Sunday, December 26, 2010

Juche's Ill

I would love to do fewer stupid things. If it were simply a matter of choice I could even prioritize the genera of foolish actions I would like to eliminate first. I picture the prioritization as a pyramid-shaped tiering system. At the wide and stable bottom of the structure are paralyzingly embarrassing statements; above that horrifying miscommunication. Somewhere near the top are those actions which involve ignoring dangerous circumstances, and causing potential harm to myself or others.

Nowhere on that pyramid do I picture any members populating a category I could call “mishaps with nuclear weapons”. This is because the only foolish thing I could ever picture myself doing with nuclear weapons is living in a world where people install them onto the tips of missiles, and then point them at other people.

My foolish tiering system is obviously risk-based; the more harm the higher up the pyramid the foolish activity goes. I assume that the structure gets smaller as it goes up because I assume I pay more attention to the more potentially harmful activities and reduce the likelihood of the action taking place. I mitigate the risk more effectively when the consequences become increasingly unacceptable.

Even if the consequences are not phenomenally extreme (like what is possible with nuclear weapons) I will sometimes ask for assistance in deciding on a least-foolish course of action. Since I am an atheist the fact that I do not ask my invisible friends for advice should not be shocking. I might not be an atheist if my invisible friends insisted on giving advice despite the fact that I did not ask.

Some of my corporeal friends give advice that I have not asked for, but most not only wait till asked, but require tenacity to pry it from them. I sometimes appear picky about who I ask for what kind of advice. I have a friend who has been married four times. I would readily ask her for advice on dating, but I might shy away from asking her thoughts on marital harmony.

I have a tendency (that is common amongst academics) to appreciate authority in those whose advice I am receptive to. I like quoting great thinkers and admirable personalities. I have quoted many people whose specific tastes I may not prescribe to, but whose take on a particular topic I find illuminating. I have caught myself quoting “spiritual” leaders when I thought their ideas were worthy with no thought of atibuting them to their flavor of invisible assistants.

Separating the person from the quote is not always easy. Quotes from serial killers sound like they are stained with the blood of their victims; they can suffer a menacing tone lurking in a mundane utterance.

“See you in Disneyland” – Richard Ramirez

Those who are nutso are difficult to use as authorities on anything that is not just nutso. There was a guy who lived in Queens and said he was 700 years old and could fly. This guy was nuts, and it would be very difficult to use his advice on anything.

I'm sitting in a cold basement while I'm writing this, and I've wrapped a blanket around my shoulders for some warmth. When I walked upstairs a couple minutes ago to get a cup of tea AOD remarked: “Look at Dad's cape; maybe he's going to fly!”.

Some claims would be so outrageous that they are dismisable despite the trappings of authority (like a plaid cape) or a history of reasonable thought (you'll just have to take my word on this one). And yet history is littered with people whose claims alone should have made a mockery of anything else they did.

Hong Xiuquan believed that, despite being born over one thousand and eight hundred years after his older brother, he was Jesus Christ's younger brother. He used this as justification to proclaim himself “Heavenly King” over a "Heavenly Kingdom of Transcendent Peace" which included the perks of money, power, and concubines. Like many peaceful kingdoms Hong's needed to generate an armed conflict; they did so against China's Qing dynasty emperor. The resulting 20 million dead people made Hong's one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, but they did not make his claims of family connections any less ridiculous.

A little less than half a decade or before Hong ended his life by poisoning himself another heterodox spiritual man by the name of Choe Je-u received some holy instructions. Choe was on the Korean peninsula and his peaceful paradise on earth was to occur there, and they needed to kill some folk to make their peace. So, despite differencing in geographic and genealogical details, Choe and Hung had a contemporary similarity about their divine missions.

I'm not saying that talking to god is bad (though I might allude to this type of delusion being less than productive at times) but taking instructions from god -especially those that involve killing- is a bad idea. I don't care if god talks with voices in your head, golden plates, funny symbols, holy e-mail, or a staticy telephone call; look for where the message is coming from. If someone you know thinks they have a message from god...well historically this is usually not a good thing.

The reason for not believing in what messages from god tell you is more basal than simply not believing in god. It is motivated by more than just atheism. If someone explains that god came to them in the form of their neighbors dog and told them to kill people I'm going to think that is bat-crap crazy without ever saying something like: “but wait...that can't be true because there is no god”.

It is worse when someone suggests that they are god, or even some divine godish creature. If someone claims that weather is influenced by their own or someone else's moods, I'm not going to be able to hear them very well. Even if thousands of people sing how important and magically divine someone is, I'm just not going to be that into it. Unless they have a big bomb.

The official ideology of North Korea is called “Juche”. There is an official calendar for North Korea called the Juche Calendar, and it was started (Year 1) on April 15th 1912 when Kim Il-sung was born. Kim Jong-il is now lead deity of the Juche cult. Jong-il can apparently change things with his feelings; he certainly can imprison people with his words.

The only other significant religion in North Korea is an offshoot of Choe's divinely-inspired stuff.  In at least one of his autobiographys Kim Jong-il describes in detail how much he admires Choe's Donghak movement.

People call Juche an atheist ideology. This is the problem with identifying ones self in a “not that” category. Some people who are not brain surgeons are gynecologists. More people, like me, are neither (and if I have ever told you I was a gynecologist -for whatever reason- I apologize).

I like to take the higher ground. I am a reasonable person, not just an atheist. I reason through things. I look at sources of claims, and make informed decisions. Atheists simply are not something, and I am something.

So when Kim jong-il announced that he was going to wage a nuclear “Holy War” against South Korea I was not the one you may have heard shouting “See...He Is SO NOT An Atheist!!!”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Two More Years!

It is apparently common knowledge that the world is going to end on December 21st 2012.  What will you wear?

There is admittedly some controversy surrounding this prophesy.  I have also been told that Jesus will return and initiate rapture on the 21st of May 2011, and that the total end of time will take place on the 21st of October 2011.

There are now only

Till the END of the WORLD!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Christmas

The “War On Christmas” (WOC) is apparently in full swing right now. I hear about it several times a day; so far this year I have heard about the WOC more often than I have been wished a “Merry Christmas”. I find it disturbing that there is a war on the most popular of all holidays. That there is a war on a holiday that is so popular that its decorations now herald its celebration before Halloween, and threaten to do to Halloween what they have already done to Thanksgiving. It is shocking to think that any usurper holiday would dare attack the mythically powerful holiday of Christmas.

Who is the attacker? Is New-Years drunkenly stumbling backwards in time and threatening Christmas?

Is it a Trojan horse attack? Have people realized that certain Christmas traditions hearken back to the pagan solstice celebrations that pre-date it? BTW: this year the solstice falls on December 21st (6:38 PM ET and 23:38 UTC).

I have heard of people imploring others to “be thankful” this Christmas. Is the WOC a counter-attack by the slighted pre-Christmas holidays? Is there a holiday insurgency threatening to dethrone Christmas as the pre-eminent Yule-time holiday? Will we be forced to recognize a “holiday’s-council-of-festival-celebration”? That actually sounds appealing to me, but Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

Imagine my disbelief when I discovered that it is people –not other holidays- that are waging war on Christmas.

Imagine my horror when I was told that I was a prime combatant. That: “You and those people like you are waging a war on Christmas and trying to destroy it for normal people”. As shocked as I was to find out that I was apparently waging a notably competent battle against such an important holiday I took time to endeavor as to how and why I was waging the WOC. Apparently by wishing the offended someone a “Happy Holidays” I was striking a potentially mortal blow.

I prefer the “Happy Holidays” greeting this time of year, but I will be brightly wishing folks a “Happy Christmas” from the 22nd of December till the 26th. The offending HH occurred just after the start of Chanukah, and I actually was thinking more of that “festival of lights” than Christmas when I made the HH remark. I wonder if I would have been seen as such a rabid enemy of Christmas if I had simply wished them a “Happy Chanukah”?

I like the HH greeting as it helps to encompass so many holidays that are crowded into the Yule-season. I have shrunk from my one-time practice of wishing folks a “Merry Solstice” as it misses the preferred name most people who celebrate the solstice use. How do you keep the proper name straight anyway? Is it Amaterasu, or Beiwe, or Brumalia, or Choimus, or Chaomos, or Deygān or Dōngzhì, or Goru, or Hogmanay, or Inti Raymi, or Junkanoo, or John Canoe, or Dzon'ku 'Nu, or Karachun, or Koleda, or Коляда, or Sviatki, or Dazh Boh, or Lá an Dreoilín, or Wren day, or Lenæa, or Lohri, or Lucia, or Feast of St. Lucy, or Makara Sankranti, or Maruaroa o Takurua, or Meán Geimhridh, or Midwinter’s night, or Midvinterblót, or Modranicht, or Modresnach, or Mummer's Day, or Montol, or Perchta, or Rozhanitsa, or Shab-e Chelleh, or Yaldā, or Sanghamitta Day, or Saturnalia, or Chronia, or Şeva Zistanê, or Sol Invictus, or Soyal, or We Tripantu, or Yule, or Jul, or Jól, or Joul, or Joulu, or Jõulud, or Géol, or Geul, or Zagmuk, or Sacaea, or Ziemassvētki? Of course just finding out the right name is a great conversation starter; the meanings and ramifications could lead to coffee, and a thoroughly delightful afternoon. "Happy Holidays", however, has never been taken as a salvo on the winter’s solstice whatever-you-call-it.

OK, so I may not be sensitive enough to figure out how I am attacking Christmas, but why am I doing it, and who are my co-conspirators? It turns out that I am waging the WOC because I am an atheist, and my cohorts in this are all my fellow atheists. It is truly unfortunate that atheists are not an organized group. It is embarrassing to be actively waging a war where I know such a small percentage of my allies. Perhaps we should all get together over a light lunch sometime and casually draw up plans for assassinating the Easter-bunny?

I should point out, at the risk of divulging strategic WOC secrets, that there is disunity on the atheist front. All atheists I know think of the Yule-season as a “great historically-tested time for party(ies)”, and therefore whole-heartedly support the idea of celebration. I myself have erected a Christmas-tree-shaped assemblage of plastic and metal which has been festooned with ornaments and low-power LED lights. If I am to coordinate this WOC thing I am off to a very poor start.

There are others that can be pressed into service as WOC enemies. Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and many others are attractive victims for the theocratical press-gangs. If Christmas is re-defined as a xenophobic celebration of homogeneous religious unity who will have won the WOC?

I think if we toned down the hate-speech we could resolve all this with diplomacy. Perhaps we could call it “Egg-Nog Diplomacy”. We could sit down with some glasses (not big glasses because Egg-Nog is high in fat, and I’m watching my calorie intake) of Egg-Nog (But not the Egg-Nog with alcohol in it because I don’t drink) and just talk it over.

For my fellow atheists I believe this plan will lull "them" into a sense of security, then, come April, the Bunny will never see it coming!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fishing in the East River

Forty six years ago today, at 12:10 PM EST December 11th 1964, a bazooka shell landed in Manhattan’s east river and sent up a “15 foot geyser” of brown river water. Guillermo Novo had purchased the bazooka earlier in the year for $35 from an 8th avenue shop, and had lovingly rebuilt it. Novo lashed the bazooka to a rock filled crate in a weedy lot on the east bank of the East river, and attached it to a “clock-like” timer that would initiate its firing. The bazooka round fell almost 200 yards short of its intended target, which was the 38 story UN headquarters building.

On the inland side of the UN building Molly Gonzales had detached herself from a small group of demonstrators and ran towards the UN headquarters’s front entrance. After she was subdued she explained that she wanted to kill Che Guevara, who was addressing the UN General Assembly at the time, with the seven inch hunting knife she was brandishing.

The explosion had rattled windows in the building and Guevara remarked that the explosion had: “given the whole thing more flavor”. When he found out about the two assassination attempts he replied:

it is better to be killed by a woman with a knife than by a man with a gun" – Che Guevara 11 December 1964.

On October 9th 1967 Che was shot to death by a man with a gun. The half-drunk executioner (a Bolivian Sergeant by the name of Mario Teran) would lose his sight to cataracts over the coming decades. In 2006 Cuban doctors would restore his sight as part of the Cuba-Venezuela Operación Milagro. In 2007 Teran’s son wrote a thank-you editorial to the Cuban doctors in which he stated: “Che returns to win yet another battle.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Offensive Billboard

Here is a picture of one of the billboards that were erected in several major cities, and which generated national attention. Some people have told me they find this billboard constitutes "Offensive Hate Speech". 

I have not seen one of these in Utah.  Perhaps we are a lost cause here?

Campfire Stories

Four hundred and ninety years ago today, on December 10th 1520, the German priest Martin Luther burned his copy of Pope Leo X’s Papal Bull entitled “Exsurge Domine” just outside the “Elster Gate” of Wittenberg. The Exsurge Domine is not lacking in flowery metaphors, here’s one:

“The wild boar from the forest seeks to destroy it and every wild beast feeds upon it.”
But it was not literary excess that drove Martin Luther to so famously burn it before a crowd of his followers.

Some years before, on Halloween 1517, Matin Luthor had nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg’s All Saints Church. The Exsurge Domine detailed 41 of these “errors” with which the Holy See was not amused. My favorite of which was number 24 on the Exsurge Domine list:

“Christians must be taught to cherish excommunications rather than to fear them.”

Which sounds cool to me.

Martin Luther went on to be famously tried and excommunicated (which I’m sure he cherished) and generally treated badly. The trials had marvelous names like “The Diet of Worms” (25 May 1521). You just don’t get great trial names like that these days.

Martin Luther, as a good priest, was practiced at the art of sublimation. Sublimation is the process of transforming libido into "socially useful" achievements (Freud). In Martin Luther’s case those achievements were spreading rabid anti-Semitic hatred. Up until the Exsurge Domine Martin was almost a defender of German Jews:

“that in our behavior towards them we less resemble Christians than beasts?" -- Martin Luther 1519
Oh what a difference a mean-spirited letter from an Italian in a dress and a meal of worms can make! By 1536 Martin was violently anti-semitic. He was apparently storming around the German countryside proclaiming that: “whoever would help the Jews was doomed to perdition”.

His most famous treatise was published just three years before his death. In a book he titled “Von den Jüden und iren Lügen“ (English: On the Jews and Their Lies) he detailed his arguments for a solution to the Jew problem Germany was having.

"base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth. They are full of the devil's feces ... which they wallow in like swine. The synagogue was a defiled bride, yes, an incorrigible whore and an evil slut ..” -- Martin Luther 1543

He goes on to argue that the Jewish homes be raised, that synagogues and schools be burned, that property be seized, and other bad stuff. The Jews themselves were not only to be rounded up and put into forced labor, but Martin goes on to say “"[w]e are at fault in not slaying them”.

If Martin had just lived another 400 years he would have seen his “solution” put into action. Martin Luther's anti-semitic writings may have been one of the reasons why the church that bore his name as part of the Landeskirchen beat out the evangelical church in the 1930s in their bid to become the official church of the National Socialists.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Revolutionary French

One hundred and five years ago today, on December 9th 1905, the Chamber of Deputies of France (the legislative assembly of the French Parliament) passed Loi du 9 décembre 1905 concernant la séparation des Églises et de l'État (Law on the Separation of the Churches and State). This law codifies a secularization that had been developing in France since its revolution.

    Article premier. - La République assure la liberté de conscience. Elle garantit le libre exercice des cultes sous les seules restrictions édictées ci-après dans l'intérêt de l'ordre public.

    Art. 2.- La République ne reconnaît, ne salarie ni ne subventionne aucun culte. En conséquence, à partir du 1er janvier qui suivra la promulgation de la présente loi, seront supprimées des budgets de l'État, des départements et des communes, toutes dépenses relatives à l'exercice des cultes. Pourront toutefois être inscrites auxdits budgets les dépenses relatives à des services d'aumônerie et destinées à assurer le libre exercice des cultes dans les établissements publics tels que lycées, collèges, écoles, hospices, asiles et prisons. Les établissements publics du culte sont supprimés, sous réserve des dispositions énoncées à l'article 3.

The first sentence of article 2 can be translated into English as: “The Republic does not recognize, pay or subsidize any religion. “. The law itself goes on for several pages to outline the method of establishing a new separation for a country that had not had one before. France had built many churches at public expense, and had many church individuals on public salaries. The separation was a process in France, not a simple establishing of principal like it was in the USA. Some of the articles (like article 11 shown below) are obviously unimportant today, but were probably of great importance when the law was passed.

French: "Les ministres des cultes qui, lors de la promulgation de la présente loi, seront âgés de plus de soixante ans révolus et qui auront, pendant trente ans au moins, rempli des fonctions ecclésiastiques rémunérées par l'État, recevront une pension annuelle et viagère égale aux trois quarts de leur traitement."

English: "The ministers of religion who, during the enactment of this Act, be aged over sixty years of age and who have for thirty years at least, full of ecclesiastical duties paid by the State, will receive an annual pension and annuity equal to three-quarters of their treatment."

If anyone was covered by article 11 they would be over 165 years old today.

There were opponents to the law, and some demonstrations. The Roman Catholic church was quite unhappy with the law, but have seen it as worthwhile, even defendable, in recent years. The Roman Catholic church was so upset by the law that Pope Pius X issued an encyclical titled “Vehementer Nos” where they stated in overflowing prose the Holy See’s displeasure with the law. Here are a couple excerpts from an English translation of the Vehementer Nos:

“Our soul is full of sorrowful solicitude and Our heart overflows with grief, when Our thoughts dwell upon you. How, indeed, could it be otherwise, immediately after the promulgation of that law which, by sundering violently the old ties that linked your nation with the Apostolic See, creates for the Catholic Church in France a situation unworthy of her and ever to be lamented? That is, beyond question, an event of the gravest import, and one that must be deplored by all the right-minded, for it is as disastrous to society as it is to religion.”

“That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult, it is in the first place guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of man is also the Founder of human societies, and preserves their existence as He preserves our own. We owe Him, therefore, not only a private cult, but a public and social worship to honor Him. Besides, this thesis is an obvious negation of the supernatural order.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Thirty years ago today, at 10:50 PM outside of the Dakota apartments in NYC, John Lennon was shot four times in the back.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Blue Marble

Thirty eight years ago today, at 5:39 EST on December 7th 1972, astronauts aboard the Apollo 17 mission would take the famous “Blue Marble” (NASA AS17-148-22727) picture of the earth. Because they were headed towards the sun the entire earth was illuminated at once.

They had blasted off from the earth 5 hours and thirty-six minutes earlier, and had left their parking orbit around the planet they photographed one hour and fifty-four minutes before the picture was taken.

In 2005 NASA would release a composite series of satellite pictures of the earth. These provided much greater detail than the single 70-millimetre Hasselblad camera with an 80-millimetre lens did in 1972. They called the new set “Blue Marble: The Next Generation”.

Apollo 17 was the last manned spaceflight that traveled beyond earth’s orbit. On December 19th 1972 the astronauts of Apollo 17 would set foot on the earth after being the last humans (so far) to venture to the moon.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lucky Thirteen

One hundred and forty five years ago today, on December 6th 1865, the first amendment to the constitution of the United States of America in over sixty years was adopted into law. The Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution reads as follows:

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

The legislatures of twenty-seven of the union’s thirty-six states needed to ratify the amendment before it would become part of the constitution. Georgia, on December 6th 1865, was the state whose ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment completed the process.

Mississippi, on March 16th 1995, became the last state to ratify the amendment.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Witch's Hammer

Five hundred and twenty six years ago today, on December 5th 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued the Summis desiderantes affectibus (English: Desiring with supreme ardor). The SDA gave Dominican Inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger explicit authority to prosecute witchcraft in Germany.

The Papal Bull describes witchcraft thusly:

"Many persons of both sexes, unmindful of their own salvation and straying from the Catholic Faith, have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, and by their incantations, spells, conjurations, and other accursed charms and crafts, enormities and horrid offences, have slain infants yet in the mother's womb, as also the offspring of cattle, have blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of the trees, nay, men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, vineyards, orchards, meadows, pasture-land, corn, wheat, and all other cereals; these wretches furthermore afflict and torment men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, with terrible and piteous pains and sore diseases, both internal and external; they hinder men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving, whence husbands cannot know their wives nor wives receive their husbands; over and above this, they blasphemously renounce that Faith which is theirs by the Sacrament of Baptism, and at the instigation of the Enemy of Mankind they do not shrink from committing and perpetrating the foulest abominations and filthiest excesses to the deadly peril of their own souls, whereby they outrage the Divine Majesty and are a cause of scandal and danger to very many (...) the abominations and enormities in question remain unpunished not without open danger to the souls of many and peril of eternal damnation.”

Sprenger and Kramer would collaborate on The Malleus Maleficarum which would be THE book on witchcraft for much of the 16th century.

Sprenger died suddenly in 1494.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Holy Ordinance

Legend has it that seventeen hundred and four years ago today, on December 4th 306, the Great Martyr Barbara was…well…martyred. Now every year on December 4th the “hollloween-like” festival of Eid il-Burbara is conducted to celebrate her martyrdom. Yea! Festival festival!

Saint Barbara is the patron saint of artillerymen, and her blessing is used to create holy ordinance.

She was tortured and abused. She was protected and abandoned. She engaged in anti-pagan remodeling, and was eventually beheaded by her own father. All in all a short unhappy blessed life.

He father was struck by lightning shortly after chopping off Barb’s head; hence the connection with artillery. Several Caribbean voodoo-like groups interpreted the story of Saint Barbara as a mistranslation of activities performed by the lightning god Shango. Shango sounds pretty tough though; I just can’t picture Shango letting himself get tortured for simply adding an extra window to a bath-house.

Unfortunately there are no historical records associated with any of it. So, on Valentine’s day 1969, Pope Paul VI had her removed from the official Roman Catholic calendar when he issued a motu proprio called "Mysterii Paschalis". This pretty much striped her of much of her official saintlyness.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Jamaican Smiles

Thirty four years ago today, on December 3rd 1976, a group of armed gunmen broke into the home of Bob Marley and shot him twice (as well as wounding his wife and manager) before escaping. Marley had been scheduled to play the free “Smile Jamaica” concert in just two days, on the 5th of December.

Jamaica was in the throws of a sputtering civil war centered around the presidential candidacies of Edward Seaga and Michael Manley. Manley was up for re-election and had proclaimed a state of emergency in January of 1976. In June 500 people were arrested in one fell swoop, and accused of trying to overthrow the government. Many of those arrested were prominent members of Edward Seaga’s party. Violence skirmishes and authoritarian reprisals continued long after Manley was re-elected on December 15th.

Marley insisted on going on with the “Smile Jamaica” concert; agreeing to only play one song. Once he got up in front of the crowd of 80,000 he played an entire 90 minute set. The setlist was:

1. War/ No More Trouble/ Get Up Stand Up
2. Crazy Baldhead/ Positive Vibration
3. Smile Jamaica
4. Rat Race
5. TrenchTown Rock
6. Keep on Moving
7. Want More
8. Them Belly Full
9. Jah Live
10. Rastaman Chant
11. Rebel Music
12. So Jah Seh

When asked why he ignored his wounds and played the full set Marley replied: "The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

EF Phone Home

Sixty eight years ago today, on December 2nd 1942, a group of uber-nerds and dignitaries watched as George Weil slowly removed a metal stick from a pile of black bricks. They were all assembled in the unused space underneath a squash court at the University of Chicago. Enrico Fermi, who had won a nobel prize just four years earlier, watched a set of instruments intently. When he was satisfied with what he saw Enrico nodded to Arthur Compton who waited by the phone.

Arthur rang James Conant who was back on the east coast. Using the manual switchboards of the day this could have taken several minutes.

When he finally got James on the phone Arthur said: “The Italian navigator has landed in the New World.”

James replied: “How were the natives?”

Arthur then said: “Everyone landed safe and happy”, and hung up.

Ever since that phonecall humans have known that nuclear weapons are possible.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Strategic Re-assignment

Seventy six years ago today, on December 1st 1934, Leonid Nikolaev strolled into the Smolny Institute, walked up behind Sergei Mironovich Kirov, pulled a 7.62mm Mossin Nagant revolver from his briefcase, and shot Kirov in the back of the neck. Leonid’s apparent plan was to then shoot himself.

Comerade S.A. Platanov was an electrician doing work on the floor of the Smolny Institute where the shooting occurred. Plantanov apparently threw a screwdriver at Leonid with such force that it pinned Leonid’s wrist to the wall. Platanov then subdued Leonid; thus preventing him from shooting himself. Before the end of the year, on December 29th 1934, Leonid would be shot to death by a firing squad.

Leonid was not a very competent assassin. He had tried on October 15th to enter the Smolny Institute with the same revolver in the same briefcase. The guards had searched his briefcase, found the illegal revolver, and detained him. Then, inexplicably, they received special instructions to let Leonid go. They even gave him back his revolver and briefcase for good measure. When Leonid returned on December 1st the regular guards were, inexplicably, off duty.

Strangely enough in late October even the normal personal guards for Kirov had been re-assigned, so Kirov walked the halls escorted only by an associate named Borisev. Borisev and Kirov were strolling together through the halls of the Smolny Institute. Just as they approached the hallway where Leonid waited Borisev stalled to tie his shoelace or something. Kirov continued down the hall, and was as much as 40 yards away when Leonid slipped in behind him with his revolver.

Borisev was interrogated in connection with Kirov’s death. The next day, while being transported to an enhanced interrogation facility, he fell off a truck to his death. Perhaps he tripped on his shoelace?

Leonid had not been very good at much of anything. He was broke, jobless, and irritable. He was described as having “the unmistakable signs of childhood malnutrition”, and he appeared poised to pass that condition onto his infant son Marx. He had been expelled as a party member due to insubordination, and he blamed various institutions of the communist system for his vagrancy.

Despite Leonid’s apparent vision of the Communist party as a coordinated evil entity the communist party of 1934 was fracturing. Martemyan Ryutin had circulated a 200 page document that called for, amongst other reforms, the removal of Stalin. Stalin had called for Ryutin’s execution, but was thwarted by an opposition group that was coalescing behind the very popular Kirov. Kirov was so popular that he had only received 3 negative votes at the 1934 party congress; Stalin received 292 negative votes. Ryutin would only outlive Kirov by a few years. In 1937, when Stalin began his purges in earnest, Ryutin would be one of the first with their backs against the wall.

Kirov was not popular with everyone (besides Leonid). He was a rabid ideologue, and in March of 1919 during the Russian civil war, was responsible for the deaths of over 4,000 individuals. He reportedly would have “bourgeois” who were caught hiding their possessions summarily shot.

Leonid’s malnutrition-addled hatred incited him to regularly proclaim his desire to kill people in positions of authority. It was during one of his tirades that a shadowy unnamed individual gave him the directions to Kirov’s office and the revolver. He also gave him a couple of drinks and some cash too.

After Kirov’s assassination Stalin personally ordered Leonid’s mysterious and shadowy provocateur shot. The nameless individual was apparently executed on these orders, but his name was not released.

In addition to the mystery man Stalin had Leonid’s 85 year old mother, his brothers, his sisters, several cousins, and some other folk for good measure rounded up and executed. Just to even things out Stalin ordered 104 persons who were in jail on unrelated charges at the time of Kirov’s death executed.

Leonid’s infant son was sent to an orphanage and only found to be “rehabilitated” in 2005.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Absolutely Fabulous

I have witnessed two babies being born. Some have told me that the two I witnessed do not count because AYD and AOD are both superbeings, and should not be compared to simple humans. The accuracy of those claims notwithstanding, birth is an incredible phenomenon. Coincident with the practice of newfound abilities [breathing, yelling] is the assimilation of new phenomena [air, light] and their associated concepts. I do not remember confronting air and light as new phenomena, but all clues suggest that I did at some point.

The ADs are teenagers now, and they are experiencing new phenomena, and assimilating new subtler concepts. Each day brings new memorable events; true that sometimes the most memorable events are variations on profound boredom, but they are in Utah's public schools. Teenagers transition from daily struggles for identity into a world where the future is more than just a string of days laid out like a beaded necklace. The actions and activities from one day begin to stretch out into the future, and the resulting web of influence weaves a lifetime. The teenager learns that, unless you work very hard at it, each day will be noticeably different from the day before.

I present simplifications of the concepts, and the fact that teenagers are the ones learning (or perhaps -as evidenced by some physical adults- not learning) them is accidental. It is somewhat arbitrary that societal and hormonal pressures synergistically combine to form the philosophical nozzle through which teenagers are squirted into adulthood when teenagers are in fact teenagers. It could happen when they are thirty-somethings. We might disparagingly refer to “thirtagers” if it did.

Comparing the concepts learned at birth with those learned at the transition to adulthood yields interesting clues to the differences in these two events. Light is awesome and allows vitally important physiological elements (like the eyes) to begin working in new and amazing ways, but light is simply there. Most babies would have to work very hard to ignore light, and it would be very strange for one to try. Emotional hurt is something else. It is not there, and then it is. One moment might be filled with the very apex of possible emotional fine-ness, and the next moment could really suck. When it hurts -real bad- for the first time there is no intrinsic clue that it will ever stop hurting; one cannot look at some other emotional scar and say “that one healed up okay... this one probably will also”.

I don’t mean to imply that children are numb to emotional pain till their 13th birthday. The thing that changes is the relationship of the teenager to the pain. The teenager is shaped less by the hurt, and the teenager’s world is colored more by it.

I shouldn’t use absolute term when writing about adolescence. There are many instances of people who are not severely affected by adolescence. There are the aging zelots who condem any imperfection in others as a way of justifying their own cloistered existence. There are the men (mostly men) who beat the people they have relationships with almost as if they are reprising some playground tough-guy role. My discussion admittedly lacks rigor by ignoring these individuals, but they are so ignorable. The ones worth watching are those who are so painfully aware of the changes that they suffer bouts of emotional motion sickness. The ones who are worth watching are those that carefully fuel a –sometimes weekly flickering- inner fire. The ones that are worth watching are fabulous.

Unfortunately fabulous-ness does not often work well for a teenager. The eyes that strain to see great possibilities crouching on the horizon often look like they simply hide mundane disobedience in the teenage face. The eyes that look deep into a person’s intention and tease out the nurturing comfort crouching behind poorly chosen phrases can appear as terminal shyness in a teenage face. The great person is usually not a great teenager. The great orator is usually not silent. The great painter uses a pallet with more than a single shade of gray.

They may be growing into their talent, but the teenager is not as lacking as her/his audience is. When I was an upperclassman in college I shared a group house with some freshman and sophomores. I was a couple of years older than my class status would suggest as I was returning to school after “kinda screwing up”, so the age gap was a couple-three of years. I would hear muffled music some nights imperfectly transmitted by way of forced-air heating ducts. When I finally mustered nerve enough to seek out the device the music emanated from I found that one of my housemates was covertly playing the flute; scales mostly. When I asked to sit and listen where the intervening plasterboard could not confuse the sound she developed a strange grin. It was as if I had stuck a pleasure center in her brain with a vivisectionist’s electrode. The scales gave way to conversation from which we constructed a friendship.

Soon the tunes were an invitation to talk. After hearing a few notes I would slip downstairs to find out what new story she had to tell.  We would detail the minefields of our various emotional adventures. Eventually she began telling me of her brushes with mental illness; the exquisite details with which she related her public transportation panic attacks still linger in my mind. I related the embarrassing details of my “kinda screwing up”. Several times we held hands and talked till the noises of our housemates preparing for their 8AM classes caught our attention. Neither of us was the “just holding hands” type, so in retrospect it is kinda weird to me. There was no lack of attraction; she was fabulous, and I thought so too.

She told me of the teasing, and the names. She told me of the manipulating “friends” whose scheming she endured to avoid being alone. She envied my personal power to actually go and “kinda screw up” instead of meekly excelling at all things academic. She spoke of “power girls” who measured interaction like it was a points-driven game. I said she was jealous because her two most common examples were a woman I was dating and a former girlfriend of mine. She said “Maybe I would like to be jealous”.

You can more easily find fabulousness in teenagers when you use other names for it like: freak, or nerd, or queer, or smart-ass, or looser, or … The terms of alienation used with impunity on the elementary-school playground leak into the Jr High school cafeteria where they take on new levels of meaning.

In a world where what the fabulous teen will become does not yet have a name what can a person make of the names and labels thrust upon them? “I am not that, but I am not sure what I am” is not, as true as it might be, extremely comforting.

The fact that the more awkward a teenager is the more fabulous they probably are does not provide a readily quantifiable measure. “The fact that I do not fit into the world means that the world probably needs me” is not, as true as it might be, extremely comforting.

Some studies have shown that as many as one-in-five high school students “seriously” consider suicide. By my calculations that means that as many as two-thirds of the fabulous students “seriously” consider suicide. Over 1% of these considerations result in an actual suicide, and many suicides are hidden from the statistics by being misclassified as accidents. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the US for people 15 to 24 years of age. While you read this a hurt, alienated, and fabulous teenager is considering suicide. By the end of today we will have lost a couple fabulous someones.

Over the last summer national attention has been focused on several young people who committed suicide in response to attacks on their “different” character. The president of the United States addressed these incidents specifically in a speech that ended with the words: “everyday it gets better”. I’ve witnessed the fabulous and it does not get better every day, but it does get better. The choice is not between permanent humiliation and a permanent solution. The choice is not even between continual mediocrity and a permanent solution. The choice is to nurture your fabulousness now so you can harvest its amazing fruits later.

What we need, those of us who want to live in a more fabulous world, is people who can reach out to the embattled individuals who are tentatively fueling that fire of change in themselves. What we need are people in authority who can address bullying by mundanes. We need awesome people who can say: “I was once just fabulous, but I did not give up”. Caring people who can say: “I love you; let us talk about your plans for world domination”. What we need are real adults who will not give up on them, or suddenly find them inconvenient.

What the listening person will hear is as clear as a signal flare shot into a cloudless sky; as clear as a gem in an unmudied mountain pool. Most teenagers will discuss their suicides (often at length) before attempting it. Choosing between a lifetime of misery and suicide is a depressing choice, and teens faced with such a choice will act depressed, listless, withdrawn, and irritable. A fabulous person confronted with suicide will often be scared and looking desperately for alternatives.

Some of fabulous and pseudo-fabulous individuals will start using mind-altering drugs in the hopes of getting a partial suicide benefit without the total buy-in that death requires.
When I was a young teenager a good friend of mine carried a vial of sodium cyanide around in his pocket. He explained that it was an existential test; his being able to commit suicide at a moment’s notice. He quoted Amery:

"we only arrive at ourselves in a freely chosen death" -- Jean Améry (from On Suicide: a Discourse on Voluntary Death)
I stole the vial from him at some point. I like to think I quoted Camus when I did:

“The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live, without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope, without illusions ... and without resignation either. He stares at death with passionate attention and this fascination liberates him. He experiences the "divine irresponsibility" of the condemned man.” – Albert Camus
I eventually lost the vial. For a while I was gripped by the fear that someone had stolen the vial of white powder while believing its contents to be something else. After time continued to pass with no-one I knew dying of cyanide poisoning I assumed the vial was inadvertently crushed, and the shards lost to entropy.

Flute girl related to me the conversations she had concerning leaping out of the window of one of the campus’s taller dorms. She and her friend took turns peeking out of the window to view the dizzying height and the certitude of death on impact.

“The window does not open enough to get a running start” she told me.

It seems so simple; provide love and reap fabulous-ness. Everyone could afford to anoint the fabulous with an occasional dollop of love, and redress harm where possible.

Some of you are probably thinking “It would also be nice if unicorns could vomit rainbows that turned the clouds to gold”.

Sometimes things get awkward as reality and life intercede on great possibilities.

When I moved out of the group house to live with one of the “power girls” the flute-girl was becoming more involved with the roommates who were experimenting with mind-altering chemicals. Once, while I was wearing some white corduroy pants and a white T-shirt, one of them exclaimed that: “my sanctimonious drug-free self-importance was hurting his eyes”; he was tripping. Nevertheless my “sanctimonious drug-free self-importance” made it difficult for me to talk to flute-girl when she was on acid.

Two weeks after I moved out of the group house the flute-girl jumped out of that tallest dorm window she had spoken of. In the almost quarter-century since she died I have still to find adequate words to express the pain I felt when her fabulous-ness was extinguished.

Monday, November 22, 2010

False Modesty

I have now attended four yoga classes in a row and now know everything there is to know about yoga. I thought it prudent to write some of this knowledge down before I attended another class and the situation changed.

I am comfortable with change (even change in my status of understanding) as long as it does not involve anything too different from what I am used to. Despite this I am constantly caught off guard by changes I have witnessed many (perhaps too many?) times. The change of seasons presents itself to me, not as a progression of old friends, but as a regular series of increasingly similar yet surprising weather events. Of these surprises the first real snowfall is iconic. I do not mean the first snowfall, which as often as not occurs before Halloween, and simply bites the still green leaves off of some of the bushes (called “trees” by the locals). I mean the fist snowfall that turns the world white and threatens to remain till spring. This snowfall usually occurs around Thanksgiving, and surprises me in an increasingly predictable way.

This past Saturday marked the surprising first snowfall. The world turned white. There was not a sky in the cloud. Snowfall obscured even near distances. Eighteen inches of snow erased all color, and most contour, from everything that could be seen. When I ventured out into the snow the entire universe was violently still.

The snowfall, as predictable as its yearly arrival is, does not come unannounced. Just before the first snow the outside temps rise until it is actually warm outside. Then the winds start. The winds in this part of the country are amazing. This year's fist snow was preceded by two days of sustained winds in the 35 MPH range, and gusts in excess of 50 MPH. Then the winds stopped, it got cold, and snow began pouring from the falling sky.

On Friday, in the middle of the windy announcement of the coming snow, I took a good friend out to lunch for her birthday. I took her to a Salt Lake restaurant called “The Himalayan Kitchen”. The decor of the HK included many exquisitely carved bas reliefs depicting deities in various contorted stances. My knowledge of yoga was rapidly approaching its perfection (it would take one more hour-long yoga class at the local gym to complete it), so I was either able to identify all the poses, or accurately invent names for them.

There is something delightfully distracting about sitting in a warm restaurant, with warm Dahl stinging my pallet, with a warm companion filling every available pause with heated observation, while outside the wind flings garbage into the air. Distraction is strengthened in consort with delusion just as love and lust work in synergy to change the world's flavor. Drinking coffee with an attractive woman, and simply talking about tinfoil hats or radiant deities, plays panflute to my mind's wandering. I could believe at that most amphibian core of my brain that love oozed like a viscous glowing magic liquid from every surface, and my rational mind would not be willing or able to stop me. In the HK gilded images of curvaceous deities helped play me for a fool.

Near the door was a large (½ life-sized) mostly golden statue of a seated woman.

“Their Buddha is quite busty” I said to my companion.

She turned to notice the statue and informed me that the Buddha was in fact “Tara” the female Buddha.

“She had quite a large following in Tibet” she informed me.

My companion had been studying Himalayan Buddhism for long enough to know much less about it than I did Yoga, so I listened intently to her explanation.

The statue was of the “White Tara” and was gilded gold except for a strangely out-of-place purple spandex yoga outfit she was wearing. The yoga outfit was form-fitting and revealed both her midriff and a sizable amount of cleavage. Although my amazingly encyclopedic knowledge of yoga allowed me to immediately recognize the modern clothing she was wearing I was at a loss as to how Tara would be able to contort into some of the more demanding yoga poses without “spilling forth”. I tried to imagine my companion dressed like Buddha attempting an advanced yoga pose, and I succeed.

It is no wonder that I become distracted enough to miss the obvious clues of weather change. Even the full whistle blow of the first snow freight-train rumbling across the basin and range of Nevada can be lost on me.

It is the prioritizing of inputs to the thought process that comprises the lion's share of what is sometimes called wisdom. The brain is awkwardly arraigned, however, and some inputs circumvent the machinery needed for reasoned prioritization. What processes allow for unreasoned prioritization? All people are not as foolish about love as I am; how can they accomplish this?

The personification of the effective patterns in the universe is one of the more popular seeds from which deities are grown. Once sprouted the more interesting deities are shaped into recognizable forms by man. In this case I do not mean a gender neutral “man” as most of the artists who capture the divine in visually accessible form are indeed male. This accounts for the extremely large breasts and voluptuous thighs sported by Tara.

Some modern exceptions to the male driven imaging in the cycle of deity formation are the fabric Thankas of Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo. Schooled in the multi-century male-dominated Tibetan tradition of “divine quilting” she has created many images of Buddhas including Tara. The Richen-Wongmo Tara I have seen is draped in jewelry and strips of cloth that provocatively hide the fullness of her Tara's chest. I would be disappointed if she blindly re-created the comic-book-heroine barbie-doll breasts seen on many Tara's.

Men do not always create images of their divine women by imagining Wonder Woman with a few extra eyeballs. On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City Michaelangelo crafted an image of the Abrahamic god in the act of creating Adam. Jehovah's left arm is draped around a diminutive flat-chested not-too-pleased woman whose auburn hair is tied back in a severe knot; this woman is widely identified as the goddess Sophia. Sophia is the Greek goddess of wisdom awkwardly adopted by the Abrahamic traditions. Michaelangelo's Sophia is hardly the Ennola whose form would launch a thousand ships.

There are a couple of things about the creation panel of the Sisteine chapel that have intrigued me:

  1. Why does Adam have a belly button?
  2. Why is god wearing a dress?
  3. Did you notice how the outline of heaven forms a reasonable approximation of the outline of the human brain?
  4. Why is god lying on a bed of naked pre-pubescent boys?

I would think item four would be quite awkward in light of the sex scandals that have been leaking out of the Roman Catholic church for the past decade or so. I picture a distraught cardinal distractedly walking into the chapel after a disturbing counseling session with some bishop who had been caught moving molester priests from one parish to another. The cardinal looks up towards the heavens to seek guidance from the holy father, and there is god wearing a dress on a bed of naked pre-pubescent boys. Talk about unfortunate imagery!

And what's with the look on Sophia's face? I picture her staring at Adam and thinking “What's with the belly-buton anyway? If you wanted a belly button why not have me make him? I've got the right machinery to make belly buttons.”

There is something sublime about Adam being pictured as the product of finger-pointing rather than the fruit of wisdom's loins.

Of all the classic imagery of Tara I find myself most drawn to those of the Green Tara; especially the standing icons. The impossible curves of womanhood are accentuated by a slight tilt of the hips. She is all woman and then some. The “and then some” is often several extra sets of arms and a few extra eyeballs, but the framework is unmistakable.

The Green Tara knows how to accesorize well also. She is often pictured with a necklace of human skulls, and sometimes the skulls have faces with finely crafted expressions still on them. All of the Tara are usually pictured with necklaces. I think the White Tara's necklace is a flowered lei.

When leaving the restaurant I took a longer look at the golden Tara statue. On closer inspection it was obvious that the skin-tight yoga costume had been painted on as an after-market addition. The traditional flowered necklace had become the severely plunging neckline of the skin-tight top. I guess the image of a tiny naked golden woman was a bit much so close to temple square. The Fredrick's of Hollywood yoga outfit was a bit of enforced modesty for the ancient goddess. I wonder why they chose purple?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Zombie Miners

“There is a theological debate that this is a carbon starved planet” -- Rep. John Shimkus (R-Il-20th)
This time last year I was in the middle of a volunteering obligation I had…well…volunteered for. I was helping a local charter school set up a collaborative document system for producing the written policies the state required of them. My first inclination, when talking about this, is to make it sound like it required a tremendous amount of technical expertise, but it did not. Basically I spent most of the couple hundred hours setting up one system, listening to why people did not like e-mail and “computer-stuff", and then setting up another system, and then listening to more luddite whining. There was a liberal amount of personally training people on systems and answering “I don’t like the way the font looks on my computer” questions. I also sat in policy meetings where single words had to be discussed at length; often through the process of protracted arguments between a particular individual and himself.

In order to facilitate my own activities I asked to be considered for one of the vacant board seats. I was told that I was “not the sort of person they were looking for” and each of the many board replacements made after that time were done only after closed session consideration. I believe that this was one of the signs that there was a concerted effort to make sure the board of this publically funded school remained entirely and eternaly Mormon. The control was targeted to produce a more specific goal than simply an all-Mormon board. The members of the board had to be a special brand of home-school-leaning-educational-separatist Mormons.

I was involved because the school had hired a director whose ideas about producing a learning environment were inspirational, and he had hired the best group of teachers I had ever seen in any Utah public school. When he was ostensibly fired (so a for-profit philosophically acceptable charter school direction company could come in) I resigned my volunteer position. Before the next school year started around 60% of the great group of teachers had also left.

At this point I believe some of you may be wondering why I started this entry with a quote from a congressman from southern Illinois. Others probably realize that I will get around to the quote, but flinch at the circuitous path I will probably take getting there.

Shortly after the new directors began to change direction the ire of the school’s parents was raised. There were apparently several heatedly orated meetings. After one someone apparently took it upon themselves to amateurishly hack and then vandalize the schools computer system. Part of the vandalism apparently consisted of someone taking one of the gold-painted shovels the board stored in the server room (the shovels were mementoes of the building’s groundbreaking) and smashing the server rack with it. Wires were pulled, a key logger was found, and probably other stuff, but I was never shown any actual report.

 For the record I think it would be much more effective to simply pour a coke on a server if you wanted to take it out. When I have seen this happen by accident it has worked very well. A truly evil person would rig something with string, two-liter bottles of soda, and Mentos mints. When the IT person walked into the server room she/he could witness the awesome destruction in process. But I digress….

After the server destruction several members of the board and the schools paid staff decided that I was a prime suspect. Their evidence consisted solely of:
  1. The idea that I “knew about computer stuff”
  2. That they were not forthcoming in why they refused to consider me for the board
  3. That I had spent a lot of time around the school doing “volunteer” work.
Basically I had helped them by bringing in expertise they needed, and they had treated me poorly for it; all of which was true. What stunted emotional degeneracy goes into making this sort of connection, and how can one prove one’s innocence in the face of it?

Of course the allegations were not made to my face. They were relayed to me by four separate individuals who had heard them on more than one occasion, so I do not doubt them. The purpose, however, was to lay blame; not prosecute. Because of the hidden nature of my guilt it was a couple of weeks before I could point out that I was on a business trip more than a thousand miles away for the entire week during which this happened. Unfortunately this paltry alabi was not enough to prove my innocence. Apparently I did some of it remotely and my evil minions did the rest.

So now I run an evil empire bent on destruction. How did I amass this power? I did it simply by witnessing the collision between their deeply held belief system and reality.


Here, of course, is where I suddenly shift course to talk about rep Shimkus. Check out this video from which I gleaned the quote I started this entry with. This film was taken during an actual session of an actual congressional committee on climate change.

What we are witnessing on this tape is the collision of a deeply held belief system and reality. Shimkus is a deeply believing member of a church within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. One of the premises of this church (along with creationism and some other ideas I could go into, but which would make this already thousand-word entry too long even for me) is “amillennialism”. Which means that they know (somewhat) how the world will end, and that you must go to their church as a result of these things they know. This of course results in some significant conflict between the LCMS and other churches who know other things that require you to go to other churches because of.

As early as 1932 the LCMS adopted the following prophetic truth (which I quote here from their A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod. Statement 43):
“As to the Antichrist we teach that the prophecies of the Holy Scriptures concerning the Antichrist, 2 Thess. 2:3–12; 1 John 2:18, have been fulfilled in the Pope of Rome and his dominion.” 
This is not taken too very kindly by several Roman Catholics I have spoken to. I can paraphrase the average response thusly: “No AOA…the pope is not the antichrist. Why do you care anyway? It is like asking if some person who you think lacks any potential spiritual significance is also not something you do not believe exists.”. I must admit that their observation about me has some degree of validity.

So what I think we are observing (in rep. Shimkis’s scriptural tirade) is a skirmish in an ongoing theological battle. Someone is going to pick up the proverbial golden shovel and smash things that should not be smashed. If there are people with Catholic upbringing on or near anyone working on global climate change that fact could serve as proof that GCC talk was a modern manifestation of some ancient evil. There may even be jews involved in GCC research. I’m not entirely sure what the LCMS would find wrong with jews, but I’m sure there is something wrong with jews…there always seems to be something wrong with jews in situations like this.

What of the evidence? Evidence is only fabrications to hide evil intentions. As long as one can create a story (credibility is optional) then there is acceptable proof. When the actual battle is between systems of divine knowledge then mundane matters take a back seat. The charter school’s board was motivated to place blame by the collision of their narrow divinely-inspired teaching concepts and angry parents who wanted the best learning environment for their kids. I just happened to be in the wrong place on that battlefield. Shimkus is waging his divinely inspired battle against iron-age evils, and GCC scientists are simply in the wrong place on his battlefield.

The really interesting question is: “What evil minions will the GCC scientists use to do their evil papal bidding?”. I think the answer can be found in the single visual aid that rep. Shimkus used. That’s right…Zombie Miners!

Think of those Chilean miners trapped for months underground. Who saved them? NASA that’s who! Did you see that miner who ran the NYC marathon cross the finish line? I’ve seen “night of the living dead”. I know what a zombie gait looks like!

“If I only had some BRAINS” -- Zombie Miners

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fear of Flying

Distractions come in many forms, and sometimes I think that I like most of them. Even contemplating the variety of forms they take, and the particular spectrums they might sparkle the announcement of their presence with, fills many moments with pleasant diversion. As my focus on a particular project narrows the number of distractions grows by displacement. A laser-sharp focus could create an entire universe of distraction.

“There is an art, it [The HGG] says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Pick a nice day, [The HGG] suggests, and try it. The first part is easy. All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it's going to hurt. That is, it's going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground. Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.
Clearly, it is the second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties.” – Douglas Adams from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The other night I remained awake till the earliest sounds of morning lulled me into a few hours late sleep. If not for the threat of a day spent paying for my night I would have fought harder to maintain my wakeful attention for those last few hours as well.

Some sleepless nights are forced on me by stressful circumstances. Sleep cowers in fear to avoid being contaminated by the mind’s obsessive replaying of the day’s events. Rejection, disappointment, disillusionment, heartbreak, inadequacy, embarrassment, cuts deep and shallow play over and over. I think once is enough for most hurts, but the sleep-deprived subconscious has some need to recapture the excruciating nuances of each hurtful moment. Tossing and turning like a fresh caught fish, and then –just as sleep tiptoes in- I am waken by some ill defined impact-like jolt.

The other night was something different. Sleep waited patiently as I explored the tactile potentials of exciting possibilities. Each imagined situation was assembled with interesting distractions from the day’s wanderings mixed with exciting ideas. When I focused on any element it would unfold in detail until it presented me with another comfortable situation to try out. The feeling of a saturating wellness was only slightly displaced by a free-floating gleeful expectation. It was a psychological equivalent of trying out overstuffed lounging chairs in an infinite showroom; a lovely saleswoman patiently waiting to take me by the hand and lead me to the next chair everytime I settled in.

When I woke I had an impulse to go shopping for a new queen-sized bed, but that sort of endeavor is best avoided on days following too-little sleep.

I often run to clear my mind of things. Troubles drive me out the door, and the fact that they wait for me extends my run. I will sometimes make a mental list of all sorts of troubling and annoying things just before going out for a run. This way I can load up the emotional hopper in preparation for the run. I sometimes imagine one of those trucks that empty porta-potties diving down the highway with a secret valve that allows its contents to leak out on the road open and spewing.

The other day I ran while recreating a series of awkwardly pleasant experiences in my mind. I caught myself laughing at spastically timed intervals. I said hello to strangers I passed with a little too much enthusiasm. I pictured myself as I was –the crazed giggling sweat-drenched middle aged waddling man- and laughed a couple more times. My pace-time sucked, but I would have kept going forever if my legs did not hurt as much as they do after a long run.

When I catch a pretty woman out of the corner of my eye while running I sometimes stumble. When I later recall the incident I usually smile a slight knowing smile. That does not mean I enjoy stumbling while out running.

Then again there is the possibility that if I stumble just right I will find myself flying.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reason to Par-Tay

It was two hundred and seventeen years ago today, on November 10th 1793 (20 Brumaire, Year II), that the French revolution’s National Convention celebrated their “Festival of Reason”. In a move that makes indescribable sense to me the “Cult of Reason” persuaded Pierre Gaspard Chaumette to call for the instalation of a “Godess of Reason”. Chaumette was an unabashed male chauvenist who’s enduring quotes include many where he admonishes women to “know their place” (which was being domestic, and if they could manage it, pretty). Yet he viewed the personification of that reason he wished to genuflect before as female. In order to be entirely clear that reason was feminine Sophie Momoro (née Fournier) was chosen to personify her.

The party sounds like it was a blast. The medieval cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was transformed into a modern “Temple of Reason”. An altar to liberty was installed over the old one, and the inscription "To Philosophy" was carved into the church facade. Contemporary accounts reported the Festival of Reason as a "lurid", "licentious" affair of scandalous "depravities".

Eventually Maximilien Robespierre would supplant the atheist-leaning Cult of Reason with a solidly Deist Cult of the Supreme Being. Robespierre’s parties were often much less fun.

Robespierre’s Solides jailed both Sophie and her husband, the later was guillotined. When the sentence of death was announced for her husband Sophie was broken. As she wept she was taunted: “The Goddess of Reason has not been at all reasonable during the day!”

Sophie was imprisoned from March until May of 1794. Even the Solides could not execute her for simply being beautiful. By the time she was released (destitute and alone) from prison she was so described: "This goddess is very terrestrial: she has only passable features, frightful teeth, and a clumsy form”.

Both reason and beauty, it seems, can be erased by the focused effort of man.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

2+2=5 for very large values of 2

The midterm elections this past Tuesday were very popular. For the first time I can remember I had to wait a considerable amount of time in line before voting. At the computer screen ballot machines a group of four folks stood staring at the screens in apparent disbelief. I had run over the ballot ahead of time so my actual voting took almost four minutes (timed) but the four folks who had begun “voting” before I arrived took almost twenty minutes. There is something admirably spontaneous about showing up to a polling place to be surprised about what you are being asked to vote on.

Smart candidates should take advantage of the last minute voters and change their names to reflect popular views on hot button topics. I think a candidate named “Second-amendment prolife” would be a shoe-in for anything in my voting district. Imagine the look on the Supreme Court justice’s face as he swore “Death-panel Birther” in for president of the US.


There are outcomes which I am resignedly uncomfortable with (like the defeat of my favorite candidate for Governor by a more than 33% margin), but more that I am ambiguous about.

A couple of thousand miles away Christine O’Donnell’s campaign went down in flames. There was something oddly entertaining about the idea that she might be in the US senate. Somewhere in my mind I store a fantastical picture of a grainy surveillance film featuring her and Rand Paul half-dressed as giant chickens while offering bong-hits of ground retread rubber to Aqua-Buddha. Despite this being filed away as another unfulfillable fantasy I’m sure that the new congress will provide ample opportunities for voyeuristic entertainment.

Jerry Brown was re-elected as Governor of California, and pot is still not legal. I am trying to be interested in this; there was a time when those California results would have been the center of many a conversation as opposed to being buried in the center of a blog entry.


Even races where I was interested I feel ambiguous about the outcomes. In Massachusett’s Pittsfield's 3rd Berkshire District the initiative to allow women to go topless with no more consequence than me failed. Perhaps it is because I am getting older and young women look more like my daughters and old women look more like old men, but I am non-pulsed by this result.

So too the Denver initiative to establish an “ET” commission. I enjoyed talking about UFO’s and “The new Area 51” leading up to the election, but the resounding 84:12 defeat was not at all uncomfortable. Someone had pointed out that the establishment of the commission was a feeble attempt to validate a fringe religion’s belief system as plausible; would I want a creation research commission formed in Salt Lake? I began wondering if there already was a CRC in Utah, and I decided there probably was.

The only thing that still disturbs me was the track several campaigns took of presenting physical issues as democratically amendable options. What is it with the idea of global climate change that makes it an issue people think they can vote on? At least one candidate (who was thankfully not elected; if only by a slim margin) stated: “I will believe in Global Climate Change when a majority of Americans believe in it”. An educated electorate would demand that their politicians know the difference between a matter of physical reality and a matter of public opinion.


I imagine future ballot measures outlawing gravity with campaigns that promise “flying without wings”. Perhaps we can abolish the limiting speed of light velocity so inconveniently established in the special theory of relativity: “Travel to distant galaxies in seconds; meet interesting aliens”. The feds would then need to establish an ET commission like the one Denver defeated.

The only aliens featuring prominently in my local elections were those from south of the border. If I expect any campaign promises to be fulfilled the one to enact a “stronger than Arizona’s” immigration policy for Utah is one.

Sometime around 1984 I heard a version of the Dead Kennedy’s song “California Uber Alles” (which Jell-O wrote about Jerry Brown) re-written for Ronald Reagan. The song was titled “We’ve got a bigger problem now!”

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” -- George Orwell

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wolf Nose

This entry is about empathy, but I feel the need to digress from a sharpened approach to that topic. Tugging at a point located not far enough bellow my navel to be of bawdry interest are conflicting motivators urging me to begin this entry with a disclaimer. No disclaimer is actually needed, but disclaimers are such indulgent digressions that I’m tempted to the edge of the diving board. No -scratch that- far too melodramatic even for me. My temptation is more like that which keeps me in a warm bed on a cold morning; my disclaimer a handy snooze button.

What unnecessary disclaimation am I going to indulge in? If I apologized to gravity for describing the sunrise it was so instrumental in forging it would be obvious that I was interested in neither. One would be more likely to ask what was going on inside AOA’s mind rather than point out the unmentioned contributions of magnetism, or even the strong and weak nuclear forces. Perhaps there was some childhood trauma involving the influence of gravity on a poorly piloted bicycle that occurred early in the morning? This type of conclusion would be insightful.

Insight is not empathy. The word “Empathy” is derived from the Greek word ἐμπάθεια (empatheia), "physical affection, passion, partiality", but it really got its definition when a couple of Germans in the later 1800s defined it as “feeling into”. It is not known whether his cool name helped Ted Lipps introduce his friends’ concept of empathy to Freud, but the rest of the story is also history. Empathy is “feeling into”; insight is “seeing into”. Empathy suggests a much more intimate interaction than does insight.

Some might be lead to believe that I should make a disclaimer concerning my professional relationship with FOX news. It is true that Glenn Beck and some other “pundits” have disparagingly defined empathy as a synonym for communism. This was done in a targeted attempt to discredit Sonia Sotomayor while she was being examined for her eventual instatement as a Supreme Court justice. I do not believe that FOX news “pundits” actually think about, or really care about, what they say. This, coupled with the fact that my professional involvement with them has –so far- been limited to imagining dirty Birther limericks (“There once was a black prez from Kenya”) that Bill O-Riley could recite, means that I do not have to disclaim anything about this relationship when I talk about empathy.

The fact that empathy could be re-defined as a bad concept is flabbergasting to me. When my mind wanders about the concept of empathy I feel inclined to go out and tell strangers that there is love in my heart for them. I want to cuddle sick kids and damaged adults. I want to tell someone about one of my more colorful mistakes and have them reply that it was not such a big deal, and that they would have liked to have been there with me to make the mistake more epic. I wish to walk hand-in-hand with a lover imagining how the ground, once so hard and unforgiving, has become rubbery enough to lend a spring to my step. Of course many of these feelings come from compassion and nurturing. Empathy is important in the effective chanelling of compassion and nurturing.  Both compassion and nurturing are marvelous ideas worthy of an entire series of essays each, but neither idea is a synonym for empathy.

The disclaimer comes from the fact that I was motivated to write this after simply reading an article and slightly conversing with the author. I’m often amazed that people who write well are humans in real life. My disclaimer should be in the form of a statement concerning the lack of any evidence that worthwhile ideas, concepts, or even proper sentence structure has flowed from her article to this essay. If you look at a marvelous horse you know that somewhere you can find the makings of a pretty good compost pile; if you look at an impressive compost pile it is impossible to tell anything about the horse. Of course you can grow some pretty good tomatoes with enough compost, and one of these days I will get the right seeds for my blog.

If you think I am being unnecessarily self deprecating I will present the following evidence. In the article the author quotes Credo Mutwa who states “Women think with their pelvic area”. In context the quote speaks of the connection between the act of childbirth and empathy. At least once in the coming days I will catch myself saying “I am like a Zulu woman because I think with my pelvic area so often”. It is like my pen is a magic wand with which I can convert the Dali Llama into Swami X. The act of hearing with my ears perverts the message; for some reason there is a failure in communication, and yet I’ve got so much to say.

Communication is the key to empathy. The entirety of what is communicated during an empathic event lacks proper description by either the felt or the feeler. This suggests that the processing of the communication is performed more centrally in the brain than typical conversations. In an earlier essay I described the core portions of the brain as “evolving earlier” than the outer portions. The image of the brain as an evolutionary onion whose core is analogous to the earliest evolved proto-brain is an enormous and highly misleading over-simplification. There is, however, more than a hint of accuracy in descriptions made using this model, so I will resort to it again here.

Deep in the brain the signals from smell are processed. One of the most stunning olfactory communication is performed between mother and child. A mother can identify her child by smell alone, at times more accurately than by sight alone. The new mother’s sense of smell is heightened after childbirth for both this purpose and to help sense potential dangers. Some new mothers find certain smells unbearable. Some mothers have called this enhanced scent the “development of wolf nose”. The innate ability to identify one’s own offspring has obvious evolutionary advantages. One can protect one’s own genetic material. One can ignore or destroy the offspring of other mothers.

The more complex the brain the more infrequent female infanticide is. Infanticide by females is not very common in any of the primates, but it has been well documented:

“A female named Passion began killing and eating several of the babies in her community. Together with her daughter Pom, over a period of many years they attacked and killed infants in their group.” --Jane Goodall in observation of a group of chimpanzees
In addition to identifying one’s offspring the core brain helps to identify those individuals that have been partnered with. Romantic love is smelly.

At this basal level we can identify identities through empathy-like use of smell, but there are other things that smell. Fear, anxiety, exertion, emotion; all these things stink. Simply by smell an individual can accurately identify the disposition of another, but empathy is much more than fragrance.

Empathy includes the captured glance and the slight droop of an eyelid. Empathy includes noticing a certain slump or the tone of a particular word. Empathy includes every meant or unavoidable activity that can be noticed. However these stimuli are useless without proper processing.

The stimuli catalogued here as part of the empathy group are mostly subtle in amplitude. The more subtle a stimulus the less cognitive response it intrinsically generates in the brain. Some subtle stimuli are connected to well developed neural pathways and generate response out of proportion to the magnitude of the stimulus, but these are the exception rather than the norm. I would like to describe the empathy stimulus group as a cloud excitation event; many ephemeral stimuli working together to form a meta-stimulus.

There are specific empathetic excitation events which can be directly observed in the brain. When stimuli inform the brain that a particular event is occurring with an observed individual then neurons in the pathway used to react or perform that event are stimulated in the brain. These neurons are called ‘mirror neurons’. The inevitable conclusion is that the feelings we get when watching someone react to an event (that feeling as if we were reacting to a similar event) is caused by neurons firing in the brain that would fire if we were actually reacting to the event ourselves. My brain is full of mirror neurons, and I always tear up watching sappy movies.

The cloud meta-stimulus excites many patterns in the brain at once. All of these patterns are private information created by connecting and prioritizing previous stimuli. The empath then re-feels their own shuffled experiences rather than feeling what the person feels. This creates room for some inaccuracies in the empathy event. This allows the creation of emotionally sensitive fantasy, but it also creates room for some potential miscommunication. An abused person will see many stimuli as one of many potential manifestations of danger. A nurtured identity might see more compassion in the same stimulus set. One does not have to walk around the block too many times to know people whose innate empathetic sensitivity play them for fools and victims more often than they should.

It is the processing of this cloud meta-stimulus that makes empathy a remarkably human characteristic. In the non-verbally communicating animals it is difficult to distinguish between empathy and other types of reaction. Some primates who are shown another individual being shocked when they pull a lever for food will avoid pulling the lever. Is the monkey feeling into the pain of the other monkey or are they reacting to a specifically communicated cue to avoid painful stimulus experienced by any member of the pack. What difference does it make?

In human empathy we know that a particular directive has not been communicated. We know that the information being understood is the result of shared experiences. When I reach out and touch someone’s face and they look into my eyes rather that at my hand I know the clues they are looking for; they are the same clues I look for in their eyes.

Of course I miss many points about empathy that are exceedingly useful. There is cultural empathy where one searches through obvious communications in order to develop a sense of commonality. Cultural empathy is probably what FOX news was attacking; to mention that at the onset, and then only talk about something mostly unrelated, is what I call “It’s my blog”. To stop this entry before at least detailing a handful of these empathy-related topics is what I like to call: “this entry is too long already”.