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