I have a dream too

Something funky with WordPress today, no paragraph breaks.

dream

noun, often attributive \ˈdrēm\

Definition of DREAM

1: a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep — compare rem sleep
2: an experience of waking life having the characteristics of a dream: as

 a : a visionary creation of the imagination : daydream
 b : a state of mind marked by abstraction or release from reality : reverie
 c : an object seen in a dreamlike state : vision
3: something notable for its beauty, excellence, or enjoyable quality <the new car is a dream to operate>

4 a : a strongly desired goal or purpose <a dream of becoming president> b : something that fully satisfies a wish : ideal <a meal that was a gourmet’s dream>

I’ve highlighted the pertinent definitions above. Dream describes an idealistic state, most often seen during sleep, in which reality is suspended. Nowhere in the definition does it mention that a dream is something that is promised, or even likely.
A dream works without the constraints of reality, allowing the imagination to work with “what if” (1). It is accessible during waking periods, during which we can use our imaginations to find ways to make reality conform with this dream (2 a&b). It is something beautiful, as opposed to nightmares, that we are motivated to make true (3). That beauty makes it desirable, as a goal or purpose, so that if accomplished will satisfy our desires (4a&b).
My dreams have been fleeting, in that once accomplished, they were difficult and sometimes impossible to sustain. It works better in a group, with a shared dream, until the various members of the group interpret the utilization of the dream in ways that cause it to fail.
Sometimes accomplishing a dream and having it fail can be an inspiration to others, who dream to not make the same mistakes, Sometimes it’s disheartening, but what is not attempted is not achieved.
Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his dream. A land fulfilling it’s promise of equal opportunity. An audience of three hundred thousand people listened to him that day, respectably gathered and listening to every word. Dr. King wanted the American Dream to be accessible to every citizen of the United States. That everyone would be judged by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin.
Unfortunately, at about the same time in Oakland, CA, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale had their own dream. Their dream was of the Black Panther Party, a militant group that would take what was not given to them. There’s a reasonable argument that they only took what they deserved, but as we’ve seen repeatedly around the world, when you take something by force, it is not given willingly.
Nonetheless, progress was made. Some well meaning programs didn’t work out so well, and in an attempt to restore equality, some people were found to be less equal than others. Resentment kept racism alive.
Today, you can walk into any office and see Black CEOs where once the only Black employees were janitors. You can also see blocks and blocks of black ghettos, where families tied to welfare have given up. There are also white ghettos, but they don’t make it onto the six o’clock news.
Dr. King dreamed of equal opportunity. That has been achieved. But opportunity is not a measure of outcome, and low income children of all races fail to see the value of working for their dreams. My town is color blind, the only color that they see is green. Wealthy people of all races live side by side, their children play together and will go to the same colleges. In Philadelphia, children of all races fail in school, use drugs, and get into gangs. They do not have jobs waiting for them. They think they have been denied the dream, but they have been denied the ability to understand the dream. They think the dream is to have all that stuff rich folks have. The opportunity denied them is not institutional, but familial. Very few children rise from poverty, and after generations of poverty the dream is lost. They have dreams, but no skills to accomplish them.
My dream is of a world in which family is the most cherished of possessions. Parents who work hard so that their children will be better off than they were. Parents who see the value in a one income family, where one parent cares for the home and the other cares for the bank book, and neither cares about having the newest car, or biggest house, or biggest television sets. Where children are taught the value of education rather than the value of having the newest Iphone. A world in which “want” and “need” are not synonyms.
There are poor parents in the wealthiest neighborhoods. Mom’s out all day at the tennis club, Dad’s gone all weekend playing golf, kids shuffled between activities, and no one sits down together for a meal and discusses their lives. If you don’t teach children the value of family, how are they going to build families of their own?
There will always be people without money. But there doesn’t have to be poor people. “Poor” is a state of mind, “broke” is a state of economics. As long as there is love, no one needs to be poor.
So that’s my dream, a world in which everyone loves each other. Won’t be happening in my lifetime, but I can plant the seeds.

Chemistry

I have this widget on my desktop, from Snapple. Every day it pops up with a new piece of trivia. Most days it leads to a search to authenticate the “fun fact”.

The other day was “Baking Soda makes a great scouring cleanser, and it’s naturally chemical free”.

Didn’t need to check this one. Sodium hydrogen carbonate (NaHCO3) is a chemical. Baking soda is free of any other ingredients.

Not that there could be any additives that would dilute the amount of chemicals in the product, Everything consists of chemicals, A newborn human consists of chemicals, about ninety nine percent of which are oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. About 0.85% is composed of another five elements, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. The remaining 0.15 percent are trace elements, most of which are easily recognizable as lethal, too much or too little of anything is dangerous.

Chemical makeup of humans

Chemical makeup of humans

My view of chemicals is different than most people, my father was a chemist, and the dinner conversation every night was often a science lesson.

The general view is that chemicals should be avoided, while the truth is “additives” should usually be avoided. Most people recognize the benefit of taking a multivitamin every day, but would be appalled if the same ingredients were listed as being part of their food. Those chemicals should be obtained from a balanced diet, because all the trace elements exist in nature, but since most people don’t eat a balanced diet, they consider it healthy to take a pill every day.

Just because you can’t pronounce an ingredient doesn’t make it bad for you. In fact Durk Pearson, who graduated MIT with a triple major in physics, biology, and psychology, has suggested in his book “Life Extension“, that some preservatives are beneficial. You know all those anti oxidants that you seek out? What do you think a preservative is?

Chemicals, in and of themselves, are neither good nor bad. Your stomach makes Hydrochloric acid (HCI) to digest your food. Too much acid and you may choose to ingest lansoprazole ((RS)-2-([3-methyl-4-(2,2,2-trifluoroethoxy)pyridin-2-yl]methylsulfinyl)-1H-benzo[d]imidazole) also known as “Prevacid”. Or you might try Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3), the active ingredient in those chalky chewable antacids. Or you could just avoid foods that cause excess acid, which might be the most natural approach.

The word “organic” in chemistry refers to a chemical compound which contains carbon. ALL food is organic. Carbon is released with every breath. That carbon you exhale is inhaled by plants, which in turn exhale the oxygen that you need. Without carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, life could not exist.

All that exists is chemicals. The basic elements can only be created or destroyed by fission (unpopular) or fusion (not yet possible), we just move them around from one place to another. We are responsible for what we put into our bodies, whether we ingest it as solids, fluids, or gasses, and when we die, those chemicals will return to the cycle.

We live in a world where politicians control (and destroy) the educational system, and then provide the uneducated masses with false information.

Truth is only inconvenient if it gets in the way of your agenda. Otherwise, it’s just the truth.

What are you?

We each define ourselves. We do it in a variety of ways, and those of us that understand subtlety are able to use these definitions in a positive manner.

I understand the buzzwords, and avoid using terms that will define me as something that I know I am not. Sometimes this takes a little crafting of a response, but in a conversation in which someone has already defined themselves as “intolerant” there is no point in giving them a tangent to pursue rather than addressing the subject of the conversation. On the other hand, when I desire to end a conversation, tossing in a tangent can be like throwing a hand grenade. Any discussion with a woman can be ended with a sudden look of confusion and the words “Have you put on weight?”

Who and what you are is expressed in everything you do and say. Oddly, the people most likely to see themselves as “sensitive” tend to be the least likely to see themselves. They wear a mask, claiming to believe something that they don’t actually stand behind with their actions. How often have you seen someone blow up and accuse someone of “judging them”, in the midst of passing their own judgement?

When I worked at the winery, we would take trips to other vineyards, often for a couple of days. On one trip when we were choosing rooms, some of the other males asked if I would mind rooming with “Jim” (not actual name). I liked Jim, and couldn’t understand the undercurrent of the question, so I said “Why, does he snore?”. “No, he’s gay” was the response. No problem, I roomed with Jim. I didn’t know he was gay, maybe because I didn’t care that he was gay. Jim was a nice guy, who had complimented my cooking and often stayed late with his friend (who I could now guess was his lover) and drank with us after work. One night he had a phone call, and stepped outside to talk, “call from the wife” he said. Jim was gay, but it wasn’t all that he was.

On the other hand, “Mike” (also not his actual name) made sure everyone knew he was gay. After a few months it was clear that it was all he was. There was nothing interesting or unusual about him, nothing unique or engaging of empathy. He was less interested in everything, including wine, than he was in his gayness.

You probably know someone like this. Not necessary gay, maybe they’re an Atheist, or a Christian, or a Progressive, or a Conservative. But that is all they are, and by being only one thing, they are even less than that one thing.

I watched a sweet film last week, “Father of Invention” with Kevin Spacey. At one point the character Phoebe (Heather Graham) says “I’m an angry lesbian” to which Spacey’s character says “I know that, what else are you?” to which she has no answer. The film is worth your time, there are a number of good messages in it. One of which is (spoiler alert) she was only angry, it was a mask.

There are reasons to wear a mask that are not dishonest. Sometimes a mask is like the shell of an egg, all that is holding a person together. I wore the mask of a strong person when Emma was dying, I was falling to pieces but couldn’t let anyone know. When people wear masks and aren’t aware of it, we call it “cognitive dissonance”, or even “psychosis”. We can hold up a mirror, but unless we are psychoanalysts, there is no point in carrying the lesson any farther.

 

Petitions

I’ve signed petitions. I used to believe that if a large number of people showed support for an idea, someone would listen.

As I began to understand how meaningless the number of people who sign a petition is in the eyes of who the petition is directed to, I became less interested in signing petitions. Add that to the fact that petitions, even when signed by meaningful numbers of a politicians electors are often ignored, and the lack of actual support by many “internet activists” who think that clicking “LIKE” has some impact, and you can see why I’ve turned to more effective means of protest. Not quite back to blowing up buildings, but my radical days are too far behind me to make that kind of jump. In my heart I hope the spirit of revolution continues in the less than lethal ways it was pursued in my youth.

I still have fun with people who ask me to sign. Walking through Philadelphia I was approached on a near daily basis at first, then the “professional activists” started to recognize me and stay away.

Excuse me sir, would you like to change the world?

Already did, your turn.

Do you really think a petition will feed hungry people? Here, maybe they’ll like this lunch menu.

Oh, GreenPeace. Pretty boat go boom. How does it feel to be the only people to lose to France?

Or in the case of the Lyndon LaRouche people, I would just point at them and laugh out loud as I passed.

Yes, I heckle fanatics. It was my only source of entertainment back then. Today I entertain the incredible, as when I signed the petition asking the government to build a “Death Star“, because if they’re going to laugh about the pointlessness of petitions, I might as well laugh with them.

So imagine my surprise when the White House refused to entertain a petition to have the President of the United States intervene in a Hollywood casting decision. I mean, don’t we all understand the power of the Joker? The majority of Americans have realized that the Clown Prince of Washington is only acting like a president, isn’t it natural that they would appeal to him on an issue so important? For some reason, this petition violated the “Terms of Participation”, but the petition to build a Death Star was worthy of consideration. We are not amused.

Fortunately, the folks at Change.org know what is important, so they have their own petition to remove Ben Affleck as Batman, having been so successful in ending world hunger and stopping war.

I know it was a long time ago, but doesn’t anyone remember how unpopular the decision to cast Michael Keaton as Batman was? Nobody asked Reagan to intervene.

I hear a lot of talk about America being a democracy, but I don’t think many people still know what that word means. if I don’t like a casting decision I’ll ask the president to step in, if McDonalds is out of McNuggets I’ll call 911. We can’t tell the banks how to run their businesses, but we should be able to tell Hollywood? If you don’t like Ben Affleck, don’t spend fifteen dollars on a theatre ticket.

Perhaps this is an act of frustration. The American people, feeling helpless and without control, buy into the idea that if just someone would listen, things would be different. Seeing the success of Change.org and other for profit petition sites, the White House decided to get in the game, creating a false sense of engagement. When that sense of engagement is betrayed online, the next step is “marches”. Oh yeah, we’re already there. There’s at least one march every week in Washington DC, and countless others across the nation. The “Occupy” syndrome has encompassed every issue, with the somewhat troubling mascot of “Anonymous“. Protest were supposed to show unification, but have become attempts to become faceless mobs. Without identity, there is no responsibility, and a lack of responsibility unleashes violence. Here is where I get sad. If you’re going to break the law, expect law enforcement to respond. Don’t whine about getting sprayed with pepper spray, it should be a badge of honor. If you can’t take the heat stay out of the kitchen. There was very little whining in Chicago in 1968, and that song by Stephen Stills was about a riot following the closing of the Sunset Strip.

I strongly support freedom of speech. It’s about standing up for what you believe. Standing up and being counted, not being anonymous. Jeffrey Glenn MillerAllison B. Krause, William Knox Schroeder, and Sandra Lee Scheuer weren’t anonymous, they changed the world. That’s how things get done.

Activism is about acting, not posing. Not “What have you done?” but “Here’s what I did”.

Daylight again, following me to bed
I think about a hundred years ago, how my fathers bled
I think I see a valley, covered with bones in blue
All the brave soldiers that cannot get older been askin’ after you
Hear the past a callin’, from Ar- -megeddon’s side
When everyone’s talkin’ and noone is listenin’, how can we decide?

(Do we) find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground

Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down
Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down
Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground

Niet schieten ik ben met de pers

There are certain phrases which I always try to learn in other languages. With Flemish, as part of my “new” life, I chose “Ik hou van jou” which means “I love you”, rather than my first (self) interest, “Don’t shoot, I’m with the press”.

Not that I was ever a working foreign correspondent, I just felt it was the safest thing to say in a confrontation. Being a member of the press has always been as safe or safer than being with the Red Cross, and these days even Doctors without Borders are finding themselves under fire.

Reporters have seen the shield of the press fading, not just in war zones, but even in their home countries. The outrage over this seems a little out of sync with reality. Respect for the press is a little much to expect when the media has been repeatedly been exposed as being biased. With trust that the press will present an unbiased picture of events lost, the expectation that press credentials are protection would seem rather foolish.

We are rapidly descending into a world with many similarities to Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange”,  with people killing at random out of “boredom“. I would genuinely like to understand how limited a person’s options are that murder is the only interesting possibility on a Saturday night. It’s not only an American problem, teen shootings occur everywhere.

I was never terribly affected by tragedy, but I remember friends breaking down in tears after they witnessed a traffic accident. I’m sure the world is still full of such people, I see outrage expressed over violence and loss of rights, but there is a growing sector of society that is numb, feeling no compassion at all. After a child at the local high school committed suicide, there were grief counselors at the school for days. Where do these “feral” people come from? How could they never have been exposed to compassion?

There is a reason, probably thousands, that people can feel disconnected from society, but there is no excuse. Such people are evidence for our need for a justice system, and the lack of a functioning system of justice is probably the main reason children can grow up and kill without remorse. One person is locked away for a relatively minor offense, and scores more are given a slap on the wrist, or never prosecuted, for major offenses.

A lesson in law enforcement that stood out to me years ago was “a man will jump out of a barbers chair in the middle of a haircut to put a coin in the parking meter, because he is sure he will get a twenty five dollar ticket, but the same man will rob a bank because he doesn’t believe he will be caught”. Okay, I haven’t been to a barber in decades, but the lesson is still true. The other side of that analogy is that I wouldn’t bother with worrying about a parking ticket in Philadelphia, because the price of the fine if I got a ticket was less than the price of a parking garage for all the times I wouldn’t be ticketed. Punishments need to be more severe than the odds of prosecution in order for laws to have a deterrent effect.

Our legal system will entertain any defense, one attorney representing a young man who shot an infant in a stroller tried blaming the parents, because they had collected the life insurance on the child.Any excuse is considered appropriate, in traffic court last week a young woman argued that a collision wasn’t her fault because the other car had parked to close to her. She was the only one driving a car when the collision took place. It’s always someone elses fault.

At some point the concept of justice was replaced by “getting even”. Somehow these two concepts have been confused as both the victim and the perpetrator are removed from the legal process. Courts are merely a stage for attorneys, leading to trial by media, and its bastard child, “Street Justice”. The president stands before the cameras and says “This is a nation of laws“, after stirring mob violence throughout the Trayvon Martin case, and in the midst of his continuing violations of the law. Multiple threats have been made against Syria, that if the “red line” of using chemical weapons is crossed, we will respond. Now that the line has been demonstrably crossed twice, there is still no response. The idea that refuge may be taken in the law is evaporating on all sides of the political spectrum.

When we see Egypt descend into mob rule, and refuse to call a situation in which a leader is replaced by the military a “military coup” so we don’t have to cut off military aid, It becomes obvious that lawlessness exists at every level.

The solution doesn’t come from the top, or either side. It comes from within. Attempts to teach “self respect” turned into “self esteem” which resulted in overblown and undeserved “self importance”. You cannot teach your children or your peers self respect if you do not respect yourself, and you can’t respect yourself if you don’t understand what “respect” is.

Religion, Chapter three, Eastern Religions

If you have missed the first two chapters, Christianity and Islam, you may view them by clicking those links.

Today, I’ll be discussing Eastern Religions, the group including Hinduism, Buddhism, and “Chinese Traditional”. I group these by their geographic and practical similarities, as a group they have more adherents than Islam. Smaller Eastern Religions, like Sikhism and Jainism, will be in next week’s article.

rel_pie

All of these religions are most commonly practiced in Asia, thus my term “Eastern”. I’ll start in India, the Westernmost point of Asia, with Hinduism.

Hinduism may be the oldest, and newest, of religions. There is no specific date of origin or founder, but it’s roots date back to a thousand years prior to Christianity. It also has adapted, bringing the various beliefs of several groups under the umbrella of “Hindu”. While these are not seen as distinct denominations, there are many ways in which to be a Hindu.

Westerners often have trouble comprehending Hinduism, it is a collection of beliefs rather than a formal (in the Western sense) religion. It can be difficult to ascertain if Hinduism is monotheistic or polytheistic, and there is a great deal to learn in the attempt to understand that “starting point”. Much like Christianity’s trinity, the multiple Gods within Hinduism can be seen as aspects of a single God, or as expressed in certain faiths, “God is everywhere and everything”. It is a favorite Hindu saying that “The Truth is One, but different sages call it by different names.”. Some might even consider that pantheism, although many Hindus see a clear definition between the universe itself and the God that created the universe. Hinduism does not see a definition between mankind and the universe, which many Western religions, though not stated directly, seem to.

Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama, or “Buddha”, who lived in the fifth century B.C. Like Hinduism, Buddhism is essentially a way of life rather than a “formal” religion. Buddhism also has various branches, and many denominations within those branches. It is also a complementary religion, in that one may be a Buddhist and a member of another religion, as in Japan, where many followers of Shinto are Buddhists. Some of the more commonly known denominations of Buddhists include Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, and Shingon.

While Buddhism is synonymous with peace and pacifism in most minds, it is important to remember that most Samurai were Zen Buddhists. The argument for their acts was often that killing a man about to commit a dreadful crime was an act of compassion. The recent attacks in Sri Lanka are justified as a response to Halal butchering, which many people find inhumane. In the attacks by Buddhists in Myanmar, Buddhism is faced with the challenge of a charismatic monk, U Wirathu, who proudly calls himself “The Buddhist Bin Laden“. I suspect this is a response to the destruction of the Bamiyan cliff statues by the Taliban, perhaps every religion needs an occasional reminder that violence begets violence.

It could be said that in world religions, there are two themes, Suffering and Love. The first of the four noble truths of Buddhism is “Life is suffering”. While this sets the stage, the remaining noble truths are recognizing the source and overcoming suffering. Buddha is not a God but a teacher, an enlightened spirit, and Buddhism is a truly pantheistic religion, or if you wish a non-theistic religion, in that the point is the individual’s betterment, as the “soul” cycles through lives on various planes of existence, eventually reaching a state of enlightenment.

Buddhism teaches balance, moderation is all things. All aspects of the universe exist within the individual, peace is found by balancing those aspects. Frtjof Capra leaned heavily on Buddhism in his book “The Tao of Physics“, in which he explained quantum physics using ideas from Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism.

Traditional Chinese Religions is where this can be seen as getting more difficult, or crystal clear (there’s that Buddhist duality). There is a great deal of overlap in the beliefs of Eastern religions, and the point of this entire series is the overlap of every religion. There is not a linear path of evolution in these religions, it is more like a tree, with each of us a leaf, tracing our beliefs back to the trunk. Each branch gives way to more branches.

Shenism is polytheistic, and incorporates aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism. Confucianism follows the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius,  and focuses on corporeal life rather than an afterlife. Confucianism is a system of beliefs, attempting to live life in balance, peacefully coexisting with others. It is like Buddhism without a continuation of spirit. Taoism is based on the teachings of Chinese philosopher Laozi in the text Tao te Ching. It is another naturalistic religion, teaching balance. One of the more interesting aspects of Taoism is “Action through inaction”, the basis for many martial arts. Taoism sees the human as a microcosm of the universe, so that by understanding one’s self, one can better understand the universe.

While it should (I hope) be obvious that these religions are similar and overlap in beliefs, there are of course essential differences. While the existence and number of recognized Gods may seem an obvious difference, some denominations worship those Gods and some simply respect or pay homage to their Gods. This indicates a difference in the meaning of the term “God” from one group to the next. Whether it is complementary harmony with the universe, or oneness with the universe, they all seek balance, and simplicity.

I’m trying to not get off track with the method in which I am presenting this series, slowly discussing different groups of beliefs. Because I am presenting this slowly, comments on various chapters may tend to get ahead of the subject, but I promise I will tie it all together in either chapter five, or six if I need the extra time. As I said when I started, this is a BIG subject, and five or six chapters can never give an entire story of a universal human experience. See you next Sunday, when I address the horribly mistitled group “non-religious” and “others” .

Diminished mental capacity

There is a defense in the criminal justice system most commonly known as “The Insanity Defense“. As one might expect, it is being used more and more often lately, as the overall level of sanity continues to fall.

Not surprisingly, the defense remains a last refuge in capital cases, but is rarely used as a defense in lesser cases. It would seem obvious that in the majority of cases, sane people do not commit murder, and also that murder might be the least likely crime at which an insane perpetrator would be successful. Shouldn’t there be quite a few lesser offenses committed by crazy people?

In reality, the defense requires that the defendant be found lacking in the ability to discern between right and wrong at the time of the offense, which is a difficult hurdle for forensic psychiatrists. The effectiveness of an Insanity defense depends largely on the jury. In the Dan White trial, the insanity defense took another turn, in which a psychiatrist suggested that a junk food diet exacerbated his aberrant behavior. This became known as the “Twinkie Defense”, and Dan was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than premeditated murder, despite the facts that he had entered City Hall carrying a gun, climbed through a basement window to avoid metal detectors, evaded Mayor Moscone’s bodyguard, reloaded after killing Moscone, and walked across City Hall to find and gun down Harvey Milk. In some form of Karmic justice, the psychiatrist was nearly killed by his wife who then committed suicide. I would have thought he would have kept twinkies out of the house. Dan White was released on parole just six years after the murders, and committed suicide shortly thereafter.

Vincent Gigante, AKA “The Oddfather”, feigned insanity for thirty years in attempts to provide for an insanity defense. “Chin” could be seen wandering about Greenwich Village mumbling to himself and walking in traffic. Eventually Sammy “The Bull” Gravano testified to the truth, and in this case, the jury was more than happy to believe he had been faking it. A friend of mine tried staging a future defense by consistently just passing his firearms qualification by a few points, when he was actually a superior marksman. His thinking was that when he instinctively ran a Mozambique drill on a threat,  he could claim that they were just “lucky shots”.

Numerous other cases have torn at the nations heartstrings, mothers who killed their children have used the defense after Andrea Yates used the “postpartum depression” approach. Andrea remains in the hospital, others have been set free after short treatment.

Bradley Manning may have a good shot at having his sentence reduced, if he can get his appeal before the right jury. Asking the person who charged you to pardon you is pretty crazy. Almost as crazy as his supporters, who claim that Bradley’s spirit has not been broken, even in the midst of presenting his meandering appeal to the Commander in Chief he had betrayed. They also think by telling Obama that Bradley has inspired a wave of followers he will be moved to pardon Bradley, showing those followers that they can get away with releasing classified information. Bradley is also going for a multiple personality angle, in that he can’t decide which woman he is, “Brianna” or “Chelsea”. I’m wondering if the LGBT community will continue to support Bradley, now that he’s using being transgender as indication of a mental illness.

Regardless of a person’s mental state, the effects of their actions are permanent. George Moscone and Harvey Milk are just as dead as they would have been had Dan White been perfectly balanced. Noah, Luke, Paul, Mary, and John Yates will never have the opportunity to become parents, even if someday Andrea overcomes the depression of giving birth. The intelligence assets lost can never be recovered, even though Bradley will certainly have the opportunity to be someone’s girlfriend, although they may use a different term for the “relationship”.

I do not believe that justice can be escaped. We each will face our God eventually, and he will know the truth no matter what we say.

 

 

 

 

 

Antiquities

A light article for a change.

 

I like old things, which is good as I become an old thing myself. There is something reassuring about old technology. Yes we can do it “better” by some measure today, but we managed to get there before in a simpler way.

I started with cameras. It was a natural, being a photographer, and where I lived there were a number of yard sales and antique shops that didn’t know what they had, so I built quite a collection. So many, I couldn’t display them all, so I ended up giving them to my son, who has them in his gallery.

Polaroids

Polaroids

This is mostly Polaroids, including a Kodak Colorburst. Most of them are in original packaging, and back when I had obtained them film was still available so I used each of them to get a feel for their limitations.

cameras 2

Nicer cameras

These are the nicer cameras of the collection, including my Grandfather’s Crown Graphic. He had taken my parents’ wedding photographs with that camera (I have a few of those as well), and there was a collection of backs, including a couple in five by seven format. When I was a child, my grandfather would let me play with the flash, which used the old magnesium bulbs.

Among with the various musical instruments I’ve collected have been a silver trombone (easier to play than I had thought) and the harmonica my first wife never touched after I picked it up and played the opening of “Piano Man” when she couldn’t get a clean note. When I started playing bass my (second) wife bought this beautiful amp for me.

Earth Research Laboratories "Revival"

Earth Sound Research “Revival”

I still have and use this amp (not often enough). Earth Sound Research was a tiny company producing all tube amps during the golden age of “louder”. The dials go up to twelve, one better than Nigel’s amp in Spinal Tap.

As I got older, I needed to get a computer. I wanted a way to save my writing, and I needed to catalog my growing comic book collection. Yes, I was collecting comic books at age thirty, I had become interested in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and had everything of theirs that had been published, from the entire series by Eastman and Laird to the Archie comics series, all the crossovers, action figures, and related materiel. I can be obsessive at times. I still follow Kevin Eastman’s work. Since my parents’ other son was a computer geek (he was the first one on his block with a one gigabyte hard drive) I went the other direction, getting a Kaypro II, one of the early “luggable” computers.

kayproii

The Kaypro II

The keyboard folded onto the body, and there was a carrying strap. It weighed almost thirty pounds, making “luggable” an accurate description. State of the art at one point, it had two five and a quarter inch floppy drives (single sided) and 64K of RAM. My Atari game console had more RAM. The operating system was C/PM, a pre-DOS configuration. For you non geeks out there, that’s less memory than your digital watch, and an operating system that was obsolete before Windows was invented. I used this computer until 1998, and there was still a healthy group of C/PM users, sharing programs through the mail. Real mail, not Email.

Today we live in what I call a “microwave” society. Waiting sixty seconds for water to boil is asking too much. Boiling water is too much. Music from two years ago is called “Golden Oldies”. “Instagram” creates photographs that appear old for people who have no idea what an f-stop is, or pigment fading. There is a pseudo respect for antiquities and little appreciation for technology that withstands the years. “New” is better, even when it isn’t.

Buzz words

There is something incongruous in modern culture. Okay, more than just one thing. In a world filled with time saving devices and an internet that provides all he information available in the world at our fingertips, people still choose to use abbreviations and buzz words rather than conveying information. I could never understand why, in an internet conversation, someone will say “google it” instead of providing the information, or at least a link to the information. And while I find some people’s idea that they need to question everything when they are dealing with a reliable source annoying, the tendency to believe everything presented by unknown or disreputable sources is astounding.

I understand the desire to “believe what you want to believe”, but why try so hard to deny what is obviously correct? When did it become more honorable to believe than to know?

I know there are countless examples, but the one that always stands out in my mind is Janet Reno‘s explanation for the Waco tragedy, “We did it for the children“. Hillary Clinton had made “for the children” an excuse for everything, but killing eighty people, including twenty one children “for the children” is rather difficult to swallow.

The new buzzwords are “fighting terrorism”. Anything is acceptable if it is for the cause of fighting terrorism. As long as you can define anyone as a terrorist, they have no rights. If you refuse to call someone a terrorist, whatever they do is acceptable. Picking up on this cue, both sides of the conflict in Egypt call each other terrorists.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying “They who give up essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”. Those should be our buzzwords. Presently we have abandoned several amendments to our constitution for that “temporary safety”, in order to “fight terrorism”.

We sit idly by as the government violates the first amendment, the second amendment, the third amendment, the forth amendment, the fifth amendment, I could go on, but the point is if you can’t see another violation of the constitution every day, you’re just not paying attention. Most of this started with the Patriot act, and once the snowball started rolling down the hill it just grew. All in the name of “fighting terrorism”, fueled by “what can we get away with”. A recent case exposed the existence of “secret courts“, in which the accused was ordered to comply or visit Guantanamo bay. This is how the government causes people to disappear. Pick them up, charge and try them in secrecy, and when found guilty off they go to Guantanamo bay as a terrorist, all in secret.

This is not to suggest that governments are the only ones asking you to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. The recent crises in Egypt resulted in this meme from unifying groups.

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Some people on the Occupy Wall Street page (which has become simply radical Muslim) posted a different image, with the top portion removed. These same people are the first to claim “media bias”, although during the Egyptian crises they have attacked Al Jazeera, both figuratively and literally. Al Jazeera has always been the media source used to refute American media outlets, the only trusted source in the Arab world. Someone has managed to remove the anti-Al Jazeera satirical cartoons and dissenting videos from the internet, so some exceptionally powerful forces are at work here. Interesting that Al Gore is doing business with Al Jazeera lately.

There are over one million words in the English language, There is no excuse for not explaining issues, particularly issues that directly affect our safety and freedom, in their totality. Unless of course, you’re lying about what you’re doing. Lately though, they’re not even bothering to lie, we just accept it “because it’s for a good cause”.  Like “for the children” or “to fight terrorism”.

Someone else did that, uniting a country towards a common cause, building that country from near ruin to a world power.

"Mother fight for your children"

“Mother fight for your children!”

As you read this, you are sitting in front of a computer. Use it. Listen to people you don’t agree with. Sift through the propaganda and find the truth, it is out there.

Bargain Vacations

I was involved with a psychiatric nurse at one time, she had the eyes of Betty Davis and the intellect of Betty Boop. She asked me to go to Antigua with her, because she found a deal on vacation packages. She didn’t bother to tell me she was planning the vacation to be our honeymoon (we had discussed marriage, I had said “maybe someday”). She also didn’t mention that the package was a bargain because it was hurricane season.

Hawksbill rock. If you've been there you know the vantage point.

Hawksbill Rock. If you recognize the view, you know what I’m wearing.

I had a great time, there was this drink called a “Banana Mama“, and the local beer “Wadadli“, not to mention some great food, plantains, curries and a fabulous goat vindaloo, which makes an interesting breakfast dish. I did notice the clouds gathering Sunday, and when I returned to the resort there was word of a Hurricane watch. I ordered another banana mama and watched the weather on TV. As it turned out, our hotel was the shelter for that side of the island, so we had a nice dinner and went to bed.

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Georges at the door

Hurricane Georges (Hor-hey) took the island head on in the night. Estimates of intensity range from category three to category five. It’s hard to be accurate when the weather station has been swept into the sea. It was fascinating. Linda spent the remainder of the night in the bathtub, while I stepped onto the balcony while the eye passed over us. There wasn’t much on Antigua to start with, and even less the next morning.

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After Georges in the dining room

There were a couple of fatalities, and the airport was destroyed. We were stuck on the island an extra three days with free booze and clean beaches. Real clean, the cabanas and bars were somewhere in the Atlantic. Linda was irritated with me. I think it’s because it finally sunk in that I wasn’t going to marry her, but she said it was because I wasn’t appropriately frightened by the hurricane. She dragged me down to a hurricane, and I was the one with inappropriate actions.

As of Friday, 16 August 2013, the “Day of Rage” according to the Pro-Morsi Muslim Brotherhood, tourists from the United Kingdom are still flying into Egypt for vacations. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office says it’s still safe, despite the fact that every other nation has issued travel advisories. Trafalgar is offering some great deals. Apparently, Colonel Kilgore now works for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Linda is his secretary.

I genuinely cannot understand why anyone would take their family for a vacation in a war zone. Personally, I occasionally miss the clarity of armed conflict, but I wouldn’t bring my family along, and I’d rather pack a Styer AUG or FN SCAR than a beach towel. There are conspiracy theorists who believe that the Home Office is involved in depopulation, and it’s always possible that they just really want some evidence of Darwinism, but this is just, well, inappropriate.

When we were flying out of Antigua, there were a number of people complaining. The lines were too long, the flights were off schedule, there was no food in the airport. There hadn’t been an airport the day before. There were long lines because the workers were injured or rebuilding their homes. How difficult is it to be happy to have survived?

I’ll be checking Trip Adviser to see what kind of reviews people who vacation in a country in turmoil give their resorts.

What next, Ahmed?

There is a proverb about patience, “All things come to he who waits”. There are a variety of endings to the proverb, Ranging from “Provided he knows what he is waiting for” (an exercise in applied patience) to “They come but often too late” (a refutation of patience). The phrase is a cornerstone of democracy, If you’re not happy with this administration, work on a new one. When Condoleezza Rice said “We’ll be fine under Obama” she was commenting on the fact that another election wold still take place, he is not President for life.

Democracy is the answer to dictatorships, free elections are the basis of democracy. As Americans, we try to free people from oppressive dictatorships, sometimes by replacing one dictator with a less oppressive dictator (long term strategy), sometimes by introducing democracy directly (medium term strategy). The problem has become that we live in a world seeking an instant strategy, and that just isn’t possible.

There are many reasons I’m not comfortable in crowds. One is the incendiary logic of panic. Perhaps you remember the nightclub fire in Brazil earlier this year, or at least the Cocoanut Grove fire back in 1942. That kind of thing happens all the time. There was the Who concert in Cincinnati back in 1979, and just my personal experience at the California Jam II, when I found myself carried by the crowd, and felt a chain link fence passing under my feet. Crowds can take you places you don’t want to go.

Mob rule is a scary concept, because in a second you can become the object of the mob’s ire. Things can turn and change quickly, with no more of a trigger than an angry shout.

I have suggested in earlier articles that soldiers are not policemen. They do not have the less than lethal avenues to deal with civil unrest, and are likely to respond to violence with violence. When a mob believes that their violence will not be responded to in kind, a tragedy is the only outcome.

Most people have not dealt with death directly. You may know someone who died, attended a funeral, or even stayed in the hospital with someone who was dying. But until you have blood spatter on you, watch people standing beside you fall for the last time, or actually put an end to another person while looking in their face, you have not dealt directly with death. It is humbling, and affects different people in different ways.

Today in Egypt, we are hearing the cries of “I didn’t want it to come to this!” from the same people who were shouting “Death to (name your scapegoat)!”. Two thousand years ago a great teacher said “They that take the sword shall perish with the sword” not too many miles from Cairo. The lesson has yet to be accepted.

Hosni Mubarak assumed the presidency of Egypt upon the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. Thirty years later it was fairly obvious he was a dictator, and the people of Egypt demanded his removal. Seeing his country being overrun by mobs, he stepped down, accepting arrest and a life sentence (at 83 that sentence shouldn’t be very long). Elections were held, and Mohamed Morsi was elected president.  Democracy in action. As might be expected, Morsi wasn’t the best choice, it’s hard to live in a dictatorship and undersatnd the workings of an open democracy. It is not unusual for a first elected president to be a failure, and with the political and economic climate Morsi stepped into he didn’t have much of a chance.

A year later, when Morsi had failed to solve all the problems of Egypt, the people took to the street again. Imagine if American politicians faced that kind of deadline, and the protestors had easy access to fully automatic weapons? After hundreds of injuries and dozens of deaths, the military stepped in, arrested Morsi, placed him in secret confinement, and appointed an interim president.

I do not believe this fits the classic definition of “Military Coup”, but there are not many other things you can call it. The Obama administration refuses to call it a coup, because doing so would force an end to aid to Egypt. Thinking they can buy their way into a diplomatic solution, they’ve left that door open, but the fact is, the military, which is an autonomous force within Egypt, doesn’t need the money, and they have all the tanks and aircraft they can use.

The military had hoped to put an end to civil unrest, so they could get back to running their factories. Unfortunately, the population had just been taught that violent protests result in change, so the pro Morsi groups (with the justification of democracy denied) and the anti Morsi groups (with claims ranging from “Morsi was an Islamist” to “Morsi was an American puppet”) shut down Egypt with escalating violent protests and fighting. With the situation spiraling towards chaos, the military stepped in again, and the mobs didn’t pick up on the subtle difference between the police and soldiers. The military returned fire in a manner designed to suppress the protestors, killing hundreds.

Absolute chaos has ensued. Order no longer exists, and looting is rampant. Totally uninvolved parties, like the small Christian community, find themselves under siege as ancient grudges are addressed. Without a standing political system (as in Syria, where precisely the same thing is happening), there is no future other than military rule. Not that I hold out any hope for Syria.

The other night I watched as Egyptians tore open their shirts daring the soldiers to shoot them. On camera, of course, not in front of soldiers. The soldiers have tried everything else, if you give them no other choice, they will shoot you. Do not stand in front of a man challenging the authorities to use force, let him lead the charge.

I do not want my message to be missed, so I wish to make my point clearly. Egypt was more interested in “Change” than “Progress”. Now they have neither. Protests grow into mobs and become violent. DO NOT let this happen in your country. Be patient.

Religions, Part two, Islam

This week, I continue the series on world religious beliefs, focusing on the second largest block of religions, Islam. If you missed chapter one, you can see it here.

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In America, prior to 1979, Islam was “unknown” in the sense that it was ignored and misunderstood. For the most part, it still is. With the hostage crises in Iran, Americans were introduced to a form of Islamic government, which was largely taken to be the Islamic religion. Just as within Christianity, charismatic leaders often pervert the teachings of the religion. Over the following years, we assisted Muslims in Afghanistan, using them as our proxies against the Soviets. When the Soviets left so did we, and in the power vacuum the Taliban took control, building in fanaticism up to the attacks on 11 September 2001, tarnishing the name of Islam and all Arabs.

To this day, Islam is associated with terrorism, not the peace from which the name “Islam” is derived. A total lack of understanding has resulted in “revenge” assaults against Muslims, and in fact anyone who appears to be Muslim. Sikhs, a radically different religion, wear turbans, and have been the target of anti-Muslim attacks.

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As you can see, Islam is as splintered as Christianity. I have not been able to get accurate numbers of the members of the various sects (the word “sect” is commonly used rather than denomination, more on that later). Sunni is the largest sect, making up as much as ninety percent of all Muslims. Shias follow with as many as ten percent, and the remainder make up as many as six percent. As you noticed, those numbers don’t add up, but they do indicate how few Muslims fall into the “other” category.

Like Christians, Muslims have certain sects they universally agree do not fit into Islam, most notably the Druze, but the reason that the groups are called “sects” rather than “denominations” is that, for the most part, members of each sect see outsiders as not being part of Islam.

Also much like Christianity, within a sect are sub sects, also called “orders” or “schools”.

And like anything else in the world, there are extremists and people who don’t follow what their sect is about.

Also like Christianity, Islam is based on reading and understanding the holy scriptures, in this case the Quran. Take my next words very slowly. More than half of Muslims are illiterate. This is not a prejudice against Islam, it is a fact born out in study after study. There is nothing genetically wrong with Muslims, and many great minds happen to be Muslim. As a whole, the community resides in parts of the world where education is lacking, and is simply not available. Add to that the sects and extremists who prohibit the education of women, and you end up with people who are unable to understand the meaning of their religion.

The Quran is a history of the prophet Mohammed. It tells his story. In the same way that the Old Testament is misquoted by Christians (who have been given charge of “The New Word” by Christ and should only live their lives by his teachings), some Muslims either take scriptures out of context or misinterpret them. When God tells Moses to commit genocide, that does not mean that we should continue doing so today. Neither do passages in the Quran apply outside the context in which they occurred.

While justice is harsh in the Quran, there are many non-Muslims in the world today that may wish severe corporeal punishment would be allowed. The crime rate in Muslim countries is markedly lower than other countries. The Quran also prescribes mercy and compassion, and states that justice is to be dispensed by a court, not a street gang.

It should be remembered that one famous American Muslim, Muhammed Ali, refused to enter military service because of his interpretation of the Quran’s teachings on war. In his typical, authentic style, Ali said “I ain’t got no quarrel with the VietCong, no VietCong ever called me nigger”.

You may hear Muslims refer to “True Islam”. This again can be compared to Christians who feel that certain “Christian” groups are not following the teachings of Christ. You may be familiar with this situation. Both sides claim to be following the root religion, one side is obviously wrong. In my experience, the side advocating violence is usually the side that is wrong.

As I said last week, just because someone claims to be a follower of a particular religion, they do not necessarily follow the teachings of that religion, or speak for any other members of the religion. One of the most common forms of propaganda is called “Bandwagon”. It is used to make others feel that your message is shared by a majority, and it also affects the members of your group, making them feel united with a larger cause. This form of propaganda is common in advertising, and very popular in politics. It is quite common with extremists, in trying to gain support or bolster their sense of importance, and it is also used destructively, as when we ascribe the beliefs of extremists to an entire group.

This is what brought me here. I am angered by those who tarnish my beliefs as a Christian with the actions of such groups as the Westboro Baptist Church. It occurred to me that perhaps I tend to see all of Islam as the Taliban. I was considering that when Christian extremists act in violence, they are operating outside the teachings of Christ, but when Muslim extremists act in violence, they are following the teachings of Mohammed. I was wrong. I started to realize that I might be wrong when I made the argument “Violence is caused by crazy people, it doesn’t matter what religion they belong to”. Islam is just another religion, it can be followed or perverted.

Many thanks to Lena Winfrey Seder for her insights into Islam. She also recommends the following books to anyone interested in exploring further; Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar) which is about the Biography of Prophet Muhammad and Islamic Awakening Between Rejection and Extremism: by Dr. Yusuf al Qaradawi.

Next week I’ll be focusing on “Oriental” religions, if there is anyone who would like to be involved you may contact me via comment, just ask that I not publish your comment if you wish.

The Timid Roosevelts

We saw a new band, The Timid Roosevelts, at a club in Trenton last night. A trio, Bobbie Parker on bass and lead vocals, her sister Jamie Parker on drums and backing vocals, and Ricky Lorenzo on guitar. Very nice sound.

This band has a lot of potential. Their CD is only five dollars, putting that in perspective, the High School soccer team is having a car wash today and is charging eight dollars. I told Bobbie she should raise the price, so buy one before she takes my advice. I’m not one for categories, so I can only suggest that you listen to a few tracks. They played a range of styles, and did nothing poorly.

Bobbie has that “Abby Sciuto” look and pink strings on her bass, a soft smooth voice that she can stretch to a muted scream a la Courtney Love, and her playing style ranges from almost “strummy” rhythms to melodic lead. Jaimie harmonizes perfectly (sisters often do) and has a great feel for percussion. I liked her use of bells, Lieve thought she filled too much, but it was a small venue, and anything other than gentle percussion would have been overwhelming. Her time keeping was both simple and intricate, I appreciated it as a percussionist. Ricky is a competent guitarist, and  had several moments when he shined, but he seems to be relegated to background/rhythm guitar and didn’t display the skills of other guitarists in trios. That could have been a function of the setting, Trenton Social is more a small bar and restaurant without a full sound system or mixing board.

They play the Philly to Manhattan circuit, keep an eye out for them.

Another anniversary

Three years ago I started a fresh journey. As with all great adventures, I wasn’t sure if I was prepared, but I took the first step. After that your other foot just has to keep up and you find yourself down the path.

A month after Emma’s passing, I went to a fiftieth birthday party for a friend, and when I looked at the pictures, I couldn’t recognize the person wearing my clothes. I was lost. I spent some time with some other friends the next weekend, and by speaking with someone who had lost her husband at a much younger age and then rebuilt her life, I was able to see that I would indeed move forward.

I hadn’t really planned for it, Emma and I had this romantic notion that we would leave this life behind together, because I just couldn’t imagine life without her, and I have a fairly good imagination. Then, a few weeks before her death, she told me she wanted me to live the life that was being denied to her. What choice did I have? I carried on, but I wasn’t doing it well. Gracefully of course, but not well.

I’ve thought about the cosmic conditions that took place in order for Lieve and I to meet. She was about to give up on dating, I was just starting to look around. We met on an internet site, and she wasn’t quite a perfect match, her profile indicated she was looking for a relationship with another woman. Reading her story, I couldn’t help but feel that she was indeed heterosexual, so I wrote to her to let her know that if she was straight, we would be nicely matched. How fortunate I was, she hadn’t been getting many responses because she had checked the wrong box on the questionnaire, so she was available when I was available.

We chatted by computer for a bit, and there was something magical there. I could feel the vibration through the monitor. Eventually we spoke on the phone, and her accent was thoroughly charming. We arranged to have dinner on a Monday evening, 16 August 2010.

It was like being caught up in a hurricane. Seriously, I’ve been in a hurricane, and the physical and emotional responses were much the same. I knew that I should take it slowly, and the fact that she lived in Princeton, an hours drive away, and had two teenage children, made me think there were adequate “brakes” in place. Lieve had said that it would be months before she was comfortable enough for me to meet her kids. She invited me to her house the next Friday. I asked her to marry me a month later.

We’ve had some incredible ups and downs over the last few years. Her kids have been, well, kids. Like my own, I often remind myself that only half their genes and upbringing comes from me, the other half from someone I couldn’t stand living with. Her family in Belgium seems to genuinely like me, and I like them as well. I’ve known my family for over fifty years, and they played their parts as expected.

Lieve has introduced me to a new language, and I’ve helped her English become more American. She’s introduced me to the world of Belgian beers and chocolates, and I’ve put on twenty pounds. Lieve has helped me look at life from another angle, and I hope I have done the same for her. We have shared each others life experiences and have grown from the sharing.

We have some differences, but if we agreed on everything life might become boring. She was born Catholic and became an Atheist, I am a very spiritual person and we have found some common ground. She is very liberal politically, I am more conservative, but we still find things in the political world that we agree about. She tends to be a “people pleaser”, I tend to be less interested in personalities, but we are both strong individuals capable of standing our ground on any issue, while knowing when to compromise.

There is a lid for every pot. It took a while to realize how Emma and I fit together, and having recognized how differences can be complementary, I am able to see how Lieve and my differences make us stronger and more complete.

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Our second date

Gelukkige verjaardag mijn lieveling, ik hou u altijd en op alle mogelijke manieren.

Economics

I want to start by saying I have never studied economics. By that I mean that I have never possessed a textbook with the word “Economics” on the cover. I have studied in the other schools, “Having a job”, “Supporting a family”, and “Raising children”, as well as the specialized courses “Operating a small business” and  “Putting things back together after a disaster”.

The first rule in economics is “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. Milton Friedman managed to pay for several lunches from the money he earned from his 1975 book by that title, the phrase has been credited to Robert Heinlein in his 1966 book “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, and Fiorello La Guardia, in a speech in 1933, although he actually said “È finita la cuccagna!”. Rudyard Kipling made a reference to the concept in 1891, and of course the first law of thermodynamics is essentially the same thing, energy cannot be created or destroyed. So apparently there are free quote attributions in life.

Despite this eternal wisdom, there are still people who believe that free lunches exist. This takes place at every level, from people asking a doctor for medical advice at a cocktail party, to a nation expecting free healthcare. Some of this comes from a lack of education, the failure to understand the meanings of words such as “price”, “cost”, “value”, “worth” and “taxes”.

The practice is widespread in what is often called the artistic community. I used to think this is because most people don’t appreciate artists, and believe there is no effort in creating a photograph, or design, or song. My second wife stopped singing at weddings as a gift, because her friends didn’t recognize that as a professional, her performance was of some meaningful value. My current wife was asked to design an entire promotional campaign for free, because it was a “charity”. It wasn’t a charity to which she was inclined to donate the thousands of dollars her effort was worth, and the firm they eventually hired didn’t think so either. What’s disturbing is when one artist does it to another, as in authors expecting graphic artists to design covers for free.

Everything on the internet is free, right? Downloading songs, copying artwork, if it’s there, it’s yours. Everyone does it, even me, this illustration by Melanie Gillman doesn’t have a © attached, so I took it.

Artists pay

I once thought it was about jealousy, as in the phrase “they have so much, they can afford to give some to me”. This is no different than Gordon Gekko‘s “Greed is good”. Greed is not good, and both thoughts are about greed. Greed is about wanting more than has been earned. Greed not only devalues the work of others, it devalues the greedy person’s self worth and the object of the greed.

Greed is a learned behavior, and it’s contagious. Within a system, if greed is rewarded, other people will not only learn to be greedy, they will justify their behavior by the actions of their teachers. Let this go on long enough and the entire system becomes corrupted. Look at our government, good people go in, and if they make it far they are no longer good people. The system, regardless of its intentions, becomes destructive.

Presently, the School District of the City of Philadelphia may not open for the academic year on schedule. Blame is flying at everyone involved, but the root is greed, the desire for a free lunch. Labor unions, designed to protect the hard working employees, have become corrupted by the lazy employees. The result has been the neglect of the most important of public institutions, education. A lack of academic results resulted in a lack of funding, and the courageous, dedicated teachers who are worth far more than they are paid are used as examples by the lazy babysitters who receive more than they are worth in salary negotiations. Dumping money into the school system has resulted in glistening high tech offices for the school system, and schools without books. Administrators with high six figure salaries ask families with low five figure total incomes for donations to pay operating costs, as if those families weren’t already paying exorbitant taxes for the privilege of a free education.

The schools in Philadelphia have been in trouble for so long that the “School Reform Commission” is a business in itself, where secretaries have larger offices than many high powered attorneys, and may be paid more as well. Meanwhile teachers watch the clock and bolt out of the building right behind their students. Some because they won’t spend a minute longer than their contract requires (I knew a teacher at a High School in Philly who said to me “You’ll need to be finished by 3:12, that’s when I leave”), and some so they can get to their second job, so they’ll have enough money for school supplies. Awards are given to schools for “Adequate Performance”. Excellence is no longer a goal.

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Adequate Progress Award, proudly displayed

They stopped serving free lunches for students at schools before my time. The free lunch school administrators have been receiving is costing Philadelphia a generation of poorly educated students.

Unusual birthday gifts

I acknowledge that I am unusual, “eccentric” is the polite word but I really don’t mind “weird”. One of the benefits of being eccentric is that “normal” people tend to shy away from you. This leaves the path open for other eccentrics, so we tend to congregate, or at least associate. There are of course times when the eccentricities clash, but we’re usually friendly, accepting folk.

Knowing unusual people usually means peering into unusual families, we rarely sprout up without some kind of nurturing. When I was thirteen, one of my best friends was Otto, and while Germans aren’t odd in and of themselves, his family was very odd to me. The food and the language was the start, but the choice to bestow a thousand dollar oscilloscope on a thirteen year old as a birthday present left even me scratching my head.

I’m not sure why Otto wanted an oscilloscope, or if he even asked for it. This was 1972, and I think it had something to do with testing vacuum tubes, our eccentricities clashed and we found ourselves out of sync with each other shortly afterward. It was cool to hook up to his record player, and watch the waves as we played music. My favorite was the song “Popcorn”, which just told a story of its on on the CRT screen.

The experience piqued my interest in electronic music, which was just coming onto the scene. Walter “Wendy” Carlos had released “Switched on Bach” a few years earlier, and my Uncle Steve introduced me to the music of Isao Tomita a few years later. Tomita’s use of synthesizers is astounding, and using his covers of Debussy and Holst I introduced a number of friends to classical music. I read an interview with Tomita in which the interviewer commented that the clock on the wall was five hours slow, and Tomita replied “No, it’s seven hours fast”.

Synthesizers have changed immensely since then. From the banks of analog Moogs to the handheld Casios sold at K-Mart. Tomita still plays the Moogs, there is something about the combination of man and machine that transcends digital electronics.

Tomita in the 70s

Tomita in the 70s

Electronic music has also changed. From the early covers of classical music through arrangements developed to suit the capabilities of the instruments. As digital took the place of analog, synthesizers began replacing other instruments. even drum kits became electronic. The pendulum swung back and forth, from “No one played guitar” to “No Synths!” being seen as selling points for albums.

Today, what is called music ranges from a rapper talking over an actual artist’s recording, to the resurgence of traditional instruments as in the band “Ghengis Barbie“. Electronica is here to stay, it can be well crafted or garbage, and as has always been, one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure. I treasure my eccentric friends, and the paths they’ve opened to me.

Of all the things music is, it should always be fun.

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Tin foil hats

tin-foil-hat cautionTo me, there is little funnier than someone describing a person whose sanity is in doubt as wearing a “tin foil hat”. Although aluminum foil was first produced a century ago, and tin foil all but ceased to be manufactured after world war two, a reference to a product that more than likely has never been seen by the speaker is a measure of the other person’s sanity. “I’ll see your paranoia and raise you an anachronism”.

The original use of tin foil hats was to block “mind control rays”, because tin foil is fairly thick and isn’t a bad shield against electrons. Aluminum (by the way, how many syllables do you pronounce in “aluminum”?) is much thinner, but the right design might foil (sorry) the NSA if they’re listening to your brainwaves. I’d suggest this one.

foil hat

If the pleats are at the right frequency per inch, they should actually block transmissions. Doesn’t really matter, the NSA is following every keystroke on your computer, and apparently intercepting regular mail as well. Yep. We all knew that Washington DC bound mail is filtered through a facility in Virginia to check for Anthrax, Ricin, or any other chemicals, but on the news the other night discussing the Embassy closings, the government spokesman let it slip that some of the information intercepted was in the form of ground mail. Oddly, that clip is no longer available.

This is not to say that foil hats are going out of fashion, paranoia is always in vogue. If you decide to use aluminum foil, there are types that are bonded to paper. Put the paper side out, it makes you less noticeable in a crowd. As recently reported by that grand lady of journalism, Mother Jones, the Obama brain mapping project is a secret attempt at mind control. Apparently, you can wear a foil hat while operating video equipment:

I miss the old days, when “Secret” meant “Not on the six o’clock news”. Back when if someone was obviously a threat to the gene pool you could…oh but don’t let me get nostalgic.

I agree, every advance in science has been weaponized. This may be why education is in the shape it is, free thinking individuals are a threat to the state. Then again, almost every weapon of mass destruction has assembly directions on the internet, and a modest background in chemistry provides the recipes for explosives using items in your cleaning closet. Certainly, if the aim is controlling objects with the mind, the door to controlling the mind with objects will be wide open. But seriously, what technological advancements has this administration been successful with? They think evacuating a country is not retreating from terrorism. They’re definitely low tech buffoons, but start worrying if there’s a foil shortage.

As a rule of thumb, do not keep tin foil in the ice box, it tends to get brittle. You also shouldn’t pick it up with a carpet sweeper, tin is conductive and can generate a triboelectric charge. You can take your motorcar to the soda fountain and wrap your goods in tin foil while you shop at the record store for an album, if you still have a phonograph.

Cat-With-Tin-Foil-Hat-16407434984

 

You may choose to say “Aluminum” or “Aluminium”, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) uses both spellings (and pronunciations).

Good

“Good” is an interesting word, and an even more interesting concept. We use the word quite often to describe a variety of things, often the word alone is a complete comment. When spoken, inflection and intonation say as much, even more than, the individual words. This is one reason written communication can often fail to convey the intended message, there is no inflection.

We like to think of ourselves as “good” people. Good Parents, good spouses, good members of our church or political party. As part of that, we believe that having children, being married, or belonging to a particular church or political party is good.

The problem arises from our digital, “pass/fail”, binary world. If something is not good, it must be bad. As humans, we’re not very good with grey. I wonder if the prejudice against grey hair springs from that?

In creating a totalitarian world, George Orwell eliminated the word “bad”, knowing that altering language was the first step in altering minds. “Bad” was “ungood”. In the concepts of Buddhism, all attributes are seen as degrees of their opposites.

The wheel of dharmaThe wheel of dharma

This is one representation of the wheel of attributes, there are many interpretations, and my time as a Buddhist ended because I could not receive an adequate explanation. The concept, as presented to me, is that everything is a balance of opposites. Both good and bad exist within an individual, and in fact, both exist within each other. Nothing is totally one or the other.  The rain makes the crops grow and drowns children.

This appeals to me (not drowning children, but balance). I like to think of myself as a good person. I like to try to do good things. Sometimes, what is good for some is bad for others. I have, in my life, done things that are universally accepted as bad, yet I am overwhelmingly seen as a force for good. If you were to look at any twenty four hour period in my life, you might think me a saint, or a devil. I am neither, although the weight of my actions carries me much closer to saint.

This again can be seen in Hinduism. Shiva, which some see as the supreme being, is also the destroyer.

shivaShiva, the destroyer

It must be interesting dancing with those extra arms. In order to build the future, the past must be destroyed. As a destroyer, Shiva is revered for her mercy and benevolence.

The great conflicts occur when two groups cannot agree on a definition. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians believe they are good, and the other bad. They both believe they are defending themselves, and the other are terrorists. You probably know a wanker without whom the world would be a better place, but that wanker has a family who might miss him.

I used to hang out with a group of people who felt that their good works balanced their evil. I believe that argument fails when you start buying “indulgences”. Acknowledging that you’ll do something good tomorrow to balance the evil you intend to do later today, or justifying today’s evil with yesterday’s good, sets off the “TILT” mechanism, game over. Because life is not a game.

Life is a balance.

Religions

This is a BIG subject, which I will be addressing over a couple of weeks, with the direct support of Lena Winfrey Seder and perhaps you. Yes, I’m asking for your opinions and insights, you can leave a comment here (if you request I will not publish your comment or your name).

The subject I want to address is religion in general, and the similarities in teachings and structures, as well as the differences.

I do not believe that we all worship the same God. By that, I mean that our reasons for seeking God may be the same, but what we choose to believe defines God can be exceptionally different. What we believe God wants from us, and how we should praise God, are often diametrically opposed to other people who profess a belief in God. Almost everyone agrees that “God is Love”, but love means different things to different people, and is expressed in different ways.

I will start by saying that I was raised Christian, subset Baptist, subset Southern Baptist. I had the great fortune to have a minister who was an intellectual scholar of the Bible, and who inspired the members of his church to thoroughly understand scripture. Not by telling us his interpretation, but by laying out several interpretations, comparing them and expressing his own views and biases, and encouraging us to interpret for ourselves. Thank you Dr. Colton. As a result of Dr. Colton’s teachings, I investigated several other religions in my youth, various branches of Christianity, Eastern religions, and pagan practices. In the end I found that I eschew organized religion, which typically follows a charismatic local individual. I follow the teachings of Christ in an “organic” manner, and to provide a label for those that wish to categorize me, I refer to myself as a Zen Baptist.

This chart reflects the relative sizes of world religions. I was rather surprised by many factors, I suspect that Communism in China has skewed the numbers for Taoism and “Chinese cultural religions”, but these numbers are representative of several sources.

rel_pie

Relative memberships of world religions

You can see that “Christian” is the largest group, and within that group are some exceptionally diverse denominations.

Denominations within category "Christians"

Denominations within category “Christians”

There are many people, including myself, who don’t consider Catholics to be “Christians”. “What?” you ask, “How could the Catholic Church, founded by Christ and led by the apostle Peter not be Christian?”. There are several reasons, I will point out just a few here. Christ said in Peter’s presence, “Call no man Father“, then the Catholic church decided to call it’s priests “father”. Christ taught that the individual’s relationship with God is one on one, yet the Catholic church requires confession to a priest, who has the power to absolve your sins. Christ denied any importance to his mother, yet the Catholic church reveres her as a saint. This does not sound like the doctrine of Christ.

This of course is my opinion, and will no doubt piss off many of my friends and relatives. My point is this, just because something is called “Christian”, doesn’t mean that it fits some universal definition of “Christian”. The members of the Westboro Baptist Church consider themselves Christians, but I’m pretty sure a website titled “GodHatesFags” is an indicator that they know little about Christ. Mormons have written their own version (not translation but different ideas) of the Bible, as have the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Following this line of discussion, just because an individual describes themselves as belonging to a certain denomination does not mean they fit the definition of a member of that church. This goes beyond little things. I met a girl at a dance, and we dated for several weeks before I met her father. He was the minister of a church that saw dancing as a sin. She had not told me this, so when he asked how we met…well that was the end of our relationship. Not to pick on Catholics, but they tend to stand out as the religion least likely to be adhered to. They have very strong doctrine about birth control, and many if not most Catholics ignore it while considering themselves “good Catholics”. I’ve known people who have totally removed themselves from the church and still consider themselves to be Catholic.

I am using Christianity in this article as an example, because at the root of all of this, Christians are just humans with a particular set of beliefs. There is nothing genetically or psychologically different from any other sample of humanity as a group. So when I hear people say “Christians are this” or “Religion is responsible for that” I feel the need to correct them. People do things, there are good people and bad people, and those people may belong to a religion, or they may not. Since thirty three percent of the world is Christian, it would seem natural to expect Christians to be responsible for about a third of the bad things out there. No religion is a monolith.

Religion in general, and any religion specifically, is not responsible for the actions of people who wave the flag of a religion. It has been my experience that those who justify their actions with religion are likely to have little to no understanding of the religion they’re talking about.

With Lena’s assistance I intend to look at the second largest religion, Islam, next week, and I would greatly appreciate the input of anyone who understands their own religion and can contrast the public impression of their religion for future articles.

Understanding our similarities helps us appreciate each other, understanding our differences helps us appreciate ourselves.

Chapter two of this series, “Islam” can be seen here.

More international dishes

My friend Tariq had a small restaurant, he is Lebanese and his food was as authentic as could be. Emma worked there and was quite literally one of the family, the similarities in Lebanese and Sicilian personalities are remarkable.

I learned a great deal from Tariq’s father, “Baba”, about Middle Eastern cuisine, as well as from his mother, “Mimi”. Over the years I picked up quite a bit about life in the Middle East, and attitudes about that life. The emigrant point of view is always interesting, a mixture of love of country and self preservation.

I found the restaurant because I love gyros (that is pronounced “yee ro”, not “ji ro”), and when Tariq opened at the end of the block I was in heaven. The variety of other dishes, plus knowing the chefs, caused me to try new things (along with Mimi’s pushing). One dish I found intriguing was tabouleh, a mixture of bulgar wheat (or cous cous), parsley, mint, tomato, lemon juice, and spices. I’ve never been a huge fan of mint, but Mimi’s recipe was very nice.

I was inspired to make my own version. I used cilantro instead of parsley and mint, lime juice instead of lemon juice, sundried tomato and kalamata olives, red onion instead of spring onion, some diced red bell pepper, and my spices were more cumin and chili powder instead of allspice and cinnamon. Emma loved it, as did Tariq and Baba, but Mimi hated it. “That’s not tabouleh!” she exclaimed, and she was of course correct, but it was still very good. It was more a “Southwest” version, I tend to blend cultures, I always have.

I use Mediterranean spices in tuna salad, Oriental spices in meatloaf, and what I have found to be curry spices in chili. I’m perfectly adept at making dishes in their original style, but there is an “a la Blake” version that is interesting and well received of just about everything. It’s not really “international” until there is more than one nation represented. As I’ve converted to vegetarian cooking, the ability to adapt has become crucial.

Food nourishes the soul as well as the body, so I pick up ideas everywhere and combine them in ways people haven’t considered. One of the things I love about the program “Top Chef” is learning new techniques and working them into old favorites. Some people do it very well, Marcus Samuelsson was great at bringing an Ethiopian feel to traditional dishes, Richard Blais worked his interest in molecular gastronomy into nearly everything, and Carla Hall showed that the most important ingredient is always love. Some chefs fail. I recall one woman making a bad dish and saying “I don’t like that dish, I never eat it”. She had failed to include love, as well as an understanding that you cook for your audience’s benefit, not your own.

We feed each other in many ways, each with their own talent. Some are chefs, some musicians, some poets, some illustrators, and some architects. All of these arts, and most others, have a base in mathematics, the universal language.

Enjoy your weekend, feed the hungry.

Backwards is the new forward

If you’re of a certain age, you have heard that sixty is the new forty. This makes sense if you have children and can see that twenty is the new infant. I certainly appear younger than my father did when he was my age, but then I appear younger than most of my schoolmates. In the grocery store yesterday, the young man who was obliged to check my I.D. had to tell me twice that I didn’t look like I’m in my fifties, because I still have the hearing of an older person. I blame it on being a drummer for so many years. The other thing that gives me away is that every story has a long introduction.

Numbers are what they are. I don’t believe that people don’t understand the difference between a billion and a trillion, but they sound similar. What is required is an understanding of scale. As you recall from grade school, some people never understood fractions, and decimals tend to disguise scale. That’s why so few people noticed as our federal budget went from being measured in billions to trillions, a difference of three orders of magnitude.

Politicians mention what appear to be big numbers, because we compare those numbers to our personal wealth rather than the budget to which they are applied. Confusing (AKA misleading or lying to) the public even more is the tendency of politicians to talk about money over a period of time, sometimes decades, while we think about that money as affecting us today, at a fixed point in time.

Case in point is the recent “fiscal cliff” and the effects of “sequestration”. The amount of money “saved” by sequestration is a total of eighty five billion dollars in 2013. That sounds like a lot of money. It’s just over twice the net worth of Larry Ellison, the third wealthiest person in America. Way more money than I have. Compared to the three and a half trillion dollar budget, it is a little over two percent. Compare that to your budget, don’t even consider that the federal government budgets more spending than income (thus operating at a deficit, and building a debt). If you earned one hundred thousand dollars this year, how much would losing two thousand dollars affect you? It is one dinner for two at Deux Cheminees (including really nice wines), or lunch for two every work day at McDonald’s (if you eat there).  Do the cuts to services being blamed on the sequester fit that scale?

A simple way of visualizing these numbers is this video about the promised (not actual) cuts to the 2009 budget. It’s short, take the minute and a half to watch it.

Today’s subject is not the budget, it is the numbers themselves. The number that led me to write this is the speed of light. 186,282 Miles per second is the way I first was introduced to the “c” in E=mc². That’s 670,616,629 Mph, or just over a billion kilometers per hour. It is so fast that light needs only eight and a half minutes to make the journey from the Sun to your eyes. Based on Pluto’s mean distance, that journey takes almost six hours. Understanding the scale of the difference between eight minutes and six hours provides some insight into understanding how distant Pluto is from Earth. In contrast, light traveling to our nearest galaxy (M31, Andromeda) requires two and a half million years. Looking backwards two and a half millions years, apes were just starting to stand upright. So if today folks in Andromeda are looking this way, the standing ape would be the most evolved land mammal they would see. The most intelligent life would be in the sea.

When we consider nuclear energy, that “c” comes up again. Here it is c². The energy from converting one gram of mass (at 100% efficiency) is equivalent to the burning of 568,000 gallons of gasoline. That’s less than we use in America in two days. However, if we’re discussing Plutonium, one gram costs about $4000, and is about 0.0030795 cubic inches in size. You can see one of the attractions of nuclear power. Factoring in safety and waste disposal, nuclear power is still the most cost effective form of power, but it has a scary reputation, which is as real as Godzilla.

Now some smaller numbers again. I’m no fan of Monsanto or GMOs, but I was taken aback by a story about a petition to ban Monsanto. There are presently two million signatures for a world wide ban. How such a ban could be implemented, and by whom, remains a mystery. But my point is the insignificance of two million signatures. If we’re considering a world wide ban, two million is 1/3500 of the seven billion inhabitants of the world. Monsanto employs , directly and indirectly, over forty million people, or twenty times as many as signed the petition. If you want to ban GMOs, start in your own kitchen. When I decided to avoid products from China it was a daunting task, but I cared enough to make the effort. Here are not just one but two articles on Non-GMO sources, one has a printable list (some of the stuff continues beyond GMOs, I’ve been trying to get Banoosh to hire better writers, maybe even me).

When you hear big numbers, consider their context. Even if you don’t think you understand math, you can certainly count, and understand that “zero” is more important than “nothing”.

Now you see it, but it’s not there

"Pillars of Creation" in the Eagle Nebula

“Pillars of Creation” in the Eagle Nebula

What you see above does not exist. It did once, and will continue to be viewable for about a thousand years.

The formation is called “The Pillars of Creation”, and consists of gas and matter coalescing into planets and stars, but it isn’t doing that anymore. In fact, it was destroyed about six thousand years before the telescope that enabled us to see it was invented.

Being in a nebula, it is surrounded by stars of various ages. Somewhere around eight or nine thousand years ago, one of those stars went supernova. It was probably visible from Earth. The shock wave from that supernova is estimated to have taken a couple of thousand years to reach the pillars. Since they’re seven thousand light years away from us, we still see the pillars as they existed before the shock wave destroyed them some six thousand years ago. If that star was closer to the Earth than the pillars, we might already have seen the flash, it might have been the one of 6 August 1181.

The sky we see at night is the light from thousands of years ago. Some of those stars have gone supernova, we just haven’t received the light from that event yet.

As we consider traveling between the stars, our concepts of time need to be adjusted. We aim for targets that may no longer exist, or may not exist by the time we reach them. By the time we see the pillars destroyed, there will be other stars that have or are being created that exist behind them that we will be able to see. The universe is not only constantly changing, it has already changed in ways that we can’t yet see due to the speed of light.

Considering the distances involved, this should humble us. We see constellations, because the points appear on a flat curtain of night, when in fact from a different angle, different in the range of the distance of another star to here, those constellations appear differently. When we think of things we see, in fact, the stars that we can see are within our own galaxy. The Milky Way is just an arm of our galaxy.

You are Here.

You are Here.

Other galaxies, such as Andromeda (M31) are millions of light years away. Andromeda was once thought to be a star, until telescopes revealed its nature. When we consider our reach, Voyager, traveling for the last thirty six years, is just reaching the edge of our solar system (the enlarged section of the illustration above).

This is our world. We more than likely will never visit another that we can live on within the span of our species’ existence. There is no running away, there is no escape. Why do we think we can make another world habitable when we can’t manage to “terraform” Earth?

I think that is how it should be. If we can’t make Homo Sapiens work on this planet, why should we foul another?

Today in history

After my second marriage, we honeymooned in the Poconos. It was an interesting week, and one thing stood out as we socialized with other couples at the resort. Our “special day” did not belong to us. Dozens of other couples had been married the same day, at that resort alone. No doubt thousands of other couples had been married on the same day as us around the world.

So it is with every momentous occasion, not only is the day shared with the entire human race, but the date is an anniversary for many events in history. Today, 6 August, is remembered as the day in 1181 that Japanese and Chinese astronomers observed a supernova, along with countless other events throughout the years. In 1945, the Australian Kieth Miller scored 110 in the Victory Test Cricket at Lord’s. Earlier that day, there was another supernova in Japan.

After assembling the greatest minds in physics, and just two weeks after the first test of a different design, we managed to transport a ten thousand pound package named “Little Boy” to Tinian, an airfield in the Northern Mariana Islands, for its six hour flight to Hiroshima, Japan upon the B-29 “Enola Gay”. Along with the aircraft carrying the package were two observation craft, “The Great Artiste” and “Necessary Evil”.

At 0815 local Little Boy began its forty three second descent to an altitude of two thousand feet, at which point a little over half a gram of matter was converted into energy. The math on that (E = mc^2) works out to the equivalent of sixteen thousand tons of TNT. In the next second, seventy thousand people died, including about ninety percent of the doctors who might have treated the survivors. Over the next few months, another hundred thousand died from the effects of radiation. Little Boy missed his target by eight hundred feet, fairly inconsequential considering the blast radius of one mile.

Silhouette of human within blast radius

Silhouette of human within blast radius

Three days later an implosion weapon, using the design that had been tested, destroyed the city of Nagasaki, Japan.

The site of the Mitsubishi Ohashi Weapons Plant, which was completely destroyed, 1.3 kilometers north of ground zero. Visible in the upper left are the ruins of the Yamazato Primary School and in the upper right is the gas storage tank of the Saibu Gas Co. in Ohashi-machi.

1.3 kilometers north of ground zero. Visible in the upper left are the ruins of the Yamazato Primary School.

Since that date no nuclear weapons have been used in anger. They have been considered “deterrents”, with America stockpiling seven thousand seven hundred warheads, Russia eight thousand five hundred, the United Kingdom two hundred twenty five, France three hundred, China two hundred fifty, India one hundred ten, Pakistan one hundred twenty, North Korea less than ten, and Israel eighty. That is what we’re aware of. The weapons have been shared through NATO to several European nations. That’s sixteen thousand, seven hundred ninety five nuclear weapons scattered around the globe, that we’re aware of. And while we were busy making everything else smaller, the yield of nuclear warheads got larger. With Little Boy measuring sixteen kilotons of TNT, the largest test detonations have gone up to fifty megatons of TNT. That would be over three thousand times as powerful as the weapon that destroyed everything within a one mile radius. For some reason, our precision targeting allows delivery within one meter.

I knew a man who had flown on one of the observation craft, thirty years later he was still shaken by the memory. Today, people with very short memories control weapons that exceed their imaginations.

Following the attacks on the World Trade Centers, a young man who worked with me asked if buildings “that tall” really exist. We were in Philadelphia, about ninety miles away, and he was unaware of the tallest buildings in the country. A reward of twenty five million dollars was offered for information about Osama bin Laden, in a country where the nominal per capita GDP was six hundred dollars. Hard to imagine an amount equal to over forty thousand times your GDP. I recall one person that was interviewed thought of it as enough money to buy a goat for everyone in his village. For fifty years following the bombings in Japan, our leaders encouraged the idea that we could survive a nuclear war. After the test of a two hundred kiloton weapon in China in 1974, Strontium 90 from the fallout was detected in cows in California.

I do not believe that the leaders of several nuclear states, and certainly no terrorist who illegally obtains a nuclear weapon, can imagine the damage the weapon will inflict. Nor do I believe in the concept of a “limited nuclear exchange” between states.

Nuclear weapons are not weapons of mass destruction, they are instruments of mass suicide.

Witch Hunts

Quick to judge
Quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand…

Every now and then it gets to me. I manage to have intelligent conversations with complete strangers about issues which we have strong and opposite views about, and then some wanker chimes in and starts throwing insults.

The issue itself doesn’t matter. I just get involved when one group is being singled out as the source of all evil. When I was young, we didn’t use the word “racism”, we called it “prejudice”. I was taught that prejudice is wrong. I realize my own prejudices and try to work around them. The only group I truly despise are wankers, because they weren’t born that way, they chose to be that way.

Today, I was accused of being a member of the KKK. The discussion wasn’t even about race. I don’t mind the misinterpretations so much, but the absolute non sequiturs really just say “Wanker!” in flashing lights. I’ve decided that I will allow five wankers for every one intelligent response, should the ratio go any higher I abandon the site. So, goodbye “AlterNet”.

The first encounter was forty years ago, walking through Ventura, CA trying to drum up business for my aquarium maintenance service. A scruffy couple deluged me with insults because of my long hair. Being called a “girl” by a woman attempting to insult me was so odd I had to laugh.

Today, I piss off people on both ends of the political spectrum, and lacking an intelligent response they kick in with assumptions about my political leanings. I’ve been called a “Right-Winger”, “Tea bagger”,”fascist”, and now a “member of the KKK” by those ever so open minded liberals, and a “Communist”, “Socialist”, “liberal”, and “Leftist” by those compassionate conservatives. When it comes to religion I’ve been called everything from an “Atheist” to “Pagan” to “Fundamentalist Christian”.

That’s not mentioning the profanities that have been used, usually by someone with a screen name like “Iwouldneversaythistoyourface123”.

The way it gets to me is not on a personal level. I know better than to take the words of someone who won’t identify themselves seriously. It is the confirmation of the stupidity of the masses, combined with the indications we are rapidly declining into mob rule.

Here’s your fact for the day. Nobody knows everything. We all have opinions, and if we’re intelligent we listen to other points of view. Sometimes we alter our opinions, sometimes the people we talk to alter their opinions. Sometimes we just disagree, and respect each others thoughts.

I have editorial control over comments on this blog, but I don’t recall ever not publishing something anyone has said. I consider myself fortunate, in that it would be troubling to me to deny anyone their ability to express their opinion. If there are any wankers reading this blog, they have kept to themselves. Thank you.

A democracy cannot survive without the free exchange of ideas. This is a situation in which if you are not part of the solution, you really are a part of the problem.

How many times do you hear it?
It goes on all day long
Everyone knows everything
And no one’s ever wrong
Until later…

Want to know what I really am? I’m a free thinking human being. Everyone is welcome to join.

Getting all Old Testament

Every now and then I consider the puzzle of Ecclesiastes. The book exists in both the Old Testament of the Christian Bible and the Ketuvim section of the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible.

It is a two part puzzle, part one is “Who wrote this?” part two is “What is this doing here?”

The author is anonymous, rumored to be Solomon but written centuries after his death as an autobiography. The format feels strange, an autobiography written in third person narrative is apparently a common form of the time, but confusing to one seeking meaning.

Which leads into the second part of the puzzle. The focus of the book is meaning. The meaning of life. And it is not the warm and fuzzy or even severe and obedient life that is presented elsewhere. So what does it mean?

The first four verses are “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.” It doesn’t get much brighter. It does suggest, that within such futility joy may be found, as in 8:15 “So I commended enjoyment, because a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry; for this will remain with him in his labor all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun”. At the end of twelve chapters, it concludes “13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”

To me, this is a commentary on the separation of Earthly and spiritual lives, a lesson in perspective. We leave no eternal monuments, everything eventually becomes dust. That does not mean we should despair or disregard kindness. Our lives here should be about enjoyment, and sharing that enjoyment with others. Charity does not mean impoverishing yourself, it means raising others to your level. As one person said to me “I am not a human having a spiritual experience, I am a spirit having a human experience”.

Regardless of our individual beliefs on “moral” and “immoral”, we do all generally agree on “good” and “bad”. I often hear people disturbed by the concept of judgement, as if the person making the judgements had some bearing on their lives. The only judgement that matters is the judgement of God, the eternal judgement.

The meaning of our lives is not expressed on Earth, it is however created on Earth. I believe that is the message of Ecclesiastes.

 

 

Bozo the cardiac surgeon

Many, including myself, have asked “What’s in a name?”. Certain names suggest future careers, and deny others. “Bozo” might grab the attention of Ringling Brothers, but should expect a little difficulties relating to patients.

As sad as it might be, some family names have connotations that cause a lifetime of childish jokes. Irony is a word we use to describe the case of Anthony Weiner, a man who has gone through his life with a surname that is a slang term for male genitalia. Another slang term for male genitalia is “Dick”, which can also carry the meaning of being a wanker (kind of an odd symmetry there).

Anthony proved to be a wanker in many ways. After years of working his way through New York politics, he was elected to Congress in 1998. He was a demanding boss, insisting that his staff stay in touch by Blackberry at all times (did I mention irony?). Anthony campaigned to hold diplomats accountable for their parking violations, while at the same time not bothering with paying his own parking tickets. To complete his performance, he “tweeted” photographs of his penis, to anyone who happened to have a Blackberry, leading his colleagues to demand his resignation.

But perhaps his most noteworthy contribution to the euphemistic meaning of his last name came when he used an alias. “Carlos Danger” was the name Anthony chose to use on a new twitter account. Having made the somewhat unusual decision to run for Mayor of New York City, he needed a twitter alias because he was still sharing his “inner self“. As long as we’re making juvenile jokes, I have to admit his attitude to be rather ballsy. Despite the growing scandal, and his fall to fourth place in the polls, he’s staying in the race (as of now). Apparently he knows that he is a joke, but looking at the political landscape he may have thought that the voters obviously have a sense of humour.

Why would Bozo insist on wearing a rubber nose to consultations? How can we ever know. But I came to an interesting observation yesterday. With the election for Mayor of New York City, a city with a population greater than the country of Belgium, only three months away, we know more about the candidate in fourth place than we would ever want to, and yet most people don’t even know the names of the other candidates. That would be almost everyone outside of New York.

Which raises the next question. Sure, New York City is a large and important place (just ask anyone who lives there), but how does this story rate five minutes on the national, world news? I know it’s funny enough to qualify as “network news”, but wouldn’t the UN response to a drug bill in Uruguay, or maybe some news on Egypt’s revolution, fit the description of “World News”? Could Edward R. Murrow see this coming and decide that cremation was better than spinning in his grave?

There is a solution. It is unreasonable to expect the solution to take place faster than the problem unfolded, and it will take some effort. Write. Write to your local media, and tell them that if you wanted to hear about Bozo, you’d turn on the Cartoon Network. Write to your local newspaper, and encourage them to groom young journalists. Contact your preferred network and let them know you want information, not fluff. Most of them have web sites and twitter accounts, so you can tweet as soon as the non-news story is on the air. Just don’t send them pictures of your genitals.

Here are some starting points. ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and CNN all can be reached through these links. There is also information on most of those pages about how to contact your local affiliate. You can contact your preferred alternate media and suggest they could supplant the networks by producing real news. Lately I’ve noticed newscasters mentioning their twitter and facebook accounts on the air.

You have no reason to fear the government taking away your right to a free and robust press if you’re just going to give it away anyway.

I saw it on TV

And so it was. Every night a grandfatherly gentleman told us the monsters would stay under our beds for another night. He was the most trusted man in America for a large portion of the late twentieth century. History hasn’t judged him as kindly, for which we may thank Walter and his contemporaries. He was human, he was flawed, and he upheld most of the standards of the golden age of journalism.

As a nation, we turned from the newspaper to the television. When Walter said “And that’s the way it is”, we believed that we didn’t need to know anything more. There was no need to look any deeper. Today’s “joke”, “they can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true”, began as “they can’t put anything on television that isn’t true”. Only it wasn’t a joke back then, we believed it. Believing that what we saw on television had to be true is what made some people believe that the internet (a television) had the same standards.

An unexpected blow to the newspaper industry was recycling, as unread newspapers stacked up people realized there was no point in subscribing. With the decay of actual investigative reporting, “real” journalism became a thing of the past. “News” has been replaced by “Infotainment”, which has quickly been replaced by pure entertainment. So where is the news?

We have, unfortunately, regressed to word of mouth. Making things worse, we’re not all political analysts, for Christ’s sake we’re not all terribly bright, so discovering valid information and knowing what it means has become increasingly difficult. Being able to do something with that information is next to impossible.

I’m not big on the concept of conspiracies. If I was, there’s enough stuff out there to put me in a rubber room. Everyone with an opinion can publish a blog (you’re reading one now), a website with a unique domain name can be had for ten dollars a year, There are a lot of voices out there, who either don’t know what they’re talking about, or worse, they do and they’re lying to you. I include in this the media outlets who give sixty seconds of airtime to a laughing baby, but don’t get around to mentioning riots in Brazil. Omission is a class of lying in and of itself.

These are some of the reasons why credible sources use links, to take you to source material so you can determine accuracy yourself. I’ve always linked pertinent sources, but I’ve become aware that links are not very visible on this blog, so from this post forward I will underline any links to make them more noticeable.

I could tell there were alternate views of the situation in Egypt, the early days of democracy are bound to be difficult. To me, it seemed obvious that a democratically elected president being deposed by the military satisfied the criteria for “Military Coup“, despite the fact that a number of Egyptian contacts were calling it a “democratic process” or “anti-terrorism protests“, and our own government won’t call it a coup.

A few weeks ago, some outlets were reporting protests in Brazil. I have friends in Brazil (who I will in no way identify), so I asked what was going on. I can’t go into depth of the explanation without possibly revealing the source, but there is much more than a “protest against bus fares“. There are economic issues similar to those in America, and political unrest similar to Syria. Nonetheless, the civilian population was taking measures to ensure peaceful protests, including ostracizing trouble makers, and befriending the police.

No large gathering escapes the attention of hooligans, and things have gotten out of hand at times. You might have heard about it, unless you live in Brazil. According to my source, the only media news about the protests refers to the traffic jams. Not even that a protest caused the traffic jam, just that there is a traffic jam.

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My “meme” friends are into revolution, and conspiracies. According to my source, Brazil is experiencing neither, but these conflicts in reality give the meme folks some credibility. And this is where we run into a problem.

As our traditional media becomes less trustworthy, one way of verifying sources is “Have they been right before?”. I’m giving this one to the wanna be revolutionaries, with a reminder that there are other ways to verify a source. Consider what your source has to gain (in this case, supporting “revolutions” emboldens the timid). When people try to get you to back them in a fight, make sure they plan to be in front.

The other part of verification is the believability of the information itself. A secret UFO base under the Washington Monument is going to draw immediate furrowed brows, but let’s use the Egyptian example.

Was there a coup? Yes. Was it facilitated by the military? Yes. Why does the American government say it wasn’t a military coup? Because they’ve been providing equipment to the Egyptian military, and don’t want to be seen as “puppet masters”. But what about the word on the street? Since we have nothing more reliable than social media, we need to recognize that what we are hearing is opinions. The “people of Egypt” took to the street and demanded change. But who are the people of Egypt? In order to be a candidate in the election, one had to be of Egyptian parentage. Not just a citizen, but at very least a second generation citizen, without dual citizenship, and not married to a non-Egyptian. To vote, one only needed a national identity card. That ruled out about half the population. Democracy has many definitions, and the half that wasn’t eligible to vote can make a demonstration look like it expresses the will of “the people”. We face a similar dilemma in America, where were we to allow non citizens to vote we could settle the “National Language” question, we would be required to speak Spanish.

So the real question in Egypt is the legitimacy of the elections, and to determine that, we need to know who the legitimate voters are. My best source of information in the Middle East is Lebanese, and he ran from country to country making bad decisions on where the next revolution would be. I haven’t heard from him in a bit, so I suspect he made a tragically poor decision. All we have is the voice of social media. A demonstration in which sixteen people are killed would tend to get a lot of press if it happened in, say, Memphis, and I doubt it would be characterized as a “peaceful demonstration”, but to understand that aspect requires an “Arab mind”. Here’s one view into that mind.

It’s complicated. Too complicated for the evening news, more suited to a number of books, in tandem with some understanding of the culture of the applicable society. Contrary to the beliefs of many American politicians, understanding world affairs requires understanding the world.

Next question. Is there a “conspiracy” preventing you from understanding what is happening in the world, and if so, why?