Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Doubleplus Goodthink

Thanks JavaJunkie

Monday, September 13, 2010

Little Titi's Birthday Parties

One thousand nine hundred and forty six years ago today, on the 13th of September 64, Marcia Furnilla gave birth to Flavia Julia Titi (aka Jullia Flavia or “little Titi”). Maria’s marriage to Titi’s father was short and her displeasing Nero when Titi was still an infant would finally end it in 65.

Titi would be her father’s favorite little girl. For her sixth birthday (September 13th 70) her father sacked Jerusalem and destroyed “the second temple”. In addition to the estimated 1 million dead Titus captured a purported 97,000 many of whom were no doubt taken to Rome to be marched through the streets in Titi’s father’s triumphant victory parade. I can relate to a father that just wants everything for his little girl.

But Titi’s father Titus found more than bodies and slaves in Jerusalem. The 30 year old Roman officer discovered love. Forty-one year old Julia Berenice was no stranger to love. Her string of marriages and affairs set the Jewish world’s gossip lines ablaze. Titus could not resist her. From that moment on they lived for each other. Neither would marry again.

Amid constant pressure for taking JB as his Jewish mistress Titus was separated from her at various times. When he took the throne as emperor of Rome in 79 he had to send her back to Judea. Legend has it that he planned on sending for her when the racist furor over her presence in Rome had died down, but he never got the chance.

While celebrating little Titi’s seventeenth birthday, on the 13th of September 81, Titus died.

According to the Babylonian Talmud an insect had flown up Titus’s nose and ate his brain.

After he died he was turned into a god.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Et tu Czolgosz?

Happy labor day. One hundred and nine years ago on this day, September 6th 1901, Leon Frank Czolgosz entered the Pan-American exposition in Buffalo New York, walked up to president William McKinley who was greeting the public near the temple of music, and fatally shot him.

The low power .32 caliber (8mm) round from the Iver and Johnson Safety Automatic revolver passed through McKinley’s very large abdomen and lodged in the muscles of his back.

The path of the round punctured his stomach, pancreas and kidney; forming a mortal wound that could not have been repaired with the best medical capabilities of the time. McKinley would not receive the best turn-of-the-century medical treatment. The doctors refused to use an X-ray machine because they feared "unknown side effects". The surgery where he was treated had no electric lighting, and even the candles were put out after they anesthetized McKinley with explosively flammable petroleum Ether. McKinley would suffer tremendous pain for the eight days he spent succumbing to his wounds.

Iver and Johnson was a small bicycle and arms manufacturer that eventually sold off the last of its holdings in 1993. They were best known for producing cheap revolvers (aka Saturday night specials). They would have the dubious honor of also being the manufacturer of the .22 caliber Cadet 55-A revolver that Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert Kennedy with on the 5th of June 1968.

When McKinley felt the bullet ripping his innards to shreds he turned to his personal secretary (George Cortelyou, who was standing beside him) and whispered:” My wife, Cortelyou, be careful how you tell her, oh be careful”. In a little over a year and a half Cortelyou would become the first United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor.

A crowd subdued and began severely beating Leon. McKinley, upon seeing this, cried out: “Boys! Don't let them hurt him”. Leon’s beating was so severe that it was thought he would die from his wounds. He survived, however, and was executed on the 29th of October 1901. As Leon was strapped into Auburn State prison’s electric chair he proclaimed: "I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people – the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime”.

Leon liked to think of himself as an anarchist who was personally inspired by the legendary and attractive Emma Goldman. Their meeting was a brief one, but it did occur during the period of her life when Alexander Berkman (Emma’s lifelong friend and lover) was in jail for the attempted murder of Henry Clay Frick (the boss who’s labor practices resulted in the homestead strike of 1892). Despite the briefness of their encounter (really just a cab-ride) Emma wrote a post-assasination article entitled “The Tragedy at Buffalo” where she compared Leon to Caesar’s Brutus.

Most anarchists, aside from the lovesick Emma, thought Leon was a creepy man. Various groups posted bulletins warning about Leon; they believed him to be a spy.

After removing Leon’s brain the state of New York filled his coffin with sulfuric acid, and burned all his clothing and letters.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Magnetic Belief

In an earlier essay I perverted the famous Douglas Adams quote: “Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” into: “isn’t it enough to imagine fairies at the bottom of a garden without having to believe it’s true”. The point I was trying to make is that by constraining imagination with belief we either: 1) limit imagination, or 2) believe stupid things.

It has been pointed out to me that: “belief is a powerful force, and to constrain it by limiting belief to plausible things is to limit oneself”. Now… I really did try and craft that paraphrasing sentence with the intent to capture the essence of what has been said to me. As I re-read it I cannot help but realize that I captured less sense than should be used to fill out a sentence. Unfortunately, it is difficult to glean enough extra sense from the statements to fill out the space enclosed in the quotation marks. So, let me disassemble the “quote” to find the lacking sense.

“Belief is a powerful force”. Like what…magnets or something? Is there a unit of measure for belief; how about “the Ted Haggard (abbreviated TH)”. How strong is a TH? How many kiloTH are needed to bend a spoon?

I may wax ridiculous, but there is a point. In order to be powerful something has to have more power than something that is week. This allows some relative scale for comparison. A force is something that acts on something else, so the action is observable. An observable and quantifiable action can be related to other forces. So it is accurate to say that a certain number of Ted Haggards represents X number of joules (a measure of force), and we know that X Joules –if properly applied- can bend a spoon.

I could say that they meant “force” metaphorically; so I will. However, I know that they did NOT mean it metaphorically, but where do you go with the mystical magic force that doesn’t do anything and is very powerful at the same time?

A metaphorical force is often one who’s existence is postulated by an action. If, for instance, a huge number of people with signs that had pictures of a US president surrounded by swastikas on them descended on the DC mall to see a former Alaskan governor speak then one might metaphorically say that their action was the result of a force. Let’s call the swastika bearing sign coagulation causing force a “Sarah Palin (abbreviated SP)”.

We know that the literal forces that brought the swastika folks to DC were acting via planes, trains, or automobiles. We know the literal forces that kept them together were forces with names like “friction, or “gravity”. We know, or can approximate, the litany of literal forces needed to create the mini brown-shirt teabagger meeting on the mall. What imaginable activity could the metaphorical Sarah Palin perform? This is, of course, a rhetorical question. The SP is a “motivational force”.

Motivation is a steering activity. Being motivated does not create any actual potential for activity. Motivation merely directs the realization of existing potential. In the case of the teabagger protests the motivated individuals would have had the potential to congregate with swastika signs, but they would have been doing something else instead. Perhaps they would have been yelling at televised footage of American Idol judges?

So if belief is a motivational force like the Sarah Palin it is observed through directed realization of existing potential. If we direct our potential on the basis of implausible, or irrational, information I do not believe we are being prudent with our potentials. Of course one could reasonably suggest that dancing is imprudent, and I like dancing. There are worse things one can do than dance. People can be motivated to perform actions that are contrary to their own well being. History easily yields up examples of people being motivated to perform hideously inhumane activities.

Motivation provides direction; lacking a scalar component it cannot define a vector of force. It is, however, the direction that we apply ourselves in that defines the cultural part of our humanity. If we squander our humanity by abandoning the practice of deciding our best heading then we abandon so much of what is best about ourselves. Unfettered belief too often leads to delusion. The Sarah Palin can easily be used to measure delusion.