Tuesday, June 28, 2005

“Norman, you old poop!”

Norman Mailer was recently asked to comment on the legacy of Jean-Paul Sartre (article). He used the opportunity to take a few pot-shots. Mailer mainly objected to Sartre’s atheistic influence on modern society, but could not come straight out and say so. Instead, he accused Sartre of “derailing Existentialism”. Perhaps Norman was disappointed that he was not invited to take Nietzsche on, or perhaps he just chose to ignore the logical outcome that was Sartre’s philosophy. Still, it is in the last paragraph of his article that Norman Mailer proves that, if he does not himself have feet of clay, he does not much mind if his chosen deity has them.

“It was an attitude; it was a proud stance; it was equal to living with one's mind in formless space, but it deprived existentialism of more interesting explorations. For atheism is a cropless undertaking when it comes to philosophy. (We need only think of Logical Positivism!) Atheism can contend with ethics (as Sartre did on occasion most brilliantly), but when it comes to metaphysics, atheism ends in a locked cell. It is, after all, near to impossible for a philosopher to explore how we are here without entertaining some notion of what the prior force might have been. Cosmic speculation is asphyxiated if existence came into being ex nihilo. In Sartre's case--worse. Existence came into being without a clue to suggest whether we are here for good purpose, or there is no reason whatsoever for us. “

“it was equal to living with one's mind in formless space, ... “

No, it isn’t. It is equal to living with one’s mind unfettered by any prejudice concerning the “meaning” or “purpose” of things beyond their own form and function.

“but it deprived existentialism of more interesting explorations”

Oh? I hadn’t noticed any quashing of debate on this account. Read any good Camus, lately?

“For atheism is a cropless undertaking when it comes to philosophy.”

Says you. I’ll be sure to keep my John Deere in the shed, but my lack of need for a creator that has any relevance to my existence certainly won’t stop me from seeking to improve my understanding.

“It is, after all, near to impossible for a philosopher to explore how we are here without entertaining some notion of what the prior force might have been.”

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Any other “prior force” necessary to the equation? How? If I can postulate two explanations for a system, one natural and one supernatural, why is the supernatural explanation necessary or logical? This is fun, and I don’t seem to be having a problem here...”after all”.

“Cosmic speculation is asphyxiated if existence came into being ex nihilo. In Sartre's case--worse. Existence came into being without a clue to suggest whether we are here for good purpose, or there is no reason whatsoever for us.”

Right. And it is up to me to write my own story and decide for myself what standards to apply to my life. I have no problem with this. Your problem Norman, comes from the fact that it threatens your delusional (but comfortable and socially acceptable) version of reality.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

What to do while waiting for XP SP2 to install

More fun with Stripgen

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

If I screw up, it’s all my fault. If I do something good, or well, or noble, it’s God’s fault.

This is one of my pet peeves about religion. Instead of letting us feel good about ourselves, and good about the accomplishments of the human race, they glom on to everything that is good and claim it for god. Then they train us to do the same. Football players (some of them) make great show of crossing themselves when they make a touchdown. I wonder what the reaction would be if one of them just reached back and patted himself on the back instead? Every coach that man had, from peewee football on up, had more of a hand in that touchdown than the alleged all-powerful Creator of the Universe. I mean, would such an alleged being play favorites that way? Does he have a bet on the game? What about that touchdown the guy on the other team made? Is god just messing with everyone’s head? (God, to himself) “Hmm, I think I’ll make that one 4th and short!” Oh, please!

So now we come to the much-hyped story of the Tenderfoot Scout lost and found in the mountains of Utah. His mother, Jody Hawkins, had this to say:

“People say that the heavens are closed and God no longer answers prayers. We are here to unequivocally tell you that the heavens are not closed, prayers are answered and children come home,”

Jody, don’t get me wrong. I am vicariously happy that your son was found. The world has a tiny bit less grief and anguish near where you live than it would have otherwise had. I will even go so far as to say that the belief in God might have influenced some of those searchers to show up. If that was indeed the case, then your prayers were answered, in as much as they were ever going to be, when those good people turned up to search. Beyond that, you could closet yourself in church and pray until your derriere detached itself without affecting the outcome. Work, not wishes rescued your little boy. If you want to thank someone, how about thanking Forrest Nunley for displaying some independent thought and searching uphill, when virtually everyone else was repeatedly going over the same ground downhill? While you’re at it, how about thanking all the oil drillers and pipeline workers and refinery workers and soldiers that made sure that there was gasoline for Forrest’s ATV? Then, you might thank the Japanese Engineers that designed an ATV that didn’t break down on the trail. God did not find your little boy, our fellow human beings did, and I for one am proud to know they’re out there.

You might also reserve a swift kick for the Scoutmaster that did not teach a first year scout what to do when lost. That’s one of the first lessons we were taught when I was an 11 year old Scout.


We humans learn from our mistakes. If we didn’t, it would be more likely that one of them would kill us. This is why we tend to remember bad things more often than the good ones. The reason that I haven’t posted in a while is that my last essay was and is a flop. I don’t flatter myself, it was not a spectacular flop, just one that attempted to use descriptive prose where an illustration or two was needed.

What we learn from our mistakes varies. Too often, a social gaffe or an embarrassing situation “teaches” the unfortunate one to tuck an imaginary tail between the legs and avoid similar situations in the future. Many people in our society, from those found in the schoolyard to the boardroom, recognize the advantage gained by making us feel bad about ourselves. When we lose confidence, we slip downward in the unofficial, but very real pecking order that competitive humans work hard to establish. I am not suggesting that feeling shame is always inappropriate, but I do believe that creating disproportionate shame and embarrassment through the creation and maintenance of Victorian-like mores is nothing more than a mechanism of enslavement and control.

In contrast, a self-confident individual will learn a very different lesson from a mistake. Like a concert pianist, a confident person will use a mistake to point out an area that requires additional practice, work, or development. The self-confident person’s self image is not changed by the mistake because the self image already contained the known ability to make a mistake, and to make it without undue fear of consequences. To put it another way, to the self-confident, the consequences of a mistake exist only as logical outcomes of that mistake, and not as general consequences in some broader social matrix.

The confusion of ideas that exists for the person that lacks confidence, is that society is judging that person for the betterment of that individual. If a person or group is actually making you feel bad about yourself over a simple human failing, they are doing it to impress upon you their own superiority. When seen from a broader perspective than one’s own embarrassment, this alleged superiority is momentary at best, and lacking in empathy and compassion. Of course, we are our own harshest critic, and often are not being actually judged at all. We learned that behavior from somewhere, however.

I am not sure what lesson I will ultimately take away from my mess of an essay. Either I will rework it into something presentable, or I will use it to recognize the same trap the next time I start to write it out. Perhaps I will do both. I’m just glad for the moment that I have learned to stop kicking myself over things like this; doing that tends to be a dismotivator.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Doodling in the margins

I have been neglecting to feed my lion, but I have been busy with a different writing project. That doesn't mean that I haven't taken a few minutes off to have fun. Thanks for showing me this Alleee!

Fun cartoon site

This thing is addicting!

Another Cartoon

Monday, June 13, 2005

Embellishment, part3

Ok, last one before moving on. For the new reader: I have been exploring the human tendency to exaggerate. In terms of visual communication, embellishment seems to be the norm. Perhaps it dates back to the Cro-Magnon campfires where our ancestors proudly related their adventures to one another, leaping about and waving their arms. In theatre or movie and television drama, we observe embellishment without even being aware of the fact. If you have ever seen video footage of real people in day-to-day situations, you will realize that acted and scripted drama is either embellished, or just as boring as a trip to the Laundromat. In drama, consequences follow actions with the speed of a lightning bolt, music and laugh tracks are used to set the mood, and any action or sound acknowledged by an actor is either significant, or has had an ad-libbed acknowledgement to cover a mistake. The emotions of an actor are also given a physical presence for the audience to “read”, called projection.

There is, however, an interesting phrase in theatre to describe an overindulgence of embellishment, “gilding the lily”. You might be more familiar with the term “hamming it up”, which refers to an actor’s overblown performance. Gilding the lily includes that concept, but can also mean something like; that extra close-up on the keys, left dangling in the lock on the front door in a horror movie. Most of the moviegoers saw the keys, slapping against the door after it was slammed, but the director felt the need to underline the point. The gilded lily is an apt phrase, because when one sees it, it takes one out of the story by sticking out like something just not possibly found in nature. So good theatre treads an almost intuitive line between embellishment and over-embellishment. Or doesn’t, and that gives us bad theatre.

Another place where one can observe all the trappings of theatre is in the performance of religious ceremonies. Modest or ostentatious, you are presented with a story, often complete with mood lighting, and mood music, and props and costumes. It is ritualized, or orchestrated. The participants have rehearsed. Everything from a simple daily or weekly ritual to a wedding or funeral is both scripted and led by an official. In secular terms, the head holy man in a religious ceremony is a combination of lead actor, director, conductor, and even perhaps ringmaster. All of these traditions can trace their roots back to the tribal fires.

Here then, is the point to ponder: What constitutes “gilding the lily” in a religious ceremony? To my way of thinking, it is all gilding the lily. Since I was raised a Christian, I will use the Christian church to illustrate my point. IF the Christian concept of god is a true representation of reality (all powerful, all knowing, loving, etc.), and IF the evangelical purpose of the Christian faith is to bring one into a personal and emotional relationship to this god, THEN why are the following attributes necessary to the process?

Sets: Imposing and lavish buildings, some with spires and gargoyles, vaulted ceilings, and ornate artwork. Even the plain meeting halls of the Quakers have a certain ambiance and a focal point.

Costumes: From simple robes to set the clergy and choir apart, to the absurdly ornate trappings of the pope, there is a mode of dress calculated to draw the eye.

Plays: Ritualized performances (“services”).

Special effects and props: Music, lighting, incense, relics, candles, altars, wall hangings, statues, stained glass windows, great big books, wafers, wine, goblets, baptismal fonts, etc, etc.

Script adaptations: Co-opting non-Christian ceremonies into Christian culture (for example, Voodoo and some South American ceremonies with non-Christian roots, among others).

If the god of Abraham is out there, why is it necessary to play with my emotions in this fashion in order to make me believe that I feel something?

Friday, June 10, 2005

Check this out:


Now, let me get this straight. He's got a bloodstained chainsaw, brass knuckles, a homemade sword, and a hatchet and a knife, and he looks crazier than Charlie Manson. "Welcome to the United States!" Meanwhile, I can't get on a plane with a pair of toenail scissors and the worst thing I can be accused of is burning ants with a magnifying glass when I was eight years old, or maybe the occasional speeding ticket. Somebody should really test to see where the limits are. What about an unfueled flame thrower? Think that might raise a few eyebrows?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Embellishment, part 2.

Embellishment is that confusion of ideas that extrapolates an entire sand castle out of a single grain of truth. The illogic goes, “if X is true, then it is true because of P and J; things without any provable causal relationship. Something, however, is going on to reinforce this perception. In homeopathy, that something is water. For those not aware of the pseudoscience of homeopathy, it differs from herbal and folk medicine in that, in its modern practice, the compounds are so diluted as to have no measurable ingredients except water. For a more detailed look into this bemusing subject, try Hellbound Alleee May archive and scroll down to May 12. Even though it is actually and measurably only water, you will find people who swear that they, or a loved one, was actually helped. So what’s going on here? Is it all just the Placebo effect? Perhaps, but perhaps not. There might be a combination of answers.

Many of the reported success stories involve children with asthma-like, or other allergy-like symptoms. Has there ever been a child born that didn’t at least once exaggerate cold symptoms to gain the attention and sympathy of their principal care giver (usually Mom)? Now, imagine an attention-starved child, amping up symptoms for attention. Suddenly, Mom starts visiting every 4 hours, asking how they’re feeling, and giving a dose of medicine. Just like love in a bottle, and now, the need for attention is being filled without the dramatics. The “symptoms” seem to abate.

Another possibility for efficacy lies in the water itself. Many of these homeopathic (alleged) compounds instruct the user to take several drops in a glass of water, or sublingually. Those who put the drops in (more) water, are unconsciously benefiting from increasing their daily water consumption. Additionally, they are taking in water at regular intervals. According to Dr. Weil , “Many people fail to drink enough of it” ( water ). Increasing one’s water intake will increase the efficiency of the kidneys, making them better able to filter impurities from the body. If one has a sensitivity to a common substance, like lactose, or corn, or sulfites, drinking more water will reduce the duration or the intensity of the symptoms. Of course, selling a water cure went out with the 19th century, and even at bottled water rates, there is nothing like the markup obtained by selling homeopathic "cures".

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Fooling Around in the Back of the Classroom

A short diversion from the discussion of embellishment to look at plausible nonsense.

A Letter of Apology from Lieutenant General Chuck Pitman, US Marine Corps, Retired has been crapping up ... uh, cropping up on right-wing web sites all over the internet. It can be read in its entirety, without my comments, here http://collegiatepatriot.us/news/sorry.asp , among other places. A colleague sent it to me in an e-mail, prompting this response:

The man's more entitled to an opinion than I am, but, in my humble opinion, the nasty bullshit has to stop somewhere. If we are going to maintain a "holier than thou" attitude, we DON'T need to be doing shit that we complained about when the Nazis or the North Vietnamese did it!

For more of my opinion, read on. For less, you may cheerfully thumb your nose.

A Letter of Apology from Lieutenant General Chuck Pitman, US Marine Corps, Retired

"For good and ill, the Iraqi prisoner abuse mess will remain an issue. On the one hand, right thinking Americans will harbor the stupidity of the actions while on the other hand, political glee will take control and fashion this minor event into some modern day massacre.

( "minor event". "As ye do unto the lowest of (my people), so ye do unto me." Mangled Bible quote mirroring my sentiment that the human race makes too big a deal of numbers. It is no less a crime, to perpetrate a crime against one person, as opposed to 100 or 1000.)

I humbly offer my opinion here:

( Somehow, I don't see this person as humble, but that's ok. Humble is not a trait I would look for in a Lt. General of the Marines. "Booyah!")

I am sorry that the last seven times we Americans took up arms and sacrificed the blood of our youth, it was in the defense of Muslims (Bosnia, Kosovo, Gulf War 1, Kuwait, etc.).

(We sacrificed our youth in defense of our own National Interest, at least that's what we were told at the time. The fact that we bailed on Somalia, did not return to South Vietnam, and never went to Uganda and Burma supports that position. And by the way, Kuwait was Gulf War 1, and I didn't know the Panamanians were Muslims.)

I am sorry that no such call for an apology upon the extremists came after 9/11.

(And if we got one, would it have been sincere?)

I am sorry that all of the murderers on 9/11 were Islamic Arabs.

( Would you have felt better if they were Baptists?)

I am sorry that most Arabs and Muslims have to live in squalor under savage dictatorships.

(Yeah, that does suck.)

I am sorry that their leaders squander their wealth.

(And our leaders don't squander ours? Just more sources and more left on the table, brother.)

I am sorry that their governments breed hate for the US in their religious schools, mosques, and government-controlled media.

(Yup, we got that hate breeding stuff in our religious schools too, just not everywhere.)

I am sorry that Yasir Arafat was kicked out of every Arab country and high-jacked the Palestinian "cause."

(I'm sorry he wasn't kicked out of every Arab country. The Palestinians kept him.)

I am sorry that no other Arab country will take in or offer more than a token amount of financial help to those same Palestinians.

(The financial aid is a bitch, but would you put them up in your back yard? Didn’t think so. Besides, they don't want charity, they want their own country.)

I am sorry that the USA has to step in and be the biggest financial supporter of poverty stricken Arabs while the insanely wealthy Arabs blame the USA for all their problems.

(Brainwashed and ignorant people react nicely to scapegoating, and what better scapegoat than a super power? Rabble, rabble, rabble. Hey, that works for Christian Fundamentalist flatheads too!)

I am sorry that our own left wing, our media, and our own brainwashed masses do not understand any of this (from the misleading vocal elements of our society, like radical professors, CNN and the NY TIMES).

(Well, if the right-wing media like Fox, and Rush, and the US Government with its "bully pulpit" wasn't blowing so much smoke up our asses, we might have a shot at understanding. Spleen and emotional appeals are no substitute for logic and facts. Do you get extra points for getting the party swipe at the "liberal media" in? Pot, Kettle, both black.)

I am sorry the United Nations scammed the poor people of Iraq out of the "food for oil" money so they could get rich while the common folk suffered.

(Don't apologize for what you didn't do, demand prosecution! Oh yeah, those guys are in the "Friends of the Corrupt Republicans" club.)

I am sorry that some Arab governments pay the families of homicide bombers upon their death.
(No argument there. Which governments again, please?)

I am sorry that those same bombers are brainwashed thinking they will receive 72 virgins in "paradise."

(Yeah, gonna be a real let-down when they get 72 white grapes instead.)

I am sorry that the homicide bombers think pregnant women, babies, children, the elderly and other non-combatant civilians are legitimate targets.

(The whole "casualties of war" thing is a little thin too, brother. Does it really matter if they were blown up accidentally or on purpose? To them, I mean. When the US infantry or the Israeli Army, or anyone else shells an apartment building to take care of a sniper, people are bound to think that's terrorism.)

I am sorry that our troops die to free more Arabs from the gang rape rooms and the filling of mass graves of dissidents of their own making.

(Hey, we already covered that one. We only care when there's oil.)

I am sorry that Muslim extremists have killed more Arabs than any other group.

(Really? Would you rather that the USMC did it? I'm glad we're not #1 in this category!)

I am sorry that foreign trained terrorists are trying to seize control of Iraq and return it to a terrorist state.

(And if we hadn't gone in like we did, they wouldn't have to. Just saying...)

I am sorry we don't drop a few dozen Daisy cutters on Fallujah.

( I believe you mean that one. And what about all those pregnant women, etc. that you were so concerned about a minute ago? Hypocrite!)

I am sorry every time terrorists hide they find a convenient "Holy Site."

( I am sorry that the human race has the concept of "Holy Site". It's all "Holy" or it's all not.)

I am sorry they didn't apologize for driving a jet into the World Trade Center that collapsed and severely damaged Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church -- one of our Holy Sites.

(See above. It's all just bricks and cement to me. None of it worth the life of one child.)

I am sorry they didn't apologize for flight 93 and 175, the USS Cole, the embassy bombings, the murders and beheadings of Nick Berg and Daniel Pearl, etc...etc!

(Do I hear Nagasaki, anyone? How long did that apology take?)

I am sorry Michael Moore is American; he could feed a medium sized village in Africa.

(Cheap shot. You don't like what he has to say? Refute it. The exercise of free speech is necessary in a free Republic. Besides, the Africans have more respect for their bodies.)

America will get past this latest absurdity. We will punish those responsible because that is what we do.

(All the PFCs, every one of them! Baaaah! Was that a Nanny or a Billy?)

We hang out our dirty laundry for the entire world to see. We move on. That's one of the reasons we are hated so much. We don't hide this stuff like all those Arab countries that are now demanding an apology.

(No, we just try to hide it and then get embarrassed when it comes out anyway. That's one of the benefits of living in a free country; it comes out.)

Deep down inside, when most Americans saw this reported in the news, we were like--so what? We lost hundreds and made fun of a few prisoners. Sure, it was wrong! Sure, it dramatically hurts our cause, but until captured, we were trying to kill those same prisoners. Now we're supposed to wring our hands because a few were humiliated?

(Yup. Torture is wrong, even the Sesame Street variety that we are guilty of.)

Our compassion is tempered with the vivid memories of our own people killed, mutilated and burned among a joyous crowd of celebrating Fallujahans.

(Got that right. Now, can you point out the individuals to which you refer? They also need a lesson in humanity. BUT, careful with that tar brush, Eugene!)

If you want an apology from this American, you're going to have a long wait!

( Are you responsible?)

You have a better chance of finding those seventy-two virgins!

(Got 'em! Madame Fatima's Preschool Daycare! Lighten up General. If you're taking it this personally, it suggests that you have something in common with these terrorist guys.)

Chuck Pitman, Lt. Gen., US Marine Corps (Ret.)

Semper Fi.