) provided a rational for men to copulate with women even against their wishes (which could easily be described as ‘rape’, even among married couples). And this fiat to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ was extended to forbid women from doing anything to interfere with any life engendered by this manhandling. Thus the taboo on birth control. Originally, birth control was considered ‘anything’—including the so-called rhythm method or the use of a simple condom. The crime was that of withholding the creation of new life in any way—not of killing an unborn baby. Had earlier societies known how to determine the sex of an infant before birth, they would have gleefully aborted plenty of babies as worthless females-in-waiting.

The present-day Pro Life movement is a tattered vestige of this ancient misogyny—having lost the religious upper-hand, they are left with this one specious category of birth control that still offers them a lifeline to the draconian morals of old. And how they scream about the ‘sanctity of life’—while ignoring every one of the many other ways in which life is brutalized by society from cradle to grave.

The debate over fertilization versus viability should be decided in favor of a woman’s right to choose if for no other reason than women deserve some recompense for the untold centuries of sexual slavery and gender persecution as the established order of things. If, in granting women the right to control their own bodies, we allow for the possibility of some rare abuse, it is nothing compared to the rank injustice that has been women’s lot for so very, very long.

Ben Carson, The Simple Scientist   (2015Oct25)

Sunday, October 25, 2015                                       9:23 AM

Ben Carson seems unusually ignorant for a respected brain surgeon—how can that be? It is a signal victory of fundamentalism that it has the flexibility to accept technical training and scientific rigor within the confines of the purely mechanical—and yet maintains its insistence on magical thinking within selected contexts. The Amish are the exception, as they eschew even geared wheels and electric current—a mystery, yet more sensible in its absolutism than the pick-and-choose fundamentalism of run-of-the-mill bible-thumpers like Ben.

Modern Christians usually accept that current science replaces the ‘factual’ tautology and cosmology of the Bible without doing any great harm to the spiritual content of that Good Book. Orthodox Christian Scientists are the exception, as they eschew the medical science and practices that Ben is so known for. Oddly, the Christian Scientists will drive a car—and the Amish will take medicine—yet it is accepted that both groups worship the same God as the less stringent, more casual believers of mainstream Protestantism.

Catholics have their specialty too, but it lies in the more ethereal realm of ‘morality’—their focus is often on birth-control and gender-bias (and gender ‘purity’, i.e. LGBT hatred). This is a hangover from the days when the Catholic Church made a business out of selling forgiveness—and business was good, while it lasted. But there is always a boomerang effect—young Amish are most tempted by muscle cars; young Christian Scientists are most tempted by medical relief—but Catholics, being focused on sex and gender, are most tempted by sexuality.

Religious ‘specialty features’ become a window into human nature—whatever is most feared becomes that which is most fascinating. Certain ‘tools’ are used to limit this gravitational attraction to the forbidden. The Amish use the wanderjahr, or Rumspringa, as a way of allowing their young adults to experience the wider world—knowing that some will choose to remain in that world, rather than return to the Amish culture. Of those who choose an Amish life, there is also the practice of ‘shunning’, which cuts all ties to any member of the community who breaks faith with their rules. Being such a backward culture, the Amish community requires these cut-offs to prevent their ranks from swelling with rebellious members willing to allow changes into their way of life. Ignoring two centuries of change across the rest of the globe is no easy task.

The Catholics have absolution, which makes it possible to break their rules and still have a place in the community—but they also have excommunication, which is a paradoxical process by which they exempt the worst offenders from absolution, and of acceptance in their community. Forgiveness is their watchword—unless one goes too far, for which is there is no forgiveness—like I said—paradoxical.

Protestants have only propriety—which in its way is even more insidious. A staunch protestant can invent more rules and strictures than other faiths could imagine—and these inventions can become part of the societal conventions of a community. It is almost an art form—deciding which aspects of our lives make us most uncomfortable and using religious vagaries to mark such aspects as evil—and this changes from place to place, based on the local preferences. In this way, one person’s eccentricities can acquire the solidity of scientific fact. It is, in many ways, the most imaginative way of seeing things—but it operates more upon our imagined fears than our imagined hopes.

The most strident criticisms I hear regarding my atheism are those that claim I have nothing—that only a fool would go through life without a God. That makes perfect sense to a believer—but from my point of view we all have nothing—and some of us simply pretend there is something there. I can’t pretend that they aren’t happier in their beliefs—that my life doesn’t have less glory and joy than theirs. Unfortunately, I require more than convenience as a reason to believe—and I require my beliefs to fit in with what I know to be true.

Knowledge, too, is problematical. What I know to be true is a very small fraction of what there is to know. Atheists, even atheist scientists, live in a world of ignorance—we don’t know how the universe was created, we don’t know why humans exist, we don’t know any sure answers to replace religious beliefs. Atheists don’t offer alternative beliefs, we just don’t accept older beliefs out of convention or convenience. We allow for the fact that such an unknowable universe is probably not revealed in ancient myths, even the most modern, monotheistic versions of those myths.

And here the dichotomy of scripture becomes an issue. The scientific ignorance of ancient times is debunked by the advances of science—the older the ‘facts’, the more likely their inaccuracy. Human nature, on the other hand, is well-served by millennia of observation and contemplation—the spiritual aspects of sacred writings have much to offer in terms of how we treat each other and how we view ourselves. Thus the teachings of Moses, of Christ, of Mohammed or Buddha—these words have value to society—but the conflation of this wisdom with the creation myths and other factual ignorance of ancient times makes these scriptures mixed bags of wisdom and nonsense.

This dichotomy is further confused by our preference for the path of least resistance. Jesus tells us to give freely, to be charitable, merciful, and forgiving—but that’s extremely inconvenient. It is so much more satisfying to use dogma to attack others, or use piety to aggrandize ourselves. Jefferson famously created his own personal cut-and-paste bible in which he selected those passages which he felt had the most meaning to his times, and left out that which harkened back to a more primitive age. Dogmatic insistence on the entirety of the Bible creates a false boundary, requiring that we take the good with the bad—and ignoring the fact that the Bible is an evolved text, which has already been changed many times throughout history.

There is much to doubt, and much to question, in the established religions of our times—and so we see many scientists are also atheists, whether that makes them unhappy or not. And a brain surgeon is very much like a scientist, so we expect someone like Ben Carson to question dogmas that are laughably unscientific. Sadly, we must accept that brain surgery, unlike medical research, is a trained skill—a very complex and intellectually demanding skill, but still ultimately a rote process that, while requiring a sharp mind and a steady hand, nonetheless requires no great curiosity or imagination.

Surprisingly, atheism is not a matter of mere intellect—the fundamentalists have many great thinkers amongst them. But as with idiot savants, intellectuals can accomplish great mental challenges without a commensurate breadth of perception or understanding. Ben Carson is a respected brain surgeon—he could just as easily be a rocket scientist—either way, he still would not be guaranteed wisdom—or leadership.

His recent obtuse comments about school-shootings and gay marriage reveal the superficial character of his thought processes—and prove that specialized skill in one area does not equip anyone to succeed at everything. When Donald Trump extolls his business acumen, we can question how that jibes with two bankruptcies, but when Ben Carson says he’s a good brain surgeon, there’s no reason to doubt him. Nevertheless, it is little indication that he is prepared to lead the free world—it is in fact proof that he knows nothing about it, since brain surgery requires no small amount of concentration.

Ben Carson does, however, fit in with the Tea Party’s attitudes about small government, disrupted government, even no government. How apropos that their candidate has no experience in governing. What it does not explain is why Ben Carson would want to be president. I think of such candidates, Trump or Carson, as ‘suicide bomber’ candidates—they just want to get into the White House so they can blow it all to smithereens.

Back in my youth, the hippies decided to drop out of established society because of all its faults and hypocrisy—but they eventually realized that productive change can only be accomplished from within the establishment. The right-wing partisans of the present are going through the same learning process—the only question is how much damage will their shut-downs and obstructionism do to our country before they realize the same thing.

Things Of Mine   (2015Sep30)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015                                              12:49 PM

20150722XD-SherrylFlowers (4)

Mysterium of acts and emotions, my life has no finals or finishes, no borders or separation of any kind—we are all one, and the end of life is no end but a great adventure, sprinkled liberally with fairy dust. Imaginarium of deeds and words, my mind has no limits other than that it cannot see itself without the mirror of the universe—I resemble other lives, I copy other chemistries, yet I am unique only insofar as I am not anything else. Orrery of the pan-dimensional, my mathematics are the unreal ideal of the real—a symbolic blueprint of the breath I take and the light I see. Adventure-world of the fantastic, my imagination is a land of wishes fulfilled only to end in sleep, disasters averted by wishes alone, and love unconquerable.

20150722XD-SherrylFlowers (12)

Words are these. Ideas are powerful only in specificity. Action and reaction create an interlocking cosmos—the past forces the present into the future like white rapids, in patterns of chaos and maelstroms of meaning. Tragedy punctuates. Bliss evaporates. Dreams abide. Love is the mainspring and touch is the grail. Age is gaining wisdom, losing strength—youth is the beginning that cannot see the end. Regret is the dried husk of actions unthought of. Bliss is the bright victory of thoughts acted upon.

20150722XD-SherrylFlowers (3)

Ancestors are the roots of time—children the buds—my present self is but a bridge from one to the other. If love isn’t the answer, then there is no question. Meanings will serve, but truth is lasting.

20150722XD-SherrylFlowers (35)

Atheist Applauds Pope   (2015Sep24)

Thursday, September 24, 2015                                        3:36 PM

I join in the celebration of light and compassion that the papal visit has become—as an atheist, I can applaud his words and actions without necessarily dropping the ‘lapsed’ from my childhood Catholicism. I enjoy the wild excitement of the people lining the streets to be blessed or touched or kissed by the current occupant of St. Peter’s Chair. It’s not like some other world figure or celebrity—the crowds just want to see him, to be near him—and he returns their affection. It’s a beautiful thing—says Capt. Obvious.

VaticanSeal02

I truly don’t know what to do with my feelings—just as this head of the Church of Rome is almost a Humanist in comparison to his predecessors, this is the first time in my memory that people are in the streets celebrating the truly important things—compassion, forgiveness, charity, acceptance—without looking for something, wanting something or someone. It is very paradoxical for a man who, as a boy, found all the authoritarianism and close-minded-ness that seemed to be the real evil in the world, in the Catholic church. I guess one thing you can say for a vast authoritarian institution—in the hands of a proper leader, the Holy Roman Catholic Church, like some many things, finds its true self and flourishes.

VaticanMusic05

All illustrations are from the Papal Archives

I suggest we make the carrying of toddlers from rope line to papal vehicle (approx. 50 yards) and back again an Olympic event—those guys make it look easy—and some of those toddlers were big enough to walk themselves—did you see it? Amazing. Like they were ‘baby-boys’ at the US Open or something.

VaticanMusic03

The only sour note in this whole celebration is the rogue Republican—you don’t hear the Democrats whining about the many ways in which Catholicism departs from their platform—they just celebrate the commonalities, like good hosts. But GOP pols have become so knee-jerk about climate change and protecting big business that they just have to attack any other opinions—let the whole world disagree (which we mostly do).

VaticanMusic02Top

Francis has no beef with them—he’s just being a Catholic—out loud. Better not let Ben Carson hear him—Catholics are at least as crazy as Muslims—just ask the Irish. Next thing you know we’ll have to put an asterisk beside JFK’s name. Will someone please read the Constitution to Ben Carson—article 6 – “…shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

VaticanMusic02Bot

So hail Pop Francis! Or as the Italians say—‘Poppa’. Someone needs to say to the fat cats, “You oughta be ashamed of yourselves.”—but who among us has the moral authority? Not me, bub. But he does—and he’s making some people deservedly uncomfortable. Let criticism of Pope Francis be our shibboleth—by their words shall ye know them.

And while we’re about ‘knowing them’, let me say that Volkswagen has recently been caught installing emissions devices that only operate when the sensor tells them they’re hooked-up to a testing device! The rest of the time, all their 8 million customers were driving around in illegal, over-polluting cars. Without their knowledge, they had been duped into being pawns in a fraudulent conspiracy. Why anyone would ever buy a Volkswagen again is beyond me—we forgave them for having been Nazis, but this is just too much.

For those of you who think I’m easily swayed—well, that’s true—but my point is that I celebrate the effect that Pope Francis’ visit is having on the country, particularly on Washington. That doesn’t mean that I support Catholicism—Pope Francis is wisely focused on the best his faith has to offer—it has other aspects whose details I take exception to. But leadership counts for almost as much as dogma—what Francis emphasizes will become the emphasis of his followers, regardless of the fine print. And that should be celebrated.

Here are some papal tiaras:

Napoleons-papal-tiara

papaltiara1

papaltiara2

PiusVIITiara_thumb

pope0000

TiaraPiusIX

triregno

Rot There, Lil Miss Kentucky   (2015Sep04)

Friday, September 04, 2015                                              11:16 AM

I’m glad that Kentucky clerk is cooling her heels in jail—what a piece of work. There’s not a lot of love in that face—in those beady little eyes—no kindness in that holier-than-thou claim to ‘obedience to God’. (I don’t know how God manages it—she obviously doesn’t care for rules.)

She says she’s following ‘God’s law’ and the Media, like the trained puppy it is, jumps to chair the debate over God’s law vs. Man’s law. But in the midst of this arguing we tend to overlook an important fact—we’re not talking about God’s law—we’re talking about her God’s law. This is not God talking, this is some troublesome bitch (who thinks she knows God) talking. It’s not my God talking, or your God talking, it’s her God talking.

This is the crux of religious freedom—you can believe in any God you wish—but legally, your God can’t trump everyone else’s—no matter how pious you think you are. Being a conscientious objector absolves you from manning the front lines—it doesn’t put you in command—if her job offends her, she should find a new job. Even if your entire community is unanimous in one faith—that still doesn’t make your God the ‘God of all America’—it’s still just your own personal faith. That is why we have had separation of church and state since the pilgrim days. Have your own personal faith–please. Treasure it—die for it, even—but don’t put that shit on me—I’ve got my own God, thank you very much. And my God’s law is: Don’t be a hater.

Trump Is Too Smart For Me    (2015Sep02)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015                                          10:35 AM

Some people are smarter than others. Some people are really stupid. In a classroom, we get an obvious display of differences in intelligence—some kids get it right away, other kids struggle. If you stay in the classroom, you get smarter—not intrinsically smarter, just smarter because you have more information to work with—you’re better able to analyze, contrast, and compare. Thus the second graders think the first graders are stupid because they haven’t learned their times-tables yet.

The grade-level thing works itself out, in time, but varying levels of education and insight will continue to make some people smarter than others. Ordinarily it doesn’t matter—when me and my neighbors are mowing our lawns, we’re all smart enough for the task at hand. Someone’s lawn may turn out greener than the rest of us—but that’s not intelligence so much as interest—having an abiding interest in any subject will make one more knowledgeable. Not by magic, of course, but because one will pay attention to that subject and seek out new information related to it—it’ll catch your eye.

Back when I was a programmer, I was above average—not because I was smarter, but because I had affection for algebra, algorithm, and the trickiness of programming-language syntax—things that leave most people cold. Interest parallels intelligence in this way—we are all pretty expert in the things we love. Those who love reading, who love discussion, who love learning and research—these people will naturally stick out as smarter-than-average. But their smarts are as much a matter of their preferences as of their innate intelligence.

Some of us will be lucky—we will be inspired to read by our librarian, or be inspired to learn by that special teacher—and some of us will learn to love those things through loneliness, boredom, or privation. Either way, we will learn something not consciously taught in schools—we learn to enjoy our own company—this is where the ‘nerd’ factor comes in. Playing with the other kids can be a challenge—it becomes less so when one has the alternative of being by oneself. When solitude is the norm, however, important social skills are left unlearned.

Meanwhile, our childhoods will contain variations in parenting, income, educators, and environment—we can never know what would happen if all the kids in a community had mature, responsible parents, or went to a school with all great teachers. But even in a world of nerds, we can still assume that differing levels of smart would present themselves. I imagine that given optimal educational stimuli, we might experience the paradox of intuitive, non-scholastic intelligence becoming the most admired type of smarts. In an environment where everyone studies like mad, those who can juggle, or always have a ready quip, or have a knack for persuading people—might stand out as the ‘smart’ kids. (Indeed, this is true in reality—but mostly because scholastics are less exciting, not because they’re pervasively uniform.)

Learning facts, understanding relationships between facts, and scholastic pursuits in general are all categories of intelligence—but there are many others: empathy, charisma, intuition, salesmanship, social skills, communication, team-building, entrepreneurial activity, sensitivity—there are many important mental strivings beyond the simple ‘smartness’ of a straight-A student. That’s why top colleges care more about essays and ‘extracurricular’s than they do about SAT scores. That’s why ten different programmers can write a program for a certain job without any of them writing the same code—because there are as many ways to use intelligence as there are types of intelligence.

We use tests to ascertain certain intelligences—if you can pass a road test you are smart enough to be a licensed driver; if you pass the bar exam you are smart enough to practice law. But we have no tests for parenting, for managing, or for voting—intellectually demanding activities that can be attempted by people of any education or intellect—no matter how small. But then, there’s no test for being born, either. On the other hand, testing itself is a questionable method for determining skills—it’s just the best we can do with existing systems, and we have to use something to ascertain minimal competency in licensed activities like driving or practicing law.

But the most difficult aspect of intelligence is that having certain knowledge doesn’t protect the informed from disagreement by the uninformed. In my experience the most drastic example of this is when religiosity is used in place of information—I can know some facts for certain and still be unable to convince another person, because they perceive that information to run counter to their religious teachings. From my point of view it is legalized insanity—from their point of view it’s freedom of religion—but either way, it’s incorrect—and I know that, whether others remain unconvinced or not. And they say they pity me, but no more than I pity them. But they pity me for not sharing their delusion, while I pity them for being willfully blind to information that’s there for all to see, if they’d only let themselves see it.

Religiosity also bothers me because differing levels of intelligence will always be there to confuse an issue—and the religious delusions just add a whole ‘nother layer to that confusion. If you want to tell me there’s a heaven, a hell, a white-haired old guy, or a pearly gate—I’m all for it. None of that stuff bothers me. But if you want to make direct connections between what’s actually happening in life and those crazy fairy tales, there’s where I run into trouble. When religion is all good news and good vibes, it’s wonderful—but when it steps over the line into judgement, division, and hate, that’s a problem. And it’s never the religion itself that does that—it’s always some clown who’s taking an ego-trip or running a scam who decides we should all live within the confines of his personal dream of purity.

One type of intelligence is persuasion. People can be good at persuading other people, without having much of the more traditional forms of intelligence. We see this today in the Republican Party members—they persuade their followers of many things, but they’re not very concerned about the veracity of what they’re persuading their constituents to learn. They ‘educate’ to persuade, not to inform, and their believers mistake it for real education—they’re even taught to doubt the people who speak in earnest for the public good, like scientists. If the GOP can vilify scientists, who’s next—teachers?—literacy itself? This is why right-wingers always wear business suits—they think that if they resemble dignified people, it will dignify their propaganda. It probably helps them take themselves seriously, too—as long as they don’t look in a mirror.

Politics creates its own reality. When a politician faces an unpopular issue he or she will have two choices—please the crowd, or lose the election. We used to have a more authoritarian mind-set in this country—a politician had a shot at convincing us that their leadership was true, that we all had to bite the bullet for the common good—like when Johnson sent the National Guard to the Deep South. Now we’ve reached the point where an educated politician (who knows better) is forced to publicly cast doubt on evolution, or global warming, or the need for women’s health care. How those poor bastards get any sleep at night is a mystery to me.

And now they’re stuck with this guy, Trump, who has a PhD in persuasion—and almost no intellectual property outside of persuasion—and he has made their private sins into a public celebration, and they’re uncomfortable with that. They know that a lot of their hot-button issues are ‘naked emperors’ that won’t bear honest inspection—they know that the key to fighting progressives is to spread fear and confusion—not to bring these things out into the sunlight, as Trump is doing. He recognizes that many people are bigoted against Latinos—what he doesn’t recognize is that it’s a leader’s job to tell the haters that they are wrong. The rest of the GOP have at least that much understanding of public service—that one must use ‘dog-whistles’ to attract the haters without joining their ranks, where one is forced to defend the ethics of hatred—an impossible task.

Trump crystallizes the difference between ‘being correct’ and ‘winning the argument’—he can win almost any argument, but I have yet to hear him say anything that is true. I heard one talking-head on TV yesterday say, ”Well, it’s August…” I guess that means we’re all supposed to revel in stupidity while the sun is shining, and we’ll all get back down to earth when the leaves start to fall. Personally, I think we’re all being stupid enough, all the time, without taking a summer brain-break.

It’s a Win-Win (For Me, Anyway)   (2015Aug25)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015                                           4:01 PM

Well, we’ve been confusing two different things for a long time—for so long that it’s become a part of our national character—a lot of us think that good business practice is the same as good governance. So we must not blame Mr. Trump, who simply surfs the wave of public approbation.

I’m reminded of how the ‘modern’ age of machines brought so many sudden changes that some changes in our thinking went a little too mechanistic—into fascism. Fascism seemed reasonable at the time—it had logic and (pretend) science, and modern folk were all about the logic and science and mechanization back in those days.

Opnamedatum: 2010-1-19

Inflating of Nadars air balloon on a field outside the Barrier Utrecht, Amsterdam, September 14, 1865, John D. Brewer, 1865 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

Likewise today we have great changes that influence changes in our thinking—we don’t even need wires today to make a connection, never mind something as arcane as eye-contact. We’re de-centralizing—we’re going Uber. And Americans maintain a firm belief that business will ‘regulate’ itself—although that is only true in terms of fair competition between companies, and has no relevance to the way in which business treats people. Unfair business practices do somehow persist—proving that business regulates itself on the same model as evolution—a bloody, kill-or-be-killed status quo that ends up with the winners becoming alpha predators—and everyone else is the food. The endgame is simply a new monarchy based on ownership rather than bloodlines—if those two things are truly separate.

20150825XD-Rijks_Hemelvaart_JanPunt

Hemelvaart, Jan Punt, 1748 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

Because of technology, we have lost the connection between ourselves and our world—our survival is more dependent upon the economic infrastructure—the stores, banks, office buildings, mines, factories, ports, the housing, highways and airliners—than it ever was on the source material for those sophistries: the crops, water, air, lumber, cattle, and cotton—the stuff that hitherto more visibly either grew from or fed off the Earth.

Opnamedatum: 2012-07-19

Bacchus and Ariadne, Gerard de Lairesse, c. 1680 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

We used to husband our resources, tend our fields, plant and harvest our crops—now we buy stuff. Some guy with a huge machine is doing all the agricultural stuff, somewhere out in that blank breadbasket between the coasts. Except for that one Mr. Greenjeans out in Iowa, the rest of us are working on maintaining our infrastructure—though it should more rightly be considered a superstructure, as it is built upon a natural world that once had a structure of its own—we couldn’t control nature like we do our modern environment, but we didn’t have to maintain it, either.

20150825XD-Rijks_Dolls-house_CloudySky_wBirds_NicolaesPiemont

Dolls-house Ceiling-Painting of a Cloudy Sky with Birds, attributed to Nicolaes Piemont, c. 1690 – c. 1709 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

Progress isn’t addition, it’s a trade-off—you get the new, but you lose the old. And while we are marveling at the brave new cyberworld of our present—where paper is disappearing and robots are working faster and better than the humans they replace—we should give a thought to the tremendous loss that implies. It’s not a question—it’s a given. Worse yet, history tells us that we never appreciate the true value of something until it is gone beyond recall. So, while we know that our loss is enormous, we are still waiting to feel the pain. Some days, it feels lucky to be old.

20150825XD-Rijks_Paradise_Herri_met_de_Bles

Paradise, Herri met de Bles, c. 1541 – c. 1550 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

As I see it, ‘isms’ will always trip you up. Take any Ism to its logical conclusion and you get mayhem—capitalism turns to thievery, democracy turns to mob rule, Christianity becomes a platform for hate and violence. None of our societal systems and structures stand on their own, alone—they all must be leavened with humanity. One sign of our modern progress is that some people are finally trying to turn humanity into ‘humanism’—they may mess it up—people usually do—but at least we recognize that there is something there, something elemental—that outshines any system of government or faith or justice. It is humanity that allows compromise, forgiveness, and tolerance.

20150825XD-Rijks_LossOfFaith_JanToorop

Loss of Faith, Jan Toorop, 1894 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

These are the foundation of freedom and justice—without them, we have only an eye for an eye and the whole world blind—or at least lacking depth-perception. The most singular aspect of humanity is that it isn’t a system of checks and balances—it’s just giving. It’s what we do for infants, for the sick or hungry, for our grandparents and great-grandparents, for anyone we truly feel love for—or even for a stranger—we give, and we don’t look for compensation.

20150825XD-Rijks_Shipyard_AmsterdamAdmiralty_LudolfBakhuysen

The Shipyard of the Amsterdam Admiralty, Ludolf Bakhuysen, 1655 – 1660 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

When I see these crowds at campaign rallies shouting for justice, I want them to stop shouting long enough for someone to tell them that you don’t get justice—you give mercy, and you hope for justice. Laws help keep the injustice to a dull roar, but nothing will ever end injustice but mercy, compassion, and generosity. If you’re fighting for someone else’s rights, you have a shot at being a force for justice, but if you just looking to get your own, Jack—you’re being selfish. Your therapists will tell you that’s a good thing—but your therapist is an idiot. Still, what can your therapist tell you? How do you tell anyone exactly how to be a human being?

20150825XD-Rijks_Val_van_Icarus_HansBol

Val van Icarus, Hans Bol, Anonymous, c. 1550 – c. 1650 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

Thus endeth the lesson, as Sean Connery intones in “The Untouchables”. I’m wearing a T-Shirt today that I’ve had since one summer of the 80s, when our onetime family business, Mal Dunn Associates, threw a pool party, back in the day–pretty good shirts–still looks good:

20150826XD-TheMDA_T_Shirt (5)

I used the above photo, along with my usual pilfering of the Rijksmuseums website’s collection of masterpieces, for the three videos below:

Collaboration   (2015Aug19)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015                                           1:03 PM

Pete came by yesterday—we killed our imaginary audience and made some recordings which I hope no one will mistake for Pete’s fault—if you look closely, you’ll see a very capable drummer trying to be nice to a totally awful piano-player. This mess is completely my responsibility. I almost never play with musicians because musicians, understandably, don’t go looking for half-assed collaborators—but Pete is an exceptionally kind soul and an old friend who is the exception that proves the rule.

FamPh 063

This is a picture of Pete and Spencer back in the day–If you watch Spencer’s walk-through on the video, you’ll see he’s grown some since this picture was taken.

I’ve been thinking about collaboration lately. As I’ve mentioned often in these posts, I think that people may have excellent self-control when the situation demands it but that humanity as a group, as a mob, has no brain and does whatever it does, crazy (or even suicidal) or not. We try to mitigate this with governments and other frameworks for group action—but even these foundations can only influence people en masse to a certain degree.

Take the Drug War as an example—with Prohibition as a historical precedent, we can’t be very surprised that the Drug War has been a complete failure—drug abuse is a part of the human condition. People will seek out recreational drugs just as they seek out alcoholic beverages. After all, life is a struggle and there aren’t that many features that offer unalloyed enjoyment—we can gain peace from our relationships and achievement from our endeavors, but not always—and it’s a struggle, win or lose. But a weekend spree is an easy and affordable escape from the rigors of the work-week and the number of people who choose to do without it will never be unanimous—criminalization simply complicates things.

Collaboration, cooperation,—even democracy—all also run up against the matter of people all being different in many ways. I heard the debate yesterday during the news reports of the first two women who passed the Rangers Training School requirements. As the closet-misogynist debated the moderate-feminist, they both had some confusion about the fact that average men have expected differences from average women, but the best of the best soldiers are exceptional people with above-average abilities, gender notwithstanding. Generalizations about gender roles do not apply when speaking of virtual Supergirls—although, rightly, we ought to take the hint that generalizations about gender all have that flaw to some degree—because we are all different.

Thus individuality and human nature are both obstacles to traditional governments and other organizing frameworks—yet they are both strengths as well. Perhaps our paradigms of organization are at fault. Churchill once opined that ‘Democracy isn’t a perfect form of government—it’s just better than all the others’. And I feel that we have become sophisticated enough to look at democracy (and capitalism, for that matter) and start to face that fact—having found systems that outdo more ancients customs is great—but is it the best we can do?

For that matter, can Democracy and Capitalism coexist without one cancelling the other? We see many examples where capitalism has infringed on the democratic process recently—but there are also times when the force of majority rule outdoes the primacy of property. We aren’t really being honest about this whole subject—we’ve been too busy defending democracy from fascism and capitalism from communism to allow ourselves to question their basic values.

While Democracy and Capitalism fight it out (and while we pretend that they work together) we have a third player—religion, or Christianity, since I’m speaking primarily of the USA. Many conservatives will insist that religion is a bedrock value—in spite of the fact that we are famous for sidelining religion from our governing principles. They’ll put on their blinders and assure us that ‘religious freedom’ was only meant to apply to the different Protestant sects of Christianity—as if that made sense, and full ‘religious freedom’ didn’t.

This is partly a failure to understand history—in much the same way that conservatives insist that our constitutional guarantee of ownership of flintlock rifles translates into prowling the Wal-Mart with semi-automatic weapons. But it is also a failure to understand religion, as a concept. Most people of faith make the mistake of counting their religion as the truth, while all other religions are, at best, to be tolerated. But Truth and Faith are not interchangeable—particularly in the situation where we have allowed for the existence of more than one form of faith.

What the original colonists did was recognize that even a single individual’s unique faith, with or without an established church, may be questioned as to its validity—but it can’t be made illegal. The opposite truth to that premise is that no one religion can be made the legal faith under our government. Basically, we accept that citizens will have whatever faith they may or may not have, but the law will operate separately from any one faith. Anyone who seriously proposes that America become a Christian nation is as much a threat to our way of life as the Communists were in the 1950s—even more so, since the Commies have had their day and faded away. ISIS would be a better example, come to think of it—both parties wish to transform us into a theocracy.

But let me return to collaboration. In science fiction novels, one gets the impression that the human race will expand outward, mimicking our behavior of the exploration era and the pioneering era. One gets used to the idea of the human race having a ‘destiny’—a place or a state that our future selves will eventually reach out to and evolve into. We envision a solar system busy with mining, colonization, exploration, and discovery—our little blue marble, Earth, just a single part of a civilization that calls the Sun its home. We even dream of FTL starships that allow colonization of other stars—a future civilization so vast and varied that imagination can barely envisage its size, never mind its nature.

Our gravity well, however, is no small barrier. If humanity is ever going to go beyond Earth, it will have to involve tremendous collaboration. At this point in modern technology, we will need tremendous collaboration just to survive at all. Where does the motive come from? How do we mobilize our efforts towards the survival of humankind when we have never had to worry about it before? Up until now, we’ve been so sure that the Earth is invulnerable to our attentions that we have never considered it a factor in our decision-making. The whole debate over climate change is really just humanity trying to convince itself that we’ve outgrown that simplicity.

Our systems of government, of commerce, and our cultures have all developed under the mistaken mindset that humanity can do whatever it will—we are slowly coming to grips with the fact that this is no longer true.

Part of our problem is that heretofore we have assumed that the point of life was the afterlife—that we should concentrate on living our own individual lives under the tenets of our faiths because the important part, the afterlife, will be affected by how well we follow the rules while living. No part of human culture actually emphasizes the importance of species survival—‘God’ made us, so naturally we can’t be unmade unless ‘He’ decides to unmake us. Climate change, drought, chemical and oil spills, and nuclear waste make it clear that we can certainly unmake ourselves—there’s nothing religious about it, it’s just a fact.

So now we have to turn from our focus on our individual afterlives to the maintenance of the survival of the human genome, and to Gaea—or whatever you choose to call the overall biome of the Earth. For we have two ‘afterlifes’—one is a spiritual belief, the other is our offspring. To reach the first one, we have to be mindful of ethics. To protect the second we will have to begin having ethics as a group—something we’ve never had, and something I have no idea how we’ll ever attain. The alternative is to remain the simple, global mob we’ve always been—and just wait for the lights to go out.

Stupid by Crazy (2015Aug08)

Friday, August 07, 2015                                           9:48 AM

An Off Day   (2015Aug07)

Yesterday, after I’d upgraded to Windows 10, I restarted my PC. Upon re-booting, it asked my for my MS account login. Had I not been able to, miraculously, dredge my password up from my foggy memory, my computer would have become a worthless chunk of chips and wires right then and there. Then the router started acting up—my son fixed it by plugging my PC directly into the cable modem, but now he and my wife have no WyFy access! Is it a coincidence that our router failed right when I upgraded to Windows 10? I’ll let you know after he’s bought and installed a new router. [Note from the following Saturday: Booboo installed the new router and all’s well.]

Operating System upgrades for Windows actually go back to DOS versions—before Windows, we had several versions of DOS. Sometimes a new OS would re-format the hard drive, erasing all the files. It always required changes to the software and the hardware-drivers—meaning that the new OS was useless until all the upgraded versions of the programs were installed. And OS upgrades had their share of bugs, too. After forty years of this, I am understandably leery of OS upgrades.

In the earlier days, a new OS would give noticeably faster response time, notably better user-friendliness, and noticeably more-reliable overall performance. As we’ve become more sophisticated, the changes are harder to pin down. And as OSes became more concerned with online connectivity, the changes have become blurred by differences in bandwidth, signal strength, and traffic density.

We see OS changes that benefit the computer industry more than the individual users—like adding the ‘Store’ option to our media-player apps. And we see an unhealthy focus on phones—as if having a desk to sit at is a bad idea—not that I’m against i-phones, PDAs, etc., but all that curries to the trend in making computing a superficial, convenience-based behavior, rather than an activity we use for specific purposes. It is glamour (and distraction) over substance.

But I’m mostly just grouchy because I’m having an off day—I suppose it’s to be expected after my recent run of very active, mostly successful days. Nothing is as reliable in life as ups and downs. I used to marvel at how the blackest prospects could turn around in a day, or how giddy climbing could suddenly come crashing down—now I just take it for granted. The miracle would be if change ceased and all days were uniform.

Today, I couldn’t play the piano worth a damn—relatively speaking. And I can’t get settled. And I can’t eat. And I went for my walk but I didn’t like it. Fuck this.

 

 

 

Saturday, August 08, 2015                                                11:53 AM

Stupid by Crazy   (2015Aug08)

Stupid by itself is not a problem. Ignorance is nothing but a blank space where information might be, but isn’t. Kitties are stupid—puppies are stupid—babies are stupid—ain’t nothing wrong with stupid. Crazy by itself I have no problem with. I’m a little crazy myself—there’s nothing wrong with a little crazy—sometimes it even helps. But when you take Stupid and lead it around by Crazy—then you’ve got trouble.

That’s why we need to get a handle on religion. That’s why we need to get together on the history of religion. Anyone can know about it—Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” gives a dense (and somewhat boring) outline of how beliefs and rituals evolved over time—how no religion sprang from nowhere, how they’re all related and they all evolved over the ages as a continuum of human nature.

Further, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the library at Nag Hammadi give us insight into the early days of Christianity—when many different people had many different ideas about who Christ was, how He lived and died (and lived?) and what His message was. We have the record of the four Councils of Nîmes from the early first millennium, delineating the church rules that men ultimately formed based on their understanding at the time. And we have the history of the Papal Wars, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment to further show that religion is not set in stone—and never has been.

Then there’s the cognitive dissonances of religion. Ancient texts show none of the  knowledge of astrophysics or astronomy that one would expect in a creator of the universe—they indicate only the ignorance of pre-science humans. Religions have differences based on geographical limits—where one might expect a supreme being to speak to all humans as one, all over the world. I could go on, but religion itself is a process of having faith without proof—it’s as hard to argue with that kind of idea as it is to argue with an idiot.

Yet I believe religion has a place in our lives. It enhances community, it provides purpose and meaning in a world that lacks both, and it is especially important for children to have some framework to overlay the cold-blooded chaos of the godless universe. But we must forever relegate religion to a ‘Santa Claus’-like status, wherein it is given no domain over the decisions of adults, particularly our leaders. It is used now to promote and perpetuate fear, conflict, and abnormal psychology—we must remove that absolutism from our society if we are ever to stop bigotry, misogyny, and charismatic megalomania.

We in America see the rise of wireless communication begin to transform our leaders into followers—the instantaneous response of large numbers of the electorate leads to knee-jerk reactions on the part of our politicians. They no longer sit and contemplate the future well-being of their constituencies—they’re too busy responding to tweets about what happened two minutes ago. I’d like to see a politician or two stand up to a podium and say that they are atheists—that they don’t represent modern mythology any more than they represent the ancient Greek pantheon of gods.

What I’d really like to see is all the big businesses lose the support of all that evangelical hogwash they use to befog issues that should be determined purely on human rights, without any hocus-pocus. I’d like to see leaders with the guts to stand up to the universe without imagining a ‘Blue Fairy’ god at their backs, protecting them with magic, promising them an afterlife in heaven (or hell) or giving them permission to judge harshly those who are different.

The Fundamental Truth   (2015Jul30)

Thursday, July 30, 2015                                           12:00 PM

I wasn’t always an atheist. I used to have the fervor of a potential priest—I’ve always taken life far more seriously than is good for me. I’m not very different—I get mad when I see bullying, I feel bad when someone else is hurting, I try not to be selfish—basic stuff.

Fundamentalists made me just as irritable then as they do now. Even as a child I could see the willfulness of it—trying to insist on certain magical things being literal without the need for any questions—or even the right to ask a question at all. That is so obviously the behavior of someone trying to be a bully—to strengthen their autocratic hand.

True religion is little different from true humanism—simplicity of purpose and purity of intention. If I were a religious leader today, I’d be declaring war on the fundamentalists, the creationists, the science-deniers, and the anti-evolutionists—these people seek to make a circus sideshow of a community’s core. Why does fundamentalism grow in a time of hyper-capitalism? Because they both work on the same properties—lust for personal power, increasing the client-base, and destroying the competition.

And fundamentalism suits the capitalist mind-set because they both pose a threat to humanism and true religion. The values of humans—security, safety, self-determination, and self-expression—have no place in either capitalism or fundamentalism. In fact, all those things (with the exception of self-determination) become marketable commodities under capitalism. Fundamentalism adds spice to self-expression by making parts of it ‘forbidden’ or immoral—making it more marketable—while offering imaginary safety and security that have nothing to do with the real thing.

Fundamentalism comes on strong right when capitalism needed it—until we began questioning simple statements of fact, business leaders were helpless in the face of scientific testimony. In the space age, only an idiot would question an accepted tenet of the scientific community—now, we do it all the time. And it’s no coincidence that petroleum magnates, like the Koch brothers, so willingly embrace the madness of fundamentalism—it is of a piece with their willingness to befoul the planet for profit. And they can only do this if they maintain that all the scientists are wrong.

Capitalism has jumped into the ‘fact’ fight with both feet. They regularly invest in laboratory studies that are intended to produce foregone conclusions to counter the real science being done elsewhere. How sick is that? And, of course, they have their legal cat-and-mouse game of hiding information under the guise of ‘intellectual property’—a very fancy way of saying ‘I ain’t tellin’. But the link to fundamentalism is the most cold-blooded aspect of modern capitalism—they are not satisfied with despoiling the planet and enslaving the 99%—they have to mess with our heads, too. Bastards.

“Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty, And Despair…”   (2015May17)

Sunday, May 17, 2015                                              12:19 PM

In the ancient long ago, the gods were a part of our confusion. Our behavior comprised of animalistic reactions to threat, urge, curiosity and temptation. Monotheism, by simplifying and idealizing godhood, helped to idealize humanity, in that one god forced the idea of one people, of humanity as a unit—rather than focusing on our pecking order, or who was friend or foe, we apprehended ourselves as humankind. Under self-absorbed, squabbling gods, Civilization was a disconnected collection of gadgets and power struggles. Only the dawn of Christianity made possible a vision of people as a collective, as an interdependent society.

As a longtime atheist, my focus has been on the history of religion and on the process of progressivism as it relates to freedom of religion. But as a lapsed Catholic I’ve always kept an eye out for any serious information about the supernatural—or anything that might replace the unifying validation of the human species which religion provides. Short of a religious experience, I hold little optimism for personal enlightenment. But I’ve never entirely surrendered the hope that rational analysis of the human condition may yield something of equal solace to religion.

I feel the same way about the supernatural that I feel about the creator—yes, they are undeniable—but, no, the things we think we know about them are old campfire stories, modified over the millennia. The truth of the supernatural or the creator is outside the ken of people. Let’s face it—people didn’t even realize the immense size of existence until ten or fifteen years ago, after they fixed the Hubble and started seeing the universe without an atmosphere in the way. We haven’t even learned the street names in our neighborhood yet—how can we be so smug as to think we understand the city planner?

But in the meantime, the problem for me has become: How do I rationalize my life—how do I explain why I care? To be crude about it: Why don’t I just kill myself? Up until recently, my only answer has been that life is a ride and there’s no sense in not enjoying it—there’s no guarantee that you’ll get anything more than the one. This is sufficient, but unsatisfying. It reduces life to a long, interactive action/comedy/romance/drama story with no real continuity or ultimate point, either to the story, or to participation in the first place.

Just now, however, it occurred to me that the core aspect of religion is the practical discovery of ourselves as a group. Animals act independently, individually, and their effects as a group are statistical, not intentional. Even herd animals act in concert through instinct—intention and awareness play no part in their tactics. People are no different—they act independently, randomly—until leadership enters the mind of one or more, and they begin to manipulate the group towards collective ends.

Ancient people could only form larger tribes and villages by using threats and rewards—leaders who found their practical control too limiting would add supernatural threats and rewards to enhance control. They would tie them in with campfire stories of creation, origins, ghosts and heroes—thus government-sanctioned religion was born.

Still, the individuals in these communities acted independently, taking into account the societal ‘sticks and carrots’, but leaving personal survival as the bottom line for individual behavior. Pharaoh Akhenaten took a stab at monotheism early on—after he died, not only was the old religion restored, but he was demonized in the recorded history of his successors. Jewish monotheism provides examples of both the enduring antipathy it generated in outsiders, and of the unshakeable strength of a community so tightly bound together by their beliefs.

Christianity is special because it was the first widely-popularized combination of the unifying strength of monotheism and the vision of the Golden Rule, or Love thy Neighbor, or whatever catch-phrase you were raised on. Unlike Judaism, early Christianity spread like wildfire—it was revolutionary in that it suggested a new perspective, a vision of humanity as a whole, bound together by love and caring. The interdependence and support of the old tribal ways were re-inserted into the modern, power-oriented outlook of a conquering empire’s people. Caring about one’s neighbor may have been thought country-bumpkin-ish by the citizens of the great Roman Empire—but Christianity revealed it to be Love, instead—an ancient wisdom to be reclaimed.

First, let me get the semantics of Love out of the way. Lovers who mate are a separate issue from the Golden Rule—passionate love has an element of possessiveness to it—that is part of the desire to protect and please one’s lover. But even in carnal love we must fight the natural impulse to confuse love with possession—people are not things, and to love someone is not to own them. Lust, jealousy, fidelity and infidelity confuse carnal affairs even further.

I’m talking about the other, more pedestrian, love that we have for others, be they family, friends, or strangers—we don’t want to bother them, we want to be friends, we want to help if we can. Conversely, we hope that they don’t want to bother us, that they want to be friends, that they’re willing to help us if they can. Whatever spirit it was that led us to invent politeness, before we learned to use politeness as a weapon—that’s the love I’m talking about.

Empathy is a tricky thing—like charity, it can be taken too far and thus rendered madness—but it is still a natural impulse. The question becomes whether empathy is an indulgence or an inspiration. While that question remains open, it should be noted that the Golden Rule does not endorse empathy any more than it endorses common sense.

On the other hand, the concept of unity should not be over-simplified into a goose-stepping regime, either. Early Communism saw the problem of a lack of human unity in the Capitalist paradigm, but it focused on the unity and overlooked the humanity. It’s not that simple—as was evident from the horrific regimes produced by those early efforts. The main problem is that the cohesion of society cannot stem from a government—it can only come from a society that has the will to be good to each other.

The phrase ‘do as you would be done by’ advocates unity, but not the military cohesiveness of a unity of power. The Golden Rule urges us to be a Family of Man, but to avoid using rationales to bar the pursuit of someone else’s happiness. We should be united, but still free to be ourselves. It’s complicated, which is one of the reasons why we aren’t even close to achieving it. Such an approach is also completely unrelated to the money-oriented outlook which blares from every media outlet and is sold from every political speaker’s dais.

Humanity, at the peak of its potential, has been hijacked by the rich and powerful, and turned towards goals so trite and empty that it is shocking to think how fully we immerse ourselves in their fantasy. Add in their insistence that modern arms, pollution, and habitat destruction are all a normal part of modern civilization, and there seems little reason not to turn our backs on them and their agenda, as one person. But we are kept distracted and engaged in their diversions to the point where we don’t ever stop to question our baldly suicidal sprint towards toxifying the planet and enslaving the non-wealthy—sounds like a fun time to me. Just ‘cause it’s called civilization doesn’t mean it has to be civil—right?

But my point is this: we think of the Family of Man as a spiritual aspect, separate from the mundane aspects of food, shelter, money, etc. Yet the religions that reveal this unity are simply recognizing a truth that is not obvious—that we have two natures: one as individuals and one as members of a species. The whole idea of a society suggests a balancing act between these two—we must live our lives, but we must also be members of a society.

There was a recent debate over taxing small-business owners. The question was whether they had created their institutions in a vacuum, or whether they owed some thanks to the local roads they used, the local shops that fed them, and the local workers they employed—in short, the community that made their own achievements possible. Aside from the argument being semantic nonsense, it illustrates the problem with the wealthy—they prize ownership over reality.

Even when rejecting religion, we are still aware of this core vision—that humanity is a creature of its own, and each of us is a piece of it. In such a paradigm, personal survival becomes insignificant except in its effect on the whole. Thus altruism exists, even without traditional faith. We can each choose for ourselves how much we focus on ourselves and how much we focus on our involvement as part of the whole.

This idea is bedeviled by our divisions into seemingly discrete groups—nations, races, societies—which confuse our perception of ourselves as part of the species. But the global community being formed by the digital age makes such distinctions increasingly fatuous—revealed as the spurious, self-generated divisions of more narrow-minded times.

We don’t need to be a Family of Man—but there’s little point to civilization if our basic foundations remain strife and competition—and without that higher vision, we may as well have stayed animals. There’s no glory in a civilization whose ultimate goal is the despoiling of the planet and the subjugation of the masses. That’s pointless and stupid. Capitalism is a fever-dream that lives off our animal impulses, giving us flimsy rationales for ignoring its faults.

Automation and AI are well on their way to making human labor obsolete. What will Capitalism become in a world without jobs—slavery or ultimate freedom? What will money be worth in a world without salaries? And what will we do with our lives when we don’t have to do anything? Once the issue of personal survival is ‘solved’, what will we be left with, except our destiny as a species?

Faith In Outer Space   (2015May03)

Sunday, May 03, 2015                                                       11:40 AM

Freedom of religion is a wonderful thing. It makes it possible for me to abstain from religion without being burnt at the stake or beheaded. That’s a good thing. It makes things better all around, for women, for gays, for children—the judgmental authoritarianism that allows the religious to marginalize women, condemn gays, and abuse children is prevented from becoming part of our legal system. And where such dogma is already infused into society, we have legal recourse to remedy the situation, as with the present argument in the Supreme Court over same-sex marriage.

Those with the notion that religious freedom should allow them to treat others differently, such as denying service to gays, do not understand the difference between religion and law. Belief is a mental phenomenon, not a physical one—where belief informs action, however, things get stickier. You can choose to live your own life as a believer, but imposing those beliefs on others is not ‘freedom’, it is its opposite—ingenuous piety notwithstanding.

Having gone from a civilization wherein religion was a given, to a civilization where religion is optional, we have achieved personal freedom. Those of us entirely without religion are tempted to view this as progress, with the inherent suggestion that religion is obsolete and will, one day, fade away. But believers see religious freedom as an accommodation to the variety of religions rather than as a step away from religion in general.

There’s a difference. We can be proud that human beings are the ‘only race’, the reason that God created the universe—or we can have the pride of a young race that is joining the galactic community by reaching the stars. If the former, we are encouraged to stay in our cradle, this fragile planet with limited resources and time. If the later, we know that we must leave this planet, colonize the solar system and perhaps beyond—or just wait to die out when the planet does. We can condescend to the stay-at-homes by justifying space exploration through its useful by-products, the science and the tech—but the real reason is just that we have to leave.

I can imagine some protest at that statement but be assured that I’m speaking in general terms. We don’t all have to leave—you, personally, don’t have to leave—I’m not expecting to get the opportunity to leave Earth within my lifetime. But eventually some of us have gotta go. Enough people have to populate the solar system to ensure the survival of the race beyond the Earth’s expiration date, whenever that may be.

The end of the Earth may not be coming soon, but it’s coming. We know that now—we know that Earth was once uninhabitable, that it will be again—we know that Earth floats amongst a sea of extinction-level-sized asteroids and meteors, any one of which could ‘hit the jackpot’ at any time. And beyond all the cosmological constraints, we also have to face the fact that our use of planetary resources may reach a tipping point long before any of these lesser probabilities manifest themselves.

We need to start getting our raw materials from further away, someplace where we’re not trying to breathe and drink water and grow food. And the human race could also use a little elbow room—one planet for seven billion people requires a lot of natural resources and a lot of real estate. Our solar system is begging to be colonized and developed. And our planet is begging for a break.

Does religion get in the way of this? Well, religion is authoritarian—it wants to be in charge. And those in charge are uncomfortable with change. Space exploration certainly qualifies as change. You do the math.

However, some changes might benefit us. Earth’s population may not benefit directly—even with the ability to emigrate to space, population growth on the surface wouldn’t change significantly. Overpopulation will eventually bleed this planet dry. But at the same time, a colonized solar system would see population growth as a good thing—and restless young people on Earth would have a frontier to turn to. If we’re going to overpopulate ourselves to death, it seems a small thing to allow some of that excess population to take a stab at perpetuating the species outside of our gravity-well. Think of it as back-up.

20150503XD-Rijk_ExplosionOdSpanishFlagship_BattleOGibraltar_vanWieringen1621

“The Explosion of the Spanish Flagship during the Battle of Gibraltar”  by Cornelis Claesz. van Wieringen, c. 1621    (Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum website)

Behind The Façade   (2015Apr17)

Friday, April 17, 2015                                              1:05 PM

Yesterday I wrote a long tirade about lies. I didn’t mean for it to be a tirade—I intended to lay out my thoughts plainly, like a diagram. But when lies are the source of wars or murders or false imprisonments, it’s hard to keep cool while discussing the subject. The thing is—yeah, all that stuff is bad—very, very bad, but—I wanted to get at something behind the outrage. I wanted to discuss the effects.

You see, when I was ten years old, it suddenly occurred to me that my CCD classes were illogical. I didn’t think of it that way—Star Trek was still five years from its pilot episode. What I really thought was, “God, if you’re out there—talk to me. If you don’t talk to me, what good are you?” But no lightning struck me. Then I thought, “God, you’re a jerk.” Still no lightning. Over time it became clear that no response was coming, no matter how I felt about God. I’m a very literal sort of person, so discovering (after all the sermons and classes and nuns’ talk) that real life gave no actual indication of God made a real impact on me.

At the time, I became an agnostic. I was still possessed of enough faith in my elders to figure I might be missing something. But my world was full of bullies, mean brothers, angry parents, and strict teachers. There were plenty of real threats in my environment—so a threat that never manifested itself, like ‘God’s wrath’, was unconvincing, to say the least. It wasn’t until later, when I realized that ‘institutional lies’ were a feature of society, that I became a full-on atheist.

Ever since, I’ve been alert to any aspect of society that ‘runs on bullshit’. Religion is the big winner in that category, but Wealth, Fame, Cool, and many other illusions also make up a large part of our worldview. I’ve never achieved any of these things, but I have experienced little mini-demonstrations of them—and I’ve been horrified by the resulting changes in how others saw me and in how I saw myself.

I had slight upticks in my income, or had brief periods of localized notoriety, and was annoyed by the change in other peoples’ treatment of me—and how it made me feel funny about myself. Yet I made no connection—I still assumed that Wealth or Fame were desirable. It wasn’t until I’d seen how those ‘dreams’ could destroy so many people who achieved them that I realized that my own experiences had been warnings from reality. I think, deep down, we all know that Wealth, Fame, etc. are bad things, but we don’t let that stop us from wanting them. Maybe it’s the suggestion of power inherent in these ideas of ‘success’ that make them so tantalizing—I don’t know.

Alternatively, it could be the suggestion of comfort that attracts us to Wealth, Fame, or Status—comfort is first-cousin to happiness—and everyone wants happiness. But then we find that these illusions of success don’t really offer comfort, they offer options—and there’s nothing so uncomfortable as too many options. Rich people can loll on a hammock all day if they wish—but they have to choose to lie on a hammock out of the countless other options that rich people have before them—and guess how often they actually choose the hammock.

In the case of Fame, we tend to assume that loneliness is a sad thing and, therefore, popularity is preferable. Yet again, we find that Fame attracts attention, not companionship—famous people regularly find themselves feeling lonelier than ever, even while standing amid a mob of admirers.

The lesson here, to my mind, is that we should be wary of approximations when dealing with our hopes and dreams. Wealth, Fame, Power—these things are close to some very desirable ends, but in the end they manifest as something completely different—something bad. Real satisfaction and contentment come from things that are far less exciting to describe—a loving family, a close friend, a steady income, friendly neighbors, etc.

These things seem pretty achievable, don’t they? Oddly enough, the hard part to finding real happiness is in losing our obsession with these ‘mirages’ of success, the Wealth and Fame and whatnot. It isn’t until we abandon the struggle to be ‘King of the World’ that we find ourselves kings of our own little worlds. But there is no pleasanter surprise in life than to find that, while you can’t have it all, you already have enough.

My personal growth has involved recognizing many such ‘mirages’ (or lies, if you wish) and figuring out how to avoid falling for them without forgetting that other people still give them credence—that other people, in fact, make these ‘mirages’ the mainstay of their goals in life. But the point of atheism is not to make fun of people who take their religion seriously. And the point of having good friends is not to ridicule the rich and famous. If my values contain an inherent condemnation of someone else’s values, that doesn’t obligate me to attack those people. It’s called pluralism. And pluralism is invaluable in a world that is not only complex in actual fact, but made infinitely more so by layers of pretense.

Lately I’ve started to wonder about the circuitous mental paths produced by society’s mélange of truths, half-truths and lies. Social critics have recently observed that we always add to legislation, but we spend no effort on revising the existing laws, or repealing obsolete ones—this results in a justice system that chokes on its own accretion of ever more laws on top of laws.

It occurs to me that education is also overburdened with an accretion of details. I saw an article the other day that described a new technique of schooling where the Subject category was dropped—all classes were just classes. Every class could include more than one ‘subject’ and could more easily teach the connections between one ‘subject’ and another. By removing the artificial category of Subject, the educators streamline the students’ thought-processes, making them more organic thinkers.

This seems like a promising experiment. But it would be far more difficult to remove ‘categories’ from our social perceptions. Figuring out how to live our lives will probably always include navigating the various illusions of many cultures and beliefs. It’s rather breathtaking to realize that what can be nonsense to me is, to someone else, the very point of existence—or vice versa. Pluralism is some heavy lifting, at times.

And it means that we can kiss the idea of ‘simple solutions’ goodbye. Simplicity is definitely not humanity’s strong suit—so beware of impatience and frustration. Some of humanity’s most horrific crimes have been committed by frustrated people who have decided to ‘cut the Gordian knot’—to simplify the solution to a problem—that’s how we get to genocide, war, slavery—all kinds of bad stuff results from the impulse to ‘just fix it’.

Life, by and large, is much more about the doing than what gets done. It’s more about the journey than the destination. This is easily illustrated—the final result of everyone’s life is death—a rather useless achievement, unless there was some joy and beauty and love along the way. Corporations are famously focused on their ‘bottom line’, their profits. How transparently worthless this is. The experiences of the employees, their relationships, how their work impacts society—all the things that really matter are ignored. Corporations thus become paragons of imbecility. Now most people are forced to choose how they make a living without regard for personal fulfillment—we might as well as stayed with ‘hunting and gathering’ if all we wanted was to survive. I won’t even go into the idiotic emptiness of ‘corporate culture’. There, I think the word ‘culture’ refers not to the sense of a social-paradigm so much as the sense of a fungus, a mindless culture formed in a petri dish. The Dilbert comic strip is funny because modern corporate, cubicle culture is synonymous with insanity. Ha friggin’ ha.

I’ve even begun to question The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I’ve watched that show religiously, every night, even back when Craig Kilbourn was the host. But now I’m starting to wonder—is it really a good thing to have that relief, to laugh off the overwhelming insanity of modern life? Would it not be better to let ourselves become well and truly outraged? The globe is in crisis—and the people in charge should more properly be in an asylum. What’s so funny about that?

False Principles   (2015Apr04)

20150404XD-Copernicus_05

Saturday, April 04, 2015                                            11:15 AM

The Copernican ‘Principle’ is the latest catchphrase for bifurcating religious belief and scientific inquiry, interpreting Copernicus’s astronomical observations as a ‘non-geocentric’ view. And a new movie being released, “The Principle”, presents the modern-day argument against Copernicus, based on a book entitled “Copernicus Was Wrong”. It may feel exhausting to learn that there are people here, now, in the twenty-first century claiming that the Earth is the stationary center of the universe, but it is my sad duty to inform you that such is, in fact, the case.

In the usual way, controversy over this film has centered on the very public disavowal by scientists filmed for this documentary of the edited comments they make in the course of their interviews. God forbid the media focus on the actual point of the controversy—the cosmology itself. It is far easier to have a grand ‘he said-she said’-type of verbal rumble than to examine the science and/or theology of the filmmaker’s representations—and more entertaining, as well, since actual thought is not necessary when discussing the ins and outs of a gossip-war.

20150404XD-Copernicus_04

These days I’m often tempted to become paranoid. I’m tempted to entertain the possibility that the powers-that-be are subsidizing the public discourse on anything that is so outrageous that sensible folks are taken aback at the mere mention of the premise. Denying evolution fits into this category, to my mind, as does climate-change denial. But geocentricism is just one step up from a belief in a flat Earth—surely no serious grown-up would argue that we should revisit the idea that our little planet is the very center of all creation—not just our own galaxy (in which our entire solar system is demonstrably placed far out on one of the Milky Way’s spiral arms) but of all the galaxies.

The fact that our discovery of other galaxies in the universe is fairly recent, and the product of modern science-based cosmology, doesn’t seem to faze the geocentrists. Neither do the geocentrists consider, as most scientific-minded folks might, the newness of our knowledge about other galaxies to be a warning sign against making premature judgements about their nature—like many apologists, they rather consider such ‘early returns’ an opening for wild theories about how we can return ancient myths to the realm of factual data.

20150404XD-Copernicus_03

This never fails to frustrate me. I can accept all kinds of argument about what this means, or what that means—I can accept that there may be many things that we, as humans, misunderstand. But I will never see the connection between that mystery and any sort of confirmation of ancient scriptures that describe ancient man’s encounters with ‘The Creator’. To me, that’s a pretty big hole in an argument—that its only backing comes from people who were basically fresh from inventing the wheel.

20150404XD-louvre-StMichel_et_Demon

The problem, for me, is that we are not comparing the science of ancient times to the science of today—we are contesting the primacy of ancient myth versus modern science. When we make statements today, they are based on observations and calculations. When we choose the religions of millennia gone by, we are working exclusively by hearsay, without any information. And believers will make a point of this, insisting that ‘faith’ must operate outside of the scientific method. For them to turn it around and use their faith as an alternative to science, to attack science as an enemy of faith, seems like an argument against itself.

One thing that struck me was the filmmaker’s comment, during an interview with Church Militant (!), that cosmologists have been forced to go through all sorts of mental gymnastics to explain the creation of the universe without starting from the assumption of a Creator. Well, yes, Mr. Smarty-Pants, science without the benefit of Magical Thinking does get a little complicated. Everything gets complicated when we don’t allow ourselves the luxury of saying, ‘just because’. Apologies if that makes your poor little brain hurt.

Also, these Christian pseudo-intellectuals always gloss over a very important point—who says that humans are capable of knowing how or why the universe was created? If scientists can’t figure it out before lunch, does that mean that our only fallback position is to return to the crumbling scrolls of ancient civilization? Only if that’s where you meant to end up in the first place. Science is very useful stuff, but no one ever claimed it would replace all the ‘knowledge’ and ‘explanations’ provided by superstition. Science is handicapped by its insistence on being transferable to any culture or society. As Neil deGrasse Tyson likes to say, “The great thing about Science is that it’s true, whether you believe in it or not.” But no one claims that science is a complete answer—only religion offers that brand of snake-oil.

20150404XD-Copernicus_01

And in the context of this film, “The Principle” we aren’t even addressing the truth of science—we find ourselves in a discussion over the correctness of certain interpretations of scientific truth. After all, the question is easily decided—Einstein tells us that everything is relative to ‘an observer’. If we wish, we can interpret the rotation of the Earth as the rest of the universe spinning in the opposite direction while the Earth remains still. By the same token, we can consider ourselves stationary when walking—that the ground beneath our feet is moving backward as we float in a set point. Relativity allows us these mental games—and they are true in the technical sense. But they are no more true than the standard interpretations—that the Earth does spin, that we move while we walk.

Recent archeological research has determined that the ‘history’ in the Bible may not be entirely accurate. For instance, the movement of the Jews from Egypt into Canaan is represented in the Bible as a military campaign led by Joshua, who conquered city after city. Recent evidence indicates that the Jewish culture infiltrated the region in a less obvious way, and on an entirely different time-line than that given in the Old Testament. The show’s narrator speculates that the biblical account may have been a form of propaganda, written long after the actual events took place. Thus the Bible, which long ago lost its claim to scientific fact, is losing its last claim to relevance—as the only source of ‘historical’ documentation of biblical times.

20150404XD-louvre-nef-des-fous

But this very questionable bit of literature remains, amazingly, our fallback position whenever we are stymied by the stubborn nature of scientific truth. Even more hilarious, to me, is the Christians’ easy assumption that if religion is legitimized that Christianity will, of course, be the most legitimate of all the religions—a double-whammy of wishful thinking!

I don’t know about most other atheists, but I am constantly deluded by the fantasy that I can one day say, “Alright, you guys—that’s enough childishness. It’s time we started facing things like grown-ups. The fairy tales are nice, but we’ve got some real issues we need to deal with, and religion ain’t helping.” It is nearly impossible for me to accept that most people would hear such a simple statement as ‘crazy talk’. This is the greatest challenge for atheists, particularly lapsed Catholics like myself—the longer we live without religion, the sillier other people’s faith becomes. Eventually, it becomes very difficult to believe that they really are serious about their fantasies. We forget what it was like to simply accept magic in our lives without question.

They say that Love is the only socially acceptable form of insanity—but in my opinion, Religion takes the cake in that contest—Love doesn’t even come close. When Love creates difficulties in our lives we agonize over it—“Is this really Love?”; “Is this love worth that sacrifice?”, etc. But when difficulties arise over Religious beliefs, we refuse to even discuss the issue—talk about crazy. I’m not even going to get into the whole ‘beheadings’ business—jeez!

The filmmaker complains that his movie should win an award for “movie most reviewed by people who’ve never seen the film”. I’m afraid he’s right about that—but I don’t need to watch a whole film to understand what he’s trying to do by making it. I can just look out my window at dawn and ask myself whether the sun is rising or the Earth is turning towards it—and whether the astronauts looking out the ports of the International Space Station would agree with my answer.

20150404XD-Copernicus_02

National Prayer   (2015Apr01)

Wednesday, April 01, 2015                                                12:04 PM

April Fools! The “National Day of Prayer” isn’t until Thursday, May 7th. Americans United has a nifty little site: What’s Wrong With The National Day of Prayer, if anyone isn’t clear on there being a problem with it. To quote Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, President of AU’s National Board of Trustees: “The National Day of Prayer is problematic because it presumes that Americans should take direction on their religious lives from the government. It suggests that they will engage in certain religious activities because the government recommends they do. People do not need government directives to pray or take part in any other form of worship.”

I can’t argue with that. But a case could be made that National Days are not so much directives as they are responses to popular opinion. Americans United is in danger of making the same mistake as the Tea Party’s anti-government nonsense. The government doesn’t create National Days out of thin air—they are proposed by citizens, often due to an existing, less-official celebration tradition—Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Fourth of July—these were all popular observances that came from the collective heart of Americans. Their canonization into ‘bank holidays’ came later. And atheist or otherwise, I don’t think anyone can claim that there aren’t a lot of prayer-friendly citizens in this country.

If we were talking about a Mandatory Day of Prayer, then okay, that would be a problem. But a day that celebrates prayer can only be wrong if there’s something wrong with prayer. The fact that I don’t pray may leave me out of the celebration, but that doesn’t make it wrong to celebrate. I don’t have a womb, either—but I have no problem with baby showers.

We’re living in the future, folks. And space-age living requires that we pay attention. There is a distinct difference between what we don’t like and what is wrong. There are lots of things I don’t like—that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with those things. There are lots of things that are wrong—the fact that they may appeal greatly to me doesn’t make them less wrong.

People with seniority, people with power, people with money—such people often get to have things their way—their preferences have importance. This is confusing. Their preferences shouldn’t have importance, but reality says otherwise. We have to reconcile this ongoing condition with its temporary equivalent—a hostage stand-off. Yes, a person holding us at gunpoint has the power to inforce their preferences—but we must decide whether to give in to their threats or to try to rush in and disarm the hostage-taker.  It’s called ethics—and the reason most people avoid thinking about ethics is that having them is often similar to rushing an armed attacker—it can be suicidal. Hence the expression, ‘Live Free Or Die’.

It’s ironic that the non-religious would waste time, effort and attention on something that isn’t intrinsically wrong, like a National Day of Prayer, when they should be focusing on actual wrongs, like the recent states’ legislation legitimizing religion-based bigotry—the anti-gay laws and the anti-abortion laws. Gays make up ten percent of our population. Women make up fifty percent of our population. Between the two groups we can figure that a solid majority of American citizens are being persecuted by religion-based laws. This condition may have spurred the anti-prayer sentiment, but opposing a National Day of Prayer is rather missing the point. Better we should all pray they repeal that nonsense—and maybe start voting for politicians instead of fundamentalist zealots.

Atheism Is Dead   (2015Mar27)

SuperNova

SuperNova

Friday, March 27, 2015                                    8:52 PM

To speak against the local religion was a good way to get yourself dead, back in the day. That still holds true for some parts of the world—even some parts of America. But if we exclude the slimy backwaters of the world and of our country, one could reasonably state that atheism is a much safer subject for public expression. Sure, ISIS might behead you in some areas. Down in Texas, some good ol’ boys might decide to drag you behind their pickup. Even here in New York, there’s always the possibility that a rifle-toting extremist will come a-hunting for any outspoken advocate of atheism.

But by and large, it’s no big deal these days. There are so many ‘practicing atheists’ (people who don’t pray or keep the Sabbath) among the supposed Christians that the few who go to the trouble of being positively-professed atheists appear as more or less just extremely-lapsed Christians . And the rise of Humanism adds to that impression by collecting most atheists into a group that still searches for things like good, evil, meaning, and purpose.

20140203XD-katonahsign

I have a Humanist tendency, myself—but I find it takes a little care to go searching for a replacement for religion without transforming that search into a new cult of its own. I see morality and community, the two greatest benefits of established religions, as important to society. But I would beware of trying to justify goodness, badness, etc. on any more ideal, less practical grounds than their providing a friction-reducing framework for society.

Charity, for instance, has in many cases been analyzed by economists and found to be more cost-effective than austerity. It’s just good business—counterintuitive, yes—but still the right way to go. The benefits of that modern rarity, Honesty, aren’t even counterintuitive, they’re just very unpopular—even considered by many to be a sign of immaturity. But those who have fallen to temptation are always eager for company—it justifies their choice. How many of us felt pressured to lose our virginity by being made to feel childish while it remained intact?

DSC_3167_(SMALLER)

My point is that God is completely unnecessary when choosing between good and bad. We are all familiar with con-artists, we are all warned that if someone offers us what seems too good to be true, it will surely be untrue. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you—there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Well, the universe works the same way. Humanity, as a species, as a civilization, requires socially healthy attitudes. Fat cats may not feel the universe’s kick-in-the-ass for being selfish and greedy—but we, as a group, are punished for allowing wealth to concentrate so greatly in individuals, merely for the remote chance we could become one of them.

And rich people, like lap dogs, are specially bred to their bizarre environment. Just look at lottery winners if you want to see the effect of great wealth on the average citizen—most of them have their lives destroyed, their families broken—some even go bankrupt. Some go mad and a few of them actually kill themselves. Sound like a dream come true? Only rich people, born and raised to take their wealth for granted in a world full of poverty, can handle sitting on a huge pile of cash—not that most of them are the picture of mental health, either.

20131230XD-PapalTiara_03

But that’s a special case—the separation of the wealthy from the rest of us obscures the cause-and-effect of their follies. In general, we can see that taking advantage of others, whether by crime, betrayal, lies, or violence, will come back to haunt us eventually. Karma may not be a spiritual force, but there is symmetry in nature, and it applies to society as much as to physics. In cases of a ‘perfect crime’, so to speak, where the payback is difficult to trace, we still find that society as a whole is damaged by anti-social behavior. And since we live in society, we are in some way affected as individuals, too.

As individuals, we can make the case that society is not our problem. My theory that morality is socially healthy could be described as idealistic, in that sense. But again, as members of society, we can abrogate our responsibility if we wish, but we can’t deny our inclusion in whatever future we help to bring about. If evil predominates, society will self-destruct—an end that seems all too likely, and in the not-very-far-off future, to boot. If so, the good will perish along with them. If however, we somehow manage to save ourselves, I think I’ll enjoy having been on the winning team.

radermeyer-and-rietspruit-104

Okay, presentation over. I hope I got my point across. My ideals, if you want to call them that, are based on practical evaluations of the conditions of my reality—I don’t feel obliged to bring them all the way round to axioms of faith. They work well enough, and any further progress would involve greater knowledge than humanity has at present, or may ever have, or may be capable of having.

Someone recently made a point of humanity displaying an innate ‘sense of purpose’ and hung on that the premise that purpose must exist. He was arguing that atheists seem fixed on defining themselves by what they are not. He was arguing that today’s atheist is fixated on the big bang theory and other such mechanical aspects of existence, and ignoring the great mystery that still infuses all of observed reality. And he has a point.

herculesL

But my point is that today’s atheists are new-comers to the party. Many of them are refugees from extreme fundamentalist families, often within extreme fundamentalist communities, where the madness of unquestioned faith and spurious, oddball dogmas made their childhoods into living hells of unreason and the suppression of feelings and ideas. They have my sympathies, and I welcome them to their new-found freedom to think for themselves.

However, with popularity comes dilution. When Christianity was new, you had to be pretty serious about your convictions—being fed to the lions is not a healthy habit. Then, in the intervening centuries, Christianity became popular enough to foster power, carnage, and corruption. Atheism has enjoyed the same refinement for centuries—it was not for the faint of heart or the only-partially committed. Neither was it a likely end for the uneducated—you have to be pretty comfortable with your brain to have the confidence to question God.

CombWBattle

So we atheists were quite a cozy group up until this new century. The idea of activism was laughable—we represented such a small group that we were lucky not to be hunted down by the majority. This is no longer the case. The idea of atheism has become more commonplace and the number of those who self-identify as atheist has exploded. And we old-style atheists, due to the nature of atheism, are not hierarchical—we are not indoctrinating our ‘new converts’. For my part, I’m a little taken aback by the partisan populism such broadening of the field has incurred.

Part of the reason for my misgivings is that atheism doesn’t really lend itself to politics—it is a negative more than a positive position. It is an acceptance of the fact that, while the universe is an infinite mystery, humanity’s just wanting to understand it doesn’t mean we do—or even that we can. And the fellow trying to make the case for Purpose is doing something that it is all too easy for atheists to do—to try an end-run around the limits of human understanding by claiming that ‘human understanding’ has a priori value.

SirensBoutibonne

Sure, we have an innate sense of purpose. But we also have an innate sense of self-preservation and an innate sense of continuing the species. These are evolutionary traits necessary to the survival of the species. And what more important evolutionary step can a species that has developed consciousness take than an innate sense of purpose? Once our brains began to analyze and to question, would we not require a sense of purpose to bolster our self-preservation instincts? I see no reason to assume that a sense of purpose is any less a product of evolution than our other instincts.

It is even possible that such an instinct, necessary in an animal with consciousness, may have been the spark for all religions, from the prehistoric to the present. And even if I’m wrong about it being instinctual, I have never been willing to attach absolute value to any natural-seeming notions of the human brain. Who would? So many concepts throughout history, that once seemed like bedrock reasoning, have proved in time to be convenient fictions—the divine right of kings, the flatness of the Earth, the inferiority of women, the evil of homosexuality. There are even ‘intellectuals’ who have rationalized the justness of slavery, the demonization of left-handedness, or the perpetuation of the death penalty. So-called scientists ‘prove’ things like racial inferiority, ‘cures’ for gayness, or creationism.

Ulysses-sirens-Draper

People are stupid. Not just some people—all people. We have limited senses. We have only the vaguest understanding of physics and chemistry. We have a tendency to infuse reason with wishful thinking. We react emotionally to scientific facts and we use ‘faith’ to give the legitimacy of fact to our anthropomorphic dreams of cosmology and creation. So, when someone claims that a shared trait of humanity, like a sense of purpose, must have some meaning, I can only feel pity for their ingenuous loyalty to the idea of human reason—an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Former VP Al Gore wasted a good title on his climate-change documentary—if there was ever an ‘inconvenient truth’, it is atheism. And that is my concern over this influx of new, anti-religious converts—they have not so much accepted the ignorance of man as they have rejected the ‘revealed truth’ of religion. That is, unfortunately, only half the journey. The atheism that they will produce in years to come will bear striking resemblances to the religions these people have rejected—and the partisanship they bring to the party will facilitate the transformation of atheism into a religion-like structure, with its attendant assumption of the wisdom of humanity. Dogmas will arise that will make fundamentalism seem tame.

Bear2007May5 005

In time, atheism will deform itself so greatly that it will rival the enormous gulf between the teachings of Christ and the workings of the Catholic Church. It will go from a backwater for those of us who absent ourselves from intellectual pride, to a fulcrum of power for its political leaders. And if humanity’s past is anything to go by, atheism will eventually create dogmas of its own, easily the equal of any snake-dancing, tongues-speaking cult. When the day comes that the atheist majority begins to persecute people of faith, they will call it Progress. Yeah, right.

Stigma

Happy Birthday, Emmy Noether!   (2015Mar23)

Noether

Monday, March 23, 2015                                          11:39 AM

Emmy Noether was a major mathematician and physicist of the era of Hilbert, Gödel, and Einstein. She spent most of her life being an un-matriculated, unwelcome university student—and then an unpaid, untitled university professor. Having broken past most of the boundaries met by female scholars, she found herself being ostracized anew by the Nazis, because of her being a Jew. She left for the USA before the Nazis progressed beyond merely firing Jews to murdering them. She spent two years at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania before dying, at age 53, due to complications after surgery to remove a cyst. Einstein wrote a valedictory letter in her honor which was subsequently published in the Times [click here for article].

Her astonishing achievements in math and physics would have stood on their own, but her struggles to get clear of the close-minded sexism of her day were just as heroic, just as epic. It’s hard to think of these two battles as unrelated. Noether’s innovative mind pushed back humanity’s ignorance of science just as her day-to-day life pushed back against humanity’s ignorance about women, and Jews.

Clear, incisive thought will often overrule conventions without being conscious of it—ignoring some unimportant, nonsensical convention to arrive at the correct solution, unaware of how much importance society-at-large puts upon those unimportant, nonsensical conventions. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for suggesting the existence of other solar systems among the countless stars in the sky—where a less intelligent person would have scrupled at going against convention, willing to live in continued ignorance rather than die for the sake of correctitude.

Scholars and scientists appear to regard Ignorance as the greater death, the real torture. Such heroism has always been admired in explorers, but less obvious explorers, explorers of the mind and of truth, are rarely given the adulation offered up to Columbus, Admiral Perry, or Charles Lindberg. However, pure science has a way of finding an outlet into reality: Bernoulli’s principle becomes the Wright brothers’ first Flyer, Einstein’s relativity becomes Oppenheimer’s atomic bomb, Turing’s number theory becomes the first computer, et. al.

Thus admiration for scientific exploration often lags behind, waiting for society as a whole to recognize its ‘practical’ value. The preponderance of such evolutions of ‘thought into things’, by the dawn of the twentieth century, had gained some grudging respect for pure scientific exploration—we had finally caught on that these people, these squirrelly, often unkempt oddballs, were a potential source of speed and convenience, money and power.

Long before the modern age, as far back as the Enlightenment, we began to see science overrule convention. Authority, whether of the religious or the noble persuasion, had, until then, been protected from dissent by the simple expedient of executing the dissenter(s). Might was, demonstrably, right. Afterwards, new discoveries and inventions began to impact our lives. Gunpowder, cannon, and muskets rendered old defenses, such as castle walls and armor, obsolete. Sextants, chronometers, and maps removed the boundary of the open sea, reliable navigation making possible the Age of Discovery.

Thus the right of might became a fluid thing—solid stone and steel become vulnerable, the limits of the known world fall away with the discovery of a New World. Worse yet, in conservative terms, science in the hands of Galileo and Copernicus presents us with a spherical Earth orbiting the Sun—which, while interesting in itself, is disastrous in that it seems to put the lie to scripture—how can the God of Joshua ‘stop the sun in the sky’ if the sun doesn’t actually move across the sky?

This creates a dichotomy in society—what we call conservatives and progressives. Those who are delighted by the new and different tend towards progressivism. Those who fear change tend towards conservatism. And those with wealth or power are rarely progressive—no one has more to fear from change than those who are already on the top of the heap. For them, change can only be a disaster.

And so it went, for centuries—it was as much a matter of personal choice as anything practical that people chose to be either conservative or progressive, with the exception of those in power, who were invariably conservative for the reasons mentioned above. Then came the Digital Age, with its profusion of new gadgets, new techniques, and, most importantly, new changes to society and commerce. We are flummoxed both by the amount of change and the speed with which that change occurs.

Today, it would appear that conservatism is a dangerous choice. Science has made of society a shifting, nebulous mystery, a complex patchwork that demands our adaptability, both mental and emotional. ‘Being conservative’ goes from being a choice to being a mistake. And those in power, those with the greatest investment in conservatism, find themselves laid bare to the winds of change.

Now, when scientists determine that burning petroleum damages our air and water, we are tempted to act on that important information. But those who are rich and powerful because they do business in petroleum are not happy. The only answer for them is to counter science with an alternative. But what is the alternative to science? So far, the answers have been denial, ignorance and extreme fundamentalism. Conservativism goes from being a choice to being a bunker. Shorn of its connection to science, or even common sense, conservatism becomes an artificial position, jiggered to defend the rich and powerful, regardless of how far it wanders from sanity.

We see the Republican party, once known as the party of conservatives, become known as the party of the rich. Some effete intellectual has pointed out that we now have the ability to house, feed, and cloth every person on earth—that Capitalism, the system by which we reached this pinnacle, is now the only thing preventing us from going over the top, into a world of peace and prosperity. Capitalism morphs from the mechanism by which we all progressed into a mechanism for conserving the paradigm of rich and poor, the entitled and the deprived.

Today’s conservative is either forced into conservatism by their fear of change, or they are deluded into conservatism by the propaganda of those in power. Progressives, when they are not railing against the entropy of modern conservatives, are hard-pressed to deal with a rate of progress and of change that exceeds the capacity of an individual mind to absorb, before it changes yet again. We have enough trouble dealing with that excess of fulfillment of our hopes, without having to defend ourselves against reactionary revisionists.

Science struggled in the middle ages—chemistry was witchcraft, astronomy was heresy, electricity was the devil. It slowly made a place for itself by producing irresistible tools of power, convenience and freedom. By the twentieth century, science had begun to advance by leaps and bounds, hence the deification of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and others. But here in the twenty-first century, our digital technology runs amok—no one person can comprehend it, no one person can keep up with it. Science has revealed itself to be innately progressive—an enemy of conservatism and, thus, an enemy to those in power.

Today, conservatism has become an enemy of science—just as it has always favored might over right. Recently, the famous conservative, Rick Santorum, was quoted as saying “The smart people will never be on our side”. It isn’t easy to maintain popular support while advocating ignorance, but they are feeling their way, through various memes, to cast suspicion on intellectualism, i.e. the scientific method. They play on the resentment of those with below-average scholarship. They attempt to conflate the complexity of science with the confusion of double-talk. And they point to heaven, calling on their invisible authority to smite the smarty-pantses, oblivious to the scientists that float above, in the Space where dogma insists Paradise must be.

This is not new. Hitler famously used science to great effect during the Second World War—rockets, jets, coding machines, missile guidance systems, radar—but he didn’t believe in it, he just used it. That wealth of German technology would never have been his, had his regime not followed hard on the heels of a very liberal, open-minded university culture—a culture he destroyed while he looted the wealth of power it produced.

Before the Internet, Science was the first global community. And German universities were hubs of this international mingling of the great minds of their time. It is ironic, and fitting, that the scientists and thinkers driven from Germany by Hitler’s hate were instrumental in the eventual defeat of the Axis powers. But even as Hitler stomped on the sand castles of early twentieth century science, he gladly used any of its powers and insights that adapted themselves to world conquest.

Likewise, we see today many conservatives, including Rick Santorum, who gladly make use of science’s bountiful gifts while still denying its basic premise—rational thought and open-minded consideration of observed reality. They are bizarro, negative-image copies of our Founding Fathers, who invented the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, but insisted on the right to own slaves. The difference is that our Founding Fathers continued an old ignorance while creating a new enlightenment. Modern conservatives seek to create a new ignorance while resting on the laurels of the old enlightenment.

Conservatives want to undo religious freedom by abrogating the separation of church and state. They want to undo Roosevelt’s New Deal, destroying our society’s stability in favor of classist profiteering, making an elite of the greedy. They want to undo voting rights, making a plutocracy out of our democracy. They want to undo feminism most of all, because they know in their hearts that women have a dangerous propensity towards humane ideals and common sense, not to mention the female urge to care for the young and helpless. The conservatives have become such blatant cheerleaders for prejudice, poverty, and prison that it always leaves me dumbstruck—not only that they do this, but that they find so many followers to buy into their evil agenda.

Money may not deserve to be considered free speech, but it has certainly become a political party—the Republicans. And please note that I feel it has become redundant to speak of money and power—they are so close nowadays as to be synonyms. Sadly, many Democrats and Independents are also Republicans in sheep’s clothing. The infiltration of money despoils all parties—it merely finds a champion in the Republicans. And that champion is fighting with all its might—against we the people, against scientific truth, against fairness and democracy. Such total evil, to my incessant surprise, retains a wide following among people who are some of its most pitiable victims. They’ve managed to indoctrinate African-Americans, even misguided women, into their fold. They may not have a taste for rigorous scientific thought, but no one can deny that they are extremely clever bastards. Just like old Adolf.

But today we celebrate the birthday of Emmy Noether, the Jewish lady he so foolishly discarded—and his birthday? No one knows or cares. Likewise, Santorum has felt the weight of Science’s power—his name is now used across the Internet to mean “a frothy mixture of lubricant and fecal matter as an occasional byproduct of anal sex”. Deny that science, Ricky. And happy birthday, Emmy!

It’s As Much About What One Becomes (2015Feb27)

20150227XD-POEM_HumilityIsFatal_Draft_02

 

VIDEO: Tyler Sid reads his poem, “Open Culture”, beginning at time-mark 00:20 secs in. (He reads my poem, “Humility Is Fatal”, beginning at time-mark 24:20.)

 

Friday, February 27, 2015                                10:30 AM

First, a few admissions about my ‘poetry’—I have two gears, as it were, one of which is to get all technical and use a rigid meter and rhyme scheme (in this first gear, I can use the confinements of format to excuse any stiffness or awkward phrasing). My ‘second gear’ can be seen above—I basically write what I’m thinking, but I don’t allow myself any of the run-on sentences that are too much a feature of my prose. I chop off all my lines before they reach the right-hand side of the page and I capitalize every first letter of every line. However, I also allow myself to go from one thought or idea to another without any ‘connective tissue’, much less a segue—and I allow myself encapsulated symbolisms, used as shorthand, without being too judgmental about their aptness or comprehensiveness (i.e. describing all of modern, first-world technology as “addiction to the washing machine”).

But my poetry is also a great time-saver, for me and my readers. Take this line: “The more special we believe we are, the worse we behave.” Now, this thought, ordinarily, would come to my mind as an inspiration for a lengthy blog-post on human nature and the problem of modern humanity—and I do so love stringing those words together into a cohesive argument or illustration about truth and reality. But poetry is a beautiful thing—in poetry, I can just write down that ‘kernel-ized’ concept as a single line and, by the ‘rules’ of poetry, it is now left to the readers to read that line and write their own blogposts in their own heads. I trade the pleasure of spelling things out to a ‘T’ for the ease of simply saying the germ of the idea.

All you serious poets out there will have recognized by now that I am describing ‘writing prose in a poetic format’ more than ‘writing poetry’. I know when I’m reading ‘real’ poetry, because it leaves sense impressions in my head and evokes ephemeral feelings, without ever displaying any coherent thoughts or unmitigated images—and I respect that. Also, I truly hope that something like that effect is achieved by my less-nuanced writings–it isn’t as though I’m trying to do it wrong.  I know that if I tried to write that ‘real’ kind of poetry, I might succeed—but I’d be more than likely to get lost down the rabbit-hole of thinking poetically, un-sequentially, unconnectedly. And, if you’re not involved in creative pursuits, let me tell you—it’s as much about what one becomes, through pursuing the creative, as it is about what one achieves as a creative person. Madness is catching—and I prefer to cherry-pick my madnesses.

All that being said, poetry is undefinable—so if I write anything at all, as long as it has Caps at the beginning of each line, regardless of grammar, it’s my poem. And fortunately there are others who agree with me. Tyler Syd, a poet friend of mine, has chosen to include the above poem in his upcoming public reading (something which I’m very proud and flattered to know). I appreciate that because, while I may not consider myself a traditional poetaster, I do feel that I have something to say—and poetry, by virtue of requiring the readers to engage their own thought-processes and imaginations, is far better suited to communicating my somewhat ‘intellectual’ musings on society and the nature of reality.

While blog-posts are more straight-forward and specific, most readers will read a blog-post with half a mind towards what their comments or complaints or disagreements might be—with poetry, my readers do not approach the piece from that point of view. They put more focus on what is being said rather than their own responses. They maximize my images through their own imaginations rather than confine them to the limits of reflexive debate and objections. Not that I’m hiding from argument—just from ‘argument for argument’s sake’.

Have you ever had that experience where you’re in the middle of an argument and suddenly realized that you are wrong and the other person has a point? I used to hate, hate, hate that feeling! But now, in my dotage, I’ve learned to enjoy it, to embrace the revelation of something I hadn’t previously seen. And I learned, in the process, that a lot of argument is nothing more than momentum—the desire to keep on fighting, right or wrong—which is admirable in its way, but perhaps not entirely suitable to logical argument. And in such a complex world, I feel that reducing unnecessary argument is vital to positive progress. Thus my hearty disapproval of modern news media—we are in vital need of information, but we are force-fed controversy instead, because of its greater ‘entertainment value’—what a load.

It also fuels my resentment towards fundamentalists—the world is such a messy tangle of ideas, the last thing we need is a bunch of people re-raising questions that educated, thoughtful people have long since put to bed. To look upon all the amazing discoveries made by geologists, biologists, and astronomers—and dismiss it all in favor of one’s own ignorance—I can’t see that as anything other than madness—willful, egotistical blindness to the obvious. These same people will use jet airliners to travel and computers to communicate their ‘ideas’ about the falsity of science—I don’t know, I guess logic just doesn’t appeal to them.

I suppose I shouldn’t blame them—after all, logic isn’t the bottom line, survival is. We don’t need to make sense as much as we need to keep breathing. And if they want to trade logic for the chance to keep breathing even after they stop breathing, well, they’re certainly making a good start on it—an afterlife makes about as much sense as a fish on a bicycle. Now, go away, before I decide to capitalize all my first letters and turn this into a poem….

One last thing–here’s the drawing used to make the poetry-graphic, and an alternate version of the completed graphic:

20150227XD-POEM_HumltyIsFatal_02(SAM_0930)_B

 

20150227XD-POEM_HumilityIsFatal_Draft_01

Aliens In Winter (2015Jan19)

20150119XD-POEM_WinterHasARight

 

 

 

-Thus endeth the lesson.

So, now I have my video of Joni-Mitchell-song piano-covers, my poem about my winter walk, and here I am, being greedy, trying for an essay to top it all off…

Well, the odds of my getting a good essay, when I haven’t actually been driven to the keyboard by frustration and a head full of roiling thoughts—when I’ve just ‘decided’ to try and squeeze one out of myself—are lower than dirt. So I might as well choose an equally off-the-grid subject, like Ancient Aliens. Nobody takes ancient aliens seriously, so they make a perfect subject for me—although, I should admit, being taken seriously is the last thing I need. I have a hard enough time being taken for a light-headed jester.

Nevertheless, there are many ancient ruins whose construction is ‘unexplainable’. It’s hard for me to accept that word, ‘unexplainable’. ‘Very difficult’ I could manage—even ‘mysterious’ I can handle—but for something to be entirely unexplainable (in my experience) is a poor use of words. In science, there were (and are) many unanswered questions—but we don’t just throw up that word, ‘unexplainable’, and move on—we find explanations. That’s what science is—the refusal to accept ‘unexplainable’ as an answer.

Now, ‘unexplainable’ does have a temporal meaning—even in science, there are many things which are not yet explainable. And if Ancient Alien proponents wish to replace ‘unexplainable’ with ‘not yet explained’, then I’m ready to listen to the rest of what they have to say. Until then, I have to place them in the set of all people who are willing to accept ignorance as an answer, rather than a challenge—and members of that set do not intersect with the set of all people who are rigorously scientific.

And scale, in and of itself, does not constitute any great mystery, to my mind. Huge blocks of stone may seem immovable, laser-guided precision of ancient carvings may seem impossible—lots of things appear at first glance to be outside of our capabilities—or the capacity of our ancestors. But give thousands of people hundreds of years to think and experiment and work things out, and there is very little that we can pronounce to be impossible. Large objects can be floated upon waterways, rolled on wheels or cylinders, or undermined in sand. These and other techniques can also be combined in various ways to enhance their power. In short, to pronounce something to be too big to move is actually just a way of saying that our imaginations have limits—a statement with which I could never agree.

Others questions, such as the visibility of the Nazca Lines diagrams only from the air, seem to me equally judgmental about the cleverness of people. There’s a tremendous gap, to my mind, between something that is very, very hard to do—and something that is impossible to do. Nor do I give credence to the issue of why ancient monuments were built. Without context, even our more modern structures, like cathedrals, have no obvious, practical use. In the particular case of the Ancient Alien question, we see many ruins of structures that have an astronomical connection—but the stars are as important to a farmer, or a sheepherder, as they are to an alien. The circuitous seasons have, for mankind, both a life-or-death meaning for agriculture and a more mystical attraction as a source of contemplation and dreaming—the addition of aliens is superfluous to their import.

Thus, while I’m open to the idea of Ancient Aliens, I’m less than satisfied with the current archive of ‘proof’ that we see on TV. Also, I’m not too crazy about the idea that humanity is nothing more than an experiment in some galactic laboratory run by alien overlords. I’d rather believe in God, if I could.

O–and two more videos:

 

The Irrational Humanist (2015Jan17)

20141205XD-NeighborhoodShots (36)

Saturday, January 17, 2015                              5:39 PM

Lately, I’ve been trying to slog my way through “Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel” by Rebecca Goldstein; I’ve watched “Predestination” on VOD (based on Robert Heinlein’s classic short story, “All You Zombies”—a delirious exploration of the inherent paradox of human time-travel; on Kindle, I’m deep into “Echopraxia” by Peter Watts; and I just this morning discovered online the delightful “Cartoon History of Humanism”’s first sixteen episodes—and I can’t wait for more. Wonderful historical insights, philosophical history datapoints, and a great reading list, making Dale DeBakcsy my new favorite author.

20141106XD-PostTune (20)

But then it started to happen again. I’m sure it happens to you, too. You’re reading Melville’s “Moby Dick”, absorbing a fire-hose’s output of historical data about whale biology, the terminology of seamanship, details of 19th –century whaling, aboriginal tattoos, and more. You feel very cozy about communing with this great but long-dead author about out-of-the-way factoids that are completely outside of your everyday thoughts—or anyone else’s. You feel as much a part of 19th century coastal New England culture and society as you do your own present day neighborhood—you feel a little bit special.

20141205XD-NeighborhoodShots (4)

Suddenly, whales come up in every conversation; there’s a PBS special on TV about whales and whaling; a Facebook friend who’s taken a recent coastal tour posts photos of their boating party amidst a pod of spouting, tail-slapping cetaceans; a new biography of Hermann Melville is reviewed in the New York Times’ Book section—whales are everywhere!

20141205XD-NeighborhoodShots (11)_b

That’s bad enough, but when it comes to something philosophical, like Gödel’s 2nd Incompleteness Theorem, its universal ‘karmic’ backwash can be a little overwhelming. In the course of reading cartoons (no less) I learn that the hidden humanist influences of early first-millennium Christianity not only disproved the existence of the soul, but laid the groundwork for future meditations on the conflict between the rational and the intuitive, the scientific and the ‘true’. Words I had to look up (like ‘apriority’ and ‘formalism’) when I began to read the Gödel book, start popping up in every context. Worse still, these ideas and concepts are applicable—meaning that as I take my daily walk down the block, I’m considering my own perceptions and my own sense of reality—it’s really all too unsettling.

20141205XD-NeighborhoodShots (12)

But history is so broad—it can never cover one subject without touching upon its influences, far and near, past and future. In a sense, any history is a piece of all history, and can lead to further consideration in infinite directions.

20141205XD-NeighborhoodShots (17)

While I’m floundering amidst the flood of reflections which the universe bounces back at me, due to my focus on the question of the incompleteness of consistent systems, and the suggested corollaries that make us question our ability to ‘know’ anything—I am struck by another fact that pops up with even more frequency—misunderstanding.

20141205XD-NeighborhoodShots (24)

Central to Ms. Goldstein’s premise in her partial biography of Kurt Gödel is her insight into the lack of understanding Gödel received from his peers. Almost unanimously, Gödel peers (and scientists and thinkers up to and including the present) saw his proof of the incompleteness of consistent systems as proof that humans are the final arbiters of reality. In point of fact, Gödel had proved the opposite—that the universe is what it is, regardless of human perception (or misperception). Ms. Goldstein points to this as the great tragedy of Gödel’s life and career—that a famously demure genius found a way to say what he wanted to say in irrefutable and unambiguous language—and was, nevertheless, completely misunderstood, both then and now.

20141205XD-NeighborhoodShots (25)

At first, upon reading the beginning of the book, I thought to myself, “Well, that’s the way of the world—when someone is smarter than everyone around him or her, no one will understand what that person tries to say.” And that is certainly true in most cases. But in the course of the last few days, it has occurred to me that human history, all of it, is a collection of the many times, the many ways, and the many reasons why people misunderstand each other. In this context, it is no great surprise that we also habitually misunderstand the universe, reality, perception, science, and reason.

20141205XD-NeighborhoodShots (28)

In the course of the last forty-eight hours, I’ve read and seen multiple examples of great thinkers producing original, important thoughts—and not one of them added to human understanding—on the contrary, misunderstandings about them only increased the chaos. And many times in history, in many places, there have been created brief oases of rational, or at least more-rational, communities—all of which ended, not just in their own erasure from popular history, but in an increase of irrational views left in their wake.

20141014XD-Tchaik(MapleTree_03)

To me, this is cause for no little amount of despair. Here I’ve spent a lifetime trying to understand my existence, and to understand the world and the people around me. But now I understand that, even if I miraculously became ‘enlightened’ as to ‘the meaning of life, the universe, and everything’—I still wouldn’t be able to share my thoughts with other people. I mean, I would—but they would most assuredly misunderstand me completely. They wouldn’t understand me, but they would disagree with me and argue with me. My absolute knowledge of perfect truth would be useless—and would most likely get me in a lot of trouble—think Jesus.

20141205XD-NeighborhoodShots (44)

Facebook has a lot of ‘quotes’ on its walls—and many of them are spurious, or mis-sourced. Recently I saw a quote purportedly said by Einstein (Facebook’s accreditation of quotations always leans towards the more-household names) but then saw the same quote during my reading, but tagged ‘apocryphal’, ascribed to Gödel (a close friend of Einstein’s) by Ms. Goldstein: “The more I think about language, the more it amazes me that people ever understand each other.” I would reply, “Don’t be amazed, Kurt. Look at the history of civilization, of science, of philosophy—look at your own life story. People don’t ever understand each other.”

20141205XD-NeighborhoodShots (36)

Brrr! (2015Jan09)

DSC_3192_(SMALLER)

Friday, January 09, 2015                        1:42 PM

So ends the first work-week of 2015. Not that I’m employed, but I follow along. It’s cold—everywhere. Whatever happened to Florida or California (or Syria, for that matter) being warm in winter? It’s even colder, psychologically speaking, in Paris right now—attacks on freedom of speech and violent anti-Semitism makes it hard to feel the warmth of humanity.

An Islamic apologist makes the point that Muslims act differently in different countries, that, for instance, female genital mutilation is practiced in Christian countries, too, and that it is a characteristic of African countries, not Muslim ones. And it occurs to me that Islam predominates in the under-developed world, where ‘Christianity-lite’ or outright Agnosticism predominates in the developed world. A case could be made for poverty, ignorance, and lack of good government being the true source of most terrorism—but that only means the Muslims should be the most pro-active in distancing Islam from these bad actors.

20140129XD-TheAtlantic_RevoltInUkraine_05

However, the unhappy truth is that large numbers of Muslims applaud the attacks on modern civilization, i.e. the Great Satan, America, and its allies, and like-minded countries. And is America innocent?—of course not. Some of the activities of our government make me ashamed to call myself an American—but no country is perfect, and America has a great deal to be proud of. More importantly, America has the ability to recognize its own mistakes, and to change. Considering our place in the world, I think it’s obvious that working out our problems is preferable to burning the place down and beheading everybody.

But my personal problem is that I’m against religion of any kind. How tempting it is to hold up these terrorists as an example of how dangerous and ignorant religion is. The suppression of women, the persecution of gays, and other religion-based ignorance, is nearly as common in the developed world as it is in the rest of the planet. But violence is common to fundamentalists and atheists alike—and the raising of children to be adults capable of cold-blooded murder is the real problem. Religion is just the nail some of us hang it on.

fecec-icecave-png

Ending poverty and illiteracy would do more to eliminate violence than any other action we could take. Warring against religions because of their specific violence can only make more violence. I saw a hopeful slogan today on a Humanists Facebook post, “Humanity before Creed”. I like it, but in our present environment, I anticipate that theists will take exception.

20110304XD-cistern_large

On Whose Authority? (2015Jan07)

I was frustrated by the senseless violence in Paris today, as can be seen by the essay below. But, just to lighten things up a bit, here’s an improv, too….

 

“At Least 11 Killed in Shooting Attack on Paris Newspaper”

– The New York Times

blasphemy

Wednesday, January 07, 2015                        11:05 AM

On Whose Authority?

In France today an editor and many contributing cartoonists of a satirical magazine were the target of Muslim extremists with AK-47s. Their offices had been bombed by the same people in 2011. These French terrorists have also been increasingly violent towards Jewish communities in the area. One is tempted to wonder what it is about Islam that makes it such a tempting badge for psychopathic, cold-blooded murderers? But one must remember that such behavior is just under the surface of Christianity and Judaism, as well. All three major faiths are really just variations on Western Monotheism, i.e the Judeo-Christian-Muslim heritage of Western Civilization. Between the Crusades and other Holy Wars, the Inquisitions, the Wars of the Reformation, the Nazi’s ‘Final Solution’, and the burning of ‘witches’, there is an ugly history of religion-based bloodshed, war, and genocide. The modern ‘Muslim’ terrorist is just the latest in a long line.

These wretches are not terrorists who become Muslims—they are Muslims who are weaponized by the Imams who lead their sects. Like all religious killers, they are authorized (and, to varying degrees, directed) by their leaders. Their targets are likewise based on threats to Authority—which puts cartoonists at the top of their hit list. Being laughed at has always maddened the puffed-up egos that dare to claim they speak for God. ‘Sharia Law’ is another example—the opposite of ‘separation of church and state’, Sharia Law states that no earthly authority can supersede the words of the Imam—as if some jerk in a kaftan is more in tune with the wishes of the Universe than any cop or judge or legislator.

blasphemy_03

We are no better. Our ongoing struggle against gay rights, and against the self-determination of women, shows the same tendency to ignore common sense in the face of Authority. Anyone with any sense can see that being gay is not a choice—the only choice gay people have is whether or not to be honest about themselves in public. And any man who believes he has more insight into pregnancy than a woman is an idiot. Only blind adherence to comforting Authority allows such hateful stupidity to persist. Otherwise, these Christian conservatives would use their heads and their hearts to understand and embrace the rights and freedoms of others.

We wonder how the Republicans, who seem to have it in for the human race, could have won both houses in last year’s election, when they are so dysfunctional, so corrupt, and so ignorant. But that question answers itself—the more ignorant and capricious a leader is, the stronger their authority seems. The Democrats offer benign leadership, while the GOP has a tendency to tell us to shut up and do what we’re told—of course we vote for the assholes—they’re the strongest-seeming leaders. More importantly, they absolve us from the responsibility of thinking for ourselves. Freedom is frightening—a true American lives on the knife-edge of responsibility. Like Spiderman, he or she cannot have the enormous power of freedom without accepting the enormous burden of responsibility.

blasphemy_04

Unfortunately, such responsibility requires education, engagement, and civic awareness—and not everybody lucky enough to be born here is capable of upholding these standards. We now have a population wherein those who cry most loudly about “The American Way” are the same people who flee from any of the difficulties inherent in maintaining our standing as a bastion of freedom. Plus, there are a vast number of us who confuse American with Wealthy—people for whom money is the greatness on which we are founded. They forget (or never knew) that America’s emergence as a land of wealth was a consequence of our freedoms, not their source. But let’s stay on track for now.

For years I have avoided criticism of Christianity in deference to my friends who take solace and meaning from it, who raise their children by it, and who find in religion a way of life. After all, there is much good to be found in faith, particularly in the teachings of Jesus. But the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition of Faith is also an unflinching supporter of Authority. And because Faith eschews Facts, religious authorities can justify, rationalize, and perpetrate any crime, any violence. “In the name of God” becomes synonymous with “Because I said so”.

blasphemy_05

If we look back into history, we see that monarchs operated on the same basis. Monarchies were a working system—so they could say, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” When more-enlightened rulers sat on thrones, they could take credit for the good works they did—and when despots made things worse, they could kill any critics. Religion, likewise, is a very good thing when it is used for good by good people—and unassailable when it causes evil. Their similarities are due to the similarity in Authority. Whenever people in charge are left to their own justifications, we get pot-luck—good things from the rare, good leaders, and evil from the far more numerous, perverted ones. In that sense, religion is as obsolete and corrupt as monarchy.

So how do we take the good things from religion and eliminate the bad? Can we believe in a beneficent creator, an afterlife, and purposeful living, without believing in priests, imams, and preachers? That depends. If our intention is to look behind the veil of existence to find meaning, then it is possible. But I fear that for most people, religion is a security blanket to protect us from the cold, practical reality of the infinite universe—their search is for safety, not meaning. In that fear for their safety, they surrender themselves to any Authority that pretends the universe is on their side, no matter how messed up and violent the practices of that religion.

blasphemy_02

The temptation to invoke religious authority is so strong that it may be impossible to have religion without it—it is certainly impossible with the old religions we now have, ancient faiths with their roots deep in our authoritarian past. Our founding fathers’ concerns over religion were based on their perception of Religion being, like the English king, a source of empty, non-representative, and divisive Authority. Much as I would like to overlook the failings of religion for the sake of those for whom it is a positive, it’s threat to our modern civilization, as indicated by today’s attack, makes that an irresponsible weakness on my part.

However, my feelings for or against are beside the point. The world we live in is suffused with religion, and with religious authority. The fact that they’ll kill anyone who laughs at them means that we must take every opportunity to hold them up to ridicule. The fact that they are incapable of laughing at themselves makes them dangerously narcissistic—not to mention lacking a sense of humor, which makes them ugly, stupid people, in my opinion.

Eastern philosophies see Good and Evil as counterparts, as a balancing of opposites to form the whole of existence. Our Western-influenced insistence that we increase the Good and try to eliminate the Evil shows a total lack of understanding of human nature. Even more ignorant is our predilection to give Authority to one who is presumed to represent Good, one who is devoid of Evil—there is no such person. The fact that, as a society, we are unable to learn this basic truth renders this entire essay a waste of time. But I don’t mind—it gives me something to do while I try not to think about the savage, animal bloodshed that is the hallmark of all true believers.

Two Improvs, A Thought, And A Poem (2015Jan06)

 

 

Monday, January 05, 2015                     11:58 AM

Here’s a comment I wrote for an atheist’s video-post:

“Well, guy, I’m with you—but, as the many comments indicate, being rational goes against human nature. I find it amusing that the type of comment-rebuttal depends on the user’s level of zealotry. The almost-rational always take you to task for word-definitions, chains of sequence, and attitude of approach. The less rational take you on for misinterpreting scripture or failing to credit the creator of our ‘perfectly designed’ universe. The full-on crazies try to talk down to you as if you were a child, or an insane person. It’s pretty funny—someone should write a play about it…”

Sometimes, when I want to say something multi-layered on Facebook, I write it in Notepad and then paste it into the comment box—it’s easier to correct and re-word when I’m not typing straight into the Facebook text-box. However, Notepad doesn’t ‘translate’ my double-dashes into big dashes, or flag my mis-spells and poor grammar, like Word would do.

Then, because I hate to write down any thought without saving it, I cut and paste it into my Word running-journal-document—where everything gets corrected—but after I’ve paste/posted the Facebook comment, typos included. Why don’t I just use Word in the first place? Because I don’t expect to save my Facebook comments—even though I sometimes do. Plus, Notepad is straight ASCII text—it doesn’t transfer font or format from one app to another, as can happen with Word vs. Website.

 

Monday, January 05, 2015                     11:50 PM

Poem:     In Which I Almost Die

I’ll be back—Oh, wait—no I won’t.

Why’d I say that? Damn twist the knife much?

Dying can be socially awkward—I say!

Hey, I AM back—I think I’ll live forever.

Why not? There’s so much that needs doing.

I better get busy—the world won’t save itself.

Seasonal Withdrawal (2014Dec29)

Well, it’s still a couple of days ’til New Year’s, but excuse me if felt the need to crawl back into my shell, post-xmas. Today you have a choice again, between a very introspective essay and an even more introspective piano improv. The roller-coaster moods of the Holidays may be wearing me out, but they certainly give my muse a kick in the ass, so I can’t complain. Hope you like’em!

 

ESSAY:

Monday, December 29, 2014                          2:13 AM

 

Before The Beginning And After The End

 

Well, problem-solving is in our nature. We often try to solve the problem of the human race. But humans are animals—we can accept our animal nature or we can change. If we change, how far do we change, and to what end? And if we change, will we still be human?

Born in 1956 and raised first on Long Island (next to the Grumman plant where the LEM was developed for Apollo’s Moon landings) I took to reading the Tom Swift, Jr. Series of science-fiction adventure books—I assumed that mankind’s future lay in its spread throughout the solar system and, eventually, the galaxy. I assumed that we would continue to discover scientific principles that would benefit mankind, and use them to perpetuate our destiny among the stars.

But now all electronic developments are geared towards the social interaction of young people and the entertainment of the masses. All microbiological advances are turned toward the making of profits for the pharmaceutical companies. Advances in mathematics are turned into new financial market products, such as derivatives—or used to protect and/or hack computers. Science marches on, but it has found a way to cater to the most mundane impulses of the human animal. Where we could once point to scientific research as a sacred crusade against the darkness of ignorance, we now see it put on a par with evangelical, tent-revival-type preaching and political maneuvering.

The flooding into our lives of technology has cheapened the once-pure luster of scientific clarity—clever apologists for Faith attempt to ‘turn the tables’, saying that if Science can destroy our beliefs, then our beliefs can destroy Science. Politics and Commerce do equal damage to Science, editing PR-negative sections from research reports, declining to release such reports when their contents are unabridgedly un-spinnable, and even hiding public-health related research data under the mantle of corporate proprietary-data protection laws. Between the zealots’ attempts to parse the mechanics of the universe into a theist-friendly syntax and the filthy rich attempting to commodify knowledge and probability, we are less concerned today with the challenges that confront current science and more concerned with turning Science to our own advantage, individually and in groups.

Forgetting that Science is just a fancy word for Reality, zealots impugn the Scientific Method for its lack of ultimate answers. Science gives many answers, such as how to make a multi-tonned, steel machine fly through the air faster than the speed of sound, but it has no answers (yet) for many other questions. It has no ultimate answers—and the faithful should keep in mind that their own ultimate answers were made up out of thin air and wishful thinking—and that was a thousand years ago. Confusing control of Technology with control of Reality, the filthy rich hid the science of tobacco-related health risks—and they’re still hiding the science behind climate change, particularly as it relates to vastly profitable fossil-fuel industries.

Simplicity is a desirable quality in life, but having set our steps on the path of Science, we must say goodbye to simplicity. “Occam’s Razor” is the shorthand term used for a principle that says, given more than one possible explanation of a thing, the simplest explanation is the most likely to be true. But there is what we refer to as ‘elegant’ simplicity, such as the Pythagorean Theorem, and there is seeming simplicity, the desire for things to be simpler and easier than they really are. In addition, Occam’s Razor only suggests that the simplest explanation is most likely—sometimes a thing requires a more complicated explanation. As a rule of thumb, Occam’s Razor can be useful—but as a scientific principle, it lacks the reproducible results found in all good science.

Simplicity thus becomes a matter of personal opinion. When Newton invented Calculus, he created one of the most complicated procedures ever conceived—but it allowed us, for the first time, to solve problems that were too complicated to be solved with any existing mathematics. Newton found a complex solution to a complex problem—and we could easily describe that as ‘simplifying’ the problem. So what is simplicity? The idyllic life of the hunter-gatherer age was simple in many respects. But many activities, such as obtaining clean drinking water from a sink faucet, are far simpler procedures today than they were then. So simplicity is not exactly simple.

And this is hard luck for us all, because Science can simplify many things, but it can’t simplify our reasons, our wants, or our ambitions. These aspects of human nature can never be simplified without making humanity less diverse, less chaotic. And if we change humanity, we become inhuman. Fascism was a stark example of this problem—their ‘solutions’ hinged on unexamined fears and hatreds. We cannot ‘perfect’ humanity unless we are first perfect—and who among us is without sin? I am no more capable of ‘improving’ humanity than Hitler was—my only advantage is that I’m smart enough not to try.

Yet, if we cannot improve humanity, what is the point of progress? Progress grants us the strength to build mighty structures: ships, rockets, skyscrapers. Progress let’s more of us stay alive for more years. Progress gives us power—power to transport, communicate, grow food, manufacture, refine, and destroy. But progress never changes who we are—it only changes what we can do.

That is the traditional view of progress. But modern progress goes beyond mere shipbuilding and high-yield crops. Sequencing the human genome is more than medical research—it is the beginning of our transforming ourselves into purposefully-designed creatures. Far beyond the choice of gender, or even the choice of eye color, IQ, and body-type, the deeper understanding of our own blueprint will allow us to design and create humans to specific standards.

But this does not necessarily mean that we are acquiring the means for self-improvement. We are reaching the point where we can change ourselves, but we have not done anything to prepare ourselves to determine what ‘improvement’ would consist of. Just as computerization transformed the developed world into a target for hackers, gene-sequencing may tempt us to manipulate our DNA before we fully understand the risks of eliminating the element of chance that made all of natural evolution come up with the human race. In our quest for progress, we might remove the possibility of our greatest progress so far—the natural selection that brought us from amoeba to homo sapiens.

If something as profound as Consciousness can be brought about by random selection, who can say what other wonders lay ahead? Shouldn’t we have a firmer grasp on the machinations of Mother Nature, before we try to wrest the wheel from her hands? Or is humanity’s progress too complex to leave to the random mutations of natural life? I’m tempted to answer that humanity’s progress is too complex, in general, relative to our development of our understanding of where humanity is headed, and wherefore.

I was directed to a fascinating online article today (http://www.common-place.org/vol-04/no-02/semonin/) “Peale’s Mastodon: The Skeleton in our Closet.” by Paul Semonin. Semonin tells of the famous portraitist, Peale, who dug up a Mastodon skeleton in the late 18th Century—and how this discovery of an extinct species set minds to work—including those of our founding fathers, Jefferson in particular, who tried to purchase the remains. Semonin says that the Europeans teased the new American republic, claiming that America was a land of small creatures and small men. The Americans were quick to seize on the image of a native-American animal that outsized all others, even the mighty elephant. Plus, they convinced themselves that the Mastodon was a carnivore and dubbed it the Ruler of the American Wilderness.

Semonin speaks of this idea of an alpha-predator, the anthropomorphizing of the mightiest and most terrible beasts in a given ‘wilderness’ into not just the most dangerous beings but, somehow, also in charge of the place. He points out that we speak similarly of the dinosaurs ‘ruling’ the earth of pre-humanity. I agree that he seems to have found a piece of pure human nature that has injected itself into our critical thinking, even unto the present.

Back in the bad old days, whoever was the ruler, the chief, king, emperor, head man—those guys had the power of life and death over those under their thrall. That makes a sort of sense when you figure that, prior to our reaching the apex of the food chain, something else was ‘taking out’ the occasional weakling or non-team player—and once a mighty leader puts an end to that culling of the tribe, that power transfers to the leader. The logic may seem specious, but you know how it is with ‘mighty leaders’ and ‘rules’.

It got me thinking about the whole ‘getting eaten’ thing. We started out as mere players in the great circle of the food chain, and as we attained the ability to fend off even the most dangerous predators, we retained the risk of being made a meal whenever we strayed from the group. There are still parts of the world where people can find themselves, if unarmed or unprepared, at the mercy of a large, hungry predator—but such locations are few and the predators sparse. I understand that there are villages in India that can still experience tiger incursions—once they become man-eaters, they are hunted mercilessly. And there continue to be plenty of bugs, snakes and what-not, which can kill with venom—not to mention the many deadly germs and viruses. We are not entirely safe from nature, but we are pretty safe from being eaten.

And I guess that presents a problem. A major consideration for all of our forebears, up until a handful of generations ago, was avoiding being eaten by a predator. Our instincts still stand up the hairs on our necks when we hear the howls of a wolf-pack, but outside of a camping trip in the mountains, we rarely have such reminders to think about. Modern people are far too concerned with the lack of money to waste any time thinking about lions, tigers, or bears. We used to respect the hell out of those creatures—and why not? They had the power of life and death—they were life or death.

It’s possible that our difficulty with choosing cooperation over competition is partly due to the fact that we evolved as creatures that were always under threat. We perceived ourselves, on some level, as prey—and still do. Our obsession with the totemic possession of power, if based on our instinctual expectations of predation, will always favor ‘controlling the fate of others’ over ‘responsible acts of leadership’. When we think of power, we think of using it to control others as much as we think of using it for betterment of the group. This makes it virtually impossible to wield power impersonally and rationally—thus, power corrupts.

But the problem is deeper than certain individuals being consumed by their imagining of whatever power or authority they control. The more basic problem is that we all place survival on an equal, perhaps even higher, priority with justice. When my young boy’s head was being filled with space-age daydreams of a Star Trek future, it included a world without commerce or poverty—a world where one could focus on competing with oneself, instead of scrambling to snatch necessities from the wanting mob. It foretold a world where everything was being done for the right reasons—and what could be more different from the ‘future’ we now find ourselves arrived in?

Of course, Roddenberry was a dreamer—Clarke was a real scientist—his science fiction included the twisted motives of civilization’s less-dreamy players. But even Arthur C. Clarke dreamed of a race of aliens that would come down and save us from destroying our own children when they began to mutate into the next phase of humanity, the phase that would become worthy of joining the interstellar civilization the aliens represented. The Aliens of “Childhood’s End” were there to protect us from our own atavistic fear, borne of our animal past, of the unknown—the urge to kill anything that may threaten us—even if we’re not sure how—even if the threat is our own offspring.

Science fiction does a strange job of showing us two mirrors—one reflects what we become if we act like angels, the other shows us what we become if we do not change. The latter, showing straightforward extrapolations from where we are to where we may end up, can be truly horrifying. But the Star Trek-types can be horrible in their own way—I never saw anyone on Star-Trek eating potato chips while watching TV, or bitching about their lousy love-life—the nearest thing they had to a cat-lady was the “Trouble with Tribbles” episode—and the tribbles didn’t even pee all over the ship.

That may all seem very Buck Rodgers and all that, but the question is—is the lacking laziness, loneliness, and personal hygiene issues something that ceased to exist—or is it something that is outlawed? If all the good behavior on Star Trek is mandatory, then the series would properly belong on the same shelf as Leni Riefenstahl’s opus. If it isn’t mandatory, then what happened between now and the future to transform these people into almost-saints who explore the universe, without pay, smiling in the face of danger, and all getting along famously without a cop in sight? Those people are not the same as us. If we want to see the Star Trek version of the future, we have to do more than invent a warp-drive.

As always, the main difficulty is our fear of death, of non-existence. We don’t like to think of our own death, and we aren’t much interested in the death of our species, either. But I think that we can only begin to make plans for our ‘Star Trek’ future after we have faced the truth that humanity wasn’t always there—and it won’t last forever. Civilization is not an inert object—it is an event. Granted, it’s timeline is huge, but we can never really exceed our natural selves and become something ‘better’ unless we can stand back far enough to get a perspective on all of us, everywhere, over all the centuries, and where we are going—and maybe even where we may ultimately decide to go.

Intellectual courage is one of the rarest of human characteristics, but as our intellectual strength so swiftly increases through science and technology, we are in great need of such courage. We can map the countless stars in the sky, but it won’t mean a thing if we don’t start surveying our interior wilderness, and confronting some of our inner predators.

Your Choice (2014Dec14)

Well, I wish I’d posted this yesterday (It was Sequential Day, that is, the date was 12-13-14) But, I can only play when my aching back lets me, so today was the best I could do.

You have a choice with this post:  you can read my boring-ass essay -or- you can listen to my silly-ass music–either way, please don’t forget to ‘like’ and ‘share’ or whatever.

 

 

 

 

“Baby Steps Among The Stars” – Part Two (Chap7)

Chapter Seven

Sounds easy—just place limits on money’s influence; allow it, where necessary, to be over-ruled by ecological or ethical considerations. But how? Much is made of the ‘revolving door’ of big-business executives and government regulators—doesn’t it invite corruption to have the same people flit between the leadership of these dangerous industries and the guardianship of the peoples’ interests, rights, and well-being vis-à-vis these industries? Certainly a conflict of interests is almost guaranteed by such intermingling. But what is the alternative? It doesn’t make much more sense to have all our potential regulatory chiefs be confined to those with no knowledge of the industry they monitor. Neither does it seem fair to ask a retiring federal regulator to find a job elsewhere than the industry in which he or she is a recognized expert.

And the power of Capitalism is likewise inherently bound up with the efficiency of our commerce—we can’t declare money invalid for one use and not another. If money has any purchasing power at all, it can ‘buy’ a person—or at least, their effort or their influence—which means that money can ‘buy’ exceptions to rules. The very versatility and anonymity that makes cash so useful also makes it impossible to confine to specific uses.

Worse yet, people are as much a part of the problem of Capitalism as its mechanisms. People, as has been mentioned above, are changed by both authority and submission to it—to be a boss affects one’s mind, as does being an employee. The office politics, the competition to climb the corporate ladder, the stress—all the unnecessary dramas produced by people under workplace conditions—are unavoidably caused by the nature of labor in business. This almost-biologically-mandated perversion of people in positions of authority has gotten much notice recently with regard to the police and their relationship to the communities they protect and serve. It would appear that any person given a gun to wear, and told to enforce the law, is in danger of becoming authoritarian, even violent towards those they ostensibly serve. But the same dynamics that obtain in that example are also true, to a certain extent, in any workplace where a manager is led astray by the urgings of power.

Because of this, it is safe to assume that, regardless of how many laws and regulations govern the workplace, it will always be an inherently unfair environment. Worse yet, this is only a statement of the influence of authority—it doesn’t even touch on the fact that people don’t necessarily arrive at a job with an intact, healthy psyche. People go through lots of stuff before they reach the legal age to get a job—and whatever traumas have formed their personalities are only exacerbated by ‘gainful employment’.

Indeed, this is true of people in general. Many are raised by less-than-perfect parents. Many are raised in religious fundamentalism, giving them a skewed perspective on reality. Many are raised in poverty, causing permanent fear and resentment towards those who live in comfort—and, conversely, being raised in wealth can lead many to become overbearing and dismissive towards the majority of the human race, particularly the poor.

The way we are raised, the conditions of our family and community life, the teachings of our spiritual leaders—all these things create a humanity that is far more disposed towards conflict than cooperation. The formation of an individual is so haphazard that a certain percentage of people can be expected to end up as murderers, rapists, thieves, and con-artists—and the rest of us are only relatively well-balanced. We are not perfect—we’re just good enough to stay out of prison, is all.

So when we speak of Civilization, of the Family of Man—or any such grand generalization—we are speaking in the aggregate of people who, as individuals, must each be considered potential time-bombs of anti-social behavior. And that behavior can take an infinite number of forms, from being crabby towards one’s own children, to being a cold-blooded dictator of an undeveloped nation. This clarifies the issue of ‘how can we be so self-destructive?” We can observe Humanity as a single entity, we can discuss Civilization as an overview of ourselves—but we have zero control over ourselves as a group.

Even when rules are so clear and exact as to describe a perfect situation, the troubles that live within each individual will eventually lead us to find ways to circumvent the spirit of the rules, to manipulate the letter of the rules, for selfish reasons. We have been in this race since Hammurabi’s Pillar, and even the lawyers find themselves working half the time in good faith with the law, and half the time working against it. When the rules get in the way of our dreams, we search for ways around the rules—it’s in our nature.

That’s us—nothing to be done about that. That was fine, back when the world was too enormous ever to be used up, back when God was in his Heaven, back before the Internet, when we weren’t on the cusp of quasi-AI and nanotech-enhanced, remote-presence medicine and self-contained, robotic Mars explorers. Now we don’t know whether to ban paraplegics from the Olympics because their hi-tech prostheses give an unfair advantage, or to baby-proof munitions factories so that single mothers can bring their kids to work.

In a recent broadcast, the discussion over e-share commerce brought out the point that Uber’s car service, while superior to existing urban transport, also circumvents a century’s worth of safety and regulatory legislation. This makes Uber both modern and primeval—they create a paradox by using modernity to circumvent civilization. (As of this writing, there is a news report that India has banned Uber due to a rape that occurred during a ride-share—an excellent example of the conflict between progress and human nature.)

Hacking has always been synonymous with coding—its only difference is in the suggestion of a rebel outlaw doing the coding. The term is important because software, like any tech, is open to both good and bad aims—but a hacker isn’t just a bad person who codes. Hacking can mean being a rebel, or a Robin Hood, who codes—possibly even a champion of human rights. Beyond that, the subject becomes one of syntax. But Hacking, as an activity, has also come to be synonymous with finding an easy way to solve or circumvent problems. So-called ‘life-hacks’ can be anything from the best way to refrigerate pineapple slices to the safest way to invest towards retirement. Hardly the acts of a criminal.

But Uber, and other e-share-oriented businesses, are busily pioneering the ‘corporate hack’, a digital backdoor that allows new forms of trade, free from the boundaries of written communication, brick-and-mortar competition, and civil oversight. These clever, new uses of the digital universe, however, create legislative loopholes faster than they generate new business models. The fly-by-night business, once confined to the mails, has now blanketed the globe via WyFy. A person without a physical location is not held back by the same constraints as a person who can be found behind the same counter on the day after you buy something unsatisfying from their shop. And when combined with computerized phone-answering, these businesses can even offer ‘customer service’ while still leaving the customer with no solid target for retaliation, or even complaint. Hence Yelp reviews, I guess.

So, complexity takes a quantum leap forward. Personal responsibility virtually evaporates. Global climate-change edges ever closer to global disaster. Population growth towers dizzyingly. Suddenly, our civilization is faced with an ultimatum—confine the term ‘civilization’ to mean only the one percent and consign the rest of us to savagery among ourselves -or- take a pick-axe to the existing paradigm through collective action. The first option is the most likely because it counts on the disorganized lack of action we can expect from ourselves as a group. The second option is far less likely, as it would require people, as a community, to act in their own best interest—something history tells us we have never, ever done before.

On the contrary, it seems that small, well-led groups of people are the only paradigm within which humanity can exert its greatest power. A team of dedicated people can be found at many of the central pivot-points of civilization’s history. Now, small groups empowered by technology, can accomplish incredible things—good and bad. Thus we witness the rise of SpaceX, a relatively new and tiny company that accomplishes things it once took a federal institution like NASA to orchestrate. And we see the birth of terrorist groups, without massive armies or host nations, capable of attacks on the world’s mightiest superpower. Even individuals have greater power than we ever dreamed—Snowden’s release of classified documents surprised us, in part, because it involved more pages of information than Edward, in an earlier age, could ever have moved without several large trucks—and he did it with a few clicks of a mouse, sending it all not just to one location, but virtually everywhere. That’s power—we all now have that power—any of us can send a mountain of information from one place to another, instantly.

Those of us old enough to appreciate the difference between then and now are hard pressed to encompass the meaning of such power as the digital age has conferred on us. Those young enough to take digital communication for granted have no idea how much the world will be changed by the growing inclusion of all seven billion of us into this information-empowerment. We tend to look at ‘progress’ as an ennobling evolution—that with great enough knowledge, surely wisdom must follow. But progress enables our fears as well, our greed and our bitterness—these things are provided with the same wings as our dreams.

So, at the end of all this trouble and woe, we find that improving ourselves and making things better for others is the most important progress of all.

But if truth is anything, it’s inconvenient. Take the Earth, for instance—looks flat, feels flat—and for hundreds of years, most people thought it was flat. Ancient Greeks who studied Philosophy (Science, before we called it that) knew that the world was round—some even calculated brilliant measurements that gave them a close approximation of the Earth’s diameter. Perhaps the Mayans, or the Chinese, maybe even the Atlanteans—knew similar stuff, but none of it mattered to Western Civilization during the Dark Ages. Most of ancient math and science would return to Europe during the Enlightenment via East, the caretakers of ancient knowledge during the chaos of post-Roman-Empire Europe—and, indeed, without that returning influx of science, Columbus may never have sailed.

These exceptions notwithstanding, the popular view was that the Earth was flat and arguing about it seemed a moot point. It was only after Columbus’s well-publicized return from the ‘New World’ that people began to see the globe, not as an intellectual exercise, but as a limitless expanse of unclaimed assets and resources. Now that there was land to be grabbed and money to be made, the world could be in the shape of a dodecahedron for all anyone cared. The truth of the world being round had ceased to be inconvenient.

But others remained. Now that we couldn’t avoid the image of all of us standing upright on the outside of a globe, gravitational force became another inconvenience. ‘Things fall down’ was no longer sufficient—because we now knew ‘down’ to be several different directions, and all of them inward, towards the center of the globe. Without Columbus’s voyages, there may not have been any cause for Newton to ponder the invisible force we call Gravity. But once his calculations produced the Laws of Motion, and the Calculus, it became possible to send a cannon-ball exactly where it would do the most damage. The truth of Gravity then went from inconvenient to useful—and physics was ‘born’. Between the chemists cooking up gunpowder and the mathematicians calculating parabolic arcs, the militant-minded leaders of early European states would forever-after find it convenient to shield the scientists from the witch-hunters and the clergy.

Science, however, would not confine itself to military uses. By the dawn of the twentieth century, we had begun to study ourselves. Archaeologists had studied our prehistoric past—and found it contained evidence of religion having evolved from primitive atavism to the modern churches. We discovered that God was a part of human lore, not of divine revelation—that God didn’t exist. This is the most inconvenient truth of all—and it has spawned a culture of debate, diversion, propaganda, indoctrination, and fundamentalist extremism. Half the world pines for the loss of innocence and simplicity—the other half is busy trying to undo science with suicide vests and beheadings.

I’ll always remain puzzled by this aversion to observable facts. We’ll trust science enough to take a ride across the globe in a multi-tonned, metal jet-airliner—but still hold it lightly enough that we pick and choose which science is convenient and which isn’t. Observable fact gets a bad rep—‘there’s more than meets the eye’; ‘all is not what it seems’; ‘the hand is quicker than the eye’—yes, observed fact can be misleading, but only because we feeble humans are doing the observing. Still, I consider the incompleteness of science to be a necessary characteristic of good science—observable fact may not be written in stone, but reproducible results are still of greater value than any other perspective has yet to offer mankind.

And the worst part is that we who believe in science are often so hard-pressed by theists that we shy away from the vital humanism that science lacks. It is, rather, all the more important to embrace what it means to be human in a world with no one to worship but ourselves. But we are too busy defending ourselves from people who would kill us in the name of their fairy tales.

Gun Owners (2014Oct25)

20140129XD-TheAtlantic_RevoltInUkraine_05

Those who own guns want to own guns—that’s the sad, simple fact—and that’s why reasoned arguments don’t go over so well with them. I admit, there is one thing in this dangerous world that guns will protect them from—other gun owners. Unfortunately, the stats show that gun owners shoot themselves and their families far more than any outside faction.

You can use a rifle to hunt for dinner, or to kill a wild beast in the woods (if you get one angry enough to attack you—they prefer to avoid us) and this allows pro-gun nuts to confuse the issue over hand-guns, open carry, and school shootings. So, sure, keep the rifles—at least until you can get your ass to the A&P to buy dinner, like a normal person. Come to think of it, hunting rifles are closest in kind to the “arms” noted in our second amendment—so if you’re thinking of overthrowing the tyranny of our present government, by all means, keep that rifle.

20140129XD-TheAtlantic_RevoltInUkraine_04

But if you just want to feel that deliciously heavy steel killing machine in your mitt, and your neighbors all feel the same way—well, you’re all just looking for an excuse to feel the Power—that better-than-sex power you feel with a pistol in your hand. You’re in love with violence. Go on—admit it. You just want to shoot somebody—because what bigger thrill has life to offer? The power of life and death—strong stuff. I mean, they’re there, they’re right there—and if you don’t own one, someone else will—and then you’ll be helpless against their childish impulse to try something that goes bang. Happiness, as the Beatles pointed out, is a Warm Gun. (Bang, bang, shoot, shoot…)

Geometrically speaking, if we consider the ever-growing incidence of school shootings, parents shouldn’t be allowed to own guns. But then, the psychotic teenagers that perpetrate school shootings don’t always get their arms from their parents. So, better idea, gun owners should only live in child-free zones, so the two never intersect. (Or is it ‘children only in gun-free zones’?) Still, I’m starting to think that all these school shootings may have something to do with bad parenting—maybe we should focus on random, adult shootings, instead. After all, parenting is hard—and 99% of us do it wrong—so let’s leave the kids out of this.

20140129XD-TheAtlantic_RevoltInUkraine_03

Maybe it’s religion—is there anything more terrifying than a fundamentalist with a fully-loaded firearm? Ask ISIS. But I have to say, if these people really believed in anything other than their own hatred, would they need weapons to enforce their ‘heaven on earth’? Isn’t God supposed to have some kind of power? Other than a tank battalion, I mean. Belief in God should disqualify us from weapons purchasing for two reasons: If you die unarmed, isn’t that a free pass to the Magic Kingdom? And isn’t God’s will going to triumph, regardless of firepower?

Religion, kids, dinner—these are the real problems. Owning a hand-gun means nothing—after all, guns don’t kill people—they just make it so damn easy.

20140129XD-TheAtlantic_RevoltInUkraine_01

Higher Education (2014Oct17)

20140824XD-SkyPix (5)

Friday, October 17, 2014              10:44 AM

An online Facebook-meme mentioned Pain and Rose Kennedy yesterday and, shooting from the hip, I commented, ‘Pain is the Teacher—and I fear poor Rose was over-educated’. A freshet of comments debating the point followed. I was tempted to add a second comment but, as I thought on it, I realized it would be rather lengthy—and here we are:

Pain teaches us lessons which we can never share. Those whose lives are mercifully light in such lessons enjoy an ignorance that is not to be despised. Such lucky folks see the world in a brighter light. We who have experienced pain are forever adjusted to see the world as a place where pain is a constant. The more we suffer, the more prepared we are for more suffering—it doesn’t surprise us and it doesn’t destroy our existing perspective on life.

Young people, simply due to the time factor, are ordinarily ignorant of the sudden changes that loss can bring—and the few who receive an early education find themselves lost among their peers, stripped of the bottomless optimism of youth. Old people, by the same notion, are almost unanimous in their expectation of worse times to come—and the optimistic oldster is a rare find.

Pain is random—it can average out, over large groups, over time—but it strikes here and there, willy-nilly. Pain comes in a variety of flavors—loss due to death, loss due to absence, loss of health or limb or sense, the pain of wounds and insults, existential pain, loneliness, anger, despair—and it can have a wide spectrum of intensity, from annoyance to overwhelming grief.

20140712XD-Cloud_w_Sunbeams-ZoomedIn(ReNewedPC (31))

Our adventures in pain grant us a depth of character—our extrapolations are broadened beyond ‘wishful thinking’, our precautions stretched to include the ‘probably not’. We foresee potential pitfalls with a clarity that can mystify the more rose-colored-sighted. We ride out the surf and chop of Fate’s dice-game with equanimity of expectation—and in so doing, we often avoid risks that appear vanishingly small to the less pain-evolved, making us appear dull, even cowardly.

The challenges of youth often require a madness of bravado to overcome—the winning of a mate, the starting of a career, the invention of something new—such youthful pursuits often mandate a blindness to caution that takes a parent’s breath away. And many of the good die young—statistically, anyway. The late teens and young adulthood both have a terrific death rate—and that rate drops to almost nothing (relatively) for those who make it through to full adulthood and middle-age—we don’t start dying again until old age. Thus we see that an early education in Pain can cripple the developmental course of a child—they need that heedlessness to puncture the seal of adulthood and find a place among the independently-living. That some will die in the attempt is simply the cost of doing business, if you will.

By the same token, adults who lack the normal familiarity with struggle and loss are often dismissed as immature. These lucky people have lives of surprising peace, and peace of mind—but their judgment cannot be trusted with regard to the big, bad world of adulthood. They can still be caught unaware by troubles the rest of us have long been familiar with—making them dangerous people to have in charge of adult responsibilities.

20140326XD-Skyline 023

So Pain divides us—not in twain, but into two spectra. Our experiences, particularly our unpleasant experiences, give us a perspective on what we falsely assume are absolutes—good and bad, progressiveness and conservatism, risk and safety—even life and death. Death, especially. Our lives are line segments, with the two end-points of birth and death. Our exposure to pain dictates how easily we overlook this simple fact. Life can be lived without any thought of death—but pain solidifies death in our minds, making it more real with every loss.

Those of us who know this would never want to teach it to those who don’t. Ignorance of pain is a blessing—no one wants to tell the kids the truth about Santa Claus. And those who do not know pain’s lessons can never learn them second-hand—so it would be a waste of time to try.

As an atheist, I see this more than I used to. An atheist’s first impulse is to share ‘enlightenment’ with those who are ‘deluded’ by faith—but faith is a valuable mind-set, keeping believers happy, hopeful and secure. What point is there to destroying that? I save my atheist rantings for those who have been hurt by faith, or those whom faith has failed to succor—they actually need an alternative. The rest I leave alone—it’s not my job to make the world see things my way—particularly at the expense of others’ happiness.

20140514XD-LilacsBlooming 001_smallr

Worlds of Dark and Light (2014Oct16)

FP411T19570501Thursday, October 16, 2014                  8:50 AM

We grew up in Bethpage, Long Island, absorbing the conventions of the times. Our dad (well, everyone’s dad) went to work every day and our mom stayed home and did homely stuff. We siblings lived in well-justified fear of their anger, drunkenness, or just lousy moods. No one mentioned sex (I heard about it later on, from other people). Authority was absolute—and punishment knew no limits. Homosexuality, women’s reproductive health, domestic abuse, incest, rape, bigotry and anti-Semitism didn’t exist—in spite of the mystifying glimmers of such things all around us.

Women simply weren’t the equal of men. Ethnic humor was a riot—we could just ask Jose Jimenez. Drinking and smoking were what grown-ups did—and there was nothing wrong with that. Driving a car as fast as possible was a God-given right (our major highways had no speed limits until the seventies)—and driving safety was the other guy’s problem.

It was a machine of a world—one knew that standing in the road meant being run down, and that it would be one’s own fault for getting in the way of the car. ‘Family values’ were survival tools—if dad got mad enough to put us out on the highway and keep driving, we would surely be devoured by the cold world lurking outside the family circle.

If we got in trouble Christmas morning, if they raged and screamed at us—we’d better shake it off and get back into Christmas-cheer mode when we arrived at Gramma’s house, or we’d be in even deeper trouble. “If you don’t cheer up and have fun, I’m gonna beat the living hell out of you.”—that sort of ‘reasoning’.

Actually, ‘reason’ was the most dangerous material a person could handle back then, especially a kid. Being the logical winner of a debate with an angry father makes a child anything but the ‘winner’. “Don’t get smart with me.” “Don’t be a wise-ass.” “Because I’m your father and I said so, godammit.” “Just shut up and do what you’re told.” These were but a few of the idiomatic gems we lived with.

We lived insular lives—no history beyond our own lifetimes, no society outside our own neighborhoods. We felt perfectly right to classify anyone with unusual interests as an oddball—even reading a book made someone a target of ridicule (Who the hell’d they think they were—Einstein?)

You, dear reader, may have lived a better version of this in your childhood, or perhaps an even worse version—or you may not even be old enough to know what I’m talking about. The fact remains—the developed world (and not so very long ago) was not a civilization, it was a Neanderthal’s fantasy of civilization.

FP410aT19580701

Any real question of ethics was put off to the priests—and the priests were put off till Sunday. Any real appreciation of the arts was the domain of homosexuals (or, in the parlance of the times, ‘sexual deviants’—or just plain ‘perverts’). Any issue of philosophy, not to mention hard fact, was left to college professors—funny little men (like Einstein) who may know book-learning but who had no practical knowledge of any worth and were, therefore, idiots.

In the 1960s, thoughts and ideas and ethics and personal expression became subjects of news reporting. They didn’t know that, of course—they thought they were reporting on men growing long hair, boys burning draft cards, and girls burning bras—but they were unknowingly publicizing the value of individual thought as equal to the value of convention. The underdeveloped world continued with their focus on who was stronger, who could kill who—but we had finally begun to talk about who was ‘righter’. And through the practice of civil disobedience, we often proved that right had its own kind of might.

Intellectual awareness made a few gains, but pencil-necked geeks were still targets of society’s abiding heroes—the fit, the rich, the unremarkably normal. Then electronics stepped in and by the 1980s, being ‘smart’ had the potential to become ‘rich and powerful’—and the era of the mind had begun.

The context of our lives is now moot. What once was common sense is now the height of ignorance. What was propriety is now bigotry. What was manly is now sexist. What was feminine is now self-loathing. Trust in authority became paranoia. Progress became pollution. And capitalism has become slavery (or rather, it has finally been recognized for what it always was). These are good changes—this is progress—but that doesn’t ease our confusion.

Now we must second-guess every thought, every word, and every assumption. We live with dual minds, judging our surroundings by two conflicting perspectives, repressing most of what we ‘knew’ in favor of what we now ‘understand’. Life is complicated—and not everyone is comfortable with that.

FamPh 400

Prior to this, the physically weak were the losers—we pitied them (or ourselves, depending on genes and physique) but otherwise relegated them to the ‘unimportant’. Nowadays, the intellectually weak are the losers—but for some reason, they have retained importance. An ignoramus like Sarah Palin can become a public figure. Idiocy like Creationism can be taught in public schools. Neo-Jim-Crow local law-enforcers feel empowered to gun down young, African American men at the slightest whim. Politicians even celebrate reactionary ignorance, as evidenced by the Tea Party.

So it isn’t confusing enough to come from institutionalized repression into a society just beginning to embrace reason—we have to deal with the sore-losers who want to move back into the cave, as well. God forbid we ever do things the easy way.

Reason is dangerous. Being a billionaire while millions starve is unreasonable—if we embrace reason, what horrible fate befalls the poor billionaire? Manufacturing weapons in a violent world is unreasonable—but that is not a problem so long as we are willing to put all the reasonable people in front of a firing squad. Reason precludes religion—but what good is reason if life isn’t a prelude to ‘an eternal afterlife in paradise’? Who wants to see the world as it is when, if we shout loud and long enough, we can insist the world is what we choose to believe?

Okay, all that aside–here’s my latest improv:

Spy-Tiger In China!

Saturday, October 11, 2014             3:36 PM

“Okay, everybody out of the pool!” I shouted, sitting up alone in my bedroom, watching CNN. My brain had reached ‘full’ and it had begun to spill over with uncontainable rage at the global idiocy being portrayed—and the idiocy with which CNN, like all present news outlets, presented their ‘facts’.

We, the public, want information—our TV-watching stats may not show it, but that doesn’t disprove my premise. We don’t want to be intrigued, titillated, or shocked—those are reactions we’ll deal with as best we can, not goals that we seek with our remote controls. We would prefer half of our news report on the overwhelming chaos—and the other half report on the mature, reasonable solutions that leaders, trend-setters, and financiers have found to fight back the tsunami of modern global turmoil.

Talking heads had successfully replaced journalism-trained news-reporters on TV round about the 1980s—but the new millennium has seen that trend evolve into talking heads talking to talking heads—bubble-brained ‘reporters’ interviewing ‘knowledgeable’ insiders. This gives us an opportunity to witness what happens when a large mass of ‘stupid’ is compressed into a small space. But it doesn’t inform us of anything other than the commentators’ personal agendas and ignorant prejudices.

ISIS-asshole

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is compulsively incestuous with all of his male relatives. Vladimir Putin has a tiny brain to match his dick. John Boehner is a completely unfunny joke of a dried apricot, with the morals of a lump of shit in a sewer. Rupert Murdoch, the world’s most famous walking ball-sac, is comprised of equal parts disease, ignorance, self-obsession, and eructation.

I don’t have the time or stomach to discuss the character of every chief officer of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Barclays Capital, UBS, and HSBC. Let me just mention that many people work at these banks, some good, some less good, I’m sure. But the ones who actually control these institutions are empty, pitiable, scum-souled jackasses without the slightest idea of what life is about. They only know what money is about—and they rely on the fantasy that money is real. While they clutch at this delusion, they work tirelessly to ensure that human-need-and-suffering maintain maximum levels on every continent.

The politicians and potentates, the celebrities and PR-whores, and the ‘plain old business-people’ (i.e., fat, rich fucks) that are responsible for the shit shape the world is in can all just kiss my ass. Every one of you motherfuckers needs several lifetimes in cages in the middle of Times Square, where we can throw crap at you day and night.

Are you important? Are you in power? Then Fuck You, you couldn’t do a worse job, you worthless bags of shit. Go look in a mirror. No one else wants to see your ugly face.

It’s Hard Out Here For An Atheist (2014Aug31)

20111108XD-NASA-spacewalk

Sunday, August 31, 2014              3:28 AM

Being an atheist is not easy, especially if you’ve been raised in a religious family. First of all you have to deal with this sense of lurking, just outside of your vision—that’s religion, waiting to enfold you back into its welcoming arms. Make no mistake, opting for faith is far more comforting than anything atheism has to offer. For some folks, that may even be the rational for faith—but I’m too stubborn to settle for that. I’m not going to believe in a religion as a form of intentional escapism—even if I did, the back of my mind would always be heckling me for sticking my head in the sand.

So, I began by facing the obvious—without religion, there are no rules. God is not in his heaven and all is not right with the world. If I do something wrong, no one will bother me about it, ever (unless I get arrested). But being arrested is beside the point—there’s plenty of wrong being done without breaking any laws—just as there are people being arrested, at times, who haven’t done anything wrong. It’s an unfair, tough old world—but it comes with civilization.

Civilization makes stability possible. Without our societal norms, the streets become a free-for-all. We prove this every time there’s a disaster—suddenly, a part of the people feel free to steal and fight and who knows what-all. Civilization is my friend—I depend on it to walk down the street in my town and not be afraid I’ll be attacked by a random gang of outlaws, or be afraid of getting shot in the head by one of my neighbors, just ‘cause they felt like it.

This is one of the very rare places on Earth where a self-declared atheist can do that—walk down the street free from fear—and that’s just one of the many things I love about America. Atheists are a bug in the system—if you don’t believe in one religion, you at least belong to some other faith—good people can disagree, so that’s alright. But opting out of the whole concept is a direct criticism, whether it’s meant to be or not.

I cannot disbelieve in traditional faiths, particularly Christianity, without implicitly insulting everyone I know. I accept that—it can’t be helped—truly, if I was capable of traditional faith, I’d be practicing it with gusto. I can’t do it. There’re all kinds of debating points this could lead to, but I’ve already written them all down and posted them, and they simply incite a post-modern, unfriendly debate with high emotions on both sides. The faithful have faith and I haven’t—that’s all I got.

But beyond that, I have no wish to insult the faithful. These New Atheists, with their angry, anti-Theism attitudes, are obviously suffering from a sense of betrayal—they often come from strictly religious families that have repressed their spirit—perhaps even physically harmed them. Their reaction to religion is not to simply turn away from it, as I did, but to turn on it and attack it for the remembered inflictions. Some of them are even activists because they sympathize for their siblings, still caught in what the New Atheist sees as a sort of mental prison.

I don’t know what to tell someone in that position. For me, it’s a matter of letting go of things, out of deference to peoples’ feelings. But a real dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalist is more than a match for the New Atheist—neither of them care to look at the other side of the issue. This is a futile activity and I avoid it. I might get curt once in a while with an annoying bible-thumper—but that’s because of their personality, not their faith.

The biggest problem with the New Atheists is that they bring threats and hate to the party, not realizing how badly that can backfire. They may be just talking tough, but their targets, those with strictly-held beliefs, have gone to war throughout history at the slightest provocation. And no river of blood is deep enough for a man on a mission from god. So I see little good in taunting them, even if I was inclined that way.

I’ve been through some stuff, though. Back in the seventies, with the Born Again revivalists, there was one group from Maine that had snagged some friends I’d known for years. I went to a meeting on Holly Hill Lane once. I came into a room full of people, many of them my friends—they told me they loved me and would pray for me; they started praying in unison. I was very uncomfortable but I managed to say, over the noise, “Don’t pray for me. I don’t believe in God.” There was some back and forth, but once I’d managed to spit it out, the rest was easy. They told me they were sorry, but they couldn’t associate with me, or even talk with me, any more. Two of my brothers would join the same group and neither of them spoke to me for over a year.

But it was a passing fad for many of the young people who had been swept up in the first excitement of it—the daily reality was far less glamorous and most of them were soon back hanging out, their faith still intact, but their fervor substantially cooled. People deigned to speak with me once again, but no apologies were offered. I’m still nervous about public speaking, but not so much, since I can’t imagine a tougher room than those Born Agains.

Besides the adversarial aspects of atheism, there’s also the question of creation. The universe is too big for us to comprehend, too complex for us to decode, and had to come from somewhere. I accept this—it’s common sense. But I don’t look at it as proof of any institutional religion, just proof that there’s a lot we don’t know—and may never know—and may not even be capable of knowing. We are tiny specks on a huge planet, and the planet is just the beginning of all the hugeness.

I find it amusing that some hierophants will claim they know what it’s all about. The world around us is full of secrets. The universe beyond our world is full of mysteries. We’ve discovered some basics, but they are just a handful of tricks called science—science is far from finished, if it ever can be. I believe that theorizing is beneficial and that reproducible results are worthy of note and study. But I don’t believe science has all the answers—no one who truly understands science believes that—the whole point of science is to keep going, to keep trying to learn a new handful of tricks from the universe.

Kurt Vonnegut had some very funny theories about the purpose of humanity—one possibility was that we were meant to rise up to a technological height that would allow us to manufacture a special wrench that some stranded alien needed—to fix his spaceship. It’s as hard a theory to disprove as any other, and it’s funny—that’s why I like Vonnegut. ‘So it goes’, as he used to say. He also theorized that all language boiled down to one message: “I’m here. Hello. Look at me.” That’s it. As the years go by, I understand him better and better. We don’t want to merely exist; we want to be seen to exist. We want to be noticed—otherwise, we don’t fully exist.

One way to fix that is to have an imaginary someone watching all of us, all the time. But I will settle for other people, whom I see exist, as they see me exist. It’s enough. I learned there’s a name for people like me—apparently, I’m an ‘ethical humanist’, but I was what I was before I’d ever heard of them, so it’s mostly a coincidence (although, I must say, it’s nice to know I’m not completely on my own out here). Besides, they’re city folks and, while I once lived there, I learned that I can’t take the roaches—so they’re too far away for me to participate.

There is one thing atheism doesn’t change—Sundays are still boring. If only I was a football fan.

20140420XD-resurrection2

The Specialization of People (2014Jul03)

20140630XD-JuneDrowsesAway 019 The feudal system of the Middle Ages was a fairly simple system—there was little confusion. There may have been great wrong done, great good done, but it was not confusing. When one person makes all the rules, one person decides on the dreams, the goals, and the right and wrong of things—decisions become straightforward. I’m simplifying, certainly—the Middle Ages saw antagonism between the church and the monarchy, between the monarchy and the nobility, and between high-born and low-born. But the patriarchal, top-down pyramid of authority overlay all of those differences. Racism was total—but made little difference in a world where strangers from the neighboring town were remarkable—and the rare Moor or Oriental was more a novelty than a cultural concern. Feminism was non-existent—as were Gay Rights—and Liberty, for that matter. The Middle Ages were so authoritarian that no chorus of voices was ever raised in favor of changes of any kind. Indeed, keeping one’s mouth shut was a survival skill.

With the coming of the United States, democratic republics began to supplant the absolute rule of royalty—and this complicated matters greatly relative to the Middle Ages. Suddenly, different needs and goals became cause for debate—more than one man could have a say in the direction of our efforts and the following of our dreams. The Dutch had set an example for the American Colonies by foregoing their monarchy in exchange for a Republic—but the representatives in their ruling body were so numerous and contentious that their government was virtually paralyzed.

The newly-born USA had a more well-thought-out constitution, so we didn’t have that specific first-step problem. What we did have were separate states that were nominally willing to subsume their sovereignty under a united federation—what we now think of as the federal government. These thirteen states (and those to follow) all had different cultures, with different interests—and their struggle to compromise all these differences into a federal whole consisted mostly of issues concerning borders, trade, and transportation.

20140703XD-TheWar4HvnOnErt 028

But before the Civil War, the overlaying pattern remained that of Men having authority, whether over an entire state or a single family. Women had no legal claim to any rights or property outside those their husbands or their fathers chose to grant them. Africans were imported as slaves. Natives were dismissed as wild savages without any civil claim to their homelands. In this way, America became even more specific—White Men now had all authority—everyone else was considered subject to them, in one way or another. So, despite the growing number of states, each with their own character, one truth held sway over all—white men determined the goals and dreams of their cultures—and those needs had uniformity.

But now we have an American society which must address many different goals and needs. Women, minorities, children, the disabled, the mentally-challenged, the non-Christians, religious fundamentalists, the LGBT population, undocumented migrants, the poor, and the gifted—all these special groups of needs and dreams require different things, different laws—even different ideas.

That’s where the confusion comes in. The one thing human civilization never developed was a system that served multiple interests—monolithic authoritarianism has always protected us from this complexity—but no more. The plethora of problems we now face are in large part due to the plethora of freedoms we have been evolving. Authority, to some extent, is gone—and the complex culture its demise has engendered contains a tangle of many threads, many needs, many goals—and those threads are easily snarled.

 

20140703XD-TheWar4HvnOnErt 025

 

Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that these special ‘groups’ are not discrete groups—their members live next door to each other, even in the same family’s home—and every adjustment made for the benefit of one group impacts the adjustments required for all the other groups. This condition reminds me of Newton’s research—at one point, Newton wanted to know not only the rate-of-change in velocity, but the rate-of-change of the rate-of-change in acceleration, and so he invented a new mathematics called Calculus. What we need to do is to invent a ‘calculus’ of social justice—a process so complicated that we have never needed it before, and so never realized it’s importance.

People are well aware that our modern times are almost chaotically complex—and they’re aware of the need to change to meet these new challenges. But I suspect people are not aware of how deeply that change must cut into our usual expectations. For example, we mostly agree that habitat destruction, climate change, and toxic waste will render our home planet uninhabitable—yet we hardly know what to do beyond wringing our hands—the problem seems unsolvable. That may be because all of our previous problem-solving paradigms are too simple to tackle such an intricate dilemma.

And the one thing that retains authority, Money, makes a vice of change—we’ll never be able to start working on our ‘social calculus’ until the voices of money and power cease to manufacture the seeming paradoxes they throw at us, using over-simplified examinations of overly-complicated issues.

20140703XD-TheWar4HvnOnErt 024

If we don’t overcome their ‘enforced stupidity’, the job of analyzing ourselves as a ‘multi-body problem’ will only become more intransigent. I’m reminded of an Asimov essay about scientific specialization—he pointed out that at the beginning of the university system, being a ‘renaissance man’, i.e having an education in everything, was still possible—there were a limited number of books and a relatively small amount of written knowledge. But once the ball got rolling, mathematics (as an example) grew to contain the mathematics of astronomy, chemistry, engineering, etc.—and that these sub groups developed sub-sub groups and so on, until today we have to pick a small pocket of a sub-sub-sub specialization, if we want to really ‘know it all’.

The specialization of people is progressing in the same way—we once thought of the ‘women’ issue as ‘feminism’—a single topic. But now we have reproductive rights, sex slavery, genital mutilation, gender-role indoctrination, equal pay and opportunity, lesbian rights, et. al. Feminism is now a ‘group heading’. And these sub-issues are themselves potential ‘group headings’, as each issue reveals differences of culture or commerce or religion. To include ‘feminism’ in our new paradigm of societal calculus becomes a more complex question with every passing day—and this is true for all our new ‘components’ of ‘the will of the people’.

‘The will of the people’ once had a monochromatic undertone, as if the people all wanted one thing, or at most, one group of things. Now that we recognize that ‘the people’ represent a diversity of ‘will’s, we must recognize that our methods of obtaining that ‘will’ must have a matching complexity. And as complexity begets complexity, we need to have an ‘open architecture’ to our system that will allow for the inevitably greater specialization of people (and their will).

20140703XD-TheWar4HvnOnErt 022

So my heart rests easy, for the moment—I had despaired of a society with so infinite a number of problems—but now I recognize that our old ways of understanding the will of the governed need a quantum-leap of enhancement to match the explosion of authority into true individuality.

At first look, it seems impossible that there should ever come a day when we shake loose the shroud of pettifogging confusion that besets us through the courtesy of the mass media—and the super-rich cronies that manipulate it to our unending turmoil of talk, debate, and misrepresentation blaring from every LCD screen. The practice of displaying arguments between the ignorant and the learned as ‘controversy’, rather than the celebration of stupidity it truly is—this ‘teaching the controversy’ way of questioning that which is beyond the point of reasonable question—is a sad and twisted sophistry of education itself. Only those with the insight of higher education (but lacking the integrity of what we may call ‘wisdom’) could have conceived of this childish stratagem. Its internal logic holds steady, but its deepest predicates are flawed—and its results are specious rather than meticulous. Once having strayed into it, like barbed-wire, we seem to be quite stuck.

The idea that big money will loosen its control of the populace to the point of unfettered, ground-breaking social experimentation seems even more impossible than our extrication from mass media’s zombie-light. But the world was a very different place not so long ago—and there is no reason to think that we won’t see even greater change to come. There are some changes that I would personally love to witness.

20140703XD-TheWar4HvnOnErt 018

Salwa Bugaighis, prominent Libyan activist, was assassinated nine days ago—she was a selfless promoter of a better, more democratic Libya and so, of course, she was shot dead. Politicians rarely get assassinated—great people, great leaders, who may or may not be politicians, are the ones who get assassinated. I was traumatized somewhat, in my childhood, by the assassination of JFK. He was my hero, he was the President of the United States, and he was gunned down in broad daylight in the middle of the street. Boom. That sudden knowledge rearranged my perception of the world I lived in—it put a dark filter on what was until then a thoughtless, hazy assumption of ‘right in the world’.

Then my growing up was peppered by repeated examples: MLK, RFK, Malcolm X… and I learned that Gandhi had also died by an assassin’s gun. The women of the Middle East (and specifically of the Arab Spring) are continuing this proud (for them) but shameful (for us) tradition—the more humanitarian their goals, the faster they are gunned down– Salwa Bugaighis is the latest in such a long line that her death barely made the news.

My greatest living hero is Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who champions education, particularly for girls—she was shot in the face (and neck) by would-be assassins, but she was too tough for them, and survived. She continues her work today and is, IMHO, the brightest light on the face of the Earth today.

 

our Bee-Balms...

our Bee-Balms…

 

The sad truth, however, is that she was lucky—and that those animals will probably try again. Thus, I would like to see a world where our best and truest leaders are not gunned down the minute they show their heads. How we get there I couldn’t say—but I would like that very much.

Another change I’d like to see in the world is a new attitude towards money. I’d like to see people who have too much of it feel ashamed of themselves—and I’d like to see the rest of us treating them like the sociopaths they truly are. I’d like to see a proportional increase in our respect for those in want—and an embarrassment with ourselves whenever we fail to do all we can to make their lives as safe and comfortable as our own.

We can appreciate when a football star takes a big hit—we say, “Wow! Did you see that? What a guy!” We should be able to apply the same values to the needy. I mean, wow!, here are people sleeping outdoors in winter, going a whole day without food, having to walk wherever they need to go. Such people! I’m impressed—partly with their strength and courage, but partly because, as with watching the football star, we are much happier being impressed with their struggle than having to actually live through it ourselves, out on that field, taking those hits.

I’d like ‘world peace’ too—but that’s just silly.

20140703XD-TheWar4HvnOnErt 016

To close, I want to state that I am an atheist on permanent disability—there is no question that my needs and goals are specialized, differing greatly from the norm, as well as from the many other non-norms. I don’t wish to be granted anything at the expense of someone else’s need—I want to be counted as a part of a great whole, and given my portion. And I believe most people would not begrudge me my existence, so long as it doesn’t place an unfair disadvantage on their specialty-group. But such a desire is a question of epic complexity—well beyond the two-dimensional capabilities of our current system—and will require something that doesn’t presently exist—a science of balanced compromise within a diverse citizenry.

We come from competition—we evolved from a place in the food chain, after all—our legal process is adversarial, our political process is adversarial, our sports are adversarial—even our educational institutions are competitive in nature. This simple one-on-one process is an excellent way to settle simple yes/no types of questions. But the more complex social constructions we must develop will only seize up in the face of such simple-minded algorithms. We will have to become a ‘family of man’. We will have to change from competitors to cooperators, if only to allow for complexity.

But competitiveness is innate—many groups will continue to find that depriving another group of its rights is a victory for ‘their’ side. The competitive paradigm will beat back any attempts at cooperation—I can even now hear my more conservative acquaintances shouting, “Communism!” at any thought of a government system that allows for anything to trump personal freedom or economic might. And while I don’t advocate what has historically been named ‘communism’, I must insist that we do live in common with each other—we are a community. Just as we do, indeed, care about our society, in spite of our horror of becoming ‘socialists’. Cooperation, too, is a dirty word, when shortened to co-op. But the villainous character we ascribe to community action, social engineering, and cooperation in good will, is insane without the presumption that the people who live this way are the enemies of freedom.

20140703XD-TheWar4HvnOnErt 013

Thus, while I optimistically look forward to the betterment of our global condition, there is no guarantee that social calculus and community spirit will manifest itself out of thin air. It will have to straggle through the many attempts to use our present complexity as a rallying-cry for those who would solve the problem by reneging on the social progress we have so recently made. Our present society makes a tempting Gordian Knot—while we may wish to patiently tease out the many twists, more bellicose thinkers will do their damnedest to just slice the thing apart. Complexity may be solved with calculus, but it can just as easily be solved by simplifying things, i.e. ceasing to care about the rights and needs of some of us for the convenience of others.

But like Hitler’s ‘final solution’, that is a primitive urge masquerading as a modern concept—we must go forward with humanitarian aims, or there will be no point in going forward—except for the lucky(?) few.

 

Our little baby watermelon--coming along...

Our little baby watermelon–coming along…

 

The War for Heaven on Earth (2014Jul03)

Hi everyone! I wrote a poem today, then a drew an illustration for it, then I recorded a music background for it.

Click here to hear the poem:

20140703XD-POEM-DWar4HvnOnErt(CreditsCARD)

 

Click here to listen to my piano soundtrack:

 

Click here to see the Graphic Print Version of the Poem.

 

And here are the drawing and photos used for the artwork:

Original Sketch
Original Sketch
Photo-shopped
Photo-shopped
our Bee-Balms...
our Bee-Balms…

20140703XD-TheWar4HvnOnErt 018

20140703XD-TheWar4HvnOnErt 022

Catnip
Catnip
Blueberries ripening...
Blueberries ripening…
Our little baby watermelon--coming along...
Our little baby watermelon–coming along…

20140703XD-TheWar4HvnOnErt 013

20140703XD-TheWar4HvnOnErt 016

Hope You Enjoyed…

O—and, since this is the next day—Happy 4th of July!

Paradox for June 13th, 2014

adven300

Happy Friday the Thirteenth everyone.

What am I going to do about this fungal infection behind my ear? Now that I can afford three meals a day, why does my stomach hurt so much? If my electricity is off how will I take a shower? If I leave my top pants-button unbuttoned behind my belt buckle, I don’t have to spend money on new clothes that fit.

Adven298

So there’s no great mystery to my affection for “The Princess Diaries”, or even “The Princess Diaries II: Royal Wedding”—nothing is more comforting than the problems of young, wealthy royalty when trying to escape from the problems of being less-than-young and less-then-wealthy. And I might as well face it—the only person more adorable than the young Anne Hathaway is the grande dame herself, Julie Andrews—and the pair of maids does the cutest step-n-fetchit two white girls ever managed.

adv170t

Does this mean my insides are just a big stew of hogs-wallow? Well, I suppose so—I’ve always been soft-centered—there’s nothing but goo in there, really. If I was a tough guy, I would have been built of sterner stuff. But I’m not, never have been, and the world has been going my way on many fronts since my earliest childhood—that was when the pressure against corporal punishment in schools led to arrests and firings of the worst offenders. My older brothers spoke of kids being jacked up against the wall, punched, slapped—but it was all a memory by the time I began to haunt the halls of academia.

adv302

Tolerance grew in northeast America almost side-by-side with me—and my failings (as they would have been seen a few years earlier) became virtues as each year slipped by—my respect for women became acceptable, then somewhat mandatory. My inability to understand prejudice, instead of putting me on the wrong side of my culture, became more and more the public norm. The sixties and the seventies were a unique time when the good-hearted people became activists—ever since, and virtually ever before, the political activists have been the angry fringe. But the inertia of those days still creates a higher ground for those advocating increased inclusion and equality.

adv303

LGBT activism has yielded a whole new world of secularists versus fundamentalists—the legislation and the courts favor inclusion of gays, but the fundamentalists can still be very damning of this segment of our population—one I know of even calls publicly for their execution! But the main effect is to push religion firmly into the camp of conservatives. Secularists get along fine with the more reform-oriented faiths—but even now it is difficult to say, “Well, the religious right will just have to suck it up.” Fundamentalists are a fiery lot, by and large, and they could easily become our own domestic ‘Al-Qaeda’, if they’re not handled delicately.

adv313

Religious freedom suddenly becomes a contentious concept—a fundamentalist sees no problem with advocating that their religious beliefs be made into laws—which is the opposite of traditional religious freedom (and of literal religious freedom). They seem to think that being denied the freedom to remake our laws in the name of the Bible is a denial of their religious freedom—but religious freedom, while guaranteeing our freedom to worship as we please, also guarantees that no one can impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us.

adv314

Outside of the bastions of fundamentalism—or, I should say, pockets of it—there is a large population of nominal Christians who ‘believe in God’ and even believe in the teachings of Christ (in that he taught us to love and forgive each other) but never go to church, or only go to church on Easter and Christmas. They are amenable to the LGBT community, to equality for women, and even to the use of Marijuana as medicine—they take the ‘love’ part seriously, but they don’t care much for millennia-old rules about diet and lovemaking.

adven67b

I won’t complicate the issue by trying to prove these people are non-religious, or even anti-religious. But these quasi-Christians are undeniably in favor of expanding our inclusion of all people, all genders—even all religions—and in that sense, they are anti-fundamentalists. Their love for their fellow person is so strong that they cannot deny the religion that legitimizes it—but it also forces them to deny the stringent judgments of fundamentalists.

adv316

And as this social progress makes the world a friendlier place, there is an ironic counter-progress that empowers corporations and constrains individuals more and more each day. We will finally have a free-and-equal-spirited society—and it will arrive on the same day that our government has been manipulated into canceling freedom in the name of capitalism. If there were any hint of the liberality in most American’s hearts evident in the lobby-controlled, fundamentalist-friendly government’s workings, we would have a lot more alternative-energy and infrastructure-repair on the agenda—with its attendant jobs, not to mention a tax on the rich and the big companies—and a lowering of taxes for the less fortunate.

adv315

So many economic clamps placed on the government’s efforts to help its citizens—such furious uproar when we talk about taxing the corporations and the rich—as if to say, “How dare you? We’re in charge here and you’re lucky to have what little you have now.” Democracy sounds like ‘majority rule’, but it has somehow eluded that and transformed into some kind of casino—run by shady owners who kowtow to the whales and bilk the rest. Yet people continue to strive towards their better selves—it’s a paradox, if you ask me.

adven312

Inspired to Hate, Fight, and Kill (2014Jun06)

"Planet Rise" by Xper Dunn

Friday, June 06, 2014                  7:01 PM

photo-shopped image of original scan

D-Day remembrances today, including an unplanned 15-minute talk between Obama and Putin, both being at the same Normandy memorial event and no doubt aware of how ironic a present-day fracas over a part of Eastern Europe must seem on such a day, at such an event. They and others were treated to a unique dance piece involving masses of dancers on a large ‘playing field’ setting overlaid with an idealized map of the world. The most diverting part was played by the ‘Underground’ dancers who wove amongst the belligerent forces dance-groups—Claire loved it, I thought it dragged a bit, but I’m no big dance fan. I couldn’t help imagining the thoughts behind the eyes of all the old soldiers—whom I suspect were struggling to keep their expressions non-judgmental. In other words I thought it may have been the wrong audience and setting for something that artsy—but I’m no judge, what do I know.

20130313XD-FeltTip-Owl-01A04(SmallSized)

My favorite part of all the military ‘holy’ days is that the movies on TV come out in force—armed forces, that is. I just finished watching that “Band of Brothers” episode, “Why We Fight”—the one where they come upon a death camp—which ends with the German townspeople being forced to bury the remaining piles of corpses to a string quartet playing some mournful Beethoven. The afterword stated that 6,000,000 Jews and 5,000,000 of other ethnic minorities were murdered in the implementation of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’—that’s eleven million people slaughtered by a fascist government system. Many other millions died innocently in bombings and shellings and shootings, disease and starvation, and there were hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen killed in action—on all sides of the fight. (We often overlook the facts that Russia fielded more fighters and took the lion’s share of the brunt of Nazi Germany’s savagery—and that the Chinese took the worst of it from Japan’s madness for military expansion. In 1945, after the Japanese withdrew, the Chinese government was so threadbare it was forced to stand silent as millions of its citizens died of the great famine that swept central China immediately after the war.

20130301XD-Googl-MiltryMen

The USA, very proud of its part in ending both World Wars, deftly ignores how late we were to join both fights—and how little we sacrificed compared to other nations who played the game on their home fields. I’m proud of America’s part in world history—and of our armed forces—the only empire that never takes possession of its conquests. Perspective, however, should not blind us to the records of history or the nature and value of the rest of the world. Proud is good, but selfish is not, and willfully ignorant is unacceptable.

20130301XD-Googl-Obama

We are part of the same dark history that includes the ‘bad guys’ of history. First we slaughtered the Native Americans, then we imported and enslaved another minority—one we had created. The Nazis once wanted to exterminate minorities, and the South Africans once wanted to quarantine minorities rather than show them respect. We all now live in a wonderful, modern, global community that has agreed to the axiom that Human Rights must be unconditional, or they are not Human Rights. We all respect each other now, behind all the likes, dislikes, disagreements, and preferences, we recognize that our fellows (and even our enemies) are human beings like ourselves. That is the public face of all developed countries.

20130301XD-Googl-MiltryWomen

But it is incomplete. Hatred is still very much with us. Some discount the equal rights of women; some discount the humanity of other racial groups; some discount everyone outside of their major faith; and many erroneously equate wealth and power as signs of greatness. Such prejudices still pervade some otherwise-civilized nations: Saudi Arabia still condescends to the female half of their population; Russia still criminalizes homosexuality; etc., etc.

20130125XD-Googl-Imag-Music01-Joan_Baez_Bob_Dylan

Outside of these institutional archaisms, there is the thornier problem of the quiet bigot—America is chock-full of such communities and individuals. How can these people know enough to be ashamed to speak their thoughts out loud in public and yet remain ignorant enough to cling to these fantasies of superiority and entitlement? Are their lives so harsh they require a mental whipping boy—something to blame for their lack of happiness? No, if that were true, there would be a demographic pattern to these devolutionary anti-socialists. The stats show that hate is everywhere—rich or poor, north or south, hate for women, hate for non-whites, hate for non-Christians—it persists in families that work hard to keep it alive in the face of so much enlightened pluralism in our media, our government, and our legislation—and in our daily lives. It must confuse the hell out of their kids.

20121222XD-GooglImag-hippy03-guitar

The truth, as Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein put to music so long ago, is that ‘you have to be carefully taught’. No one is born with the will to hate someone else based on their few differences. It is passed down from mother to daughter, from father to son—as is, unsurprisingly, tolerance. But tolerance itself needs no indoctrination—parents simply inform their children that all of us are people and none of us should be left out or excluded—and the children recognize a simple truth when they hear it. Prejudice must be repeated and reinforced over and over–it has to be carefully taught.

20121222XD-GooglImag-hippy05-LOVE

How do we end this? I like to think that erosion will work against the pockets of willful ignorance until they are all gone—but that is both grindingly slow and terribly uncertain—people are crazy. Who’s to say we won’t see erosion in the wrong direction? So action seems required—but how do we act against parents raising their children in the privacy of their own homes? Plus, it is easy to deflect ones motives—to blame ones judgments against others on some practical detail rather than the hidden hate that truly inspired it. How do we stop that? I wish I knew.

20120704XD-first-family-goes-to-church61

Easter Thoughts (2014Apr20)

20140420XD-resurrection2

Sunday, April 20, 2014               5:54 PM

Well, I’m well satisfied with my essay—and Mike Cook liked it a lot, so there I am. He says it will be included in his July newsletter. While that is happy news, I feel tremendously let down. ‘Post-partum’ depression is part of a creative person’s life—the thrill of writing, drawing, or performing something new, something all one’s own—it can’t just Stop. The aftermath is a frustrating combination of wanting to wave it in front of the whole world saying, ‘Look what I did!’ and of having nothing to turn to where that project once was. Starting a new thing is the only cure but that can’t happen until the reverberations of the finished project have died down inside my head.

My family's first home in Bethpage, LI, NY

My family’s first home in Bethpage, LI, NY

So I’m familiar. Been there, always do that. My self-image is a constantly shifting mass of shards—one piece glinting here, another flashing there. I have been an artist my whole life—but I have never been an artist. I have never tied myself and my creations to any money-making venture. Conversely, I only work for the audience in my bathroom mirror—so I can’t complain that I have no artistic career. But I’m proud—I think some of my stuff is fantastic, and I know that I need courage to do what I do and to live my life the way I do.

My Family's 2nd home in Katonah, NY

My Family’s 2nd home in Katonah, NY

I don’t look down my nose at successful artists—if anything, I envy them. Nothing suggests substantial worth like a high price tag—making money would be a great help in shoring up my self-image. But that, I see now, will never happen. I’ve done some copywriting and some illustration in my day, in passing, and I can attest to the fact that there is a world of difference between being an artist (a spiritual, or at least innate, condition) and being commercially artistic. The cardinal difference is in who says the work is done and satisfactory. If I say it, I’m being an artist. If my ‘boss’ has the last say, that’s commercial art.

Central Blvd. Elementary School, Bethpage, LI, NY (My grades 1-5)

Central Blvd. Elementary School, Bethpage, LI, NY (My grades 1-5)

I remember graduating from high school a year early, going to college for maybe a month, quitting and coming home—somehow, I was standing in the back of my high school’s auditorium during the graduation awards ceremony—students were being given prizes for excellence in Art, Writing, Math, etc. In my former life, such a ceremony would have included me in some category. But then and there I was visiting a school, not being a student—and none of the prizes were for me. I understood it, but I still had trouble dealing with it. Everyone has told me (now that it’s too late) “O! You should’ve never skipped your senior year of high school—that’s the best part.”

John Jay Jr High School (Now Middle School) in Cross River, NY

John Jay Jr High School (Now Middle School) in Cross River, NY

So I’ve always had a sense of where things matter socially and where things matter personally. Public notice is something I wouldn’t like—some financial success would have been nice, don’t get me wrong—and the critic in my head is far harsher than anyone else has ever been. Also, I’m 58 now—misconceptions about honor, glory, power, and riches are long behind me already—as I’ve grown older, my focus gets tighter and tighter on the question of ethics. I’ve left behind all my generalizations and objectifications—I see people as people now. I see them as myself now. I hurt when they hurt—I smile when they are happy.

Katonah Elementary School, Katonah, NY (My grade 6)

Katonah Elementary School, Katonah, NY (My grade 6)

That isn’t so much—everyone has that feeling about their family—but I am learning to extend it to every person, even people I don’t like, people who do wrong. I don’t behave this way because of a religion—although the idea may have come from any of the major faiths—I live this way because it is sensible. Humankind is a family—and the less we recognize that, the more we fail. We are failing now, right now, and we have been for a long time. Yes we have wonderful things, great tech, delicious foods, fast cars—but we have decided to ignore the warnings of scientists about how our ways are killing the planet that gives us food, water, air, and so much more. That’s a fail.

JJHS, Cross River, NY

JJHS, Cross River, NY

Say what you want in defense of high-tech capitalism—speak any doubts you have over the truth of global climate change—none of that will matter when the Mighty Quinn arrives. Sane people like myself feel the giddy spin of madness, calmly watching as A-type personalities muddy the waters of common sense, while the pens of CPAs are destroying all the best that our world has to offer. I could join a group and fight the power—but that’s thinking too small. We would need a sweeping gestalt-change no less overpowering than the beginning of the Christian Era. But Christs are in short supply—and even he couldn’t stretch a few loaves and fishes enough to feed seven billion people.

20140420XD-ReedCo

Reed College, Portland, OR

I see most of the obvious actions in that context—if it isn’t a sweeping, overall revision of the human vision, it isn’t enough—and, worse yet, it simply adds to the turmoil and confusion. So I do nothing, in the public sense. I do not act. It’s just as well—if I succeeded in improving mankind’s fate, I’d get a big head about it and I wouldn’t be fit to live with. My mission, as I see it, is to post a lot of nonsense like this on the Internet, to help other people whenever I have the opportunity, and to make my own life, as far as possible, an example to my children. And even on that point I’d prefer they copy their mother’s example of steadfast strength and unceasing love and happiness.

SUNY at Oswego, NY

SUNY at Oswego, NY

I say I am proud; I say I want to set an example for my kids; I consider myself unique and special—but that’s not the end of it. I also doubt myself; I feel a touch of fear about what I may be doing wrong; I look around at everyone else’s priorities and valuations—and even my outsized self-confidence quails at the thought of so many people valuing what I ignore, and ignoring what I value. Still, my long adherence to atheism is an even bigger disagreement between me and the majority—and if I’m going to trust in my own judgment on something so vital, it’s not much to tack on my little perceptions as to aesthetics, or ethics.

Castleton State College, Castleton, VT

Castleton State College, Castleton, VT

Although I have been getting used to disagreeing with an entire classroom full of my peers from a very early age, I still feel an atavistic cringing at the thought of facing one way while everyone around me faces the other. It is a natural impulse to get along and go along—we are a social species and I have as much desire to fit in as the next person. My parents were wrong to ask me, ‘Would I jump off a bridge if all my friends were doing it’—the answer is, of course, no—but then if I take that and apply it to my whole life, I’m likely to find almost everything in our crazy, modern society to be in the category of ‘jumping off a bridge’. And that’s exactly what happened.

SUNY at Stony Brook, LI, NY

SUNY at Stony Brook, LI, NY

Thus I’m left in a social vacuum of my own making—I like to read books, I listen to classical music, and I play the piano. That is probably true of many people—but even ‘many’ people can come to a per capita of 0.0005%. So, in a small community like Somers, that would only be three or four of that ‘many’, at best, and even then, I like certain books and dislike others; I like instrumental classical music but I don’t care for opera; and I play the piano, but not very well. Now most people that play the piano are pretty good at it, otherwise they usually give it up—the number of people like me—people that persist in struggling with our limitations, is vanishingly small.

SUNY at Purchase, NY

SUNY at Purchase, NY

Other people, perhaps more emotionally stable people, would concede to popular acclaim and start watching sports on TV, or join a group of online gamers, or join a book club. But I have to work with what I have. I’m a pretty bad liar, I think. And I have no patience—none—especially in conversation. When I hear someone say something stupid or hurtful I turn and walk away—unless the stupid one is picking on someone younger or smaller—then I find myself saying stupid, hurtful things right back at them. I have no self-control to speak of.

Pace University

Pace University

But I spent most of my life being right when everyone else was wrong—in school, in business, in computers—and that’s a hard attitude to change. Even in my reduced mental capacity, there are many people on TV who are demonstrably stupider than I am now. That seems to me like an overabundance of stupid, being not very pleased with my own stupidity. And being half-a-shut-in doesn’t help expand my social circle, either. But I have good friends, nice people, even good neighbors (except for this one guy who just moved in behind us!) and my family, and that’s more than enough people for me to interact with—any busier and I’d be exhausted—I get very tense around other people nowadays, just trying not to say anything that might hurt their feelings, and not to say anything when I disagree with what they’re saying.

Married 1980

Married 1980

I’m big on argument—always have been—but in my ‘second’ life I’ve started to trust humanity to be self-adjusting. If I think someone is wrong, they’ll find out if I was right or not, whether I tell them or not—and nowadays I can’t always be sure that I’m right about anything. Most people misunderstand anyway—I’ve never corrected anyone in any spirit other than a desire to be helpful—but for many, any argument is an attack, so I just upset them instead of helping them.

Jessica Duffy  born 1982

Jessica Duffy born 1982

There’s more I should say, I suppose, but I am just exhausted with trying to talk honestly about myself. I’m actually seven feet tall, a Nobel prize-winner, and a legendary Latin lover—I am ‘the Most Interesting Man in the World’ (but I don’t drink Dos Equis, because of my liver transplant). I’m Superman; I can fly; I’m just incredible…

Spencer  -born 1988

Spencer Thomas -born 1988

I am here

I am here

The Dividing Line

Tuesday, March 18, 2014           2:52 AM

20120801XD-NASA(Chandra)- supernovaInSpiralGalaxyM83

Someday public schools will be civilized to a fare-thee-well, in keeping with the future’s streets, which will be safer than one’s own living room, and far more courteous than the sidewalks of the present. I suppose we could say that, as go the public thoroughfares, so goes the public schooling environment. After all, school prepares us to join society—not just any society but, specifically, the immediate area’s society.

DSC00817

It’s odd (but I was rather precocious) that I sensed, as I neared the end of Central Boulevard Elementary School in Bethpage, Long Island, that I would not ‘get on well’ in the high school, or even the junior high. The stories my elder siblings related gave me a sense that those places were dangerous—and so they were, and most likely are so, today, for all I know. I’ll never know, having been moved to Katonah just in time for sixth grade at Katonah’s Elementary School.

Bear2007May5 024

And I found them dangerous, as well, as were the John Jay Junior High and John Jay High School that ensued. In a different style?—maybe sometimes but not too much. As I’ve mentioned many times earlier, I didn’t view my family’s house as a paragon of warmth and comfort—although there were, I’m sure, glimmers of it here and there. And then school became a trial.

Bear2007May5 005

There always seems to be at least one bully in every class group, in every outdoor recess, who gets by on the same demographic trend that keeps cable news channels and reality-TV shows on the air. They relieve boredom, if only for a while—and in an unpleasant-feeling manner. I was a perfect target—pre-traumatized, unsure of my community, and preferring a good book to most other things. Only once did I throw a punch—on the playground back in Bethpage. It horrified me. I don’t know if I like fighting or not, whether I’m good at it or not—all I know is that it feels bad hurting someone else.

Bear2007May5 004

Usually when I call someone out as ignorant, I’m referring to the ignorance of this one, crystal-clear truth—hurting other people feels bad. If it doesn’t feel bad to you, if you enjoy it, I don’t know what to tell you. Get over it, because even if you aren’t bothered about it, other people are.

Bear2007May 040

If people witness a traumatic event, a fatal car-crash, or a gang-shooting—the horror that goes through all those witnesses’ minds at that second is immense. People are horrified just to see it happen, never mind actually assaulting someone or being assaulted.

Bear2007May 038

People tend to overlook this point. Survivor guilt is in the same category—watching others die, and living to tell about it, also horrifies the hell out of people. Our hearts do bleed for them. Military action veterans are not all incapacitated by PTSD, but they none of them come home unchanged.

Bear2007May 030

Some people still insist that hitting your kid is the only way to get them to mind. That may be true, but maybe kids aren’t necessarily required to listen to a parent’s every command—we raised our two kids without any violence of word or tone or deed. I admit, they have minds of their own—but I count that as a win, not a loss. The vice-principal of the Somers Middle School called the house one day—I picked up—he said, “Mr. Dunn, are you aware your daughter has blue hair?”

Bear2007May 034

I said, “Yeah. ..” (I wasn’t really—but it didn’t surprise me.)

He said, “Aren’t you concerned that your daughter might cause a disruption in class?”

I said, “What? For having blue hair?”

He said, “Yes. No one else in her grade has blue hair!”

I said, “We encourage her to express herself—I can’t exactly tell her not to dye her hair different colors. Besides, who does it hurt?”

By this point, the Vice Principal had the measure of me—‘one of those parents’—and with a few more gruff grunts he hung up. I stood there thinking—‘That guy wanted me to yell at my daughter for coloring her hair blue!’

Bear2007May 028

As Politics, being at its root all about selflessness, still attracts mostly egoists, power-graspers, and prima donnas—so too, does Teaching, being at its root all about nurturing the incipient excellence of every child, still attract people who despise children, or worse, simply enjoy being in loco parentis to a captive crowd of squirming children—and ‘learning’ comes later, if at all. There are other livelihoods that seem to attract those least invested in the root ideals of their jobs—and more interested in some self-gratification opportunity behind their masks of esprit de corp. One of humanity’s great mysteries, says I.

Bear2007May 027

However, if I may return to my original point, I think the theory that public schools reflect their environment could be applicable to more than the physical neighborhood, to include the local ethical baseline, as well.

Bear2007May 026

I can say this, having been a student in a poor area and in a wealthy area. The ethics of the wealthy can be pretty ugly—where they exist at all (‘But I kid the super-wealthy, they’re really very nice people…’ – Bill Maher). Cheating is shameless in wealthy communities’ schools—sometimes it’s a downright familytradition. Extortion is more prevalent in the leaner communities, as it is played out every day in areas where a buck is hard to come by, but bills they gotta lotta.

Bear2007May 018

Regardless, as schools are intended to prepare us for the future, we can’t expect them to do anything better than to prepare them for where they live. That sounds a lot more fascist than I intended—but if survival, or gainful employment, in one’s own neighborhood is not the goal of the school, what should it be? One thing most schools have in common is a pathway to advanced learning for gifted students—but let’s face it, not everyone is quote-unquote gifted. Still, wasted greatness is more likely in a depressed area than in, say, Beverly Hills.

Bear2007May 016

The biggest problem regarding depressed areas is that they have permanence—change is less welcome in places where security is hard to come by. Becoming poor, aside from being a tortuous hell-on-earth, is also an indoctrination, a training process in which we learn to suffer—and growing up poor is even more damaging to one’s self-image.

Bear2007May 015

Most of the ‘educational dispersal’ is used only by the rich kids. Upper-income families see their kids go to schools of higher learning in far-away places, and aren’t surprised when, after graduation, their kids then go to a random metro-area to try to ‘make it’. But for lower-income families, travel is rare—and travel is a rarity for many different reasons—some of the same reasons that didn’t allow their poor parents to go to every game or performance, every year—and didn’t give them much time to help their kids with their homework, etc., etc., and so on. But the vicious cycle which ensnares the impoverished is well-known for its interconnective stickiness. I won’t belabor the point any further.

Bear2007May 009

Finally, I think it’s plain to see that schools cannot be improved in a vacuum. Conversely, if the neighborhood gains access to good, steady jobs—that influx will be reflected not only in the public schools, but in every part of the neighborhood’s character.

Bear2007May 007

Business is the trouble. The higher the price-tag on a deal, the less said against it by good people or bad. We can exercise the generosity of the Buddha when it comes to tipping, or leaving pennies in the dish—but when we’re talkin’ thirty-five-mill, buddy—just keep your trap shut if you know what’s good for you.

Bear2007May 006

And there stands the dividing line.

Good people can’t be comfortable taking advantage of others, or endangering others, or lying about something important. And all top-executives (and most of middle management) know that those three things are required of a ‘business man’. Does this ad demean women? Only a little. Isn’t the mark-up a little high on this? It’s what the market will bear. What if some kid gets hurt? You’re creating problems that nobody needs right now….

Bear2007May 004

And this divides people because all the jobs that pay good money involve becoming a ‘business-person’. People think we need higher education for these jobs—that’s just a ‘maybe’—the only absolute requirement is that you pick a side and the hell with all the rules.

Bear2007May 003

There are other jobs. There are jobs where you get to talk to people, do some good, get something done that you’re proud of—yeah, we got those jobs. None of them pay more than minimum wage, some pay nothing at all—but they’re there.

tumblr_mskctlYau61sbhu4vo5_1280

I suppose that’s what we ought to expect. If we want to get paid a lot more money than the average person, we have to do something special, something that separates us from the mob. It’s a shame that the price is somehow ‘letting go’ of what you wanted to believe in. And anyone with kids is an automatic blackmail victim—sure, stand on your principles—but your kids will lose the roof over their heads and a lot more. It’s a strange world—I hated it so much that I’m actually happier being a ‘useless vestige’ than to have to jump back in that cesspool of commerce.

Natural History Museum London

Natural History Museum London

I heard on the news that 40% of corporations have job openings going begging for lack of qualified applicants. So, does that mean these corporations have excessively high expectations, or does it mean that half the working population is not well-educated enough to do jobs which involve anything more complex than simple addition and subtraction?

Museum of Science and Industry

Museum of Science and Industry

I little of both, I hope. Otherwise the USA may be heading economically downward simply for the lack of educated young people. What a wonderful plum that will be on the plates of the Conservative Right-wingers, huh? The country that invented public education will soon be the worst educated of the developed countries (if we aren’t already—you Google it, I can’t stand to look).

Field Museum of Natural History

Field Museum of Natural History

It’s difficult to gauge, but I think, overall in a historical sense, that Christian fundamentalists have done far more harm (and for far longer) than the Muslim fundamentalists. This is one of the many reasons I publicly announce my atheism whenever the chance pops up—it isn’t so much that I’m sure about the whole question of a God existing or not—I really don’t know. What I do know for sure is that all these old, established religions with their texts from BCE, are the result of civilization and human nature.

gallery

gallery

Claiming to speak for God is a powerful gig, if you can pull it off. Once one attains such authority—one can even gainsay Kings and Presidents. We now have learned (those of us who didn’t experience it firsthand) that the priesthood was for centuries a haven for child-abusers and sadists—and they got more respect back then, when their ranks were rife with pederasty, than they do now that the Church is actively scraping this ancient scum out of their institutions. Others, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, had their expiration date, AKA their ‘day of judgment’, their ‘end-times’, their ‘rapture’—come and go without even a tiny cloud forming overhead. How do you polish that turd?

New South Wales Art Gallery - night

New South Wales Art Gallery – night

The Muslim fundies’ pre-occupation with suicide bombing seems to have alienated quite a few Muslims who don’t see anything in their Quran about suicide-vests. And the Jews are ahead of the game, having split into orthodox and reform at the same time they founded their own nation—quite a while ago—plus they’re generally more sensible about interpreting the Bible than any of the ‘youngster’ religions Judaism spawned.

Still, heaven was originally overhead—an unreachable place. Well, too bad, we’ve gone and reached it, and ‘no heaven’ up there anywhere close to Earth orbit—what can you do? Hell is even worse—once imagined to be deeper (and hotter) than the lava that flows from the Earth’s depths. Trouble is they made up Hell before they realized we’re standing on a globe—so Hell is even less underneath than Heaven is overhead.

VaticanMusic05

And then there’s the archeological evidence of the evolution of religion from its primitive mythology to the modern rites and scriptures of today. And there’s archival proof of human editing of these holy writings to shape ‘what was holy’ to suit sometimes-unholy ends. Our centuries-held misogynous attitudes were a by-product of the early Christian proselytizers’ campaign against the healing-women and other important women’s roles in early Western Europe, naming them Witches and labelling their familiarity with herbs and healing practices as Witchcraft.

VaticanSeal02w

Science, too, was repressed for centuries—chemical experiments were known as alchemy, i.e. black magic. The church’s problem with astronomy is well-known, even today—for it is a glaring example of religious leaders ignoring anything outside of their orthodoxy, at times to the detriment of common sense.

20130605XD-NASA_CollidingGalaxies

Literacy was confined to the ruling class—a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so you can imagine what a lot of knowledge might lead to… And most of the nobility didn’t even bother to take advantage of their access to reading—back then the ethical slant was that their education was a luxury, almost a sin—not to be used, unless being trained  for clergy themselves. Even having learned Latin or Greek, a layman was not supposed to go reading through the Bible himself, he was supposed to listen to the words of the priests at Mass, and leave the comprehension to them. This is still true for many of the Islamic faith—reading the Quran is not recommended, its wisdom should be dispensed only by the Imam.

WILDEstor

So I see established religions as being a bigger detriment to civilization and enlightenment than any other obstacle on our path towards ‘world peace’. Money has become the new religion for many people—and a blind acceptance of Capitalism is not much different from these old religions. Simple things like ‘the Earth needs husbanding’ are suicidally left undone just because it would be bad for the Economy. And what good will this ‘Healthy Economy’ be to us when the Earth can no longer support human life?

20110304XD-cistern_large

We are captives of A Healthy Economy—even the slightest wobble sends mobs of upset people into supermarkets and delis, clearing the shelves in a matter of hours, if not minutes.

Stars

Thus I prefer not to rail at religions—they are on the ropes already—and the real problem with our society lies in Capitalism and its cancerous consumption of the Earth, of all our days, of all our efforts—not to mention Capitalism’s ugly sister, Poverty—and less than one person in a thousand gets to enjoy their lives, rich or poor.

Opnamedatum: 2010-03-01

Our scientific achievements have become proprietary assets rather than blessings from science. Our schools are veering away from a well-rounded education, towards a more technical-vocational-training kind of schooling—instead of producing fertile, active minds, we now want our schools to provide fodder for the workplace. Not quite the American Dream, these days…

SK-A-103

Capitalism used to work well. Endless growth was once a possibility. There was enough for everyone—there was room to grow. Again, business is the trouble—the higher the price-tag on a deal, the less said against it by good people or bad. And now economic inequality has pushed us back towards the times when rich people felt entitled and poor people felt helpless—war will be its result—the fight over shrinking resources, plus the ongoing toxification of the planet, together will create conditions that make today’s uproars in Syria, Crimea, and Afghanistan and the radiation in Japan, the islands of plastic waste in the oceans, and the drought in California seem like a walk in the park.

Charles I with M de St Antoine (1633) by Anthony van Dyck

Charles I with M de St Antoine (1633) by Anthony van Dyck

Global instances of unprecedented coastal flooding are numerous—the sea-level is rising. There are reports that some popular fishing areas have become so overrun by jellyfish that they’ve not only eaten all the fish, but have become a menace to navigation. As are the aforementioned ‘floating islands’ of refuse that have appeared on the seas, mostly plastic junk but massive enough to create havoc in a busy sea lane.

FamPh 242

Weather extremes of heat and cold do not ‘put the lie’ to Global Warming, they have enlightened us that the correct term is ‘Global Climate Change’. The real danger is the amount of added energy our global combustion-exhaust gives to the global weather system. The recent Polar Vortex is an example of an ‘over-revved’ atmosphere that went spiraling down to freeze crops in California and Florida shows that weather phenomena are beginning to cause the kinds of disasters conservationists have been warning us about since the 1960s.

PICT0003

The reason for (and the problem with) this is that the large corporations have a half-century of practice at mis-informing the public and lobbying the government. They will nay-say us all into destruction, all for the dirty green.

20130208XD-NASA-OrionNeb