Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Brand new reality

Forty two years ago today, on June 30th 1968, Pope Paul IV would proclaim the “Credo of the people of God”. It contains a bunch of good stuff, like the re-affirmation of Mary’s virginity on the Christ child’s conception (and birth), but I found the following element of particular interest:

Christ cannot be thus present in this sacrament except by the change into His body of the reality itself of the bread and the change into His blood of the reality itself of the wine, leaving unchanged only the properties of the bread and wine which our senses perceive. This mysterious change is very appropriately called by the Church transubstantiation. Every theological explanation which seeks some understanding of this mystery must, in order to be in accord with Catholic faith, maintain that in the reality itself, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the Consecration, so that it is the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus that from then on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine, as the Lord willed it, in order to give Himself to us as food and to associate us with the unity of His Mystical Body.

I think this is saying that the bread consecrated by a priest for mass may:

   1) “Look like bread”
   2) “feel like bread”
   3) “ Smell like bread”
   4) “Taste like bread”
   5) Even “sound like bread” when broken

But that it is, in “reality", the body of Christ. This is interesting because it uses a definition for the term “realty” that I am not too familiar with. The statement goes further in that something is real just because someone says it is so. That the effect of the properties of this reality upon other entities are equally unobservable. There is an entire nature that interacts, presumably through understandable laws since they exist through an understanding of them, and co-exists with what is observable.

This is so cool on so many different levels.

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away"Philip K. Dick

Monday, June 28, 2010

Iron Man

As soon as the sun arrived in the samll town of Glenrowan in Victoria Australia, on June 28th 1880, it was obvious to Ned Kelly that things were not going well. The previous days plan included the derailing of train full of constables; the presence of the constables surrounding Ned, his gang, and their seventy-or-so hostages in the Glenrowan Inn was proof that the derailment did not go so well. The problem was a milk-sop of a schoolmaster named Tom Curnow who had successfully pleaded with Ned to let him go. Tom had run straight up to the railroad and flagged down the train before it could hit the section of track the Kelly gang had pulled up. Ned would never be so soft on a hostage again.

In 1970 Ned Kelly was played by none other than Mick Jagger in a movie titled “Ned Kelly”. Just a few years before his death, Heath Ledger (of Joker fame) played Kelly in another film about his life titled “Ned Kelly”. No more imagination as is shown in titling movies about his life is needed to script one. Once, after turning himself in for drunkenness, a constable named Lonigan decided to inflict discomfort on Ned by grabbing his testicles and twisting them (so called black balling). Ned is quoted as telling constable Lonigan, through gritted teeth: "If I ever shoot a man, Lonigan, it'll be you!". He eventually did shoot constable Lonigan. Peter Phelps would have grabbed Heath Ledger; Liam Reynolds would have had the distinction of grabbing Mick Jagger.

Ned’s gang had garnered fame by burning mortgage deeds while robbing banks. He was sometimes likened to Robin of Locksley for this mischief. His most awesome activity would be conducted shortly after dawn on June 28th 1880. It was on this day that he earned an unimpeachable spot in the international league of awesomeness.

Ned and his gang had commissioned suits of solid iron bullet-proof plate armor to be made for them. On this day, in 1880, they would get to try them out. It would actually have been better if they had tried them out sometime before they were being shot at, but schedules are always tight and testing is often not given the priority it should have. Although bullet-proof, Ned found out that he could not aim and fire his weapon. The suit also forced him to walk like a zombie. Undaunted Ned covered the suit (which was kind-of like a large sewer-pipe with arm-holes cut out of it) with a large coat (It was mid-winter in Australia, where this took place) and left the Inn to advance on the constables that surrounded it. The armor still displays two bullet dents which were delivered with deadly accuracy. Ned continued to advance and at least one constable ran away from the unkillable zombie in terror. Unlike zombies, Ned’s week spot was his legs (It’s the head for zombies) as they were not covered by armor. He fell over after being shot in the legs a couple of times; later he was tried and hung.

One of his gang members had armor that lacked coverage for his groin. This may have allowed him to move easier, but we will not know, as he was just standing at the Glenrowan Inn bar having a crack of dawn whiskey when a shot to the groin severed his femoral artery and he subsequently bled to death.

It seems to me there should be a moral in this story someplace…perhaps
“Don’t grab a crazy person’s testicles”
Or
“Always make sure your PPE has been credibly tested before relying on it”
Or
“Make sure your groin is properly covered if you are going to drink whiskey before 10AM”


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Nauvoo to Carthage by horse

One hundred and sixty six years ago today, on June 27th 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob in Carthage IL. Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, known as The Mormons to many. The mob that killed him had blackened their faces and, although five were tried, no one was convicted of the killing.

The mob most likely contained William Law and Robert Foster who had been generals in the private militia (The Nauvoo legion) that Smith had created to enforce his theocratic law within Nauvoo. They complained that Smith had proposed marrying their wives and Smith had them excommunicated on April 18th 1844. On June 7th Smith used his Nauvoo legion to destroy the printing presses of the Nauvoo Expositor because it had published stories calling him a polygamist, a charge Smith denied often. Riots ensued and Smith declared martial law and enforced it with his Nauvoo legion. The governor of IL mobilized the national guard in nearby Carthage and threatened to send an even larger force if Smith and his brother refused to surrender themselves. Smith originally thought he was being held for inciting a riot, but when he discovered that running a shadow theocratic government and raising a private army against the United States of America earned him a charge of treason he panicked. He had a gun smuggled in to his jail cell and sent orders to the Nauvoo Legion to attack Carthage and free him by force. Fearing that Smith would be freed a mob of former Mormons attacked Carthage. Smith fired upon them and jumped out the window, pistol in hand, into a crowd waiting bellow; apparently in an ill-conceived attempt at escape. Joseph Smith was then shot to death. Hyrum Smith was shot dead with a bullet to the head. John Taylor and Willard Richards were also in the jail cell with the Smith brothers, both lived, Richards was uninjured.

The specifics of this event makes Joseph Smith an awkward Martyr at best. Although an unjust killing by any moral measure Smith enjoyed much more justice than most on the pre-civil war American frontier. Still, there are many who consider this one of the great martyrdoms in American History.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lottery Results

Sixty two years ago today, June 26th 1948, the New Yorker magazine published a short story written by Shirley Jackson titled “The Lottery”. You have probably read the story as it is a fixture in secondary school English literature curricula. The story describes the ritual stoning to death for perceived spiritual benefits a randomly chosen individual in a bucolic American small town. The individual is a mother, a neighbor, a wife, and a person just like the stone throwers. The stoning is both inconceivable and all too believable. At a time when the horrors of the Holocaust were fresh and raw a 32 year old writer from San Francisco would illuminate a particularly banal brutality in her fiction.

The story was generally met with distaste. The Union of South Africa banned the story (She “was always proud that the Union of South Africa banned 'The Lottery,' and she felt that they at least understood the story" – Stanley Hyman about his wife Shirley Jackson). She received many letters that she was afraid to open. A large number of them “wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch” (Shirley Jackson).




Friday, June 25, 2010

Get a haircut

Priests must not shave their heads Leviticus 21:5

Twenty eight years ago today, on June 25th 1982, the nation of Greece began allowing new recruits in its armed services to retain up to 4cm of hair. Prior to this date it shaved the recruit’s heads “en hro” (shaved to the bone).

About a year and a half later Apple launched the Macintosh computer using an advertisement that would become iconic. Featuring hordes of grey-clad workers with shaven heads the ad was broadcast on new-year’s eve 1983. The tagline went something like: “why 1984 won’t be like 1984”. This is a bald reference to the book titled “1984” written by Eric Arthur Blair.

One hundred and seven years ago today, June 25th 1903, Eric Arthur Blair (aka George Orwell) was born in Motihari India. Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948 and simply reversed the last two digits of the year to arrive at his title. 1948 was impossibly far into the future for a 45 year old writer from the hinterlands of the British Empire. Orwell would publish 1984 in 1949 and die shortly after; less than a month into 1950.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

BP oilspil livecam

Trying this out to see if it works


Jersey Joy

Three hundred and forty six years ago today, on June 24th 1664, New Jersey became a colony. Today almost nine million people live in the garden state. Oh joy.


Judy Garland Somewhere Over The Rainbow - The top video clips of the week are here

Angels watching over Bob

This father’s day a friend spent some time talking to me about the graceless interplay of deception, disappointment, and responsibility that being a father and husband can be. He had actually been talking to me over the course of several weeks, but the conversation on Father’s day convinced me I should write it down. What follows is an amalgam of the various conversations. I make no declarations of accuracy, and I may have even made up some of it.

It was such a tale of heartbreak and disolusionment that I found myself later simply staring at AOD in gratitude and picturing intricate ice sculptures melted just beyond the point where one could discern what they originally depicted. I felt utterly impotent as a friend, as if I lacked the very appendage needed to attach the hand to, with which I should reach out to him.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau


I know that some of my readers know who the protagonist of today’s post is, and though he has stated this is “not really a secret”, I’m positive that connecting names to this tale would be in extremely bad taste. I will call my friend “Bob” because I always have pictured “Bob” as a comfortable friendly name.

Bob has read this over and is OK with my telling it.. He says it is far enough away from the truth that he found it amusing “in a sick way”. He also said it was close enough to the truth that he felt “surprised at how closely I had listened to him”. I am of two minds in posting this, and since two minds should be better than one at making decisions I trust I have made the best decision in posting this. Another issue I have with this post is that it is too damn long. Bob opened up to me, and then I rambled on in response. This post is, however, just what it is.

“So” says Bob to me last Sunday “I’m taking a good soak in the tub when my wife comes in to the bathroom and starts adjusting herself in the mirror. Not just the -I splashed some nasty stuff in my hair- adjusting either; real goin’-out hair and makeup stuff. She even took some of her favorite perfume and dabbed it on her cleavage.”

“Was she naked?” I asked. His wife (let’s call her Carol) is genuinely attractive.

“No” Said Bob “She was dressed kinda nice. Not to the tens, or nines, but definitely to the eights. I could see she was wearing some lacy underthings.”

So he had my attention.

“So I ask her” continued Bob “Where are you going? Then she says: to have ‘lunch with [I think I will call him Carl].’ Then I joked ‘Is this a date?’ and she said ‘Not really’. I mean what does she mean -not really-”

I began to feel a little uncomfortable about asking if Carol was naked.

“So I ask her” says Bob “’Can I go then?’ and she says: ‘Of course not’. ‘What do you mean of course not? What do you mean not –really- a date?’ I ask her, and she says ‘It’s just lunch and stuff’ So I ask ‘What kinda stuff’ and she says ‘stuff’. And then she’s done primpin’ and leaves and she is out of the house by the time I throw on some clothes and try and catch up with her”

“That sounds kinda weird, haven’t you guys been married forever?” I ask

“Yeah, like 11 years” says Bob “So three or four hours later she meets me and the kids at the park all smiles and says: ‘They had this Gay pride parade downtown and Carl was more interested in the men dancing around in thongs than he was me’ and she looks at me like I’m supposed to be pleased or something and all I’m thinking is: ‘So you wanted Carl to be all interested in you.’…”

It was clear that suggesting that Carol might have been naked had been a bad move on my part.

“So I act like it is just the best day with the kids ever while I try and figure out what has happened to my guts ‘cause it feels like they dropped out on the ground somewhere” Continues Bob “Later, when the kids have gone to bed I ask her ‘what is up with this?’ and she starts unloading about how I am an atheist and cannot understand her spiritual journey and she has this emptiness and starts telling me about all these other men who had something spiritual to give her that I could not”

“Yeah giving her the old-time spiritual thing” I said while regretting the words the moment I spoke them.  I must remember the proper order of things: First think - Then talk.

He looked about ready to throw up.

“So I ask her” Said Bob “’What do you want me to do? Go to church, get baptized, get circumcised, what?’ and she says ‘It’s too late Bob, I need things you cannot give me’. I mean WTF, right? What do you say to that? Eleven years; did she just use up everything I had to offer and I just never noticed I was empty? This is how people start to get divorced, right?”

“So leave her” I say “Backstabbing, two-timing, crazy bitch gets dumped. Not the most pathetic country song I could think of. She’s being abusive. Drop the hot coal and run out of the house before it catches fire”

Once I get up to speed I give the best advice ever.

Bob continued as if he did not comprehend how perfect my wise advice truly was “So I ask her about the kids, and the stuff. ‘What about the kids? What about the stuff?’ I asked her and she says ‘We can’t get divorced right now’ so I say ‘I’m NOT OK with the whole dating men till you find Mr spiritual right while I am your husband.’ And she says ‘What about the kids?’ and then I try and say something but I don’t know anymore what to say”

I thought about AOD and AYD and realized that it would be impossible for me to make plans to separate from them, even partially. What would it be like to hear them calling someone else “Dad”? I felt sick. Of course my awesome kids are older than Bob’s so they would be surely and difficult to any new “dad” figure. Bob lacked that confidence. Looking at Bob raised the question of whether he could tell the difference between confidence and resignation. I definitely felt sick.

“I had a street-preacher yell at me about god's love, and feeling loved the whole day through, and everywhere you went” continued Bob after a pregnant pause “I walked two blocks wanting more than anything to feel that love. I thought, for a moment, that I would give anything to feel it. Then I realized that if someone really felt it they would never want to stand alone on the street with a look of desperate lies on their face and yell at strangers. Just because I am willing to perform a stupid sacrifice does not make what I sacrifice for worth it. I sacrificed a lot for this marriage and I feel like coffee spilled on dry ground, and it just looks like it ain’t done takin’ from me yet.”

Bob was concerned with being erased from his own life. He was realizing again that the place he filled in other people's lives was just jotted down in pencil.

“It was not that long ago where I felt like the stable middle-aged man with two kids and stuff was my greatest asset” Bob said airily “Now the same stuff is just proof of what a loser I have been. Carol was not three years into the marriage when she found true love with her first soul-mate spiritual partner. I even thought something was up and all at the time and asked her several times: ‘Y’know, like what’s up with this?’ She said ‘nothing’. She said he was gay. ‘Can’t I have gay friends?’ she said. Well turns out he was not gay…at all.”

Bob, of course, had not been the perfect husband. He had probably left things unsaid when it was important to say everything possible. He had probably trusted when he should have doubted. He had probably left things well enough alone when he should have muddled. After eleven years of marriage a person who could not find fault with their spouse is just not paying enough attention. As far as I know, and I know Bob quite well, he was not guilty of any of the big three: spending all the families money on stupid stuff like drugs, an affair with another woman, or deciding he was gay. On paper, at least, Bob was a real fine spouse.

Of course there is a rub. What is on paper only captures so much.

“Years of lie” said Bob, becoming a little maudlin while saying it “My life is like something out of a Philip K Dick story. The protagonist gets exonerated from his crime and is to be released from virtual reality prison. They pull the plug on him and when he ‘wakes up’ to the real world he sees that it sucks. He starts contemplating actually doing the crime he was framed for just to get out of the real world. Here I am relating with the whole plot of a story who's title I can't remember. Reality sucks! ”

Bob detailed what he had learned from Carol’s revelations. It was obvious from the list that none of the guys whose names I recognized were spiritual giants. Those that I knew appeared to care more about themselves than any philosophy. Bob had also noted this. One of the guys he knew to be an atheist “He lent me Sam Harris’s first book just after it came out!” said Bob.

It is no surprise that Carol would use the spiritual journey lie to justify her thoughts about Bob. So much that is the meat of spiritual rhetoric is finely crafted mistruth. Lies become useful when there is lying to be done. When doing anything it is advantageous to use the most expertly sharpened tools available. Unfortunately the choice of tool often guides the type of work that needs to be done. If you use a hammer to screw in a light bulb you will find the task at hand to be more accurately called cleaning up broken glass.

What I mean is that, by choosing the spiritual journey lies for justification, Carol’s task becomes “leaving Bob” not “working things out”. Instead of simply (and I know these things are not simple) “communicating better” or “developing a loving, caring, nurturing environment” he must create a pantheon of magical beings, and the supernatural laws that govern them. Worse, since Carol is on a spiritual journey, he must create the magical world of the moment, and update it when needed.

Carol is deluded, not dumb. Even if Bob was able to hit upon a guru or theology that could stabilize the spiritual split there would never be a time when Carol could not look into his eyes and know that he was lying. There is no way to create this bridge at this stage of their marriage unless Carol is willing to give up on some of her deluded notions. It is impossible to ever get to the real issues if the spiritual problems must be solved first. But at what point could Bob look into Carol’s eyes and not know she was lying about her re-prioritization. Actually Bob is kinda gullible, so the whole deceiving Bob thing might not be that much of an issue.

I was talking with Bob, but Carol surely had a viewpoint that most likely was different from Bob’s. I would not be speaking to Carol about this anytime soon. When I picture a likely conversation with Carol the topic always tended towards intense spiritual principals and how I might be able to help her get wrapped around them.

Bob spoke of many things. He suggested joining a Buddhist monastery so he could get in touch with universal love. He suggested medications because “if he was not depressed about this something was seriously wrong with him”.

He discussed what types of surgery would be useful: “Lobotomy? Colonectomy? ‘something’s missing in there, and I keep having diarrhea.’”

“What I really want” said Bob “Is Pinocchio’s blue angel to climb into bed with me at night, and put her arms around me. I want to feel the warmth of her skin through the diaphanous blue angel cloth. I want to feel her heart beating against the pulse of my fingers. I want her to whisper in my ear ‘you are a real boy’.”

Who, in a situation like this, would not want invisible magic enablers. Co-dependency is best practiced by those who have nothing to lose themselves. Who better than angels? Many angels are simultaneously incredibly powerful magical entities, utterly imaginary, and already dead; they have so little to lose.

Of course it is the whole “being a real person” thing that is the problem for Bob. I’m sure that if he could convince himself that stepping off the reality merry-go-round was a good idea then he would. If he could come up with a good plan for stepping off then I’m sure a bunch of us would go with him if we could.

Bob is not going to abandon the life he has created, not tomorrow at least. His kids will have a father, even if he will be a somewhat diminished father. The mortgage company will get paid on time.

Tomorrow Bob will wake up and deal with something in his life. Perhaps he will try something to solidify his stools; maybe something to solidify his resolve. Perhaps he will try and ignore something too painful to be aware of; maybe he will try and fix something he has neglected. Bob will get up tomorrow and do something to change his life, and probably go to sleep thinking that what he did was insignificant.

“Blue fairy Bob” I said “Pinocchio had a blue fairy, not a blue angel. The blue angels are fighter pilots who do aerial acrobatics in jets.”

“Whatever” said Bob

“Whatever” is Bob’s current plan for life. I could not really think of a better one.

I know we all wish Bob finds a whole crayon box of angels. I hope none of them has magical powers and that they are incapable of disappearing into a cloud of fairy sparkles. I hope that someday, real soon, Bob feels like the world is dripping with love and that he is a part of it; because he is.



Tuesday, June 22, 2010

ALF

Death fear is apparently a really big motivator. There is the fear of death, which can be accompanied by fear of dismemberment and pain, that certainly motivates many of my actions; like, for instance, not answering text messages while driving. Fear of the after-life is apparently also a big motivator. I have had long circular conversations about after-life fear (ALF) and I remain thoroughly unenlightened by them. Because ALF is such a powerful motivator, and motivation is such a powerful tool in life, I have retained hope that ALF could be adapted for rational use. Sadly I have not devised an acceptable way of rationally adapting ALF principals for use in an examined life.


Two decades ago I had a good friend, who eventually would share an apartment with me for a year or so, who was obsessed with ALF. Unlike his fear of cockroaches (which accounted for my rather large collection of rubber cockroaches) he viewed ALF as a very positive thing. ALF prevented him from murdering people in their sleep. While sharing an apartment with him I thought that ALF, in as much as he continued to believe in it, was a good thing.


To be absolutely truthful; I did not lie awake at night, after hearing a noise in the hall, wondering if he had lost his belief in heaven or if he just needed to pee. His understanding of his potential murderous rampages was hypothetical at best. He had never stopped believing in heaven and killed anything as a result. I don’t think he had ever, in fact, killed anything ever (there might have been a misadventure with a bird when he was pubescent, but that was more accident than murder).


We often stayed up late at night discussing ALF topics. This was for me as much due to espresso as philosophical interest; for him ALF was a central philosophical axiom. His basic world view reduced to one where god meddled unconvincingly in the world and then got you after you died. Coffee after coffee would be sacrificed to the unsatisfying logical circle where morality depended on an afterlife and examining ALF would lead to immorality. I do not know how my atheism affected his sleep. Did he lay awake after our conversations wondering if it was the caffeine levels in his blood or the noises that kept him from sleep? Were the footsteps motivated by other aftereffects of late night coffee; was I headed to the bathroom to pee or to the kitchen for a knife?


I would not wish for you, my loyal readers, to think that all conversations with this philosopher centered on ALF. There were women to be loved, and broken hearts to be mended; we may have repeatedly devised plans which would finally result in world peace, or world domination. We, being east coasters both, could complain about the lack of seasons; or having lived in SoCal long enough we could complain about how many fractions of a degree from perfect the weather was that day. Many of our agreements were only partial (For instance he thought lesbians were evil and I only thought it unfortunate that anything would increase the number of valid reasons why women would find me unattractive) but of little actionable importance (there were no clear paths for either of us to become a lesbian). We were, in short, friends. He did not trend towards talking to me of ALF in hopes of converting a stranger so his soul quota would be filled; he trended towards ALF in his conversations because he used ALF to shape his worldview.


He was obsessive when he spoke about ALF. He was obsessive in many things. He was both obsessive and competitive. When he discovered solitaire on the 80386 machine I cobbled together out of spare discarded parts, he played it for high score bragging rights. I was using the machine to write my thesis so I initially could not compete and he was insufferable. As I banged out intricate descriptions of microbiological experiments in oil degradation on the keyboard he would actually give me play-by-play accounts of his high-score solitaire games. It appeared at times as if he was trying to push my immoral lack of faith in ALF to the limits of murder-free interaction.


To his detriment I discovered a programming trick that would allow me to alter the CPU clock function captured by the solitaire program, and increase the time-dependant scores I could receive from the game. I, of course, did not tell him about what I had discovered. By fine-tuning the number of loops in my trivial program I could fine-tune my solitaire score with a resolution of about ten points. Instead of quietly listening to him gloat about his winnings I would simply beat his score by ten points. This would throw him into a frenzy of obsessive competition. He would play and play and play till he beat my score. I would then quickly beat his score by about ten points. At first this cycle would take hours, eventually he would sit; unbathed, wolfing down junk food, furiously clicking the mouse, for days on end. I can’t remember the last time I played computer solitaire.


Reading the above paragraph leads me to begin thinking that the solitaire incidents were rather evil, perhaps if I had ALF I would not have done what I did then, heh-heh-heh (evil laughter).


ALF was just the tip of the philosophical iceberg that blocked my friend’s ability to examine his life. There were many things he was afraid of and he was actively engaged in the pursuit of self-discovery that would bring him closer to the life he wanted to be living. When he moved out (my new wife thought he was a total slob, and he was) I lost track of him. He saved money for several years by not having a phone or fixed address. Every few months I would google him, and sometimes his name would show up on a webpage devoted to a musical event (he was a musician, which explained a lot).


Not long ago I googled him and came up with information that nailed down exactly where he was. It was his obituary. He died May 4th 2010 after a valiant battle with lung cancer. It is morbidly ironic that I can still picture him smoking like a forest fire while pontificating on the value of ALF.


If I suffered from ALF I could attempt condolence by suggesting he is in a better place. I should, perhaps, defer judgment on ALF by the use of flaccid statements like: “if there is an afterlife I know he is in a good place”. Dishonesty has never been one of my strong suits.


I am glad to have known him. I am reminded of his struggles for identity when I feel overwhelmed. I regret not having caught him before he died to let him know that there was one more friend that thought about him and smiled. I do not think he is in some exalted afterlife looking down on me from on high.

He now knows if there is a marvelous afterlife.  If there is an afterlife I would be completely open, though surprised and maybe scared, to his performing some magic that would convince me of its existance.  I would even let him have the final high score in solitaire


Monday, June 21, 2010

Solstice

Today marks the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere (it is the Winter solstice in the southern hemisphere, but I am not there). The tilt of the earth’s axis at 11:28 AM points the north pole the closest to the sun it will get during the year.

Tonight pagans and excitable miscreants will dance naked under the sky. It should be warm. The moon will be in its last quarter, so take a torch for safety’s sake.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Watergate

Thirty eight years ago today, on the evening of June 17th 1972, a security guard named Frank Wills called the police to report a break-in in the Watergate apartment complex where he worked. Five men: Virgilio González, Bernard Barker, James W. McCord, Jr., Eugenio Martínez, and Frank Sturgis were arrested On August 9th 1974 president Richard M. Nixon would resign as a direct result of Mr. Wills' call.

I have spoken with many people who belove this was an unimportant piece of American history. I have been told that “The only thing they did wrong was to get caught”. George Gordon Liddy who was convicted as part of the Watergate scandal hosts a moderately popular radio program.

What kind of state do these revisionist historians want America to have?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fairies Wear Boots

A couple of weeks ago I was in San Diego. The days were filled with energy and consideration; the nights were vulnerable to my incorrigment. I count myself amongst a lucky few to have discovered, one particular evening, with the sun just settling into the Pacific, that I was standing in the sand beside a shallow square concrete pit and a tall stack of wooden pallets.

We moved the pallets to the pit which was strangely of a size to easily accommodate a standard pallet. A propane torch was produced, and quickly the pallets were burning intensely. A box of Starbucks coffee appeared, and soon everyone was lounging, cup in hand, staring at the pillar of fire.

It was only a couple of weeks after Beltane (May 1st) and the bonfire illuminated bodies lying in the sand suggested a pagan ritual of delightful proportions. It is common, at Beltane, for women wishing fertility to leap through flames. These flames were so high, and the heat so intense, that I thought jumpers would be less likely to be fertile (or even whole) should they take the leap there.

Most Beltane celebrations utilize fire, the good ones involve dancing, and some really cool ones combine this with nakedness. May 1st is a great time to be out in the northern hemisphere. There is enough of a chill in most places that improperly clothed bodies could find a radius to a large enough fire which would both bake and chill them at the same time.

As an atheist I should shun fond mention of pagan ritual and take umbrage at the thought of magic rituals conveying benefit. There may be an atheist orthodoxy which I have yet to meet who might take this stance. Most pagans I have met have reduced the concepts to which they adhere into a naturalistic set of “principles” not unlike “rules of thumb” that a biologist might use while sketching out an understanding of a complex system. The concept of belief for most pagans, that I know, requires increasing amounts of proof as the belief's influences intersect on actionable reality. The wiccans, unlike most science geekfests, also throw great parties.

I love the idea of imagining impossible things. Imagination is a wonderful nutrient that cultivates delight. There is no need to hinder or reign in imagination because I am an atheist. All I have done is limited those imagined elements that I allow to become calcified into belief.

"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?" --- Douglas Adams

The garden is no less lovely by not believing in the fairies I could imagine at the bottom of it. If I tire of fairies I can imagine that the statues come alive at certain phases of the moon, and then imagine what they would say. I can imagine the ground I step on is the back of a giant sleeping beast, that aliens observe my every move, that a palpable love permeates all existence and warms me like a bonfire on a slightly chilly spring night. Because I imagine these things I can know all there is to know about them. I can feel my imagined embellishments as well as I can know anything since I use much of the same apparatus for both the imagined feeling and the conscious knowing.

When I stop imagining and insist on believing I risk being crazy, or worse, losing the grand malleability of my imagination. I cannot spend too long in a garden if I insist on believing there are fairies in it. I cannot spend too long in my imagination if I insist on believing that reality springs from it.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Making Waves

One hundred and fourteen years ago today a minor tremor just off the east coast of Japan, at 732 pm June 15th 1896, was barely felt by the people who lived on the seacoast. The fishing boats from the Iwate and Miyagi prefectures were mostly offshore trying for an evening catch. They did not notice anything unusual.

When the boats returned they found a floating mass of debris where their villages had been. A 125 foot high tsunami had come ashore washing away over nine thousand homes and twenty-two thousand lives.

At 233 AM on March 2nd 1933 another earthquake in almost the same location triggered another Tsunami which destroyed seven thousand homes and ended several thousand more lives. After the 1933 event measures to reduce the toll of such events were undertaken.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mechanical Brain

One hundred eighty eight years ago today, June 14th 1822, Charles Babbage proposed a “difference engine" in a paper to the Royal Astronomical Society. The paper was entitled "Note on the application of machinery to the computation of astronomical and mathematical tables". The machine was to be powered by a hand crank and its design ushered in the age of information.

Difference engines (J. H. Mueller 1786) and the Step Reckoner (Wilhelm Leibniz 1672) had been proposed as mechanical logic engines many years before. Babbage's proposal was met with some enthusiasm and even though funding shriveled up before the machine was built the concept of the machine's operation created new ways of imagining the world.



Saturday, June 12, 2010

Diary

Eighty one years ago today, June 12th 1929, Anne Frank is born in Frankfurt. Thirteen years later, on June 12th 1942, Anne would be given a blank diary for her thirteenth birthday. Before her sixteenth birthday Anne would die in Bergen-Belsen. The words she would fill that diary with would serve as a window through which later generations could come to believe that people, not just unfathomable statistics, were slaughtered in the systematic tragedy known as “The Holocaust”.

“I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met” -- Anne Frank

A couple of weeks after Anne died the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated by British troops. All told somewhat more than ten million personalities were snuffed out in the Holocaust. People were killed for having Jewish parents, for having Black parents, for having Gypsy parents, for being communist, or homosexual, for being many things. Those that were killed were just as human as those that did the killing and we look at The Holocaust in horror that humanity can be so utterly absent from a human experience. Anne’s diary speaks to us and says “we were people”. Anne’s death speaks to us and asks “how could people do this to us?”.

It is common for people to blame The Holocaust on atheists. Not only do I refuse to take on that guilt I point to the following quote by Adolf Hitler:
“My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. .. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison”

I do not mean to imply that all of Hitler’s motivations were Christian only that he was as much against atheism as he was against many ideas. It does not serve us to vilify a particular philosophy to rid humanities history of the Holocaust stain.

What scares me, more than anything else, is the thought that thousands of people got up and went to work on The Holocaust every day. Can be a banal evil that could saturate a modern life? Could it be that there may not be a line that thinking people cannot cross? Could it be that mankind would not create a hell on earth to mimic the one he imagines exists after death.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Trojans

Three thousand one hundred and ninety four years ago today, June 11th 1184 BC, Troy fell to the Greeks and was burned. All the Tojans (except some women and Children who would make good slaves) were killed.

The temples were then defiled and THIS angered the gods. And the gods should have been angry, after all they did for the Greeks. For instance, the Greeks contrive this feeble plan to make a big horse statue and fill it with 30 men. The Trojans see right through the ruse. Lacoon says "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" (I fear Greeks even those bearing gifts) so Poseidon sends some sea serpents to strangle him. Lacoon’s sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus are also killed to prevent word getting out. When King Priam’s daughter Cassandra warns that the horse is a very bad thing the gods see to it that she too is ignored. So the gods make a silk purse from a sow’s ear and the ungrateful Greeks put their foot in it. The Greeks are sent wandering by the gods on various tangents, Aeneas gets lost and founds Rome.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Spaghetti Western

Eight hundred and twenty years ago today, June 10th 1190, Fredrick I “Barbarossa” slipped while bathing in the Goksu river. He was carried away by the current and drowned. Centuries later Willie Nelson would play a character named Barbarossa in a low-budget western using a script that neglected to even mention the Holy Roman Emperor of the same name.

In the 1982 movie named after the Holly roman emperor, Luis Contreras (Playing a character called “Angel” and who would later play a character named "Jesus" in the 1983 movie “Walking the Edge”) is buried by Willie Nelson up to his neck and surrounded by the severed heads of several of his victims. One could relate this scene to the converse situation that the crusaders camped by the river Goksu on June 10th 1190 found themselves in upon the untimely drowning of their “head” person. The Crusaders were attacked from all sides by Turkish armies. The headless body of Barbarossa’s army was slaughtered, only 5,000 or so escaping to crusade another day.

Eventually the Willie Nelson Barbarossa is killed after being stabbed in the gut by a sharpened crucifix.






Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Love will tear us appart

One thousand nine hundred and fifty seven years ago, on June 9th 53, Emperor Nero of Rome would marry Claudia Octavia. Nine years later, on June 9th 62, Nero would have Claudia executed. Six years after Claudia’s death, on June 9th 68, Nero himself would commit suicide.

For people whom history records as being so very cavalier about murder, the means of Claudia’s was afforded significant attention. She was bound, then “her veins were opened”, then she was suffocated in “an exceedingly hot vapor bath, and finally she was beheaded.

Not to be outdone by his own handiwork Nero reportedly delivered at least four memorable sets of last words. First he quoted Virgil’s Aeneid saying: “"Is it so dreadful a thing then to die?". Later, having not died, he quoted Homer’s Iliad saying: “Hark, now strikes on my ear the trampling of swift-footed coursers!". He purportedly said, over and over, “What an artist dies in me”. Then, after a move that should have silenced him (cutting open his own throat), Epaphroditos attempted to staunch the bleeding which gave Nero the ability to utter the words: “Too late! This is fidelity!", before finally dying.



Monday, June 7, 2010

Better late than never

Nine hundred and eleven years ago today, June 7th 1099, knights of the first crusade laid siege to the walls of Jerusalem. The motivation was to liberate Jerusalem after 461 years of Muslim control; better late than never they must have thought.

Once again many score individuals were sent hastily off to examine the truth to the afterlife theories. They remain silent as to whose side sported the correct theology.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

I guess that I just don't know

Eight hundred and seventy years ago, on June 3rd 1140, Peter Abelard, "the keenest thinker and boldest theologian of the 12th Century" was found guilty of heresy. Neither the specifics of his heresy or the vast bulk of his work have caused timeless interest. His love for Heloise, however, overshadows the rest of his life.

If not for the young, fiercely intelligent, and purportedly comely student of his; Peter would just be another annoying monk. Heloise gave birth to a son, the product of their affair, and named him Astrolabe. The Astrolabe is an instrument used to determine the position of the sun, moon, planets, and stars. Abelard was castrated to end his affair with Heloise.

Peter Abelard’s last words were “I don’t know

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Vandalism

One thousand five hundred and fifty-five years ago today, June 2nd 455, the Vandals invaded Rome, which they would sack for two weeks before leaving. These two weeks would give rise to both the term “vandalism” and to an entrenching of dislike between the Arian and Trinitarian theological disciplines. Thousands of illiterate subjects would realize any potential truth in the concept of an afterlife to support ideas they would never be conversant in. To this day those who died in the Vandal’s sack of Rome remain silent on which Christian theology was correct.

To the vast majority of those impacted by this sack the motivations were tribal and economic.

The sack of Rome by the Vandals helped make the dark ages a little less bright.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Let your Freak Flag Fly

Three hundred and fifty years ago today, on June 1st 1660, Mary Dyer was hanged for violating theocratic law in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Far from establishing a free colony where individuals could practice their own flavors of faith the original settlers often sought freedom to persecute others for believing differently from them. Dyer sought to teach people to read the bible for themselves and establish a personal connection with god. She was branded a Quaker and sentenced to death. One anonymous juror was infamously quoted as saying: "She did hang as a flag for others to take example by."

Ironically her neighbor’s exercising of their religious freedom aided her in discerning the possible truth of an afterlife long before they could. To this day she is remains silent.

If you are an atheist you know that religious freedom is all too often the freedom to declare hate speech protected, the freedom to force others to pray, the freedom to subsidize proselytization efforts with public money. Historically it was the freedom to put people, like Mary Dyer, to death.